Four Last Songs
The Four Last Songs for soprano
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...

 and orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

 were the final completed works of Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

, composed in 1948
1948 in music
-Events:*May 20 - The Second International Congress of Composers and Music Critics 1948 opens in Prague.*June 5 - Opening of the first Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten, Eric Crozier and Peter Pears....

 when the composer was 84. Strauss did not live to hear the premiere, given at the Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall situated on the northern edge of the South Kensington area, in the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941....

 in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 on 22 May 1950 by the soprano Kirsten Flagstad
Kirsten Flagstad
Kirsten Målfrid Flagstad was a Norwegian opera singer and a highly regarded Wagnerian soprano...

 accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra
The Philharmonia Orchestra is one of the leading orchestras in Great Britain, based in London. Since 1995, it has been based in the Royal Festival Hall. In Britain it is also the resident orchestra at De Montfort Hall, Leicester and the Corn Exchange, Bedford, as well as The Anvil, Basingstoke...

 conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler
Wilhelm Furtwängler
Wilhelm Furtwängler was a German conductor and composer. He is widely considered to have been one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century. By the 1930s he had built a reputation as one of the leading conductors in Europe, and he was the leading conductor who remained...


The songs are "Frühling" (Spring), "September", "Beim Schlafengehen" (Going to sleep) and "Im Abendrot" (At sunset).


Strauss had come across the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff was a German poet and novelist of the later German romantic school.Eichendorff is regarded as one of the most important German Romantics and his works have sustained high popularity in Germany from production to the present day.-Life:Eichendorff was born at Schloß...

, which he felt had a special meaning for him. He set its text to music in May 1948. Strauss had also recently been given a copy of the complete poems of Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature...

, and he set three of them – Frühling, September, and Beim Schlafengehen – for soprano and orchestra. (According to Arnold
The Oxford Companion to Music
The Oxford Companion to Music is a music reference book in the series of Oxford Companions produced by the Oxford University Press. It was originally conceived and written by Percy Scholes and published in 1938. Since then, it has undergone two distinct rewritings, one by Denis Arnold, in 1983,...

, a fifth song was unfinished at Strauss' death.)

There is no indication that Strauss conceived these songs as a unified set. In dictionaries published as late as 1954, the three Hesse songs were still listed as a group, separate from the earlier Eichendorff setting. The overall title Four Last Songs was provided by his friend Ernst Roth, the chief editor of Boosey & Hawkes
Boosey & Hawkes
Boosey & Hawkes is a British music publisher purported to be the largest specialist classical music publisher in the world. Until 2003, it was also a major manufacturer of brass, string and wind musical instruments....

. It was Roth who categorized them as a single unit with the title Four Last Songs, and put them into the order that most performances now follow: Frühling, September, Beim Schlafengehen, Im Abendrot.

It has been reasoned by Timothy L. Jackson that the song Ruhe, meine Seele!
Ruhe, meine Seele!
Ruhe, meine Seele!, Op. 27 No. 1, is the first in a set of four songs composed by Richard Strauss in 1894. It was originally for voice and piano, and not orchestrated by Strauss until 1948, after he had completed one of his Four Last Songs "Im Abendrot"...

should join the other four as a prelude to Im Abendrot.

Subject matter

The songs deal with death and were written shortly before Strauss himself died. However, instead of the typical Romantic
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 defiance, these Four Last Songs are suffused with a sense of calm, acceptance, and completeness.

The settings are for a solo soprano voice given remarkable soaring melodies against a full orchestra, and all four songs have prominent horn parts. The combination of a beautiful vocal line with supportive brass accompaniment references Strauss's own life: His wife Pauline de Ahna
Pauline de Ahna
Pauline Maria de Ahna was a German operatic soprano. She is best remembered today as the wife of composer Richard Strauss who wrote several of his works for her.-Biography:...

 was a famous soprano and his father Franz Strauss
Franz Strauss
Franz Joseph Strauss was a German musician. He was a composer, a virtuoso horn player and accomplished performer on the guitar, clarinet and viola...

 a professional horn player.

1. "Frühling"

(Text: Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse
Hermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature...


In dämmrigen Grüften

träumte ich lang

von deinen Bäumen und blauen Lüften,

Von deinem Duft und Vogelsang.

Nun liegst du erschlossen

In Gleiß und Zier

von Licht übergossen

wie ein Wunder vor mir.

Du kennst mich wieder,

du lockst mich zart,

es zittert durch all meine Glieder

deine selige Gegenwart!

In shadowy crypts

I dreamt long

of your trees and blue skies,

of your fragrance and birdsong.

Now you appear

in all your finery,

drenched in light

like a miracle before me.

You recognize me,

you entice me tenderly.

All my limbs tremble at

your blessed presence!

Composed: July 20, 1948

2. "September"

(Text: Hermann Hesse)

Der Garten trauert,

kühl sinkt in die Blumen der Regen.

Der Sommer schauert

still seinem Ende entgegen.

Golden tropft Blatt um Blatt

nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum.

Sommer lächelt erstaunt und matt

In den sterbenden Gartentraum.

Lange noch bei den Rosen

bleibt er stehn, sehnt sich nach Ruh.

Langsam tut er

die müdgeword'nen Augen zu.

The garden is in mourning.

Cool rain seeps into the flowers.

Summertime shudders,

quietly awaiting his end.

Golden leaf after leaf falls

from the tall acacia tree.

Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,

at his dying dream of a garden.

For just a while he tarries

beside the roses, yearning for repose.

Slowly he closes

his weary eyes.

Composed: September 20, 1948

3. "Beim Schlafengehen"

("Going to sleep")
(Text: Hermann Hesse)

Nun der Tag mich müd gemacht,

soll mein sehnliches Verlangen

freundlich die gestirnte Nacht

wie ein müdes Kind empfangen.

Hände laßt von allem Tun

Stirn vergiß du alles Denken,

Alle meine Sinne nun

wollen sich in Schlummer senken.

Und die Seele unbewacht

will in freien Flügen schweben,

um im Zauberkreis der Nacht

tief und tausendfach zu leben.

Now that I am wearied of the day,

my ardent desire shall friendly receive

the starry night

like a sleepy child.

Hands, stop all your work.

Brow, forget all your thinking.

All my senses now

yearn to sink into slumber.

And my unfettered soul

wishes to soar up freely

into night's magic sphere

to live there deeply and thousandfold.

Composed: August 4, 1948

4. "Im Abendrot"

("At sunset")
(Text: Joseph von Eichendorff)

Wir sind durch Not und Freude

gegangen Hand in Hand;

vom Wandern ruhen wir

nun überm stillen Land.

Rings sich die Täler neigen,

es dunkelt schon die Luft.

Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen

nachträumend in den Duft.

Tritt her und laß sie schwirren,

bald ist es Schlafenszeit.

Daß wir uns nicht verirren

in dieser Einsamkeit.

O weiter, stiller Friede!

So tief im Abendrot.

Wie sind wir wandermüde--

Ist dies etwa der Tod?

We have gone through sorrow and joy

hand in hand;

Now we can rest from our wandering

above the quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow;

the air is growing darker.

Just two skylarks soar upwards

dreamily into the fragrant air.

Come close to me, and let them flutter.

Soon it will be time for sleep.

Let us not lose our way

in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,

so deep at sunset!

How weary we are of wandering---

Is this perhaps death?

Composed: May 6, 1948


The songs are scored for piccolo
The piccolo is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written...

, 3 flutes (3rd doubling 2nd piccolo
The piccolo is a half-size flute, and a member of the woodwind family of musical instruments. The piccolo has the same fingerings as its larger sibling, the standard transverse flute, but the sound it produces is an octave higher than written...

), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinet
The clarinet is a musical instrument of woodwind type. The name derives from adding the suffix -et to the Italian word clarino , as the first clarinets had a strident tone similar to that of a trumpet. The instrument has an approximately cylindrical bore, and uses a single reed...

s in B-flat and A, bass clarinet
Bass clarinet
The bass clarinet is a musical instrument of the clarinet family. Like the more common soprano B clarinet, it is usually pitched in B , but it plays notes an octave below the soprano B clarinet...

, 2 bassoon
The bassoon is a woodwind instrument in the double reed family that typically plays music written in the bass and tenor registers, and occasionally higher. Appearing in its modern form in the 19th century, the bassoon figures prominently in orchestral, concert band and chamber music literature...

s, contrabassoon
The contrabassoon, also known as the double bassoon or double-bassoon, is a larger version of the bassoon, sounding an octave lower...

, 4 horn
Horn (instrument)
The horn is a brass instrument consisting of about of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. A musician who plays the horn is called a horn player ....

s in F (also E-flat and D), 3 trumpet
The trumpet is the musical instrument with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpets are among the oldest musical instruments, dating back to at least 1500 BCE. They are played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which starts a standing wave vibration in the air...

s in C, E-flat and F, 3 trombone
The trombone is a musical instrument in the brass family. Like all brass instruments, sound is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column inside the instrument to vibrate...

s, tuba
The tuba is the largest and lowest-pitched brass instrument. Sound is produced by vibrating or "buzzing" the lips into a large cupped mouthpiece. It is one of the most recent additions to the modern symphony orchestra, first appearing in the mid-19th century, when it largely replaced the...

, timpani
Timpani, or kettledrums, are musical instruments in the percussion family. A type of drum, they consist of a skin called a head stretched over a large bowl traditionally made of copper. They are played by striking the head with a specialized drum stick called a timpani stick or timpani mallet...

, harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

, celesta
The celesta or celeste is a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. Its appearance is similar to that of an upright piano or of a large wooden music box . The keys are connected to hammers which strike a graduated set of metal plates suspended over wooden resonators...

, and string
String instrument
A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...


Cultural references

In Philip Roth
Philip Roth
Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained fame with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, an irreverent and humorous portrait of Jewish-American life that earned him a National Book Award...

's Exit Ghost
Exit Ghost
Exit Ghost is a 2007 novel by Philip Roth. It is the ninth, and Roth says his last, novel featuring Nathan Zuckerman.-Plot summary:The plot centers on Zuckerman's return home to New York after eleven years in New England. The purpose of Zuckerman's journey, which he takes the week before the 2004 U.S...

, he suggests the Four Last Songs as the ideal music for a scene his character has written:
Music: Strauss' Four Last Songs. For the profundity that is achieved not by complexity but by clarity and simplicity. For the purity of the sentiment about death and parting and loss. For the long melodic line spinning out and the female voice soaring and soaring. For the repose and composure and gracefulness and the intense beauty of the soaring. For the ways one is drawn into the tremendous arc of heartbreak. The composer drops all masks and, at the age of eighty-two, stands before you naked. And you dissolve.

The composition was referenced in the English film "Four Last Songs" (2007).

Referenced in at least two of the Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse
Inspector Morse is a fictional character in the eponymous series of detective novels by British author Colin Dexter, as well as the 33-episode 1987–2000 television adaptation of the same name, in which the character was portrayed by John Thaw. Morse is a senior CID officer with the Thames Valley...

 novels by Colin Dexter
Colin Dexter
Norman Colin Dexter, OBE, is an English crime writer, known for his Inspector Morse novels which were written between 1975 and 1999 and adapted as a television series from 1987 to 2000.-Early life and career:...

, as one of Morse's favorite pieces of music.

The third of the four songs, Beim Schlafengehen, is playing quite loudly as Meryl Streep's character Clarissa Vaughn is preparing for a party in the film "The Hours
The Hours (film)
The Hours is a 2002 drama film directed by Stephen Daldry, and starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. The screenplay by David Hare is based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title by Michael Cunningham....

". It is a favorite of the actress's who played it often on the set of the film while preparing for the role.

The beginning of Im Abendrot appears in the soundtrack of David Lynch's film "Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart (film)
Wild at Heart is a 1990 American film written and directed by David Lynch, and based on Barry Gifford's 1989 novel Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula. Both the book and the film revolve around Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune , a young couple from Cape Fear, North Carolina who go on...


Beim Schlafengehen is featured in Peter Weir's film "The Year of Living Dangerously"
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