1864 – 1949
Der Rosenkavalier Suite (Rose Cavalier) 1910
Richard Strauss was considered one of the foremost and versatile composers and conductors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was known for creating a wide spectrum of works in different forms and style and particularly noted for his interpretations of his idol Mozart. Der Rosenkavalier is Strauss’ homage to Mozart and closely resembles The Marriage of Figaro with a similar convoluted, comical plot with moments of sadness and regret. The three-act opera brought Strauss great fame and financial success and became the most popular German opera of the 1900s. The eccentric, flamboyant composer began introducing himself as, “I am Strauss, composer of Der Rosenkavalier.”
It is an entertainingly frisky comedy — a half sentimental, half cynical story about life in 18th century Vienna during the reign of Maria Therese.
The main action revolves around an aging (mid-thirties) field marshal’s wife, Marschallin, who is in love with young, 17-year-old Octavian who, because of the age difference, will most likely leave her and fall in love with someone his own age. Prominently featured is a cousin, the bumbling, lecherous, obnoxious Baron who has arranged to marry young Sophe, daughter of a wealthy merchant. As tradition has it, Octavian is chosen as knight of the rose, presenter of a silver rose to the bride-to-be. The rose is offered in a glorious duet, but the situation also becomes “love at first sight” for Octavian and Sophe. The rest of the plot involves jealousy in operation, cross-dressing, humorous trickery and connivance, and show-stopping Viennese waltzes — a form not even in existence during the opera’s time period. Of strong musical appeal is a trio from Act III in which the saddened Marschallin surrenders Octavian to Sophe and the two lovers overflow with love and gratitude.
Nearly every work of Strauss’ begins with a great expansion of energy, a leaping upwards followed by a culmination of force, size and intricacy of parts. Strauss never lost the stamp of a Wagner worshipper and so melody lines are often very complex with lots of musical ornaments and runs. The orchestration is thick with sound as instrumental sections play with or against each other without pause. As a result Strauss’ music has the reputation of being incredibly difficult to perform. To quote renowned music critic Lawrence Gilman, “It is the orchestra, at the end, that caps the rough and tumble poetic comedy, and turns the horseplay into loveliness, crowning the drama with a quality of beauty that brought a new accent and unsuspected eloquence to musical art.”