On my desk- Strauss Romanze for Cello and Orchestra

Next week, the Surrey Mozart Players kick off their season (more on that soon). As the Strauss Romanze is something of an oddity, the orchestra asked if I would write some notes for the program.

Richard Strauss- (1864-1949)

Romanze for Cello and Orchestra in F major, op 13 (1883)

Cellists are often reminded by our violinist and pianist colleagues of just how small our solo repertoire is in comparison to theirs. In our defence, we are often quick to mention that our Dvorak concerto is better than either of theirs, and that we also have the best Schumann concerto.

However, cellists have only themselves to blame for not recognizing the many wonderful pieces that haven’t made it into the repertoire. Such a work is the Strauss Romanze in F major heard this evening. Few composers ever wrote so much and so well in their old age as Strauss- one has only to think of Metamorphosen, the Four Last Songs and the Oboe Concerto (to be heard on the next SMP concert). However, equally few wrote so much and so well in their teens– when the nineteen year-old Richard Strauss set to work on this piece he, already had several masterpieces under his belt, including the Cello and Violin Sonatas and the Horn Concerto no. 1. While the Horn Concerto has become a staple of the repertoire and the two sonatas are at least well known, the Romanze nearly disappeared from the repertoire for over 100 years.

Its earliest champion was the cellist Hans Wihan, who was also the dedicatee of the Dvorak Cello Concerto.  Wihan, to whom Strauss dedicated the piece, seemed to understand the key to musical immortality- he championed new music. The piece shows the young Strauss as an inventive melodist and a master-orchestrator.  After over 100 years of neglect, this gem of the Romantic era is finally becoming known again


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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4 comments on “On my desk- Strauss Romanze for Cello and Orchestra”

  1. Zoltan

    Before I ever heard the Dvorak Piano Concerto, I could mostly read how awful it is compared to the Violin and Cello Concerto.

    Not with me: I *love* his Piano Concerto! It has gorgeous melodies (hey, it’s Dvorak, right?) and I love the drama that the piece has in it.

    A real pity people dismiss it so easily…

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Zoltan

    Thanks so much for the comment

    I absolutely agree with you that the piano concerto is a wonderful piece- it is high on my list of concerto’s I’m anxious to perform, and has been since I covered it at the National Symphony a few years back.

    There are a few reasons it doesn’t get done.
    1- Very few pianists know it- Garrick Ohlsson, who did it in DC is one of the few. It’s very, very tough and most pianists are reluctant to learn a huge piece like that if they’re only going to play it every few years

    2- The string writing is extremely difficult. Dvorak’s string writing got more idiomatic as he got older- the New World is the most playable of his symphonies and the latest, of course. It’s not a piece to tackle with less than a first rate band.

    3- It’s at least as hard to accompany as the Cello or Violin Concerto (Dvorak must have known some damn good conductors). Garrick told me that, although it was one of his very favorite pieces to play and always went down very well with audiences, he would only do it with a consumate accompanist like Leonard

    There’s actually an interesting topic for a blog that I’m not sure I have the nerve to write. Every professional soloist I know has a list, sort of THE LIST, of conductors who can accompany. Interestingly, the list varies little from soloist to soloist, and it’s pretty small. As far as I know, Leonard is one every list I’ve heard so far.

    So- tough to play, tough to conduct, not a box-office draw, few soloists know it, not well represented on recordings (left that one off, but it follows from the others). Pity- it’s sublime……


    But not quite as good as the Cello Concerto, which might be the best Romantic concerto for any instrument (pace Mr Brahms, although the D minor piano concerto would certainly be close)…..


  3. dvorak1841

    I am about seven years late here but I just cannot resist commenting on this interesting discussion. As my user name would suggest, Dvorak is my favorite composer, but I would have to say I subscribe to the conventional view; he wrote the best cello concerto ever (one that dominates the field of cello concertos the way say Mozart dominates the field of clarinet concertos), a top ten or so violin concerto that is not quite as strong as the ones by Brahms or Tchaikovsky, and an ok piano concerto that kind of deserves its place on the fringes of the repertoire. Certainly the melodies are very nice and typically Dvorakian, and the piece deserves to be heard on occasion (credit to Mr. Ohlsson for knowing it), but the piece just does not quite come off. It is kind of reminiscent of the two Brahms concertos in that it is sort of a symphony that is scored for piano and orchestra. Admittedly, I am not as big of a fan of the D minor Brahms piano concerto as Mr. Woods. To me the great romantic piano concertos are Tchaikovsky 1, Rachmaninoff 2, Grieg and Schumann (and while the Schumann cello concerto is certainly superior to his violin concerto, I would not put it above the piano concerto).

    I am also interested in the part about the best conductors as accompanists. Did you ever write that blog entry? The “Leonard” reference had me flummoxed. Did Garrick Ohlsson ever play with Leonard Bernstein? I think of them as from two different eras. And when I think of Bernstein in concertos, I think of the famous incident with Glenn Gould (there goes the Brahms D minor concerto popping up again). But the National Symphony reference may mean that Leonard is Leonard Slatkin. When I think of great conductors as accompanists, the names that come to my mind are Eugene Ormandy and George Szell, but obviously this is from recordings. Who would make the current list?

  4. Kenneth Woods

    I never did write that blog post about great accompanists, but the Leonard I referred to above is Leonard Slatkin, who is an incredibly gifted accompanist. Thanks for the reminder….KW

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