My Personal Top 10 Female Singers – No 5

by Dorothea

…in no particular order & with my favorite recording…

Number Five: Gundula Janowitz

Richard Strauss: “Four Last Songs”, with Herbert von Karajan directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

GundulaGundula Janowitz

Perhaps it is often the first version you hear of an iconic piece of music, that becomes your favorite! In my case it is this particular recording of “The Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss, sung by Gundula Janowitz and directed by Herbert von Karajan. (Sorry fans of Elisabeth Schwartzkopf)

KarajanHerbert von Karajan – Richard Strauss – “Four Last Songs” with Gundula Janowitz

“The Four Last Songs” (German: Vier letzte Lieder), for soprano and orchestra are (with the exception of the song “Malven” composed later the same year) the final completed works of Richard Strauss, composed in 1948 when the composer was 84. The songs are “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep) are based on poems by Herman Hesse. “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset) is based on a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff.  The title “Four Last Songs” was provided posthumously by Strauss’s friend Ernst Roth, who published the four songs as a single unit after Strauss’s death.Im Abendrot (click to listen) is my most favorite of the “Four Last Songs”.


Strauss died in September 1949. The premiere of “The Four Last Songs” was given posthumously at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950 by soprano Kirsten Flagstad and the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. The performance was made possible due to the magnanimous effort of the then Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahudar.


Though he could not be present, the music-loving maharaja put up a $4,800 guarantee for the performance, so that the “Four Last Songs” could be recorded for his large personal collection – then estimated at around 20,000 records – and the recording then shipped to him in Mysore.

Here the last verse of “At Sunset”:

O weiter, stiller Friede!
So tief im Abendrot.
Wie sind wir wandermüde–
Ist dies etwa der Tod?

O vast, tranquil peace,
so deep in the evening’s glow!
How weary we are of wandering —
Is this perhaps death?

During the Nazi period the composer Richard Strauss played an interesting role, I will dedicate a separate post to this subject later this week.