Testo tratto dall'autobiografia

The Odyssey of an American Composer

Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1980

pp. 97 -98


Richard Strauss regularly conducted his «Elektra», «Salome», and «Der Rosenkavalier», and a series of Mozart operas. Strauss was a dramatic maestro. Walter conducted with large movements and used any gesture to make the orchestra play; Strauss used a long baton and conducted from the wrist. Strauss's beat was small and very, very clear. His pacing was on the fast side, but he knew the form of the operas so well that proportions were never lost and everything held together whether he chose a fast or a slow tempo. When conducting Mozart at fast tempo, Strauss never pushed the voices beyond what they could sing convincingly. Each scene was a complete picture in itself but was related to the preceding and the following sections so that the pacing always seemed right.
I heard him do «Die Zauberflöte», «Die Hochzeit des Figaro», «Don Giovanni», and «Così fan tutte» - all, as by custom, in German. He made the orchestra into an instrument that responded to his vision of dramatic values. It was a lyric-dramatic sound, but not mellow.
Superficially, his conducting seemed matter-of-fact, but he coaxed and carried away his singers and orchestra until they became part of the big musical picture or musical poem he wanted to project. There was no time for meditation or personal interpretation. This was most noticeable in «Elektra» and «Salome». He was a composer-conductor for whom the composition was supreme. «Don Giovanni» did not sound like the psychotic ravings of a sick man, but rather was strong, mature, and straightforward in its presentation of a dynamic life that led to ruin. Strauss built a dramatic climax that started with the overture and ended with the last note. The famous minuet was played at a very slow tempo. The lyric coloratura and humorous passages moved forward rapidly with no trace of sentimentality and Mozart's clear, clean, and dramatic vision came through.
«Die Zauberflöte», «Così fan tutte», and «Figaro» followed somewhat the same interpretive lines but naturally with greater or lesser intensity depending on the stylistic differences in the scores and libretti. In «Figaro» he moved the work in an ascending curve from the overture through the finale of the second act. The rest of the opera he took in a curving, lyric, dramatic line that culminated in the lovely finale of the fourth act. He projected a large picture within which all of the small sections were related. Singers and stage action had to fit into his symphonic ensemble. I can say that I think his Mozart performances were the healthiest I ever heard.
Strauss appeared quite often as an accompanist for famous singers like Claire Dux, Lotte Lehmann, Hermine Bosetti, and Maria Ivogun in programs of his songs. He had a fine piano touch. Performances of his own songs were nonsentimental. The structure and the poetic message were projected without exaggerated humor or coyness. His stage manners were those of a successful banker. He came on with a no-nonsense stride, made a quick, businesslike bow to the audience, sat down at the piano, and went to work. He did his job quietly and received even the ovations of the audience in a laconic spirit and with no fuss.