According to tradition, Till Eulenspiegel was born in 1300 in Kneitlingen am Elm (Germany). Eulenspiegel is often depicted in later illustrations with attributes like a fool’s cap. However, he is not simply to be regarded as a designated jester. In the stories he seems to be superior to his fellow men in intellectual power, insight and wit. Eulenspiegel’s pranks often result from taking a figurative expression literally. The most common interpretation of this today is that he used this literal interpretation as a means to expose the shortcomings of his fellow men and to vent his anger about the grievances of his time. (Wikipedia)
Till Eulenspiegel can also be found in music, probably best known in Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Till Eulenspiegel’s funny pranks”. Strauss worked from late 1893 to spring 1894 on a libretto for a projected opera entitled “Till Eulenspiegel bei den Schildbürgern”; he probably already sketched some musical motifs. However, for unknown reasons, he broke off work and instead composed the tone poem Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks in spring 1895; in the old roguish manner in the form of a roundel; set for large orchestra. He finished the fair copy on 6 May 1895 in Munich. The piece is dedicated to Arthur Seidl, a publicist and Nietzschean with whom Strauss had been friends for several years.
The piece was first performed on 5 November 1895 during the second subscription concert of the Kölner Konzertgesellschaft at the Gürzenich zu Köln with the Städtisches Gürzenich-Orchester conducted by Franz Wüllner.
The composition begins with a prologue, as if a narrator was reading “Once upon a time”. Later, two different motifs are introduced, which represent Till and are varied throughout the work. The rondo form suggested by the subtitle turns out to be very free; the work contains elements of sonata form as well as variation, and with its rapid 6-8 beat, the piece is reminiscent of a symphonic scherzo. Remarkable are numerous parodistic and tone-painting effects.