Day 11 – Der Bürger als Edelmann (CD 11)

Richard Strauss again.

This project of listening to the 63-CD Fritz Reiner box set is good for me. I wouldn’t normally listening to Bartok or Strauss or Tchaikovsky were it not for this project. So I’m being exposed to different composers.

Whether I like them or not.

And, I must admit, I haven’t liked Richard Strauss…until this performance.

This is actually fairly good. Not great. Not destined to become favorites of mine. But listenable. Interesting. Holds my attention.

But I’ll save that subjective info for later.

First, what the hell is this music?

Le bourgeois gentilhomme (in German, Der Bürger als Edelmann), Op. 60), according to its entry on Wikipedia,

…is an orchestral suite compiled by Richard Strauss from music he wrote between 1911 and 1917.

The work has a complex genesis. Originally, Strauss collaborator Hugo von Hofmannsthal had the idea of reviving Molière‘s 1670 play Le bourgeois gentilhomme, simplifying its plot, introducing a commedia dell’arte troupe, adding incidental music, and concluding what would be a long evening with a newly written one-act opera called Ariadne auf Naxos. This idea did materialize, as planned, in Stuttgart on 25 October 1912. But it was apparent that the result was too long and expensive and that many in the audience for the play were uninterested in the opera, and vice versa. Strauss and Hofmannsthal accordingly opted to separate the two works entirely. In the case of the opera, this meant Strauss composing a new “Prologue” for it to explain the presence of the comedians. (The revised Ariadne auf Naxos premiered four years later and has been a success ever since.) As regards the play, Hofmannsthal devised an ending closer to Molière’s original, with Strauss adding to his existing incidental music to support the new conclusion. This premiered in 1917.

It was from the now-lengthened incidental music that Strauss compiled his orchestral suite. He finished this task on Christmas Day 1917, and the resulting concert work received its premiere in Berlin on 9 April 1918 with Strauss himself conducting. The suite lasts half an hour and is in nine sections…

My listening station today included my cat staring at me. That chair, by the way, is his throne. Padded, of course. And at just the right height to allow an unobstructed view of the outside world.

Before I ponder this Strauss performance further, I need to mention something written (on pages 8 and 9) about Fritz Reiner in the book that came with the CD box set:

Reiner was an exacting orchestra trainer. Musicians frequently referred to him as “the great leveller.” A perfectionist who demanded plenty of rehearsals and the highest professional standards, he had both an intellectual and a nervous intolerance of poor musicianship. He did not want unreliable players in his orchestras, so he challenged sections or individuals in rehearsal to find out who was unsure. One tactic he used occasionally was to stop an orchestra in rehearsal, reprimand an individual musician for playing incorrectly (even when he wasn’t) and then to continue to do this until the player demonstrated that he would not become nervous under pressure. Any player or conducting pupil who could not meet Reiner’s exacting standards was treated with sarcasm and withering contempt.

Back in my day, such a personality type would have been called a drill sergeant. Or a douche bag. I wouldn’t have tolerated it. So I guess I wouldn’t have been a member of the CSO.

Frankly, I’ve heard a lot of orchestras in my day. And I’m pretty sure the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was not the greatest in the world. So, there’s no way to justify piss-poor treatment of others. Sorry, Fritz. Gotta disagree with you on that one.

Then, again, I’m not a world-renowned conductor. I’m just a guy who believes it’s better to treat people with kindness and respect. So what do I know?

The Objective Stuff

This CD was recorded over two days, April 17-18, in 1956, with one track (Salome) recorded on December 10, 1955. Again, the place of the recorded is the Orchestra Hall.

The Subjective Stuff

Recording quality: 3.5
Overall musicianship: 3.5
CD booklet notes: 2
CD “album cover” information: 0
How does this make me feel: 3 for Der Burger als Edelmann/0 for Salome

I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that Richard Strauss was a second-rate composer.

There. I said it.

His works do not electrify me, do not make me say, “Wow” either aloud or in my head, do not command me to make my wife listen to something I’ve just heard. They’re remarkably “Meh” in their composition and execution.

I hope there’s not more Strauss in this Fritz Reiner box set.

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