Death and Transfiguration

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Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung), Op. 24, is a tone poem for large orchestra by Richard Strauss. Strauss began composition in the late summer of 1888 and completed the work on 18 November 1889. The work is dedicated to the composer's friend Friedrich Rosch.

The music depicts the death of an artist. At Strauss's request, this was described in a poem by the composer's friend Alexander Ritter as an interpretation of Death and Transfiguration, after it was composed.[1] As the man lies dying, thoughts of his life pass through his head: his childhood innocence, the struggles of his manhood, the attainment of his worldly goals; and at the end, he receives the longed-for transfiguration "from the infinite reaches of heaven".

Performance history[edit]

Strauss conducted the premiere on 21 June 1890 at the Eisenach Festival (on the same program with the premiere of his Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra). He also conducted this work for his first appearance in England, at the Wagner Concert with the Philharmonic Society on 15 June 1897 at the Queen's Hall in London.

Critical reaction[edit]

English music critic Ernest Newman described this as music to which one would not want to die or awaken. "It is too spectacular, too brilliantly lit, too full of pageantry of a crowd; whereas this is a journey one must make very quietly, and alone".

Structure[edit]

There are four parts (with Ritter's poetic thoughts condensed):

  1. Largo (The sick man, near death)
  2. Allegro molto agitato (The battle between life and death offers no respite to the man)
  3. Meno mosso (The dying man's life passes before him)
  4. Moderato (The sought-after transfiguration)

A typical performance lasts about 25 minutes.

Instrumentation[edit]

The work is scored for a large orchestra of the following forces:

Quoted[edit]

In one of Strauss's last compositions, "Im Abendrot" from the Four Last Songs, Strauss poignantly quotes the "transfiguration theme" from his tone poem of 60 years earlier, during and after the soprano's final line, "Ist dies etwa der Tod?" (Could this then be death?).

Just before his own death, he remarked that his music was absolutely correct; his feelings mirrored those of the artist depicted within; Strauss said to his daughter-in-law as he lay on his deathbed in 1949: "It's a funny thing, Alice, dying is just the way I composed it in Tod und Verklärung."[2]

Discography[edit]

Conductor Orchestra Recorded
Albert Coates London Symphony Orchestra 1928
Richard Strauss Staatskapelle Berlin 193?
Richard Strauss Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra 1937
Victor de Sabata Berlin Philharmonic 1939
Willem Mengelberg Concertgebouw Orchestra 1942
Arturo Toscanini Philadelphia Orchestra 1942
Leopold Stokowski New York City Symphony Orchestra 1944
Richard Strauss Vienna Philharmonic 1944
Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra 1945
Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony Orchestra 1950
Arturo Toscanini NBC Symphony Orchestra 1952
Wilhelm Furtwängler Vienna Philharmonic 1953
Victor de Sabata Vienna Philharmonic 1953
Herbert von Karajan Philharmonia Orchestra 1953-6-2–1953-6-3
Jascha Horenstein Bamberg Symphony Orchestra 1954
William Steinberg Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 1954
Karl Böhm Concertgebouw Orchestra 1955
Hans Knappertsbusch Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire 1956
Fritz Reiner Vienna Philharmonic 1956
Artur Rodziński Philharmonia Orchestra 1957
George Szell Cleveland Orchestra 1957
Antal Doráti Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra 1958
Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra 1959
Herbert von Karajan Vienna Philharmonic 1960
Pierre Monteux San Francisco Symphony Orchestra 1960
Otto Klemperer Philharmonia Orchestra 1961
Erich Leinsdorf Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra 1961
Zdeněk Košler Prague Symphony Orchestra 1967
Jascha Horenstein London Symphony Orchestra 1970
Rudolf Kempe Staatskapelle Dresden 1970
Herbert von Karajan Berlin Philharmonic 1972
Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra 1978
Lorin Maazel Cleveland Orchestra 1979
Antal Doráti Detroit Symphony Orchestra 1980
Klaus Tennstedt London Philharmonic Orchestra 1980?
Claudio Abbado London Symphony Orchestra 1981
Bernard Haitink Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra 1981
Eduardo Mata Dallas Symphony Orchestra 1981
Kazuyoshi Akiyama Vancouver Symphony Orchestra 1982
Sergiu Celibidache SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra 1982
Herbert von Karajan Berlin Philharmonic 1982
Michael Gielen Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 1984
André Previn Vienna Philharmonic 1987
Giuseppe Sinopoli New York Philharmonic 1987
Christoph von Dohnányi Vienna Philharmonic 1989
Neeme Järvi Scottish National Orchestra 1989
Tolga Kashif Philharmonia Orchestra 1989
Zdeněk Košler Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra 1989
Yondani Butt London Symphony Orchestra 1990
James Levine Metropolitan Opera Orchestra 1995
Lorin Maazel Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra 1995
Jesús López-Cobos Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra 1997
Kurt Masur New York Philharmonic 1998
David Zinman Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra 2001
Lorin Maazel New York Philharmonic 2005
Donald Runnicles Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 2006
Johannes Fritzsch The Queensland Orchestra 2008
Manfred Honeck Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra 2013

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gilliam, Grove
  2. ^ Derrick Puffett's comments on DG disc 447 762-2