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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Life and Reign of Richard the Third, 3 Dec 2008
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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The tag was Hans von Bulow's, who declared that after Richard Wagner, there could be no Richard the Second.

This is a review of the 1995, second edition of Michael Kennedy's contribution to the Master Musicians series. It follows the usual format with the earlier chapters focussing on the life, and the remaining chapters concentrating on the works of the composer. The series's customary appendices comprising a timeline, a list of works, short biographies of prominent participants, and a bibliography bring up the rear, although an added appendix in this edition is a list of self-quotations from Strauss's `Ein Heldenleben'. And it is always pleasing to see footnotes rather than endnotes.

In his preface, Kennedy observes that "Richard Strauss's music ... still divides critical opinion into friendly and hostile camps. It always will; it is that kind of music." Kennedy is in the former, but his love of the music is not uncritical. He freely admits that Strauss's music often "lacks mystical and spiritual depth". Strauss himself referred to the art of composition as "wrist exercises". He rarely took himself seriously, telling the Philharmonia Orchestra, "I may not be a first-rate composer, but I AM a first-class second-rate composer." But what is also clear from this book is that in fact what Strauss did take seriously was above all only one thing: music.

The first half of the book - that pertaining to the life - is concise and unexceptional. It is to be regretted that his first eighteen years is covered in a first chapter of only six pages, but - as Kennedy points out - there is "no tale here of an unhappy, poverty-haunted childhood; no serious strife between parents and son; no struggle to adopt a career ...". There is perhaps more that could have been said about his wife Pauline (Hofmannsthal certainly receives more space), but this is a biography of a composer after all.

In any review of Strauss's life there is always the need to assess Strauss's relationship with the Nazis. Kennedy states that Strauss "had little interest in, or knowledge of politics and was ... pitifully naïve when they encroached upon him." And yet, "he understood musical politics and mastered them." Are they really so different. Under the Nazis, "He kept his nose in the score and ignored the raised voices in the next room." Kennedy supplies some interesting quotations to assist in the weighing of the evidence, but it is clear to me that Strauss can in no way ever be considered a supporter of the regime. The evidence points, rather, to him falling out with them from the very beginning.

Kennedy writes that Strauss "has been castigated for what he was not, ... Strauss was an entertainer, a story-teller, an illustrator, a sensualist ..." But it's all very well to say that Strauss knew himself and the art of music better than to trespass into such fields as memorials for Lidice, but Strauss could produce moving memorials for his beloved bombed opera houses in his `Metamorphosen'.

The `life' covers fifteen of the twenty chapters; the `works' are grouped into the remaining five. Thankfully, this section of the book is not as dry and academic as one might have expected. In a succinct summing-up of his contribution to musical life, he states that, "The `received opinion' of Strauss's career is of a radiant dawn, a glorious noonday, a sleepy afternoon and a glowing sunset. The sleepy afternoon has tended to dominate critical assessment." I must say that I learned much about Strauss's early and little-known compositions. Kennedy writes that, "the overall impression is of a Mendelssohn disciple, genial and bland, probing hardly at all beneath the polished surface", which is a bit hard on Mendelssohn. But Strauss's violin concerto, op.8, "earns the gratitude of listeners, if not of performers, by excluding that curse of the concerto, a cadenza." The two early symphonies also sound worth exploring.

Kennedy has interesting points to make about the tone poems: "No `programme' will keep bad music alive". `Also Sprach Zarathustra' is "film music written before such a commodity was required"; `Don Quixote' and `Heldenleben' are pendants; and the `Alpensinfonie' "is a long farewell to the sumptuousness of the post-Wagnerian orchestra." All ten symphonic poems are covered (in one chapter) as well as the fifteen operas (in two), the latter being "a contribution to the lyric theatre which ranks him among the six greatest opera-composers."

Kennedy's writing is, as one would expect, direct and unadorned. It does become a little laboured in places, such as the problems encountered with Hofmannsthal over the composition of `Ariadne auf Naxos'. But for those looking for a concise and comprehensive introduction to both the man and his music, this volume can be thoroughly recommended.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best compact introduction to Richard Strauss, 24 April 1998
By A Customer
Studies of Richard Strauss have a tendency to hover between enthusiasm and mealy-mouthed criticism. Or else they are so voluminous (multiple volumes) that only the most serious scholar or eager enthusiast can imagine plowing through them. Michael Kennedy's volume has two great strengths that place it at the top of the class when it comes to finding a good introduction to Strauss: It is compact, yet invitingly enthusiastic. Kennedy has the knack of highlighting precisely the unique strengths of each different work. Perhaps this is not so rare when he speaks of the leading masterpieces that others praise as well. But it is his special gift that he makes the reader want to listen to those works that have not been blessed with extreme popularity. All of them offer something that sounds interesting and inviting to the music-lover. Not only is it a superb guide to Richard Strauss; I think this book is a veritable model for the way that the non-technical music lover should be introduced to an important composer.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Admirable, craftsmanlike vindication of Strauss' achievement, 18 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma (Hardcover)
It's appropriate that this admirable volume should have appeared now, with the 50th anniversary of Richard Strauss' death occurring on September 8, and with (by bizarre coincidence) the demise last March of Stanley Kubrick, whose use of Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra in the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced the German master's genius to millions who would no more have visited a concert hall than flown to the moon.
Compact discs' effectiveness not only at widening the available repertoire but at conveying even the most elaborate instances of Strauss' orchestral filigree -- as no earlier recording medium could consistently do -- has itself done Strauss' standing a favour. But few earlier books on Strauss are recent enough or comprehensive enough to make sense amid the CD revolution. Fortunately Michael Kennedy's clear-headed, unfailingly craftsmanlike account is. It also provides some much-needed balance to often peevish and ill-informed accusations that Strauss was a stooge of the Third Reich.
Strauss, whose tongue seldom emerged from his cheek, called himself in 1947 "a first-rate second-rate composer"; but Kennedy's verdict - that Strauss ranks as high as any composer the 20th century has seen - is not only more generous but probably more accurate. The Strauss expert will relish this book; the newcomer to Strauss can be assured that no better book on the topic exists.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 3 July 2014
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography of a late German Romantic composer, 10 Feb 2013
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma (Hardcover)
Richard Strauss by Michael Kennedy, J.M. Dent, 1976, 288ff.

Richard Strauss is equally well known for his operas as for his orchestral tone poems, some of which run to the length of symphonies. He composed 15 operas, from Guntram in 1893 to Capriccio in 1941, and nearly three dozen orchestral pieces. Some of these have become independent orchestral pieces for the concert hall, taken from his operas, like the Dance of the Seven Veils from the opera Salome; or the introductory sextet from Capriccio. He also composed two horn concertos - one at the beginning and the other near the end of his career - as well as concertos for violin and for oboe.

This book serves as the best introduction to Strauss' life and works that I have read. The author, Michael Kennedy, is a journalist who started his career with the British daily newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. He is known for his expertise in writing about the life and work of English composers and performers, several like this book in the series of Master Musicians originally published by Dent in London. Like other books of the series, the first half presents a chronological biography of the composer's life while the second half describes, and to some extent analyses, the music. Again, in the usual format, at the end of the book is a Calendar of events in Strauss' life, a catalogue of works, brief biographical details of other people who were influential in Strauss' life, a brief bibliography and an Index.
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Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma
Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma by Michael Kennedy (Hardcover - 13 Jan 1999)
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