|Richard Strauss TFV 296, Opus W150|
4 last songsSong 1948. Time: 20'30.
Songs with texts from Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff.
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The Four Last Songs (German: Vier letzte Lieder) for soprano and orchestra were the final completed works of Richard Strauss, composed in 1948 when the composer was 84. Strauss did not live to hear the premiere, given in London on 22 May 1950 by the soprano Kirsten Flagstad accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
The songs are "Frühling" (Spring), "September", "Beim Schlafengehen" (Going to sleep) and "Im Abendrot" (At sunset).
Strauss had come across the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff, which he felt had a special meaning for him. He set its text to music in May 1948. Strauss had also recently been given a copy of the complete poems of Hermann Hesse, and he set three of them – Frühling, September, and Beim Schlafengehen – for soprano and orchestra. (According to Arnold, a fifth song was unfinished at Strauss' death.)
There is no indication that Strauss conceived these songs as a unified set. In dictionaries published as late as 1954, the three Hesse songs were still listed as a group, separate from the earlier Eichendorff setting. The overall title Four Last Songs was provided by his friend Ernst Roth, the chief editor of Boosey & Hawkes. It was Roth who categorized them as a single unit with the title Four Last Songs, and put them into the order that most performances now follow: Frühling, September, Beim Schlafengehen, Im Abendrot.
The songs deal with death and were written shortly before Strauss himself died. However, instead of the typical Romantic defiance, these Four Last Songs are suffused with a sense of calm, acceptance, and completeness.
The settings are for a solo soprano voice given remarkable soaring melodies against a full orchestra, and all four songs have prominent horn parts. The combination of a beautiful vocal line with supportive brass accompaniment references Strauss's own life: His wife Pauline de Ahna was a famous soprano and his father Franz Strauss a professional horn player.
("Spring") (Text: Hermann Hesse)
Composed: July 20, 1948
(Text: Hermann Hesse)
Composed: September 20, 1948
3. "Beim Schlafengehen"
("Going to sleep") (Text: Hermann Hesse)
Composed: August 4, 1948
4. "Im Abendrot"
("At sunset") (Text: Joseph von Eichendorff)
Composed: May 6, 1948
The songs are scored for piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubling 2nd piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat and A, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in F (also E-flat and D), 3 trumpets in C, E-flat and F, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, celesta, and strings.
Towards the end of Im Abendrot, exactly as the soprano's final intonation of "der Tod" (death) ceases, Strauss musically quotes his own tone poem Death and Transfiguration, written 60 years earlier. As in that piece, the quoted six-note phrase (known as the "transfiguration theme") symbolizes the fulfillment of the soul into death.
Strauss completed one final song after the Four Last Songs - one called Malven, for medium voice and piano.
The composition was referenced in the English film "Four Last Songs" (2007).
The third of the four songs, Beim Schlafengehen, is playing quite loudly as Meryl Streep's character Clarissa Vaughn is preparing for a party in the film "The Hours". It is a favorite of the actress's who played it often on the set of the film while preparing for the role.
The beginning of Im Abendrot appears in the soundtrack of David Lynch's film "Wild at Heart".
September is featured in Peter Weir's film "The Year of Living Dangerously"
Sources and notes
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Four_Last_Songs". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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