Four Last Songs

MI0003611305Here is some music by Richard Strauss. Four Last Songs are the last pieces that he wrote; when he was in his eighties in 1948. I have no interest in the text, I will admit, but love the sound of the music and voice together and the melodies. I always feel as though I should like Richard Strauss's music in general more than I do. He is a composer who resisted the over employment of dissonance that you hear from his contemporaries in the first half of the 20th century. But although the overall sound is always atmospheric and moody and seems to promise much when you start to listen, generally there is too little obvious melody for me to grab hold. I usually find myself getting bored part way into a piece and then stop listening.

He is perhaps most well known for the powerful opening section of Also Sprach Zarathustra, which many will recognize as the theme tune for the film A Space Odyssey and many TV programs about space ever since  (if you are British and of a certain age, then you will remember that all the BBC TV coverage of the Apollo space missions presented by James Burke used this tune too). This is spectacular and powerful and I love it. When I first realised that in the original piece there was another half hour or so to follow enthusiastically bought the CD and started to listen. To my disappointment, after that fantastic opening section, he just reverts to the usual gushing strings laced with boredom.

For me, the exceptions to this pattern of dullness (aside from the one minute of Also Sprach already mentioned) are his Horn Concertos and his orchestral songs, especially this set of four (they were put together as a set by the publisher, not the composer, and were first performed after he died).

I find that to have a single voice supported by the orchestra suits his style far better. So whether it is a French horn, or a powerful soprano, it seems to force the composer into giving the piece a more structured development and, to put it simply, a more obvious tune that I can latch onto and enjoy.

Anyway, here are recording of the songs on You Tube