Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung (Death andTransfiguration) op. 24

Duration : 25 minutes

Mikko Franck conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France performing the symphonic poem "Tod und Verklärung" (Death and Transfiguration) by Richard Strauss, composed in 1887-1888. Excerpt from the concert recorded on 21 décembre 2018, live from de Radio France Auditorium.

Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) was composed during the decade in which Richard Strauss composed many of his great symphonic poems inspired by literature, poetry, and philosophy from various different sources. This influential decade begin in 1889 with the symphonic fantasy Aus Italien – hommage, in many ways, to Harold en Italie by Berlioz and to Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. These symphonic poems each draw influences from the works of Franz Liszt whilst at the same time transcending the genre with a melodic verve and a constant renewal of the form itself, characteristics untypical of the orchestral works of the Hungarian composer.

Thus were born after Aus Italien, successively: Macbeth, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and finally Ein Heldenleben. Strauss then dedicated himself almost entirely to the stage, creating Feuersnot (1901) and Salome (1905), until the final Capriccio, premiered in Munich in 1942.

Richard Strauss elevated somewhat the style of the symphonic poem, but he was always careful to never become subserviant to the chosen texts for his works. Several of his symphonic poems, contrary to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, even have a particularly weak literary support. This is the case of Death and Transfiguration, whose score includes an epigraph of a poem by Alexander Ritter, but which could very well do without such an addition. The music indeed speaks of agony, of suffering, of a fight with Death, then of a final rise towards deliverance, the light and appeasement, an inward journey which hardly requires additional commentary or further explaination to be wholly understood by the listener. The program even seems to have been added in this case to the music after the fact.

Richard Strauss himself wrote: "Death and transfiguration is the fruit of my imagination, and not that of a lived experience (I fell ill almost two years later). It was an idea like any other... Probably the musical need, after Macbeth [which begins and ends in D minor] and Don Juan [which begins and ends in E minor] to write a piece that begins in C minor and finishes in C major!". 

The c minor key of the work's opening is that of agony and nostalgia. The timpani announces the violence of the duel with Death,  Un coup de timbale annonce la violence du combat avec la mort, a fierce struggle that subsides briefly before giving way to the glorious memories that seize the imagination of the dying hero: it is the heroic life (expressed by the horns), it is love, it is also the theme of the Ideal that seeks to impose itself. (The last of the Four Last Songs quotes this theme fleetingly.) A new transition, with stifled yet threatening tom-tom hits, leads to a great crescendo that affirms the theme of the Ideal and ends with an arpeggio of harps, in an atmosphere of definitive reconciliation.

Sol Gabetta and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France perform Dukas, Weinberg, Strauss and Ravel
Full concert
Sol Gabetta and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France perform Dukas, Weinberg, Strauss and Ravel
Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio, Paris
Richard Strauss
All artists
  • Mikko Franck
    Mikko FranckConductor
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra