No false modesty about Richard Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'
Friday 06 August 2010
I've been swotting up on Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben in advance of Friday night's Prom by the Hallé and conductor Sir Mark Elder, for which I'm a guest TV commentator. The title means "a hero's life". There was no false modesty about Strauss when, aged 34, he set about writing this, the last of his great tone poems. The hero was the composer himself, engaging in a Nietzsche-inspired quest for fulfilment, battling against and vanquishing his critics, plus finding true love.
"I don't see why I shouldn't write a symphony about myself," he once declared. "I find myself quite as interesting as Napoleon or Alexander." The comment did, of course, include a healthy dose of irony: Strauss is referring to Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which was inspired partly by Napoleon, rather than presenting us with serious megalomania.
It's impossible not to be swept up in the glorious storytelling of Ein Heldenleben. Strauss represents his carping critics in dry, prickly chitter-chatter on the woodwind. But best of all is "the hero's companion", a musical depiction of Strauss's wife Pauline de Ahna, a singer, who is represented by the solo violin.
In real life Pauline Strauss had a reputation for being quite a battleaxe. Her tendency to ferocity is evident in a family story that my violinist husband, Tom, loves to tell. His great-grandfather was a German businessman who knew Strauss well. One evening the two families were dining together beside a beautiful Bavarian lake. Frau Strauss selected a fish from the menu. The waiter, apologising, explained that they had run out, and suggested brown trout. "Nein! I don't want that bloody fish!" the lady expostulated.
Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben', Hallé Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder (conductor), BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall,tonight, 7pm (0845 401 5040)
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 2 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 3 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 4 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
- 5 YouTube social experiment shows just how easy it is to kidnap a child
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils