Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Turn of the 20th Century > Thus Spake Zarathustra. Op. 30. - Richard Strauss
Thus Spake Zarathustra. Op. 30.
"Thus Spake Zarathustra," though based upon a philosophical subjects, is one of the most popular of the Strauss tone poems, perhaps because it has been heard more frequently than the others. It was inspired by a "prose poem" of the same name, written by Friedrich Nietzsche. The details of the philosophical story of Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, as he is more familiarly known, are too involved for use in this connection and perhaps are not needed for enjoyment of the music, which is very impressive and grows upon the listener by successive hearings. Strauss has liberally annotated his score with the headings of chapters in the Nietzche text.
The work opens with a stately theme in trumpets leading to a powerful climax in full orchestra and organ which is the most impressive feature of the tone poem. Then follow new themes under the headings of "Back World's Men" and "Great Longing," the music descriptive of Zarathustra's "going down" to teach the doctrine of the Overman and the "Longings" of those in the Back World for higher things. Another theme, given out by the violins, sings of their "Delights and Passions," followed by the "Grave Song" -- a tender melody in the oboe which is worked up in conjunction with the "Longings" theme. The despair of science is treated as a fugal episode based upon the opening motive, followed by furious and at times dissonant outburst in the full orchestra. An episode, "The Convalescent," is devoted to an optimistic view of humanity. This is followed by the jubilations of the Overman expressed in the "Dance Song," which is anything but terpsichorean in character. "To the general" it must be "caviar." At last twelve strokes of the bell usher in the "Song of the Night Wanderer" and a short passage -- the very spirit of perplexity and doubt -- being set in two keys, involving a mysterious discord, closes this extraordinary music which illustrates such vague and mystic philosophical gropings.