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A friend sent me this link to a lovely performance of Richard Strauss’ late masterpiece, Four Last Songs. Strauss wrote this at age 84, in 1948. His last large-scale work, these songs were performed and published only after his death the next year.
One of my lifetime best concerts included this piece. The date was February 1, 2003. My first wife and I heard the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall that night. Do you remember what happened that day?
We decided at the last moment to attend, after getting a call from my old teacher Felix Kraus, their English horn player. It was a rainy, sleety day in western Massachusetts and the weather got worse as we drove. After it turned into an ice storm, we took the train from Greenwich.
The concert opened with some words from the Orchestra’s music director to commemorate that morning’s disaster, the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia on re-entry. First, there was a Beethoven string quartet played as a string orchestra piece, which was of moderate interest. After the intermission, the show continued with, and I kid you not, Strauss’ tone poem Death and Transfiguration, followed immediately by the Four Last Songs. These performances were electrifying. I will never forget the rapt stillness of the audience in the second half of this concert.
We went out for coffee with Felix afterward. This was the last time that my first wife and Felix met, she died in December 2004 and he, in December 2006. I would see him twice more, in February and July 2004.
After taking the train to our car in Greenwich, we drove up through the continued storm. It was awful. I remember listening to WCBS as we drove and learning that the streets around the Empire State Building had been closed off because of falling ice. We finally gave up in Waterbury, pulling over and sleeping for a couple of hours in a parking lot before driving home on Sunday morning.
This video brought back that deeply bittersweet memory, especially the violin solo at 12 minutes. I hope you find it moving too.
Music is such a powerful thing. What would we do without it?Published in