Tone poems and Richard Strauss. Those two names are synominous with each other as the 20th century started and raged on. Strauss wrote some music that had some classical influences but to the dismay of his father, he went outside the box and followed the footsteps of Richard Wagner. He admitted that he needed a story or theme to give him some inspiration to write music. He wrote such tone poems like Don Juan, Death and
Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Hero’s
Life, and An Alpine Symphony to name a few. At the same time he wrote operas such as
Salome, Elektra, and Arabella to name a few. But the one piece that will be presented in this paper will be his tone poem, Don Quixote.
Don Quixote, written in between tone poems Thus Spoke Zarathustra and A
Hero’s Life, is written for orchestra and solo cello and viola. Strauss wrote it in 1897 and premiered it in Cologne in 1898. He also uses program material directly from Miguel
Cervantes’ novel of the same name. The story is about an Old Spanish nobleman by the name of Don Quixote who goes on crazed adventures and his helper Sancho Panza. The cello represents Don Quixote and Viola (and bass clarinet and tenor tuba) represent
Sancho Panza. The piece consists of Introduction, introduction of themes for Don
Quixote and Sancho Panza, ten variations, and a finale.
In Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote there is three major themes that are present throughout the piece, the themes of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, the Knight’s true love,
Dulcinea. The piece requires a rather large orchestra, with the addition of tenor tuba in the brass and a wind machine in the percussion. As it has been said before, the solo cello represents Don Quixote; the solo viola (and bass clarinet and tenor tuba) represents
Sancho Panza. The introduction slightly introduces the theme of the three main characters
(Don Quixote’s theme in major) with a pleasant sense of romantic adventure that awaits the listener. Then Don Quixote’s theme is introduced with the solo cello, in the usual minor version this time. Then the solo viola introduces right after Sancho Panza’s theme.
The first variation is labeled Adventure at the Windmills, as the famous story goes as
Don Quixote goes off to fight the “giants” that are actual windmills. The second variation is labeled “The victorious struggle against the army of the great emperor Alifanfaron” which in reality was a fight against sheep. In this variation, Strauss uses irregular rhythms, cluster chord tonalities, and muted brass to represent the sheep that has been conquered. The third variation is called “Dialogue between Knight and Squire”. In this variation, Don Quixote talks about his love Dulcinea and the squire rebukes his fantasy.
The fourth variation is named “Unhappy adventure with a procession of pilgrims”. In this variation, Don Quixote mistakes an icon for a mistaken maiden in which he tries to rescue. The fifth variation is called “The Knight’s Vigil”. In this variation, Don Quixote is on night watch and is constantly thinking of his Dulcinea. The sixth variation is called
“The Meeting with Dulcinea”. In this variation, Don Quixote finally finds Dulcinea, but not the beautiful girl that all imagined her to be but the town wench. That’s why her theme is kind metered weirdly and clumsy compared to the usual rendition that was
portrayed in the beginning. The seventh variation is called “The Ride through the Air” in which Don Quixote finds wooden horses and assumes that they fly. The music gives the illusion of flight but the sustained pedals in low instruments still gives the hint that it’s all an illusion and that they are still attached to the ground. The eighth variation is called
“the unhappy voyage in the enchanted boat”. In this variation, the boat that they travel on capsizes but survives. The string pizzicatos represent the drops that come off the…