The Structural and Dramatic Role of the Piano in Richard Strauss's Krämerspiegel, Op. 66
Although widely neglected in scholarship and performance, Richard Strauss’s song cycle Krämerspiegel is worthy of study primarily because of the unusual role of the piano accompaniment. The piano part in this cycle is unique in many ways: it possesses unusually long solo passages; it determines the compositional structure of both individual songs and the cycle as a whole; it articulates virtually every important theme within the cycle; and it assumes several personas throughout the cycle, the most powerful of which is the persona of Strauss himself. Strauss’s use of extended passages for solo piano clearly reflects the influence of Robert Schumann. Indeed, the solo passages for piano in Songs VIII and XII of Krämerspiegel pay direct homage to Dichterliebe’s postludes in the eighth and twelfth songs of that cycle; the fact that the final postlude of Krämerspiegel is in D-flat––the same key as the final postlude to Dichterliebe––is certainly no coincidence. Nevertheless, this study demonstrates that the piano takes on a far more prominent role in Krämerspiegel than in any of Schumann’s song cycles; in fact, the piano now is more important than the voice. For this reason, Krämerspiegel assumes an important place in the evolution of the lied accompaniment. This paper focuses in particular on the extended piano prelude to Song VIII and its varied return as the postlude to Song XII. This highly expressive music is clearly meant to evoke the “sublime”; as such it contrasts strikingly with the rest of the cycle, which is essentially a satirical attack on music publishers of Strauss’s time. It will be demonstrated that the Krämerspiegel theme embodies not only the struggle of the artist to overcome adversity, but also the timeless purity of art and music. At the end of his life, Strauss reprised this theme in his opera Capriccio, again reiterating these timeless aesthetic principles.
Keywords: Strauss, Schumann, Music, Krämerspiegel, Capriccio, Dichterliebe
Dr. Matthew Ryan Hoch
Assistant Professor of Music, Department of Music, Shorter College