Richard Strauss
Also sprach Zarathustra



by ShakerFaker USER (32 Reviews)
June 10th, 2016 | 2 replies

Release Date: 1896 | Tracklist

Review Summary: full of moments

Also Sprauch Zarathustra, composed by Richard Strauss at the turn of the twentieth century, is one of those pieces where themes really matter. If they aren't appreciated or at the very least acknowledged, it becomes pretty easy to see why Zarathustra, a composition that's been consistently praised for its powerful first section, Sunrise, has also disappointed for failing to regain the power of its initial punch; the implication being that the rest of the music, as it progresses, starts sounding more and more like a let-down, a lazy afterthought, or even a deceit.

This let-down feeling could easily taint someone's view of Zarathustra, but a closer look at Zarathustra's story helps the nuances of the composition reveal themselves, if honestly looked for. It's often that classical pieces belong to their dedication, and Zarathustra isn't an exception. A young Strauss was inspired by Nietzsche's more mature 1880s philosophy, and based Zarathustra on Nietzsche's book of the same name. The book follows the (im)moral journey of a man called Zarathustra (Zoroaster), who in the end realizes the best way to be is to accept every aspect of the world, its pleasures and horrors, and affirm all of them rather than escape by morality/religion.

In this context, the composition's lulls and failures to build to more on various occassions are easier to understand. Sunrise, the first section mentioned before, is often described as heaven's music, but I think Strauss intended it be Zarathustra's or Nietzsche's song for the greatness of the earth, maybe on someone's descent to the earth, catching the sunrise on the way down. And earth isn't a reward that can be mastered, won, or bought. In fact, despite the power suggested in Sunrise, none of us are powerful against the earth, yet still, for the most part, we keep trying and struggling--as Nietzsche thought we should.

Also Sprach Zarathustra is Strauss' portrayal of this sentiment. Scattered are short motifs that owe to the unpredictability of the world. His themes are always transforming, cutting off, and returning. Much of the composition relies on either climaxes, often in the form of tempetuous, brassy fanfares, or low spatial expanses of cello and double bass with little exploration in between the fast and furious and more subdued measures.

The composition's defining feature is its unpredictability. Though the standout organ and trumpet at the beginning recur, Strauss sometimes arbitrarily throws out other statement instruments. Near the end, a waltzy solo violin makes its way into the mix, further disrupting the trajectory of the composition. The entry of the violin is a moment that humanizes Zarathustra. It might not be the most pleasing to initially hear but if one such moment resonates, it stays, which is the beauty of it--a shot in the dark that somehow fits.

Zarathustra is full of these moments, just waiting to be connected with.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
June 10th 2016


Ah, the opening to my favorite movie.

August 16th 2016


Totally missed this when the review came out, but another exceptional review that I'd say actually enhances my appreciation of the music.

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