Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony

What shall a diligent composer do, if he supposed to take a creative break while waiting for the opera libretto? The answer is so simple: compose instrumental music! Well, but what kind? Actually, any kind, because even this composer had suggested in his writings, that everything could be composed. That means, all kind of phenomena in the world could be expressed with music.

A work of literature, e.g. ‘Also sprach Zarathustra´ by Nietzsche could be the source of inspiration of a symphonic poem, just like a mountain adventure is in the case of ‘An Alpine Symphony’. As far as the latter one is concerned, that was really disapproved of by the audience at the premiere in 1915:

How could such a simple and ordinary occasion become the central topic of a fifty-minute long symphony-like composition? Is it not at all elevated or significant. “Let me have it, this is rather a movie theme, a movie soundtrack. It is absolutely unworthy for a concert hall.” – the work was criticized in this manner, when ‘An Alpine Symphony’ was presented to the public.

However, Richard Strauss did not really care about such kind of criticisms. In 1911, when he was at the height of his career, he started to compose purely to avoid boredom. In truth though, he was bored; in the same bad-tempered letter he noted, “I am waiting for you and am meanwhile torturing myself with a symphony - a job that, when all's said and done, amuses me even less than chasing maybugs.”

(In: Matthew Boyden: Richard Strauss)


Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss


This he wrote to his librettist at the beginning of the composition. ‘An Alpine Symphony’ is a kind of “bypass” - just an orchestral treatise because he had already composed everything in this genre.

All, or almost everything else. The nature, the snow-capped hilltops, the waterfalls, the glaciers, world of fields and pastures - Strauss’ favourite landscapes - haven’t been eternalised by him. The tone poem is a real, sheer trip in the Alps, that is based on his personal childhood memory. During an excursion together with his family, the young Richard was stuck in the mountains under the storm. About this he mentioned it to one of his friends:   

“On the way there a terrible storm had overtaken us, which uprooted trees and threw stones in our faces. We hardly had time to find a dry spot before the storm broke. […] The next day I described the whole hike on the piano. Naturally huge tone paintings and smarminess á la Wagner.”

(In: Bryan Gilliam: Richard Strauss and his World)

‘An Alpine Symphony’ tells a story of a day in the mountains and so does my transcript. After the gracious Sun unfolds from the murmuring night, immediately a march-like theme representing the beginning of the mountain climbing appears. This motive comes back all over the piece.

At the beginning of our wondering we could hear the horns of hunters’ merriment from afar. I tried to use special effects, so-called “gestopft” technique of the horn to imitate these sounds. Then our way leads us to a dark forest, so the mood is changed immediately - the instrumentation is becoming lower like the foliage hides the Sun. As we arrived at the mountaintop, we start settling but in this arrangement our arrival is much more comfortable because I completely missed out the storm scene. The original piece is approximately 50 minutes, but this arrangement compresses it into 15 minutes and ends with the “Night” movement.


In Saker Music's Store you can find Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony arranged for seven trombone, euphonium, tuba and percussion by Áron Simon.

Sources: Batta, András: Richard Strauss: Alpesi szimfónia, Op. 64; A hét zeneműve, 1980/1, Zeneműkiadó Budapest, 1979.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

You must be Logged in to post a comment.