An Exploration of Socio-political Themes Represented in Strauss'
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From Saint-Saen’s Carnival of the Animals to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade to Gershwin’s American in Paris, tone poems often recall stories of specific people or events. One key figure in the the development of tone poems is Richard Strauss, who composed ten. His eighth tone poem, titled Ein Heldenleben, has drawn much controversy over the years as researchers have presented theories regarding to the identity of the hero. Strauss claimed that he chose to illustrate something abstract: when asked about the meaning of the piece, he insisted it was not about “a single poetical or historical figure, but rather a more general and free ideal of great and manly heroism” (Kennedy 1995). However, this interpretation did not please music analysts and fans across Europe; many suggested that it was an autobiographical composition about his life and success as a musician. Though there is evidence for this — especially in the Hero’s Works of Peace section, in which Strauss directly quotes previous compositions more than 30 times — Strauss himself vehemently denied that it was a musical depiction of his life and continuously referred to the enigmatic heroism which he was aiming to portray (Jones 2006). Through his reflection on German heritage, musical depiction of the antagonists and clues regarding their identities, and vivid instrumental personification of a bold female character, Strauss provided evidence that he wholeheartedly disapproved of the evolution of Germany’s cultural values and ultimately rejected the beliefs of what would eventually become the Nazi party; instead, Ein Heldenleben glorifies love and its authentic creativity as the protagonists, allowing them to transcend the chaos of a world without their presence.