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Dr. Richard Strauss - New Paths and Visions in Musical Progress

New Paths and Visions in Musical Progress


strauss.jpg“The Wagner of the present age” in an interview secured expressly for THE ETUDE discusses a subject of great interest to progressive musicians.

[Editor’s Note —Dr. Richard Strauss, generally  acknowledged among the musicians of all countries as the foremost living master in his field, is often referred to as “Richard II,” intimating his succession to Richard Wagner. He is now at the zenith of his artistic career and The Etude is for­tunate in securing his opinions upon certain phases of artistic development of much significance. Dr. Strauss was born at Munich, June 11th, 1864. His first teacher was A. Tombo, who was the Court Harpist. Tombo taught the boy piano, beginning when Richard was only four years of age. Strauss’ father, who was a noted French horn player and a finely trained musician, soon saw that the child had extraordinary gifts. At the age of six the boy wrote his first composition, a Polka in C. At eight he commenced studying violin with B. Walter. At ten he entered the Gymnasium, remaining until he was fifteen. At eleven he commenced his studies in composition, instrumentation, etc., with F. W. Meyer, continuing until he was fifteen. At the age of sixteen he surprised his teachers and his classmates at the Gymnasium with a Chorus from Elektra and a Fes­tival Chorus. At seventeen Levi, the famous conductor, pro­duced the Strauss Symphony in D minor (Op. 4) which created a sensation. Thereafter works of magnificent char­acter and heroic dimensions followed in remarkably rapid succession until he had given to the world such classics as the symphonic poems Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Macbeth, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Don Quixote, A Hero’s Life, the Domestic Symphony, the Alpine Symphony, to say nothing of such remarkable operas as Salome, Elektra, The Rose Cavalier, Ariadne at Naxos, Joseph’s Legend and his latest work, The Woman Without a Shadow. In addition to this there have been a splendid series of songs and smaller works indicating how his genius has been united with giant industry. Dr. Strauss is greatly gratified by the reception given to him in America, expresses a high regard for the ideals and prodigious accomplishments of the new world and utterly repudiates the remarks that have been attrib­uted to him with the purpose of making him appear anti-American. He wishes it understood that he is a musician and not a politician, he makes no attempt to mix his art with material affairs.]


Musical Originality Not Extinct

“There seems to be a popular impression that musical originality has reached its furthermost frontiers and that further development in the art is likely to be along the line of grotesque and erratic tone combinations which seem, to many, quite alien to musical minds trained in the masterpieces of Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Wagner. Many times have I been asked questions in­dicating that the uninformed in music fear that there can be no further advance in the art along rational, whole­some, sane lines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than being on the frontiers of our art, it is possible for any thoughtful person with vision to see vast opportunities for progress along just those paths made sacred to us by the masters of the past. Indeed, the most that can be hoped will be that many of the writers who have been indulging in what might be termed a spree of senseless cacophony, more like the irrational ravings of a demented person than real art, will return to the very beautiful heights of pure melody.

“Great music is always representative of an age. If everyone in this age were mentally unbalanced, music without sanity would be appropriate, but this is not the case and no one will agree that such music is represent­ative of the greater number of intelligent people or of the age itself.

“Real art always tends toward simplicity. The simplest thing in music and at the same time the most difficult thing is the making of a beautiful melody. No natter how ingenious the harmony, no matter how complicated the counterpoint, nothing identifies the work of the real musician so clearly as the ability to con­ceive and develop original and beautiful melo­dies. Harmony and counterpoint may be learn­ed, but unless the musician can create melodies he may know all the harmony and counter­point in the world and fail to produce anything of any interest whatever. The really great masters of the past are those who have com­bined the gift for making melodies with the technique of writing. Some individuals have had the ability to make charming melodies which have gone down to posterity as lovely folksongs—others have had wonderful technique in writing, but no gift for melody. It is the combination which effects mastery.

“In my own music I find myself continually tending toward simplicity and pure melody. The simpler and the clearer the better. The more complicated music becomes the more unlikely it is to survive unless it possesses the true melodic character. Incoherent jumbles of notes do not live and go down through the centuries. The beautiful melodies of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert and others will.

American Musical Progress

“In America there has been a notable advance in musical appreciation in the last decade. Of course, there has been an advance along mod­ernistic lines all over the world. With the great number of eminent musicians now re­siding in America, with the rich opportunities for hearing fine music and with the ever ex­panding audience it would be strange if there had not been unusual progress. Your remark­able auditoriums, your orchestras (notably the Philadelphia Orchestra) equal in every way to the finest orchestras imaginable anywhere, have laid foundation upon which America may hope to build much in the future. In all parts of America I have been delighted with the reception given me and the serious interest shown in my music. It has not been possible for me, as yet, to make a sufficient study of the most recent development along the line of competition in America to comment authoritatively upon it. I have seen some works of Mr. Carpenter, of Chica­go, that have impressed me very much.”

Architecture in America

“To the stranger visiting America the most notable external feature is, of course, the wonderful architect­ural development. The progress in this direction is staggering. I do not refer merely to the great buildings amazing in their height, sometimes very beautiful but often hideous in their narrow confines, but to the vast number of extremely beautiful and substantial public structures embodying all the rich and impressive prin­ciples of architectural art. This is also to be seen in the great number of remarkable residences in cities and in the suburban districts. Where the highest skill of the architect and the decorator has been directed toward structural artistic tendencies, there is much to expect in all branches of artistic development. This should reflect itself in all the literature, the music, the painting of the new world. It cannot fail to make its impres­sion on young minds.

“I am told that American Orchestras and the interest in orchestral music is increasing very rapidly in America. This is a very healthy sign. Orchestral music demands intelligent appreciation and at the same time fosters appreciation. I am asked whether the future advances in music will demand many changes in the make up of the orchestra. There will be changes of course but they will come very gradually as they have come in the past. The orchestras of Haydn which usually numbered less than forty men have grown until the present day orches­tras number in the vicinity of one hundred men. Yet the orchestras of Haydn and Mozart were entirely adequate for the music and the auditoriums of that day. This is a day of immense undertakings and there are frequent attempts to present perfectly huge orchestras of from two hundred to five hundred players. With the usual auditorium such great bodies of players are unnecessary as the orchestra of one hundred or there­abouts is adequate for effects. It is all very well to have immense massed choruses because they are more compact and come more readily under the command of the baton, but huge orchestras cover such a great space and require such a great amount of careful drilling that they are rarely worth the effort and expense required to bring them about.

“With the broadening musical interest there should also be a breadth in musical education. It is my belief that every child who studies music seriously should study two instruments. This is a feature of almost all European music­al conservatories. There, the piano student, for instance, is expected to take up an auxiliary instrument—the violin for instance. The violin student is expected to take up another instru­ment—let us say the piano. This unquestion­ably makes for better musicianship and is a. good idea to follow in all musical education. The piano is very probably the best instru­ment to study at the start because of com­plete character, but later on every piano stu­dent destined to follow a musical career should study some instrument in which he is obliged to create the tones as he is compelled to do in the case of the violin, the viola, the cello, the double bass, etc.

Broader Musical Understanding

“In the field of musical composition the ad­vanced student of today is compelled to make studies and researches in harmony far in excess of his forefathers. At the beginning the ele­ments of harmony and the methods of studying it are very much the same as in former years. Richter Jhadassohn, and the more mod­ern books along similar lines still suffice. I myself studied Richter. It is after these books have been mastered that the real work commences. There are no books on harmony or composition like the researches which the student will make himself in reading the scores of great works themselves. The subject is too vast and the field too great. Anyone who expects to learn composition from any book or from any library of books will be miserably disappointed. The study of grammar is very necessary to the writer but it will never teach him how turn out literature. The great book is music itself. Study the works of Bach, of Beethoven, of Brahms, of Wagner. See how they achieved their effects. As I have com­mented before none of these masters reached the frontiers of art because art has no frontiers. There is always room for advance, always room for progress. Yet in their day every one was considered an extremist going out into the great unknown and perhaps going further than he should. This was even the case of Haydn, who in his time was denounced as a cacophonist. Im­agine such a thing!

Pilfering Masterpieces

“It is not necessary for me to advise America as to the matter of musical ideals. There are horrible perver­sions in all parts of the world. One of the greatest abuses I have observed since my visit to this country has been the deliberate pilfering of the great musical masters of the past to make some popular tune. If there must be prohibition, why not make a law to prevent such desecration. The other night I heard in a hotel in Pittsburgh the lovely Blue Danube Waltz of Johann Strauss murdered in some popular tune in which it appeared in four quarter time. I am told that this is not only common but that popular publishers in keeping with the banditry of the times are making a continual practice of it. The bad effect upon the art and upon the student of the art is that it belittles the need for creating original melodies. When it is so easy to steal, why produce? Such a practice should be suppressed by the indignation of all true music lovers. However, America is not alone in this by any means, since there has come from Europe an opera based upon the themes of Schubert. Poor Schubert! When the composer must confess that he is so poverty stricken for anything like musical invention that he has to rob the peaceful grave of a great master of the past.

America’s Possibilities

“In closing let me reiterate that America’s bountiful interest in patronizing musical art in a munificent way, that her great dynamic power as indicated in her great industries and in her great buildings, point to immense possibilities in the future. With such tremendous activ­ity and intense idealism wonderful results must come in all the arts.”


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