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Richard Strauss: "Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare"

October 1, 2012

Although we typically only think of Strauss's contributions to the wind band medium in terms of four pieces (Suite Op. 4, Serenade Op. 7, Sonatina No. 1, Symphony or Sonatina No. 2), he also wrote a good deal of brass band music. Among these contributions is his Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare.

 

You can find program notes for the piece below, as well as a recording.

 

Program Notes by Barbara Heninger, edited, amended, and otherwise improved by Eric Kujawsky, Peter Stahl, and Doug Wyatt.

 

Born into a musical family, Richard Strauss proved early that he was a composer to watch out for. Conductor Hans von Bülow called the composer's Serenade for Thirteen Winds (1881), written when Strauss was just 17, evidence that the young man was "by far the most striking personality since Brahms."

 

Strauss is perhaps best known for popularizing and refining the form of the tone poem, with works such as Don Juan (1888--89), Till Eulenspiegel (1894--95), and Also sprach Zarathustra (1895--96), as well for operas such as Salome (1903--05) and Der Rosenkavalier (1909--10). However, Strauss also had a long and fruitful career as a conductor, leading the Berlin Royal Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Strauss even took the Vienna Philharmonic on a tour of South America in 1920, and collaborated on several works for the group, including the fanfare heard in today's concert.

 

The Fanfare für die Wiener Philharmoniker was written in 1924 for the organization's first benefit ball, which raised money for the musician's pension fund. Held on March 4 of that year, the ball took place during the holiday called Fasching in German-speaking countries, and known as Carnival or Mardi Gras in others. The piece was played while honored guests, such as the Matron of the Ball, arrived at the event. The work has been played every year since at the Philharmonic's annual balls.

 

Being the son of the principal horn player for the Munich Court Orchestra may have had something to do with the composer's ability to write for brass, but whatever his influences, this brief fanfare certainly demonstrates his affinity for striking brass textures. The piece is scored for a large brass ensemble and two sets of timpani. It opens simply, with a single note on the trumpets repeated in the characteristic fanfare rhythm. This expands to a triad, and then the other sections enter one at a time: trombones, horns, timpani, each adding rhythmic and textural complexity. The main theme arrives, marked by the entrance of the tuba. A brief development leads to an even briefer second subject, played more softly and without the triplet motor propelling it. After just a few measures the main theme returns, soon reaching a climax featuring a riff in the horns climbing three octaves. Short but stirring, one can easily understand why any Matron of the Ball would ensure that this piece has remained in the Philharmonic's active repertory for 80 years.

 

Richard Strauss, Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare,

University of Michigan Symphony Band, H. Robert Reynolds, conductor

 

 

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