Conventional wisdom has it that after the revolutionary, avant-garde scores of Salome or Elektra, Richard Strauss gave up the innovatory struggle and took an easier road to success with Der Rosenkavalier . Nothing could be further from the truth. While the new work was certainly not as aggressive or, for its day, as dissonant as its two predecessors, it was equally ground-breaking in its own, more appealing way. In no operatic work that preceded it had composer and librettist written such an obviously conversational piece in which the text, perhaps Hofmannsthal’s masterpiece in the genre, is absolutely on a par with the music, so the twin creators had invented virtually a new genre of musical play.
It was Hofmannsthal who suggested the subject of Der Rosenkavalier, a comedy set in Vienna in Maria Theresa’s time, but an unrealistic fairy-story Vienna, where wit and elegance redeemed anything and all could be forgiven provided it was done with style. From its first performance Der Rosenkavalier was a success, and has been performed more than any other German opera written in the twentieth century.