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Recollections and Reflections
Most quotes come from from material gathered together in Richard Strauss “Recollections and Reflections”, Willy Schuh (editor), Boosey and Hawkes, English Translation E.J.Jawrence, London, 1953. German original, 1949, Atlantis-Verlag, Zurich.
On Criticism (page 21-2) (1908).
- If my works are good and of any importance for the further development of our art, they will maintain their position in spite of all opposition on the part of critics, and in spite of all denigration of my artistic intentions. If they are worthtless, not even the most gratifying box office success or the most enthusiastic acclamation of augurs will keep them alive. Let the pulping press devour them...I shall not shed a tear over their grave.
On composing and conducting (page 39-40) (1929).
- I am convinced that the decisive factor in dramatic effect will be a smaller orchestra, which does not drown out the human voice as does a large orchestra…The orchestra of the opera of the future is the chamber orchestra which, by painting in the background of the action on the stage with crystalline clearness, can alone realise precisely the intention of the composer with regard to the vocal parts. It is after all an important desideratum that the audience should not only hear the sounds but should also be able to follow the words closely.
On conducting classical masterpieces. (p44-56).
- Producers of opera nowadays usually make the mistake of translating each particular orchestral phrase into terms of a movement on the stage. In this matter one should proceed with a maximum of caution and good taste. There is no objection to bringing life to into the production by changes of position and new nuances of acting during repetitive passages of music, especially in arias. Preludes of one or two bars frequently, and especially in Mozart, clearly express some gesture on stage. But each trill on the flute doea not represent a wink on the prima donna, nor every delayed chord on the strings a step or gesture. Whole passages, especially in the finales, are pure concert music and are best left undisturbed by “play acting”.
- Conducting is, after all, a difficult business – one has to be seventy years of age to realise this fully!
- The left hand has nothing to do with conducting. Its proper place is the waistcoat pocket from which it should only emerge to restrain or make some minor gesture for which in any case a scarcely perceptible glance should suffice.
- It is better to conduct with the ear instead of with the arm: the rest follows automatically.
Ten Golden Rules (for the album of a young conductor). page38. Originally published 1922.
- 1. Remember you are making music not to amuse yourself but to delight the audience.
- 2. You should not perspire when conducting: only the audience should get warm.
- 3. Conduct 'Salome' and 'Elektra' as if they were by Mendelssohn: fairy music.
- 4. Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a short glance to give an important cue.
- 5. But never let the horns and woodwind out of your sight: if you can hear them at all they are still too strong.
- 6. If you think that the brass is not blowing hard enough, tone it down another shade or two.
- 7. It is not enough that you yourself can hear every word the soloist sings - you know it off by heart anyway: the audience must be able to follow without effort. If they do not understand the words they will go to sleep.
- 8. Always accompany a singer in such a way that he can sing without effort.
- 9. When you think you have reached the limits of prestissimo, go twice as fast. (1948 Today, I should like to ammend this as follows: Go twice as slowly - addressed to conductors of Mozart).
- 10. If you follow these rules carefully you will, with your fine gifts and great accomplishments, always be the darling of your listeners.
Rule 4 is often quoted in paraphrase:
- Never look at the Trombones, you'll only encourage them.
Willi Schuh, Strauss the early years, 1982, Cambridge University Press, page xiii.
- Why don't people see what is new in my work, how in them, as is found only in Beethoven, the human being visibly plays a part in the work...19th June 1949.
Letter to Hans Von Bulow, 15th January 1890 (in Schuh and Trenner, Hans von Bulow and Richard Strauss: Correspondence, in English Boosey and Hawkes 1955). Von Bulow had asked for metronome markings from Strauss for Don Juan. Strauss wrote:
- I hope, most revered Maestro, that these metronome markings, in my opinion wholly unneeded by you, are specific enough. Where they do not fit with your conception, I implore you urgently just to ignore them. (Italics Strauss)
Diary entry, shortly after the death of Gustav Mahler (1911). Quoted in Oxford University Press, Grove music online: Strauss, Richard, §7: Instrumental works (written by Bryan Gilliam and Charles Youmans).
- It is clear to me that the German nation will achieve new creative energy only by liberating itself from Christianity ...