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The A-Z of Richard Strauss: U is for Unheimlich

So uncanny ('Unheimlich' in German) were Strauss's expressive skills, that he boasted he could even describe a knife and fork in music.

By Gavin Plumley (Guest author. Classical music blogger)

30 June 2014 at 12.22pm | Comment on this article

Unheimlich is German for uncanny.

It is a word that appears in the librettos for many of Richard Strauss’s operas, including Elektra, and it is a fitting word to describe the many eerie orchestral effects Strauss created to tell these stories in microscopic orchestral detail. Flutter-tonguing woodwind and brass depict a flock of sheep in his tone poem Don Quixote, the wind audibly howls and haunts Herod in Salome, the ‘silver rose’ music of Der Rosenkavalier glitters, and we hear Daphne’s transformation from nymph to laurel tree as much as see it.

Interestingly, given the Freudian themes of Die Frau ohne Schatten, The uncanny is also a psychoanalytic concept describing an instance where something can be both familiar and yet alien at the same time, causing cognitive dissonance and a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange.

So proud was Strauss of his expressive skills with the orchestra, that the composer boasted that he could even describe a knife and fork in music!

View other posts in our weekly Richard Strauss A-Z series.

2014 sees the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth. The composer is celebrated at the ROH with stagings of Die Frau ohne Schatten (which ran until 2 April 2014) and Ariadne auf Naxos (25 June-13 July). Tickets for Ariadne auf Naxos are still available.

By Gavin Plumley (Guest author. Classical music blogger)

30 June 2014 at 12.22pm

This article has been categorised Music and tagged conducting, orchestra, Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Strauss A-Z, tone poem

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