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Length: 12 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 4 flutes, 4 oboes, heckelphone, E-flat clarinet, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 10 trumpets (6 off-stage), 4 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, bass drum, cymbals, organ, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 1, 2004, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting, with Todd Wilson, organist
For much of his career, Strauss worked in what were, technically, a series of government jobs. A string of such posts brought him to Berlin, where he was Kapellmeister (music director) at the Royal Opera (1898-1919), a post that established him as one of the leading composers and conductors in Europe. After World War I, he negotiated an appointment as director of the State Opera in Vienna, a job he kept until 1924 in a city with which he had strong ties.
In 1913, Strauss composed his Festival Prelude for the inauguration of the organ in the Great Hall of Vienna's Konzerthaus, whose five-manual instrument, built by the Silesian firm of Rieger Bros., was the largest of its kind it Austria at the time. The design of the Konzerthaus' organ was innovative in its day, with all of its pipes hidden from view. The instrument's debut came in the first performance of Strauss' Prelude on October 19, 1913, an occasion and work acclaimed by the public and the critics alike. Strauss conducted the Prelude several other times, including for the first meeting of the Reich Culture Chamber, of which the composer was president, on November 1, 1933. He had taken the post, he later wrote, "because I hoped that I would be able to do some good and prevent worse misfortune if from now onwards German musical life was going to be, as it was said, 'reorganized' by amateurs and ignorant place-seekers." But Strauss soon realized who he was working for - he was attacked for his collaboration with Stefan Zweig and had to swallow a ban on Mendelssohn's incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream - and resigned the post in 1935. He conducted the Prelude on one other notable occasion, as part of the Vienna Philharmonic's centenary celebrations, on April 16, 1941.
The Festival Prelude falls roughly into three parts. The organ launches the piece with a series of chords, but then falls silent for the center portion of the work, which begins with a lively, flowing theme introduced by the strings (violas and cellos divided in addition to the violins to create a rich, saturated sonority). Strauss works through this theme before bringing back the organ, whose gesture, recalling those opening chords, signals the beginning of the Prelude's coda. Strauss recalls other themes here, as the piece moves inexorably to its resplendent, C-major-soaked conclusion.
- John Mangum is the Philharmonic's Program Designer/Annotator.