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Two Richard Strauss tone poems — and how they speak to my musical heart

Richard Strauss at 24 in 1888 -- the year he composed Don Juan

Richard Strauss at 24 in 1888 — the year he composed Don Juan

On a recent night, as I was at my computer idly checking e-mail, I was listening to a New York Philharmonic concert on Hawaii Public Radio. The orchestra was performing two tone poems by Richard Straus — Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.

Don Juan has a dark theme, representing Don Juan’s promiscuity springing from his determination to find “the ideal woman.” Despairing of ever finding her, he surrenders to melancholy and wills his own death.

The orchestra had just started to perform Till  Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks when Margie called me, lovingly, to come to bed. I responded, “I’ll be there as soon as I hear the ending to Till  Eulenspiegel” I knew the piece has a delightful sprightly ending, suggesting —  as Wikipedia puts it — “that someone like Till can never be destroyed.” And the work ends with the last quotation of the musical joke.

Fulfilled at hearing and enjoying the “joke,” I joined Margie, a big smile on my face.

I’ve always loved music. I played the trombone at Punahou School and at Princeton, in the football and concert bands. And I’m having a go at playing the piano again.

Now, as I write, at this very moment, I’m hearing the San Francisco Symphony in the rousing, energetic ending to Dimitri Shostokovich’s 10th Symphony.

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