Almost 70 years, ago, the Philharmonia performed the world premiere of Strauss's late masterpiece, Four Last Songs, with soprano Kirsten Flagstad and conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. This December, the Orchestra returns to the piece with soprano Sophie Bevan and Principal Guest Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, performing in Leicester on 5 December and London on 6 December.
Ahead of the performance, peek into one of the defining moments of Philharmonia history - read Richard Strauss's original letter to Kirsten Flagstad that led to the Philharmonia's performance one year later.
Facsimile of Strauss's original typewritten letter, courtesy of the Kirsten Flagstad Museum, Norway.
13 May, 1949
At his home by Lake Geneva, bemoaning the poor health that prevents him from attending concerts, an elderly Strauss sits working at his typewriter. Inspired by news reports of an extraordinary recital in Zurich, he has compiled a set of scores for the legendary singer, Kirsten Flagstad, asking her if she would consider performing some of his most demanding songs for operatic soprano, “the performance of which is closed to ordinary singers”. He includes such masterpieces as Frühlingsfeier, Wiegenlied and Cäcilie, but at the end of the letter, he chooses to offer something further: in a now-famous sentence in the Philharmonia’s history, he suggests: “…I also add that I have the pleasure to provide for you my Four Last Songs with orchestra, which are currently in print in London; to give their premiere performance in an orchestral concert with a first-class conductor and orchestra…”