Metamorphosen by Strauss

This piece is a study for 23 string solos, as every part of the instruments are different. Written towards the end of the Second World War by Richard Strauss, a late Romantic and early modernist German composer, it was dedicated to Paul Sacher. Sacher commissioned this piece, and first performed it in 1946, with Strauss himself conducting the final rehearsal.

At that time, Strauss needed to travel abroad, but could not do so from the Nazi government. A commission from Sacher and invitation to its premier in Zurich would allow him to visit a spa in Baden which might help his declining health.

I love this piece. I might be biased towards it as I’ve seen it performed and heard it so many times it stuck to me. What I love about this piece is its melancholy and continuous flow.

Although it reuses the same materials throughout the piece, it is not a bad piece at all. Four basic thematic ideas are used: the opening chords; the three-notes-followed-by-one-long-note motif; a (descending scale) motif quoted from Beethoven’s Erioca’s Marcia Funebre (bar 3); a lyrical melody in the “sunnier” keys.

Since it is played entirely by a string ensemble, the timbre of the piece is really lush and beautiful. I don’t feel that it’s boring, but some may say that it would only be good as background or elevator music. It is really romantic.

I believe Strauss wrote it as an elegy to the destruction that humankind could cause. The Beethoven quotes calls out, transforming into different meanings at different parts of the piece.  There are positive parts too, showing that it is not an entirely pessimistic or cynical view of the Nazi regime, the destruction of the Munich Opera House, or the war. Just like our lives, it is pensive and uncertain, everchanging and luminuous.

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