18 Nov 2022

STRAUSS: Death & Transfiguration

From Music Alive, 8:01 pm on 18 November 2022
NZSO performing in the Michael Fowler Centre

NZSO performing in the Michael Fowler Centre Photo: Latitude Creative/NZSO

Performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gemma New.

Richard Strauss’ tone poem Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) is music that seeks to transcend earthly suffering.

Strauss was 24 years old and working as a vocal coach and pianist for a Bayreuth Festival Wagner production when he began work on the music that would become his tone poem Death and Transfiguration. Once he had completed the music, he asked a poet friend to write a brief poem based on the theme of earthly travail leading to heavenly bliss. At Strauss' request, the poem was expanded by the poet Ritter into a full scale dramatic road map for the piece.

The programme follows suffering of an artist who lies dying in a shabby room. You can hear his weak heart-beat or maybe the ticking of a clock in the strings and timpani. A melancholy smile appears on his face as he thinks back on his childhood. Then comes a furious struggle between life and death, at whose climax we hear, briefly, the theme of Transfiguration that dominates the final portion of the work. The struggle is unresolved, and silence returns.

The heavens open to show him what the world denied him, Redemption, Transfiguration - the Transfiguration theme first played pianissimo by the full orchestra, its flowering enriched by the celestial arpeggios of two harps. The theme climbs ever higher, as his soul is dazingly transfigured in the afterlife.

Recorded 18 November 2022, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert

Producer: David McCaw

Engineer: Darryl Stack

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