Name: Peggy Skipitaris
Course: Introduction to Music
Date: December 9, 1991
Concert: New York Philharmonic (December 3, 1991)
Type of concert: Symphony orchestra
General reaction: I was impressed with the construction of the concert hall – Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center – and with its wonderful acoustics. The visual grandeur of the orchestra and the attentiveness of the audience heightened my sense of excitement.
Composition I liked best: The piece I enjoyed most was Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28 by Richard Strauss, a one-movement work in rondo form, with various tempos. This symphonic poem was written in 1895 during the romantic era, when program music was prominent – and is based on a German folk tale about a famous prankster. Strauss uses the rondo form as a framework for the episodes of Till’s adventures: after each prank, Till laughs at his pursuers and saunters off. When he is finally caught and hanged, his last gesture is to thumb his nose at his executioners. Although the piece deals with death, and such unhappy programs are usually in minor, I hear this composition start in minor but end in major. The meter varies, as does the tempo – which is basically very lively but at times becomes moderate, slower, or even faster.
This work can be compared with another one-movement symphonic poem that deals with the death of its protagonists: Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky chose sonata (rather than rondo) form; his composition is in minor, the meter is duple, and – as in Till Eulenspiegel – the tempo varies. The basic mood of the two works differs significantly: in Romeo and Juliet, it is love – rather than mischief – that triumphs over death.
Strauss introduces his hero with a lyrical opening theme (the horn). But the second theme reflects agility, deviltry, energy, and unpredictability. Both themes return often as we hear Till get into and out of “hide and seek”