Summer 2014

19th July 2014, The Ruddock Performing Arts Centre

  • Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs, with Paula Sides of the English Touring Opera
  • Gustav Mahler, Symphony number 1 in D major
  • Conductor: Lee Differ

Strauss’ Four Last Songs

The Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra were the final completed works of Richard Strauss, composed in 1948. The songs are “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (Going to sleep) and “Im Abendrot” (At sunset).

These are, as the title suggests, very much valedictory pieces for Strauss, and are breathtakingly beautiful. Fittingly for such a farewell, Strauss quotes some of the most poignant moments of some of his better known works, including Death and Transfiguration. This is a very special work and very much the perfect introduction to Strauss for any listener who does not know this music.

Mahler’s Symphony number 1

Mahler composed his first symphony between 1887 and 1888, though he uses material previously composed, notably from “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (1883–1885). The incorporation of song, in the form of the traditional German Lied, is a major element of all of Mahler’s symphonies and this is no exception, and despite the length of the work, it is tuneful and life-affirming throughout.

Mahler found much of his inspiration from nature and non-musical programmes, though ultimately he preferred to play down this element of his work, letting the music speak for itself. Nevertheless, the awakening of nature in the first movement, the country dance of the second, and the surreal funeral of the hunter (conducted by the previously-hunted animals) as depicted in the third movement are quite obvious. The third movement is also well-known for its twisting of the tune of “Frère Jacques” into a minor key and the extraordinary sound of a solo double bass. The final movement is a furious battle between the forces of the inferno and those on the side of the good, and ends with a triumphant march with theme strongly reminiscent of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from the Messiah.