Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Franz Hasenorhl (1885-1970)

Till Eulenspiegel-Einmal Anders (Another Way) (1954)

for Violin, Double Bass, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon

 

You may have heard Till Eulenspiegel of Richard Strauss. No gentleman would have written that thing. It is positively scurrilous. There are places for such music, but surely not before miscellaneous assemblages of ladies and gentlemen.

W.J.Henderson, Musical Record

Boston, Jan.1, 1900

 

This piece resembles "an hour of music in an asylum". Clarinets describe crazy parabolas; trumpets are so absolutely muted and stopped up that the horns, foreseeing a latent sneeze, hasten to reply with the customary "God Bless You", a big drum contributes its boum-boum appearing to emphasize the kicks of the clowns. You do not know whether to roar with laughter or with pain and you wonder at finding things in their customary places. For if the double-basses blew through their bows, if the trombones rubbed their instruments with an imaginary bow, and if M. Nikisch (the conductor) were discovered seated on the knees of an attendant, it would not seem at all extraordinary. But in spite of all this, there is genius in certain aspects of the work, notably in the amazing sureness of the orchestration and in that frenzied movement which sweeps us on from beginning to end making us live through all the hero’s adventures...

Claude Debussy

In the Revue Blanche, 1903

Richard Strauss’s Lustige Streiche

 

Like the clarinets described in the above review, Strauss’s career can also be described as parabolic. He was the 20th Century's first "Bad Boy" of Modern Music: composer of a brilliant series of Tone Poems, as well as 15 operas; gifted as a conductor and a card sharp; henpecked husband to Frau Pauline (there is a fascinating portrait of the composer and his wife in historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower); astute businessman and opportunist who accepted the position of President of the Reichsmusikkammer (Third Reich Music Chamber) when the Nazis came to power in 1933. However, a year and a half later he resigned the position, "for health reasons" at the request of the Secretary of State. The real reason was that librettists for some of his operas had been the Jews von Hofmannsthal, and Stefan Zweig. Strauss returned to his villa at Garmisch-Partenkirchen where he remained in seclusion until the outbreak of the war. He then moved to Switzerland virtually destitute. When asked why he didn’t leave Germany during the Nazi era, Strauss is supposed to have replied, "Germany had fifty-six opera houses, the United States had two. It would have reduced my income."

 

Of Owl-Glasses and Bunny-ears

 

Man sees his own faults as little as a monkey or an owl recognizes his ugliness in looking into a mirror.

German Proverb

 

Strauss’s Tone Poem Till Eulenspiegel Lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks) was composed and first performed in 1895. It concerns the exploits, musically portrayed, of a popular German peasant jester of the 12th Century. The name Eulenspiegel translates as "Owl-Glass," with glass being in the context of a mirror or looking glass. My own speculation on the matter of this curious name is that in the Middle Ages mirrors were made with convex glass, possibly giving them the appearance of the great round eye of an owl. Through his jests, Eulenspiegel provided people with an exaggerated reflection of their own faults and behavior. For these transgressions, Strauss has him lynched; whereas the historical Till is said to have died peacefully in his bed at Molln, Schleswig-Holstein in 1350. German Language and Literature scholar John R. Wilkie writes in an article on Eulenspiegel. "The jests and practical jokes which heavily depend on a pun, a deliberate literal interpretation of some metaphorical command, are broadly farcical, often brutal, sometimes obscene; but they have a serious theme. In the figure of Eulenspiegel, the individual gets his own back in society, the stupid yet cunning peasant demonstrates his superiority to the narrow, dishonest, condescending townsman, as well as to the clergy and nobility."

 

The hallmark of all of Strauss’s Tone Poems was the huge orchestras requiring the virtuosity of chamber music players. And so we come to the matter of transcriptions. There are some people who turn up their noses at transcriptions of any kind. Transcriptions can involve the changing of a single instrument, i.e.: a piano piece by Albeniz transcribed for guitar. Bach transcribed Vivaldi violin concerti for keyboard with orchestra, as well as solo organ. Stokowski transcribed Bach’s organ music for gargantuan symphony orchestra. Some transcriptions are more popular than the original; Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is more frequently heard in Ravel’s orchestral transcription, than the original piano piece. Transcriptions also enabled people to hear and perform favorite works before the invention of sound recording.

However, here we have something slightly different. The full title of today’s work is Till Eulenspiegel-Einmal Anders (Another Way) arranged as a frolic for five instruments by Franz Hasenohrl. Hasenohrl, whose name can be translated as "Bunny-Ears," also went by that pseudonym. He was an Austrian composer who lived from 1885 to 1970. Though his works are rarely performed, he was a prolific composer, producing symphonies, concerti, chamber music, keyboard, vocal, and choral music. He spent most of his professional career as a professor of music at the University of Vienna. His transcription of Strauss’s Tone Poem can be viewed as "a joke on a joke," requiring great skill and ingenuity; reducing Strauss’s mammoth orchestra to an ensemble of five! Sixteen first and sixteen second violins have been reduced to a single violin. The double-bass is used as a substitute for the percussion section. The musical content has been somewhat condensed, while retaining the sweep and flow of the original. The work was published in 1954 and first performed by members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

1996-97 Season, Program III , Sunday February 2, 1997

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