One of the more unique celebrations of the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner on May 22, 2013 came with the release of that composer’s complete piano works performed by Dario Bonuccelli. Bonuccelli now seems to have shifted his attention to another famous composer who has never been known particularly well for his solo piano music. The first volume in his project to record the complete works for solo piano by Richard Strauss was released a little over a month ago. This is a single CD that provides a little less than 75 minutes of music.
As I have previously observed, Strauss was a child prodigy who composed his first song, a Christmas carol, in December of 1870, when he was six years old. This is also about the same time that he wrote his first solo piano composition, “Schneiderpolka” (tailor’s polka), which he would later rearrange for piano and string orchestra. The selections on this recording cover the period from that time until 1882, when he composed a set of five pieces published as his Opus 3.
Strauss would continue to compose for solo piano until 1906 (his Opus 100 “Königsmarsch”). However, this is definitely a modest portion of his entire repertoire; and most of his works for solo piano were written before he was a teenager. I would therefore guess that Bonuccelli will require only one more CD to complete his project (unless he is also in the process of uncovering newly discovered manuscripts).
The composer best known for his juvenilia keyboard music is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Like the young Mozart, the young Strauss could also have a playful streak. However, he does not show it very often, preferring, instead, to dwell on routine forms in a relatively routine manner. Only the two-movement C major sonata (called a sonatina on Bonuccelli’s recording) plays some rambunctious games with harmony and counterpoint. (This sonata is the first of a set of six of which only the first five survive.) However, while the C major has its own sense of youthful adventurousness, there is hardly anything there to foreshadow the outrageous D minor “Burleske” for piano and orchestra that Strauss would compose in 1886 (his first work for piano and orchestra since his arrangement of the “Schneiderpolka”).
This recording will probably be enjoyed by Strauss lovers as a curiosity. Those who enjoy that composer’s writing for larger ensembles may also be amused with how he works when confined only to the keyboard. Ultimately, however, these are compositions best appreciated as curiosities or for playing guess-who-wrote-this games.