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Richard Strauss in Dresden

The capital of Saxony cultivates the legacy of the famous composer


The composer Richard Strauss died on 8th September 1949 in Garmisch, Bavaria. His wide-ranging works include symphonies, songs, chamber music and especially operas, all of which are played today in concert halls around the world.

It is through the operas that Richard Strauss was, and still is, closely associated with Dresden. The Saxon State Opera and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden (Dresden State Orchestra) still pay special attention to cultivating the legacy of the great master. The Dresden Philharmonic has also made works by the Munich-born composer the focal point of many concerts.

Memories of Dresden

“It must be more than 60 years since 13 outstanding wind players of this orchestra premiered my little serenade in the Dresdner Tonkünstlerverein (Dresden Society of Musicians)“, wrote Strauss from Switzerland in 1948 in a letter to the Sächsische Staatskapelle to express his gratitude on the occasion of its 400th anniversary.

He continues his reminiscences by saying “that I enjoyed hearing my beautifully performed in Semper’s magnificent opera house under Kapellmeister Hagen, until the exemplary series of premieres began under the tireless magic baton of the brilliant Schuch: , , and ; it is to this that my operatic works owe their greatest success, not least thanks to the devoted efforts of the orchestra. Out of the abundance of the wonderful memories of my musical career, the sounds of this masterful orchestra constantly reawaken within me the feelings of deeply-felt gratitude and admiration that I had whenever I left the beloved theatre, the last time being in June 1944.”

The Dresden premieres

The fact that Dresden became the city associated with Strauss is due to the director of the Lindenoper in Berlin. As the newly-appointed Kapellmeister at the imperial court theatre, Strauss wanted to stage his opera for the first time there in 1901.

The opera’s contents amounted to a critique of petty bourgeois double standards. The Prussian censors and the theatre director refused to permit the performance. Dresden, however, was a different kettle of fish: Ernst von Schuch invited Strauss to the city “and despite some moral misgivings it was excellently performed and enjoyed considerable success”.

Strauss’ opera , based on the stage-play of the same title by Oscar Wilde and first performed in 1905, marked the beginning of modern 20th-century musical theatre. After the premiere in Dresden, the conductor Schuch wrote to Strauss: “I am extremely happy about the colossal success of and not least about the eminent success that you have personally had as a well-earned reward for all your effort, sacrifice and self-renunciation.” The opera , premiered in Dresden in 1909, was also received with enthusiasm, although this was surpassed two years later by the success of "The Rose Cavalier".

Music lovers from Berlin travelled to Dresden on special trains in order to attend the event. In 1912, Ernst Schuch also conducted the premiere of . After Schuch’s death in 1914, Strauss conducted the memorial concert.

The first Strauss Festival in Dresden took place in May 1915. Others followed during the composer’s lifetime in 1919, 1924, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1930 and 1934. Fritz Busch took up the tradition of Strauss premieres once again with the performance of (1924) and (1928).

Although Fritz Busch was driven out of the Semper Opera House by the Nazis in 1933, Strauss did not cancel the planned premiere of (1933). The menace of the Third Reich also overshadowed the premiere performance of , conducted by Karl Böhm. Strauss successfully insisted on the name of the librettist Stefan Zweig (who was already ostracized as a Jew) being printed on the theatre programme, but the opera was removed from the schedule after only four performances.

The ninth and last opera to be premiered was "Daphne", which Strauss dedicated to Karl Böhm, on 15th October 1938. Cultivating Strauss’ legacy today Richard Strauss is commemorated in the form of a bronze bust in the Semper Opera House, which reopened in 1985.

In the foyer on the side adjacent to the Zwinger, his face looks towards the entrances to the dress circle; it is as if he wanted to listen to today’s performances of his works. One of the batons with which Strauss conducted is kept in the music room at the Kempinski Hotel Taschenbergpalais. The Hotel Bellevue, where Strauss stayed during his first visits to Dresden, was reopened on the other bank of the Elbe in 1985. Finally, a square close to the University of Technology also bears his name.

His early friend and patron Ernst von Schuch was depicted in several portraits by the Dresden art nouveau painter Robert Sterl. The most beautiful picture of Schuch as a conductor is on display in the Modern Masters Picture Gallery.

A little known tradition associated with Strauss has been evident throughout Dresden since 1990: his love of good food and beer. He once declared in his wittily ironic manner that he could set a glass of beer to music in such a way that every listener would be able to recognise whether it was Pilsener or Kulmbacher [two brands of beer].

Strauss himself was married to a singer who was a member of the Pschorr family, which ran a brewery business in Bavaria. (Christoph Münch)

Richard Strauss1

The bust of Richard Strauss in the upper foyer of the Semper Opera House, Photo by: Sylvio Dittrich / DWT


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