Alpine Symphony

"Eine Alpensinfonie" (An Alpine Symphony), Op. 64, is a large symphonic poemref|symph composed by Richard Strauss between 1911 and 1915. A typical performance entails upwards of forty-five minutes of continuous music. It depicts a full-day excursion on a mountain in the Bavarian Alps, recalling in vivid orchestral expression the composer's own experiences hiking at age fourteen.Strauss dedicated the work to Count Nicolaus Seebach and the Royal Kapelle (Orchestra) in Dresden, the ensemble which gave the premiere in 1915.

Instrumentation

The Alpine Symphony is one of Strauss’ largest non-operatic conceptions, and the composer himself considered it his best-wrought work in terms of its orchestration. The instrumentation is as follows:
*Woodwinds:
**4 flutes (2 doubling piccolos)
**3 oboes (1 doubling cor anglais), and heckelphone
**1 E-flat clarinet, 2 B-flat clarinets, 1 C clarinet (doubling B-flat bass clarinet)
**4 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon)
*Brass:
**8 French horns (4 doubling Wagner tubas)
**4 trumpets
**4 trombones
**2 bass tubas
**Offstage: 12 horns, 2 trumpets and 2 trombones
*Timpani (requiring two players)
*percussion (requiring a total of three players):
**glockenspiel, cymbals, bass drum, side drum, triangle, cowbells, tamtam, wind machine and thunder machine
* Celesta
* Pipe organ

*Strings:
**2 Harps
**18 1st violins
**16 2nd violins
**12 violas
**10 cellos
**8 double basses

The stipulated forces (including the offstage brass) thus total 123 players. The composer further suggested that the harps and some woodwind instruments should be doubled if possible, and indicated that the stated number of string players should be regarded as a minimum.

The use of Samuel's Aerophone is prescribed in the orchestration notes along with the instrumentation. This device, invented by Belgian flautist Bernhard Samuel in 1912, is a bellows operated by a foot pedal with an air hose attached to the mouthpiece of woodwind instruments and aids the player to sustain long notes without interruption.

Such use of contemporary instrumentation combined with the vast resources needed for this work might better reflect Strauss' style of expanding the orchestra beyond the style more closely associated with the Romantic period and into the Modern period.

Program

Although performed as one continuous movement, the Alpine Symphony has a distinct program which describes each phase of the Alpine journey in chronological order. The score includes the following section titles (without numbers):
# "Nacht" (Night)
# "Sonnenaufgang" (Sunrise)
# "Der Anstieg" (the Ascent)
# "Eintritt in den Wald" (Entry into the Woods)
# "Wanderung neben dem Bache" (Walking along the Brook)
# "Am Wasserfall" (at the Waterfall)
# "Erscheinung" (a Visual Feature)
# "Auf blumigen Wiesen" (on Flowery Meadows)
# "Auf der Alm" (on the Pasture)
# "Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen" (Wrong Path through the Thicket)
# "Auf dem Gletscher" (on the Glacier)
# "Gefahrvolle Augenblicke" (Moments of Danger)
# "Auf dem Gipfel" (at the Summit)
# "Vision" (Vision)
# "Nebel steigen auf" (the Fog Rises)
# "Die Sonne verdüstert sich allmählich" (the Sun is Gradually Obscured)
# "Elegie" (Elegy)
# "Stille von dem Sturm" (Calm before the Storm)
# "Gewitter und Sturm, Abstieg" (Thunder and storm, Descent)
# "Sonnenuntergang" (Sunset)
# "Ausklang" (the Journey Ends)
# "Nacht" (Night)

"Eine Alpensinfonie" represents a striking example of a program symphony, where each concept, idea, or experience is given a distinct Leitmotif. Additionally, the work uses vivid musical imagery to tell its story - especially during the thunderstorm sequence - and for this reason can be compared to Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice or many of Richard Wagner's operas. Strauss makes use of distinctly Bavarian musical themes, yet he also employs the more modern techniques, such as polytonality (for instance, the use of a D minor chord against the background tonality of B-flat minor near the beginning of the work) and the use of diatonic tone clusters (the introduction has the entire string section sustaining all seven notes of the B-flat minor scale simultaneously across four octaves).

Although many critics have regarded the work as simply descriptive rather than "philosophical" in the manner of "Also sprach Zarathustra," Strauss himself seems to have viewed it otherwise: writing shortly after he learned of Mahler's death, he expressed the intent of calling it "The Antichrist," for "in it there is: moral purification through one's own strength, liberation through work, and the worship of eternal, glorious nature."

Premieres

* World Premiere: 28 October 1915, Berlin, Dresden Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.
* American Premiere: April 28 1916, Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski [ [http://www.sfsymphony.org/templates/pgmNotePrint.asp?nodeid=4321] ] or April 27 1916, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ernst Kunwald [ [http://www.soc-pres-music-hall.com/tl4prevu.htm Cincinnati's Historic Music Hall Timeline - Musical Organization History ] ] .

Trivia

The symphony was the first ever work to be released on CD, recorded by Herbert von Karajan for Deutsche Grammophon

Note

While not a symphony in the strict classical sense, the work does contain many important elements of symphonic form.

Discography

References


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