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depicts a particularly enchanting scene, nicely drawn out in two dimensions. Not until his later works (Macbeth, Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Don Quixote, and the rest) does Strauss add the third dimension, of depth and changing perspective, and — far more important — the fourth, of events happening over time (as in a story, such as Till Eulenspiegel). Only then can we clearly discern the earmarks and ultimate structure of the mature Strauss tone poem. (Not that the tone poems are merely stories set to music; Aus Italien, which, unlike the later works, does not include any “real” people in its pictures — only the generalized “merry throng” in the final movement — also lacks the psychological depth inherent in Strauss’s later tone poems.) Of the fourth movement, much has been written about Strauss’s mistaking Luigi Denza’s “Funiculì, Funiculà!” for a real Italian folksong rather than a momentarily popular hit song of 1886. That the inclusion of this potentially banal tune within the movement (or rather its role as the substance of the entire movement) may ruin the whole of Aus Italien for some listeners is unfortunate. Strauss’s youthful craft at variation is, to be sure, less than perfect, and we may yearn for more moments like those near the end when the tune disappears long enough to give an unobscured view of future genius. But as the American composer Philip Greeley Clapp (1888-1954) said, “Strauss can hardly be charged with any grave error — the tune is now familiar the world over, though its origin is forgotten; thus it may be said to have become a folksong, and Strauss to have been a true prophet in calling it one.” —Eric Sellen © 2019 2018-19 is Eric Sellen’s twenty-sixth season as The Cleveland Orchestra’s program book editor.
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