William Wolfram: Strauss’ Enoch Arden

The 2018 Winter Festival marks the SCMS premiere of Richard Strauss’ melodrama Enoch Arden, based on a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is a blend of music and poetry and is sure to be a highlight of the concert series. Pianist William Wolfram has performed the piece before, and we thought we’d let him give us an introduction to this compelling and unique piece of music.

Enoch Arden is a narrative poem by Alfred Tennyson written in 1864.  In 1897 Richard Strauss set the poem to music (in both a German and English setting). In 1962 the actor Claude Rains and pianist Glenn Gould recorded it.


My experience with the work was in the 1980’s with an almost cult actress named Luise Rainer. Rainer had come to Hollywood from Europe, won Academy Awards for Best Actress in 1936 and 1937 for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth – and just as quickly – left Hollywood and went back to Europe.


In the 1980’s she presented Enoch Arden in theatres around the country and in the Library of Congress (which they recorded). She was gone from Hollywood for so long but had an extremely enthusiastic following of people who remembered her.


The piano part has a mixture of solos, and duets with the narrator…the music basically serves to clarify and enhance character  and plot description by the narrator. Other times the music stands alone.
It is music typical of Strauss’s style.


The narrator is king in this work and if he/she takes a liberty with the placement of the words, I feel it is my duty to adjust. Luise Rainer was very dramatic in the old fashioned style and took many liberties with the timing of her words. She was very concerned that I not adjust, and always asked if she was forcing me to adjust. I always said no; I lied.  What she did was so wonderful and really put the story across in a powerful way.


I never thought that I would get to perform this wonderful, different work again.  I remember talking to James about this work and I am so thrilled that he decided to present it this January!