29 Jun 2023

STRAUSS: Concerto for Oboe & Orchestra

by Jeff Counts

Imagine the scene. It is May 1945, the first moments of peace in Europe, and an American GI is temporarily at loose ends in the Bavarian town of Garmisch. He, like others who left lives of music to serve their country, has heard that none other than Richard Strauss lives nearby and, through a mutual friend, pays the old master a visit. That soldier was John de Lancie, former Principal Oboe of the Pittsburgh Symphony and eventual Director of the Curtis Institute of Music. De Lancie brought a young man’s courage to that fateful meeting and suggested that Strauss consider a concerto for his instrument, given how beautifully the composer wrote for it in his tone poems and operas. Strauss said no without hesitation but was not able to shake the notion. He began sketching out a concerto within weeks and had a score ready the following September. The American premiere was, of course, offered to de Lancie but the first performance on our shores was actually given by Mitch Miller (yes, the man from “Sing Along with Mitch”) in 1948. De Lancie wouldn’t get is chance until 1964 and, by then, he likely wondered if oboists the world over were cursing his name. They all loved the lyrical, unapologetically romantic music but also greatly feared the concerto’s opening, with its fifty-seven measures of uninterrupted playing that tested their lungs like never before. The Oboe Concerto is standard repertoire now, despite its demands, and it provides yet another post-war proof point (like Metamorphosen and the Four Last Songs) that Strauss, in his 80s, was still very much in his compositional prime.                 

Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss