– The Boston Symphony In Rehearsal – Charles Munch, cond. – Jan. 13, 1951 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Considered one of the Meat and Potatoes pieces for orchestra, Munch runs through this one with a magnifying glass, and it’s interesting to hear him take sections of the piece with each section of the orchestra.
The work is based on Don Juans Ende, a play derived from an unfinished 1844 retelling of the tale by poet Nikolaus Lenau after the Don Juan legend which originated in Renaissance-era Spain. Strauss reprinted three excerpts from the play in his score. In Lenau’s rendering, Don Juan’s promiscuity springs from his determination to find the ideal woman. Despairing of ever finding her, he ultimately surrenders to melancholy and wills his own death. It is singled out by Carl Dahlhaus as a “musical symbol of fin-de-siècle modernism”, particularly for the “breakaway mood” of its opening bars.
The premiere of Don Juan took place on 11 November 1889 in Weimar, where Strauss, then twenty-five, served as Court Kapellmeister; he conducted the orchestra of the Weimar Opera. The work, composed when Strauss was only twenty-four years old, became an international success and established his reputation as an important exponent of modernism. Strauss often conducted the work in concerts during his long career, and the piece was part of the first recordings that he made in 1917. The last time he conducted the work was in 1947 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra during his last tour outside of Germany.
Although Don Juan was an undeniable triumph for Strauss, the work was not without its critics. Cosima Wagner, who was normally a supporter of Strauss and his music, despised the work because of its subject matter which did not rise to the metaphysical ideals of Wagner. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states that “The aesthetics of Wagner and Liszt may have inspired him to embrace the extra-musical, but he refused to carry their torch for music as a sacred entity; the libertine Don (and Strauss with him) simply thumbs his nose at the world.”
On hand to narrate, as always is Ben Grauer – and as always not a complete performance of the piece, but rather a half-hour fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the orchestra at work.
Rosin up the bow on this one.
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