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Gibson, Robert Raphael

Parody Lost and Regained: Richard Strauss's Double Voices

D.Phil. University of Oxford, 2004

This thesis argues the case for the parodic voice in a range of works by Richard Strauss. In doing so, it challenges the long-held view of Strauss as a composer whose music has little to offer beyond superficial grandeur and shallow sentimentality; music which may be impressive in some respects but, ultimately, remains stubbornly one-dimensional. Parody -- a double-voiced device -- plays with texts and subtexts and, by definition, insists upon the presence of dimensions additional to the one located on the surface. Thus, the grandly pompous or sweetly sentimental exterior of a given passage may function within a context in which the pomposity or sentimentality is undone, critiqued, or, at very least, dented by the critical presence of a parodic voice. Indeed, I argue that we should be particularly sceptical of reading at face value those episodes in Strauss's works where the trivial, the banal, or, very often, the sublime is (apparently) projected, for this is frequently a cue for the parodic.

The emergence of Strauss's parodic voice can be traced to a work relatively early in his career: the Burleske for piano and orchestra (1886). Here, in this quasi piano concerto (or, indeed, anti-piano concerto) we find double-voiced strategies used to telling effect. This study therefore takes the Burleske as its starting point and uses the work as a means of introducing parody theory generally. Subsequent chapters consider in detail specific episodes in Der Rosenkavalier (1910), Ariadne auf Naxos (both the 1912 version and the 1916 revision), and Intermezzo (1923). Thus, the body of works that form the core of this investigation are firmly rooted in the period of Strauss's so-called 'volte-face', the post-Elektra period when the composer was conventionally thought to have turned his back on progressive trends and produced one shallow, empty, irrelevant work after another. Examination of the composer's parodic voice suggests otherwise.