Christian Thielemann (photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Christian Thielemann conducts works by Richard Strauss

Christian Thielemann, an outstanding interpreter of Strauss, dedicates an entire concert to the composer – with two discoveries and a crowd pleaser. The evening opens with the extremely charming Sonatina for 16 Winds No. 1, followed by the equally sonorous and expressive Three Hymns, op. 71 (soloist: Anja Kampe). The finale of the concert is an instrumental suite from Strauss’s bittersweet opera Der Rosenkavalier: dramatic, melancholic, humorous but always overwhelmingly beautiful.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Christian Thielemann conductor

Anja Kampe soprano

Richard Strauss

Sonatina for 16 Winds No. 1 in F major, WoO 135 “From the Workshop of an Invalid“

Richard Strauss

3 Hymns, op. 71

Anja Kampe soprano

Richard Strauss

Der Rosenkavalier, Suite, op. 59

Dates and Tickets

Thu, 05 Dec 2019, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:15

Serie E

Fri, 06 Dec 2019, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:15

Serie A


Richard Strauss, Christian Thielemann says, “was always an untroubled person, even though he composed very troubled content. Unlike Wagner, who constantly lived drama with his affairs with women, political radicalism and debts, the scandal remained on the stage with Strauss. He returned time and again to his idyll in Garmisch, cultivating that pleasant Bavarian regional patriotism. The difference is that Wagner was perpetually on existential duty and Strauss, after he had composed some dramatic music, could also just play cards for an afternoon.”

Of course, Christian Thielemann, who has penetrated deeply to the interpretative heart of Wagner’s musical work, also has a special relationship to Richard Strauss in his function as Principal Conductor of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden: of the 16 operatic works that Strauss composed, nine premiered in Dresden. Thielemann, also Artistic Director of the Salzburg Easter Festival and Music Director of the Bayreuth Festival, is only too happy to fulfill the obligation that this results in: “In Dresden you always have the feeling that he could come in the door any moment.”

At his guest performance conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker too, Christian Thielemann will devote himself to Strauss’s works, whereby an unknown piece by Strauss will open the evening: the Sonatina for 16 wind instruments No. 1 in F major, with which in the first half of 1943 Strauss wanted to link up to his two successful early works for wind ensemble (the Suite, op. 4 and the Serenade, op. 7). The half-hour work, in which innumerable cantilenas and arabesque scherzando motifs follow each other amidst constant harmonic shimmering, scratches the surface of the symphonic despite its diminishing title; the hymnal presto conclusion also does its part.

After that, another Strauss discovery is on the programme: the Three Hymns, op. 71 based on Friedrich Hölderlin, whose verses, which resist being smoothly set to music, posed a particularly stimulating challenge for Strauss. The soloist isAnja Kampe, who is at home at institutions such as the Bavarian State Opera, the Bayreuth festival hall, at La Scala in Milan and at the Vienna State Opera, and who was distinguished with Bavaria’s “Kammersängerin” in 2018. The evening will conclude with the atmospheric Rosenkavalier suite; since the opera was premiered in Dresden (on the occasion of which the railway administrations of Prussia and Saxony deployed special trains to cope with the tremendous demand), it has been one of Strauss’s most popular operas.

About the music

The Languid Flowing of Time

Works by Richard Strauss

After the end: Sonatina No. 1 for 16 Wind Instruments

In Jean Renoir’s film Grand Illusion (1937) there is a remarkable scene in which the wounded German officer and his French counterpart Boeldieu, caught in the thick of the Great War, muse over the downfall of the ancien régime. The two military aristocrats feel out of step with the times – the spirit of the Pour le Mérite is past, the erstwhile European splendour remains visible only in the rear-view mirror. Renoir set this quiet elegy – a cultural elite mourning the vanishing of the old Europe – during World War I, but it unquestionably also represented the mood of dark foreboding that was plaguing French intellectuals in 1937.

We know relatively little about how Richard Strauss felt at the time, but he may have sensed that something was coming to an end: both in his immediate surroundings and in his career as a musician. When one speaks of Strauss’s late works, one is complying with the architecture that he himself drafted for his biography. The subtitle of the Sonatina No. 1 in F major for 16 Wind Instruments (1943) is thus intended metaphorically: from a medical standpoint, there wasn’t much to report “from the workshop of an invalid”. Although his wife was facing some physical problems in 1943, Strauss himself was quite a healthy “invalid”. The self-stylization rather had to do with a mood. All his late compositions were simply “workshop efforts to prevent the right wrist, now freed from the baton, from falling asleep prematurely”. At the same time, he ventured a probing, perhaps even marvelling backward glance at his own creative origins: initially he had intended to call the Sonatina his second suite for wind, thereby referring directly to the Suite op. 4 written nearly 60 years earlier.

In the opening Allegro moderato, the motifs have only been introduced before they are caught up in an undertow. Countless harmonically glistening cantilenas grow into one another. As the movement modulates into the remotest spheres, it becomes impossible to discern a destination in the musical flow. The middle movements, Romance and Minuet, establish a connection to the classical symphony, their formal simplicity and equilibrium creating an oasis of tranquillity after the constantly rushing stream of new impulses with which the Sonatina begins. The Finale again teems with ideas, the wind writing lit up with the most diverse motivic and thematic inventions. The fugato also breaks off quickly, making room for an espressivo melody. A mighty presto passage closes the work.

Love and exposed rhythms: Three Hymns, op. 71

They certainly were not mere finger exercises, but the Three Hymns, op. 71 (1921) on texts by Hölderlin also belong to a time of artistic reorientation. Strauss had long since given up writing the piano and orchestral songs that had occupied him around the turn of the century, often in order to produce new material he could perform in chamber-music concerts with his wife, the singer Pauline de Ahna, and later orchestrate. After 1906 another form of text setting became the focus of his interest: opera. There were other reasons for his avoiding that genre for so long. He was embroiled in a gruelling dispute with his publishers over the copyright on his songs. Moreover, in 1906 his wife had withdrawn from public performance as a soprano. Following some piano songs on texts by Shakespeare and Goethe, Strauss now turned to three poems by the most modern of classicists: Hölderlin.

Hölderlin’s richly coloured, rhythmically flexible language offered him a pithy physiognomy for mapping out a vocal line. He hewed closely to Hölderlin’s rhythms and judiciously incorporated expansive coloratura. With their finely crafted, memorable vocal writing, the Three Hymns are not just precursors of the far more often heard Four Last Songs; they also, in a sense, anticipate the Hölderlin boom of the 1960s and 70s, in the wake of which composers of every stripe, from Wolfgang Rihm to Luigi Nono, were inspired by the structure-lending power of the Swabian poet’s language.

Strauss used his own compositions for orientation in interpreting the work’s content. When Hölderlin depicts love’s all-embracing potency in the Hymn to Love (“Against the wild mountains it arranges the gentle valleys”), Strauss refers to his Alpine Symphony. In the second song, Return to the Homeland, he can relate the text to Death and Transfiguration when Hölderlin speaks of the transience of youth: “How long it has been, oh how long! Childhood peace is gone, and gone are youth and joy and pleasure.” Each of the songs seeks continuity in the face of constant flux. Here it is the homeland that can offer consolation to bridge the distance from one’s own childhood. In the first song it is love than can help one forget “the languid flowing of time”.

“Everything disperses like mist and dreams”: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier, op. 59

Forgetting time is more complicated in Der Rosenkavalier (1909-10). The opera is set in mid-18th century Vienna. The young aristocrat Octavian (sung by a mezzo-soprano) has an affair with the older Marschallin. Baron Ochs, a cousin of the Marschallin but, unlike her, absolutely uncultured, wants to marry young Sophie. The Marschallin recommends Octavian as go-between for the marriage proposal, while fully aware of the power of love and that her own love for Octavian has no future; sooner or later he will find his way to the girl. Concert excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier began to appear almost immediately after the premiere – some adapted by Strauss himself, many more the work of others. It is uncertain who arranged the suite heard here. The most plausible theory is that it was made by the Polish conductor Artur Rodziński before he performed it in 1944 as principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

The suite begins like the opera: with horns and passionate strings evoking an intimate scene between Octavian and the Marschallin. A series of fluorescing chords on alternately overlaid flutes, violins, harps and celesta illustrates Octavian’s presentation of the Silver Rose to Sophie. The ensuing turbulent music is associated with Ochs’s realization that Octavian is also interested in Sophie. It leads to the sequence of waltzes heard in the opera’s second act as Ochs woos her. At this point the suite departs from the opera’s chronology, jumping back to the beginning of the second act, then to an orchestral version of the famous trio and duet from the end of the opera. The coda presents the waltz from the beginning of the third act.

“Time is a strange thing.” This pronouncement of the Marschallin is more than an older lady’s words of wisdom. It refers to the “unsalvageable ego” which the pioneering thinker of Viennese modernism Hermann Bahr had postulated in a 1903 essay by that name. Alluding to the physicist Ernst Mach, Bahr maintained that sensory impressions like colours, sounds and time are all transitory. Individual moods, memories and thoughts appear only as temporary states, the “ego” as a bundle of constantly changing perceptions. The Marschallin, to be sure, formulates this turn-of-the-century attitude towards life more beautifully, and it finds its fullest expression in Richard Strauss’s music: “I am in the mood when I really sense the weakness of all temporal things. In the depths of my heart I sense that one should keep nothing, that one can grasp nothing, how everything runs between the fingers, how everything we grasp at dissolves, how everything disperses like mist and dreams.”

Martin Andris

Translation: Richard Evidon


Christian Thielemann has been principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden since autumn 2012 and artistic director of the Salzburg Easter Festival since 2013. Thielemann studied at the Hochschule der Künste (Academy of Arts) in his native Berlin before gaining a thorough grounding in conducting at smaller theatres in Germany. His first major appointment was as principal conductor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, where he spent three seasons prior to his appointment as general music director of Nuremberg Opera. He held a similar posts with the Deutsche Oper in Berlin from 1997 to 2004, and with the Munich Philharmonic from 2004 to 2011. Thielemann has built up an international reputation for himself, appearing with many of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and with opera companies throughout Europe, North America and Japan. As a guest conductor he is particularly closely associated with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic and the Bayreuth Festival where he has been a regular conductor since his debut in the summer of 2000 (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). He was named musical adviser of the festival in 2010 and its music director in 2015. The principal pillars of Christian Thielemann’s broad repertoire are the works of the Classical and Romantic periods as well as the music of Hans Werner Henze. Made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2011, he has also been awarded honorary doctorates by the Franz Liszt College of Music in Weimar and the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). In May 2015 he was awarded the Richard Wagner prize by the Richard Wagner Society of the city of Leipzig. Thielemann first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1996 and has returned many times since then, most recently in December 2017, when he conducted Beethoven’s Missa solemnis.

Anja Kampe studied at the Dresden College of Music and at the Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” in Turin, and from 1997 she was also a member of the Academy of Lyric Opera at la Scala in Milan. A winner of international competitions, she achieved her international breakthrough at Washington National Opera as Sieglinde in Wagner’s Valkyrie at the side of Plácido Domingo. The soprano has performed this role in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Munich, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, London and Bayreuth. Another central role in Anja Kampe’s repertoire is Senta (Der fliegende Holländer), which she has presented in Munich, Hamburg, Dresden, Vienna, Zurich, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, London, Tokyo and Dallas. As Leonore (Fidelio) she has delighted audiences in Baden-Baden, Madrid, Milan, Zurich, Los Angeles as well as at the Vienna and Bavarian state opera houses. Under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, Anja Kampe made her role debuts as Tosca and Kundry at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. Her concert repertoire includes works such as Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Tove in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Major engagements of the past two seasons include the new staging of Lafanciulla del West at Bayerischer Staatsoper in Munich, the new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde under the baton of Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper in Berlin, Philippe Jordan’s new production of Parsifal at the Opéra National de Paris and appearances as Sieglinde at the 2018 Munich Opera Festival under the direction of Kirill Petrenko. Anja Kampe has worked with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Semyon Bychkov, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Andris Nelson, Donald Runnicles and Esa-Pekka Salonen. The singer made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 2009 in a programme which included Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder. The conductor was Michael Boder.

Christian Thielemann (photo: Monika Rittershaus)

Anja Kampe (photo: Javier del Real)