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Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
“Once upon a time there was a knavish fool named Till Eulenspiegel. He was a wicked goblin up to new tricks…”
Thus Wilhelm Mauke begins the story of Till Eulenspiegel, a notorious medieval trickster often found in German folklore, in the program for Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks). Composed in 1894 and 1895, Till Eulenspiegel premiered on November 5, 1895, by the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne.
Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche is a musical portrait that Richard Strauss (1864–1949) described as a “rondeau form for large orchestra." Although it does not have an exactly repeating refrain as in a traditional rondo form, Strauss created a theme for Till which can be heard several times throughout the work; its first iteration is by the horns in the opening. Listen for how Till’s theme transforms in each episode as he terrorizes the town, disrupts the townfolk, and eventually finds himself on the scaffold. Even as Till faces death, he whistles in its face, depicted by a high-pitched clarinet. The same dreamy, fairytale-like music from the beginning returns to conclude the work, as if to say “…and they lived happily ever after.” But who really has the last laugh?
This recording is performed by Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice under the direction of Klaus Weise.
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