Although Richard Strauss had contemplated writing a Till Eulenspiegel opera, he ultimately abandoned this project and told the story of his merry prankster in this programmatic orchestral rondo.
The richly detailed music depicts Till vandalizing a marketplace, seducing women, and mocking both the clergy and university professors.
Till first appears in German folklore of the late middle-ages and in the satirical literature of the Renaissance. In many illustrations, he is seen with an owl and a mirror, a reference to his name: “Eulen” (owl) and “Spiegel” (mirror), although it has also been speculated that the name is a pun on a Low German colloquialism meaning “Wipe your Buttocks!”
Ultimately condemned to death, a final, post-mortem statement of Till’s theme honors the eternal spirit of anarchic fun.