Richard Strauss was one of the most prominent composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who built an impressive artistic career spanning almost eight decades. Strauss made important contributions to virtually all possible musical forms that existed at the time, but was most famous for his symphonic tone poems and operas. He came of age at a time when associations between art and society were becoming somewhat problematic. Strauss, in his masterpieces, took advantage of the paradoxes and potential profundities to be found in everyday modern life.
Richard Strauss came from a musical family. His father Franz Strauss was an eminent horn player in the Munich court orchestra who became a professor at the Königliche Musikschule in 1871. Although strongly associated with Wagner, Richard Strauss’s upbringing was more similar to that of Mendelssohn – he was the son of bourgeois parents, to whom musical training was an ordinary part of life. Strauss began learning piano at the age of four and violin at the age of eight. He composed his first pieces by the age of six and began composition lessons aged 11 with Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer. Strauss later learned composition with Ludwig Thuille, who was treated almost as one of the family and who had a huge influence on the young composer.
In 1882, Strauss enrolled in the University of Munich. Although his time there only lasted a few months, it was an important time in that it awakened a keen intellectual curiosity in which he discovered works of Shakespeare and Schopenhauer. It was during this time that he made a name for himself with some landmark premieres such as his Serenade and his Violin Concerto. He also travelled regularly: to Dresden and to Berlin.