Strauss' Oboe Concerto (1945-1946) dates from the final stages of the composer's career. As a product of his lifetime of experience, it ranks as one of the finest works ever composed for the instrument. Strauss wrote the concerto at the suggestion of John De Lancie, an American soldier and professional oboist stationed near Garmisch at the end of the Second World War. (De Lancie went on to a career as principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra; he also commissioned works for oboe from a number of other composers.) Though De Lancie both recorded the concerto and performed it throughout his career, the work was premiered by Marcel Saillet in Zurich on February 26, 1946.
Following the classical model, the concerto is cast in a fast-slow-fast three-movement form. The opening Allegro moderato features interplay between the oboe and solo flute and clarinet in a sort of concertato treatment. The elegiac Andante echoes the more meditative moods of the composer's later operas. While the harmonic language is essentially diatonic, Strauss makes full use of colorful chromatic inflections. The movement is remarkable for its intensity and seamlessness, in contrast to the more motivic and episodic nature of some of Strauss' music. The concluding Vivace has the playful character of the composer's incidental score to Der Bürger aus Edelmann (1917) or the opera Der Rosenkavalier (1909-1910). The oboe commands center stage throughout with angular leaps and shifts of register.
The concerto is further notable for Strauss' economical scoring. This mode of relative austerity -- in comparison to the expansive instrumentation of Strauss' earlier tone poems and operas -- is a feature of much of the composer's late music, including the Sonatina No. 2 for 16 winds (1943-1945) and Metamorphosen for 23 strings (1944-1945).