German composer Richard Strauss is best known for his operas, particularly Der Rosenkavalier. As an artist who, over the course of his long life invested much of his energy into composing music for the theatre, Strauss must have given much consideration to the interplay between music and words. In Capriccio – Strauss’s last opera – the composer explicitly examines this relationship.
The Sextet performed today sets the scene for the one-act opera. The majority of the work is performed off-stage, and draws to a close soon after the curtain rises to reveal a scene in which the Countess Madeleine, seated in her drawing room in a château near Paris, listens to a musical offering from her suitor, the composer Flamand. Also present is the composer’s rival in love, the poet Olivier.
As they compete for the Countess’s affections, the men’s occupations afford the composer a none-too-subtle metaphor for an examination of the relative merits of the two art forms. The two men compete for the Countess’s affections, yet the curtain closes before she makes her choice.
While the opera does not reach a firm conclusion about the power of words versus music, it is perhaps revealing that the opening sextet was written in such as way as to enable it to either serve the drama, or to be performed as a stand alone chamber work.