Richard Strauss’ Four Symphonic Interludes from “Intermezzo”
Notes by TŌN cellist Jihyun Hwang
Richard Strauss’ opera Intermezzo was completed in the year 1923 and premiered in Dresden a year later. It is the only opera for which Strauss wrote his own libretto, typically preferring to outsource them to other librettists and writers at the time. This opera is based on real-life events within the Strauss couple’s lives. Unknown to Richard, a love letter addressed to him (yet actually intended for a conductor known as Joseph Stransky who had the nickname of “Straussky”) had fallen into Pauline Strauss’ hands and she was all but ready to file for a divorce. After clarifying what had occurred to his wife, this incident became the basis for Strauss’ two-act opera Intermezzo. Strauss intended for Intermezzo to serve as a “conversation piece,” serving much the same purpose as comedy acts making fun of the domestic incidents of everyday life. However, Strauss felt the need for purely instrumental music to take over at times to help flesh out the story and setting of the opera.
The first interlude, titled “Travel Fever and Waltz Scene,” describes the conductor Robert Storch (a stand-in for Strauss himself) departing home for a series of performances following a heated argument with his wife. Robert’s wife, Christine, decides to attend a party in which she meets a handsome Baron, with whom she later attends a ball. She then opens a love letter she thinks is addressed to her husband, seeking marriage. In a rage, she telegrams her husband, seeking divorce. In the second interlude, “Dreaming by the Fireside,” Christine is seen sitting in her living room thinking about the charming Baron, yet her thoughts return to her husband, the man she truly loves despite their occasional spats. The third interlude, “At the Card Table,” is the beginning of Act 2 and shows Storch receiving his incensed wife’s telegram while playing his favorite card game. In fact, the shuffling of the cards is audible in the movement. Just in the nick of time, Storch is absolved by one of his conductor friends, Stroh, who is sure the letter she has discovered had actually been intended for him. The fourth interlude shows Storch being vindicated of wrongdoing by his wife and joyfully returning home. These interludes are some of the best music in the opera, and perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere of the piece. They have gone on to be some of Strauss’ most celebrated works.