Richard Strauss wrote this symphony for a hundred strings, thirty wind instruments, twenty french horns,six trumpets,six trombones, pipe organ, wind machine, thunder machine, heckelphone, four timpani, celesta, contrabassoon, four tenor tubas, two tubas, glockenspiel, tam tam - in all 180 players.
This is Richard Strauss' statement of Alpine nature and life to the Almighty Divine Architect of the Universe. It was written between 1911 and 1915. It had its premiere in Berlin on 28th October, 1915. Strauss is at the peak of his powers of orchestration. It is one of the most eloquent expressions of his musico-philosophical views. It is actually a symphonic poem in the garb of a symphony.It is played without pause but its various sections have been given titles - Night, Sunrise, the Ascent, Hunting Horns, Entrance into the Forest, Wandering by the Brook, At the Waterfall, Apparition, On Flowery Meadows, On a Mountain Pasture ( with the cowbells sequence), Lost in the Thicket and Brush, On the Glacier, Perilous Moments,On the Summit,Vision, The Fog Rises, The Sun is Clouded Over, Elegy, Calm before the Storm, Thunderstorm, Descent, Sunset, Epilogue and Night again.
Richard Strauss was one of music's greatest individualists.He created an aura around him.His concerts were attended not because of his compositions or his conducting but because he was Richard Strauss. He was an innovator and he lived during the cross-over point in the movements of art that is from romanticism to neo-romanticism and impressionism.
Richard Strauss owes much to Franz Liszt, the creator of the symphonic poem. Strauss considered himself an 'Ausdrucksmusiker'(Musician of Expression); if there ever was an 'Expressionism' as a movement in art or music, he belonged to it. The symphonic poem was an ideal medium for his romantic musical gifts. He musically describes not only what man does, but man's inner state of mind. Strauss saw man as a heroic figure. Critics had mixed reactions to some of his innovations. People did not adapt to change fast. When Berlioz and Franck used the English Horn in their symphonies, the critics said it was vulgar because Haydn and Beethoven did not use an English Horn in their symphonies. Meyerbeer and Bizet were criticized for using saxophones. Berlioz was also criticized for using an exceptionally large orchestra.
Strauss used some naturalistic sounds in this symphony such as cowbells and machines to create the sounds of wind and thunder. Mahler used cowbells before in his Tragic Symphony and his Seventh Symphony. Strauss' score was branded by some critics as a movie score. Some wrote, "this is really throwing the baby out with the bath water." When Strauss completed this symphony, he said, "Finally, I have learnt to orchestrate." The critics were arseholes who did not appreciate music. They only wanted convention that they could comfortably describe.
I say that it is a joy to discover so rich a musical masterpiece as this symphony that is Strauss' finest work.A great performance comes from Zubin Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker followed by Rudolf Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic succeeded by Strauss' own performance with the Bayerischen Rundfunks in his 1941 recording.