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Richard Strauss   TFV 190, Opus 40

Ein Heldenleben

Symphonic poem 1898. Time: 43'30.
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Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40, (literally A Heroic Life, but usually more loosely translated as A Hero's Life) is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. The work was completed in 1898, and heralds the composer’s more mature period in this genre. Strauss dedicated the piece to the 27-year old Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was premiered by the Frankfurter Museumsorchester.


Structure and analysis

Ein Heldenleben is a through-composed, circa fifty-minute work, performed without pauses, except for a dramatic general 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):

  1. Der Held (The Hero)
  2. Des Helden Widersacher (The Hero's Adversaries)
  3. Des Helden Gefährtin (The Hero's Companion)
  4. Des Helden Walstatt (The Hero at Battle)
  5. Des Helden Friedenswerke (The Hero's Works of Peace)
  6. Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung (The Hero's Retirement from this World and Consummation)

Throughout Ein Heldenleben Strauss employs the technique of leitmotif that Richard Wagner used so liberally, but most always as elements of its enlarged sonata-rondo symphonic structure.

1. The Hero: The principal Hero theme, first appearing in unison horns and celli, has a soaring quality that evokes the initial theme from Ludwig van Beethoven's Third Symphony, the "Eroica": E-flat major triads ascending through an almost four-octave span, which the horn transverses throughout the entire theme. A contrasting lyrical theme first appears in high strings and winds in B major. A second heroic motive appears, outlining a stepwise descending fourth. Blazing trumpets sound a herald as the hero rides off to his adventures to the sound of a dominant seventh chord followed by a rather unexpected grand pause, the only prolonged silence throughout the entire piece.

2. The Hero's Adversaries: The adversaries are announced with chromatic and angular squeaks and snarls from the woodwinds (commencing with flute) and low brass: multiple motives in contrasting registers and timbres convey a sound of pettiness and mocking difficult to ignore. It is said that the adversaries represented by the sarcastic woodwinds are Strauss' critics, such as 19th-century Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, who is memorably written into the score with an ominous four note leitmotif played by Wagner and bass tubas in parallel fifths. The hero's theme is all that can silence them, if only for a moment.

3. The Hero's Companion: A tender melody played by a solo violin depicts the companion—most likely the wife—of the Hero. 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; a spacious third motive for the hero. During this section, the violin briefly foreshadows a theme which will appear fully later. The cadenza concludes and the new thematic material is combined in a cantabile episode commencing in G flat: the hero has found his romantic voice, and a blissful atmosphere is established. Fragments of the adversary motives briefly appear amid the somnolent hush. A fresh fanfare motive in offstage trumpets, repeated onstage, announces the beginning of the battle; the hero's supporters bid him awaken.

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 sounds the advancement of the troops as the solo trumpet blares a call of war in the first appearance of "perfect" 3/4 time: a bizarre variation of the first "adversary" motive. A calamity of the foregoing motives and themes ensues as the conflict drags on. The sweet sound of the violins remind the Hero that his beloved is waiting for his return. A sequence of clamorous (and extremely challenging) trumpet fanfares suggest a turning point in the struggle, as the music approaches a harmonic climax in G flat, and the related E flat minor. Percussion is pervasive throughout the movement, which effectively depicts a vivid, militaristic battle sequence. In the end, the Hero's theme prevails over the hastily retreating adversaries, in an unprecedented compositional tapestry of human conflict. Victory is now depicted (as 4/4 time returns) in a modified recapitulation of the Hero theme as it appeared at the beginning of the piece, this time with a majestic 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: The Hero's victory is celebrated via themes of previous works, including Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Macbeth, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Juan (the first to appear) and Don Quixote, and many other Strauss, including tone poems and Lieder. The peaceful and soaring melodies lead into the final section, assuaging the unrest building in our Hero.

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 hero theme: an elegy featuring harp, bassoon, English horn, and strings. The hero's previous works appear again in counterpoint. Shaking off worldly ideas and motivations, the Hero envisions larger and more extravagant adventures and searches for a release from his fears. The reappearance of the previous "Hanslick" motive brings in an agitato episode, as the Hero remembers the battles of his past, but is once again comforted by his companion. 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 solemn final variation of the initial hero motive, the brass intones the last fanfare for the Hero as he retreats from his life, suggesting the beginnings of another tone poem (Also Sprach Zarathustra), a work often coupled with Ein Heldenleben.


Many critics have labeled Ein Heldenleben as shameless self-promotion on Strauss' part. They argue that Strauss was an egotist because he wrote himself as the hero, his wife as his faithful companion, and wrote sniping and crude music to depict his critics. Strauss did say after all that he found himself as interesting a subject for study as Nero or Napoleon.[citation needed]

The argument can be made that Strauss' self-portrayal might not have been meant to be taken seriously, as he admitted that he had tongue placed firmly in cheek when he composed this self-portrait.[citation needed] As Strauss explained to his friend Romain Rolland, "I am not a hero. I haven't got the necessary strength; I am not cut out for battle; I prefer to withdraw, to be quiet, to have peace ..." Many critics have taken the work's program at face value, while other continue to believe that it is, in fact, somewhat autobiographical.[who?]

To introduce his own Bach Portrait, Peter Schickele explained he wanted to do for Bach "what Copland did for Lincoln, what Tchaikovsky did for little Russians, and what Richard Strauss did for himself."[citation needed]


Richard Strauss conducted the premiere of Ein Heldenleben on March 3, 1899 in Frankfurt.[1]

Béla Bartók wrote a piano reduction of the piece in 1902, performing it on January 23, 1903 at the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein, impressing the audience.[2][3]


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


There are many recordings of this work. Among the best are:


  1. ^ Phillip Huscher. "Ein Heldenleben program notes". Chicago Symphony Orchestra.,5,6,70. 
  2. ^ Liner notes by Kenneth Chalmers to Philips recording of Kossuth
  3. ^ Gillies, Malcolm. "Bartók, Béla". 

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ein_Heldenleben". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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