Every day life in the House of Strauss

Music takes   centre stage in Strauss’ life. 
But what kind of life does Strauss live as a private man?
How does the artist spend his days, how does he relax, and from where does he get his energy?

Holidays and Travels

Richard Strauss was very fond of travelling, but not simply for reasons of summer sun and fresh air.  Travelling (other than when he travelled for work on his many tours) for Strauss was a source of artistic inspiration but caused him a certain amount of exertion.
And he therefore takes many exertions upon himself.
In 1886, the 22 year old travelled to Italy for the first time.  For the record, this was not a “holiday” but an educational journey into the ancient tradition of "Italian Travel”.
The next international trip was for medical reasons – to recover from a life- threatening case of pneumonia.  In 1892/93 Strauss travelled to Italy, Greece and Egypt where he collected many impressions – out of which resulted his first opera “Guntram”.
Soon, travelling would become a career necessity.  Concert tours would take the Kapellmeister (also with his own works) throughout most of Europe to North America and South America.  He also tried to fill his free time with appearances and guest performances and museum visits.

In 1907 already a Car Enthusiast

When his son Franz was born in 1897, Strauss was in Stuttgart.  Holidays at resorts (Westerlandt/Sylt) with his family never really appealed to him.    He took great pleasure in driving in the new modern cars of the time.  In 1907 Strauss purchased his own first car and drove it to Italy in 1913.  He later took trips by car driven by his loyal driver Martin) to the Dolomites and to Middle Italy (for educational reasons).
However, Greece was   the composer’s favourite place.  In his last handwritten note in July 1949, Strauss defined himself as a “Greek Germanic”.  On a trip in 1926, Strauss renewed his impressions of the homeland of ancient culture, originally collected by him in 1892.  The operas “Egyptian Helen”, “Daphne”, and “Danae” are written in this spirit of classicism.

Gruelling Travel Experiences

The art of travel in the first third of the 20th century was an exciting, but rarely comfortable experience.  The following are a few impressions of Richard Strauss the world traveller:

“To a concert in Brooklyn by electric automobile (40 mark) through the wild and miserably paved streets of New York over the amazing Hudson Bridge” (1904)
“How exhausting! I don’t want to complain, but 8 hours in an unheated train from Berlin to Bielefeld – that really struck me.  No dining car, nothing warm to eat or drink…” (1917 during the World War)
Or on transit by sea to South America in 1920:  “We lay there for 21 hours – a horrible time.  On both sides of the ship there were four giant coal boats that had caused so much dirt and dust due to the noisy loading that the foredeck of the ship was firmly locked with a screen and all the doors and windows had to be tightly closed.
Pauline and Richard in St Moritz in 1911

Sport and Games

Nature had an influence on Strauss.  It kept pulling him into the mountainous regions for long periods of hiking.  He also accompanied his Pauline in ice skating and enjoyed going sledding with his grandchildren and their friends.  Movement and exercise acted also as an inspiration for the composer:  take for example the immortalised sledding scene in “Intermezzo”.  However, Strauss was really only able to fully unwind by playing his favourite card game Skat.
Strauss would have frowned upon modern sport as we know it today.  He wrote for his grandchildren that skiing was “a profession for Norwegian country mailmen”.  He prefered to be at the side of his Pauline while ice skating, or sledding (where his grandchildren had the most fun).
In his art, Strauss was able to personify even the smallest details of life.  In his autobiographical opera “Intermezzo” Strauss immortalised the sledding scene with Pauline. Strauss also liked to go horse-back riding in his youth – it was a sport that he would later give up.

„Automobile“- After a minor mishap – this sport took a passive form

Since his early days as a boy, Strauss enjoyed spending time in the outdoors.  Long drawn out hikes relaxed him and inspired him.  The result of his passion for high speed was “An Alpine Symphony”.   Even in his later years, he continued to go for walks twice a day (Pauline would also place great emphasis on this routine).  He would compare his creative rhythm with the cycles of nature:  his compositions would “bloom” in spring and summer, and fall and winter would be focused more on conducting.
Regarding the “sport” of automobiles:  after a minor “error” driving a car, Richard Strauss would later become only a passenger.  (More on this under “Holiday and Travels”)

True Unwinding through Skat

Strauss’ greatest passion – after music and his family – lay in the game of Skat (derived from the Italian “scarto” meaning “discard”).
Strauss learned how to play Skat in 1890 in Weimar and would use any opportunity to play the game.  He would gain the reputation of a brilliant, imaginative risk taker.  He credited his friend Karl Böhm for his passion for this “balancing sport”.  “People tend to attack me because I enjoy the game of Skat so much.  Böhm, I assure you, this is the only time in my life where I am not working.  Otherwise “that” up there in my head is ongoing”.
Richard finds inspiration in the mountains.

Pauline was not amused by her husband’s passion for the game.  In more than one letter to him, she expressed her displeasure.  She called the people with whom he spent his card game evenings “ragged skat brothers”.
Strauss readily invited his friends to his “skat-corner” in the Garmisch Villa, in Vienna, as well as on trips.  On occasion he also had some prominent individuals such as singer Hans Hotter, Franz Klarwein or the industrialist Manfred Mautner-Markhof to a game of cards.  Even in the opera “Intermezzo”, there is a clear tribute to the game of Skat.
Insight into the private family album

Food and Health

After two serious illnesses, Strauss still had only music in his head.  Pauline was the one who pushed him to be better aware of his health.  She saw to it that he eat regular meals, that he go on his daily walks, and have an afternoon nap.  However she was unable to steer him away from smoking.
In 1892 as well as in 1907, Strauss suffered from serious medical emergencies.  As a 26 year old he had pneumonia that healed badly, while at the age of 42 he experienced cardiac weakness – the cause remained under investigation.
On many occasions his father would try to speak to him and work on his conscience:  “We are very saddened to see how you are sabotaging your health, and trying to build your fortune so that your later life can be spent only composing.  Do you think that a sick body is able to achieve anything intellectual? “
His son fought back “Too much work has never made anybody sick, if they have lived well and solidly, which is what I do.”

Smoking as a vice until old age.

Although she was unable to put a stop to the nightly nicotine - filled skat parties, Pauline was the only one who was able to make Strauss realise the importance of taking care of his health.  She was aware of Strauss’ relapse-prone lungs and insisted on two daily walks to also even out the effects of the smoking.  (Strauss renounced this vice at the age of 75 and had “nasty mood” for many weeks.
One hour before lunch and dinner, Pauline would take her husband away from his work and into the fresh air.  She also supervised the strict observance of daily afternoon naps.   A letter written by Gustav Mahler to Alma “I was at Strauss’ yesterday afternoon.  She greeted me at the door with: Shh! Shh! Richard is sleeping ...“

Preference for Home Cooking – gladly with edges of fat

Richard Strauss did not eat much, but he did so with great satisfaction.  He despised long drawn out banquets but he knew how to appreciate fine foods and meals.  (“I starve at ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’).  However, Strauss preferred home cooking over all else.  He meticulously noted down recipes that appealed to him and gave them to Pauline and the loyal housekeeper Anni. He also wrote down lists of what to buy and how to prepare certain dishes.
His favourite dishes were beef with “G’schlader” (fatty edge), porcini mushrooms with dumplings, kidney and veal roast.  His favourite desserts were Anni’s vanilla biscuits, “Punsch-torte” and rose hip preserve (the only jam that is honoured in his “Intermezzo”.)
Pauline was a passionate cook who left behind a handwritten cookbook with recipes from all over the world.  She also enjoyed going out to fine restaurants or even having these deliver to her house on special occasions.
Richard goes on two walks daily - rain or shine.


Strauss’ artistic success allowed the couple to have a large house with a lively social life.  A party planner helped them to have a better overview of their events.  These were held in luxury hotels (for special occasions) but also mainly in their lovingly furnished residence.  Pauline was never able get her compulsive cleanliness obsession under control.
The couple lived relatively humbly at the beginning – in Munich, and summers at Richard’s in-laws in Marquartstein

Large House with Relentless Housekeeping

After the move to Berlin, Pauline (the General’s daughter) could finally run her household and keep up excellent social contacts.  She continued to do this with great pleasure in the capital Vienna.  The Strauss’ either visited or were visited by musicians, intellectuals, poets, officers, diplomats.
Mrs. Strauss managed the household meticulously and relentlessly.  Several cooks were   troubled by this.  In 1912, Anna Glossner arrived to work in their residence.  She would accompany and help the family until her death in 1944.  After her came Anni Nitzl who was considered a family member by the Strauss family

A Party Planner creates a Clear Overview

The Strauss couple would often throw parties to mark a special occasion.  The parties would be held at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Four Seasons Hotel in Munich, and the Imperial Hotel in Vienna.  As a rule of thumb however, the couple would generally receive their friends and guests at home.  
After each party, the guests’ names as well as the food that was served to them would be noted in a party planner book.  That was the only way that it was possible to ensure that no guest would ever be served the same dish twice.
Guests were happily welcomed, but not always very respectfully treated by Pauline.  Some would be shocked by her mood swings, and her obsession of cleanliness – or her unconventional abrupt fashion ideas: the lady of the house once shortened the rim of one of the guests’ hats by saying proudly “it looks better like this“…
The Strauss couple enjoy gracious invitations.

Cleanliness- obsessed not only at home

In Garmisch, Pauline led an iron and ice cold regime “Sometimes I can’t even stay in my room because of the draft” complained Richard about his wife’s obsession with airing out the rooms.
Pauline’s obsession with cleanliness was legendary and she did not only apply it to her own space:  In other people’s apartments, Pauline “checks if dust has been properly cleaned away.  She would swipe her finger over furniture, would open drawers, looked under beds and even inspected the hands of the domestic staff” (Kurt Wilhelm).  In reference to the clean punctured handwriting of the composer, Pauline once commented to guests:  “yes indeed, his musical scores, and my housekeeping”.
Richard and Pauline designed their residences with great love and financial expense,:  whether it was bohemian crystal, unusual furniture or antiques, Richard and Pauline chose everything together – and enjoyed it together as well.
A wealth of works as a succession for the world

Culture and Knowledge

It is not only music but also poetry and language that counted as Strauss’ passion.  This was clearly expressed in his symphonic poetry.
Strauss was busy with history and the classics for most of his life and   enjoyed reading contemporary literature with great interest. In the barbaric times of the Nazi era, literature and composing helped Strauss to escape the reality of his surroundings.
Richard Strauss was one of the educated people of his time (when this expression did not have any negative connotations associated with it).  He read “his Goethe” and reread it again when living in Garmisch.  He read all of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s works, with the exception of the “theory of colours”, which did not appeal to him.

As a Student Strauss had a “mature understanding” of the Classics

His talent of grasping concepts quickly and   his keen interest, was mentioned in Strauss’ report card in 1882 from the Munich Ludwig High School:  “although he occupies himself excellently with Music, he has nonetheless achieved high levels in the Language Arts and has succeeded in having a mature understanding of the Classics.  His knowledge of History is also to be commended”.

High educational demands on him and his Family.

His compositions reveal a literary education:  The symphonic poems are based on Nikolaus Lenau, William Shakespeare, Friedrich Nietzsche and Miguel de Cervantes.  His vocal compositions are based on poetry by Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Rückert, Ludwig Uhland, Joseph von Eichendorff, Herrmann Hesse, Christian Morgenstern and Johann Gottfried von Herder as well as on less well known contemporaries.
However, Strauss was a demanding and informed adversary regarding opera lyrics – such as in "Guntram", "Salome" und "Intermezzo" where he did not write the text himself.
Richard enjoys classical literature during his entire life.
His grandson Richard recalls the high educational demands that his grandfather placed on him and his male descendants which could barely be fulfilled.  “To become a cultured European (according to my grandfather), one must learn Latin and Greek, otherwise one is not a full-fledged human.  Philosophy should be studied, the works of Goethe should lie on the bedside table, while Herder, Wieland, Homer and Sophocles should be used in daily language.  Learning, concentration, education and no distractions.....

“The Germanic Greek“

Strauss refused to accept the gruesome reality of the Second World War – reading gave him refuge.  He wrote to the Austrian conductor Clemens Krauss at the end of 1944:  “I am stupidly approaching a non-curable extreme old age.  I fritter away my time with Plutarch to Ranke, Shakespeare to Nestroy, and repeatedly read the most unread Wagnernian works… “
Richard Strauss would refer to himself later as a “Germanic Greek”.  The classical upbringing and education contributed to Strauss leading a self-confident existence as a German; this was in complete opposition to what he experienced living in the barbaric Hitler times.