About the program
Composed between 1888 and 1890, Death and Transfiguration was the third symphonic poem by the young Richard Strauss, following on from Macbeth and Don Juan. ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ also dates from this early period. The storyline of the work, portraying a strong Wagnerian influence, was written by Strauss himself. The music depicts the pains and suffering of a dying man, recalling the events of his life as he lies on his deathbed, until finally his soul attains transfiguration upon his death. Alexander Ritter’s poem, which forms a preface to the orchestral score, was written afterwards and drew inspiration from the composition. Death and Transfiguration premiered in Eisenach in 1890, conducted by the composer himself.
Musicologists regard Les Illuminations, composed for tenor or soprano to poems by Rimbaud, as the greatest achievement of Benjamin Britten’s two-and-a-half years in the United States. Britten began working on the piece while still in England, but finished it in America in 1939. On its premiere in 1940 it was met with great enthusiasm by the London audience.
Even though Jean Sibelius was born in 1865, he outlived all of his significant contemporaries; Richard Strauss, Mahler, Puccini and Debussy. By the 1920s his oeuvre was mostly complete. His symphonies and symphonic poems form his most significant works. And even though Sibelius’ symphonic composition cannot be compared to Mahler’s, they share the blend of expression which both inherited from Romanticism and nascent Modernism. Another feature of Sibelius’ symphonies is the confluence of his influences, notably from Wagner and Tchaikovsky, with the newly-emerging Finnish national mood. The opening movement of the Fourth symphony, composed in 1911, displays a particularly strong Wagnerian theme.
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Richard Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24
Benjamin Britten: Les Illuminations, Op. 18
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63
Sophie Klussmann, soprano