BIS 2342

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) wrote his first tone poem, in Sonata style, “Macbeth” op. 23 in 1886-1888 listening to Wagner and Lizst and came up with a ‘symphonic poem’ It is really a symphonic movement as it tells the story of the character Macbeth and his wife and the not the story. While his first attempt at writing for characters of literature didn’t go as well as he expected it is certainly worth listening to.  However, it lacks the color and tonal quality of a true tone poem, along with the story telling. What it does offer is lots of action if you like your music this way.

At the request of conductor Hans von Bulow in 1888, who thought little of the work, and wasn’t afraid to give his opinion, Strauss revised the work on several occasions once to change the ending from a major key to a minor one at the end of the ‘symphonic poem.’ He conducted it in 1890 with the Weimar Orchestra after “Don Juan” and “Death and Transfiguration” had their premieres even though “Macbeth” was written before. It wasn’t until 1892 that Strauss became satisfied with it and it is this version that you hear performed.

By creating repeating motifs to create dramatic action in such a dissonant way to bring out the in stabilities of the characters. There is no adherence to the plot of the story only the two main characters and Macduff at the end of the work where we do hear a climax.

We hear Macbeth straight away with a fanfare of trumpets but a note of anguish to it and the second played by cellos, basses, and low woodwinds which bring out the sinister side of the man.

Enter Lady Macbeth who begins with very soft and restful flutes and clarinets over a horn note. What follows is her turmoil in this conflict and there is lots of it brewing.

Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue,
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal.

There is a clashing of the two motifs going back and forth which builds to a climax only  to be climaxed by Macduff leaving the two Macbeth’s destroyed by their own plan.

The conclusion is a triumphant march to end the work.

Written in the summer of 1888  “Tod und Verklarung” (‘Death and Transfiguration’) op. 24 is the third of his tone poems and a completely different very mature work that has seen its way to catalogs of symphony orchestras thus well performed due to its superior quality.Strauss was in excellent health when he wrote this and didn’t come down with pneumonia until 18 months after the completion of the work, contrary to the wives tales of the day.

Could it be as one writer put it that Strauss found poetry in his tone poems and it truly told a story? With the help of his friend Alexander Ritter, who wrote the poem below the reader and listener gets an idea of the work.

I. Largo. “In a small bare room, dimly lit by a candle stump, a sick man
lies on his bed. Exhausted by a violent struggle with death, he lies
asleep. In the stillness of the room, like a portent of impending
death, only the quiet ticking of a clock is heard. A melancholy smile
lights the invalid’s pale face: does he dream of golden childhood as he
lingers on the border of life?”

The mood is quiet and there is a steady, yet syncopated, pattern played
by the violins and violas. This is often thought to be the death motive,
though it can also be associated with a ticking clock and a failing human
heartbeat. Arching woodwind solos over horn and harp accompaniment
signal a sad smile and thoughts of youth.

II. Allegro molto agitato. “But death grants him little sleep or time for
dreams. He shakes his prey brutally to begin the battle afresh. The
drive to live, the might of death! What a terrifying contest! Neither
wins the victory and once more silence reigns.”

Harsh blows of the brasses and a faster tempo signify the struggle
with death. Motives that describe this struggle, including a fast paced
version of the death motive from the opening, are battered about the
orchestra. Just as death is about to triumph we hear a glimpse
of the transfiguration theme presented in the harp, trombones, cellos
and violas, the ideal that can only be achieved after death. But death
has not yet come. The music settles again as calm returns to the room.

III. Meno mosso, ma sempre alla breve. “Exhausted from the battle,
sleepless, as in a delirium, the sick man now sees his life pass before him,
step by step, scene by scene. First the rosy dawn of childhood, radiant,
innocent; then the boy’s aggressive games, testing, building his
strength—and so maturing for the battles of manhood, to strive with
burning passion for the highest goals of life: to transfigure all that
seems to him most noble, giving it still more exalted form—this alone
has been the high aim of his whole existence. Coldly, scornfully, the
world set obstacle upon obstacle in his way. When he believed himself
near his goal, a thunderous voice cried: ‘Halt!’ But a voice within him
still urged him on, crying: ‘Make each hindrance a new rung in your
upward climb.’ Undaunted he followed the exalted quest. Still in his
death agony he seeks the unreached goal of his ceaseless striving,
seeks it, but alas, still in vain. Though it grows closer, clearer,
grander, it never can be grasped entire or perfected in his soul. The
final iron hammerblow of death rings out, breaks his earthy frame, and
covers his eyes with eternal night.”

This section begins quietly with solos traded throughout the orchestra
building to a more marchlike section that describes the man’s maturation
to adulthood. The orchestra swells, and at the high points of phrases we
hear the trombones and timpani proclaim the death motive. In the midst
of the chaos the transfiguration motive is also heard, signaling that the end
is near. Another outburst occurs, the final struggle with death, the storm
and fury of the orchestra dying away and capped off with the sound of the
gong, the death knell, announcing the soul’s departure.

IV. Moderato. “But from the endless realms of heavenly space a mighty
resonance returns to him bearing what he longed for here below and
sought in vain: redemption, transfiguration.”

Beginning quietly, the transfiguration theme is presented and is, itself,
transformed. The sound grows as instruments are added and the sound
climbs higher and higher, with all of the symbolic imagery implied, to
the uppermost reaches of the brass, woodwinds and strings. The work
ends peacefully and tranquilly, with death having won the battle but with
the soul’s deliverance and transformation surpassing all.

60 years later Strauss lying on his deathbed says to his sister that death was as I had composed it to be but he only got the dying part right.

1911 produced the opera Der Rosenkavalier (‘The Chevalier of the Rose’) which was a radical departure for Strauss, a comedy. Apparently he was bored writing serious music and for a change followed the path of Mozart although this was quite a bit different from something Amadeus would compose.

Arranged for suite in 1945 likely by the conductor Artur Rodzinski the suite plays all of the tunes we have grown to love and appreciate. As I close my eyes and listen I conjure up a Max Steiner movie from the ’40s. What an influence Strauss had on Hollywood.

While there are 5 parts and 25 minutes it is played with little pause between the movements. The strings are lush in all the right places and one can easily see why this was his most popular piece.

The Singapore Symphony has come a long way from the Marco Polo days of 30 years ago. It is a first class orchestra and the new recording on the BIS label certainly does them justice. The performance is bright and well paced a pleasant listening experience.







This soundtrack is from the Roger Corman film of 1990 and like his Poe movies of the ’60s from American International the story is quite different in what actually happened if you read the Poe version, which is quite short, you will see exactly what I am writing about. Corman first did the story in 1962 as part of “Tales of Terror,” a 20+ minute tale starring Vincent Price and Leona Gage. The music was by Les Baxter and with a little bit of hunting, I found it on YouTube.

In the 1990 version Morella meets and marries Gideon and the two of them live a life of recluse, reading books to each other which turns to occult material and as a result she is burned at the stake as a witch for trying out one of the experiments.  Before she is burned she has a daughter Leonora who turns out to be very much like  who he also loves as much as her mother. Her mother has other ideas which is taking over her soul.

There is a lesbian affair, heavy duty violence, and nudity is featured in parts, all of course to attract you to go and see the film. Some of the costumes such as the bikini are not period accurate. David McCallum, who seems to be lost, is featured in the role of Gideon, Nicole Eggert is Morella. Others are added to the cast which aren’t in the story to enhance the script.

The score takes advantage of Teetsel being able to arrange and orchestrate material which was then played by members of Arizona symphony groups to give it a full sound to the themes of Cirino which are quite good. The Main Title, included as a track in the review, fits the film so well with its pounding theme  repeated over and over again with timpani in the background, brass fanfare, clarinet solo. I can see why Jim Wynorski the director chose this particular theme for his film. I’ve heard this theme before just can’t remember where it came from. It is repeated on many of the tracks by different instruments  and could be considered as a monothematic soundtrack.

Within the score are some synth choir on Lenora’s Nightmare, Guy and the Tomb, The Diary, and Morella’s Sacrament which just enhance the tracks giving them more color and depth. There is a hint of a harpsichord in Gideon’s Eyes, something I wish was more prevalent on the entire score.

The key to the success of this soundtrack lies in the fact that it is melodic for the most part and the symphony members increase the number of musicians to a level of twenty-five or more giving this film far more than the usual synthesizer has to offer. There are real strings and brass which makes a difference. Set during a romantic period this is a romantic score which Teetsel weaves the horror references into it.


1. The Haunting of Morella: Main Title (6:38)
2. Gideon’s Eyes / Morella’s Portrait (1:48)
3. Goodnight Morella (0:58)
4. The Diary (4:30)
5. Not a Living Soul (1:32)
6. Don’t Leave, Don’t Go (4:10)
7. They Meet (2:30)
8. Lenora, Guy and the Tomb (7:20)
9. I Still Live (5:02)
10. Lenora’s Seduction (4:37)
11. Lenora’s Etude (2:39)
12. The Waterfall (2:39)
13. The Mirror (3:18)
14. Lenora’s Nightmare (3:10)
15. Morella’s Sacrement (1:24)
16. Another Victim (2:24)
17. Lenora Descends Into the Tomb (4:58)
18. Finale (3:54)
Total Time: 64:14