Horn Concerto No. 2
solo horn, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
II. Andante con moto
III. Rondo: Allegro molto
Composed 1942. First performance: 11 August 1943, Salzburg Festival. Gottfried von Freiberg, horn. Vienna Philharmonic. Karl Böhm, conductor.
Richard Strauss was another inheritor of Beethoven’s symphonic estate, and for awhile he worked the rich vein of large-scale works he called “tone poems.” These pieces were often cyclical and blended the symphonic principles Beethoven had helped establish into a cohesive single movement. His operas were even more inventive, embracing Wagnerian leitmotiv and also the dissonance and harmonic ambiguity the were hallmarks of new music in turn-of-the-century Vienna. In his second horn concerto, however, we hear Strauss near the end of his career, responding to tradition in a radically different way.
In this work, premiered at the 1943 Salzburg Festival, Strauss reached around the influence of Beethoven, calling back instead to Mozart. Strauss had helped to found the Salzburg Festival in 1920 with his sometime librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and director Max Reinhardt. By the 1943 Festival, Strauss was the only founder left. Hofmannsthal was long deceased and Reinhardt, as a Jewish artist, had emigrated in 1938 and was living in the United States. At a time when he was also worried for Jewish family and friends, but also his own career and health, Strauss’s horn concerto might be heard as an escapist fantasy. Yet it is also a site-specific work, in that the Salzburg Festival had always venerated Mozart's music. In fact Strauss himself conducted an all-Mozart concert with the Vienna Philharmonic that summer.
More pastoral in tone than a tour-de-force, this concerto demands agility from the soloist. Strauss dedicated the work to his father, who had been a horn player in the Munich Court Opera, which might also explain some of the nostalgic sounds. The fanfare of the first movement is a highly traditional horn call, but it quickly devolves into a sweet pastoral tune with murmuring accompaniment from the strings. This is both sides of the horn as a voice in the classic style: the bolder military or hunting instrument, but also the folkloric and melodic. The second movement has the character of a lullaby, with its series of tranquil woodwind solos. Gentle dynamic waves keep the music moving, with the horn occasionally helping push a swell into a peak. The rondo finale alternates between boisterous, as in the galloping hunting call from the horn at the beginning, and longer sweeping lines. Throughout this concerto leans toward the lyric rather than the heroic.