He was born into a musical circle, his father being first horn player to the court orchestra at Munich. He developed early, and at seventeen, a symphony of his was publicly heard. At first, and until he definitely put aside parental influence on his art, he was of distinctly conservative tendencies; then the leaven of Wagner and Liszt began to work in him and quickly “leavened the whole lump.”
It is a possible criticism of him that he sometimes went to excess in the violent expression of passionate emotion, and that at times his musical (and literary) material did not soar above the level of vulgarity. Most musicians looking down his long list of works would probably pick as his most purely enjoyable the symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel and the opera Der Rosenkavalier, so perhaps suggesting that he was greatest on his somewhat lighter side. He was fortunate in his association with a fine librettist in Hugo von Hofmannsthal. (Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Die Egytische Helene, and Arabella).
Source: The Oxford Companion of Music, Tenth Edition, 1970