Monday, October 22, 2012


Dr. Richard Strauss, Time Magazine, July 25, 1938 

The tone poem “Metamorphosen” was written in 1945 in honor and grief by Richard Strauss. The bombing of Munich during WW II and specifically the Munich Opera House in 1943, became the inspiration. “Metamorphosen,” a metamorphosis, is not the only war-inspired music ever written. Shostakovich wrote 3 symphonies, Leningrad 7th , Stalingrad 8th and the no-name 9th symphony. More on this one, later. It’s a juicy story.

I love history and music. My music history professor made me hate it. He was beyond crashing boredom, if he could make me hate 2 somethings balled into 1 something; I should have loved it twice as much, no? But I loathed it. Anyway, the story of the no-name 9th symphony by Shostakovich that was supposed to celebrate the Soviet win over the Nazis is dandy. As usual, I digress.

Anyway, “Metamorphosen” is a tone poem for orchestrated for 23 strings, specifically 23 SOLO strings: 10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos and 3 double basses. This tone poem, along with his “4 Last Songs” are of the more classical and elegiac of Strauss’s works, returning to his initial style of composing prior to WWI, and during the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Anyway, the man lived a long time and saw lots of shit happen. Kinda like me, but I didn’t get threatened with Concentration Camps and hide my Jewish daughter-in-law and grandkids and then turn around and try to convince Stefan Zweig that Joseph Goebbels would be all cool with him writing librettos from London for his Operas, m’kay? This kind of behavior led the great conductor Arturo Toscanini to say, “To Strauss the Composer, I take off my hat. To Strauss the Man, I put it back on.” We have all had those days, but Toscanini should have kept his talkhole shut.

The sum of a person’s life can never be measured in anecdotes, or slices, but how in the hell can we ever qualify a person’s life? Should we even try? I have a bitch of a time with this. Just when I think I’m on a path of clarity, something comes along and tips my clarity wagon over and it goes all to hell and I scramble around. Or I do some ass thing, like make a judgment and guess what? I’m dead WRONG! Shit! How the hell did that happen? Gee, because… maybe, I’m not God.

My Daddy said that once to my Ma when she bitched at him for something that wasn’t just absolutely, fucking PERFECT. After she ran off at the piehole for about 5 minutes and he stood there looking at her with a twinkle in his eye and his easy grin, and said, “That’s because I’m not God.” Actually, I remembered it wrong, on purpose, because I want him to be THAT guy, but he wasn’t. He was kind of exasperated with her, and probably with me, because I laughed. Big deal. I laugh at everything. So did he. He pointed at the floor and said that, then stomped off to the garage for a slug of hooch. He was who he was. He loved her and he loved me in his human way. Nobody died or got beaten up. We laughed about it 5 minutes later. Slice of life.

He just wasn’t Richard fucking Strauss. Richard Strauss wasn’t "Strauss hanging out with Goebbels most of the time." He was home with his Frau Pauline and they were living in Stuttgart with their young son, who has been mayor of Stuttgart. Erwin Rommel’s kid has also been Mayor of Stuttgart. They're Schwabians, I think. Everyone loves Rommel. Rommel was a Wermacht Panzer General in WW II in North Africa, and not a real Nazi. Nobody likes Montgomery, because he was such a jerk. I have taken polls; "Rommel, or Montgomery?" "Not Monty, he's a jerk." So, it's not just me. He would show up and instant jerkery would ensue, just because he’s prissy and seemed a glory hound. Rommel is lion-brave and suave. 

All due respect. General Rommel had been awarded the equivalent of Knight's Cross and the Pour le Merité in WWI and was Hitler's favorite General. Eek! I just always thought of him as lion-hearted.

Fair and a gentleman too. And a comedian. He used to write to his wife, Lucy who was back in Stuttgart taking care of their only child, a son, Manfred. Rommel wrote his wife that Hitler told him that if he caught any soldiers who were Jews they were to be executed immediately. Rommel told Lucy that that directive fell behind his roll-top desk, "ho ho." That is from an actual letter to Lucy. He gave his staff no orders to ask the enemy prisoners’ faith and would not countenance any such questioning.

The point being, that we all aspire to this kind of honor. I fiddle around with some principle and do principle-checks and being the OCD sad thing  I am, it’s always *PRINCIPLE-CHECK TIME!* If it’s good, HAPPY BALLOONS, if not, my sad balloons are on the ground. Believe it, or not, I have *FILL-IN-THE-BLANK CHECKS* for about everything; appetite, mood, vision, nerve-ending, coordination, Asperger's Syndrome, bipolar; I'm a huge mess.  No wonder my goals are unmet!

Well, that formatting nightmare is over with. I just am trying to explain that we tend to try and put a quality on, or qualify things, people, lives  that are not easily qualified. I am especially bad at this. I’ve noticed, for instance, that as I’ve aged, I go back and listen to music I’ve played or known as a child. I experience it much differently. The same is true for reading. I think the difference is this. My brain organizes information differently now. I don’t want to make this sound clinical, because it’s not. I think it’s mostly spiritual.

As we seek and explore different paths of expression, we expand our belief systems. What may seem rigid, or one way becomes more porous and information flows both ways, I believe. Strauss was looked upon as a giant in the musical world. A German composer of what is known as the late 1st Viennese School. Gustav Mahler was his contemporary, but was of the 2nd Viennese School of composing; very different. But towards the end of Strauss’s life, WW II intervened, and Strauss became Reich Minister of Music under Joseph Goebbels. Thank God, Mahler was already dead.

He was really Strauss’s only equal as a composer and conductor. They had battled for supremacy on both sides of the Atlantic, and hated one another cordially. Mahler was Jewish. But truly, Strauss didn’t see any of this as a stumbling block. He was absolutely blind to the pernicious racism of the 3rd Reich. The horrible killing machines were in Eastern Europe; Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Sobibor, Auschwitz, among many others. In his defense, he could not know about the Wannsee Conference.  Herr Strauss was appointed Reich Music Minister and chose to keep the position so he might be better situated to help his Jewish relatives by marriage. Strauss knew he was a lion in the musical world. In the 20s, only Otto Klemperer, (Werner Klemperer-Colonel Klink's dad, and they had already fled to New York from Vienna in 1938, because they were, gasp! Jews) Bruno Walter, and a very few others were on the scene. 

Even a young Herbert von Karajan had yet to make the scene. Conductors then, were the Rock Stars and they did rock. The mystique and the tantrums were legendary. I started playing professionally, just as those old lions were leaving the stage, so to speak. I'm kind of sad, but with the rise of the musicians' unions, it's probably a good thing. Let me bring Richard back to center stage.

Herr Strauss then sparred with Goebbels for the next several years, not entirely successfully. You can read about the whole ordeal and the presumptuous way he was treated, here.. I don't think he was uncaring or unaware at all. I think Dr. Strauss used Goebbels to safeguard his family. He knew what he was doing. So, I choose to give him a pass. Besides, I’m not God; thanks, Daddy.

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