Oboe Concerto (Strauss)
The Concerto in D major for Oboe and Small Orchestra, AV 144, TrV 292, was written by Richard Strauss in 1945. It was one of the last works he composed near the end of his life, during what is often described by biographers, journalists and music critics as his "Indian summer."
Instrumentation and movements
The concerto consists of three interconnected movements and lasts around 25 minutes:
- Allegro moderato
- Vivace - Allegro
The tonal disposition of the movements is D major, B-flat major, D major. Juergen May has observed that "it is obvious that Strauss takes as his point of departure here the Classical and early-Romantic models of his musical youth. The composer looks back to a past aesthetic from the perspective of someone who has lived through the paradigm changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this sense one might call the last works of Strauss postmodern" (May 2010, page 181).
As with his other late works, Strauss builds up the music from a series of small melodic ideas "which are the point of departure for the development of the entire composition" (May 2010, page 182). The concerto is built up from three main thematic elements. The first is the 4 semiquavers D-E-D-E which opens the piece in the cellos. The second is a long note (minim) followed a playful figure of shorter durational values (semi-quavers). The third is a repetition short-short-short long followed by different variants of continuations. This motif echoes the rhythm of the Fate motif of Beethoven's Fifth symphony and "clearly refers to Metamorphosen, completed just before the Oboe Concerto - a remarkable example of the thematic links between the last instrumental works" (May 2010, page 183). However, it also relates back to Strauss's use of the rhythm of the Fate motif in the first movement of his youthful Piano Sonata written over 60 years earlier in 1881. The finale ends with a surprise: after the second cadenza, Strauss concludes with a dance-like Allegro in 6/8 meter which comes across as a fourth movement with a character of its own.
Inception and premiere
American oboist John de Lancie was a corporal in the U.S. Army unit which secured the area round the Bavarian town of Garmisch where Strauss was living in April 1945, following WWII. As principal oboist of the Pittsburgh Orchestra in civilian life, he knew Strauss's orchestral writing for oboe thoroughly, visited the composer in his home, and in the course of a long conversation asked him if he had ever considered writing an oboe concerto. Strauss answered simply "No," and the topic was dropped. However, in the months to follow, the idea grew on him and he completed the short score of his Oboe Concerto on September 14, 1945, finishing the orchestration on October 25. The work was premiered on February 26, 1946 in Zürich, featuring Marcel Saillet as soloist with the Tonhalle Orchester conducted by Volkmar Andreae. As the concerto was being prepared for print in early 1948, Strauss revised and expanded its last-movement coda.
John de Lancie had been astonished to see that Strauss was indeed publishing an oboe concerto. Strauss saw to it that the rights to the U.S. premiere were assigned to de Lancie, who after the war had switched to the Philadelphia Orchestra and was only a junior member there. Protocol made de Lancie's performing the premiere impossible since the Philadelphia Orchestra's principal oboist had priority. De Lancie instead gave the rights to the U.S. premiere to a young oboist friend at the CBS Symphony Orchestra in New York, Mitch Miller, who later became famous as a music producer and host of a sing-along TV show.
John de Lancie later became the principal oboist for the Philadelphia Orchestra for 30 years but it was only after his retirement that he finally performed and recorded the concerto.
- Roos, James (Winter 1991). "Oboist Finally Records the Concerto He Inspired". The Double Reed 14 (3).
- May, Juergen (2010). "Late Works". In The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss, edited by Charles Youmans, 178-192. Cambridge Companions to Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-72815-7.
- Leon Botstein (1992), "The Enigmas of Richard Strauss: a revisionist view", in Strauss and His World, Edited by Bryan Gilliam, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691027623, pages 3-32.
- Kenneth Morgan (2010). "Fritz Reiner, Maestro and Martinet." - Page 12. ISBN 025207730X.
- Benjamin Folkman (2000) booklet notes for "Mozart and Strauss Wind Concertos," SONY CD, Fumiaki Miyamoto, oboe, Mito Chamber Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
- Daniel J. Wakin (3 December 2009). "How Strauss Came to Write His Oboe Concerto". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- The Double Reed, Volume 28. International Double Reed Society, 2005.
- Gramophone, Volume 81, Issues 977-979. General Gramophone Publications Limited, 2004.