Richard Strauss was a diligent and prolific composer. He was already writing music when he was six years old and did not stop composing until he died at the age of eighty-five. Perhaps Strauss’ best-known compositions are his tone poems. Most are very popular today and are frequently performed. These orchestral works include Don Juan, Op. 20; Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks), Op. 28; Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), Op. 30; and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Op. 40. After writing his last tone poem in 1898, however, Strauss composed mostly operas. Salome premiered in 1905; Elektra, in 1909; and Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), in 1911. The last opera Strauss completed was Capriccio, composed between 1940 and 1941.
During his life Strauss wrote only a small number of concertos for a solo instrument and orchestra. The majority of such works were composed before he began creating tone poems. Among them Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 11 is probably best known. The composer had been inspired by his father Franz Strauss, a principal French horn player at the Court Opera Orchestra in Munich, to write a concerto for his father’s instrument. Approximately sixty years went by before Strauss had an opportunity to write another concerto for the French horn. Horn Concerto No. 2 was completed in 1942 and was performed for the first time on August 11, 1943.
Horn Concerto No. 2 is an extremely difficult piece to play. Only those horn players who are equipped with extraordinary performance skills can execute the highly demanding passages in it. Consequently, the composition has become one of the most frequently requested pieces at horn competitions. The work consists of three movements, of which the first and second are played without interruption.