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 Label Catalog #
    2017 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186602
    2017 Decca 4831498
    2014 Decca
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon B002013902
    2012 Decca
    2012 Myto Historical / Myto Records MCD 00301
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9249
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca 4783057
    2011 Myto Records 00282
    2010 RCA Red Seal 8869768699
    2010 Denon Classics / Denon Records
    2009 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996683
    2009 Myto Records 00211
    2009 RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG 88697579112
    2009 Gala Records / Galas 100799
    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 Deutsche Grammophon 445319
    1999 Angel Records 67159
    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 431810
    1991 Sony Classical 46717
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon
    1990 RCA 86644
    1990 London 414414
    Decca 000297902
    Le Monde de l'Opera 14
    Musical Heritage Society 525377
    Virgin 91477
    Virgin 59054
    RCA 6644
    Mondo Musica 10121
    Ornamenti 117
    Bella Voce 7210
    Legato Classics 211