1896: A Musical Odyssey, part III

Good Music Speaks

DBPB_1954_124_Richard_StraussDecoding the layers of meaning in Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is no small task.  Strauss works with a late Romantic music language that is very rich harmonically, and makes use of many of the innovations of Richard Wagner’s music dramas.  Almost immediately after the premiere, Strauss’s tone poem was being broken down in terms of leitmotifs, those Wagnerian musical motives that serve to represent a specific character, concept, or place.  At the time of the publication of the score, Strauss himself sanctioned a published program by Arthur Hahn which labeled some of these leitmotifs.  Not long after, another author named Hans Merian offered an even larger list of motives and labels that have become almost standard jargon for any discourse about the work.

The most obvious and easy to find leitmotif is presented at the opening of the work.  The trumpets sound the iconic C, then up a…

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