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Richard Strauss /
Matthew Boyden.
London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, c1999.
viii, 431 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
155553418X (cloth)
More Details
London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, c1999.
155553418X (cloth)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. [408]-413) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Matthew Boyden is a musicologist and writer on music. He has been editor of the classical record magazine CD Review and is the author of the Rough Guide to Opera. He has broadcast in England on Radio 3, Talk Radio, the World Service and Channel Four and is a trustee of the John Ogdon Foundation. He lives in a Wesleyan Chapel in Cornwall, England
First Chapter

Chapter One


My heart swells with a father's joy as I do myself the honour of informing you, my dear father-in-law, that yesterday (Saturday), at 6 o'clock in the morning, my dear good little wife bestowed on me the happiness of a boy, healthy, pretty and as round as a ball, and at the same time it gives me the greatest pleasure to tell you that mother and son are both well ... I think my wife has already told you that Georg is to be godfather and that, according to her wishes, our small son is to receive the name Richard Georg -- Your grateful son-in-law, Strauss.

    Franz Strauss sent this letter to Georg Pschorr on June 12, 1864, the day after the birth of his son. Richard's arrival exorcised demons that had tormented him since the death of his first two children over a decade earlier. Three years later, on June 9, 1867, his second wife Josephine gave birth to Johanna, Richard's only sibling.

    Franz was born in illegitimacy and poverty. As a child, he and his family wanted for much, particularly after his father, Johann Urban Strauss, deserted them in 1827. The five-year-old boy was then unofficially adopted by his uncle Michael Walter, a tower master in Nabburg, a small town some sixty miles south of Bayreuth. A strict authoritarian, Walter raised Franz in a Catholic-Bavarian tradition that involved an unenviable mixture of violent discipline and vigorous tuition. As the man in charge of local musical events, he introduced his adopted son to a wide range of music. Franz studied guitar, violin, trumpet, dulcimer and Waldhorn -- an instrument on which he was an obvious natural. As a child he divided his time between fire-watching from the tower, playing the horn at public ceremonies, and singing in the local choir. By the age of fifteen his future as a musician was assured.

    In 1837 two of Franz's uncles left to join the private orchestra of Duke Max of Bavaria and Franz soon followed, enjoying a busy life that brought him before the elite of Munich society. He began composing, had some music published, and in 1847 joined the Court Orchestra -- for whom he played the horn and viola for an amazing forty-two years. In 1851 he married Elise Seiff, the daughter of a military bandmaster by whom he had a son three years later. The boy contracted cholera after just ten months and died -- followed almost immediately by his new-born baby sister and their mother. As a widower of thirty-two Franz held out little hope of finding another wife.

    Two years later, however, he was introduced to Josephine (née Josepha) Pschorr, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a wealthy, middle-class brewery owner Georg Pschorr. It took him seven years to muster the courage (and the savings) to propose, but by the time Josephine married Franz Strauss in 1863, the Pschorr family wielded considerable regional influence (not least for their patronage of the arts), and Strauss -- working class and illegitimate -- looked to the Pschorrs for the middle-class probity lacking in his own parentless circumstances.

    Although Josephine's father took a somewhat medieval attitude to discipline, once claiming that his children were `beaten every Saturday, whether they've done anything or not -- they always deserve it', she enjoyed a secure and privileged upbringing. For this reason, and perhaps because he was sixteen years older than his bride, Franz fell short as a model husband. In 1942 Richard jotted down some memories of his father: `At home he was extremely temperamental, quick-tempered, and tyrannical, and my delicate mother required all her meekness and goodness to allow the relationship between my parents, sustained as it always was by genuine love and high esteem, to continue in undisturbed harmony ... He was what is called a man of principle. He would have considered it dishonest ever to revise a judgement on an artistic subject once he had arrived at it, and remained impervious to my theories even in his old age.'

    In short, Franz was not an easy man to live with. From the outset Josephine looked upon him as something of a patriarch (increasingly so after her father's death in 1867), which helped him overcome some of his insecurities. The aggressive manner, his aversion to compromise and his arrogance were easily explained, but his confrontational disposition made family life a strain. Certainly, the sensitive Josephine (recalled by Richard's sister Johanna as a woman of `a rare simplicity, modest and undemanding') felt it more than anyone else.

    Few were surprised when she began to wither beneath her husband's stentorian personality. By the late 1870s she was suffering prolonged bouts of depression, brought on by a growing sense of inferiority (which Franz did little to dispel), and it was not long before her mind began to fail her. Long stretches in primitive psychiatric institutions made a bad situation worse, and by 1899 Josephine was threatening suicide.

    Franz was rather more successful as a musician and the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when he was growing up, was an especially exciting time in the history of Munich's musical life. The 1787 ban on works by Italian composers was lifted in 1805 and The Residenztheater staged many important premières, including Weber's Abu Hassan in 1811 and Meyerbeer's first opera, Jepthas Gelübde , in 1812. Singspiels and farces, by Röth, Weigl, Müller and others, were performed at the Theater am Isartor under the direction of Peter yon Lindpainter, and when this theatre was closed in 1825 by Ludwig I, operatic life in Munich floundered until Franz Lachner was appointed to reorganise the repertoire, establish a full-time orchestra and create a methodical theatrical troupe. Lachner almost single-handedly defined musical life for middle-century Munichers, devoting courageous amounts of time and faith to living composers--regardless of their nationality. He staged premières of operas by Spohr, Lortzing, Marschner, Gounod and Verdi; and while by no means a natural Wagnerian, finding the composer almost as disagreeable as his music, he dutifully staged the city premières of Lohengrin and Tannhäuser .

    The achievements of Ludwig I and Franz Lachner were fully appreciated by Ludwig II, born in 1845. But where the grandfather had taken a holistic approach to his city's administration, the son was prone to shortsightedness, especially after his discovery of Richard Wagner -- whose arrival in Munich in 1864 -- effectively squeezed Lachner, and his achievements, from living memory. With no talent for bureaucracy, politics or economics, the state lost considerable influence under Ludwig II, just as it lost a fortune to his passion for castle-building; and although Munich played its part in the wars of 1866 and 1870, the city's reputation was left irredeemably stained. He was murdered, not without reason, by drowning, in 1886.

    As far as Franz Strauss was concerned, the young king was the very embodiment of decadence, and Franz was not alone in considering Ludwig's patronage of Wagner a unique marriage of insanity and depravity. The composer's arrival in Munich had coincided almost exactly with the birth of Franz's son Richard, and Strauss and Wagner were thrust together from 1864 until the final performances of Parsifal some eighteen years later. Although Wagner was swift to burn his bridges in Munich, being forced from the city within just eighteen months (having cheated and exploited both friends and acquaintances), his operas and their admirers (led by Hans yon Bülow, who ousted Lachner from his official positions in 1867) continued to wield influence long after his departure. The premières of Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger yon Nürnberg, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre demanded regular visits by their composer, and the two men became close enemies. Wagner brought out the worst in natural conservatives such as Franz Strauss, which was doubly unfortunate since Wagner thought him one of the greatest horn players in Germany.

    Honoured by the conductor Hans von Bülow as `the Joachim of the horn', Franz was acclaimed for the smoothness of his tone and the security of his embouchure . On May 24, 1867 Hans Richter, Wagner's assistant and copyist, paid a visit to Franz in Munich (where the horn player's two-year-old son caught his attention). Although Richter was himself an outstanding horn player, he considered Franz his superior and, although Richter disapproved of Franz's hostility towards Wagner, he too was compelled to acknowledge his talent. But within the orchestra, and throughout the `good families' of Munich, Franz had developed a reputation for trouble which was ascribed to his rectitude and because so few were willing to stand their ground against him his view of himself became somewhat inflated.

    In 1854 Franz Strauss's status was officially recognised by the Munich Academy, who elected him `Controller'. He was engaged as professor at the Royal School of Music in 1871, was appointed `Kammermusiker' by the King in 1873 and, in recognition of his services to the city, he was presented with the Ludwig Medal for Learning and Art in May 1879. However, just as marriage into money and respectability, when bestowed on a working-class illegitimate, was unlikely to pass unnoticed, so the ever greater triumphs that came his way became increasingly a measure of honour for Franz. Contemporary accounts suggest that, as the years passed, he grew into something of a caricature of the society to which he had so long aspired.

    Desperate for the Establishment's warm embrace, it was no less inevitable that his musical taste should look back rather than forward; as with most things in life, Franz considered a commitment to aesthetic order as unshakeable as the obligation to his wife and family. Probably the most conservative musician in the Munich Court Orchestra, Franz, according to Richard, `worshipped the trinity of Mozart (above the others), Haydn and Beethoven. These were followed by the Lieder composer Schubert, by Weber, and, at some distance, by Mendelssohn and Spohr. To him the later Beethoven works, from the finale of the Seventh Symphony onward, were no longer "pure music" ... Where music ceased to be a play of sounds and became, quite consciously, music as expression, my father only followed with mental reservations ... he was incapable of appreciating the later Wagner, although no one gave as spirited a rendering of the horn solo in Tristan and Die Meistersinger as he.'

    Franz's lack of affection for Wagner's music was as nothing when compared to his hatred for the man. Wagner violated Franz's uncompromising moral and aesthetic principles, leaving little hope of reconciliation. On one occasion he commented: `You can have no conception of the idolatry that surrounds this drunken ruffian. There is no ridding me now of my conviction that the man is ill with immeasurable megalomania and delirium, because he drinks so much, and strong liquor at that, that he is permanently intoxicated. Recently he was so tight at a rehearsal that he almost fell into the pit.' When news of Wagner's death reached the pit of the Munich Staatsoper in 1883, Franz Strauss was alone in ignoring Hermann Levi's suggestion that the orchestra rise to their feet as a mark of respect.

    When not warring with Wagner, Franz Strauss directed his hostile attentions towards the composer's foremost champion, Hans yon Bülow. As well as conducting the Munich Court Orchestra in the first performances of Tristan and Meistersinger , Bülow also premièred Brahms's Fourth Symphony in 1885 and innumerable other works defined by their classical principles. Although Franz was by no means an advocate of Brahms's work, he sympathised with that composer's classical predilections. Wagner, on the other hand, represented a break with the long-established German tradition, and anything that disavowed its past was, by his thinking, inferior.

    Franz's truculence stemmed, in part, from his assumed responsibilities as a self-appointed cultural (and when prompted, moral) guardian. It is easy to play down the anxiety engendered by works such as Tristan , but as a father as well as a musician he considered it his responsibility to protect the classical grail. When his first wife bore him children he had embarked on fatherhood with an academic belief in the significance of his heritage and his country's superiority. He intended to champion an aesthetic doctrine which he considered under threat from Wagner -- `the Mephistopheles of music' -- and his disciples. By the time Richard was born, that urgency was amplified by the ever-quickening step of the Wagner cult.

     It is worth remembering that the most significant works composed by Brahms and Wagner ( Tristan and the D minor Symphony) were both premièred in 1865 -- the year after Richard's birth -- and although the debate would run until Brahms's death in 1897, Franz greeted Tristan almost as an affront to the classical spirit of Mozart and Haydn. It was a measure of Richard's character that he was able to distance himself from his father's reductive aesthetic credo and although Franz's influence is sometimes overstated, there is little doubt that the middle-class security of the Pschorr-Strauss household provided an unusually stable platform for the fostering of young Richard's talents.

Copyright © 1999 Matthew Boyden. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2000-02:
Boyden's is the third biography of the composer to appear in recent months. Michael Kennedy's Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma (CH, June '99) and Tim Ashley's Richard Strauss (CH, Jul'99) focus mainly on Strauss' life, both professional and domestic. So does the present work, but it includes astonishing new information concerning Strauss's association with the Nazis in the 1930s through WW II. Boyden traces the composer's antisemitism from its beginnings in his boyhood home through his support of Hitler's government. Written in an accessible style, the book is a treasure of information concerning life in Germany before, during, and after the Great Depression. Boyden gives the last chapter the poignant title "Epilogue: A Life Too Long." With its 16 photographs, 29 pages of footnotes, and bibliography with sources, this book will be a fine addition to both academic and public libraries. All levels. W. Ross; University of Virginia
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-08-02:
Strauss (1864-1949), the last great composer in a German line reaching back centuries, was an extraordinary mixture of the poetic (creating music of great beauty and technical sophistication right into his 84th year) and the prosaic (regarding his work strictly as a business, for which he expected to beÄand wasÄpaid remarkably well). He also came from a long anti-Semitic tradition that his closeness to the Wagner family in Bayreuth did nothing to diminishÄand that made the Nazi assault on the Jews late in his life entirely palatable to him (only when a valued colleague like his sometime librettist Stefan Zweig was involved did he raise a murmur of protest). He also had, in the singer Pauline de Ahna, one of the most vixenish wives with whom a great man was ever saddled, though Strauss always insisted her pugnaciousness and public bullying were good for him. Boyden, an English record producer and writer, has worked particularly hard to place Strauss in his cultural context, rightly seeing in him not the musical innovator many of his contemporaries praised but rather a deeply conservative artist with an extraordinary flair for crowd-pleasing melody and effects. As Boyden acutely observes, Strauss can be seen as the progenitor of much of the bombastic music that thunders from our movie screens today. Was he guilty of Nazi collaboration, a subject on which most biographers have given him the benefit of some doubt? Yes, declares Boyden unequivocally, as protection for his wealth and the continuing performance of his music in a land, and a tradition, he had loved all too well. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-08:
This book, written to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Strauss's death, is a remarkably clear-eyed and intelligent assessment of one of this century's most important and problematic composers. British music critic Boyden is no sycophantic apologist: all of Strauss's flaws and excesses, both personal and musical, are soberly laid bare. According to Boyden, Strauss was guided not by any particular aesthetic position but solely by egotism, pragmatic and moneymaking considerations, bourgeois nationalistic values, and an unrepentant Nietzschian worldview that ultimately led to his uncritical acceptance of Nazism. Boyden proceeds chronologically through Strauss's output, with fascinating digressions into the social and intellectual milieu that underlie each work. One of his intriguing theses is that Strauss did not beat a retreat from the precipice of modernism (as is usually presumed) because he never embraced modernism in the first place. This book contains no musical examples and skirts detailed analyses of individual pieces, yet it is so rich in background information and perceptive observations that one doesn't mind. Highly recommended.ÄLarry A. Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, August 1999
Library Journal, August 1999
Publishers Weekly, August 1999
Booklist, September 1999
New York Times Book Review, October 1999
Choice, February 2000
Reference & Research Book News, February 2000
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Main Description
One of Germany's most successful and popular composers, Richard Strauss (1864-1949) enjoyed huge celebrity, vast wealth, and unequaled adulation during his lifetime. His masterful tone poems and operas, including Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, and Elektra, form a musical legacy that endures today. Yet Strauss was an enigmatic figure-an artistic genius who was consumed with a passion to protect the prosperity and security of his own interests. In this intriguing biography, Matthew Boyden unveils the man behind the music, painting in masterful fashion a portrait of Strauss's life and work against the backdrop of his culture and turbulent times. Boyden examines his upbringing, his education, the influence of his domineering father and other mentors, and his loving but tempestuous relationship with his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna. This compelling volume provides a frank discussion of his open anti-Semitism at the Bayreuth Festival and delves into his active and willing collaboration with Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime, fully exploring why and in which ways Strauss allied himself with the Third Reich.
Unpaid Annotation
Boyden, a musicologist, explores how and why Strauss took the controversial step of cooperating with the Nazis. Through an examination of the role of Strauss's domineering father and other mentors as well as his education and the culture that he absorbed, the author portrays a gifted but difficult person living in a horrific time. Confronting the contradictions between Strauss's prodigious achievements and his character, he argues that the composer's historical pessimism, combined with an all-consuming ambition led him to ignore any responsibility for his community and to actively support Hitler's government.
Table of Contents
Illustrationsp. vii
And Paradise was All Around Usp. 1
'Wach Auf!' June 1864 -- January 1880p. 6
A Family Affair January 1880 -- October 1884p. 13
Mentors October 1884 -- April 1886p. 23
The Hero's Adversaries April 1886 -- March 1888p. 35
Certainty of Victory March 1888 -- June 1890p. 48
The Hero's Battlefield June 1890 -- October 1892p. 63
Odyssey November 1892 -- July 1893p. 74
The Politics of Ambition September 1893 -- February 1894p. 85
Opera as Expression February -- May 1894p. 91
General De Ahna May -- October 1894p. 99
From Schalk to Superman October 1894 -- November 1896p. 106
Tilting at Windmills November 1896 -- November 1898p. 125
Protecting the Merchandise September 1898p. 136
From Hero to Schalk November 1898 -- November 1901p. 140
Lullaby before the Storm November 1901 -- June 1905p. 155
The Happy Princess June -- December 1905p. 164
The Elektra Parallax December 1905 -- January 1909p. 178
Premature Post-Modernism January 1909 -- January 1911p. 195
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme January 1911 -- July 1914p. 212
Der Mann Ohne Schatten July 1914 -- December 1918p. 230
The Poisoned Chalice December 1918 -- January 1925p. 244
Intermezzo January 1925 -- January 1933p. 268
The Mighty Leverkuhn January 1933 -- July 1935p. 287
The Unpolitical German I July 1935 -- September 1939p. 314
The Unpolitical German II July 1935 -- September 1939p. 322
Orpheus in the Underworld September 1939 -- May 1945p. 337
Im Abendrot May 1945 -- September 1949p. 357
Epilogue: a Life too Longp. 370
Notesp. 376
Sourcesp. 406
Bibliographyp. 408
Acknowledgementsp. 414
Indexp. 416
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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