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Happy Birthday Richard Strauss!

June 11, 1864 should perhaps be celebrated by many French horn players as a worldwide holiday…as it is the birthday of Richard Strauss.

One blog entry cannot possibly cover all the influences and directions that classical (and popular) music took after Strauss started composing, producing astonishing music that sometimes shocked the old guard of Vienna, while also reassuring them that their world will continue, in a smaller version.

Born into a musician’s family (father Franz was a horn player in the Court Opera in Munich), his studies began at age four on piano. He also attended opera rehearsals and was tutored in music theory and orchestration from the assistant conductor.  That seems like an extremely young age to begin a serious course of study, but he must have enjoyed it, producing his earliest composition at age six. Later came private violin lessons and more study in composition, along with one year at the University of Munich. Living with a musician father, there was constant music making in the home as a normal activity; you have a guest for dinner, you play some music.

Strauss was keen on attending and learning about Wagner’s music, which was dominant in opera at the time, but his father would not have it. He had to sneak in a copy of the score of Tristan und Isolde to study. All this exposure to opera, theory, and score study not only prepared Strauss for his successful career in composing, but also prepared him for a successful conducting career. He was assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, and learned by observing rehearsals and performances. He continued conducting in various posts and was touring internationally by 1904 in the United States. His composing continued, and even today, some of his earliest operas are shocking and very difficult to pull off.  Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play, premiered in 1905. Based on the biblical story of the lust of Herod for Salome, there is a ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ in which Salome dances for King Herod, and yes, she pulls off the veils one at a time, live, on stage. And after that, Elektra, (1909). Based on Sophocles’ play, it contains psychological studies and a narrative of revenge and murder: favorite subjects for opera. After these WILD opera presentations, Strauss meets a challenge presented to him: to compose an opera in the style of Mozart. The result was Der Rosenkavalier (1911), a salute to old Vienna and an homage to the traditions of the noble class.

Richard Strauss, half-length portrait, seated, facing right, writing music

Composer Richard Strauss seated at desk writing music.

He created a different form of composition that tells a story as the music unfolds. The tone poem is now a classic in the orchestral repertoire, and it inspired many movie composers with their orchestration of brass coming to the rescue and string sections singing their love songs. Get yourself some popcorn and listen to Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and Ein Heldenleben.

Strauss was 68 when Hitler came to power, and while it was suggested he join the Nazi party, he never did. He was hoping the Third Reich would celebrate and promote German art and culture. Well, some German art and culture was celebrated, but Strauss had family, a Jewish daughter-in-law and two grandsons he protected. He clashed repeatedly with the authorities, and was able to rescue them and keep them safe. When the Americans arrived at Strauss’s estate after the war, they entered the villa and Strauss announced, “I am Richard Strauss, composer of Der Rosenkavalier and Salome.” The Army lieutenant recognized him, and in a moment of serendipity, the future principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, John de Lancie was also there and acknowledged Strauss. There is some thought that Strauss was accepting the fact that the world he was from, proud of German art, culture, ideas, and love, was gone. But he wanted to be on the record for his contributions to that world.  And he certainly is!

There are a number of works in the NLS Music collection by Strauss; I am not able to list all of them here. But if you’re interested in a braille libretto, song, or an audio book about his music, please contact us and we will send it to you.

From his early work the Serenade for Winds, op. 7 (1881) to the Four Last Songs (1948), you will enjoy beauty in a pure form of expression.

 Photograph shows composer and conductor Richard Strauss.

Composer Richard Strauss waves his hat as he boards a train, smiling.

All of our materials on BARD are also available on digital cartridge or in hard copy as braille music. If you prefer to borrow the materials listed below through the mail, please contact the Music Section. You can call us at 1-800-424-8567, or e-mail us at [email protected].


Salome. Libretto, English (BRM24901)

September. From the song cycle Four Last Songs. For high voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM17826)

Rosenkavalier, Libretto. German (BRM22370)

Rosenkavalier (Opera). Hab’ mir’s gelobt, ihn lieb zu haben. Arranged for piano, Bar by bar format. (BRM07810)

Elektra. Libretto. English & German (BRM25698)

Morgen  op. 27, high voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM20425)

Vier letzte Lieder: for high voice and piano. Four Last Songs. Orchestral accompaniment arranged for piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. Includes English and German text. (BRM27045)


Michael Barclay lectures on Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss. (DBM00767)

Strauss, the Complete Operas by Michael Barclay. (DBM03546)

Arabella, chat by Ann Thompson. (DBM01712)

Michael Barclay lectures on Richard Strauss, a general lecture. (DBM01683)

The World’s 50 Greatest Composers. Richard Strauss. (DBM01653)

Elektra by Richard Strauss, commentary by Alfred Glasser. (DBM01589)

Michael Barclay lectures on Salome. (DBM01342)

Der Rosenkavalier, chat by Ann Thompson (DBM01364)

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