Piece of the Week: Festival Procession by Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss is an important composer whose musical style bridges 19th century German romanticism and the more atonal modernist style of the early 20th century. Festival Procession (of the Knights of the Order of St. John) is one of Strauss’s more tonal and accessible pieces, as it was composed for an honorary knighting ceremony, but even in this piece you can hear the lush harmonies and brass-heavy orchestration that Strauss learned from his study of Richard Wagner. 2014 marks the 150th anniversary of Strauss’s birth, making this an excellent time to add a Strauss piece to your Fall concert repertoire; log on to SmartMusic today to find more works by Strauss.

Audio Sample

Audio provided by Alfred Music Publishing Co., Inc.

Composition Notes:

Festival Procession of the Knights of the Order of St. John (Feierlicher Einzug der Ritter des Johanniter-Ordens) was written by Richard Strauss in 1909. The occasion was an investiture ceremony for the Knights of St. John, a fraternal organization with roots going back as far as the 11th Century. Today, offshoots of this venerable order still exist, doing charitable works–primarily in aiding the poor and the sick–around the world.

The original scoring of this piece included parts for 15 trumpets, 4 horns, 4 trombones, 2 tubas, and timpani. Strauss later scored the work for full orchestra, including organ and optional chorus. An arrangement by Max Reger (1873-1916) for organ, 2 trombones, and timpani is still frequently performed today.

This edition, arranged by Douglas E. Wagner, represents the work’s first appearance in the concert band repertoire. This arrangement is not a note-for-note transcription of the 7-minute original, but instead is a condensed arrangement that eliminates some of the repetition in the original while keeping the main themes of the piece intact. This piece can serve both as a concert work and can also appropriately be used during a commencement ceremony or any occasion that involves a procession.

Composer Biography

Richard Strauss was born in Munich, Germany on June 11, 1864 and died in Garmisch, Germany on September 8, 1949. He enjoyed a very successful career as a conductor and composer that spanned the end of the Romantic era (1820-1900) and the beginning of the era of 20th century atonalism. At age twenty-one Strauss was hailed as the successor to Wagner, and his early works made a deep impression on audiences and musicians alike. He attained an early fame, and became an influential figure in the cultural life of Germany and Europe. After 1900, he focused on creating operatic works, which secured his reputation as the foremost German composer of his day. Many scholars consider Strauss’ music as a development and extension of the Romanticism that he inherited. As a young composer, he modeled his work on Wagner and Lizst. Like them, he thought that the poetic aspect of music was its most important quality, and he showed this belief in the lavish, expressive style of his tone poems and operas. Later in his career, Strauss made a break from Romantic-era philosophy and explored more modern themes and tonalities, which led him to compose bold and often controversial operas. Salome, for example, was shocking for its time, and was strongly disapproved of because of its subject. Towards the end of his life, he was criticized for his association with the Nazi Party, and during Hitler’s rule he served two years as president of the state music office. Strauss was never a member of the Nazi party, however, and after the war he regained the respect of the musical community, which viewed him as a victim of the Nazi regime.

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If you are an educator, musician, composer or student with a suggestion for a “piece of the week” blog post, you can email your suggestion to Griffin at [email protected]. Please let me know the name of the piece, composer, publisher, and why this piece is special to you.

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