Richard Strauss

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: 15–17 Minutes
Genre: Symphonic Poem
Time of Creation: 1893–1895
World Premiere: 05 November 1895 (Cologne)

Table of Contents

Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel in 5 Sentences

Richard Strauss originally intended to write an opera based on the Till Eulenspiegel story. Till Eulenspiegel is a character from Central German folk tales who played numerous pranks on his fellow men in the 14th century. Strauss, however, abandoned work on his opera and reworked the plot, which he had already worked out (see below in the “Questions and Answers” section), in purely instrumental form in his symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The piece is one of Strauss’s most frequently performed and most popular compositions. In particular, Strauss’s fine orchestration technique and virtuoso treatment of all orchestral instruments are evident in this early work.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel

Highlight 1: Opening horn solo (Till's first theme)

Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel is feared among horn players because the piece contains a very challenging horn solo, which also comes several times throughout the piece. According to legend, however, Strauss only wrote down what the horn players of the Munich Opera Orchestra at the time played as warm-up exercises. Perhaps this can take away the horror of the passage? 😊

Highlight 2: Garish clarinet melody (Till's second theme)

The (garish) D clarinet also presents a theme that is revisited throughout the piece. Notice how different this theme is from the opening horn theme? Together, the two themes represent the contradictory character of Till Eulenspiegel:

Highlight 3: First prank

Then, four pranks of Till Eulenspiegel are presented musically, one after the other. In the first prank, Till breaks the pots of the market women by riding a horse through the market:

Highlight 4: Till's death

In the end, of course, the authorities win…Till goes to court and is sentenced to death:

3 Questions and Answers about Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel

Question 1: What is the program of Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel?

Richard Strauss himself wrote this program down in a concert guide:

  1. once upon a time there was a mischievous fool
    2. named “Till Eulenspiegel
    3. that was a naughty imp
    4. on to new pranks
    5. just you wait you duck mice
    6. hop! On horseback through the market women
    7. with seven-league boots he pinches out
    8. hiding in a mouse hole
    9. disguised as a pastor he drips with anointing and morals
    10. but from the big toe peeps out the rogue
    11. he is seized by a secret horror of the end because of the mockery of religion
    12. till as a cavalier exchanging tender courtesies with beautiful girls
    13. he courts her
    14. a fine basket is also a basket
    15. swears to take revenge on all mankind
    16. philistine motif
    17. after having made some outrageous theses to the Philistines, he leaves the stupefied to their fate.
    18. grimace from afar
    19th Till’s rag
    20. the court
    21. he still whistles indifferently to himself!
    22. up the ladder! There he dangles, the air runs out of him, a last twitch – Till’s mortal life has ended.
    23 Epilogue (missing in Strauss’ entry)

Question 2: By whom was Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks first performed?

The premiere was performed by the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra under the direction of conductor Franz Wüllner.

Question 3: To whom did Strauss dedicate his Till Eulenspiegel?

Richard Strauss dedicated his Till Eulenspiegel to the German writer and dramatist Arthur Seidl, with whom he had been friends for several years.

2 Recommended Recordings of Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel

Recording 1: WDR Symphony Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov (video production, 2007)

Semyon Bychkov carefully works out even the smallest details of Strauss’s score in this production with the WDR Sinfonieorchester:

Recording 2: NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Lorin Maazel (live, 1986)

Here is a recording with one of the great conductors of the 20th century – Lorin Maazel leads the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra:

1 Quote about Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel

Till Eulenspiegel's merry pranks made, even if at first outwardly, an imposing impression on the whole, in which one simply could not resist the effect of the immensely lively change of color of the instrumentation, which testified to the highest refinement, with downright wonderful bravura of our court orchestra, which was represented in its entirety. What Strauss expects of the orchestra in terms of virtuoso technique, in which he treats each individual instrument, the violin, the flute, the horn, etc., completely in concert, goes far beyond anything that has ever been heard before. The technical basis of the entire compositional style is a boldness of chromaticism that goes far beyond Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner. The applause the piece received was great, in part heartfelt.

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