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Program Music: Richard Strauss's "Don Quixote"

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Before the Romantic musical age, composers wrote music for the purpose of arranging sounds into the most beautiful way possible. Because of these goals, they followed some very specific ideas and wouldn't stray from them. Once the Romantic era hit, composers wanted to express a variety of things in their music. This is when the idea of program music appeared. Program music is usually instrumental music without spoken or sung words to explain the story or event that the composer has chosen to describe with his or her music. However, program music relies on a few non-musical things to make sure that the listener is interpreting the correct story. These things are often the title of the piece, a written forward and many times notes written to the performer/director directly in the score. After all, it is easy for a composer to say "I am sad" in his or her music by just using minor sonorities and dissonances, but it isn't possible for the composer to say "I am sad because my mother is about to die of prostate cancer" without the aid of explanatory notes. Program music has become a staple of our modern musical listening diet in almost every genre from full orchestra to wind band to small jazz combo.

One of the most prominent examples of program music is Richard Strauss's tone poem Don Quixote. This tone poem tells the story of Miguel de Cevantes Saavedra's novel The Adventures of Don Quixote. The story of the hero Don Quixote is one of insanity and delusion that Strauss was able to depict very well. Don Quixote was a middle aged man that read too many books about knights and their heroic deeds. This is shown by three different themes given to show Don's dreams of being a knight. Over time, he read so many books and dreamt of rescuing his ideal woman named Dulcinea from a dragon so many times that his mind was unable to separate his real life from his fantasy world. Strauss chose to depict Dulcinea with a beautiful lyrical melody while the dragon is represented by a loud, low, sustained melody in the tenor and bass tubas. Don's victory over the dragon is shown by a victory flourish in the flute and oboe. After this melding of his mind occurs, he believes that he is really the knight Don Quixote de la Mancea. From here, he and his side kick Sancho Panza set out into the world to do chivalrous deeds. From here on out, Don is represented by a solo cello voice. When Sancho is first introduced, his theme sounds like constant talking presented by the tenor tuba and bass clarinet. After this introduction, Sancho is always represented by a solo viola. Because of his broken mind, Don Quixote and Sancho have some comedic adventures.

The first of these adventures that Strauss depicts is Don Quixote jousting with a windmill because he thinks they are monsters. Don believed that he had almost defeated them, but then the wind catches the windmill and knocks him off of his stead, which defeats him. Don manages to pick himself up and continues his travels. The windmills are represented by descending half notes. When Don attacks, there is a fanfare type theme. The wind is portrayed by a harp, and Strauss depicts Don's falling with a timpani being hit with a wooden stick.

Next, he runs into the army of the great Emperor Alifonfaron which is really just some shepherds with their flock of sheep. Sancho tries to keep Don from attacking them, but Don attacks anyways. In the book, Don Quixote loses this battle because the shepherds end up throwing stones at him, but in the music Strauss decided to make him win. The sheep are portrayed by half step intervals being flutter tongued passed around the wind instruments at overlapping times. The shepherds have their own pipe theme that returns later in the piece.

The next event that occurs is a conversation between Don and Sancho; Don is trying to teach Sancho of the glories of being a knight, but Sancho is impatient and is so easily excited that he is sharing all of his proverbs with Don. Don tires of this conversation, tells Sancho to be quiet and they move on their way. Strauss very effectively portrayed this conversation by alternating Don's and Sancho's themes with each other. Don gets tired of Sancho's interruptions when his theme is loudly played.

Don and Sancho run into a band of wandering pilgrims. Unfortunately, Don believes they are a great force of villains, so he attacks them. Because he is gravely outnumbered, they easily defeat him and he almost doesn't revive from this attack. When he finally revives, a relieved Sancho falls asleep next to him. The band of pilgrims is portrayed by almost stately processional music, but once again Don's defeat is depicted by a sudden single



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