Richard Strauss

Don Quixote, fantastic variations for cello & orchestra, Op. 35 (TrV 184)

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Strauss wrote these "Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character" in 1897. Franz Wüllner conducted the first performance on March 8, 1898, with the Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne. In addition to solo cello and viola, the work is scored for triple winds and contrabassoon; six horns, three trumpets, three trombones, two tubas; timpani, two percussionists, wind machine, harp, and full strings. Strauss was an omnivorous reader attracted firsthand to what Walter Starkie called "the first modern novel...a spiritual autobiography."

    Strauss rearranged the novel's sequence of misadventures for purposes of structure, but otherwise put his powers of depiction at the mad Man of La Mancha's service. A myriad of marvelous touches are detailed in the first volume of Richard Strauss: A Critical Commentary by the late conductor Norman del Mar, who concluded that, "on the side of humor and incredible fertility of invention...Strauss at no time surpassed what [he] accomplished throughout Don Quixote." Amen. Let me try to condense his analysis for home-listening consultation.

    A long introduction heralds ten variations and an epilogue, based on a cornucopia of themes. Three of these pertain to the Don, who is immersed in literature about chivalry until fantasy unhinges his reason. A series of dissonant chords sends him "on his adventures with the cold, quiet logic of insanity," disguised as a solo cello which iterates the Don's themes. We hear two more for his fat squire, Sancho Panza, the first one played in unison by bass clarinet and tenor tuba, the babbling second one played by the viola, which thereafter impersonates him. The deluded Don's "Ideal Lady," Dulcinea, also has a theme, introduced by the principal oboe.

    In Variation One, "the Knight and his squire start their journey" by mistaking windmills for giants. When the Don attacks, he is painfully unhorsed. Variation Two, "the victorious battle against the host of the emperor Alifanfaron," turns out to be against sheep. Their orchestral bleating still astonishes a century later. Variation Three, "colloquies of the Knight and his Squire," is the first of two eloquent rhapsodies addressing honor, glory, and the "Ideal Lady." Sancho keeps interrupting. Variation Four brings "the adventure with the penitents," mistaken by the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance for robbers; it ends when they trounce him. Variation Five, "the Knight's vigil," nobly tender music, meditates on a vision of the Ideal Woman, conjured up by a horn. Variation Six, "the meeting with Dulcinea" becomes briefly droll, one of Strauss' very best jokes (in 2+3/4 time), when Sancho's search finds only a country tart and two companions. Variation Seven is "the ride through the air," blindfolded astride a wooden horse, features a wind machine. Timpani and basses play an earthbound tremolo underneath. Variation Eight depicts "the unfortunate journey in an enchanted boat"; it floats downstream without oars until a water mill capsizes it and the intrepid duo. (Listen for the cello to shake off droplets, pizzicato.) Variation Nine brings "The combat with two magicians" -- monks, actually -- routed from their prayers. Variation 10, "The duel with the Knight of the White Moon," in reality depicts a disguised townsman who has challenged Quixote. If the Don loses -- and he does, ignominiously -- he must renounce all further quests and return home quietly. The finale, ''The Death of Don Quixote," shows the Don restored to sanity but physically depleted, meditating on his follies until "the great Creator draws/his spirit, as the sun the morning dew." When the cello slides terminally from B to B below, the orchestra offers a brief, compassionate eulogy.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduktion. Mäßiges Zeitmaß. Don Quixote Sinks into Madness
    2. Thema. Mäßig. The Knight of the Doleful Countenance
    3. Maggiore. Sancho Pansa
    4. Variation 1. Gemächlich. The Adventure of the Windmills
    5. Variation 2. Kriegerisch. The Battle with the Sheep
    6. Variation 3. Mäßiges Zeitmaß. Dialogue of Knight and Squire
    7. Variation 4. Etwas breiter. The Adventure with the Procession of Penitents
    8. Variation 5. Sehr langsam. Don Quixote's Vigil
    9. Variation 6. Schnell. Dulcinea's Enchantment
    10. Variation 7. Ein wenig ruhiger als vorher. The Ride through the Air
    11. Variation 8. Gemächlich. The Adventure of the Enchanted Boat
    12. Variation 9. Schnell und Stürmisch. The Contest with the Magicians
    13. Variation 10. Viel breiter. Joust with the Knight of the White Moon; The Defeated Don Quixote's Journey Home
    14. Finale. Sehr ruhig. The Death of Don Quixote

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Orfeo ORF C968191
    2019 ABC Classics
    2019 ABC Classics 4817471
    2018 Aparte AP 174
    2018 Oehms Classics OC 893
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2015 Orfeo D'Or C 909151B
    2015 Sony Classics 513074
    2014 Decca
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4792686
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Entertainment Group 14142
    2013 Entertainment Group 107198
    2013 Hyperion CDA 67960
    2013 Haenssler / Hänssler Classic CD 93304
    2013 CBS Records Masterworks / Sony Classical 88697553562
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2012 Erato / Teldec 2564663163
    2012 Opus KURA OPK 2102
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 Dutton Digital / Dutton Laboratories 9813
    2012 Regis Records RRC 1371
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962173
    2011 The Entertainment Group 1033
    2011 RCA Red Seal 88697899792
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9249
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon 4779814
    2011 Deutsche Grammophon
    2011 EMI Classics
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869768699
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2010 Documents / Membran 232597
    2010 Apex 2564680438
    2010 Classics & Jazz / Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Arte Nova / Arte Nova Classics / Sony Music Entertainment 544660
    2010 West Hill Radio Archives 6032
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Document 231058
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Sony Classical 47625
    2009 Doremi Records 7974
    2009 Oehms Classics 631
    2009 Medici Arts 35
    2009 West Hill Radio Archives WHRA 6024
    2009 Document / Documents 224042
    2008 Doremi Records 7926
    2008 EMI Classics 16091
    2008 BBC Legends 42402
    2008 Opus KURA 7033
    2008 Warner Classics & Jazz 492668
    2008 Sony Classical Essential Classics 93100
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon / Eloquence 4800478
    2008 Decca 4781032
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2007 SOMM 21
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099950416
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 734381
    2007 RCA Red Seal 704604
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946371502
    2006 Arte Nova 984950
    2006 IU Music 5002
    2006 Urania 105
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 Dutton Vocalion 9746
    2005 Brilliant 7591
    2005 Sony Classical 94735
    2005 EMI Classics 76903
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    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000205402
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    2004 Berlin Classics 0017682
    2004 Guild Historical 2223
    2004 Chandos 10206
    2003 Classico 1403
    2003 Testament 1249
    2002 Decca 470 954
    2001 History 205235
    2001 RCA 75398
    2001 History 205223
    2001 Audiophile Classics 548
    2000 Biddulph Recordings 83067/8
    2000 Golden Melodram 40041
    2000 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243567341
    2000 Guild 7204
    2000 Naxos 8 554175
    2000 Chandos 8631
    2000 Teldec 82130
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 72297
    1999 APR (Appian) 5527
    1999 Angel Records 73614
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    1999 Music & Arts 4613
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459071
    1998 RCA Victor 68635
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    1998 Virgin 61490
    1998 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 566913-2
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459061
    1997 Pearl 9273
    1997 Point Classics 267149
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 72016
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 66106
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 439 027-2GHS
    1996 EMI Music Distribution 68736
    1996 RCA Victor 68170
    1996 Deutsche Grammophon 447 762-2GH
    1996 Chandos 7011/2
    1996 EMI Classics 65701
    1995 Virgin 61266
    1995 EMI Classics 555528-2
    1995 Telarc Distribution 80428
    1993 Orfeo 267921
    1993 Music & Arts 291
    1992 EMI Music Distribution 64350
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47656
    1991 Telarc Distribution 80262
    1991 Erato 45625
    1990 CBS Records 45804
    1990 CBS Masterworks 39863
    RCA Gold Seal 60295
    History 205228
    RCA 61485
    Russian Revelation 10088
    Arlecchino 137
    Lys 044
    RCA 60929
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    Deutsche Grammophon 429184
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    London 433330
    London 433335