Chapter 21

Chapter 21: Music in the Later Nineteenth Century: Europe, Nationalism, and the Classical Tradition in America

Composer Biographies

Richard Strauss

Born: June 11, 1864, Munich, Germany

Died: September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

German composer and conductor. Strauss wrote in nearly every genre, but is best known for his tone poems and operas.

Richard Strauss was the most clearly programmatic composer of the nineteenth century, and he used the freedoms of musical pictorialism to create sounds that bring us into the twentieth century. While many of his works have Classical underpinnings, they are driven by descriptive techniques. Strauss exploits these techniques to create musical representations ranging from bleating sheep to the transfiguration of the human soul.

Strauss was composing by the age of six, having received basic instruction from his father, a virtuoso horn player. This was, however, his only formal training. The elder Strauss instilled in his son a love of the Classical composers, and his early works follow in their path. Strauss's first symphony premiered when he was seventeen, his second (in New York) when he was twenty. By that time, Strauss had directed his energies toward conducting, and in 1885, he succeeded Hans von Bülow as conductor of the orchestra in Meiningen. For the next forty years, he conducted orchestras in Munich, Weimar, Berlin, and Vienna.

As a conductor, Strauss had a unique vantage point from which to study the workings of the orchestra. From this vantage point, he developed a sense for orchestration that was unrivaled. He immediately put this sense to use in a series of orchestral pieces that he called "tone poems," including Macbeth (1888), Don Juan (1888Ð89), Tod und Verklärung (1889), Till Eulenspeigels lustige Streiche (1895), and Don Quixote (1897). These works are intensely programmatic, and in the last two Strauss elevated descriptive music to a level not approached since the techniques of text painting in use during the Renaissance. He also used his knowledge of orchestral techniques to produce a revised version of Hector Berlioz's important orchestration treatise; this edition remains a standard to this day.

After the turn of the century, Strauss began to shift his focus to opera. With his principal librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, he created two forward-looking and shocking works: Salome, based on Oscar Wilde's controversial play, and Elektra, Hoffmannsthal's version of the classical Greek tragedy. In these works, intense emotions and often lurid narrative elicited a more daring and demanding musical language full of extreme chromaticism and harsh timbres. But with his next opera, Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss seems to have left this aside, turning to a more focused, almost neoclassical approach in his later works. With this, Strauss settled into a comfortable place in German musical society, perhaps too comfortable, given his willingness to acquiesce to the artistic maneuverings of the rising Nazi regime. In the end, he broke with the Nazis on moral grounds and died virtually penniless in the aftermath of the Second World War.


  • Orchestral music, including symphonic poems (Macbeth, 1888; Don Juan, 1888Ð89; Tod und Verklärung, Death andTransfiguration, 1889; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, 1895; Also sprach Zarathustra, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896; Don Quixote, 1897; and Ein Heldenleben, A Hero's Life, 1898), 2 symphonies (Domestic, 1903; and Alpine, 1915); and 3 concertos (2 for horn and 1 for oboe)
  • 15 operas, including Salome (1905), Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (The Cavalier of the Rose, 1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), and Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman, 1935)
  • horal works, with and without orchestra, and chamber works

Back to top

Musical Examples

Click on the songs to listen:

Back to top


  • A General Biography
    A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes a picture gallery and information on Strauss's works.
    A clearinghouse for information about Strauss, his music, and current performances. Still under construction, but already contains useful material.

Amy Marcy Beach

Born: September 5, 1867, Henniker, New Hampshire

Died: December 27, 1944, New York, New York

In her own words . . .

"The women composers of today have advanced in technique, resourcefulness, and force, and even the younger composers have achieved some effects which the great masters themselves would never have dared to attempt. The present composers are getting away more and more from the idea that they must cater to the popular taste, and in expressing their individual ideas, are giving us music of real worth and beauty."

American composer and pianist. She was the first significant female composer in America and one of the leading composers of the New England school

By all measures, young Amy Marcy Cheney was a true prodigy. At one year she knew forty songs, always singing them at the same pitch. By age two, she could improvise a countermelody to any melody her mother sang, and at age four, she not only read four-part hymns at sight, but also wrote her first pieces in her head and then sat down and played them on the piano. She began piano study at age six with her mother, and then studied with the finest pianists in Boston. She made her debut at sixteen, and in 1885, played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

From this point on, her career was influenced greatly by society's views of women. It was suggested that her desire to study composition would best be served by independent study, in part because of the belief that women composed based on feeling rather than intellect. When she married the physician and amateur musician Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in 1885, he asked that she limit her concertizing to a few performances a year. Because of this, she focused on composition. After his death in 1910, she resumed her concert career in Europe and in the United States.

These obstracles all had an effect on her musical development, and the results can be seen as both positive and negative. Her natural abilities made self-study a viable avenue (she learned orchestration, for example, by translating the famous treatise by Hector Berlioz). At the same time, her lack of formal training probably accounts for the fact that much of her music borrows stylistic elements from contemporary composers. Her husband's desire that she not make a career as a performer may have curtailed that aspect of her professional life, but it allowed her the rare luxury (for both men and women) of full-time compositional activity.

The body of work that Beach produced stands out for its size as well as its quality. She also stands out as the first woman to master larger forms. Her Symphony in E (Gaelic) demonstrates this and is one of the first works by an American to answer Antonin Dvorak's challenge to use national themes in compositions. Beach believed that since a large percentage of Boston's citizens were of Irish descent, Gaelic music would be the most representative source to draw upon. Many of her works have remained popular in this century, and her music is receiving a fairer reevaluation as a result of general interest in the music of women and the special circumstances of its creation.


  • Orchestral music, including the Symphony in E (Gaelic, 1896) and Piano Concerto (1899)
  • 1 opera, Cabildo (1932)
  • Chamber music, including a violin sonata (1896), piano quintet (1907), string quartet (1929), and piano trio (1938)
  • Choral music, including many sacred works (the Mass in E-flat, 1890; Festival Jubilate, 1891; anthems; and hymns) and secular choral works (The Song of Welcome, 1898 and The Chambered Nautilus, 1907)
  • More than 120 songs for voice and piano, including Five Songs to Words by Robert Burns (1899) and Three Browning Songs (1900)
  • A concert aria for voice and orchestra, Eilende Wolken (Racing Clouds, 1892)
  • Keyboard music, including character pieces (The Hermit Thrush at Morn and The Hermit Thrush at Eve, 1921), Suite for Two Pianos on Old Irish Melodies (1924), and sets of variations
  • Numerous articles on composition and pedagogical topics

Back to top

Musical Examples

Click on the songs to listen:

Back to top


  • Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, New Hampshire Composer
    An online exhibit from the University of New Hampshire. This site features a good biography and numerous photos and examples of Beach's music, along with other primary documents pertaining to Beach's life and career.
Print This Page
Bookmark and Share

The Norton Gradebook

Instructors and students now have an easy way to track online quiz scores with the Norton Gradebook.

Go to the Norton Gradebook

Special offer for Met Opera On Demand