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Merry Pranks of Master Till

Curriculum Guide

Merry Pranks of Master Till Curriculum Guide
Click on a subject to view its corresponding curriculum guide


Here is a brief biography of Richard Strauss. With a well-known French horn player for a father, is it any wonder Richard grew up to write beautifully for the horn?

This profile of Strauss includes music video clips, and a list of his works.

Strauss was quite a quotable guy. Here are a few of the things he said that have stood the test of time:

  • “Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them.”

  •  “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.”

  •  “The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.”

The Middle Ages, or Medieval period, {from the 5th to the 15th centuries} is an interesting one to explore and the stories of Till Eulenspiegel harken us back to that time. Castles, jesters, kings and lords…let’s learn about the Middle Ages!


The feudal system was a strict hierarchy of classes in the Middle Ages. If you were born in one class, you would die in that class, with very few exceptions. From kings down to peasants, your life was framed by this reality.




There are many wonderful books about the Middle Ages written for kids. Here are a handful to explore:


Till Eulenspiegel was a jester of sorts. Jesters {also called fools or clowns}, in providing humor, had a very important role in a castle and were often the only members of a court allowed to pointedly remark on or joke about the nobles without fear of offending, or fear of punishment!



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The French Horn is a brass instrument. Let’s discover how brass instruments work!

Read this brief article to see how brass instruments make sound.

  • Brass instruments rely heavily on harmonics, along with valves or slides, to create pitches. Every musical note has within it not only the fundamental pitch {the one you recognize as the note being played} but also many other notes above that fundamental. The organization of those other notes, and their relative strengths or weaknesses, give each instrument its unique sound. Brass instruments, in addition, can play notes in the harmonic series (a set pattern of notes beginning with the fundamental) with the same fingerings or slide position. Bugles have no valves to press or slides to move, so a bugle’s notes include only those in the harmonic series, beginning with the fundamental pitch “C”.


  • To see for yourself harmonics in action, try this experiment. You will need a piano (not a keyboard). First, press down slowly and gently (NOT making a sound with the keys) the following notes in order going up and hold them: middle C, G, C, E, G. Keep them held down! Press the right pedal with your foot and hold it down. Now have someone else play firmly and quickly (loudly!) the C one octave below the middle C you have held down. You should be able to hear all of the notes you have held down ringing as well as the note your friend played! That shows how the bottom note played actually has many different pitches in it and when the other keys are held down, their strings are able to vibrate along with the bottom note! Pretty cool!


  • Here is a great article that explains further the phenomenon of harmonics and how they relate to brass instruments.


  • You can make your own horn using a garden hose, funnel, and some duct tape. Based on all you just learned about how a brass instrument makes sound, explain why this simple homemade instrument works.


Let’s take a trip to Germany, where Richard Strauss lived and composed

  • Germany is a country in Europe. It is bordered by, among other countries, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark.


  •  Here is a brief but wonderful hands-on study of Germany at Planet Smarty Pants. It includes a recipe for German meatballs!



Germany has many castles, the most famous of which is Neuschwanstein high up in the Alps of Bavaria. This fairy tale castle was the one that provided Walt Disney with the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.


Castle projects! Make your own castles using these fun activities:



German Crafts


  • In Germany, kids get a first day of school gift called Schultüte {school cones} filled with candy. Maybe this is a tradition you wish to start in your family?


  • German paper stars {Fröbel stars} are a great origami-type project, especially for decorating during the holidays.


Language Arts
Language Arts

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The original book of 95 stories about Till Eulenspiegel was written by a mysterious author who only identified him/herself as “N.” Who could it have been? And was Till a real person in Germany in the Middle Ages? Here’s a more in depth look at the history behind the stories, and who could have written them.

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks provide humor at the expense of others, often the nobility, clergy, or other people in authority. This kind of commentary on the vices and positions of authoritative figures was not uncommon in the literary, artistic, nd musical worlds. Writers, musicians, and artists throughout history have used their subtle {or not-so-subtle} power to make statements of their own! Here are a few examples:

  • Did you know that Mozart {who was known for his slightly cavalier attitude toward those in authority} wrote an opera that portrayed nobility in a negative light? The Marriage of Figaro was based on a play that was originally banned in Vienna. Mozart’s opera, though, which had some of the political subject matter of the original removed, became a rousing success and is still performed all over the world today.



  • Duet between Susanna and Marcellina


  • Have you ever heard of a “cat fight?” It’s a term used to describe a petty argument between women, but Gioachino Rossini wrote a literal “cat fight” in his Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti {Funny duet for two cats}. Here is the duet sung by two famous opera singers who really got the “Meows” down!


  • One of Beethoven’s symphonies, the beautiful Eroica Symphony, was originally written for and dedicated to Napoleon Buonaparte, whom Beethoven thought was a “champion of freedom”. Beethoven rescinded the dedication after Napoleon’s true dictatorial colors emerged, disgusted as he was by the power-hungry actions of one he had so loyally followed. Listen to the symphony here, and read a more in depth history and analysis of the work here

There have been other, more modern pranksters and literalists in children’s literature. Look these books and characters up in your local library and see what they have in common with Till!

Stories have an incredible power to teach us. Explore the moral fables of Aesop, the parables of Jesus, and the Fairy Tales of the brothers Grimm for further study.


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Strauss’ career spanned different musical styles including romanticism and a musical movement called expressionism. Expressionism in music followed a period of expressionism in the art world, which began in Germany around the turn of the 20th century and swept through Europe. The movement turned art inward, focusing on the emotions of the artist, rather than realistic depictions of the outer world. Let’s learn about expressionist art and three of its leading painters, Kandinsky, Klee, and Marc, who were members of Der Blaue Reiter, an important group in the expressionist movement.


  • Wasily Kandinsky was an expressionist, and moved toward abstraction in his later periods. He used strong geometric shapes and colors to express his views about the world.


  • The actress Helen Mirren talks about Kandinsky, her favorite artist, in this thoughtful video.

Here are a few projects based on Kandinsky’s works:

Paul Klee was also an abstract expressionist known for his mastery of color. 

Paul Klee-inspired projects for kids:




Franz Marc was another member of Der Blaue Reiter {the Blue Rider} along with Kandinsky and Klee. He is most famous for his abstract paintings of animals. Let’s learn a bit about him here.

  • Watch this video slideshow of Marc’s paintings. Notice the beautiful, vibrant colors he chose! Choose one to copy in watercolor.




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Till Eulenspiegel is a piece of music called a tone poem. Tone poems {also called symphonic poems or sound poems} are programmatic, meaning the music itself is composed to be descriptive, either of an image or a story. Strauss thought that his music told the story of Till well enough, without the addition of narration. What do you think?

Many other composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries wrote symphonic poems. Here are some examples (PreK+):

  • Paul Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This piece was included in Walt Disney’s magical musical journey, Fantasia, and starred Mickey Mouse as the apprentice. Don’t miss the CD from Maestro Classics on this wonderful piece!


  • Franz Liszt Prometheus is based on the Greek mythological figure of the same name. You can find the story of Prometheus here.


  • Respighi, The Pines of Rome- depicts pine trees in different parts of Rome during different times of day


  • The French horn is a beautiful and unique instrument. It is in the brass family, and has an interesting history.


  • Watch this video by a hornist at the Philharmonia Orchestra, and learn more about this instrument.

Listen to the following examples of pieces with horn excerpts from The Horn Society. What words would you use to describe the sound of the French horn? Can you describe it in colors? Notice the incredible variety of sounds and moods a horn can create.


Peter and the Wolf: one of the most famous uses of French horn in music for children is Prokofiev’s use of horns for the wolf’s theme. Here is a video rendition of the tale told by Boris Karloff, whom you’ll recognize as the voice of the Christmas special, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”


Not only is music itself sometimes descriptive, but often movies, cartoons, and commercials take symphonic music and craft stories or moods around it. Enjoy these examples of musical selections made famous partly due to the way they were used in dramatic or comic ways.






  • This commercial from 1994 was part of a campaign by the Beef Council that used Aaron Copland’s Hoedown from Rodeo. It always made me hungry!



  • Compare the last two examples. Why does the Copland work for the beef commercial and the Delibes work for the chocolate commercial?

Richard Strauss was composer and conductor. What is the role of the conductor of an orchestra? How about we learn to conduct too!





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Phil Tulga has a wonderful site devoted to music across the curriculum. Check out his mathematical and scientific take on creating instruments, complete with activities and interactive activities. I’ll bet you didn’t know just how much fractions have to do with music! Be sure to surf around on the rest of his site. There is so much to discover here!

Here is a thorough Musical Math pdf by the Fort Worth Symphony education department.

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