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Feuersnot (Need for (or lack of) fire),[1] Op. 50, is a Singgedicht (sung poem) or opera in one act by Richard Strauss. The German libretto was written by Ernst von Wolzogen, based on J. Ketel's report "Das erloschene Feuer zu Audenaerde".[2] It was Strauss' second opera.

Thematically, the opera has been interpreted as a parody of Richard Wagner's idea of "redemption through love", with the character of Kunrad representing Strauss himself.[3] The conceptual framework for the opera stems from the Nietzschean perspective that had inspired Strauss in his tone poems Till Eulenspiegel and Also sprach Zarathustra.[4] Strauss and von Wolzogen shared the view that the source of inspiration was material not transcendental: in Feuersnot it is "redemption through sex" which relights the creative fire.

Performance history[edit]

The librettist for the opera was Ernst von Wolzogen, who in 1901 founded the Überbrettl venue (German for "overcabaret, super-cabaret"), the start of the German Kabarett movement which was later to blossom in the Weimar Republic. The mood matched Strauss's desire for something irreverent and cynical, with much word-play (including the names of Wagner and Strauss), and a children's chorus singing “stanzas of quasi folk-song in broad dialect”.[5]

What struck the contemporary audiences most was the bawdiness and innuendo. There was much pressure on the composer to tone it down, but Strauss and the conductor of the premiere in Dresden, Ernst von Schuch, stuck to the original. At this time, the sexual and erotic subtexts and psychology were disturbing to audiences, as well as the perceived "advanced" nature of the music itself to more conservative-minded musicians.[6]

The premiere at the Dresden Court Opera on 21 November 1901 was a great success: Gustav and Alma Mahler attended and she recalls in her diary that Strauss was elated “after endless curtains”.[7] The success in Dresden led to Feuersnot being staged in many theaters across Germany, including a performance in Frankfurt conducted by Strauss himself.[8] Mounting the opera in Vienna proved more problematic for Gustav Mahler because of the need to satisfy the uncooperative censor. Mahler wrote to Strauss in mid 1901: “Concerning Fueuresnot, the censor seems, horrible dictum, to be making difficulties, since the work has not yet been passed, so that I am not in a position to send the contracts to Fuerstner. I fear you may have to accept changes....Alas, there is no placating these powers”.[9]

The Viennese premiere finally took place in 29 January 1902 with Strauss attending. He wrote to Mahler "to send you my heartfelt thanks for the incomparably beautiful rendition you gave of my work last week…"(letter 4 Feb 1902). The Viennese public and critics were less enthusiastic than the German: Max Graf wrote "The critics have unanimously rejected the work".[10] Mahler wrote to Strauss on the 18 February "I am so disgusted at the attitude of the Viennese press,and most of all by the public's total acquiescence to them, that I cannot get over it!". He took the work off after four disappointing turn-outs, although he did put on one further performance that year on 14 March (with a "popular ballet").

Strauss took the opera to Berlin where it was more of a success with seven performances, the premiere being on 28 October 1902.[11] However, the Empress (Kaiserin) took a dislike to the bawdiness and Emperor (Kaiser) Wilhelm had the opera banned. Strauss continued to include the music from the love scene in his orchestral concerts.

The opera was revived twice at Vienna, first in 1905 by Mahler with a new production running for 7 performances[12][13][14] and in 1922 by Strauss himself with 6 performances.[15] Strauss wrote towards the end of his life "…in nearly all of the biographical articles I read I miss the correct attitude towards Feuersnot. One forgets that this certainly far from perfect work still introduces into the nature of the old opera a new subjective style at just the very beginning of the century. It is in its way a sort of upbeat."[16]

In London it was presented on 9 July 1910,[17] while the US premiere was not given until 1 December 1927 by the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company at Philadelphia's Metropolitan Opera House with George Rasely as Gundelfingen and Alexander Smallens conducting.[18] The Zürich premiere did not take place until 1953.[19] The New York City premiere took place in 1985, at the Manhattan School of Music.[20]

It was presented by The Santa Fe Opera during its summer 1988 festival season. In the UK, Chelsea Opera Group presented a concert performance in 2000.[21] The Teatro Massimo staged the opera in January 2014,[22] and there were concert performances the same year given by Bayerischer Rundfunk at Munich in February,[23] in June by Dresden Semperoper.[24][25]


Front cover of 1901 music score
Roles Voice type Premiere cast, 21 November 1901
Conductor: Ernst von Schuch
Schweiker von Gundelfingen, the bailiff low tenor Franz Petter
Ortolf Sentlinger, the mayor low bass Franz Nebuschka
Diemut, his daughter high soprano Annie Krull
Elsbeth, her friend mezzo-soprano Auguste Lautenbacher
Wigelis, her friend low contralto Irene von Chavanne
Margret, her friend high soprano Minnie Nast
Kunrad, the alchemist high baritone Karl Scheidemantel
Jörg Pöschel, the Leitgeb low bass Ernst Wachter
Hämmerlein, the haberdasher baritone Josef Höpfl
Kofel, the blacksmith bass Friedrich Plaschke
Kunz Gilgenstock, the baker and brewer bass Hans Geißler
Ortlieb Tulbeck, the cooper high tenor Anton Erl
Ursula, his wife contralto Franziska Schäfer
Ruger Asbeck, the potter tenor Theodor Kruis
Walpurg, his wife high soprano Gisela Staudigl
Citizens, women, children, retainers


Place: Medieval Munich
Time: Midsummer Night

During the Midsummer festival, lovers swear to be faithful by leaping through the flames of a bonfire (known traditionally as Johannisfeuer, St John's Eve Fire). A sorcerer, Kunrad, has appeared in the city, and his presence disturbs the people. Kunrad is attracted to Diemut, daughter to the mayor. He kisses her in public. She rebuffs him by promising to bring him up to her room in a basket, but then leaves him hanging halfway up. In retaliation, he quenches all the festival bonfires and denounces the people as philistines. The only way to restore the fires is via "the body of a virgin in heat", which shocks the populace. They persuade Diemut to yield to Kunrad. She does so, and after she has her first-ever sexual experience (depicted in the orchestra), with a light glowing in her room, the fires are restored.


Year Cast
Opera house and orchestra
1958 Maud Cunitz,
Marcel Cordes
Rudolf Kempe
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
(Live recording)
Orfeo D'Or
Cat: 423962[27]
1978 Gundula Janowitz,
John Shirley-Quirk
Eric Leinsdorf
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Tölzer Boys Choir and RIAS Kammerchor
(Live recording)
CD: Deutsche Gramophon [28]
Cat:00289 479 2414.
1984 Bernd Weikl,
Júlia Várady
Heinz Fricke
Munich Radio Orchestra with Tölzer Boys Choir and Bavarian Radio Chorus
CD: Arts Music



  1. ^ The use of Feuersnot as title for this work where it indicates a lack of fire is a reversal of the word's normal meaning, blaze, conflagration.
  2. ^ F. A. Brockhaus, (ed.) Johann Wilhelm Wolf (de),"Das erloschene Feuer zu Audenaerde" in Niederländische Sagen, Leipzig, 1843, pp. 492—495
  3. ^ Morten Kristiansen, "Richard Strauss, Die Moderne, and the Concept of Stilkunst", The Musical Quarterly, 86], 689–749 (2002).
  4. ^ Bryan Gilliam, "Strauss and the sexual body: the erotics of humour, philiosophy and ego-assertion", The Cambridge companion to Richard Strauss, (Ed. Charles Youmans), Cambridge University Press, 2010 ISBN 978-0-521-72815-7, p. 271.
  5. ^ Norman Del Mar, Richard Strauss: a critical commentary on his life and works, Volume 1, Faber and Faber, London 1986, ISBN 978 0 571 25096 7, p. 207
  6. ^ Julie Dorn Morrison, "Mahler, Strauss, and Feuersnot: Emblems of Modernity at the Vienna Court Opera". The Opera Quarterly, 15, 377–389 (1999).
  7. ^ Alma Mahler (1990), Gustav Mahler: memories and letters, London: Cardinal, London. ISBN 0 7474 0317 1, p. 27
  8. ^ Kurt Wilhelm, Richard Strauss: An Intimate Portrait, (translated by Mary Whittall), Thames and Hudson, 1989. [German first edition 1984], London, ISBN 0-500-01459-0. pp. 80—81.
  9. ^ Herta Blaukopf (ed.), Gustav Mahler Richard Strauss: correspondence 1888–1911 (translated by Edmund Jephcott) London: Faber and Faber, 1984, ISBN 0-571-13344-4, p. 53.
  10. ^ Gustav Mahler Richard Strauss: Correspondence, p. 67.
  11. ^ A.K., "Richard Strauss's Feuersnot in Berlin", The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, 43(718), 1 December 1902, pp. 808—809.
  12. ^ Gustav Mahler Richard Strauss: Correspondence, pp. 80—81
  13. ^ de La Grange, Henry-Louis (1995). Gustav Mahler Volume 2: Vienna: The Years of Challenge (1897-1904). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315159-6. 
  14. ^ de La Grange, Henry-Louis (2000). Gustav Mahler Volume 3: Vienna: Triumph and Disillusion (1904-1907). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315160-X. 
  15. ^ Raymond Holden, Richard Strauss: a musical life. Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2014, ISBN 978-0-300-12642-6, p. 208
  16. ^ Norman Del Mar, Richard Strauss: a critical commentary on his life and works, Volume 1, Faber and Faber, London 1986, ISBN 978 0 571 25096 7, p. 234.
  17. ^ Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4, p. 888
  18. ^ Olin Downes, "Strauss Opera has American Premiere; Feuersnoth, in One Act, Is Sung by the Philadelphia Civic Company. Laid In Twelfth Century Die Maeinkonigen, a Pretty Pastoral Work by Gluck, Also Given Before Brilliant Audience", The New York Times, December 1, 1927
  19. ^ Willi Schuh, "Richard Strauss and Zürich", Tempo (New Ser.), 29, pp. 10–13 (Autumn, 1953).
  20. ^ Donal Henehan, "Feursnot, Strauss One-Act", The New York Times, 13 December 1985
  21. ^ Tim Ashley, "Feuersnot (review)", The Guardian (London), 30 November 2000
  22. ^ Feuersnot, performance details, photographs, video trailer, synopsis (in Italian)
  23. ^ "Richard Strauss' Feuersnot, conducted by Ulf Schirmer, video recording, 26 January 2014
  24. ^ Feuersnot, performance details, Semperoper
  25. ^ José Mª Irurzun, "Strauss's Feuersnot: A Strong Performance All Around", on Seen and Heard International, 10 June 2014
  26. ^ Recordings of Feuersnot listed on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
  27. ^ George Jellinek, "Feuersnot (1901)" The Opera Quarterly, 15, 464–465, 1999 (Recording review)
  28. ^ DG Catalogue


External links[edit]