Every once in a while, I happen to turn on the radio at just the right time and hear 1) a piece of music that I know and love, or 2) a piece that I’ve never heard but immediately love. Richard Strauss’ “Le Bourgeoisie Gentilhomme Suite” is a member of that second group, having been discovered by a lucky turn of the radio knob on the way home from work.
(for some reason, this recording is split into nine parts, so you’re welcome to listen to as few or as many parts as you like. The link above is only for part 1).
Strauss wrote this work in the early 1900’s with the intention of assisting a friend of his in reviving a 1670 comedic play by the same name. Although the play was unsuccessful, Strauss garnered significant attention for the music he created for it. Capitalizing on this surge of popularity, he combined the most popular melodies from his score and created a Suite that could be performed separately from the opera. The suite had its intended effect – audiences loved it and the Strauss was the man of the hour.
There are nine different parts, or movements, to the Suite. (Strauss later wrote two additional movements for the play that were not as well-received). Each of the movements depicts a scene from daily life (dinner conversation, cleaning the house, working in the fields, etc). Strauss borrowed themes from common countryside tunes to create these movements, which certainly contributed to its immediate popularity. However, another factor that may have helped in this regard is the very distinct Baroque flavor that Strauss gives the work. In a sense, it is even neo-classical. For instance, several of the melodies come from the music of the Baroque cellist Jean-Baptiste Lully while others are inspired by the 17th-century keyboard player Francois Couperin. It is quite possible that this reference to the history of classical music struck a chord with his audience in a way that the Romantic music of his time could not.