Monday, May 18, 2020

CHOICE CUTS Part Two: How Elektra achieved its operatic form

In order to discuss the structure of Elektra and the cuts typically applied to it, I’d like to first examine the material and aesthetics on which it was constructed.

Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of Sophocles’ play maintains the basic plot flow of the original while considerably altering the structure and format. The chorus of antiquity is replaced by direct interactions between the characters or lengthy monologues for the principal characters. In addition to giving the poet broader opportunity to apply his own unique linguistic transformation to the original play's harshness, these monologues provide the title role, in particular, with opportunities to exploit that language in a panoply of thespian colors. 

These lengthy monologues were surely one of elements that attracted Strauss to the play. By the time he began Elektra’s composition in 1906, Strauss had achieved a highly hyperbolic musical language, writing in extremes of range and technical virtuosity. No matter the subject, it elicited from him the need to portray it in magnified terms, which he applied to ever longer architectonic structures undertaken by increasingly expanded orchestral forces. He was after all a partisan of the late 19th century ethos - particularly in Germany - that more is more. This affected the increasing length of his orchestral works, particularly the tone poems, and their sometimes uneven pacing. 

The result was an overall style of epic behemoth regardless of subject. A perfect example is the 1901 tone poem Sinfonia Domestica, in which Strauss devotes nearly an hour to an orchestral depiction of his own life with his wife and newborn son on a gargantuan scale, for a 102-piece orchestra that rivals Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen in monumentality. The Ring’s original conductor, Hans Richter, is supposed to have quipped of the piece that “not all the cataclysms of the gods in Valhalla makes half as much noise as one Bavarian baby in the bath.”

So it’s not surprising that the extreme situations of this epic Greek tragedy, heightened by Hofmannsthal’s fin de siecle sensibility, would have inspired Strauss to view the adapted work as an opportunity for exploiting his architectonic and orchestrational grandiosity via the medium of his largest orchestra to date, as well as offering the opportunity to write what would clearly be an unprecedented tour-de-force role for dramatic soprano.

But as mentioned in earlier posts, Strauss's ambitions conflict with optimizing the opera’s dramaturgy. In an otherwise keenly paced, savagely tense plot, Strauss’s architectonic ambitions in the opera result in an imbalance of pacing, as well as superhuman demands on the principal singer. The sags lie in my opinion entirely in Elektra’s part: a razor-edged sense of tension and suspense, brought to lava pitch, is frequently hindered by Strauss’s extension of a passage to suit his symphonic ambitions.

In my next post I'll review the traditional cuts individually, and discuss why or not I’ve decided to retain them in my edition. In the meantime, here's another teaser video of the score: the first part of Klytamnestra's scene with Elektra.

For other teaser videos, check out my Youtube page.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020


It is with some amazement that I can announce the completion of the formatting of the full score of my reduction of Richard Strauss's Elektra, and therefore the availability of the performance materials.

It seems surreal that six years ago Chris Fecteau suggested this project in earnest. It's been so much work, undertaken on no particular schedule in my rare spare time from both my business and my other music pursuits, that subconsciously I'm not sure I really believed it would ever be done.

With the global pandemic still in full furor, not surprisingly the discussions towards its performance have gone dormant. But still, it's done.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


As the global urging of quarantine continues, the extra spare time my self-imposed captivity provides has brought the finish line of this project actually in sight. So here's my next teaser: Klytemnestra's entrance.

For me, this is one of the most extraordinary and innovative passages in Elektra itself, in Strauss' oeuvre, indeed in orchestral music. The genius with which Strauss captures the mounting suspence of the impending confrontation between Elektra and her mother, the increasingly frenetic and chaotic textures, the onomatopoeic depiction of the tumultuous procession with its whips and sacrificial animals.

It's also one of the prime examples of the argument of this edition: contrasting the impact of Strauss' original huge orchestra with the ability of my smaller forces to highlight the clarity of inner details that often get lost due to the dynamic overwhelm of the original.

VO courtesy of Noteperfermer 3.1.

**NOTE: All metronome markings, and therefore tempi, are Strauss', not mine.**

For other teaser videos, check out my Youtube page.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


A musical vocation, no matter in what area or to what extent, can have its challenges. It demands so much: time, energy, mental and physical devotion, sacrificing pursuits others might consider “regular”, often loneliness and a questioning of worth.

But the solace and purpose it can provide, particularly in times of stress or crisis, can truly be life saving. Or at least sanity saving.

The current pandemic crisis here in the U.S. - and in so many countries - is a perfect example. Most of the residents of this country, including New York City where I reside, are under orders to remain self-sequestered as much as possible to limit the spread of the covid-19 virus.

For most people this might seem like existential torture, captive in their dwellings and struggling to find ways to occupy their time and energy. Putting aside the general air of anxiety surrounding the situation, for a musician this is almost mana. In my own case, while my anxiety has prevented me from any original creativity on my own compositions, it is offering an unprecedented opportunity to catch up on the backlog of never-ending foundation work that composers always face: updates and revisions to existing pieces, digital admin work, parts or other engraving for which regular life nevers seems to allow time. And this sort of mindless busywork is a blessed distraction from the increasingly dire miasma of the news.

With my business clients largely on hiatus due to the situation, this increase in free time is allowing me to catch up on a number of delayed projects, in particular this reduction of Elektra. The instrumental parts are now all completed, and I’m making great headway on formatting the second half of the score. I expect the entire project to be fully completed by the beginning of May at the latest - the irony being that it may be considerably longer than that before any performing organization is in a position to consider undertaking it.

In the meantime, here’s another scrolling score teaser video teaser to whet the appetite… or the blade: Elektra’s opening monologue.

VO courtesy of Noteperfermer 3.1.

**NOTE: All metronome markings, and therefore tempi, are Strauss', not mine.**

For other teaser videos, check out my Youtube page.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


I have recently taken the plunge into world of virtual orchestration via the Noteperformer platform. As I'm principally an acoustic composer / arranger I've never had the time to really delve in to the more detailed and complex software, so Noteperformer has been a major gift in allowing me to hear realizations of my projects, including this reduction of Elektra, via a platform that's extraordinarily easy to use and intuitive, while providing excellent results.

So I'll occasionally be sharing sections of the full score as each scene is fully formatted. For the greedy and curious, these teasers will probably avoid the best known, "juiciest" bits. That'll have to wait for full rental or licensing.

No better place to begin at the beginning.

or other teaser videos, check out my Youtube page.

Friday, December 27, 2019


With Strauss’ copyrights steadily expiring worldwide, it’s no surprise that the family and estate have been exploring ways to continue having at least the scores, if not performance rights, generate some income.

One is a project, now underway for nearly five years, of critical editions of Strauss’ work, beginning with the operas and published by Schott. This should be fascinating: The currently published scores were almost always hastily engraved for use in the premiere production, and rarely take note of the numerous errata identified post-premiere or Strauss’ amendments as the years went by. Elektra itself has a healthy number of mistakes, some of which are of such long standing that they’ve become accepted.

Another seems to be new versions of the operas for smaller orchestras. Not surprisingly this includes Elektra, undertaken with the estate’s authorization by Eberhard Kloke, a German composer and conductor.

While I haven’t yet seen Kloke’s version, I’m particularly fascinated by the instrumental allocation he’s chosen. For reference, I’m including both Strauss’ original and my own:

Strauss’ original
E. Kloke
E. Windels
4 flutes (3rd and 4th also piccolos)
3 oboes (3rd also English Horn)
1 Heckelphone
1 Eb clarinet
4 Bb clarinets, 3rd and 4th also A clarinets
2 basset horns
1 bass clarinet
3 bassoons
1 contrabassoon
Total winds: 20

8 horns (5th and 7th also tenor Wagner tubas in Bb, 6th and 8th also bass Wagner tubas in F)
6 trumpets
1 bass trumpet
3 trombones
1 contrabass trombone
1 contrabass tuba
Total brass: 20

2 timpanists covering 8 drums

4 percussionists playing bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, tam tam, 2 pairs of castagnettes, rute, glockenspiel

2 harps (the composer blithely requests that, if possible, these be doubled at the very end of the opera, beginning with Elektra’s dance.  Regrettably I have yet to see this request fulfilled.)

Celesta (optional)

Violins 1, 2 and 3: 8 players each
Violas 1, 2 and 3: 6 players each (1st violas double as 4th violins)
Cellis 1 and 2: 6 players each
Basses 1 and 2: 4 players each

Toral: 110

2 flutes (both piccolos, 2nd also alto flute)
3 oboes (2nd and 3rd also English Horns, 3rd also Heckelphon)
3 clarinets (1st and 2nd also Eb clarinets and basset horns, 3rd also bass and contrabass clarinets)
2 bassoons (2nd also contrabassoon

6 horns (3rd and 4th also tenor Wagner tubas in Bb, 5th and 6th also bass Wagner tubas in F)
3 trumpets
3 trombones
1 tuba


2 percussionists playing bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, tam tam, 2 pairs of castagnettes, rute, glockenspiel

Celesta (also piano)


10 first violins
8 second violins
9 violas
6 cellos
4 doublebasses

Total: 62
1 flute (also piccolo)
2 oboes (2nd also English Horn)
2 clarinets in Bb and A (2nd also Bb bass clarinet)
1 bassoon (also contrabassoon)

2 horns trumpets
1 trombone
1 bass trombone

2 percussionists playing timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, snare drum, tam tam, 2 pairs of castagnettes, rute, glockenspiel


Organ (electronic keyboard, also celesta if possible)

Violins 1, 2 and 3 (minimum 3 each) 
Violas 1, 2 and 3 (minimum 2 each)
Cellos 1 and 2 (minimum 2 each)
2nd cellos (minimum 2)
2 doublebasses

Total: 35

There are a number of fascinating aspects to Kloke’s choices, the primary one being the use of instruments outside of the original: the alto flute and the contrabass clarinet.

Then there are some quite eye-opening wind doubling whose genesis seem to be inspired by musical theater world, but which still pose questions. For all of the Heckelphone’s intended status as the bass member of the oboe family, its construction and the requirement of a bassoon-sized reed mean that it is almost never played by oboists, and rarely in the “classical world” is it a doubling instrument, as it requires a dedicated non-oboist to temporarily join the oboe section.

I am genuinely fascinated to see how this edition fares, and look forward to studying it.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Was du jetzt an Schaudern überwindest

With the completion of the formatting of all the individual instrumental parts, it's time to dive in to the final formatting of the full orchestral score. In anticipation of which, here's another little sneakypeek.