The Kennedy Center

Wiegenlied, Op. 41, No. 1

About the Work

Image for Richard Strauss Composer: Richard Strauss
© Richard Freed

Strauss composed these songs, as parts of six different sets and all originally with piano accompaniment, between 1885 and 1918; orchestration of the accompaniments generally came many years later. The National Symphony Orchestra began presenting Strauss's songs in its third season, when the baritone John Charles Thomas sang Zueignung with Hans Kindler conducting, on November 2, 1933. Of the six songs on this week's program, that one has been the most frequently performed in these concerts, with Morgen! right behind it, the NSO having first performed that one under Howard Mitchell on tour in London on October 13, 1967, with the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Schwarzkopf and Mitchell performed Meinem Kinde in the same concert. The soprano Renée Fleming sang both Zueignung and Morgen! with the orchestra at Wolf Trap as recently as last July 22, with Patrick Summers conducting. The contralto Doris Doe sang the Wiegenlied, with Kindler on February 10, 1935, and it hasn't been performed in our concerts since then. The two remaining songs being performed this week? Ich wollt' ein Sträusslein binden and Das Rosenband ?are new to these concerts. The six together take about 20 minutes for performance.

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Early in his career Strauss became famous as a composer of tone poems; in his late thirties he switched his creative emphasis to opera. Throughout his life he was also active as a conductor (and a highly respected one), and throughout his life, too, he composed songs. With his contemporary Hugo Wolf, Strauss was one of the last and greatest representatives of the German art-song tradition exemplified earlier in the works of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. His valedictory work was a set for soprano and orchestra which he called simply Vier letzte Lieder ??Four Last Songs.? Although his earlier songs were written with piano accompaniment, he eventually orchestrated several of them, and some have been orchestrated by others.

Wiegenlied (?Lullaby?), Op. 41, No. 1, was composed in 1899 as the first of a set of five songs to texts by four different poets. Richard Dehmel, whose text is used in this song, is the only author represented twice in the set. While Strauss and other composers set several of Dehmel's poems as songs, he is remembered by music-lovers more widely as the writer whose dramatic Verklärte Nacht (?Transfigured Night?) inspired Arnold Schoenberg's eponymous tone poem for string sextet, subsequently revised for string orchestra. The Wiegenlied is the only song from the Op. 41 set that Strauss provided with an orchestral accompaniment, which he created in or about 1916.