As World War Two was coming to its end, Richard Strauss wrote his Metamorphosen, a composition for strings or, more accurately, a study for ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three double basses.

Strauss started to work on this score in mid-March of 1945, as Allied bombs were leveling the Vienna and Munich opera houses. Two weeks later Hitler was dead in his bunker.

Within one month the score was completed. Strauss had to secure a special permit to travel to Zurich for the work’s world premiere.

It is utterly clear that Strauss composed Metamorphosen as a musical elegy for Germany’s destruction when he wrote: “The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve-year reign of bestiality, ignorance, and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2,000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.”

In Metamorphosen Strauss does not use the traditional meaning of metamorphosis as an ascent from the finite to the infinite. Instead, at least as Strauss’ words if not the music itself express it – his composition depicts not an attainment of the divine but rather a descent into a mortal abyss. The words “In Memoriam” which the composer appended to the score of this work bid farewell to better days long gone.

And yet, the music of Metamorphosen is mournful without a hint of anger or desperation. Call it a lament, a heartfelt homage to the millions of dead. How timely, as we watch in horror the nightly news from Ukraine!

The Chandos release also includes Frank Schreker’s Intermezzo, op 8, and Eric Korngold’s Sinfonische Serenade, op. 39 – two works as sunny as Metamorphosen is dark.

John Wilson leads the Sinfonia of London with utmost delicacy and sensitivity.

Rafael de Acha (c) ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

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