Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, his lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and other orchestral works, such as Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.
Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), were controversial works: Guntram was the first significant critical failure of Strauss's career, and Feuersnot was considered obscene by some critics.
In 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences. The premiere was a major success, with the artists taking more than 38 curtain calls.
Strauss's next opera was Elektra (1909), which took his use of dissonance even further, in particular with the Elektra chord. Elektra was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two subsequently worked together on numerous occasions. For his later works with Hofmannsthal, Strauss moderated his harmonic language: he used a more lush, melodic late-Romantic style based on Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that he had used in his tone poems, with much less dissonance, and exhibiting immense virtuosity in orchestral writing and tone color. This resulted in operas such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911) having great public success. Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1942. With Hofmannsthal he created Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932). For Intermezzo (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto. Die schweigsame Frau (1934), was composed with Stefan Zweig as librettist; Friedenstag (1935–6) and Daphne (1937) both had a libretto by Joseph Gregor and Stefan Zweig; and Die Liebe der Danae (1940) was with Joseph Gregor. Strauss's final opera, Capriccio (1942), had a libretto by Clemens Krauss, although the genesis for it came from Stefan Zweig and Joseph Gregor.
Strauss died at the age of 85 on 8 September 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
During his lifetime Strauss was considered the greatest composer of the first half of the 20th century, and his music had a profound influence on the development of 20th-century music.