Post mortem?


This five note motif appears towards the end of the last of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, his setting of Eichendorff’s poem Im Abendrot (At Sunset). It’s played at the moment – the final line of the poem – when the singer asks ‘Ist dies etwa der Tod?’  (Is this perhaps death?)

The motif is a quotation – a self quotation – from a tone poem that the 84 year old Strauss had written 60 years earlier – Tod und  Verklärung  (Death and Transfiguration). In the song it’s accompanied by a whole kaleidoscope of key changes that, eventually, wind home to a rich, deep chord in the home key of E-flat and the gentle trilling of two piccolos.


In the original tone poem it plays a much more central role, since it’s the musical signifier of Strauss’ imagined posthumous transfiguration of the soul and, as such, makes increasingly frequent appearances as the piece progresses (in A-flat, then E-flat until it finally transforms itself into the tonic major, C – the soul at last finds peace) .

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