There are few composers who have such an impressiveability to depict a story together with single existential moments in instrumental music as Richard Strauss in his Tondichtungen (“tone poems”). Despite the clear structure that the music follows, a closer interpretative look reveals many unanswered questions. For me, it was the in-depth discovery and exploration of these details that appealed to me, as the answers resulted in surprising nuances that helped to shape the overall sound of the pieces.
One such example is the opening of Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) where it is obvious that the person on the deathbed breathes heavily, characterized by the second violins and violas in a syncopated rhythm. What does the following brief interjection of the flutes mean? The answer came to me while thinking about my own dark, shimmering farmhouse parlor where I lived as a child. There, we had only a sofa and a clock on the wall that interrupted the silence. The flutes remind me of the ticking clock hand. This is why it has to sound sober, unemotional, mechanistic and almost metallic.
Another such example is the end of Don Juan where the strings seem to tremble. It is here that one can hear the last convulsions of the hero’s dying body. This must sound nervous, dreadful and dramatic. For this reason, I took the liberty to alter the usual sound. I ask the strings to gradually transform the tone into an uncomfortable, convulsing, and shuddering ponticello until the final pizzicato marks the hero’s last heartbeat.
Another detail I would like to emphasize can be found in the trial scene of Till Eulenspiegel. Before Till is sentenced to death, the D-clarinet has a note that, according to Strauss, must sound entstellt (“distorted”). The problem with this note is that it is impossible to hear, because the whole orchestra enters with a fortissimo . That is why I have this “distorted” note played one octave higher than written. This way, it does not only sound higher, but tremendously entstellt . In my opinion, this must have been a mistake, because Strauss surely knew that the instrumentation he asked for makes the note inaudible.