It is with the saddest of hearts that I write this blog on Richard Strauss’ horn concerto no.1 in Eb major. This wonderful piece of music that showcases the french horn was really enjoyed by my late friend, Bryony. Therefore, this blog is dedicated to her and her wonderful life that has been so cruelly snatched away from her.
Richard Strauss was born 11th June 1864, which places him within the romantic era of classical music and Strauss soon became a forefront composer within German romanticism. His father, Franz Strauss was principal horn player at Court Opera in Munich and gave Strauss countless music lessons as he saw potential in the young boy when he started composing at age 6. His father’s crucial influence on Strauss while he was studying music really shaped Strauss’ musical style and of course, his love for the horn. Strauss produced a wide-spread of different compositions, with a large number being concertos and orchestral works. His first horn concerto was written between 1882-3 and was premiered in 1885 in Meiningen.
The concerto starts with the orchestra playing a strong tonic (Eb major) chord on a general pause. The horn then enters alone with the first dotted quaver theme, which is heard throughout the orchestra in this movement. The statement horn solo really showcases the instrument and because the instrument enters so soon, it shows influences from composers such as Mendelssohn and Wagner. The orchestra then play without the soloist, reiterating the dotted-quaver horn theme which leads into the next solo entry at figure A. The orchestra play ascending triplets to anticipate when the horn enters once more. So the next entry by the soloist is a luscious, legato melody which is started by an octave F-F by the soloist. Only strings accompany at this point, with repetitive quaver movement. This really emphasises the soloist and even though the horn melody is quite simple, it’s incredibly effective with such a reduced orchestra. After this long legato section we hear the first theme return in the orchestra only, and at the end of this section the theme is varied slightly which prepares us for the next horn entry which is a semi-quaver variation of the first theme. The horn then quickly settles back into a lovely long, slurred melody which is a joy to listen to. The texture slowly gets a lot thinner and the soloist plays a much more technically challenge passage with triplets and semi-quavers which gets varied throughout this section of the movement. The horn is really showcased here by Strauss and the call and answer work between the soloist and orchestra is exciting to listen to. The first theme then returns once more within the orchestra which ends this wonderful allegro movement.
All three movements of this concerto are played with no stopping, so the first movement seemingly segues into the second movement. Marked andante, this movement is a beautiful exhibition of the horn and the beautiful sounds it can make. This movement is fairly repetitive in terms of accompaniment, with the strings playing a large part in the accompanying side of things in this movement. The speed is really controlled at this slow speed which really illustrates Strauss’ beautiful horn writing.What I really love about this movement are the small interjections played by upper woodwind, which give so much colour after the alluring string accompaniment. The soloist plays an exquisite melody line which is just so pleasing to hear. At the key change the tempo picks up a little with the accompaniment becoming very woodwind heavy, while the strings play a pizzicato rhythm. The first section then returns once more, back in the original key of this piece, which after a long recapitulation of the themes, segues into the third movement.
Marked allegro, the final movement of this wonderful concerto has the longest orchestra introduction before the soloist enters (though it’s still not that long!). Once the horn enters it plays a wonderful triplet theme which once again passed around the orchestra. A lively 6/8 section is heard, which is both playful and incredibly charming. A lovely, rich texture is heard in a lot of this movement, which really shows the unification between the soloist and orchestra. After the initial theme is varied and passed around both soloist and orchestra, the first theme from the first movement is heard by the soloist playing their first cadenza-like solo. The return of this theme is very intriguing as it really feels like Strauss has gone full circle and ended back with his initial thoughts. Both themes are then manipulated until the end of the work, which shows Strauss’ compositional style within the romanticism branch of classical music. The piece ends with crotchet stabs on the tonic Eb major. The work itself is an exciting showcase of the horn and the piece overall lasts about 15 minutes or so. You can really hear the influences from Mendelssohn and other such romantic composers within this work, which is, of course, a joy to hear.
So this blog is dedicated to my dear friend Bryony, who was an incredibly talented horn player and loved this concerto a lot. She was tragically killed by a drunk driver last friday, which has been incredibly hard to come to terms with. She was an incredibly kind, bubbly girl who was a friend to anybody who needed one and the devastation that this has caused is a credit to the amazing impact she had on people. An innocent life that was taken away far far too soon, I miss and love you so much Bry, until next time x
Peter Damm (Soloist)