Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was born in Munich on June 11, 1864. Like so many other composers, his father was a successful musician. Unlike many other composers, his mother, Josephine Pschorr, was from a family of wealthy brewers. Her financial situation ensured that Richard never had a lack of money or creature comforts in life. He began playing the piano at the age of four and eventually took lessons on the violin, as well. Strauss studied music intensely and began composing at an early age.
Strauss’s father was musically conservative and did not want young Richard to listen to anything but the standard classical repertoire. To his father’s dismay, he listened to and studied the music of Wagner, who at that time was viewed as a complete radical. Wagner’s music had a huge impact on Strauss’s style.
Strauss was a very successful and highly sought after conductor and had guest appearances with almost every major orchestra of the world. When he was not conducting an orchestra he spent his time writing music for the large ensemble. He was the master of symphonic poems and he also composed several operas later in his career.
All of Strauss’s symphonic poems are prime examples of program music — that which represents a story, thing, or idea through music. Some of his programs, like Thus Spake Zarathustra, represent philosophies. This piece pays homage to and was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s work. Don Quixote was Strauss’s musical narration of Cervante’s novel about the knight who attacks windmills.
After 1900, Strauss turned his attention primarily toward opera. He was never shy of writing scandalous material, and his operas Salome and Elektra shocked the public with their harsh dissonances and racy subject matter.