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Strauss Sonatina No. 1 in F, "From an Invalid's Workshop"

In a continuation of yesterday's post on the Serenade, Op. 7 by Richard Strauss, today's post will focus on his Sonatina No. 1, "From an Invalid's Workshop."

Among Strauss's four most widely recognized pieces for winds, the Sonatina No. 1 probably gets the least attention and it is certainly the least performed of the four. In some ways, both Sonatinas are more aurally challenging than the two earlier wind works although they both reflect a different side of Strauss when compared to the much earlier Suite and Serenade. Certainly, anyone interested in the wind music of Strauss would benefit from a lengthy aural comparison of all four major wind works. You can find information on all four of these pieces on this blog.

Below you can find information on the piece by Scott Warfield from the University of Central Florida (it also includes information on the Symphony for Winds or Sonatina No. 2).

When Strauss turned for one last time to wind music, he was nearly eighty years old and grief-stricken, as the momentous events of history seemed determined to wipe out all that he had sought to create in his lifetime. The final blow came on October 2, 1943, when Munich’s National Theater was reduced by bombing to a shell. Six days later, Strauss wrote to his friend and biographer, Willi Schuh:

“The destruction of the Munich Court Theater, the holy site of the first Tristan and Meistersinger performances, where I heard Freischütz for the first time 73 years ago, where my good father sat in the orchestra for 49 years at the first horn desk, . . . is the greatest catastrophe of my life, for which there is no consolation and at my age no hope. . . . With Capriccio [premiered in Munich one year earlier in October 1942], my life’s work is ended, and the notes that I scribble now for my heirs as ‘wrist exercises’ . . . have absolutely no meaning for music history. . . . It is only a way to drive away the boredom of idle hours, since one can’t read Wieland or play Skat the whole day.”

Unable to face the reality of the present, Strauss retreated into his own past with a series of instrumental works that he probably never expected to hear played. Among these is the Sonatina in F (TrV 288), subtitled by the composer “from an invalid’s workshop.” That three-movement work from early in 1943 was followed in less than a year by a four-movement piece for nearly the same instrumentation. That second work, labeled Symphony for Winds (TrV 291) by his publisher after Strauss’s death, carried a more optimistic subtitle, “Cheerful Workshop,” and an aphorism, “to the spirit of the eternal Mozart at the end of grateful life,” that confirms the inspiration for both of these works.

While the inspiration may have come from Mozart, the sound of these two works is pure Strauss from beginning to end. The opening of the first movement of the Sonatina offers an obvious example. Strauss begins with two ideas in contrary motion, pitting the oboes against the bassoons, and by the end of first measure, he has already fallen out of the key of F through a half-step motion that is a virtual Straussian cliché. A sequential repetition and extension carries the two ideas further afield until the ninth measure finds the tonic F with a jarring V-I cadence. Then a new transitional idea takes hold and Strauss is off once again on another series of sequences and evolving passages. There is an air of spontaneity about the music, which suggests a composer caught in the moment rather imposing a rigorous form on his materials, and the passage ends with an abrupt V-I cadence on the mediant.

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