Symphonia Domestica

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Strauss, 1903

Symphonia Domestica (Domestic Symphony), Op. 53, is a tone poem for large orchestra by Richard Strauss. The work is a musical reflection of the secure domestic life so valued by the composer himself and, as such, harmoniously conveys daily events and family life.

History and composition[edit]

In 1898, Strauss became the chief conductor of the Royal Court Opera in Berlin. It was at this point in his life that the composer took a keen interest in his own circumstances and turned his attention to his status and personal history. When he began composing the Symphonia Domestica, he intended it to be the sequel to A Hero's Life, the next installment of the autobiography of the now-successful artist. Of it, Strauss said "My next tone poem will represent a day in my family life. It will be partly lyrical, partly humorous – a triple fugue will bring together Papa, Mama and Baby."[This quote needs a citation]

He worked on the piece during 1903, finishing it on New Year's Eve, in Charlottenburg.[1]

The piece is scored for piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, oboe d'amore, English horn, clarinet in D, 3 clarinets (1 & 2 in B, 3 in A), bass clarinet in B, 4 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 saxophones (soprano in C, alto in F, baritone in F, bass in C; the instruments are ad libitum "only in cases of absolute necessity"), 8 horns in F, 4 trumpets in F and C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tenor drum, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, antique cymbals, tambourine, glockenspiel, 2 harps, and strings.


Strauss with his wife and son, 1910

The program of the work reflects the simplicity of the subject matter. After the whole extended family (including the aunts and uncles) has been introduced, the parents are heard alone with their child. The next section is a three-part adagio which begins with the husband's activities. The clock striking 7 a.m. launches the finale.

The most detailed exposition of the work's structure is that which was provided for the Berlin Philharmonic's performance on December 12, 1904. On that occasion, the concert programme carried the following outline:

  • I. Introduction and development of the chief groups of themes
The husband's themes (F major):
(a) Easy-going (gemächlich)

 \relative c 
\clef bass \key f \major \time 2/4 c,16( a' f8) c-. d-. e-. f-. g-. gis-. a16( d c g f'8) e16-. d-. bes'4-- a--
(b) Dreamy (träumerisch)

 \relative c'
\clef treble \key f \major \time 2/4 d4.( c'8 d2~ d) a4.( fis'8 a2 g)
(c) Surly (mürrisch)

 \relative c''
\clef treble \key f \major \time 2/4 \partial 16*4 g16( aes c bes g4)
(d) Fiery (feurig)

 \relative c''
\clef treble \key f \major \time 2/4 \partial 8*3 gis8( b e16 gis b2~ b8) e,( gis b16 e gis2~ gis8) b( a fis e) b16( cis gis8 fis16 e a2~ a8 cis b a16 gis) gis4
The wife's themes (B major):
(a) Lively and gay (sehr lebhaft)

 \relative c''
\clef treble \key b \major \time 2/4 \partial 16*2 dis'16( fis, b8) g16( b, d8) ais'16->( gis fis,4) 
(b) Grazioso

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key b \major \time 2/4 e16( dis) dis( cis) ais'8-> gis16-> fis-> b2-> }
The child's theme (D minor):
Tranquil (ruhig)

  \relative c' { \clef treble \key d \minor \time 2/4 \partial 4*1 a4( d2~ d4 e cis2) a4( f'~ f2 g a b) }
  • II. Scherzo
Parents' happiness. Childish play.

  \relative c' { \clef treble \key d \major \time 3/8 a'8 d16-. e-. cis-. a fis'4.-.( a16 g fis g e fis d8) }
Cradle song [quotation from Felix Mendelssohn's "Venetian Boat Song", Op. 19b, No. 6 from Songs Without Words] (The clock strikes seven in the evening).

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key g \minor \time 6/8 \partial 8*1 <d bes>8( <c a>4 <bes g>8 <a fis>4 <c a>8 <bes g>4 <a d,>8 <g bes,>4 <bes g,>8 <a c,>4) <g bes,>8( <fis a,>8. <g bes,>16 <a c,>8 <g bes,> <bes d> <d g,> <bes' bes,> <a c,> <g cis,>) <f d> }
  • III. Adagio
Doing and thinking. Love scene. Dreams and cares (the clock strikes seven in the morning).
  • IV. Finale
Awakening and merry dispute (double fugue). Joyous confusion.
I. Thema

  \relative c { \clef bass \key f \major \time 2/4 c,8 f16 g e c a'8 d-> c4-> f,16 g a4. f16 g a4. f16 g a8 a16 bes c8 c16 d e8 }
II. Thema

  \relative c'' { \clef treble \key b \minor \time 2/4 \partial 16*2 fis'16 e e d d cis cis e d cis ais b fis d b ais a gis e'4. g,16-> fis-> d'4.-> }


Photograph of Strauss taken in New York during his 1904 US tour

Strauss reserved the premiere for his American tour in 1904, and Carnegie Hall in New York was booked. He would conduct it himself. Originally the premiere was scheduled for March 9, but the orchestral parts were delayed, so it was postponed to March 21. The later date allowed more rehearsals, of which 15 were required before Strauss was satisfied. The Wetzler Symphony Orchestra was adequate, but not much more. During a performance of his Don Quixote two nights earlier, the orchestra had broken down in the middle of the piece.[1]

Nevertheless, the performance was a great success, so much so that he was prevailed upon to conduct two more performances in Wanamaker's department store in New York, on 16 and 18 April, for a fee of $1,000. An entire sales floor had to be cleared to make way for the huge orchestra, and the concerts attracted audiences of 6,000 people. The New York and German press were very critical, not just of these exhibitions but of the very work itself, regarding them as a blatant commercialization of the sacred art of music and the intimacy of family life. Strauss responded: "True art ennobles this Hall, and a respectable fee for his wife and child is no disgrace even for an artist".[2]

The Viennese premiere of the Domestica was conducted by Gustav Mahler on 23 November 1904.

A typical performance of the work lasts approximately forty-four minutes.

In 1924 Strauss wrote the Wedding Prelude for two harmoniums (Trv 247) for the occasion of the wedding of his son Franz with Alice Grab-Hermannswörth, based largely on themes found in the Symphonia Domestica. In 1925, Strauss wrote a piece for Paul Wittgenstein for piano left-hand and orchestra, again using themes from the Symphonia Domestica, titled Parergon zur Symphonia Domestica, Op. 73.


Conductor Orchestra Recorded
Eugene Ormandy Philadelphia Orchestra 1938
Carl Schuricht Orchestra of La Scala Opera House, Milan 1941
Richard Strauss Vienna Philharmonic 1944
Wilhelm Furtwängler Berliner Philharmoniker 1944
Richard Strauss Philharmonia Orchestra 1947
Franz Konwitschny Staatskapelle Dresden 1956
Clemens Krauss Vienna Philharmonic 1952
Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony Orchestra 1956
George Szell Cleveland Orchestra 1957
Dimitri Mitropoulos Wiener Philharmoniker 1957
Jascha Horenstein BBC Symphony Orchestra 1961
Zubin Mehta Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra 1968
Rudolf Kempe Staatskapelle Dresden 1972
Herbert von Karajan Berliner Philharmoniker 1973
Lorin Maazel Vienna Philharmonic 1983
Zubin Mehta Berliner Philharmoniker 1985
Neeme Järvi Scottish National Orchestra 1986
Gerard Schwarz Seattle Symphony 1988
Edo de Waart Minnesota Orchestra 1990
Wolfgang Sawallisch Philadelphia Orchestra 1993
Lorin Maazel Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra 1995
André Previn Vienna Philharmonic 1995
Vladimir Ashkenazy Czech Philharmonic Orchestra 1997
David Zinman Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra 2002
Antoni Wit Staatskapelle Weimar 2009
Marek Janowski Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin 2015
François-Xavier Roth SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg 2017

There is also a two-piano version, which Martha Argerich and Alexandre Rabinovitch recorded in 1995 for Teldec.


  1. ^ a b Ernst Krause (de), liner notes from the Turnabout recording of Strauss conducting the work with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1944
  2. ^ Symphonia Domestica – About the Piece, Los Angeles Philharmonic

External links[edit]