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Don Juan (Strauss)

Strauss in 1888, the year he composed Don Juan

Don Juan, Op. 20, is a tone poem in E major for large orchestra written by the German composer Richard Strauss in 1888. It is singled out by Carl Dahlhaus as a "musical symbol of fin-de-siècle modernism", particularly for the "breakaway mood" of its opening bars.[1]

The premiere of Don Juan took place on 11 November 1889 in Weimar, where Strauss served as Court Kapellmeister; he conducted the orchestra of the Weimar Opera. The work, composed when Strauss was only twenty-four years old, became an international success and established his reputation. In comments written two days after the premiere, Strauss said, "Well then – Don Juan had a great success, it sounded wonderful and went very well. It unleashed a storm of applause rather unusual for Weimar."

The Don Juan legend originated in Renaissance-era Spain. Strauss's tone poem is based on Don Juans Ende, a play derived from an unfinished 1844 retelling of the tale by poet Nikolaus Lenau (Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau). Strauss reprinted three excerpts from the play in his score. In Lenau's rendering, Don Juan's promiscuity springs from his determination to find the ideal woman. Despairing of ever finding her, he ultimately surrenders to melancholy and wills his own death.[2]

Performances of the work last around sixteen minutes. The difficulty of the work makes excerpts from Don Juan a staple of orchestral audition lists for many instruments.[3]

 \relative c' { \clef treble \time 2/2 \partial 2*1 g2(\f^"Don Juan theme" | g'1~ | g4 f) e d8-- f-- | e4 r d2~ | d4 e( d4. a8 | g1~ | g4) }


Strauss's Don Juan is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns in E, 3 trumpets in E, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, cymbals, glockenspiel, harp and strings.

An orchestral score and a score for piano four hands was published by J. Aibl in Leipzig in 1890.


  1. ^ Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century Music, translated by J. Bradford Robinson (California Studies in 19th-Century Music 5) (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1989): 331, 334. ISBN 978-0-520-07644-0.
  2. ^ Heninger, Barbara. "Program notes for Redwood Symphony". Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Auditions: Orchestral extracts, European Union Youth Orchestra

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