concerto for oboe and small orchestra in d major richard...
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During the early years of his career, Richard Strauss complained that he couldnt comeup with ideas unless spurred by some poetic ordramatic scenario. But in the 1940s, as he en-tered his 80s, he seems to have suddenly real-ized that this was not the case; his final yearsgave rise to several entirely abstract pieces.These included a pair of meaty works for windensemble, Metamorphosen for Twenty-ThreeSolo Strings, and three concerted works: theHorn Concerto No. 2, Duett-Concertino for Clar-inet and Bassoon, and the Oboe Concerto. Theseare all lushly beautiful pieces that suggest alate-in-life purification of Strausss writing.
That the Oboe Concerto should require a rel-atively small accompanying ensemble ratherthan the vast orchestras Strauss had called forin his tone poems is entirely characteristic ofhis propensities in this period. Possibly it was amusical choice not entirely unrelated to practi-cal realities, since Germany was feeling its belttightened during and after World War II, andcultural presentations were considerably lesslavish than they once had been.
Strausss activities during the Nazi era areopen to debate he was not a party member,though he proved accommodating on occasion but he put all that to rest as much as possiblewhen the war ended. Among the American sol-diers stationed in occupied Bavaria after thewar was Alfred Mann, who would go on to be-come a noted musicologist. Mann paid a call atStrausss villa in Garmisch and the two culti-vated something of a friendship. On one visitMann brought along a colleague, John de Lan-cie, who had by then served as principal oboistof the Pittsburgh Symphony under Fritz Reinerand who would go on to become the principaloboist of The Philadelphia Orchestra, directorof the Curtis Institute of Music, and dean of theNew World School of the Arts in Miami. De Lan-cie (who lived until 2002) later recounted:
I asked him if, in view of the numerous beau-tiful, lyric solos for oboe in almost all hisworks, he had ever considered writing a con-certo of oboe. He answered No, and therewas no more conversation on the subject. Helater told a fellow musician friend of mine(Alfred Mann ) that the idea had taken rootas a result of that remark. He subsequently,in numerous interviews and letters, spoke ofthis concerto in reference to my visits withhim, and I have a letter from him inviting meto the first performance in Zurich.
Strauss inscribed at the top of his autographOboe Concerto 1945 / suggested by an Ameri-can soldier / oboist from Chicago. As de Lancie
Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra in D major
Born: June 11, 1864, in Munich, Bavaria (Germany)
Died: September 8, 1949, in Garmisch
Work composed: 1945, completed on October 25 of that year; ending revised in 1948
World premiere: February 26, 1946, in Zurich,Switzerland, by the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra,Volkmar Andreae, conductor, Marcel Saillet,soloist
New York Philharmonic premiere: May 6,1982, Zubin Mehta, conductor, Joseph Robinson,soloist
Most recent New York Philharmonic performance: February 18, 2008, at the HongKong Cultural Center, Xian Zhang, conductor,Liang Wang, soloist
Estimated duration: ca. 26 minutes
was actually a native of Berkeley, California,this seems to be nothing more than a slip of ge-ography. De Lancie later received a letter fromhis brother with a clipping from an armedforces newspaper, reporting:
The world will get a new oboe concerto fromthe pen of the famous Richard Strauss, 81-year-old composer, because an Americansoldier asked the master to write him a fewbars of music for the oboe.
In October 1945, shortly after the Oboe Con-certo was completed, Strauss and his wife leftGarmisch to stay in Switzerland. Food and fuelwere in short supply, and the currency collapsein Germany was exacerbated by frozen royaltyaccounts from Strausss publishers. The com-posers residence near Zurich at the time ac-counts for the fact that this concerto waspremiered there.
Instrumentation: two flutes, English horn,two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, andstrings, in addition to the solo oboe.
An earlier version of this note appeared in theprograms of The Juilliard School and is used withpermission. James M. Keller
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The American Premiere
After Strausss Oboe Concerto was premiered in Europe, John de Lancie re-ceived a letter from the publisher Boosey & Hawkes saying that Strauss wishedto offer him the first American performance. But there was a problem. In 1946de Lancie had joined The Philadelphia Orchestra and his junior status pre-cluded his solo performance of the work. The American premiere was insteadplayed by Mitchell Miller (later more widely known as Mitch, leader of the SingAlong with Mitch television program of the 1960s) and the Columbia ConcertOrchestra, Daniel Saidenberg conducting, in a 1948 radio broadcast. De Lan-cie didnt have an opportunity to perform Strausss Concerto until 1964 be-cause Eugene Ormandy, The Philadelphia Orchestras music director, did notcare for the piece; and after that he had to wait until 1987 for a second oppor-tunity, when he recorded it with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
John de Lancie
Listen for a Windy Opening
Oboists tend to go pale when you say the wordsStrauss Concerto, wrote Michael Steinberg, a pastNew York Philharmonic program annotator, in TheConcerto: A Listeners Guide. The response has to dowith the opening,
where, after two twitches from the cellos, the oboehas a solo of 57 measures in a fairly lei s urely tempoand with not so much as a single sixteenth-rest.
Strauss may have been influenced by experimentswith his Alpine Symphony, for which he suggesteduse of the aerophor, a device patented in 1912 thatused a foot-operated bellows to send air to a tubediscreetly placed in a corner of the mouth to assistwind players with sustained chords. However, Stein-berg added that musicians today are adept at circu-lar breathing for extended passages:
Having conquered the technical difficulty of end-less breath supply, the oboist finds a melodic linethat is sinuous and lovely, thoroughly vocal inmanner; the oboe seems to be a kind of seconddonna, somewhere between serious or semi-serious heroine and soubrette.
(Principal Oboe Liang Wang demonstrates the circu-lar breathing technique in a video on the New YorkPhilharmonics YouTube channel.)