About the program
In 1889, the 25-year-old Richard Strauss accepted the position of conductor at the Weimar Theatre, the very institute whose profile Franz Liszt had shaped a few decades earlier.
The typical features of gypsy music – its free rhythms, unusual modulations, strange timbre – had a great impact on the young Liszt. The composer published his Magyar dalok (Hungarian Melodies) series between 1840 and 1843, and in 1847 he started bringing out his Hungarian Rhapsodies. He selected six of the piano pieces, which he had orchestrated, and they have since become part of the classical orchestral repertoire.
Liszt left his Second Piano Concerto to ripen for some time. When he began working on it in 1839 he was still a globe-trotting virtuoso, but by the time he finished it in 1861 he had retired from the stage and was devoting most of his time to composing. The concerto is a single movement made up of five sections, each of which display various characters around a singular theme. The composer himself conducted the world premiere in Weimar, and his pupil Hans von Bronsart played the piano part. Von Bronsart would go on to become the manager of the Weimar Theatre, where he signed Strauss.
Richard Strauss came up with the genre of the tone, or symphonic, poem early on. Following his orchestral fantasy Aus Italien, in the 1880s he composed his Macbeth, Don Juan, and Death and Transfiguration. Thus Spake Zarathustra is a more mature piece. As the composer put it, “I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray Nietzsche’s great work in music… The whole symphonic poem is intended as a homage to Nietzsche’s genius, which found its greatest expression in his book ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’.”
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