Eternal prankster, brilliantly orchestrated - Richard Strauss' symphonic poem musically propels its hero through a life of fools with highs and lows.
Whether a priest-philosopher's view of the world, intimate insights into his own private life, an Alpine hike or the adventures and trials of legendary characters - Richard Strauss was extremely fond of setting extra-musical content to music. At just over 15 minutes, he wrote one of the shortest and certainly one of the most popular of his "Symphonic Poems" about Till Eulenspiegel, the wandering fowler and shrewd rascal of medieval and early modern folk tradition, who leads all classes by the nose until he is terrified of himself. But he can't help it and promptly ends up on the gallows.
This entertaining episodic "outlaw" biography has been performed by a full symphony orchestra since 1895, just as you would expect from Richard Strauss. And because the composer finally included a kind of guide in bullet points, which is printed in every program booklet, we even know exactly what it sounds like when Till's big toe sticks out from under a monk's cowl, which he has "borrowed" for the thunderous caricature of a moral sermon.
Eulenspiegel's slippery character jumps out at us from the rising and falling theme of the solo horn, whose focus shifts ingeniously from bar to bar and thus takes away our orientation. The clarinets, especially the high D clarinet with its special timbre, provide a second Eulenspiegel theme for mockery and laughter even at the abyss. "It makes you want to laugh out loud or howl out in deadly sadness. [...] None of this detracts from the genius of the piece, above all the extraordinary security of the orchestral treatment and an irrepressible movement that sweeps us along from beginning to end and forces us to experience all the hero's pranks," said his colleague Claude Debussy in admiration of Strauss's Eulenspiegel.
"There are no historical documents that prove Till Eulenspiegel's existence - however, his death was recorded in Hermann Bote's 'World Chronicle' towards the end of the 15th century," says the website "Abenteuer Klassik", answering the frequently asked question about the historical core of the Eulenspiegel character. If we consider that folklore has it that a certain Dyl Ulenspegel was born around 1300 in Kneitlingen in Lower Saxony, he was granted quite a long life. For Richard Strauss, however, he was immortal anyway, as he tells us in the last bars of his piece!