The Chicago Symphony’s new recording of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben—conducted by principal conductor Bernard Haitink with violin solos by concertmaster Robert Chen—is the Orchestra’s third. Do you know the other two?*

Theodore Thomas led the Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of his friend’s new tone poem on March 9, 1900. The concert also included selections from two of Beethoven’s works: his ballet The Creatures of Prometheus and (curiously) the first three movements of his Ninth Symphony. I wonder how the audience must have felt as the first half of the program ended with the adagio, without the resolution of the “Ode to Joy” . . .

The program note attempted to answer that question but mostly stressed the importance of the premiere: “The magnitude of Richard Strauss’ new tone-poem, and the fact that the present performance thereof is the first in America, warrant the devotion of the program notes, in the main, to its consideration. The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven and Siegfried’s Death March, from Wagner’s “Die Götterdämmerung” are both so well known as to require no comment at this time, beyond the remark that the former is now given without the choral Finale, owing to the present unavailability of the adjuncts necessary to its performance . . .”

And here is the first of more than twenty (!) musical examples that were included in the program note, introduced as follows: “without any introduction, the broad and noble principal theme . . . sets in at once. This is announced by the horn, viola and violoncello, which are joined in the eighth measure by the violins:”

“This is meant to convey an idea of the embodiment of the hero in toto. The attributes of a genial nature, emotional and vibratory (a and b, also d), are his principal, fundamental characteristics. His step is haughty and firm (c), and, as it were, of iron his indomitable will (e).”

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*Fritz Reiner and the Orchestra first recorded Ein Heldenleben for RCA in 1954, and Daniel Barenboim led the second recording for Erato in 1990.

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