Richard Strauss's "Don Juan" Essay

3717 words - 15 pages

The literary hero Don Juan has been portrayed by several playwrights and composers over the last few centuries. Among the works created on this subject is Richard Strauss's symphonic tone poem Don Juan. This work is one among several of Strauss's programmatic pieces. Although the work did not have a specific program written out for it, Strauss employed programmatic techniques to create the personalities of the characters in the legend. The means Strauss used to create these personalities was developing the individual characters' melodic themes. The most obvious example of these melodies is found in the development of the secondary themes, or the "loves" themes. The secondary themes in Don ...view middle of the document...

Strauss invokes this style by slowing the tempo down from molto con brio to tranquillo, flexible. This slower and more rubato tempo creates the legato style by stretching out lengths of notes at certain points and speeding up other notes. For example, the melody is stated by the solo violin in measure ninety-two and ninety-three. The half note is tied over the bar line to the quarter note in ninety-three. The tie across the bar lengthens the duration and feel of the note. Following after are several quarter note triplets which are sped up gradually. This creates a rubato style. The triplets here also create the lilting feeling of compound meter instead of rigid duple meter, although the piece happens to be in cut-time. As the triplets are sped up, they seem to "fall" into the next sustained note. This portrays the Don "falling" in love with the beautiful woman who has captured his heart. A romantic feature that Strauss uses to develop the theme is chromaticism. Throughout this section of love theme one, there is a lot of upward chromatic motion. This upward motion creates a sense of reaching higher, a sense of desire and hope. This is the same idea that Wagner encompassed in Tristan and Isolde. During the scene where Tristan and Isolde start to realize they are both in love with each other, Wagner uses chromatic ascending lines to perpetuate the love melody. This same idiom is used in creating Strauss's first love theme. The chromatic lines in the first love theme of Don Juan lead the listener into an unbroken theme that continues for a while. This gives the listener some sense of the admiration that Don Juan has for his first love. As the theme begins to exit, the chromatic melodies begin to leave the main tonal center. This makes the melody seem as if it is fading in and out. This is comparable to Don Juan's overall love life. The women that Don Juan had ever loved had been in and out of his life continually and this is how Strauss depicts that facet of the legend, through the wavering chromatic lines. These are the ways in which the first love theme is developed. The second love theme is definitely one of Strauss's more programmatic themes in the piece. Unlike the first theme, it focuses less on Don Juan's introspective thoughts of a woman and more on the actual interplay between Don Juan and his second infatuation. This part of the story follows that Don Juan has triumphed over his first love that he "dropped". Now, the don is seeking the love of yet another woman who he does not care for so much as he is infatuated with her. The woman knows of Don Juan and keeps refusing him until the don moves on. The cellos start the melody in measure one hundred-ninety-seven. The low, mellow sound of the cellos are selected by Strauss to emphasize the low, manly voice of Don Juan as he seeks to win the love of this woman. The further emphasize Don Juan's boldness, Strauss creates syncopation in measure one hundred-ninety-eight in the melody. Syncopation...

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