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Don Juan : Work information

Richard (Georg) Strauss ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Don Juan
Work number
Op. 20
1888-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Keener
Simon Rhodes
Recording date

The Composers

Richard (Georg) Strauss

Strauss’ father was a professional horn player, and he educated his son in music. The young Strauss composed prolifically from the age of six. He went to University for a short time, but had no formal tuition in composition. Despite this lack of education, he had several works performed in Munich, including a symphony, when he was 17. The next year saw performances in Dresden and Vienna.

At the age of 20, Strauss had his second symphony played in New York and he conducted the Meiningen Orchestra in a suite for wind instruments. In 1885 he became conductor of that orchestra, but soon left and visited Italy, composing Aus ltalien  as a result which caused controversy when it premiered in 1887. By then Strauss was a junior conductor at the Munich Opera. Other tone poems followed: Macbeth, Don Juan and Tod und Verklärung come from the late 1880s. Don Juan is perhaps the first of the really virtuosic compositions.

He moved to Weimar to take up a post at the opera house, and from 1891 to 1893, despite being ill, wrote his first opera, Guntram. It wasn’t very successful, but his conducting career continued; he directed many major operas, including Wagner at Bayreuth. He returned to Munich in 1896 as chief conductor at the opera. More tone poems followed, including Till Eulenspiegel, Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben, (A Hero’s Life).

From 1908, Strauss conducted the court and opera orchestras in Berlin. In 1919, though, he took up a post as joint director of the Vienna Staatsoper, where his latest collaboration with Hofmannsthal, Die Frau ohne Schatten, was performed that year, to great acclaim. His busy international conducting career continued between the wars, taking in North and South America and most of Europe in the 1920s.

During World War II Strauss was frustrated at being unable to work with his Jewish librettist, Stefan Zweig (Hofmannsthal was also part-Jewish), and he protected his Jewish daughter-in-law. His relationship with the National Socialist government in Germany was at times ambiguous, a fact that protected him but led to post-war difficulties and self-imposed exile in Switzerland, from which he returned home to Bavaria only in the year of his death. When Germany was defeated, and the opera houses destroyed, Strauss wrote a lament, Metamorphosen, for 23 solo strings. He died in his Garmisch home in 1949.

Richard Strauss developed the symphonic or tone poem to an unrivalled level of expressiveness and after 1900 achieved great success with a series of impressive operas, at first on a grand scale, but later tending to a more classical restraint.

Related Composers Wagner, Korngold, Liszt

Track listing

  • Don Juan 16:48 min


Richard Strauss' first masterpiece Don Juan, based on Nikolaus Lenau's fragmentary verse-drama, was composed in 1888 and first performed on 11 November 1889 with Strauss conducting. Marking the emergence of Strauss the composer, this orchestral piece of virtuosity has found a permanent and popular position in the repertoire.

The work established Strauss' international reputation and its immediate appeal is still infectious today. The dynamic womanising hero is wonderfully conjured by the fireworks of the orchestral writing, and portraits of three of his ladies form the basis for three contrasting episodes.

The opening orchestral flourish is one of the most arresting in all of music, and proves Strauss' mastery of the orchestra. Particularly impressive, though, are the love scenes; they make good use of the composer's enormous gift for melody, a talent later applied to the world of opera. The work ends in tragedy, all the virility of the music disappears as the hero allows himself to be killed in a duel.