Richard Strauss: Alpine Symphony
In his Alpine Symphony, Richard Strauss depicts in twenty-two continuous sections of music an actual trip to conquer the summit of an alpine mountain. He pervades the score with numerous instrumental colors and combinations of sounds, depicting the images and events that take place on the alpine trip. This composition was to be one of Strauss’ final large-scale orchestral works, and clearly shows him at the summit of his art.
Each section has a specific title so that the listener knows continuously what the music is depicting. One does not really need these titles. The overall title of this work allows you to create your own images of what is “painted” in the music.
After reaching the summit, the music depicts the way down the mountain. The mists gather before a storm erupts with flashes of lightning. The travelers finally arrive at the bottom of the alpine mountain and as night falls, the music returns to the way the whole piece had begun.
As you can imagine, a meaningful performance requires an outstanding orchestra able to depict the images of the climb. The conductor has to pace the work, control the orchestral palette and assure that the real climaxes arrive only when they’re supposed to.
The London Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink has just released this new recording in February, 2010. The sound is wonderfully clear and spacious; and by the end, the listener really feels that he has been on a journey up and down the Alpine mountain.
Here is an audio/visual extract of movements 12, “Precarious Moments”; 13, “At the Summit”; and 14, “Vision”.
Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie is performed in this video by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.