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...still luxuriating in the opulent sound world of the Second Horn Concerto, the Oboe Concerto and the Four Last Songs.
Metamorphosen, too, belongs to this period of his 'Indian Summer'. The title owes more to the composer's interest in literature than to the work's musical structure. Towards the end of World War II Strauss had sought solace in reading the complete works of Goethe, a poet who in his old age had become absorbed in the process of metamorphosis of ideas. Goethe quotations adorn the manuscript sketches of Metamorphosen.
The whole score was written within the space of a single month (13 March - 12 April 1945). Strauss started work teh day after the Vienna State Opera was destroyed by bombing. As German cultural life succumbed to grim realities, his mood became ever more depressed. On 1 September 1944 Goebbels closed down all theatres and opera houses and Strauss wrote "My life's work is in ruins". The destruction of Dresden half a year later caused him further anguish: "I am in a mood of despair! The Goethehaus, the world's greatest sancutary, destroyed! My lovely Dresden - Weimar - Munich, all gone!". This is not the place for a discussion of the morality of one who mourns more for art than for the sufferings of humanity. Strauss's attitude to what had taken place may be gleaned from a diary entry at the end of the war: " 'So, although the body is indeed dead, the spirit is alive' - Luther. On 12 March the glorious Vienna Opera became the victim of bombs. But on 1 May ended the most terrible period for mankind - twelve years of the rule of bestiality, ignorance and illiteracy under the greatest criminals, who brought about the destruction of 2000 years of German civilisation and, through a criminal rabble of soldiers, razed irreplaceable buildings and monuments to art."
Metamorphosen is a memorial to that art. Setting aside the worrying ambiguities surrounding its inspiration, the work is a musical masterpiece of superb intensity. Everything about it is remarkable - the scoring, the structure, the unashamed romanticism it exhibits in the heart of the 20th century. It is based on a theme resembling the Eroica Funeral March, first heard on the violas near the beginning. According to Strauss it "just escaped from my pen" before he realised what it was. The music grows by the interweaving of thematic material. Its dark brooding recalls Tristan, especially the music of King Mark, though direct quotation is avoided. After a sombre opening, it gains tempo by degrees. Willi Schuh reported that at the final rehearsal for the first performance Strauss took up the baton and "excelled in bringing out the main lines of development by means of powerful dynamic and tempo increases". The first performance was given in Zurich on 25 January 1946 by the Collegium Musicum Zurich under their conductor Paul Sacher (the dedicatees). With the increase in speed comes rising contrapuntal complexity. Suddenly the fuel supply is cut off, revealing the measured tread of the opening ablaze with accumulated intensity. Thereafter there is only passion, bitterness and grief, resolving finally in desolation, with the first four bars of the Eroica theme in the cellos and basses, marked IN MEMORIAM! in the score, given for the first time complete.