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Spotlight on Strauss

FRIDAY, MARCH 15, 2013

Symphony pays tribute to composer’s ‘Hero’s Life’

This weekend, the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Eckart Preu, will perform instrumental excerpts from operas by Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Strauss. The featured selection will be “Ein Heldenleben” which was Strauss’ last tone poem before he turned to opera.

Verdi (1813-1901) was world famous and wealthy when he composed “Aida.” One of the most famous excerpts from the entire grand opera repertoire is the Triumphal March from Act II, Scene 2. The triadic fanfarelike theme of the march was certainly not lost on generations of subsequent composers, especially John Williams (“Star Wars”).

Other selections from “Aida” to be performed are the Prelude to Act I and the Ballet that follows the March. Although Verdi reportedly loathed writing ballet music for his operas, the audiences outside of Italy clamored for the music.

Strauss’ “Salome” is an opera in one act based on the 1891 play by Oscar Wilde. This work raised many eyebrows at the time but made Wilde and, later, Strauss (1864-1949) even more famous.

While not based on the biblical account of John the Baptist, the story does trace back to antiquity and was very popular.

The main objection to this work is the final scene where Salome dances as payment for the head of John the Baptist. “Salome’s Dance,” also known as the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” is the most well-known excerpt from this opera. It was last performed by the Spokane Symphony in 1991.

The main selection for this concert is “Ein Heldenleben” which traces musically the life of a hero. Although some of the composer’s own life is suggested, the story is about a generic hero and his world. It is in one movement, divided into six sections; except for a pause after section one, the music is continuous.

The six sections are: “The Hero,” “The Critics” (dissonant, irritating phrases), “The Courtship” (longest section), “The Hero’s Battlefield” with trumpet fanfares, “The Hero’s Works for Peace,” in which Strauss quotes numerous examples from his previous tone poems, and “The Hero’s Retreat from the World and Inner Peace.”

An enlarged orchestra is called for in the performance of this work and the solo violin part, one of the most challengingly difficult in the orchestra world, represents the hero throughout the 50-minute composition last performed in 1988 by the orchestra.

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