Sinfonia Domestica

Richard Strauss

Sinfonia Domestica

Op. 53, TrV 209

About this work

Richard Strauss once claimed that he could translate anything into musical sounds, that he could take even the events of something so mundane as the process of eating -- using one utensil and then another, sampling this dish and then that one -- and craft a musical equivalent. He put his own claim to the test when composing the Sinfonia Domestica, Op. 53, of 1902-1903; here is a tone poem (it is not strictly called such, but it is certainly not a real symphony either) whose subject is not a figure of legend, as in Don Juan, or the mysteries of Death and Transfiguration, or a portrait of the composer as hero, as in Ein Heldenleben, but rather a simple day in the life of a family man. The Sinfonia Domestica is a warm, tender, and often lightly humorous work, scored for a massive orchestra (Strauss even adds four saxophones to his orchestra). It received its world premiere all the way across the Atlantic Ocean during a 1904 festival of Strauss music in New York City.

Strauss originally wrote many programmatic indications in the score of the Sinfonia Domestica, but he eventually opted to take almost all of them out. Still, even without them, the "action" is easy enough to follow. An opening movement introduces us to the family as a group and then, in three sections marked Thema One, Thema Two, and Thema Three, to the father, mother, and child in turn (presumably Strauss, his wife Pauline, and their son Franz). The child's fun and games make for a fine Scherzo, but soon it is time for bed (Wiegenlied, or lullaby). A voluptuous Adagio contains a romantic interlude, but when morning comes the parents are found fighting with one another (Strauss appropriately provides an exhilarating double fugue, tempo Sehr Lebhaft). Peace is made, however, and the safety, coziness, and happiness of hearth and home are assured by a rousing F major.