Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fritz Reiner, CSO – Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan

   Like almost every great artist of modern era, Richard Strauss was a versatile composer. By the contemporaries he was recognized to be the greatest composer of his times. His works include a lot of music with various purposes, vocal and instrumental, chamber and large cast, concert and theatrical. He is known for his operas, especially those defining musical modernism and expressionism – Salome and Electra – or later, neoclassical operas like Der Rosenkavalier or Ariadne auf Naxos. But he owes his fame to the cycle of 10 symphonic poems he wrote earlier in neo-romantic style. Although many Strauss orchestral works look as inconsistent, in the form of tone poem he found his vocation.
   The cycle of Strauss’ tone poems is the culmination in the romantic development of this form. Sixth tone poem by Richard Strauss called Also sprach Zarathustra op. 30 (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) is the work of deep intellectual program, considered to be the example of the philosophical type of tone poem. Starting with prologue Sonnenaufgang (Sunrise) which is probably most famous fanfare in the history of symphonic music, and premiered in 1896 Also sprach Zarathustra is one of most famous tone poems ever composed. This popularity was not automatic, for decades this has a fame of hard to understand, uneasy listening. The starting fanfare and whole work became instant hit after Stanley Kubrick used fragment of this poem in soundtrack to his famous movie. After success of 2001: A Space Odyssey in public imagination this music has inextricably bounded with space representations.

Fritz Reiner – Strauss – Also sprach Zarathustra (1954)

   Question of philosophical program presented in this poem is not really solved. Subtitled as “freely composed after Friedrich Nietzsche” was classified as philosophical tone poem. But this was not quite justified. According to Richard Strauss own explanation, the composition was musical apotheosis of human development from its beginnings, through religious and scientific stages, to the moment of awaited overcome, liberation and raise of superman as in Nietzsche’s original. Composer also defined this poem as a musical homage to the great philosopher. In some fragments it is purely late romantic in melodic style and in emotional involvement, but Sonnenaufgang is already modern, overcoming the limitations of existing style. Organ pedal note C subcontra in unison with double basses and contrabassoon has its continuation in overtone three-note motiv C-G-C played by brass interrupted with timpani. Explained as the nature-motiv this characteristic and very powerfull idea became iconic in last decades of 20th century.

Fritz Reiner – Chicago Symph. Orch. – Also sprach Zarathustra (1954)

   Fritz Reiner recorded Also sprach Zarathustra three times, twice with Chicago Symphony Orchestra and once with Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival in 1956. He was entitled Richard Strauss friend from time they work together in Staatsoper Dresden in the beginnings of his career. He recorded also with Vienna Philharmonic two other Strauss’ tone poems: Death and Transfiguration and Till Eulenspiegel and with Chicago Symphony Orchestra Ein Heldenleben, Burleske and musical dramas Salome and Electra. After he took the post of the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, March 8th, 1954 he recorded Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra for RCA Victor for the first time in stereo. Released the same year record was one of the first RCA’s “sound spectaculars” and became praised as triumph of arts and science. Next recording was made in 1961 and with new technics of sound engineering.
   The performance of 1954 was pressed by RCA Victor Red Seal and coupled together with recorded two days earlier recording of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben op. 40 (registered in stereo March 6th, 1954) published in RCA Red Seal or with outstanding Don Juan op. 20 performance from (December 6th, 1954) published under Victrola label. The sound of the orchestra is alive and intense. Solo violin parts were played with perfection by John Weicher, the concertmaster of Chicago Symphony. Whole interpretation is melodious, but the levels of singing and dancing inspiration in fragment called Das Tanzlied breaks all the convenances. Conductor showed here this kind of proximity only personal friendship with composer can justify. And as emotional effect in this performance is congenial, Library of Congress has selected this famous recording to the National Recording Registry of historic recordings.

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