Four Last Songs (Vier letzte Lieder), Op. posth., for Soprano and Orchestra

Creator of some of the most spectacular symphonic scores in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries RICHARD STRAUSS in his later years focused more on chamber scales and refined sonority, with opportunities for solo concert performance of the individual instrument or voice.

FOUR LAST SONGS for soprano and orchestra are the last pages written in 1948, when the composer was already 84 years old. He did not live to hear their premiere in London on May 22, 1950, performed by the famous Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962), accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Strauss was attracted by the verses of the famous early romantic poet Joseph von Eichendorff and on May 6th , 1948 he composed the song based on his poem. “Im Abendrot”, that being the first song. At that time he became acquainted with the poetry of the contemporary German writer Hermann Hesse and immediately wrote music for three of his poems – “Frühling” (Spring) (on 20 July), “Beim Schlafengehen” (While Falling Asleep) (August 4)  and “September” (September 20). After his death, his friend Ernst Roth, editor-in-chief of the Boosey & Hawkes Publishing house, unites the four songs, arranging them in the sequence that has been established today in the performing practice and names the cycle “Four last songs”.

The verses contain the idea of death and in their musical interpretation one can feel the composer’s premonition of his own near end, expected by him wisely calm. These songs, Strauss’s sort of farewell to the world, seem to carry a hidden dedication – to his wife, the famous soprano Pauline de Ahna,  to his father Franz Strauss (through the important role the composer assigns to the Waldhorn), and reminiscences of his own music – theme from the symphonic poem “Death and Enlightenment” at the end of the song “At Sunset”.

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