Conductor John Mauceri on Strauss's Four Last Songs

We’ve got a brilliant programme lined up for our performance on Friday 28 April, exploring a wide range of music that looks beyond the material world and strives for transcendence, conducted by John Mauceri and featuring star soprano Angel Blue. Here John introduces Strauss's radiantly beautiful Four Last Songs, and explains the significance of these final completed works from the last great pioneer of German Romanticism. 


When Richard Strauss had come to the end of his days, he left the world a final enduring masterpiece, his Four Last Songs. Strauss grew up surrounded by the sounds of Wagner, as his father was Wagner’s preferred solo French horn player. Strauss conducted all of the master’s works and was seen as his compositional successor. For Americans, we can marvel at knowing that this great composer was born while Abraham Lincoln was President and died while Harry Truman was in the White House; Strauss, it seemed, had seen it all. And when he finally closed his weary eyes, living out his days in Switzerland, he knew his wife and son, his Jewish daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren were safe and that he had successfully managed the threat to them and to the very heart of what constituted German classical music.

It was London that accepted him back once the Second World War was over, and it would be in London that this final expression of belief and acceptance was first heard in 1950. Strauss made sure to quote the transfiguration theme from his own Death and Transfiguration, composed sixty years earlier, and also gave the solo French horn a prominent role in tying up the loose ends of a long life and the German musical legacy that emerged centuries before the Atomic Age he left behind.

John Mauceri