The Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) was seriously wounded in World War I and lost his right arm. Since he was extremely strong-willed and talented, as well as inherently very wealthy, it is thanks to him and the lucrative composition commissions he initiated from international musical celebrities that we now have such a rich literature of masterpieces for piano left hand, among them masterly concert works with orchestra by Maurice Ravel, Sergey Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, Alexandre Tansman, Franz Schmidt, Karl Weigl, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Sergei Bortkiewicz, Josef Labor or Richard Strauss, chamber music works by Franz Schmidt, Hans Gál, Korngold and others, and many piano solo works.
Richard Strauss and Paul Wittgenstein had already been friends before World War I, since the time when they had played piano four-handed in the house of Paul‘s father, the Factory owner and music patron Karl Wittgenstein. It was therefore no wonder that Strauss wrote his ‚Parergon to the Symphonia Domestica‘ for Wittgenstein in 1924-25, which was premiered in Dresden on October 6, 1925, by the dedicatee with the Berlin Philharmonic under Fritz Busch. This one-movement occasional work was initially quite successful, but Wittgenstein was not satisfied with either the pianistic brilliance or the orchestration, which was too heavy for him compared to the solo part. To Wittgenstein‘s joyful surprise, Strauss announced a new work for piano left hand and orchestra in early March 1926: The ’Panathenäenzug’ then took shape in the course of the year and was completed on February 14, 1927. (On November 15, 1926, Strauss had reported on the work in a letter to Clemens Krauss). The Passacaglia bass theme is performed in 22 variations. Formally, the work corresponds to Liszt‘s ideal of ‚several movements in one single movement‘ and is thus related to the symphonic poems that Strauss had so successfully presented to the world already as a young man.
The ’Panathenäenzug’ was premiered in Berlin on January 16, 1928 by Paul Wittgenstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Bruno Walter. It was not a success with the critics and, after two further performances of Wittgenstein in 1928, fell into oblivion. …
In early summer 1908, Casella started composing his Second Symphony. He wrote about it in his ’Segreti della Giara’ that ”I worked with great diligence on it. This score has remained unpublished. It is a work lasting about three-quarters of an hour, behind which arise imperiously the shadows of Mahler and Strauss and—less visibly—those of Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev.”
The premiere of the First Symphony took place in Monaco on December 17, 1908, in the 5th subscription concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, which was given under the motto «De musique ancienne et moderne». Casella had already made his debut as a pianist with the same orchestra in Monaco in the spring of 1908, and now he introduced himself as conductor of his own work in a concert which was led by the Belgian chief conductor Léon Jehin (1854-1928). Casella’s First Symphony came in second place. It was preceded (under Jehin) by Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, and after the intermission it was followed by the first prelude from Wagner’s ’Lohengrin’, the symphonic poem ’Sadko’ by Rimsky-Korsakov, and the ballet music from ’Henry VIII’ by Saint-Saëns (under Jehin).