Strauss: One Of The Most Recognizable Composers Then And Now

When someone mentions the name Strauss most people would recognize it. But probably not through knowledge of Richard Strauss. The popular jean brand Levi Strauss probably comes to mind. Or maybe they think of Johann Strauss II, also known as “The Waltz King.” They may recognize Richard Strauss’ name for his other types of work like lieder or concerto. It is likely that only those that attend the opera or have taken music classes in school would think of Richard Strauss as a German opera composer. The nature of Strauss’ music; that of being transitional between the romantic and modern era, likely lends to the unfamiliarity. Many transition composers, whether it be the transition from baroque to classical, classical to romantic or romantic to modern, do not get the kind of recognition middle composers do in the modern era. By contrast, however, many of these artists are very popular in their day. Anyone that breaks from the norm, like transition composers, attracts the popularity of the masses. Richard Strauss and his journey into dissonant tones in opera was revolutionary at the time. But this type of popularity isn’t instant. In fact, one of Strauss’ first operas, Guntram (translated “war raven”) was not popular at all. It was only performed a few times during his lifetime. Feuersnot, his second attempt in opera, was also not very popular and by many considered obscene. It is not uncommon for viewers to have this opinion of new works. Even the romantic era art people were used to in Strauss’ time was considered obscene by earlier staunch classicists. Obscenity, like the content of Feuersnot, is simply the easiest route to take advantage of when someone it trying to rock the boat or change the art scene. But Strauss’ willingness to venture into the novel paid off for him as his works started to incite interest in not only the general public but in experts of the field.

The opera Salome which was based on a play written by Oscar Wilde was widely popular. It was this opera that kept Strauss safe during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It was performed many times and was probably what gave him the credibility in opera that he needed in order to be taken more seriously by other composers. Although later in his career he used less and less of the dissonance that made him famous he still enjoyed a considerable amount of success. In the current age, not only is the work of Straus and the other modern era opera composers falling out of favor amongst the people, but opera is also. Although many venues endure with sold out nights, the number of these opera houses is slowly declining with each passing year. This being said, Strauss’ operas are still performed, being in the top ten operas performed for several years. The waning popularity of opera might soon spell the demise of not only Strauss’ work but that of other opera composers. But it is very common that there is a reawakening for certain types of music. In the future there is a good chance that Strauss’ work will be rediscovered and with a renewed passion. Handel experienced this type of reawakening and so have many other composers from distant times. It is unfortunate that many composers, including Strauss, are appreciated only for a short time while they are alive. But the good news is that even transitional composers, like Richard Strauss; composers whose dies were cast in two different eras of music often do end up receiving the recognition that is proper for the amount of time, talent and sacrifice that was put in to their works. Even if that recognition must come decades, or centuries, after they have died.

01 February 2021
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