Strauss’ Four Symphonic Interludes from “Intermezzo”: A Portrait of Matrimony

In a letter to his wife, Pauline, Richard Strauss listed the three areas which gave his life meaning: “nature, notes, and family.” (Bryan Gilliam)

Musically, Strauss celebrated his stable family life with the autobiographical 1904 tone poem, Symphonia Domestica, Op. 53. When the work’s subject matter was criticized as trivial, Strauss responded,

What could be more serious than married life? Marriage is the most profound event in life and the spiritual joy of such a union is elevated by the arrival of a child.

Despite all of this, an amusing misunderstanding almost threatened Strauss’ blissful marriage. Out of the blue, the composer received an angry letter from Pauline, demanding an immediate divorce. She had opened a love letter, written by a woman, which had been mistakenly addressed to Strauss. The intended recipient was the conductor, Joseph Stransky, who went by the nickname, “Straussky.”

Quickly resolved, the incident formed the inspiration for Strauss’ comic two-act opera, Intermezzo, Op. 72, which was completed in 1923 and premiered a year later in Dresden. Strauss referred to the work as a “conversation piece” in music, and “a bourgeois comedy with symphonic interludes.” He wrote his own libretto, and fictionally represented himself as “Robert Storch,” and his wife as “Christine.” Pauline was not aware of the opera’s subject matter before the opening performance. Afterwards, when the German-American lyric soprano, Lotte Lehmann, congratulated the still simmering Pauline on this “marvelous present to you from your husband,” she reported replied, “I don’t give a damn.”

Throughout Intermezzo, Strauss sought a conversational style of music which would evoke the spoken dialogue of a play. But at critical moments, the domestic chatter fades away to be replaced by an expanse of pure instrumental music. Bryan Gilliam describes the cinematic nature of the opera, and the lyrical way the interludes function:

One of the most innovative aspects of Intermezzo is the filmic structure of this stage work. Over two acts there are more than a dozen “Kinobilder” (cinematic scenes): short, open-ended, and (with stage lighting) often employing “cinematic” dissolves. The scenes are quite chatty, while the lyricism is given to the orchestral interlude.

A few years after the premiere of Intermezzo, the composer arranged the opera’s interludes to create a symphonic suite. At moments, they suggest the kind of music which might have accompanied a newsreel.

With a glittering torrent of notes, the first interlude, Travel Fever and Waltz Scene, begins with the boisterous activity of the maestro, who hastily departs for a series of performances following a heated argument with his wife. Free from her husband, she finds herself at a dance, where she flirts with a young baron.

The second interlude, Dreaming by the Fireside, can be heard as Strauss’ musical love letter to his wife. In the opera, Christine sits alone and thinks about the charming baron, while longing for her husband’s return. The principal motif, which opens with a gushing ascending line, begins as an intimate thought, and becomes increasingly passionate. It returns repeated as an irrepressible force, accompanied briefly by the solo clarinet and violin, and bathed in shimmering orchestral colors which turn into a rapturous glow.

Opening Act II, the third interlude, At the Card Table, mimics the elegant chamber music of classical composers such as Mozart. It evokes the background music of a string quartet at a party where cards are being played. A musical depiction of the reshuffling of the cards can be heard with the entrance of the piano and string pizzicati. During the card game, the maestro, Robert Storch, receives the angry letter from his wife.

The final interlude, Happy Conclusion, depicts the maestro’s vindication, and his jubilant return home. The frenetic musical lines which accompanied his rushed departure in the work’s opening are now transformed into ecstatic leaps of joy.

I. Reisefieber und Walzerszene:

II. Träumerei am Kamin:

III. Am Spieltisch:

IV. Fröhlicher Beschluß:


About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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