The Kennedy Center

Duett-Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon with String Orchestra and Harp

About the Work

Image for Richard Strauss Composer: Richard Strauss
© Richard Freed

Untitled Document

At the end of his life Strauss undertook a number of compositions that had particular meaning for him in a personal sense--either in terms of expressing certain deepfelt thoughts and emotions, as in the Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings and the Four Last Songs , or as gifts commemorating significant associations with certain individuals or organizations. The score of this work bears a dedication to Hugo Burghauser, a bassoonist with whom he had worked during his own years as director of the Vienna State Opera and at the Salzburg Festival.

Burghauser was not only a member of the Vienna Philharmonic (the orchestra of the State Opera) from the early 1920s until the Anschluss of 1938, but was also chairman of that orchestra's governing committee during his last ten or twelve years in Vienna. It was on his initiative that Arturo Toscanini and other major conductors were invited to conduct the Philharmoniker, and he was a tactful administrator who was able to avert may a crisis of temperament. After the Anschluss he came to America and played for several years in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. He never lost touch with Strauss, though: in 1947 he acted on Strauss's request to help him sell the autograph scores of some of his works, and in the same year they met for the last time, in Montreux. On that occasion, Burghauser said, he made one request of Strauss: I begged him to write out those enchanting accompaniments for the recitatives in Così fan tutte . But he pointed to the Vier letzte Lieder and the Duet-Concertino, which he had to finish, and so the accompaniments for Così were lost."

Whether the work Strauss dedicated to Burghauser is of greater value than the lost recitative accompaniments, we shall never be able to determine. The Duet-Concertino, which Strauss was completing then, was given its premiere in a concert of Radio Svizzera Italiana in Lugano on April 5, 1948. Whether this work, dedicated to a friend of long standing and filled with the autumnal mellowness of the composer's last years, is of greater value than the lost recitative accompaniments for his favorite Mozart opera, we shall never be able to determine, but it is fully characteristic of its composer in every respect, and a lovely addition to the smallish repertory of concerted works for its designated solo instruments.

The three movements are played without pause and flow seamlessly from one to the next, maintaining a generally autumnal character, perhaps even more pronouncedly than in the contemporaneous Oboe Concerto. As in that work, themes are not strongly etched but are apposite to the nature of the piece. Among them are suggestions--without being actual citations--of Strauss's beloved Mozart and Beethoven as well as his own earlier works. (A persistent clarinet figure in the concluding rondo does come close to echoing an actual phrase in Till Eulenspiegel , a work constructed in the same form.) While the general character, as already noted, may be termed autumnal, the work does not strike the ear as a self-consciously valedictory gesture; it seems instead simply an affectionate greeting from a man who could look back on more than six decades of creative fulfillment and happy associations.