Moon Music the Strauss way.

Sport has once more interfered with my musical musings, the usual quota increased this year by the World Cup. I was not glued to every match, but it was a gripping contest in Moscow, even without England’s success – for that it surely was.

The Open at Carnoustie had all the ingredients for a thrilling last day, with over half a dozen players in the mix. The last hour promised to be the most exciting for years, until, one by one, every contender bar one decided it wasn’t for him. As a consequence, there was no multi competitor play-off, just an outright (and thoroughly likeable) champion.

Something of an anti climax. Just like the well-billed Blood Moon last Friday, whose visibility in the south of the UK was about as evident as a policeman when you really want one. (Which, aptly enough, is only likely to be, if ever, once in a blue moon.)

But it did have the effect of calling to mind one really magical five minutes of music which I encountered for the first time just weeks before. I had never been to a performance of Capriccio by Richard Strauss until this summer.

I have written about Strauss’s unparalleled writing for the soprano voice (Search on Home Page reveals all), but he was also a top-rate orchestrator (see parentheses above). Capriccio was Strauss’s last opera, first performed in Munich in October 1942. The year. Just imagine attending that evening, fully aware of what horrific misfortune could occur at any moment.

The opera does not need a lengthy explanation here: it is, quite simply, a lighthearted piece which debates (through two different suitors for a Countess) the perennial question of which art form is the more important – poetry/words or music?

They are, of course, inseparable.  The combination of the two throughout the opera is unsurprisingly sublime: at one point I counted eight different voices singing their own lines all at the same time, each unique to him- or herself, and each distinguishable within the group.

And then this.  As the Countess prepares to reflect on her dilemma, Strauss slips in these few minutes of Mondschein (Moonshine) music.  I have written about music connected with the moon in the past (in danger of repeating my above parentheses now). As the son of a horn player, he knew a thing or two about this instrument, which opens this brief passage.

There are a few recordings to choose from. Antonio Pappano can scarce do no wrong in my ears, but I think he takes it a tiny bit fast; and Barenboim’s live concert succumbs to the very smallest of blemishes on the horn.

I’ve picked one where the sound is perfect and the visuals are just irritating. So when you’ve clicked on it, I would encourage you to sit back and wallow in the sound, wishing, as I did when I first heard it a month ago, that it could go on and on and on. A single horn, then full orchestra with a couple of harps for good measure.

(The Countess’s final piece is often sung as a stand-alone concert aria. I saw Kiri Te  Kanawa perform it with Leonard Bernstein many years ago and had the pleasure of meeting them both afterwards. She, as you might expect, was divine. He, as you might expect, thought he was.)

Another new discovery. And a moon you can rely on, too.





11 thoughts on “Moon Music the Strauss way.”

  1. Love reading your notes. Not only instructive and entertaining but now your words and approach are often at my side when experiencing classical music – for instance: I had the priviledge to enjoy a concert directed by D. Barenboim at Carnegie Hall and when reading the Program (, I couldn’t help wondering what your thoughts were about this creation. At least to me it was a beautiful, other new facet of Strauss I discovered that night.

    Thanks for sharing your humour and mind with us. Never stop.



    1. You have no idea how touched I am by your very generous comments, and the fact that you have taken the time to write them: thank you, thank you, they mean a great deal to me.
      I know only too well what an amazing concert you attended at CH – I attended the exact same one in London last year. If you put Tchaikovsky into the Search bar on the Menu page, you will find my thoughts on it in ‘The power of 5’. I am now going to read the notes you so kindly sent me, which I fear will only highlight my deficiencies!
      Thank you so much for your lovely support, Nick.


      1. I’ve just read „The power of 5“ – incredible that we had the chance to experience the „same“ concert (concerts are never identical of course, that‘s the beauty of live music, but I assume that our states of shock were comparable 😉

        Tchaikovsky was defenitely a genius and is one of my favourites, both to listen and to play (btw, the 5th is much fun from both sides of the musical notes, the 4th remains my „Coup de Coeur“). And in the above concert, Strauss’ themes were a great discovery. And never underestimate (I am sure you don‘t) the power of an outstanding director – it really makes a (or can make THE) difference – music without people is nothing, and people (conductor-orchestra-audience) can take music to a next level, and you never know if « it » will happen but when it does, it is magical.

        Keep enjoying and sharing the magic, Sophie

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, how right you are about the importance of the conductor! I love the 4th, too; and I well remember being almost scared with excitement in the closing bars when hearing it played under Mariss Jansons, it was an extraordinary experience. How lucky you are to be playing these pieces: it makes your comments even more appreciated.
        There is nothing in it for me financially, just the pleasure it gives me to know that people like you enjoy these modest jottings – so please do feel free to let others know as well.
        My thanks to you again, Nick.


      3. Btw, I fulfilled an enthusiast’s dream of conducting an orchestra last year, which I wrote about in ‘Some magic with Mozart’. What a complete thrill that was. (May 2017 in archive.)


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