Japanese Festival Music

Japanese Festival Music was the 75-year-old Richard Strauss’s last work for a large orchestra. It is incidental music and was commissioned by the Japanese government in 1940 to mark the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese Empire. The orchestra comprises, among other instruments, 8 horns, 7 trumpets, 8 trombones, two harps and an organ, as well as numerous percussion instruments. Although the completed score has no indication of this, Richard Strauss’s sketches reveal that the work consists of five sections: Seascape – Cherry Blossom Festival – Volcanic Eruption – Attack of the Samurai – Hymn of the Emperor. Although these scenes follow one another without interruption, and are occasionally joined by connecting passages of varying length, the character of the music and the amply applied illustrative elements make the Japanese-associated phenomena and events readily identifiable, including the waves of the sea, the wonderful natural image of the cherry blossom festival, resplendent in colours and with the chirruping of birds, the ‘lifelike’ portrayal, by means of ominous timpani tremolo, of the repeated eruption of the volcano, or the samurai attack in the form of a lively fugato.