STRAUSS EIN HELDENLEBEN
Late Romanticism at the threshold of modernity: music on a heroic scale
Richard Strauss wrote his tone poem for large orchestra “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) in 1898, shortly before he left Munich for the Berlin Court Opera, where he was appointed house conductor. In the imaginary hero whose eventful life is described in the work, the young Strauss apparently envisioned the freelance artist of his time, who was exposed to considerable hostility during the Wilhelminian era, just as Strauss himself in his early Munich period.
Some parts of the work clearly bear autobiographical traits. Conceived in a free sonata form in Beethoven’s “heroic key” (Eroica!) of E flat major, the work was originally provided with sectional titles which stated the main ideas of the work. As in the case of Mahler’s early symphonies, the composer deleted them from the score after the world premiere, but did not deny certain autobiographical aspects in the work. The titles read: The Hero – The Hero’s Adversaries – The Hero’s Courtship – The Hero’s Battlefield – The Hero’s Works of Peace – The Hero’s Retreat from the World, and Fulfillment.
This performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is led by the orchestra’s principal conductor Mariss Jansons, who also heads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam and whose many honors include an “ECHO Klassik” award as “conductor of the year” in 2007 and the designation as “conductor of the year 2011” by 50 international music critics surveyed by the trade journal “Opernwelt.” Moreover, the Orchestra itself was hailed as one of the top ten orchestras in the world by the UK journal “Gramophone.” “They [the BRSO] play every concert as if it were their last. For me as conductor, it’s like driving a Rolls-Royce,” says Jansons. Playing the solo violin – which stands in for the hero’s beloved – is Anton Barachovsky.