When Richard Strauss began looking about for a site upon which to build a Summer home for himself, his choice fell upon Garmisch, one of the most beautifully picturesque villages of the Upper Tyrol in his native land of Bavaria. Here he sets up his Lares and Penates for the greater part of the year, only forsaking the charms of his mountain retreat when imperative duties call him back to the busy world of affairs. Here he conjures and embodies the visions of his creative fancy and here he has spent the Summer months, finishing the score of his new opera, »Electra.«
His house is veritably his castle, and no stronghold of a feudal age is more jealously guarded than are the gates of his demesne. Shut in by a close hedge, with entrance gates of solid iron, so that every inquisitive tourist is foiled in his attempt to see »greatness taking its slippered ease,« the Strauss villa occupies a proudly isolated position on the slope of the Kramer Mountain. The middle portal is provided with a speaking tube through which the would-be guest states his name and the object of his visit. After an appreciable and portentous pause, comes the answer, »Dr. Strauss is not at home!«
Only occasionally do the doors swing back and admit an especially favored visitor into this strictly guarded privacy. At the further end of the park, which is almost meadowlike in its character, lies the house of an architectural style perhaps best classified as a modified Biedermeyer, crowned with the traditional Bavarian »onion-formed« cupola. Everything around and about this villa is harmonious, and every feature of the inner decoration is an expression of the artistic ideas of Dr. Strauss and his wife, as it was from designs done by this artist pair, that all the charmingly toned decorative scheme was executed.
The first glance of the visitor when he steps into the large entrance hall is for the magnificently carve balustrade of the stairway, but his interest is quickly claimed by a collection which appears singularly incongruous in the house of a man who has been so vehemently denounced for his sacrilegious treatment of a Biblical episode in his »Salome.« Every available inch of wall space is covered with little pictures of saints and sacred subjects of every kind. These are all painted on the reverse side of a piece of glass, the bright colors shining through with peculiar effectiveness. The only secular personage in this great and glorious company of saints and martyrs is the defiant figure of Frederick the Great, also one of the glass transparencies.
This collection is unique, and is the result of »finds« which Strauss has made in Bologne, Verona, and in his own art-loving land of Bavaria.
Opening out of this entrance hall is the workroom, or rather hall, of splendid windows, which frame in the glories of proportions, generously provided with the mountain panorama. Some of the most magnificent peaks of the Bavarian Alps spread themselves in solemn majesty, before the artist who has come from the haunts of men to seek inspiration from nature.
A huge writing table usurps one window niche, near it on the right a grand piano, at the left a convenient music stand for the latest score. Over the piano hangs a »Salome,« an early Italian canvas of the sixteenteh [sic] century; a few choice landscapes and a surprisingly small set of book shelves complete the furnishings of the room. It is in these surroundings that Strauss has just completed his »Electra,« and is already at work on a new opera, for which Hugo von Hofmannsthal will also furnish the book.
This author whose text gave Strauss the inspiration for »Electra« is the most conspicuous representative of the Neo-Romantic tendency in German literature, and it is difficult to believe that he and Strauss, the great orchestral wizard, are collaborating on a comic opera! »A little nonsens now and then–!« The composer and poet are in the fullest sympathy, and are working together most harmoniously in getting the new work under way. But just now the interest of the musical world is focused on the »Electra,« concerning which so many nebulous rumors have already been set afloat. The première will take place in Dresden early in the new year.
»›Electra,‹« to quote Strauss himself, »is finished. I am now at work correcting the score, of which the plates have already been made. The work resembles ›Salome‹ in orchestral coloring and follows the Hofmannsthal drama almost word for word. In one instance the poet has made a concession and added a few lines to the ›Recognition Scene‹ between Electra and Orestes.
In giving a musical delineation to the character of Electra I have departed quite widely from my original intentions. At first I was strongly influenced by the conception of the character as interpreted by Gertrud Eysoldt, (the gifted actress of the Neue Theatre in Berlin,) but as the work crystallized in my mind I became convinced of the necessity of making the rôle a broadly dramatic one. To me Electra is the personification of revenge, and it is as the ›goddess of revenge‹ that I have endeavored to characterize her musically.
The title rôle is written for a high dramatic singer. The creator of the rôle in the Dresden première is not yet decided upon, although General Music Director von Schenck [sic], who will also conduct this latest work of mine, has visited me twice here in Garmisch and made himself thoroughly familiar with the score and the demands it makes of the singers. As in ›Salome‹ the other three leading rôles will be given to a youthful dramatic voice (Chrysothemis, the sister of Electra,) baritone (Orestes,) and tenor (Aegisthus.) Some people will have it that strained relations exist between Intendant von Hülsen of the Berlin Royal Opera and myself, but such is not the case at all. We are in perfect accord, and he is quite willing that Dresden shall have the première of my work. It is a feeling of gratitude which has caused me to grant the Dresden Opera the rights of the first performance, as this is the first stage which had courage enough to bring out ›Feuersnot,‹ and later to undertake the herculean task of fulfilling all the artistic demands made by my ›Salome.‹ Full justice will be one to ›Electra‹ – of that I feel perfectly sure.[«]
»And then, too, the agitation and party feeling which in Berlin runs so high when a new work is presented is not so strongly manifested in Dresden. In January, 1909, the work will be given in Dresden, to be followed by the first Berlin performance in February, under the baton of Leo Blech. During my visits to Berlin, where I am under contract to conduct twenty-two evenings this season, I shall take occasion to discuss with Blech all the details of the Berlin presentation. The Intendant has already shown himself in fullest sympathy with my intentions.«
Strauss has been granted a year’s leave of absence from his post as musical director at the Berlin Opera, a respite which he intends to devote to creative activity, but his strong predilection for the concert stage will not reconcile him to laying aside his baton absolutely. In addition to the symphony soirées in Berlin he will go as »guest« conductor to Russia and Italy, besides directing several Strauss festivals in various parts of Germany, the most important being a cycle of four evenings in Wiesbaden.
A concert tournée of several weeks has already been planned, in which he will be accompanied by his wife, whom he delights to honor with the interpretation of his songs.
The Paris Opera has secured the rights of the first French performance of »Electra,« and is protesting vigorously against the proposed plan of allowing the Parisian thunder to be stolen by the Monte Carlo Opera, as the stage language there is also French.
In regard to the title of General Music Director recently granted Dr. Strauss by the German Emperor, the composer expressed himself as follows: »I feel greatly honored by the title conferred upon me by the Emperor. Those who pretend a disdain for titles are hypocrites, and in his heart every musician agrees with me in regarding such a mark of distinction as a royal recognition of his artistic services for which he should be extremely grateful.
The German Emperor has taken more interest in my work than either my friends or my enemies are aware of. It was at his initiative that I composed the ›Festival March,‹ played at the Berlin Opera House on all gala occasions, and also the ›Brandenburg Parade March,‹ made up of old German melodies. Some time ago I wrote two cavalry marches for the regiment of the Royal Hunters in Posen, and I have recently written two others, to which the Emperor has graciously accepted the dedication.«
Strauss is a favorite subject with the caricaturists, one of whom has recently caught with inimitable skill the outline and favorite pose of the great conductor, and to which a clever little touch has been added, by giving a rebus reading to the composer’s name – the German word for »ostrich« being »Strauss.«