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Arts Desk

Richard Strauss' DON JUAN: Still Seducing Listeners

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Richard Strauss in 1888

The legend of Don Juan, dating from the mid-17th century, has spawned plays, poetry, opera, and more.  Richard Strauss’s 1889 tone poem about the story launched his star in the European musical world.

Listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI - Sunday, July 31st at 1 pm to hear Donald Runnicles lead The Philadelphians in an October, 2015 concert featuring Strauss’s Don Juan, as well as music by Mozart and Brahms.  

Radio script:

MUSIC: Richard Strauss, Don Juan

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Conductor Donald Runnicles

Susan Lewis: Strauss was only 24 when he wrote Don Juan. Conductor Donald Runnicles calls it a “precociously brillant work.” 

Donald Runnicles: It’s a virtuosic work. Astonishingly virtuosic. And I mean by that—although it’s a work that is played a great deal—no less hard to play. Technically, Strauss was pushing all the instruments in the orchestra to their limit...from the double bass in the orchestra, to the flute and the harps. The famous horn calls.

SL: In November, 1889, Strauss conducted the Weimar Opera orchestra in the first performance of Don Juan to great acclaim.

DR: If I had one regret, it would be not to have been at the first performance; I would love to have heard that for the very first time. I mean I do remember the very first time I heard  it—it was a recording with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, which I think was made in something like 1953 or '54—on one of these RCA Victrola records. I couldn’t stop listening to the piece.

SL: Strauss went on to compose hundreds of works, and was equally at home writing  operas, orchestral and other instrumental works, and art songs.

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Listen to conductor Donald Runnicles talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about growing up, his fascination with the human voice, and how it informs all of his music making.