RICHARD STRAUSS.- Sinfonía Alpina Op.64
Richard Strauss had a birthday this week so let’s make him our esoteric pick of the week as a birthday present. It’s the thought that counts.
Strauss wrote six “great tone poems.” In all, there are ten Strauss tone poems. So what of the other four? They fall neatly into order with Aus Italien and Macbeth as his first and third efforts and Sinfonia Domestica and Eine Alpensinfonie being numbers nine and ten.
In case you’re wondering, the six are Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel, Don Quixote, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration, and A Hero’s Life. Paul Thomason has grouped those first three as being based on three male archetypes and the next three as having philosophical themes.
Which is going to be the esoteric pick? I’m going with Eine Alpensinfonie because it’s his most mature work and it was the subject of the first CD ever created, yet it remains on the back burner. Actually, it’s usually in the prep kitchen, at the back of the walk-in freezer, just behind Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony.
The subject of this tone poem is an 11-hour hike up an Alpine Mountain from pre-dawn to twilight and then nightfall. Lots of “stuff” happens. There are 22 incidents which unfold during the 50-minute-long composition.
This could be one reason Eine Alpensinfonie isn’t performed often. It’s longer than most symphonies, except those by Bruckner and Mahler, and it takes 120+ musicians in the orchestra. That can get spendy. It's almost like paying for two complete concerts but only getting one.
Financial matters aside. this music earns its title. All that we might associate with the Alps, even those of us who have yet to visit, is present. However, there is a sexual ecstasy in Strauss' masterpiece which forces me to get biblical. (Yes, there is sex in the Bible.)
From Song of Solomon: "Your stature is like a palm tree, And your breasts are like its clusters. "I said, 'I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its fruit stalks.' Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, And the fragrance of your breath like apples, And your mouth like the best wine! It goes down smoothly for my beloved, Flowing gently through the lips of those who fall asleep.”
Strauss doesn’t climb the tree to partake of its fruits, he climbs the mountain — and then falls asleep. All men do.