Richard Strauss

Der Bürger als Edelmann (Le bourgeois gentilhomme), suite from the ballet for orchestra, Op. 60-IIIa (TrV 228c)

    Description by Michael Rodman

    By the twentieth century, the production of incidental music for pre-existing dramatic works had long proven a viable creative outlet for many composers. In fact, a good deal of this "music to order" (which originally served a function akin to that of today's film scores) boasts a secure berth in the standard orchestral repertoire. Several of Beethoven's overtures, for example, fall into this category, as does Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Molière's play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1673), despite its origins over two centuries earlier, provided Richard Strauss and his collaborator, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, with a springboard for a rather novel "experiment." The idea was that not only would Strauss provide incidental music in the standard sense for the Molière comedy, but the play itself (as adapted by Hoffmannsthal) would serve as an elaborate prologue and setup for the composer's one-act opera Ariadne auf Naxos. Hofmannsthal introduced referential plot devices into the play (including the character of a composer) that would provide an impetus and raison d'etre for Strauss' newly composed work which would follow.

    Unfortunately, this idea of "play plus opera" in practice left the opening-night audience exhausted and apparently annoyed. Aside from the audience's putative "lack of culture," in the composer's own words, one unforseen hindrance was an elaborate -- and lengthy -- reception sponsored by King Karl of Württemburg during the intermission between the two works. This addition of wining and dining to the evening's festivities meant that the opera, itself about an hour and a half in length, didn't even commence until two and a half hours after the beginning of the play. In this respect, at least -- providing a more-than-ample evening's entertainment -- Strauss' Wagnerian aspirations were certainly realized.

    Reacting to the impracticality of and tepid response to this innovation, Strauss discarded the staging of the Molière work from his plan for Ariadne. Rather than shelve the play's incidental music, however, he fashioned nine of the numbers into a concert suite: Overture to Act One ("Jourdain the Bourgeois"), "Minuet," "The Fencing Master," "Entrance and Dance of the Tailors," "The Menuet of Lully," "Courante," "Cleonte's Entry," Prelude to Act Two ("Intermezzo"), and "The Dinner."

    The suite follows the action as the play's central character, the arriviste boor Jourdain, attempts to impress the aristocracy about whose world he knows very little. The humorous intent of Molière's work is evident as Strauss vividly illustrates the empty trappings of Jourdain's ambitions: awkward (and evidently unsuccessful) dance lessons, ungainly swordplay, pompous, self-important tailors who show him how to deport himself, and, to impress his guests at an elaborate feast, a boy who springs out of a giant omelette and begins to dance. In keeping with the original period of Molière's comedy, Strauss uses a stripped-down orchestra for the suite and incorporates into the score the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) as well as "baroqueries" of his own invention.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture zum 1. Aufzug
    2. Menuett
    3. Der Fechtmeister
    4. Auftritt un Tanz der Schneider
    5. Das Menuett des Lully
    6. Courante
    7. Auftritt des Cleonte
    8. Vorspiel zum 2. Aufzug
    9. Das Diner

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Estonian Record Productions ERP 10619
    2018 Lawo Classics LWC 1143
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4798180
    2017 Naxos 8573460
    2015 Erato
    2014 Decca
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Dutton Laboratories 9816
    2012 MDG 9011738
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2012 Virgin Classics
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9249
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869768699
    2010 Sony Classical 88697712632
    2010 Documents / Membran 232597
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Chandos 3168(2)
    2010 Dux Records 0764
    2007 BBC Legends 42082
    2006 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946339339
    2006 COE 809
    2005 Arte Nova 611030
    2005 Dutton Vocalion 9746
    2005 Virgin Classics
    2005 Brilliant 7591
    2004 PentaTone Classics 5186060
    2002 Decca 470 954
    2001 Melodram 40049
    2000 Biddulph Recordings 83067/8
    2000 Testament 1184
    1999 Pearl 9366
    1999 Arkadia 78552
    1999 Angel Records 73614
    1999 Naxos 553379
    1998 Lys 148
    1997 Virgin 45111
    1997 Sony Music Distribution 62650
    1997 Testament 1112
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 569212-2
    1994 Preiser Records 90216
    1994 BIS 470
    1992 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 64346
    1990 Kontrapunkt 32039
    Koch 7129
    Lys 120
    RCA 5721
    BMG 60930
    Virgin 61922
    Brilliant 7591/6
    Deutsche Grammophon 429925
    ASV 809
    Omega Music Poland 1011