For Richard Strauss (1864–1949) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the librettist for his 1911 opera Der Rosenkavalier, the golden age of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was synonymous with their youth. Just as different time periods can slip into each other in one’s memories of the past, so too do different eras, styles, fashions and fictional and actual people end up mixed up together in this opera, like an image in a kaleidoscope.
In 1945, decades of widely shared enthusiasm for his opera led Strauss to rework a few excerpts from it for a smaller number of instrumentalists, which he compiled as an independent orchestral suite. The Rosenkavalier Suite provides a compelling cross-section of the music from the work, flowing as it did with the smoothness of “oil and melted butter”. The first movement consists of the entrance of Octavian, the knight of the rose, and his ensuing duet with Sophie, while the second is the waltz of Baron Ochs. The tenor aria from the first act makes up the third movement, with the fourth and fifth movements treating, respectively, the breakfast scene from the first act and the trio sung by the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. Finally, the sixth movement concludes the suite with the closing duet of Sophie and Octavian.