A Hero's Life
A Hero's Life, Op. 40 (German: Ein Heldenleben) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. The work was completed in 1898, and heralds the composer's more mature period in this genre. The piece is said to depict a hero fighting his enemies.
Structure and analysis 
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A Hero's Life is a through-composed, circa fifty-minute work, performed without pauses, except for a dramatic grand pause at the end of the first movement. The movements are titled as follows (later editions of the score may not show these titles, owing to the composer's request that they be removed):
- "Der Held" (The Hero)
- "Des Helden Widersacher" (The Hero's Adversaries)
- "Des Helden Gefährtin" (The Hero's Companion)
- "Des Helden Walstatt" (The Hero at Battle)
- "Des Helden Friedenswerke" (The Hero's Works of Peace)
- "Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung" (The Hero's Retirement from this World and Consummation)
1. "The Hero": The first theme has been said to represent the hero. In unison, horns and celli play E-flat major triads ascending through an almost four-octave span. A contrasting lyrical theme first appears in high strings and winds in B major. A second motive appears, outlining a stepwise descending fourth. Trumpets sound a dominant seventh chord followed by a grand pause, the only prolonged silence throughout the entire piece.
2. "The Hero's Adversaries": The movement opens with chromatic woodwinds and low brass: multiple motives in contrasting registers are heard. It is said that the adversaries represented by the woodwinds are Strauss's critics, such as 19th-century Viennese music critic [Doktor Dehring], who is memorably written into the score with an ominous four note leitmotif played by the two tubas in parallel fifths.
3. "The Hero's Companion": The movement is a representation of the composer's wife Pauline de Ahna, who was famed for her complex and contradictory character. It features a tender melody played by a solo violin. In an extended accompanied cadenza filled with extremely detailed performance instructions by Strauss, after the fashion of an operatic recitative, the violin presents new motivic material, alternating with brief interjections in low strings, winds, and brass. During this section, the violin briefly foreshadows a theme that will appear fully later. The cadenza concludes and the new thematic material is combined in a cantabile episode commencing in G-flat. Fragments of the motives from the previous movement briefly appear. A fanfare motive in offstage trumpets, repeated onstage, is then heard.
These three initial sections comprise an elaborate exposition, with elements of a multiple-movement symphony evident in their contrasting character and tempo. The remainder of the work will comprise development, recapitulation, and coda, with occasional new thematic material.
4. "The Hero's Battlefield": In this first extended development section of the work, percussion and a solo trumpet are heard in the first appearance of 3/4 time: a variation of a previous motive. A sequence of clamorous trumpet fanfares occurs as the music approaches a harmonic climax in G flat, and the related E flat minor. Percussion is pervasive throughout the movement. 4/4 time returns in a modified recapitulation of the first theme as it appeared at the beginning of the piece, this time with a repeated quaver accompaniment. A new cantabile theme makes its appearance in the trumpet, and an extended elaboration of this serves to preface the next section.
5. "The Hero's Works of Peace": Themes of previous works, including such works as Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Macbeth, Also sprach Zarathustra, Death and transfiguration, Don Juan, Guntram, the lied Traum durch die Dämmerung and Don Quixote, are heard in this movement. The melodies lead into the final section.
6. "The Hero's Retirement from this World and Consummation": Yet another new motive appears, commencing in a rapid descending E-flat triad, which introduces a new development of the original theme: an elegy featuring harp, bassoon, English horn, and strings. The reappearance of the previous "Hanslick" motive brings in an agitato episode. This is followed by a distinctly pastoral interlude featuring English horn, reminiscent of Rossini's William Tell Overture. The descending triad now appears slowly, cantabile, as the head of a new, peaceful theme in E flat: this is the theme foreshadowed during the violin cadenza. In a final variation of the initial motive, the brass intones the last fanfare, suggesting the beginnings of another tone poem (Also Sprach Zarathustra, a work often coupled with Ein Heldenleben).
Dedication and performances 
Strauss dedicated the piece to the 27-year old Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. However, it was premiered by the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester on March 3, 1899 in Frankfurt, with the composer conducting. The first American performance occurred a year later, performed by the Chicago Symphony, conducted by Theodore Thomas.
The Alsatian-born American critic Otto Floersheim was highly unimpressed. He wrote a damning review of an early performance in the Musical Courier (April 19, 1899): "... alleged symphony ... revolutionary in every sense of the word. The climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life, is reached in the chapter 'The Hero's Battlefield.' The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise, no longer deserving of the word music, is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy".
The work is scored for an orchestra consisting of piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, English horn (doubling 4th oboe), E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns in F, E and E-flat, 3 trumpets (used offstage briefly), 2 trumpets in E-flat, 3 trombones, tenor tuba in B-flat (euphonium), tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tenor drum, tam-tam, 2 harps, and strings, including an extensive solo violin part.
There are many recordings of A Hero's Life.
- Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati (Rec. 1953, issued on LP; authorized commercial CD transfers not released.)
- New York Philharmonic/Willem Mengelberg (Rec. 1928, Pearl Records)
- Bavarian State Orchestra/Richard Strauss (Rec. 1941, Deutsche Grammophon; Dutton Labs)
- Concertgebouw Orchestra/Willem Mengelberg (Rec. 1942, Teldec; Naxos Historical)
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Rec. 1947, Testament; Biddulph)
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner (Rec. 1954, RCA Living Stereo)
- Staatskapelle Dresden/Karl Böhm (Rec. 1957, Deutsche Grammophon)
- Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Rec. 1959, Deutsche Grammophon)
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Rec. 1959, EMI [STEREO])
- Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Rec. 1960, Sony Classical)
- London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli (Rec. 1969, EMI)
- Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink (Rec. 1970, Philips)
- London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli (Rec. 1970, BBC Classics [IN CONCERT])
- Staatskapelle Dresden/Rudolf Kempe (Rec. 1972, EMI)
- Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Rec. 1974, EMI)
- Vienna Philharmonic/Andre Previn (Rec. 1988, Telarc)
- Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnanyi (Rec. 1992, London/DECCA)
- San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt (Rec. 1994, London/DECCA)
- Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue (Rec. 1998, Reference Recordings RR-83)
- Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Rec. 2000, EXTON)
- WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne/Semyon Bychkov (Rec. 2001, Avie)
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (Rec. 2003, Erato/Warner Classics)
- Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (Rec. 2004, RCO Live)
- Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle (Rec. 2005, EMI)
- Staatskapelle Dresden/Fabio Luisi (Rec. 2007, Sony)
- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck (Rec. 2008, EXTON)
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink (Rec. 2010, CSO Resound)
- Ferguson, Donald Nivison (1968). Masterworks of the orchestral repertoire: a guide for listeners. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 571–575. ISBN 978-0-8166-0467-8.
- Phillip Huscher. "Ein Heldenleben program notes". Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
- Liner notes by Kenneth Chalmers to Philips recording of Kossuth
- "Perlman to appear in concert", News OK, 11 October 2002
- A Hero's Life: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project