Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat
1. Allegro – Andante con moto
2. Rondo (Allegro molto)
In 1945 an old man walked down the stairs of his country retreat with his hands up and surrendered to the American soldiers who had entered with the words, “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salome.” He cut a very different figure to the young turk who had scandalised early 20th century audiences with dissonant operas on such scandalous subjects as Salome. The First World War swept aside the certainties of nineteenth-century Europe, and almost overnight the former leading modernist found himself out of step with the times. As the younger generation scandalised Viennese ears with such horrors as atonality and jazz, Strauss assumed the mantle of Establishment: conservative, safe and above all respectable.
It was rather unfortunate that over the next twenty years the Establishment took a turn for the worse as Hitler came to power. Probably more through naivety than anything else, Strauss decided that he could stand apart from politics. Not everyone agreed with this stance. The nature and morality of Strauss’s relationship with the Nazis continues to provoke heated debate even today. The works of his last years are marked by a conspicuous sense of retreat from a world that had left him far behind.
Strauss wrote his first concerto for horn as a young man for his father to perform (the elder Strauss declared it too difficult), and his second, part of the remarkable fecundity of his last years, was written as a tribute to his memory. He only intended it to be performed once, and that is reflected in its absolute straightforwardness of mood. Barely a hint of the war that raged as he wrote it in 1942 is to be heard. Beyond the occasional moment that hints of darker things, the concerto exists largely in a Mozartean utopia, the hunting calls that abound perhaps an echo of an imagined past when life was more chivalrous, less complicated.