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Great music, shame about the man!
on 14 January 2013
Matthew Boyden's biography of Richard Strauss is at all times highly readable and avoids the over technicality of many music biographies. A good biography is one that you don't want to put down and this is definitely in this category. However if you want the man to live up to the music, you will find little in this book to give you comfort. Strauss comes across as egotistical and self driven to the point of nausea, his greed for money at the expense sometimes of musical value is sometimes hard to swallow and his at best neutral attitude to Nazi Germany and its leaders will also put many off the man and even some off his music. My only criticism is that one often looks in vain for something positive about the man and although the author extols the virtues of the music, he does at times seem to take a very anti Strauss view of the man. In regards to vanity, one could cite several other great composers, not the least Wagner, and a certain amount of selfishness seems to be a pre-requisite of genius from the many biographies I have read. Strauss' greed for money and status is less common in composers who generally have quite a bad business sense, but in this materialistic age can one really criticise Strauss for perhaps being one of the first materialistic composers! In regards to the Nazi era, although it is difficult to defend Strauss for his laisse-faire attitude and for seeming to say that as a composer he was above politics, it must be remembered that Strauss was aged 70 when Hitler came to power, and how many of us in our retirement years would have railed against Hitler! I have also read more sympathetic views of Strauss' during the Nazi era, which emphasise that he did try to help some of his Jewish relatives in the camps, insisted on the Jewish Librettist Zweig's name featuring on an opera billing and had at least some regrets when he realised the extent that the Nazi's had in fact destroyed Germany and it's people. This said, this is a very fine biography, I would just like to read one that maybe was a bit more pro Strauss the man, to get a balance. In conclusion though the truth may well be summed up in Toscanini's quote 'To Strauss the musician I take my hat off, to Strauss the man I put it back on again'.