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Four Last SongsAging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten$
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Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226255590

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226255620.001.0001

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Richard Strauss (1864–1949)

Richard Strauss (1864–1949)

A Life Review In Music

Chapter:
(p.42) Chapter Four Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Source:
Four Last Songs
Author(s):

Linda Hutcheon

Michael Hutcheon

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226255620.003.0004

The death of his librettist Hofmannsthal, his fraught relationship with the Nazi regime, and the wartime destruction of the German musical culture he treasured made Richard Strauss’s last years difficult ones. In the middle of World War II, he completed his last opera, Capriccio, a self-reflexive opera about opera, musically recapitulating the history of the form and placing his own work within it. The seemingly escapist work is presented here as the start of the composer’s musical “life review” in which the increasingly isolated and aging Strauss looked inward and began an ongoing retrospective self-study to review and assess his musical legacy. Facing ill health, social stigma, and financial distress, he fell into a period of depression. Encouraged to return to writing songs, he composed the (posthumously named) Vier letzte Lieder which, critics agree, represent an “Indian Summer” of creativity. Their autumnal mood and themes suggest an acceptance of age and death, and the enriched, traditional diatonic and chromatic tonality that he had used and refreshed from work to work here came to its apogee with the elegant soaring lyrical melodies and the rich vocal color that are uniquely his own.

Keywords:   Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Nazi, Capriccio, late style, Indian summer, Vier Letzte Lieder, World War II

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