Till Eulenspiegel, Einmal Anders!

In the middle of the 19th century, Franz Liszt invented the “symphonic poem”, a one-movement composition illustrating the content of a literary work, a painting, a landscape, or another non-musical source. At the end of the century, Richard Strauss brought the form to its zenith with “tone poems” Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Don Quixote, and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. In German folklore, Till was a legendary rogue prankster, an insubordinate youngster known for poking fun at the high and mighty. Some might call him a budding gangster who delighted in exposing hypocrisy and folly. Strauss set the legend to music for a late-Romantic supersized orchestra, and it became very popular. In 1954, the Austrian Franz Hasenöhrl (whose last name means “little rabbit ears”) reduced Strauss’s 17-minute 80 instrument lush behemoth to what Hasenöhrl calls an eight-minute “frolic” for five instruments: violin, clarinet, bassoon, double bass, with the horn delivering Till’s theme at the outset and the violin playing the part of the trickster. Near the end, the long arm of the law catches up with Till, and the bass vigorously sounds his demise. But do not despair, Till rises again to live (maybe only as a legend) another day. This piece is a blast. Hats off to Little Rabbit Ears! Whoops. I almost forgot to mention that “Einmal Anders” means “this time a bit differently”.