6. RICHARD STRAUSS AND IGOR STRAVINSKY
Let us pause at 8 September 1949. Richard Strauss is dead and Igor Stravinsky
is approaching the limit of experience. They were the last survivors of the
great conflict, the great antagonists. I like to think of 8 September 1949
as one thinks of 28 July 1750, when J. S. Bach died and the 'old' art died
with him. And yet I ought to apologize both to the memory of Richard Strauss
and to Stravinsky for linking their names together. They had no thing in
common, but together they symbolize the change, together they are the pivot,
together they mark the storm front in the meteorology of music.
In his long life Richard Strauss was much admired and much maligned, but
in the end his music has shaken off its detractors. In his obituary Ernest
Newman, the doyen of English music critics, said that Strauss was the last
in the royal line of great composers, the line that leads from Beethoven
to Wagner and Brahms.
What was 'royal' in Richard Strauss? For me personally he came nearer the
ideal type of an Olympian than any other composer I have known, as near as
music may allow. Since 1922, I had met him repeatedly without making any
closer contact. After 1933 I had lost touch with him. But in those turbulent
times the strangest things happened. One day, early in 1942, Wilhelm
Furtwängler's former secretary Berta Geissmar, who was living as a refugee
in London, came to me and asked whether I would be interested in acquiring
the rights in Strauss's operas.
Interested? That was hardly the word. To be Strauss's publisher was a dream
too fantastic to be true-and not simply for business reasons, for the commercial
prospects of Strauss's music in 1942, were rather unpromising. From my early
musical days Strauss's music had had a fascination for me which was difficult
to explain. Among the many wondrous things in music there is one that is
particularly striking: the moment when, more immediately than in any other
art, inspiration itself shines forth in all its mystical greatness. A passage
such as Pamina's 'Tamino mein, o welch'ein Gluck' is such a moment, not the
mere 'trouvaille' which now and then may come to a lesser talent. With the
great composers it happens again and again: with J. S. Bach, from Gluck's
to Stravinsky's Orpheus, there are melodies or sometimes only some phrases
or turns which, as Vasari said of Peruzzi's 'Farnesina', are 'not built but
born'. With Strauss these moments are frequent: in the Ariadne score, for
instance, they glow like the carneols in the serpentine rocks of the Lizard,
in Ariadne's lament, in the changes of mood and expression from the second
dance scene with its concluding D major dominant seventh to the glittering
C sharp major which announces the arrival of the god, in Ariadne's cry and
the dotted syncopated rhythm which, in a diminuendo sustained through twenty
bars, drops to the lower register to become the light, undulating accompaniment
to Ariadne's 'I greet thee, messenger of all messengers'.
But I am writing neither an analysis nor an appreciation of Strauss's works.
This has been done and will be done by more competent critics than I can
claim to be. But if it has been alleged that Strauss, with his uncontested
virtuosity, was out for calculated effects, this is but one example of a
'miscalculation' because it escapes too many listeners. However, I did not
regard it as a freak of fortune that one day there lay on my desk the signed
agreements which put Strauss's principal works into my care. Strauss, sitting
in his villa in Garmisch, knew nothing about it.
Richard Strauss had an unusual career. In the first twenty years of his creative
life, from Don Juan to Elektra, he was a revolutionary, an avant-garde composer
who rocked the edifice of music no less than Debussy. The younger generation
pinned all their hopes on him, encouraged by all the philistine critics who
found Strauss's music abominable and destructive. Then, on the summit after
a stormy rise, he paused, became doubtful or cautious-and the critics did
not like that either. Rosenkavalier became the last great operatic success
in history, the last in the royal line of operas. Ariadne in its second version
briefly stole the limelight once more, but from then on his way seemed to
lead irrevocably downhill. Four of his symphonic poems, a dozen or more songs
and four operas stayed unshakably in the repertoire. He was, in fact, more
widely performed than any other serious contemporary composer, but the new
works he wrote, nine operas and one ballet, songs and choral works written
after 1916, were composed, as it were, in the shadow of his former glory.
Only comparatively few friends believed in him; others seemed to owe it to
themselves to say something derogatory about him and his music. It was difficult
to explain. Strauss, after all, was no Leoncavallo, hitting the jackpot once
and never again. It was said that Strauss lived too comfortably; that his
unimpaired virtuosity and cold but expert routine still gave his orchestra
an inimitable shimmer without engaging the mind.
It must necessarily happen to every composer or other artist with a large
output that inspiration now and then flags and that style and routine have
to camouflage the gaps. Of the 1080 'authentic' works of J. S. Bach listed
in Schmieder's thematic catalogue, more and more are being discovered to
be rearrangements of other works, substituting sacred for secular texts,
one instrument for another, and of half of his gigantic oeuvre it could be
said that it was written with the cold hand of a stupendous craftsman. It
was no different with Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms
and all the great composers in between. (Only the Schoenberg school would
insist that every work its three leading members wrote was of equally high
standard, and it is true that they wrote more deliberately than composers
who could 'let themselves go' and so sometimes lost control.) However, among
the uninspired or less inspired works of the famous masters of the past there
are some real jewels, enjoyable, delightful music without any pretensions
to profundity. Apart from being many other things music is an unparalleled
pastime and a unique entertainer. Generations have enjoyed a piece like the
third of Schubert's 'Moments musicaux', Op. 94.
But in the middle of the nineteenth century it became increasingly difficult
to write music of such superficial charm. Serious music became pompous and
grandiloquent, and such pomposity and grandiloquence became an embarrassment
to all routine. This may have been the unconscious reason why light and serious
music parted company. This is best exemplified in Wagner, with his big subjects,
his passions, his outbursts. Music had to be big all the time. A piece like
the dance of the apprentices in Meistersinger is a rare exception in Wagner's
works after The Flying Dutchman. The consequence of this desire to be larger
than life was that many pages of the scores of Tristan, the Ring, Meistersinger
and Parsifal had to be filled with interminable sequences marking the points
where the breadth of dramatic representation exceeded the breadth of musical
invention. With Bach sequences are an essential part of the architecture,
with Wagner they are mere fill-in material. By the end of the century Wagner's
pomposity had become true opulence, opulence of sound, gesture and attitude,
which can be justified only by the importance and significance of its utterances.
One cannot say irrelevant things with grand gestures, in a grand manner.
This was in fact the principal reason why many people-myself among them-could
not become unconditional admirers of Gustav Mahler. His invariably grand
manner requires some profound meaning which is often either missing or
unrecognizable, as in the first movement of his Third Symphony, or applied
to an unsuitable subject, as the post-horn on-stage in the same work which
tries to inflate a harmless little folk-song into a sentimental tragedy.
All the more impressive are those pieces where musical significance is provoked
and supported by a significant text: the Song of the Earth; the second part
of the Eighth Symphony; or where playful words inspire a playful mood, as
in the 'Wunderhorn' songs.
With his incomparably livelier imagination and his passion for composing,
Strauss, because of the grandiloquence of his style, could not altogether
escape the danger of hollowness. He came from the old school in every sense.
The last 'mass' composer, he could always compose, even without an irresistible
urge. He never tired of his own extraordinary craftsmanship. So it was bound
to happen that now and then he said, with great aplomb, things which were
not worth saying. There was no charm in that fin-de-siecle style; it could
only be full of meaning or altogether empty. This cannot but diminish the
value of Strauss's less inspired works as compared, for instance, with the
value of Mozart's similar works which still preserve the facility, elegance
and wit of his inspired masterpieces.
All the same, in happy moments Strauss succeeded better than all his
contemporaries in writing 'entertainment' music of the highest standard and
of great and unpretentious beauty, such as the waltzes from Rosenkavalier
and the dance of the tailors from Bourgeois gentilhomme, worthy descendants
of Mozart's serenades or Beethoven's Septet But the hollowness lurking in
the pompous styIe was a constant danger and may have carried the seeds of
revolution, of the wild eruption of atonality and of the iron regimentation
of the new teaching, because music was no longer capable of its old precious
nonchalance. Beethoven couId bid farewell to the world with a lighthearted
and carefree piece (if the last movement of the String Quartet, Op. 130,
really is his last finished composition). In Strauss's day this had become
almost impossible. But when his inspiration measured up to his virtuosity-which
happened much more often than his detractors between the wars would admit-the
result was truly 'royal'. His elan, his ability to build up a dramatic scene
from a quiet beginning to an overwhelming climax, were not matched by any
composer of his time.
Like a rock Strauss stood in the midst of all the frantic efforts to find
a 'new' music. He needed no new music, he was satisfied with his inheritance.
He lived through all the great changes in life and in art. When, at the age
of twenty-four, he earned his first great successes, Wagner's grave was still
fresh, Brahms was still alive; five months after Rosenkavalier, Petrushka
was first performed. He saw the birth, decline and resurrection of twelve-tone
music. It seemed impossible to fit him into the current of events. (In the
whole history of music I know of only one other and insignificant example
of this. Joseph Haydn had a pupil, Siegmund Neukomm, who died in I858 at
the age of eighty. I once edited one of his piano sonatas, not because of
its intrinsic value but because of the curious mixture it contained of Haydn,
Chopin and Liszt.)
In the years 190I-3 Strauss arranged concerts of modern music in Berlin with
the new works of Bruckner, Mahler, Pfitzner, d'Indy and many others. When
I brought him the first printed copy of the score of his Metamorphosen he
looked at the advertisement on the back page of the cover and said with a
sigh, 'Elgar! I arranged the first performance of his Dream of Gerontius
in Germany . . . and Delius, I believe it was Paris which I conducted myself.'
This is often forgotten, and one rather thinks of him as a selfish old man
who would have no truck with the new music which had grown up around him.
To every German composer who started his career in the shadow of Wagner and
of his towering musical achievement-as a very young man Strauss worked in
Bayreuth as an assistant and narrowly escaped marrying one of Cosima's
daughters-Wagner was at once an inspiration and an obstacle more formidable
than Wagnerites in other countries could imagine. Strauss himself once said
to me, 'You could not go beyond Wagner; you could only go another way.' And
at the end of his life, feeling the loneliness of a changed world, he added
with some bitterness, 'With Wagner, music has reached its summit and I am
only a straggler.'
But is he a straggler who concludes an age? Bach, too, had no historic mission.
His 'Art of Fugue' was a testament, not a promise. Such thoughts went through
my mind when, on 31 December 1945, after an adventurous journey from London
through France, I walked gingerly down the steep, icy road from the railway
station in Baden near Zurich to see Strauss again at the hotel where, in
happier days, he and his wife had been welcome guests. They were not so welcome
now; they had no money, no car, no driver. In the cold house in Garmisch,
Frau Pauline had been unable to recover from pneumonia, and the American
commander in southern Bavaria had arranged their journey to Switzerland,
where they were welcomed with a similar lack of enthusiasm. Many rumours
went round, and some Swiss papers were outraged at the thought that Switzerland
should shelter a man so much maligned. All I knew was that the stories of
a large fortune hidden abroad were untrue. Strauss, in fact, did not possess
one penny. He had brought some manuscripts with him, which the owner of the
hotel kept in his safe as a surety. He copied some of them carefully, dating
and marking the copies in order to have some pocket money. What was I to
hear? Complaints, accusations, assurances?
Nothing of the sort. Strauss met me in the corridor, a little bent but still
very tall, his face a little more wrinkled than I remembered it but otherwise
hardly changed. I had to tell him in detail how it had happened that his
major works had found their way to an English publisher, and he made no
objection. 'But,' he asked very seriously, 'do you really think that I am
still a business proposition?'
Richard Strauss and money had long been a favourite subject of gossip among
both experts and laymen. It was said that his commercial acumen far exceeded
his musical genius. As his publisher I know more about it.
Strauss had no business sense at all. His contracts were drafted by his lawyers
and he trusted their advice implicitly. In investing his money he relied
on the counsel of experts, which was not always good. His houses in Garmisch
and Vienna were not speculative investments; he built them for himself and
never parted with them. But, in circumstances which he had helped to create,
his music earned big money for concert-promoters, opera-houses, conductors,
producers and singers. His were box-office successes, and Strauss, who was
no hypocrite, felt entitled to his fair share, said so and demanded it.
Since Salome he had been an expensive composer who, following Wagner's example,
sold his publishing rights for large sums and retained the performing and
mechanical rights for himself, though not without allowing his publisher
the usual share. His demands were high but not disproportionate. When, after
the First World War, his publisher could no longer afford the high price
for the publishing rights Strauss published his operas at his own expense
and left the distribution to the publisher, remaining faithful to him although
he was bound by no exclusive contract. He never traded with his music. Only
twice in his whole life did he accept commissions in the proper sense-once
to write a hymn for the 1936 Olympic Games, which he thought he could not
very well turn down ('Fancy me, writing a hymn for sport, which I detest!'
he wrote); the other for the celebration of the 2,600th anniversary of the
Japanese Empire in 1939, because he had nothing better to do and found some
excitement in trying his hand again at a symphonic poem. He did not bargain.
'If it is too much for you, don't do it and we shall remain good friends,'
he used to say.
When, in 1947, he needed money more urgently than ever before he declined
without hesitation an offer of £20,000 for the film rights of Salome
and Rosenkavalier because Sir Alexander Korda would not give him a guarantee
that both works would be filmed without changes or cuts. He was invariably
correct and reliable in all his dealings and had absolute confidence in his
partners. It would never have crossed his mind to check accounts or to have
them checked by accountants. Twice he lost his fortune: the first time in
the First World War, when friends had advised him to invest his money in
Britain and it was impounded as enemy property; the second in the German
catastrophe of 1945. He occasionally mentioned it, but the destruction of
German operahouses and concert-halls grieved him more. However, he could
now and then make facetious remarks about 'the paying public', while Schoenberg
rather held the view that the public should be fined and punished for not
listening to his music.
Professed or presumed idealists were also irritated by Strauss's appearance
and way of life. Though very progressive in other respects, they preferred
the old-fashioned notion that an artist should be obsessed with his art in
a rnanner visible to everybody, slovenly in dress, accepting worldly needs
as a necessary evil, a romantic figure with long hair and dirty fingernails
and a mind of childlike innocence.
In photographs of the 1880s Strauss did look a little like this ideal image
of the artist. But his hair soon thinned, and he married a lady who was a
stern disciplinarian and surrounded the genius with normality. As he himself
insisted, that was one of the reasons why he chose her. He saw himself in
danger of becoming a dissolute and ineffective dreamer, and knew that Pauline
de Ahna, the daughter of a Bavarian general, would help him to avoid such
a disaster. She was a singer of distinction who sang Elisabeth in Bayreuth's
Tannhauser and created the leading soprano part in Strauss's first opera,
Guntram. For the first ten years of her married life she sang the songs which
Strauss wrote for her and travelled with him all over the old and the new
world. Then she gave up singing to devote herself to her main task: the
establishment and maintainence of a perfect equilibrium between a genius
and the world.
This required much self-denial and sacrifice and untiring vigilance, but
she succeeded in rnaking him an ideal husband and father and was to him an
ideal wife. She was a capricious woman and there was occasional friction.
Strauss himself has drawn her portrait in his autobiographical 'bourgeois
comedy with symphonic interludes' Intermezzo (though 'bourgeois' is not a
satisfactory equivalent for the German 'burgerlich', which has no socialovertone
but simply means ordinary as opposed to pretentious people). They loved each
other wholly and unreservedly, and there are no stories of love affairs or
adventures in either of their lives. They could not live without each other.
When Strauss died, life lost all its purpose for Frau Pauline. Nine months
later she followed him into the grave. I cannot help thinking of Clara Wieck,
who attempted a similar task with Robert Schumann but was overwhelmed by
him and could not prevent the ultimate tragedy. This could not happen to
Pauline Strauss with her strength of character and determination, sometimes
gentle and sometimes ruthless but ever-present and everready.
Strauss himself appreciated the healthy balance between his art and the world
around him. He could speak of his wife and son with the same enthusiasm as
he spoke of Mozart and Beethoven. He looked like a financier or industrialist;
he was never conspicuously dressed but always carefully groomed; he lived
comfortably and enjoyed the comfort; he kept a pedantic order in his manuscripts,
sketch-books, letters and diaries and in playing skat, a German card game
which he loved passionately.
This made him an object of suspicion to the superficial observer. The real
bourgeois liked to think of the composer of Salome as a lascivious half-savage
in an attic filled with junk and wild dreams-but Strauss composed Salome
in the very orderly ironing-room of a rented villa in the Bavarian mountains.
If he once wrote that when composing hand and head had to be as cool as marble,
the philistines read into it an excuse for, or a defence of, good living
and skat. It has often been told how Strauss composed at certain hours of
the day, conducted rehearsals and performances, had his game of skat and
could continue composing the next day exactly where he had left off.
No daemon was to be discovered in all this apparent routine. Where was, in
fact, the daemon which created the cyclopic Elektra music or the Emperor
scene in Die Frau ohne Schatten, the genius of the Rosenkavalier trio or
Helena's monologue or the Arabella duet? Many people could only think of
him as the characteristic representative of an age which, under the German
Kaiser, corresponded with the Edwardian age in England, an age of imperturbable
self-satisfaction and self-indulgence, unwilling to worry about the problems
of an uncertain but inexorably approaching future. The struggling younger
generation was bound to feel bitter about it.
But the man who looked a bourgeois in that 'Wilhelminian' sense had the finest
hands imaginable, firm, long and thin with firm, long and thin fingers, sensitive
hands such as the Lord has never bestowed on any philistine. And he was an
untiring worker. To his last days he knew no idleness. He not only left an
enormous oeuvre: he was an equally prolific letter-writer, never using a
secretary but writing his letters thousands of them-in his thin gothic
handwriting and making excerpts of the more important ones in his diaries.
These he kept year by year, a whole library of them, where he entered
appointments, family events, performances, thoughts that crossed his mind.
Even as a reader he was not idle. In his very large and discriminating library
in Garmisch there are hundreds of volumes of poetry, history and philosophy
with innumerable notes, and with words and sentences underlined. And he played
skat wherever he went, with bankers and industrialists, singers and conductors
and, in Garmisch or Oberammergau, with peasants and factory-workers. There
are two distinct types of busy people-those who are breathlessly so, never
having time for anything, and those who calmly go about their various activities
and seem to have time for everything. Strauss belonged to the latter class.
He had all the time in the world and was never flustered, never harassed.
Strauss was an expert collector of pictures and furniture. In London he examined
the Van de Veldes in the Wallace Collection very carefully and then said,
'I think mine are better.7 He assembled his treasures around him and lived
with them in a natural and unforced way. His home was homely and not an art
gallery. There was the same solidity which distinguished his whole life.
In this solid order, under Frau Pauline's watchful eyes, creative spirit
too had its orderly place.
His diligence and his thirty years as conductor, pianist and accompanist
had given him an astounding knowledge of music of every type, operatic,
symphonic, instrumental and vocal. Once, in a little Italian restaurant in
London's Soho with Clemens Krauss, the conductor, he laughed until the tears
ran down his face when he remembered all the Meyerbeer operas he had had
to conduct in Berlin, because the Kaiser had a passion for Meyerbeer. The
Kaiser, who also had a passion for military marches, ordered his
Generalmusikdirektor to write some new ones and when Strauss replied that
he did not know how to do it the Guards' band was lined up in the courtyard
of the Schloss and Strauss had to listen for a whole morning to march after
march. 'How many beats of the triangle do you think there are in Siegfried?'
he asked me once. I did not know, but guessed there might be many in the
forging songs. He laughed. 'No, there is one single one in the whole score,
on the last page of the first act.' Or he said, 'German composers are often
criticized for the squareness of their melodies. But Mozart wrote some irregular
ones and they are among his best. The slow movement of the Clarinet Quintet
begins with a melodic paragraph of nine bars.'
In spite of such detailed knowledge Strauss never conducted without the score
in front of him. He seldom glanced at it but conscientiously turned the pages.
He once told me why he did this. As a young man he, like anyone else, thought
it would impress the public if he conducted whole operas without a score.
This he did until, when he was conducting Don Giovanni in Weimar, the following
happened: everything went well up to the last finale; Elvira ran out, shrieked
at the sight of the Commendatore, Don Giovanni sent Leporello to the door,
he staggered back on to the stage-and, in a moment of splendid confusion,
the Commendatore followed him in, fifty-four bars too soon. Strauss knew
every note of the score but not the rehearsal numbers, and the musicians
in the pit could not see what was happening on the stage. 'D-minor chord!'
Strauss shouted to the orchestra but they did not understand what he meant.
Don Giovanni and Leporello looked helplessly at the conductor and stopped
singing and the orchestra, sensing that something was wrong, stopped playing.
The curtain fell. 'Imagine it! And the Grand Duke was there! Such a thing
happens only once in a lifetime and since then I have never conducted without
the score in front of me.'
Richard Strauss was no less enigmatic as a conductor than in many other respects.
In his later years he conducted with almost imperceptible gestures and people
might have thought that he was taking it rather easily and relying on the
orchestra. His performances had a naturalness that was not easy to explain-the
listeners simply had the feeling that Strauss's interpretation was authoritative
and right. His beat was like the pendulum of a metronome, regular and merciless.
From the first note the tempo of every piece was firmly and unmistakably
laid down. 'One can conduct the prelude to Tristan,' he used to say, 'only
if one has the tempo of the last bar of the opera exactly in one's ear.'
After a rehearsal I heard him say to the conductor, 'You cannot conduct with
the baton alone.' Indeed, when conducting his eyes wandered constantly through
the orchestra, from one player to the other, and they all felt his magnetic
influence. There was nothing loose or casual in his performances. At a Fidelio
rehearsal at the State Opera in Vienna he told the orchestra and the singers,
'There are things you have to do for Beethoven: sustain every note as you
find it printed in your part, make it neither longer nor shorter; and do
not drop the end of a phrase as you often do when speaking, but sing or play
it clearly to the end. As for the rest, you only have to look at me.' Strauss
was a famous conductor. But here, too, the daemon was concealed below an
outward surface of composure and self-control.
During his long life Strauss had to share the misfortunes of Central Europe,
and of Germany in particular. Prominent and unpolitical as he was, he was
bound to incur somebody's displeasure every time he was expected to adopt
a definite attitude. He was unpolitical almost to the point of absurdity.
Politics did not interest him. Irrespective of what they were and what purpose
they had, he considered them to be an evil which distracted men from better
things in life such as, music. Undoubtedly and not surprisingly he regarded
German music as the best. To him Bach, Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and
Wagner were the greatest composers, but whether the Germans were the best
people never crossed his mind. In a letter which was to become notorious,
Strauss wrote to Stefan Zweig: 'Do you think that Mozart consciously wrote
'Aryan' music? Do you believe that I was ever guided by the thought that
I am German (perhaps, who knows?)? For me there are only two categories of
men: those who have talent and those who have none.' Strauss never wrote
a 'patriotic' work. When the 19I4 war broke out he was the only prominent
German who refused to sign the anti-British manifesto, and was openly called
a traitor. He rnade no attempt to defend himself and retired to his villa
in the Bavarian mountains to orchestrate some of his early songs-and to compose
Die Frau ohne Schatten, erecting round himself a world of rnagic and symbolism
which did not admit any thought of the unhappy reality of war.
Nor did Strauss become involved in the troubles which followed. He felt them,
like the war itself, as a personal injustice; he felt himself innocent of
any complicity in bringing about the inflation and shortages which affected
him personally and, worse still, affected musical life. He had served grand
dukes, kings and kaisers and saw them disappear with complete indifference.
For him music had to survive, no matter who its patrons were.
But then things became more difficult and decisions more momentous. Almost
without realizing it, Strauss found himself in the midst of human, moral
and political problems. It was said afterwards that he should have emigrated.
He and his wife loved their Jewish daughter-in-law and their grandchildren,
who were exposed to rnany humiliations. He would have suffered little discomfort
in emigration; he could have been among the heroes of his time. But emigration
requires a conviction which he did not possess. He did not emigrate. On the
contrary, he became the first president of the new Reichsmusikkammer. All
musicians outside Germany and many people inside were profoundly shocked
at what appeared an act of sheer opportunism. He conducted the notorious
Berlin concert in place of Bruno Walter, who was no longer allowed to appear
Strauss never admitted to having done anything wrong in either case. After
the war he still insisted that he had never been concerned with the Nazi
regime but only with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he had
been connected for more than thirty years and which he had been conducting
when Bruno Walter was still a schoolboy. The orchestra had been in difliculties;
he had wanted to help them, and had given his fee of DM 1,500 to their pension
fund, thus drawing no benefit from it. Should he have helped to prove that
the Nazis could kill music in Germany? Music, after all, was more important
than Hitler or Bruno Walter . . . It was useless to argue with him.
And the presidency of the Reichsmusikkammer? Was he not the greatest living
German composer and did he not have the right and the duty to have a say
in the organization of music in Germany? To Stefan Zweig, in the letter quoted
above, he wrote, 'I would have accepted this aggravating job from any government
but neither the Kaiser nor Herr Rathenau have ever offered it to me. How
the scribblers interpret it in the Press does not concern me. I want to do
some good and prevent excesses The Nazi authorities soon had to recognize
that Strauss was not their man. And they could have no hope of persuading
or seducing him as they did with Furtwängler. After Hofmannsthal's death
Strauss had found a new Jewish librettist in Stefan Zweig, who wrote for
him the libretto of Die schweigsame Frau in 1932, before Hitler came to power.
On 1 April 1933 the decree boycot ting the Jews came into force and four
days later Strauss wrote to Zweig, 'As I did eight days after the outbreak
of the famous world war I am at my desk working. Am in the middle of the
first act [of Zweig's libretto].'
Zweig was an Austrian living in Salzburg and was not immediately affected
by the new measures taken in Germany. But rumours started in May 1934 that
Strauss's new opera would be banned because of Zweig. Zweig read about them
when in London and hastened to inform Strauss; the latter immediately went
to see Goebbels, from whom he received some reassurance. 'We shall have no
difficulties with our Morosus,' he wrote to Zweig and pressed him to think
already of a new libretto. 'Perhaps I can make some suggestions,' Zweig replied,
'even if I do not carry them out myself.' Strauss did not take the hint.
A meeting arranged in Salzburg in July did not materialize. After the
assassination of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss, Strauss was not allowed
to conduct at Salzburg. In the end they did meet, but we do not know what
In August Zweig outlined a possible subject for a new opera, and added, 'I
shall have no objection if you hand this draft over to somebody else in order
to save yourselfany political trouble.' Strauss replied on 24 August, 'Of
course, I could not consider any other poet . . . but tactically it may be
advisable not to tell anybody if we write one or more works together. If
I am asked I will say that I am not working at all and that I have no libretto.
In a few years, when we have finished, the world will be different.' Zweig
recommended the work of a Swiss poet. 'If you will allow me,' wrote Strauss,
'I will stick to Stefan Zweig.' He became more pressing. 'The score of the
third act will be finished in a few weeks,' he wrote in October, 'and then
I shall be out of work.' And again: 'If I have the good fortune to receive
from you one or more libretti we will agree not to tell anybody. The score
when finished will be locked up and will be opened only when we both feel
the time is ripe for a performance. Will you then take the risk of writing
something new for me-perhaps for my estate?' Zweig felt that he had to make
his point clear beyond doubt: it would be undignified and unworthy of them
both to continue a clandestine co-operation. There could be no further
discussion. But Zweig would be happy to help and advise anybody writing a
libretto for Strauss if such help or advice was welcome. 'You letter has
made me very sad,' replied Strauss. 'If you desert me it would leave me an
ailing old man without purpose.' And two months later, when Zweig reaffirmed
his determination not to write another libretto for Strauss: 'I understand
your depression. But you cannot be more depressed than I am.' And Strauss
was still president of the Reichsmusikkammer.
The day of the first performance of Die schweigsame Frau drew nearer and
Strauss went to Dresden. Zweig, of course, did not come. There was, after
the war, a version current that Zweig had prohibited the performance but
that Strauss had gone ahead without taking notice of Zweig's wishes. This
was not true. Zweig had all along done everything to make himself inconspicuous
and to remove difficulties as far as he could. On I3 June Strauss wrote to
Zweig, 'My librettist is Zweig-he needs no collaborators you could have convinced
yourself personally after yesterday's rehearsal of the first act. Your libretto
is simply first class.'
The Royal-or, as it became after the First World War, the State-Opera House
in Dresden had had the distinction of first performing Richard Strauss's
operas. It began in 1901 with Feuersnot; Salome, Elektra and Rosenkavalier
followed. Then Strauss's close friend, the conductor Ernst von Schuch, died
and it took a few years for the old confidence to be re-established between
Strauss and the new men in charge, Alfred Reucker, the Intendant, and Fritz
Busch, the Generalmusikdirektor. Intermezzo and Die agyptische Helena were
again first performed in Dresden in 1924 and 1928 respectively. There was
no question that the next opera, Arabella, was also to have its first performance
in Dresden. Strauss dedicated it to his friends Alfred Reucker and Fritz
Busch. But when it came to the performance, on I July 1933, Hitler had already
seized power and both Reucker and Busch had left Dresden and Germany. Strauss
wanted to withhold the work but was forced to fulfil the contractual obligation
into which he had entered long before the change had taken place. But the
dedication had to stand. Now, with Die schweigsame Frau, Dresden was to prove
even more troublesome.
The new Intendant thought that he owed it to his convictions and to the
authorities to suppress Zweig's name on bills, postersand programmes. Two
days before the performance, perhaps with some vague suspicion in mind, Strauss
demanded to see the proofs, and he flew into a rage when he found that Zweig's
name had been omitted. 'You can do that, but without me. I shall leave tomorrow
morning.' So Zweig's name was duly restored.
But worse was to come. We do not know Zweig's answer to Strauss's letter
of 13 June, but Strauss's reply has become notorious. 'Your letter of the
15th drives me to despair!' he exclaims. 'For me "the people" exist only
at the moment when they become an audience. Whether they consist of Chinese,
Bavarians, New Zealanders or Berliners makes no difference to me.' And he
concludes, 'The performance here will be excellent. Everybody is full of
enthusiasm. And I should do without you? Never, never!' This letter was
intercepted by the Gestapo and never reached Zweig. The performance took
place on 24 June 1935. No Hitler, no Goebbels, none of the 'guests of honour'
arrived. After the second performance the opera had to be taken out of the
repertoire and was not heard again for more than ten years.
On 10 July Strauss wrote a memorandum for himself and for posterity in which
he recounts the events.
On 6 July Herr Ministerialrat Keudell appeared here with a demand for my
resignation as president of the Reichsmusikkammer, for health reasons. I
at once resigned. He repeatedly showed me the copy of a private letter to
my friend and collaborator Stefan Zweig which apparently had been opened
by the police although my name as sender was written on the back of the envelope.
I did not know that I was under the surveillance of the Gestapo
When I conducted Bruno Walter's concert I was suspected of being a servile,
selfish anti-semite, while on the contrary (and to my own detriment) I have
been telling all the influential people here that the Streicher-Goebbels
Jewbaiting was a disgrace to German honour, the lowest form of warfare waged
by untalented, lazy mediocrity on superior intelligence and greater gifts.
I openly say that I have received from Jews so much encouragement, so much
friendship, assistance and inspiration that it would be criminal not to recognize
This was the end of Strauss's contacts with Nazis and Nazi institutions.
He lost what privileges he had and retired to Garmisch, where he composed
unwillingly the libretti by Joseph Gregor-the ideas were Zweig's-Friedenstag
and Capriccio, and Hofmannsthal's Die Liebe der Danae, and orchestrated some
earlier songs. Not he but Frau Pauline told me a characteristic story. When
during the war an official came to the villa to requisition rooms for refugees
and reminded the protesting composer that there was a war on, he received
the reply, 'As far as I am concerned you need not have started this war.'
His friends in Munich, Clemens Krauss, the conductor, and Rudolph Hartmann,
the producer, arranged exemplary performances of his works, but otherwise
he disappeared from the public eye. Stefan Zweig emigrated to South America
where he took his life.
After the war much was made of a photograph of Strauss, with a dedication,
found in the office of the Munich Gauleiter, Frank. The explanation was simple
and less publicized. Strauss had to protect his daughter-in-law and his grandsons
and to do so made sure of the goodwill of this powerful man, whom he had
hardly known personally.
At a time when heroes were few and scoundrels in abundance, all this was
contrary to the code of either. Few musicians who were not forced to do so
had left their countries. Toscanini in Italy, Paul Hindemith in Germany,
were the shining examples of musicians manning the barricades. Strauss was
not made for this. Everything connected with politics was abhorrent to him.
He never made his peace with the regime, never accepted a title as
Furtwängler did, never entered into any discussion. This brought him
into conflict with his friends and those in power alike and made him an object
of suspicion to both. But, next to his own kith and kin, it was music which
ruled his life. And music is a despotic and ruthless ruler. He needed all
his worldly skill to keep his head above water.
So he sat in Garmisch while the world around him collapsed. Among the Americans
who occupied Bavaria there were many musicians who visited Strauss and the
villa, both admirers and critics. Some were even surprised to see Strauss
In the autumn of 1945 Strauss decided to go to Switzerland. All he sought
there was as quiet an evening of his life as the unhappy times would allow.
He was not like Furtwängler, who still sought publicity and, after the
incident in Winterthur, sent from his place of exile in Clarens protest after
protest, received every reporter and told everybody the story of his personal
misfortunes and innocence, which was as eagerly contradicted as it was told.
I had to sit with him far into the early hours of a February day, listening
to his tale of woe, at the end of which he handed me a memorandum asking
me to submit it to the British Foreign Office.
It produced no result, and Furtwängler, a victim of his own weakness
and vanity rather than really ill-intentioned, had to wait. Strauss was neither
weak nor vain. He received no reporters, made no statements and nothing could
shake his conviction that he had nothing to justify, nothing to explain.
Silently he suffered all the abuse that surrounded him in those first years
after the war.
But it seemed a gloomy end to a life which, at one time, had achieved everything
a human life is capable of achieving. However severely he might have been
judged one could not but feel the tragedy of his old age. His music seemed
out of favour, his manuscripts were pawned to pay the hotel bills, the future
of his children and grandchildren was dark, German opera-houses and concerthalls
were destroyed. Strauss thought up a theory to explain the fateful course
Every nation has a historic mission, and once this mission is fulfilled it
disappears. The ancient Greeks had their sculpture, the Romans their
jurisprudence, and once they had reached the summit there was no more for
them to do but to succumb to socalled barbarians, nations with new ideals
and a new mission. The mission of the German nation was music and it was
fulfilled with Richard Wagner. After him they were doomed. What the Kaiser
did in 19I4 and Hitler in 1939 was the action of desperate, doomed men. And
that the Germans followed them with such diabolical enthusiasm was a sign
of the doom of the whole nation. The Germans will never rise again.