Don Juan, Op. 20 is a symphonic poem by Richard Strauss which premiered in Weimar in 1889, when the composer was only 25 years old. And yet, the work is by no means juvenile, nor frivolous, in its reprise of the legend of the libertine par excellence (just think of Mozart’s Don Giovanni as a reference); on the contrary, the frenetic research for the perfect woman slowly leads Don Juan to despair—the despair of an inevitable defeat—and the loss of all will to live. Besides, the poet Nikolaus Lenau, whose verses inspired Strauss’ Don Juan, went mad shortly after writing his poem, as if he had interiorised all the negative existential charge of the character Don Juan…
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In contrast to Mozart, who made Spanish writer Tirso de Molina’s story a long opera in two acts (his famous Don Giovanni), Richard Strauss made it a symphonic poem lasting around 15 minutes. Don Juan is one of the first symphonic works by the composer (preceding Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra, and also his major operas, such as Der Rosenkavalier); and yet, Don Juan already shows Strauss’ perfect mastery of the art of composition. Musicologists Bryan Gilliam and Charles Youmans wrote that Don Juan gives proof of “a dazzling orchestration of very distinctive themes, of a unique structure.” The writer Carl Dahlhaus, for his part, has identified in Don Juan’s structure “the musical symbol of modernism of the end of the century!” And thus, the joyless libertinism of Don Juan becomes the symbol of modernity mesmerized by the seductive glow of material goods… Come and discover Richard Strauss’ Don Juan on medici.tv!