Early life and family
Strauss with his wife and son, 1910
Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, the son of Josephine (née Pschorr) and Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.
During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), where he received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor. In 1872, he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father's cousin. In 1874, Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn.
In early 1882, in Vienna, he gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied philosophy and art history, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade (Op. 7) for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man, and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen Court Orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. His Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, is representative of this period and is a staple of the modern horn repertoire.
Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but to all appearances the marriage was essentially happy, and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.
The Strausses had one son, Franz, in 1897. Franz married Alice von Grab-Hermannswörth, daughter of a Jewish industrialist, in a Roman Catholic ceremony in 1924. Franz and Alice had two sons, Richard and Christian.
In 1906, Strauss purchased a block of land at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and had a villa built there with the down payments from the publisher Adolph Fürstner for his opera Salome, residing there until his death.