The Music Plays On

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Richard Strauss

On this day Richard Strauss was born in 1864 and I thought it’d be fun to share my favorite recordings of his tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spoke Zarathustra). Zarathustra was the sixth tone poem that he wrote. Finished in 1896, it was also the longest. The first performance took place in Frankfurt on November 27, 1896, and Strauss conducted. The title refers to the philosophical novel of the same name by Friedrich Nietzsche and each movement refers to a specific chapter in the book.

  1. “Einleitung, oder Sonnenaufgang” (Introduction, or Sunrise)
  2. “Von den Hinterweltlern” (Of the Backworldsmen)
  3. “Von der großen Sehnsucht” (Of the Great Longing)
  4. “Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften” (Of Joys and Passions)
  5. “Das Grablied” (The Song of the Grave)
  6. “Von der Wissenschaft” (Of Science and Learning)
  7. “Der Genesende” (The Convalescent)
  8. “Das Tanzlied” (The Dance Song)
  9. “Nachtwandlerlied” (Song of the Night Wanderer)

The very first recording was made, surprisingly, in the United States in 1935 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Serge Koussevitsky. The sound quality isn’t bad and there are stylistic qualities that are heard here for the first time.

While the sound quality isn’t great for this next recording, it is absolutely essential everyone hear this because it is Strauss himself who is conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in this 1944 recording. It’s a very revealing recording for its straightforwardness and no-nonsense.

One of the most famous recordings of all time that still rival any modern orchestra in terms of technical brilliance, is the 1954 recording made by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Reiner. It is interesting to note that it is very similar to Richard Strauss’ interpretation.

The version of the very beginning (Sunrise) that most people have heard but aren’t of it is Herbert von Karajan’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1959. This is what’s used in Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Here are some my favorite performances and recordings:

One of the proudest moments I ever had with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra was their performance of Also sprach Zarathustra.