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36. Strauss, R:  Ein Heldenleben

[…] I leave my door open 
and the cats of the neighbourhood all come in.
they walk over to me 
and across the top of my couch
and into the bathroom,
and one of them goes to sleep on my bed.
one other sits by me
and we listen to Richard Strauss.
we’re in trouble
but we don’t know what to do.

Excerpt from  Blue Head Of Death by Charles Bukowski 

If Richard Strauss calls a composition A Hero’s Life, you know it’s not autobiographical. Or as the great wartime conductor Toscanini once put it: “To Strauss the composer I take off my hat; to Strauss the man I put it back on again.”

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, Strauss was already in his late ‘60’s. Like the famous conductor Furtwängler he conciously decided to stay in Germany. The main difference between the two is that there is no evidence that Strauss used his talent and status to protect the people and the German music legacy, except his own. Furtwängler openly critized the Nazi regime in newspapers and performed works from banned composers, whereas Strauss called the Nazi’s a “disgrace to German honour” in his personal diary while composing the hymn for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.

To put things in perspective, Strauss wasn’t a brave man but he wasn’t an avid Nazi either. He never joined the party and refused to give the Nazi salute. He was mostly naive and opportunistic. Strauss thought he could remain apolitical, separating his music from any policital regime: “I made music under the Kaiser, and under Ebert. I’ll survive under this one as well.”

Most of all Strauss didn’t want to piss off people like Goebbels, to protect his Jewish daughter-in-law Alice and his Jewish grandchildren. When they were arrested he succesfully pleaded for their lives. Alice and her children were allowed to live with Strauss, while her entire family was killed in Theresienstadt. Richard Strauss died in 1949, absolved of any Nazi affiliations.

Recommended recording:
Fritz Reiner & Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Reiner's recording with the Chicago SO is a favorite among critics worldwide and myself.




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