Ear Supply: The Long Goodnight

Richard Strauss made beauty from the ruins of World War II.

Either the devastation and cruelty of Germany inspired compensatory acts of beauty, or it was one of the most superhuman acts of denial in music history, but the years during and after World War II saw some of Richard Strauss' most intensely lovely music. First among these bittersweet, alluring "Indian summer" works, composed a year before his death, are his Four Last Songs from 1948. In the fourth, "Im Abendrot" ("At Sunset"), an elderly couple bids farewell to something—each other? the world?—in a tender, heartbreaking musical letting-go, with slowly exhaling string chords punctuated by piccolo trills representing ascending larks. "How weary we are of wandering—is this perhaps death?" ask the closing lines, but the subtext is an adieu to the 150-year tradition of German romanticism, the end of which Strauss knew full well he embodied. Alexandra Picard sings these Sunday afternoon with the Thalia Symphony; Stephen Rogers Radcliffe conducts. 

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