“Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche” (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks), Op. 28, is a tone poem by Richard Strauss, chronicling the misadventures and pranks of the German peasant folk hero, Till Eulenspiegel. The two themes representing Till are played respectively by the horn and the D clarinet. The horn theme is a lilting melody that reaches a peak, falls downward, and ends in three long, loud notes, each progressively lower. The clarinet theme is crafty and wheedling, suggesting a trickster doing what he does best.
The work opens with a ‘Once upon a time’ theme, with solo horn bursting in with two repetitions of the first Till theme. The theme is taken by the rest of the orchestra in a rondo form (which Strauss spelled in its original form, rondeau), and this beginning section concludes with the tutti orchestra repeating two notes. The clarinet theme is heard next, suggesting Till’s laughter as he plots his next prank. The music follows Till throughout the countryside, as he rides a horse through a market, upsetting the goods and wares, pokes fun at the strict Teutonic clergy (represented by the violas), flirts and chases girls (the love theme is given to soli first violin), and mocks the serious academics (represented by the bassoons).
The music suggesting a horse ride returns again, with the first theme restated all over the orchestra, when the climax abruptly changes to a funeral march. Till has been captured by the authorities, and is sentenced to beheading for blasphemy. The funeral march of the headsman begins a dialogue with the desperate Till, who tries to wheedle and joke his way out of this predicament. Unfortunately, he has no effect on the stony executioner*, who hangs him. The progress of Till being hauled up the gallows is graphicaly painted by the D Clarinet with the death rattle being audible on the flutes after he has reached the top. The D clarinet wails in a distortion of the first theme, signifying his death scream, and a pizzicato by the strings represents the actual execution. After a moment of silence, the ‘once upon a time’ theme heard at the beginning returns, suggesting that someone like Till can never be destroyed, and the work ends with one last quotation of the musical joke.
Conductor: David Zinman & Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra