ca. 400 BC
The Greek playwright Sophocles writes Electra, one of several plays by himself and his contemporaries Aeschylus and Euripides to explore the mythical character of Electra, who pursued revenge for the murder of her father, King Agamemnon, at the hands of her mother, Clytemnestra.
While conducting in Paris, Strauss meets the young Austrian poet Hugo von Hofsmannsthal, who is interested in collaborating to create a ballet. Strauss is impressed with Hofmannsthal’s scenario, but is too busy with existing projects to work with him at the time.
Hofmannsthal writes the play Elektra, a free adaptation of the tragedy by Sophocles. It is mounted by the director Max Reinhardt in Berlin, where Strauss attends a performance.
Strauss’s opera Salome premieres in Dresden. Its lurid subject matter and sultry atmosphere are matched by Strauss’s shockingly inventive musical setting. The opera is soon performed at all of the major European opera houses to great critical acclaim. The composer Gustav Mahler calls it “emphatically a work of genius, very powerful, and decidedly one of the most important works of our day.”
Strauss and Hofmannsthal agree to work together to create an opera based on Hofmannsthal’s Elektra. Following this first joint effort, they continue to collaborate on operatic projects until the poet’s untimely death in 1929.
Elektra receives its premiere on January 25 at the Court Opera in Dresden, and its success, enhanced by the public interest in its modern, emotionally fraught plot, is soon a worldwide phenomenon.
Hugo von Hofmannsthal suffers a fatal stroke and dies on July 15. Strauss is too distraught to attend the funeral, but he writes to Hofmannsthal’s widow: “This genius, this great poet, this sensitive collaborator, this kind friend, this unique talent! No musician ever found such a helper and supporter. No one will ever replace him for me or the world of music!”
Although apolitical by nature, Strauss is compelled to accept an appointment by German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels to the presidency of the Reichsmusikkammer, the official organization of the Third Reich that coordinated all facets of the music industry.
Strauss is forced to resign from the Reichsmusikkammer owing to his defiant insistence on working with the Jewish librettist Stefan Zweig.
Strauss composes his final works, later published as Vier letzte Lieder (“Four Last Songs”), for soprano and orchestra. Though he had written songs steadily throughout his long career, these late, luminous works, set to texts reflecting on the meaning of death, are among his finest compositions.
Strauss dies on September 8, having suffered from declining health for several years. At a memorial service in Munich, conductor Georg Solti leads the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier.
Don’t miss MN Opera’s Elektra, witness the next stage of this classic opera’s story October 5-13. Get your tickets today at mnopera.org/elektra!