Allegro moderato – Andante – Rondo. Allegro ma non troppo
A journalist asked the 83 year old Richard Strauss (1864.1849) during his visit to London in 1947, what he planned for the future. “Well, to die!” came the answer. Strauss regarded his oeuvre as having reached its conclusion with his opera Capriccio, completed in 1941, and although he wrote a few more works – some of them of great importance – he regarded them as just finger exercises. During the war years, Strauss withdrew from public life, devoting himself to the writings of Goethe and Wagner. The eventual destruction of Goethe's homeland, as well as the Dresden, Munich and Vienna operas, threw him into great despair. His composition of 1945, Metamorphosen for 23 string instruments is surely one of the saddest works in musical literature and it is a direct expression of Strauss's depression. The later wind concertos, his finger exercises, (the Horn Concerto no 2, the Oboe Concerto) hint at a new outlook on life, and are further evidence of the amazing musicality of Richard Strauss who composed his first compositions at the age of 6 and his final works at the age of 85.
The plan for the Duet Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and string orchestra, was conceived in 1947, during his English trip. On his return journey in October, Strauss committed a few sketches to paper, which he judged as “gut Skizze” which was always a good sign with this composer! By the end of November, the composition was complete. His orchestration evokes the world of the Baroque concerto grosso: five section leaders frequently take solo roles and seven soloists confront the orchestral, supplemented with a harp. The formal construction of the composition is unusual: the fragmented first movement which gives the principal role to the clarinet is followed without a break by the second, which seems incomplete, but places the bassoon centre stage. These two brief movements are completely obscured by the eloquent Rondo which follows, giving both soloists the same weight. The Duet Concertino uses the post-Romantic musical language which Strauss never abandoned: he never felt that historical imperatives should force him to embrace atonality. His modernity stood in rejecting, using Wagner's musical language the very philosophy which created it. His music almost always takes its starting point from a programme or some extra-musical phenomenon or text, but ultimately, all we are left with is pure self-contained music. Strauss was a stranger to the ideal of Romantic art which was removed from the cares of the real world. For him, composition was an every day activity, a way of paying the bills. Originally, the Duet Concertino was to have followed an Anderson tale, but during work on the composition, Strauss rejected this. However, there are still traces of the fairy tale perceptible in the first entry of the bassoon: in this tale, the prince wishing to marry the princess enters the royal palace disguised as a swineherd. The shock of the clarinet, embodying the princess, can be sensed with the appearance of the bassoon-prince-swineherd. The analogy here collapses because Strauss lost interest in the story and proceeds following purely musical principals.
The composition was dedicated to Hugo Burghauser, a bassoonist at the Vienna Philharmonic. He was an old friend of Strauss's and was informed by letter the moment Strauss began composing: “I am powerfully occupied with the idea of a double concerto for clarinet and bassoon, and I am continually thinking of the marvellous sound of your playing. Perhaps it will interest you. My father always said Mozart wrote the most beautifully for bassoon. But then he wrote the most beautifully for all the instruments, didn't he?” Strauss, who happily called himself the Mozart of the 20th century, followed in the footsteps of his idol with this work – and acquits himself well.