April Fools!

April 1, 2016 at 10:00 am

In the late 19th century, Richard Strauss became the champion composer of tone poems – musical pieces which illustrate non-musical ideas, such as poetry, stories, or even philosophy. Tone poems can be representational (like Berlioz‘s March to the Scaffold, in Symphonie Fantastique) or abstract (most of Also Sprach Zarathustra); you can listen carefully for specific events in the story portrayed, or just sit back and enjoy the music.

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks is a representational tone poem – Strauss has taken a number of scenes from Till’s life and set them into easily recognizable sections.

Wait … you don’t know who Till Eulenspiegel is? Let me “Till” you …

Till Eulenspiegel is pretty easy to sum up – he’s a wily trickster who loves to play jokes on everybody. I’d also recommend reading his history – especially the origin of his name and his *ahem* crappier tricks (not for children! or maybe, more appropriate for children …). Like many tricksters, he is tolerated for a time, and then despised as people tire of his foolishness.

The work begins with a legendary musical statement by the strings that supposedly says “once upon a time” in German. We then hear the merry prank theme in the horn – easy to recognize, and returns often. Till is represented by the Eb Clarinet – a squeaky little thing that should never have been invented – which represents the goofy character perfectly. We hear a number of his tricks: knocking things over in the market (3:07), dressing up as a priest (7:06), chasing after women (8:43). Eventually he is caught and sentences to death (12:27), pleads for his life a couple of times (12:43 & 13:00). We think he has died (14:15), but in the end, he escapes! (15:31)