The Four Last Songs (German: Vier letzte Lieder) for soprano and orchestra were the final completed works of  Richard Strauss, composed in 1948, when the composer was 84.


1. “Frühling”

(“Spring”) (Text: Hermann Hesse)

In dämmrigen Grüften
träumte ich lang
von deinen Bäumen und blauen Lüften,
Von deinem Duft und Vogelsang.
Nun liegst du erschlossen
In Gleiß und Zier
von Licht übergossen
wie ein Wunder vor mir.
Du kennst mich wieder,
du lockst mich zart,
es zittert durch all meine Glieder
deine selige Gegenwart!

In shadowy crypts
I dreamt long
of your trees and blue skies,
of your fragrance and birdsong.
Now you appearin all your finery,
drenched in light like a miracle before me.
You recognize me,
you entice me tenderly.
All my limbs tremble at
your blessed presence!

2. “September”

(Text: Hermann Hesse)

Der Garten trauert,
kühl sinkt in die Blumen der Regen.
Der Sommer schauert
still seinem Ende entgegen.

Golden tropft Blatt um Blatt
nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum.
Sommer lächelt erstaunt und matt
In den sterbenden Gartentraum.

Lange noch bei den Rosen
bleibt er stehn, sehnt sich nach Ruh.
Langsam tut er die müdge
word’nen Augen zu.

The garden is in mourning.
Cool rain seeps into the flowers.
Summertime shudders,
quietly awaiting his end.

Golden leaf after leaf falls
from the tall acacia tree.
Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,
at his dying dream of a garden.

For just a while he tarries
beside the roses, yearning for repose.
Slowly he closes
his weary eyes.

3. “Beim Schlafengehen”

(“Going to sleep”) (Text: Hermann Hesse)

Nun der Tag mich müd gemacht,
soll mein sehnliches Verlangen
freundlich die gestirnte Nacht
wie ein müdes Kind empfangen.

Hände, laßt von allem Tun
Stirn, vergiß du alles Denken,
Alle meine Sinne nun
wollen sich in Schlummer senken.

Und die Seele unbewacht
will in freien Flügen schweben,
um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
tief und tausendfach zu leben.

Now that I am wearied of the day,
my ardent desire shall happily receive
the starry night
like a sleepy child.

Hands, stop all your work.
Brow, forget all your thinking.
All my senses now
yearn to sink into slumber.

And my unfettered soul
wishes to soar up freely
into night’s magic sphere
to live there deeply and thousandfold.

Composed: August 4, 1948

4. “Im Abendrot”

(“At sunset”) (Text: Joseph von Eichendorff)

Wir sind durch Not und Freude
gegangen Hand in Hand;
vom Wandern ruhen wir
nun überm stillen Land.

Rings sich die Täler neigen,
es dunkelt schon die Luft.
Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen
nachträumend in den Duft.

Tritt her und laß sie schwirren,
bald ist es Schlafenszeit.
Daß wir uns nicht verirren
in dieser Einsamkeit.

O weiter, stiller Friede!
So tief im Abendrot.
Wie sind wir wandermüde–
Ist dies etwa der Tod?

We have gone through sorrow and joy
hand in hand;
Now we can rest from our wandering
above the quiet land.

Around us, the valleys bow;
the air is growing darker.
Just two skylarks soar upwards
dreamily into the fragrant air.

Come close to me, and let them flutter.
Soon it will be time for sleep.
Let us not lose our way
in this solitude.

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep at sunset!
How weary we are of wandering–
Is this perhaps death?

Note:  Towards the end of Im Abendrot, exactly as the soprano’s final intonation of “der Tod” (death) ceases, Strauss musically quotes his own tone poem Death and Transfiguration, written 60 years earlier. As in that piece, the quoted six-note phrase (known as the “transfiguration theme”) symbolizes the fulfillment of the soul into death.

Composed: May 6, 1948

Zueignung (Strauss) “Dedication”

Zueignung (“Dedication”), Op. 10, No. 1, was composed in 1885 as the first in a set of eight songs to texts from Heinrich von Gilm zu Rosenegg’s collection Letzte Blätter (“Final Pages”).

Ja, du weißt es, teure Seele,
Daß ich fern von dir mich quäle,
Liebe macht die Herzen krank,
Habe Dank.

[Hielt ich nicht]1, der Freiheit Zecher,
Hoch den Amethysten-Becher,
Und du segnetest den Trank,
Habe Dank.

Und beschworst darin die Bösen,
Bis ich, was ich nie gewesen,
[Heilig an das Herz]2 dir sank,
Habe Dank.

Yes, you know it, dearest soul,
How I suffer far from you,
Love makes the heart sick,
Have thanks.

Once I, drinker of freedom,
Held high the amethyst beaker,
And you blessed the drink,
Have thanks.

And you exorcised the evils in it,
Until I, as I had never been before,
Blessed, blessed sank upon your heart,
Have thanks.

Richard Strauss:

Stamp issued in 1954

Richard Strauss died at the age of 85 on 8 September 1949, in  Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Georg Solti, who had arranged Strauss’s 85th birthday celebration, also directed an orchestra during Strauss’s burial.[23] During the singing of the famous trio from Rosenkavalier, Solti described how “each singer broke down in tears and dropped out of the ensemble, but they recovered themselves and we all ended together.” Strauss’s wife, Paulina, died eight months later, on 13 May 1950, at the age of 88.[24]

During his lifetime Strauss was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of 20th-century music. There were few 20th-century composers who compared with Strauss in terms of orchestral imagination, and no composer since Wagner made a more significant contribution to the history of opera. And Strauss’s late works, modelled on “the divine Mozart at the end of a life full of thankfulness,”[25] are perhaps the most remarkable works by any octogenarian composer.

Strauss himself declared in 1947 with characteristic self-deprecation, “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.” The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould described Strauss in 1962 as “the greatest musical figure who has lived in this century.”[26]

Sir Georg Solti’s Memoir Notes:

“Munich’s favorite son was Richard Strauss. I met him only three times, but he had a great influence on my professional life. Strauss had spent the immediate postwar years in Switzerland, where he composed his Four Last Songs, but he returned to his home in Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps, shortly before his eighty-fifth birthday, on June 11, 1949. In honor of his birthday and homecoming, the Staatsoper put on a new production of Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss, whose health was frail, declined to attend any of the public performances, but he let us know that he would attend the dress rehearsal.”

“A few years ago, when I was conducting Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Salzburg Festival, I spoke with his grandson. As we sat talking in a friend’s garden, he told me that after the war his grandfather had despaired for the future of German opera houses, most of which were in ruins and the rest of which were an artistic and administrative shambles. Strauss thought this was the end—and in a sense it was, because the old German lyric-theater tradition died out within the following decade. But after my visit to Garmisch, he told his family, ‘This young man gives me a little hope.’ I hadn’t known this and I was of course delighted to hear it forty-five years later. I think Strauss must have sensed my enthusiasm and determination to do as much as I could, as well as I could. But I regret very much that my time with him was so short, because his advice has been a guide for me throughout my entire career.”

And finally, here is a video of the great Strauss conducting his last performance: