In the realm of song, Richard Strauss was definitely the poet’s poet. His chief inspiration came from literary sources, and as soon as a line caught his eye, it immediately became associated with a musical idea in his mind. Then, he said, “I put it on paper and extend it to a paragraph of eight to 16 to 32 bars. ... After some maturing, it is gradually worked out into the final shape.” The result, in the words of one music historian, was “little marvels of caprice, iridescence, fiery ebullience and strong emotion.” It’s fitting, then, that Strauss’ adieu to music and life was “Four Last Songs,” set to Joseph von Eichendorf’s poem “Im Abend” (“At Sunset”), and Hermann Hesse’s “Spring,” “September” and “Going to Sleep.” All of these works share the common theme of death, always a preoccupation of the gloomy Teutonic mind, but “Four Last Songs” dispenses with the usual melancholy and sturm und Drang, instead exuding a comforting, almost transcendent sense of serenity and acceptance. This weekend, Grammy-winning American soprano Christine Brewer performs these gorgeous works with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the dynamic baton of the orchestra’s music director–designate, Gustavo Dudamel; the program also includes Györgi Ligeti’s majestically surreal Atmospheres, which you might remember from the score of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, on a more bucolic note, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral.”
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