I have written some months ago about Zarathustra, so now I would like to write about the second piece on this record: Till Eulenspiegel’s lustige Streiche (Merry pranks). The character Eulenspiegel is a famous scoundrel from a very old European storytelling tradition. The jury is not out on his origins, but his stories go back to probably around 1400.
Eulenspiegel might be related to a highway robber that was incarcerated in 1339 in the Brunswick area, Germany. But literature made him into the character of a trickster the threw his own feces around and showed his ass to the people. Strauss is putting parts of what tradition says about him on music. Instruments are telling the stories in vivid detail, ending with his hanging by the local magistrate.
Till Eulenspiegel was written one year before Zarathustra in 1895. Interest in tone poems might have been inspired by the contact Richard Strauss had with violinist and composer Alexander Ritter. Not only did Ritter present him with writings of Schopenhauer, leading to two tone poems, but he was also married to the niece of Wagner, leading to a distinctive Wagnerian tone in his music.