Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Nietzsche and Strauss (Post 2 of 3)

Richard Strauss is another of the most prominent composers in German musical and philosophical history. While Wagner was more obviously influenced by the writings and thinking of Arthur Schopenhauer, Strauss was very clearly touched by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Wagner was influenced by Nietzsche as well, however not to the extent to which he was by Schopenhauer. Also unlike Wagner, Strauss conveyed his inspiration mainly through orchestral works, which is significant due to a lack of obvious plot as opposed to operatic music which is written with a story in mind. The lack of plot through dialogue allows more subtle influences to be expressed such as that shown in almost of all of Strauss’s tone poems, being that they are cyclical, which is a reference to Nietzsche’s belief in eternal return. To Nietzsche, eternal return is a very important idea that is evident in a lot of his writing, but most importantly for this conversation his collection of vignettes: Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Strauss’s tone poem, widely considered his magnum opus, Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 30 (composed in 1896) is the most blatantly obvious example of the influence of Nietzsche on a then relatively young (32 at the time the tone poem was completed) Strauss. The piece is in eight sections and was designed to be a musical embodiment of Nietzsche’s philosophy based upon his collection of vignettes mentioned in the paragraph above. A video is linked here: (Gustavo Dudamel with the Vienna Philharmonic (my favorite orchestra))

Among many obvious influences from Nietzsche is the cyclical nature of the piece. There are several musical motifs that repeat themselves throughout the piece, the most obvious being the very beginning. The trumpets carry a glorious melody of the Tonic (first note of the scale) to the Dominant (fifth note of the scale) to Tonic an octave higher, which is repeated at times obviously and at times very subtly. The Intervals in the opening themselves carry significance as well. The intervals are Perfect Fifths and Perfect Fourths, which can be seen as embodying the idea of the ubermensch in the uncorrupted strength they carry.


Nietzsche would love the concept of this piece as a whole. Being premiered only four years before his death, it is unknown as to whether or not Nietzsche would have even been aware of its composition, however a quite popular quote seems to provide enough evidence to say with confidence that he would have loved it. 

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