Richard Strauss

Salome, opera, Op. 54 (TrV 215)

    Description by Jennifer Hambrick

    Richard Strauss' third opera, Salome, burst like a meteor onto the early twentieth century musical scene and ushered in an era of musical modernism. When Salome premiered at Dresden in 1905, it was at once condemned by conservative critics for its moral decadence, and lauded by more adventuresome listeners, who heard in it signs of the avant-garde. Richard Wagner's son Siegfried emphasized Salome's "perversity" and categorized it among Strauss' "dangerous works." In 1948, however, archmodernist Arnold Schoenberg singled out passages from Salome as examples of extended tonality. Although near the end of the nineteenth century, Strauss' tone poems had earned him accolades as Zukunftsmusiker, neither their philosophical programs, nor their lushly chromatic late Romantic musical languages were any match for Salome's psychologically charged libretto and surprisingly dissonant score.

    Strauss based his libretto for Salome on Hedwig Lachmann's German translation of Oscar Wilde's play, Salomé, of 1891. Wilde's play, written in French in and the evocative style of the symbolists, appeared in the later years of a long tradition of literary treatments of the New Testament story of Salome and John the Baptist. Mario Praz claims that Heinrich Heine's Atta Troll (1841) was the first literary work to portray Salome as a blatantly sexual being, an interpretation that was taken up repeatedly in later versions of the story. Indeed, the interpretation of Salome as a pathologically sexual female must have been particularly intriguing to fin de siècle writers and artists, given the contemporary fascination with the degenerate female and -- influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud -- with psychopathology in general. Wilde was also influenced by J.C. Heywood's dramatic poem "Salome," Mallarmé's poem "Hérodiade," and by Joris-Karl Huysmans' À Rebours, which portrayed Salome as the epitome of female sexual depravity.

    Strauss uses orchestration, motives, key areas, and distinctions among musical languages to convey meaning in Salome. Strauss expands the palette of the orchestra, already fertile with timbral possibilities, giving extended solo passages to unusual instruments, and joining groups of instruments in novel and evocative combinations. The lengthy contrabassoon solo at the end of the second orchestral interlude is perhaps a singular occurrence in Western art music, and the combination of two harps playing harmonics, celesta, cymbals, and hushed woodwinds that accompany the aroused Herod after Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils paint an eerie picture of his demented world. Strauss continually weaves the clarinet's opening ascending motive (associated with the title character) into the opera's orchestral tapestry and features it as the principal musical material of Salome's frenzied, pseudo-oriental dance.

    Each of the principal personages sings in a musical style that reveals aspects of his or her character: the young princess Salome sings with a flirtatious declamation style supported by delicate orchestration favoring high-pitched instruments such as flutes, violins, and celesta; later, the orchestra accompanies her final monologue with its full registral, dynamic, and timbral capabilities. Jochanaan's (John the Baptist's) music is devoutly tonal, generally favoring flat key areas -- including A flat major, the key in Strauss' "system" of tonal symbolism that represents religion, and through which Strauss illustrates Jochanaan's steadfast piety. Herod's musical language is inflected with whole-tone scales; lacking a solidly tonal perfect fifth, but having instead the disorienting and dissonant tritone at its structural core, these passages conveys a sense of instability appropriate for the perverse Galilean tetrarch.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Wie schön, ist die Prinzessin Salome
    2. Nach mir wird Einer kommen
    3. Taube
    4. Ich will nicht bleiben
    5. Ah!
    6. Wo, ist er, dessen Sündenbecher jetzt voll ist?
    7. Jochanaan!
    8. Zurück Tochter!
    9. Sei verflücht, Tochter der blütschanderischen
    10. Wo ist Salome? Wo ist die Prinzessin?
    11. Salome Tanz
    12. Ah! Herrlich! Wundervoll
    13. Salome, ich beschwore dich
    14. Schluss-Scene der Salome: Ah! Du wolltest mich nicht deinen Mund küssen lassen

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    Decca
    B003099402
    2019
    RCO / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
    370187
    2018
    RCO Live
    1433701946
    2017
    Decca
    4831498
    2017
    PentaTone Classics
    PTC 5186602
    2014
    Decca
    2014
    Deutsche Grammophon
    B002013902
    2012
    Decca
    2012
    Myto Historical / Myto Records
    MCD 00301
    2011
    Various Artists
    Brilliant Classics
    9249
    2011
    Myto Records
    00282
    2011
    Decca
    4783057
    2011
    Decca
    2010
    RCA Red Seal
    8869768699
    2010
    Denon Classics / Denon Records
    2009
    EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    5099996683
    2009
    Myto Records
    00211
    2009
    Gala Records / Galas
    100799
    2009
    RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG
    88697579112
    2008
    Initiativkreis Ruhrgebiet
    8553119
    2008
    Chandos
    3157
    2008
    EMI Classics
    5670802
    2008
    Dynamic
    572/1-2
    2008
    EMI Classics
    11973
    2008
    Sony Music Distribution
    727072
    2007
    BRV
    9904
    2007
    Deutsche Grammophon
    004400734339
    2006
    Universal Classics & Jazz
    2006
    Decca
    000692102
    2005
    EMI Classics
    2005
    Berlin Classics
    0020622
    2005
    Berlin / Berlin Classics
    0032942
    2005
    Walhall
    0143
    2003
    Deutsche Grammophon
    000020202
    2003
    Opera D'Oro
    7004
    2001
    Opera D'Oro
    1311
    2001
    Golden Melodram
    30047
    2001
    Opera D'Oro
    5008
    2000
    RCA
    69430
    2000
    Myto Records
    001212
    1999
    Chandos
    9611
    1999
    Angel Records
    67159
    1999
    Deutsche Grammophon
    445319
    1999
    Opera D'Oro
    1165
    1995
    London / London
    444178
    1995
    Berlin Classics
    0091012
    1995
    Orfeo
    342932
    1994
    Philips
    432153
    1993
    Myto Records
    93592
    1991
    Deutsche Grammophon
    1991
    Deutsche Grammophon
    431810
    1991
    Sony Classical
    46717
    1990
    RCA
    86644
    1990
    London
    414414
    Decca
    000297902
    Le Monde de l'Opera
    14
    Musical Heritage Society
    525377
    Virgin
    91477
    Ornamenti
    117
    Legato Classics
    211
    RCA
    6644
    Virgin
    59054
    Mondo Musica
    10121
    Bella Voce
    7210