Classical & Opera: Yuri Temirkanov conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben at Leeds Town Hall, tonight at 7.30pm, and at London's Royal Albert Hall, tomorrow at 7.30pm.

Music tends to be the least autobiographical of all the arts. The opening motif of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is said to represent the fate of his encroaching deafness but whatever the initial source of inspiration, an abstract symphonic argument still ensues. Not so, however, for Richard Strauss in his opulent tone poem Ein Heldenleben or A Hero's Life, in which the vividly drawn and larger-than-life hero would seem to be the composer himself.

Cast in six interlinked sections and taking on the shape of a vast sonata movement, Ein Heldenleben begins by offering an idealised portrait of the hero, followed by charting his adversaries, his companion, his deeds in war, his works for peace and, finally, his retirement from the world. Yet the hero's companion takes on the shape of Strauss's wife, the opera singer Pauline; his adversaries are not military enemies but music critics; and the works for peace section consists of a brilliant tapestry of self- quotation from a host of Strauss's previous opuses.

It's all led some detractors to conclude that Heldenleben is little more than an overblown late Romantic and perhaps peculiarly Germanic piece of self-publicity. Which is perhaps to deny the obvious tongue-in-cheek nature of the entire enterprise, for the work abounds in wit and genial good humour. Yet leaving aside the autobiographical element altogether, one can't help marvel at Strauss's brilliant powers of invention or his ravishing scoring. He employs a massive orchestra, replete with elaborate percussion and a prominent octet of horns - instruments he described as "well versed in heroism."

The results amount to a splendid, vivid and virtuoso score which can test any orchestra and conductor to their limits. And even if the thrust of Ein Heldenleben is autobiographical, so what? It's a deliberately idealised form of autobiography, brimming with bathos. Irreverent and self-parodic, Heldenleben now comes over as an almost post-modern concoction which makes it as audacious today as it was when Strauss wrote it 99 years ago.

EYE ON THE NEW

A close friend of Grieg, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky and championed by, amongst others, Brahms, Beecham and Boult, yet half a century after her death (yes, her death), she is largely forgotten. The composer in question is Dame Ethel Smythe. The Dulwich Choral Society and the Ruskin Orchestra, conducted by Susan Farrow, attempt to make amends for this sorry state of affairs with an evening dedicated to her work. It features Smythe's March of the Women and Mass in D. Blackheath Concert Halls, (0181-463 0100), Blackheath, London SE3, tonight, 7.30pm

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'