About this work
Toward the end of his life, Richard Strauss underwent a profound aesthetic change that resulted in some of the composer's most intensely personal and philosophical music. Among the most striking of these works from Strauss' final decade is Metamorphosen (1945), written in an atmosphere of devastation following World War II.
As a meditation on the bombing of Dresden (which destroyed the city and killed 130,000 of its inhabitants), Metamorphosen represents a significant departure from the more exuberant of Strauss' tone poems -- Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Don Juan, Don Quixote -- by that time a half-century old. In contrast to the vivid portraiture of those works, Metamorphosen is wholly unrepresentational, a tragic, pessimistic reflection on a more intimate level than any of Strauss' other music.
The work unfolds in a single, long movement. Strauss sustains and develops a series of recurring, interrelated motives that, as the title indicates, are linked by their transformation into new material rather than -- as in conventional variations -- a common thematic identity. The work includes several direct references to the funeral march in the second movement of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony; here they sound entirely appropriate and natural within the broader structure, underlying rather than emphasizing the somber nature of the work as a whole.