Both the orchestral suites performed here illustrate the way Richard Strauss could look back to another age and musical character – the French Court of the 17th to 18th centuries – and adapt this to his own Romantic idiom of the early 20th century. Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87), who in 1670 composed his own music for Moliere's comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, was the starting-point for Strauss when he and the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal devised their first version of Ariadne aid Naxos (Dresden, 1912), as Moliere's play, followed by the opera which M. Jourdain provides for the entertainment of his dinner-guests.
Theatrically unwieldy in this form, the play and opera were then separated, the latter being given a snug Prologue to put it in the Moliere context (Vienna, 1916: this is the form in which Ariadne, auf Naxos is now usually heard). That left Strauss' incidental music written for the play. And he added some extra for a production (without the opera) at Berlin in 1918. From this music he then compiled the present Suite for chamber orchestra with a prominent piano part, first performed at Salzburg on 31 January 1920.
The Overture suggests the bustle in M. Jourdain's household, his own entry signalled by pompous woodwind and brass, and a more graceful sicilienne for oboe taken from the operatic Prologue. Two flutes lead the courtly Minuet, with music Strauss re-used from a ballet previously begun but abandoned. Die had Kythere. Brass and piano bring the Fencing Master into action, his vigorous swordplay quite discouraging his pupil Jourdain (drooping violin). A Gavotte (also from Kythere) serves the Tailors' Daum, with solo violin nimbly prominent and Jourdain', theme from the Overture now heard on trombones, indicating his awkwardness in his new finery.
The next three movements come directly from Lully. His Minuet composed for Where is here given modem harmonies, like the series of instrumental canons that make up the following Courante, and the sarabande-theme from a Lully ballet, George Dandin (1668), taken by Strauss for the Entrance of Cleonte, the suitor for the hand of Lucille, M. Jourdain', daughter in the play; Oronte's dressing-up in Turkish garb is also suggested. The Intermezzo Strauss composed in a pastiche of period style, originally as the Prelude to Act 2 of Anode, in its first version of 1912.
For the Dinner-music finale Strauss ingeniously complements the courses served to M. Jourdain's guests with various allusive quotations woven into the music: a Meyerbeer march turned upside-down for the entry of the waiters; Wagner's 'Rhine Motif for the fish course; the bleating sheep for Strauss' own D. Quixote for the saddle of the mutton; birdsong from Der Rosenkavalier for the dish of larks and thrushes. The culmination is an 'Omelette Surprise', from under the cover of which springs a kitchen boy to dance for the guests, and for which Strauss wrote one of his characteristic Viennese waltzes in the gayest of spirits.
The Dance Suite from Keyboard Pieces by Francois Couperin followed in 1923. Intended first as a concert work, Strauss arranged to have it performed by dancers of the Vienna Sure Opera Ballet in choreography by the ball-master Heinrich Kroller, given in the Redoutensaal of the Vienna Hofburg as part of the Fasching or Carnival 17 February 1923. Ina sense it was Strauss associating himself with the contemporary trend toward, 'neo-classicism' signalled in particular by Stravinsky and Pulcinella (1920). Strauss incorporated a harpsichord for the first time in this music and confined his orchestra to 30 players (Stravinsky had 33 for Pulcinella).
The eight movements of the Dance Suite are each based on two or more keyboard pieces by François Couperin (1668-1733) except for the final March, which uses only one. Strauss' method was to work over the keyboard writing in his own way, often keeping quite dose to Couperin but selecting only those parts of a piece that appealed to him or that would combine with others to form longer dance movements, a second piece sometimes supplying a middle section to contrast with the first. His ingenuity is notably successful in the Gavotte, reminiscent of that in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and in the virtuoso 'Wirbeltanz' ('Whirling Da—'), with the former based on five Couperin pieces and the latter on three.
Couperin gave many of his pieces descriptive title,, such as 'Le Turbulent' and 'Les Penes Moulins-i-vent' for two that Strauss took for his Wirbeltanz': the final March was defined by Couperin as 'Provençal Sailors'. Strauss keeps the jauntiness and combines it with a certain elegance, the March dying away into the distance. In 1941 Strauss added another six Couperin movements to the present Suite for an evening of Baroque dance at Munich's National Theatre, and these he published separately (with yet another three) as his Divertimento for Small Orchestra in 1942. - Nod Goodwin, 1988
Reviews"Leinsdorf was a superb Straussian, when he had the patience (I remember a Met Rosenkavalier that was rushed unconscionably). The orchestra is fresh and vital (their playing, I mean). The sound is very effective. Strauss based three works on Couperin and one on Lully (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme). The latter is readily available in fine recordings by Ormandy and Jarvi, but the Couperin suites are hard to find. (This is not the same as the Divertimento, either.) Some movements are nothing but modern harmonizations of the baroque originals. In the Dance Suite Strauss even retains the harpsichord as part of the texture (these were originally harpsichord pieces). In the BG he adds more music of his own, and it can sound quite Straussian. The ten-minute Dinner Music finale is a pastiche. He inverts a meyerbeer march for the entry of the waiters, quotes Wagner's Rhine motif for the fish course, the bleating sheep from his own Don Quixote for the lamb course, bird song from Rosenkavalier for the fowl course. It culminates in an 'Omelette Surprise' with a boy in it, who emerges to dance for the guests to a Strauss waltz (Richard, not Johann). A gay dinner party. Not commonplace music, and beautifully played and recorded. Welcome back." - ARG