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Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: January 13, 1927, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting, with pianist Olga Steeb
Two of the many stylistic personae of Richard Strauss are represented in this program: the first, chronologically, is exemplified by the Burleske (1885), the creation of an ardent young Brahmsian, his sensibilities shielded by his horn-player father, Franz, from the Wagner-Liszt "plague." However, Strauss would soon succumb to that very plague which his father most feared, beginning with Don Juan (1889) and reaching a peak of sensationalism and inventiveness with Ein Heldenleben - A Hero's Life (1898).
Burleske had its origins in Strauss' apprenticeship with the conductor Hans von Bülow in Meiningen, which took up the first half of 1885. The composer intended the solo for Bülow, who was equally renowned as a pianist. Its putative dedicatee, however, considered it too unconventional stylistically - and unmanageable by his small hands. Another stellar pianist of the time, Eugen d'Albert, was more favorably disposed and manually endowed. He accepted its dedication, introducing the piece to the public at a 1890 music festival in Eisenach, with Strauss conducting. Ironically, by that time Strauss had already expunged the Brahmsian influence from his musical thinking: the premiere of the futuristic Don Juan had, in fact taken place in November of 1889, several months before that of the Burleske.
That there should be a Brahmsian flavor to the Burleske should come as no surprise. Brahms was a frequent visitor to Meiningen, given his friendship with Bülow and that its orchestra was one of Europe's finest. The one time Strauss and Brahms did, in fact, meet was in Meiningen, in 1885.
The Burleske is in a single sonata-allegro movement. The timpani solo, the attention-grabbing inspiration with which the piece begins, is followed by a syncopated theme in parallel thirds that is purest Brahms. But the burgeoning Strauss is detectable as well, here and throughout - in the score's nervous energy, terse rhythms, and, most notably, in its wide melodic leaps.
- Herbert Glass, after many years as a columnist-critic for the Los Angeles Times, has for the past decade been the English-language annotator and editor for the Salzburg Festival.