Notes by: Jon Brooks
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks was written in 1894-95. In this tone poem, Strauss uses the pranks of a 15th Century legendary medieval North German rapscallion as a vehicle for mocking the musical conservatives who criticised his radicalism. Its once-upon-a-time introduction is followed by scenes in which Till upsets bourgeois propriety and is hanged for his bad behavior. In the end, his mocking ghost prevails.
‘Till Eulenspiegel’ actually narrates in music several adventures of the medieval troublemaker, right up to his trial and execution. Till Eulenspiegel is the most famous German folk hero, a roving jester whose exploits translated into dozens of languages, and influenced composers such as Richard Strauss, have fascinated and delighted millions for nearly five hundred years.
‘Till’ is written in Rondo form. Not in the classical sense, but rondo-like in that the two ‘Till’ themes keep recurring in a variety of guises, enlivened by shrewd touches of instrumentation. Strauss applies these themes to an endless cascade of variations and arabesques to depict the situation or mood of the character during seven ‘episodes’ e.g. the ‘new pranks’, ‘masquerade’ and ‘flight’. Several secondary themes such as the ‘street song’ are also intertwined within the structure. The overall structure includes prologue and epilogue sections to accommodate the unfolding story.
The prologue is a musical statement of the ‘Once-upon-a-time’ found in fairy-tales as mentioned earlier. Although this is only four bars long, the phrase adopts a form of what is later to be the second of the two principal themes.
‘Till’ is introduced with one of the main themes on horn, characterised by the use of accents, chromatic notes, staccato and a slightly syncopated feel. This brilliantly captures the scampish nature of ‘Till’. Others have also suggested that this primary theme on the horn promotes ‘Tills’ heroism. (Strauss regularly turns to the horns to portray heroism in his music). This theme then characterises itself among several unfolding episodes, the moods of which are varied in several ways, noticeably by orchestration, e.g. the transition from the lyrical string writing of the ‘love’ episode through to the ‘vengeance’ episode with its enlarged theme and extended brass scoring, remarkably rich in the pedal register of the bass trombone. After hearing this motif, we frequently hear ‘Till’s legendary society’ frowning upon him, e.g. when he’s sentenced.
The epilogue takes the second principal theme into a huge coda which employs all the themes whilst summarising the nature of the joker in a warm and witty manner.
The overall melodic scheme features the themes and variations as well as programmatic effects such as the clarinet playing the part of ‘Till’ interjecting briefly between phrases, and the famous high note following ‘Till’s’ execution.
The first performance of Till Eulenspiegel was on 5th November 1895 under the baton of Franz Wullner.
- 3 Flutes
- 3 Oboes
- English Horn
- 2 Clarinets in B-flat
- D Clarinet (Ref. 1)
- Bass Clarinet
- 3 Bassoons
- 4 Horns in F and E
- 4 Horns in D (ad libitum) (Ref. 2)
- 3 Trumpets in F and C
- 3 Trumpets in D (ad libitum) (Ref. 2)
- 3 Trombones
- Bass Drum
- Snare Drum
- Large Ratchet
- Violins I
- Violins II
- Double Basses
(Ref. 1) Original score calls for a Clarinet in D, the part is usually played on Clarinet in E-flat due to the former being rendered obsolete during the twentieth century.
(Ref. 2) Strauss indicates four and three extra horns and trumpets respectively to be added ad libitum. The parts are to be played by separate players from the original four horns and three trumpets.
Enclosed booklet in jewel CD case: Deutsche Grammophon, Berlin Philharmonic: Karl Böhm
http://www.classical.net/music/comp.1st/straussr.html (Content expired)
A History of Western Music: Donald Jay Grout / Claude V. Palisca