Director’s News

“Doc Talk”/ Class Lesson 4/20/2020

“DOC TALK”/CLASS LESSON – Monday, April 20, 2020


Video Link:


This “Doc Talk”/Lesson began with a recording of “Sunrise” from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss (made famous in the movie “2001:  A Space Odyssey”

Log into “Digital Concert Hall” for more great recordings and interviews by the Berlin Philharmonic.  It’s FREE and it’s a really cool source!



Please email/text me your grade from last week—along with a brief description of what you have been doing.  I am using this for your “attendance.”  Students that do not turn in a grade will be notified by the attendance office.



Monday:  Make something GOOD come out of this period of quarantine—it’s really up to YOU!

Tuesday:  What’s the Score???  Listen to music while watching the score…your EARS WILL REALLY GROW!

Wednesday:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!  Consider how you are making use of your practice time.  Even a half hour of focused practicing a day will keep you sharp.  There are so many online resources to explore!

Thursday:  “Symphonie Fantastique” (Berlioz)—the easiest symphony to enjoy!


TODAY’S LESSON:  “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks”—one of easiest tone-poems to enjoy, and some welcome HUMOR!


During the past weeks, I have been studying classical music that has incredible parts for woodwinds, brass and percussion.  Most of these works were written in the latter half of the 1800’s because most of the instruments used today were invented by that time.  The earliest such work—the pioneer–was the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz written in 1830.  From his memoirs, I can tell you that he had a heck of a time getting all the instruments that he needed for performances, and frequently had to substitute parts to make a performance work!  (Just like in our classes if we don’t have a certain instrument to play a part!)

By the latter half of the 1800’s, the instruments were more readily available so composers really filled their scores with color.  I’ve already mentioned the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).   Today we are going to talk about one of his contemporaries, another Germanic composer by the name of Richard Strauss (1864-1949).  There are A LOT of Strauss’s in Germany—like the name “Smith” or “Jones” in America.  And, there are a lot of musical Strauss’s in Germany!  The “Johann” Strauss’s are the waltz kings.  Richard Strauss wrote music in a more “serious” style.

Richard Strauss is most famous for a type of work called a “Tone-Poem.” This is a single movement work that is based on some time of story or “extra-musical” theme.  Whereas a symphony or concerto usually has a strong allegiance to a form (like sonata form, A-B-A, rondo form, etc.), a tone-poem’s “form” is usually narrative—that is, the events progress according to the story line.  The “Symphonie Fantastique” that we heard last week is kind of a hybrid between a symphony and tone-poem in that it does tell a story, but it contains many movements (not just 1) and the movements themselves follow a type of classical form.

Richard Strauss wrote many tone poems and they are all wonderful to listen to—orchestras LOVE playing them as well.  The easiest one to begin with is definitely his “lightest” work, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, op. 28” written in 1894-95–when the composer was 30 years old.


Here’s the story:

Till Eulenspiegel is the name of a character from German folklore who gets into all sorts of mischief.  History suggests that he may have been a real person who lived in the medieval period (last reference is from 1350).  He’s a little prankster…loveable, but a “wise-guy”—a charming rogue.  He is one who loves to follow his own path taking jabs at social conventions and pompous authority.  After stating the themes and motifs associated with Till, the tone-poem proceeds by running these ideas through all manner of disguises, moods and situations until Till is caught by the authorities, and sentenced to death!  Till is executed by being hung (wait until you hear the music for this!) and the work concludes with a short “Epilogue” that mourns the loss of this lovable imp and suggests that Till’s spirit will never die!


Musical Excerpts:

VERY BEGINNING: “Once Upon a Time” music; followed by “Till’s theme” (introduced by the French horn), and then the “prank motif” (introduced by the clarinet).  These themes and motifs occur throughout the work and function as a sort of “idee fixe” which will be associated with Till for the remainder of the piece…an idea that Strauss got from Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.”

FIRST PRANK:  Orchestral chaos—cartoon music!  Use of ratchet in percussion section.  Orchestral effects like “raspberries, running away, sneers, and laughter.

SECOND PRANK:  Till disguises himself as a friar and teaches vulgar sermons!

THIRD PRANK:  Till plays the role of a “Casanova” or “Don Juan” trying to seduce young ladies…but is ultimately rejected!  The Till theme is played in a romantic “swing” style…

FOURTH PRANK:  Till hangs out with a bunch of philistines (do-gooders in public; suck-ups, people that pretend to be above everyone else) and then sneers at them once he earns their confidence.

CAUGHT/SENTENCED/EXECUTED:  Listen to the tutti low sounds and Till’s mischievous motif answering.  Then the 2 big chords sounded in the brass that can depict either the final sentence (death) or the moment when he is hanged…

EPILOGUE:  A return to the beginning “Once Upon a Time” music…some of the most beautiful writing in the tone poem.  Very end is a return to the quick tempo and motifs that suggest that Till’s memory will last foreverJ


Historical Note:

Eulenspiegel in modern German means “owl glass,” or “owl mirror.”  The owl in medieval times was sometimes regarded as the Devil’s bird.  An early form of the word was “Ulenspeigel”—a slang command to “wipe one’s arse.”

Strauss wrote this work after he suffered the rejection of his first opera, “Guntram” in his hometown of Munich.  In the character of “Till,” Strauss pretends to play-out his anger at those close-minded individuals in society that reject anyone with new ideas or who seek to be more independent.



Watch/listen to the following links.

“Till Eulenspiegel” recording with score:

An analysis of “Till Eulenspiegel” – very cool!!!

Consider listening to and reading analyses of “Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40” (A Hero’s Life) which Strauss wrote as a sort of autobiography.

The work opens with another famous horn melody which becomes Strauss’ idee fixe, or his personal melody.  The piece works through various “scenes” including a section describing his adversaries (beginning with prickly fast woodwind passages; his companion (his wife) which features an extended violin solo; his battles throughout his life (the most fun section to listen to driven by percussion and offstage trumpet fanfares), a section that quotes his music from other pieces and finally a quieter section reflecting on his retirement.  The end of the work contains some of the most beautiful orchestral writing in the literature!

And finally, consider listening to other tone poems like Liszt’s “Les Preludes,” Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” or Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

So enjoyable—and really listen to what these composers write for woodwinds, brass and percussion!




Dr. Jerry Markoch, Director of Bands

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