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.
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:
- 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)
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: