Richard strauss

The opera that wouldn’t die

When Erich Wolfgang Korngold completed his third opera, Die tote Stadt, in August 1920, he’d barely turned 23. Yet such was his reputation that what followed was practically a Europe-wide bidding war for rights to the première. The young composer had his pick of companies and conductors (the Vienna State Opera tried and failed). In the end – almost unprecedentedly – Die tote Stadt was launched on the same night in two cities simultaneously. Audiences in Hamburg and Cologne both erupted into applause, but Korngold, who could be in only one place, had chosen Hamburg – where he was so dazed by the response that Richard Strauss, who was present

Even Nelsons’s miscalculations are fascinating: Leipzig Gewandhaus/Andris Nelsons, at the Barbican, reviewed

Imagine growing up with a whole orchestra as your plaything. Richard Strauss’s father was the principal horn of the Munich Opera, and doting relatives funded publication of the teenage Richard’s earliest compositions. At the age of 19 he was assistant conductor of the Court Orchestra in Meiningen, and had rather got used to having world-class musicians at his command. It was the spirit of the age in fin-de-siècle Central Europe, a time and a place where it was perfectly normal for an opera house to have 16 spare horn players hanging around to play offstage effects, where conductors derived their authority from royalty and if (as Alma Mahler describes) the

For fans of neglected, niche and uncool music, lockdown has been a blessing

When this whole mess is over, there’ll be a shortish MA thesis — or at least a blog post — to be had from analysing classical music’s evolving response to the crisis. Already, looking back, distinct phases are emerging from the viral fog. Phase One: the Banana Bread Apocalypse — that first lockdown, when Jamie Oliver was telling us to smoosh up frozen peas and pretend it was pesto, and phonecam footage of a cellist playing Bach in the spare bedroom felt like a kind of miracle. Phase Two: orchestras working out what they could actually do while socially distanced and audienceless. Cue a spike in online performances of works

Why orchestras are sounding better than ever under social-distancing

Our college choirmaster had a trick that he liked to deploy when he sensed that we were phoning it in. He ordered us out of the choirstalls and positioned us at random all over the chapel. It was sadistic but effective. With nowhere to hide, there could be no quiet fudging of that awkward leap in ‘O Thou the Central Orb’, and no waiting until after a more confident neighbour had begun their note before scooping hastily (and hopefully unnoticeably) upwards to match their pitch. Every singer became a reluctant soloist. The result was usually either mutiny, or an immediate and dramatic improvement in tone, tuning and ensemble. Apply that