Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony), Op 64
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor
London, Proms 2012
An Alpine Symphony (Eine Alpensinfonie), Op. 64, is a tone poem written by German composer Richard Strauss in 1915. Though labelled as a symphony by the composer, this piece forgoes the conventions of the traditional multi-movement symphony and consists of twenty-two continuous sections of music. The story of An Alpine Symphony depicts the experiences of eleven hours (from daybreak just before dawn to the following nightfall) spent climbing an Alpine mountain. An Alpine Symphony is one of Strauss's largest non-operatic works in terms of performing forces: the score calls for about 125 players in total. A typical performance usually lasts around 50 minutes.
This piece was the last tone poem written by Strauss, a genre which gained the composer popularity in the late 1880s and 1890s with works such as Don Juan (1888), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895), Also Sprach Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), and A Hero's Life (1897–98). By the time of An Alpine Symphony's composition, however, Strauss had turned his attention away from the genre of tone poems and had become well-established as one of the period's greatest operatic composers.
Though one of Strauss's lesser-performed works (for a number of reasons, including the great number of musicians required), the piece is popular enough that in 1981 a recording of An Alpine Symphony made with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic became one of the first compact discs to be pressed.
Although performed as one continuous movement, An Alpine Symphony has a distinct program which describes each phase of the Alpine journey in chronological order. The score includes the following section titles (not numbered in the score):
Der Anstieg (The Ascent)
Eintritt in den Wald (Entry into the Forest)
Wanderung neben dem Bach (Wandering by the Brook)
Am Wasserfall (At the Waterfall)
Auf blumigen Wiesen (On Flowering Meadows)
Auf der Alm (On the Alpine Pasture)
Durch Dickicht und Gestrüpp auf Irrwegen (Through Thickets and Undergrowth on the Wrong Path)
Auf dem Gletscher (On the Glacier)
Gefahrvolle Augenblicke (Dangerous Moments)
Auf dem Gipfel (On the Summit)
Nebel steigen auf (Mists Rise)
Die Sonne verdüstert sich allmählich (The Sun Gradually Becomes Obscured)
Stille vor dem Sturm (Calm Before the Storm)
Gewitter und Sturm, Abstieg (Thunder and Tempest, Descent)
Ausklang (Quiet Settles)
In terms of formal analysis, attempts have been made to group these sections together to form a "gigantic Lisztian symphonic form, with elements of an introduction, opening allegro, scherzo, slow movement, finale, and epilogue." In general, however, it is believed that comparisons to any kind of traditional symphonic form are secondary to the strong sense of structure created by the piece's musical pictorialism and detailed narrative.