STRAUSS, R.: Don Quixote / Romance for Cello and Orchestra (Alexander Rudin/ Gerhard Markson/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554175)
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Don Quixote, Op. 35
Romance in F major forcello and orchestra, A V 75
The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss represents aremarkable extension of the work of Liszt and Wagner in the symphonic poems ofhis early career. Born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player andhis second wife, a member of a rich brewing family, he had a sound generaleducation at there, while studying music under teachers of obvious distinction.
Before he left school in 1882 he had already enjoyed some success as acomposer, continued during his brief period at Munich University with thecomposition of concertos for violin and for French horn and a sonata for celloand piano. By the age of twenty-one he had been appointed assistant conductorto the well-known orchestra at Meiningen under Hans von B??low, whom hesucceeded in the following year.
In 1886 Strauss resigned from Meiningen and began the series oftone-poems that seemed to extend to the utmost limit the extra-musical contentof the form. The first of these works, Aus Italien ('From Italy'), wasfollowed by Macbeth, Dan Juan, Tod und Verklarung ('Death andTransfiguration') and, after a gap of a few years, Till Eulenspiegel, Alsosprach Zarathustra ('Thus Spake Zarathustra'), Don Quixote and EinHeldenleben (A Hero's Life). Meanwhile Strauss was establishing hisreputation as a conductor, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for aseason and taking appointments in Munich and then at the opera in Berlin, wherehe later became Court Composer.
The new century brought a renewed attention to opera, after earlierrelative failure. Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra,the start of a continuing collaboration with Hugo von Hoffmanns?¡thal. DerRosenkavalier ('The Knight of the Rose'), a romantic opera set in theVienna of Mozart, was staged at the Court Opera in Dresden in 1911, followed byten further operas, ending only with Capriccio, mounted at theStaatsoper in Munich in 1942. His final years were clouded by largely unfoundedaccusations of collaboration with the musical policies of the Third Reich andafter 1945 he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his own house atGarmisch only four months before his death in 1949.
Don Quixote, Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, was written in 1897and first performed on 8th March the following year in Cologne at the G??rzenichunder Franz W??llner. The work is the whimsical counterpart of EinHeldenleben, first performed a year later. Don Quixote was notoriginally conceived as a concerto and the solo cello part was at firstintended for the leader of the cello section. Eventually, however, Straussconceded the part to a soloist, in view of the technical demands it made andthe prominence of the instrument through much of the work.
The picaresque novel by Miguel Cervantes, El Ingenioso Hidalgo DonQuijote de la Moncha, was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. Asimple country gentleman has his head turned by reading too many romantic talesof chivalry and misguidedly sets out as a knight errant, dedicated to therighting of wrongs. The book itself has been seen most as a criticism ofcontemporary romances of chivalry and, indeed, of the pastoral romance,offering at the same time a contrast between the real and the ideal, thereality of Don Quixote's actual world and that of his imagination. There ishumour and pathos in Don Quixote himself, his delusions and his nobility of
Intention. On his second expedition he is accompanied by Sancho Panza ashis squire, a villager who combines a degree of common sense andsententiousness with care for his master.
The Introduction at first offers three themes associated with theprotagonist. The first, marked ritterlich und galant (knightly and gallant)is introduced by the woodwind. Second violins and violas follow with DonQuixote the courteous gentleman and a descending clarinet figure introduces aglimpse of his way of thinking. The violas continue with his reading ofromances of chivalry, leading to an oboe theme suggesting courtly love for anoble mistress and muted trumpets reflect a challenge to rescue her fromdangers suggested by the monsters of the lower register brass and strings.
Their idealised love dissolves, as delusion follows delusion in a contrapuntalcomplexity of motifs and themes. The theme of Don Quixote, the Knight of theSorrowful Countenance, is now stated by the solo cello, with the help of thesolo violin, a sorrowful transformation of the opening material. This is followedby Sancho Panza, with a rustic bass clarinet and tenor tuba, a chatterbox soloviola and a sententious conclusion, three aspects of his character.
The first variation depicts the adventure of the windmills. Don Quixotesees on the plain below some thirty or forty windmills which he takes forgiants and resolves to attack, in spite of Sancho Panza's assurance that theseare windmills and that what Don Quixote thinks are arms are their sails,turning in the wind. The knight falls at the first encounter with a sail thatshatters his lance, leading him to believe that the giants had been transformedby a wicked magician. The second variation represents the adventure of thesheep in which Don Quixote, represented now by three cellos, sees clouds ofdust approaching from each side, clearly the opposing armies of the EmperorAlifanfaron and of Pentapolin of the Bare Arm. Even Sancho is persuaded thatthese are not the flocks of sheep they seem, bleating in the woodwind, with thedust cloud of the violas and the pipes of the shepherds. The disastrousconclusion of the episode is omitted. The third variation brings a conversationbetween Sancho and his master, the earthy common sense of one contrasted withthe quixotic love of knight errantry of which the squire is almost persuaded.
The fourth variation finds Don Quixote set on rescuing a supposed lady indistress, in fact a statue of the Madonna carried by a procession of penitents.
Provoked, one of the bearers aims a blow at the knight, who falls to theground, apparently dead, mourned by Sancho as the flower of chivalry, as theprocession moves on. The meditative fifth variation finds Don Quixote, at thestart of his adventures, keeping vigil over his sword and armour, and thinkingof his imagined lady, the peasant girl to whom he would give the title ofDulcinea del Toboso. In the sixth variation Don Quixote attempts to pay hisrespects to his supposed Dulcinea, a country girl, apparently bewitched andtransformed. Sancho, however, assures his master that this is his lady. Theyare entertained in the seventh variation by the Duke and Duchess, who convinceboth squire and master, blindfold, that they are traveling on a flying horse tosave from enchantment the Afflicted Waiting-Woman, to the amusement of thewhole court. The eighth variation is the adventure of the enchanted boat, inwhich they find a boat moored by the river-bank and allow it to take themdownstream, to some great exploit, but in fact to a weir, from which millers,earlier supposed to be devils, rescue them, an outcome for which Sancho givesthanks in a final prayer. From earlier in the book comes the adventure in whichDon Quixote attacks two Benedictine monks, whom he takes for magicians,providing the excitement of the ninth variation. The final variation brings DonQuixote almost to his senses, when Sampson Carrasco disguises himself as theKnight of the White Moon, engaging Don Quixote in combat and defeating him,persuading him to spend a year of relative repose as a shepherd