Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2011
“Your manner has so much in common with mine; we were born for one another and are certain to do fi ne things together.” “You're Da Ponte and Scribe rolled into one.” Richard Strauss rejoiced in working with his longest-serving librettist, the Austrian man-of-letters Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and the feeling was mutual. Theirs, the most successful collaboration in twentieth-century opera, was predicated on mutual, professional respect, notwithstanding the natural conflict befi tting of two creative artists already giants in their respective fields. Elektra (1908), the first of seven operas that helped to redefine the genre for the new century, set the template for a series of works unique as much for the pellucidity of their scoring as for the sheer depth of their libretti. Each partner recognized their commonality as much as those qualities that made them essentially different: Hofmannsthal's sage-like insight into twentieth-century humanity perfectly matched Strauss's candor, penchant for parody, and ground-breaking stylistic pluralism.
One can well imagine Strauss's grief at the sudden death of his colleague, confidant, and friend on July 15, 1929. While preparing to inter his son, who had committed suicide two days previously, Hofmannsthal suffered a fatal stroke. Too upset to attend the funeral, Strauss sent his son Franz and daughter-in-law Alice to Vienna, conveying a moving letter of condolence to the poet’s widow, Gerty, with the following tribute: “Th is genius, this great poet, this sensitive collaborator, this unique talent! No musician ever found such a helper and supporter. No one will ever replace him for me or the world of music!”