‘Ein Heldenleben’ and its history with the CSO

The painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (c. 1819) by Caspar David Friedrich.


Richard Strauss' tone poem Ein Heldenleben has ties to Chicago dating back more than a century. Theodore Thomas, the founder and the first music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led the work's U.S. premiere on March 9, 1900.

Of that performance, a reviewer for the Chicago Chronicle declared: “It is not too much to say that this descriptive writing is as fine as any ever given to the world. The new Strauss composition was a decided success. This tone poem is one of the most striking and at times startling examples of descriptive composition ever yet presented by a composer.”

Since that performance, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) has become one of the CSO's signature works (the orchestra will perform it May 19-22), and the orchestra has recorded it with three maestros, most notably, Fritz Reiner in 1954 on RCA, and most recently, Bernard Haitink on CSO Resound in 2008. (The third recording, with Daniel Barenboim in 1990, is not currently available on Spotify.)