Review Summary: An incredibly moving and tragic piece of music which has, unfortunately, been buried amongst many of Strauss's more prominent works.
Metamorphosen is a musical piece for 23 string instruments which was created in 1945 by German composer Richard Strauss. It was written as a requiem for Germany at the end of World War 2; as the defeat of the Nazis was imminent, the whole of German society had been reduced to rubble by constant bombing. Strauss saw the musical houses at which his works were performed destroyed, the very monuments to the culture he once cherished erased. It is with this sombre image that he produced the Metamorphosen.
The sheer scale and consistency of tragic emotion on display here is almost unsurpassed by any other music to which I have been exposed. Never has music so directly and forcefully enveloped me. Metamorphosen opens immediately with an overwhelmingly embittered and dejected call from the strings in unison. The united strings are gradually forced apart, as if overpowered by sorrow, reduced to a chaotic maelstrom of different songs; here, Strauss showcases his mastery of counterpoint, a skill he had been developing all of his life. Again and again, the strings, spurred on by the violent and searing cry of the violins, unite into a furious and passionate climax, each one more agonizing, more maddening, than the last. Then, the piece, after reaching what seems to be its final climax, collapses into a quiet, disorganized funereal tune. Then, the strings are finally brought to silence and, when the piece seems to be over, erupts into action again as all the strings meld together. They grow more frenetic, their sound stronger, and then, at the moment when it seems it is about to reach its absolute limit, the strings suddenly break off and return, for the last time, into misery; then, as the piece slowly fades out, the strings, with the main line breaking down more and more, each begin to acquire a distinctly individual voice, each crying out in despair, struggling desperately against their fate, they finally, after an especially painful, hopeless struggle, becoming more and more dejected, not even able to cry out in despair, the strings are smothered once and for all by silence.
This is an incredibly difficult piece to describe; it is not of the variety about which one writes; it is the variety which one experiences, which can only truly communicate itself when one submits oneself to its emotional narrative. The misery which this piece conveys is barely even describable in words. It symbolizes total despair; not just the fate of one man, but the fate of an entire civilization, as all of the fruits of its labour, its hopes, its desires, its strivings, are all reduced to naught. My review is not sufficient, cannot be sufficient, in describing this piece, simply because it is of such a quality that its message can only be conveyed by experiencing it for yourself.