RICHARD STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1894–95)
Among Strauss’s ten tone poems, Till Eulenspiegel is probably the most entertaining and witty — even though this anti-hero meets his demise on the gallows. The title character is a colorful 14th century German folk hero, mischief-maker, and practical joker, the butt of whose pranks were the sanctimonious clergy and self-impressed members of academe. You’ll hear Till’s two “signature tunes,” one stated by the horns shortly after the introductory “Once Upon a Time” music, and another comical one played by the clarinet. Shortly we hear Till galloping through the marketplace and upsetting wares; disguised as a monk preaching a blasphemous sermon (the violas do the job); flirting with girls (the “love theme” is played by the violins); and mocking academics (depicted by the bassoons). When the scallywag has finally been caught, tried, and sentenced, says Strauss, “an ear-splitting roll on the side-drum signals that Till must answer for his ‘crimes.’ Trumpets and drums herald Till’s march to the scaffold, where his merry pranks are ended.” Trombones and tuba signify this bitter end. But don’t shed tears for our hero quite yet: Strauss gives us hope with a reprise of the “Once Upon a Time” music, hinting that Till’s spirit might still be around.