Austrian poet, dramatist and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) was one of the foremost writers in German of the early 20th century. His 23-year collaboration with composer Richard Strauss began in 1906 when Strauss adapted his 1903 play Elektra, and led to six original librettos including Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten.
Hofmannsthal was born in Vienna. As a boy he showed precocious literary gifts and by the age of 17 was renowned throughout German-speaking lands for his lyric poetry. He studied law in Vienna before devoting himself to literature. He emerged from a crisis in his mid-20s with a new belief in the possibilities of drama, combined with poetry and music, to serve a valuable role in society. This belief is evident in his librettos and in his greatest plays, including Jedermann (1912). He first approached Strauss in 1900 with a scenario for a ballet, Der Triumph der Zeit, but it was not until Elektra that their collaboration began; it would last until Hofmannsthal’s death. In 1920 he and Strauss with Max Reinhardt founded the Salzburg Festival, where Jedermann continues to be performed every year.
Hofmannsthal’s librettos (written exclusively for Strauss) share beautiful poetry, clarity of characterization and a far-reaching symbolism. His collaborations with Strauss are among the finest examples in opera’s history of works in which text and music are of equal artistry.
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