Composers Datebook®

Richard Strauss and Terry Riley put their spin on Salome's dance

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) — Dance of the Seven Veils, from Salome (New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, cond.) DG 7890 Terry Riley (b. 1935) — Good Medicine, from Salome Dances for Peace (Kronos Quartet) Nonesuch 79217


Composer's Datebook - 20220122

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January 22, 2022

Synopsis

One of the 20th century’s most important – and most lurid – operas had its American premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on today’s date in 1907.

Richard Strauss’s “Salome” is a faithful setting of Oscar Wilde’s play about the decadent Biblical princess who, after her famous “dance of the seven veils,” demands the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter as a reward. She then confesses her love to the severed head and kisses it. This scene, accompanied by Strauss’s graphic music, proved too much for early audiences to take.

“A reviewer,” wrote The New York Tribune, ”should be an embodied conscience stung into righteous fury by the moral stench with which Salome fills the nostrils of humanity.” The Met cancelled the rest of the scheduled performances, and “Salome” was not staged there again until 1934.

Closer to our time, the American composer Terry Riley put a more positive spin on the legend of Salome. In the 1980s, Riley wrote some string quartets collectively titled “Salome Dances for Peace.”  “I conceived my quartets as a kind of ballet scenario,” said Riley, “in which contemporary world leaders like Reagan and Gorbachev are seduced by a reincarnated Salome into realizing world peace.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) — Dance of the Seven Veils, from Salome (New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, cond.) DG 7890

Terry Riley (b. 1935) — Good Medicine, from Salome Dances for Peace (Kronos Quartet) Nonesuch 79217

On This Day

Births

  • 1727 - French composer Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, in Dijon;

  • 1870 - French composer and organist Charles Tournemire, in Bordeaux;

  • 1901 - Austrian composer Hans Erich Apostel, in Karlsruhe, Germany;

  • 1903 - English composer Robin Milford, in Oxford;

  • 1916 - French composer Henri Dutilleux, in Angers;

  • 1923 - American composer Leslie Bassett, in Hanford, Calif.;

  • 1924 - American jazz composer and trombonist James Louis ("J.J.") Johnson, in Indianapolis;

Deaths

  • 1964 - American composer Marc Blitzstein, age 58, from injuries suffered in a barroom fight, in Fort-de-France, Martinique;

Premieres

  • 1723 - Handel: opera "Ottone, re di Germania" (Julian date: Jan. 12);

  • 1859 - Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op. 15, with the Hanover Court Orchestra conducted by Joseph Joachim and the composer as the soloist;

  • 1887 - Gilbert & Sullivan: operetta "Ruddigore" at the Svoy Theatre in London;

  • 1894 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 4, in St.Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 3);

  • 1908 - Stravinsky: Symphony in Eb, Op. 1, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Feb. 4):

  • 1934 - Shostakovich: opera "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" (1st version), in Leningrad at the Maliiy Opera Theater;

  • 1936 - Hindemith: "Trauermusik (Music of Mourning)" for Viola and String Orchestra,on a BBC memorial concert for King George V of England (who had died on January 20, 1935), with Sir Adrian Boult conducting and the composer as soloist;

  • 1970 - Carlisle Floyd: opera "Of Mice and Men," in Seattle; According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade;

  • 1980 - John Williams: "Cowboys Overture," by the Boston Pops, conducted by the composer;

  • 1998 - Ned Rorem: song-cycle “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” as Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in New York City, by the New York Festival of Song;

  • 1998 - Bright Sheng: "Postcards," in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota, by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hugh Wolff conducting;

Others

  • 1575 - The Protestant Queen of England, Elizabeth I, grants a license to Thomas Tallis and William Byrd (both Catholics), to print music for 22 years;

  • 1889 - Columbia Phonograph Company founded in Washington, D.C.;

  • 1907 - The Metropolitan Opera production of R. Strauss' opera "Salome," with soprano Olive Fremstad in the title role, creates a scandal; The opera is dropped after a single performance, and not staged at the Met again until the 1930s.