Strauss: The Complete Songs, Vol. 6 – Elizabeth Watts
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No 01: Es war einmal ein Bock
No 02: Einst kam der Bock als Bote
No 03: Es liebte einst ein Hase
No 04: Drei Masken sah ich am Himmel stehn
No 05: Hast du ein Tongedicht vollbracht
No 06: O lieber Künstler sei ermahnt
No 07: Unser Feind ist, grosser Gott
No 08: Von Händlern wird die Kunst bedroht
No 09: Es war mal eine Wanze
No 10: Die Künstler sind die Schöpfer
No 11: Die Händler und die Macher
No 12: O Schröpferschwarm, o Händlerkreis
The publishers retaliated by creating a rival organization whose main purpose was to oppose the efforts of Strauss and his associates. One of their leading members was the house of Bote & Bock, the publishers of the Sinfonia Domestica, to whom Strauss had also assigned his Opus 56 songs, published in 1906. Unfortunately, in the contract for Opus 56, he had unwisely allowed a clause to be inserted giving Bote & Bock the rights to his next six songs whenever they might be composed.
Becoming increasingly at loggerheads with the firm, Strauss prevaricated for as long as he could. For a time he had the excuse that he was too busily engaged with composing operas to have space for song-writing—the following years saw the premieres of Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau ohne Schatten. But in 1918 he found himself threatened with a court case. By then he had in his desk drawer the six Brentano-Lieder, later published as Opus 68 (see Volume 5), but he had no intention of surrendering such a magnificent set to Bote & Bock.
Instead he turned to Alfred Kerr, a well-known Berlin literary critic, who in March 1918 produced for him a witty set of satirical verses lampooning music publishers, and mentioning many of Strauss’s principal enemies by name. By May Strauss had set all twelve poems to music and dispatched them to Bote & Bock, who not surprisingly refused them out of hand. Eventually forced to discharge his obligation, which he did with the Ophelia-Lieder and three songs from Goethe’s Bücher des Unmuts des Rendsch Nameh, Strauss remained attached to his practical joke, and it finally saw the light of day in 1921, in a private de luxe edition by the art publisher Paul Cassirer, with illustrations by Michael Fingesten.
It is easy to understand why the cycle is now rarely performed, given that the texts consist entirely of in-jokes, and that the lion’s share of the music is given to the pianist. But Strauss’s music is well worth savouring, not least for its humorous references to Strauss’s own works, such as Der Rosenkavalier and Ein Heldenleben, and especially for the beautiful prelude to the eighth song and its reprise as the final extended postlude. This has a history quite independent of the cycle, as Strauss revived its lyrical, Schumannesque theme nearly a quarter of a century later, in his opera Capriccio.
from notes by Roger Vignoles © 2012