Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2011
The collaboration between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal was one of the greatest composer–librettist relationships of all time, spanning nearly three decades until the poet's untimely death in July, 1929. It was an artistic association at the level of Verdi–Boito or Mozart–Da Ponte but, unlike these two earlier librettists, Hofmannsthal had a successful and independent career as a writer of some of Austria's finest lyric poetry, and his plays remain in the repertoire of German-speaking theater. Before setting Hofmannsthal's Elektra to music, Strauss had worked with various authors and various texts (those by himself, Ernst von Wolzogen, and Oscar Wilde). But with Hofmannsthal he collaborated on six operas, a series interrupted only by Intermezzo (1924). The partnership with Hofmannsthal also initiated an association with Austrians for all his future operatic collaborations: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Gregor, and Clemens Krauss.
Much has been made of the differences between Strauss and Hofmannsthal, the German and the Austrian, and these contrasts in personality, literary tastes, and artistic views are quite true. The famous photograph taken by Strauss's son, Franz, is one of two men standing together outside the composer's villa in Garmisch around the time of Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss, wearing walking breeches, with a cigarette in his left hand and a walking stick in his right, looks directly into the camera, while Hofmannsthal – nearly a head shorter – stands holding a horizontal umbrella, wearing a hat covering his eyes, awkwardly staring away from the camera in the direction of Strauss.