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Colberg, Paul
»First Performance of Richard Stauss’ Opera ›Salome‹«
in: The Musical Standard. A Newspaper for Musicians, Professional and Amateur, Bd. 24, Heft 624, Samstag, 16. Dezember 1905, S. 384–385

relevant für die veröffentlichten Bände: I/3a Salome

On Saturday, December 9, the great event, the première of Richard Strauss’ music-drama »Salome,« which lasted 95 minutes in performance, took place at the Royal Opera House, Dresden. Very few of my readers will imagine what a triumph this first sentence implies: a triumph of art over predisposed fanaticism, over religious scruples, over the prejudices of many whose musical judgment never allows them to go farther than the footprints of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and of those to whom Richard Wagner still appears as an outcast. For a long time – many months, at least –before the première the music-drama »Salome« had already a history. At several stages the colossal work had been accepted for performance or was in preparation, when shortly before the première some catastrophe occurred which caused the full score to be put back on the bookshelf of its gifted composer, unrevealed to the public. To bring off the great deed Richard Strauss was not the only man necessary to make it possible. For he wanted an operatic manager of an unbiassed mind, a man who dared to face everything. This man, after many failures, finally was found in the Intendant of the Royal Saxon Opera House. His Excellency Count Seebach, to whose genius and intense energy is due the fact that »Salome« saw the stage lights at all. The musical part was placed under the supervision of celebrated Herr von Schuch, who again was the master of the situation. He was so thoroughly penetrated with the spirit of this most difficult work as to contribute largely to the remarkable performance. The difficulties on the stage were of no smaller order. For the alterations there a foreign stage manager, Herr Wilhelm Wirk, was called from the Munich Royal Opera House. In the orchestra two special instruments were required. The one, the Celesta, a keyboard instrument emanating from the Mustel factory, the other, the heckelphon (named after the inventor Heckel in Bieberach [sic]). This is a woodwind instrument of the reed order, looking like an oboe. Its range stands between the bassoon and Cor Anglais. Owing to the enormous number of wind instruments required the whole orchestra numbered 104 musicians.

The difficulties on the musical field commenced as soon as the rôles were distributed, for almost every one of the famous singers offered to strike. Twice it was that Frau Wittig [sic] handed back her rôle to Count Seebach, stating that the rôle of Salome was an impossibility. Her complaints were not unjustified: how on earth could she, as solo singer, dance for ten minutes long and sing right after, uninterruptedly, for a full quarter of an hour? Similar were the lamentations of our famous tenor, Herr Burrian, who affirmed that, owing to the difficulties, he had to study his rôle not act by act but measure by measure (in German language, Nicht aktweise, aber taktweise). Several months elapsed until the soloists had learned their parts, and then two weeks of daily rehearsals with the orchestra followed. Were these splendid orchestral artists not holders of a life-long position (with full salary for their pension) they all would have revolted, perhaps.

About ten days before the première Herr Strauss came to Dresden. He did not come to conduct, for Herr Schuch was a better hand for that: he came to make peace and to soothe the revolutionary elements, vocal and instrumental. Repeatedly he said at the rehearsal, when the feelings of the 104 overstrained musicians had become too significant: »Do scold, gentlemen! Do scold! That relieves your heart.« One must have lived in Dresden during the last two weeks and be in feeling with the musicians to understand their position and to hear their one-man-like disgust about the new work in preparation. Here it should be said that players in a full orchestra – for the simple reason that for the most of the time they merely hear their next neighbouring instruments and not the whole band – are generally no good judges about a new work. When finally, through the kindness of the Intendant Count Seebach, the writer of these lines was invited to attend the last full rehearsal two days before the première the readers of The Musical Standard may take for granted that he arrived there laden with any amount of predisposition. So much the more, as the libretto of »Salome« – as Strauss wrote it – is no operatic arrangement, but is the real translation of Oscar Wilde’s original drama, word for word. Owing to the enormous demand for tickets for the première, the critics had been invited to attend the last full rehearsal. Thus I was fortunate to hear the performance twice. On the eventful Saturday, December 9, theatrical and musical representatives from almost every civilized country had come to witness the performance. The house was packed. Though the tickets were sold at considerably enhanced prices (up to 10s. for the dearest seat) none were to be had on the Tuesday previous. The curiosity was roused to the very highest.

Punctually at 7.30 p.m., the performance started with an uncommon phrase, given out by the clarinet, and then a [385] little later other instruments sounded, and briefly brought about a musical climax of queer, though logical, thoughts, in the height of which the curtain was raised. In the glare of the full moon, which, though, was not visible, the forecourt of Herodes-[Antipas]’ Palace was discerned. On the left stood the Palace itself, with the entrance, having a platform of two steps before leading to the court. On the right a part of the surrounding wall, with the outer entrance door, was seen, and near the back of the court stood the old cistern, in the depth of which Johannes (here he is called Jochanaan) was kept prisoner. The whole decoration was a beautiful picture of pure Assyrian style. A cloudless dark blue sky with hundreds of shining stars was arranged in a splendidly real way. Most wonderful to look at was this transparent sky, where none of those unavoidable corners or seams could be discovered. All of it breathed the air of a tropical night. Very carefully selected were the costumes of the Syrian and Egyptian soldiers that were standing about during the first scene. The dim light of three burning torches, reflecting on their shields and armour, gave a constant change to the charmingly arranged picture.

And now a word as to the music itself. The extraordinary and daring style in which Richard Strauss composes is well known. Triads connecting themselves in proper part progression are very rare occurrences. All rules and experiences in Harmony seem to be turned upside down. Strauss does not, for instance, mind when the chord of C major is sounded, providing the situation may justify it, letting a trombone play an A flat or a D sharp with fortissimo. With very few exceptions, like the love song of Salome or the preaching of Johannes, the music in this drama would not sound at all if played on the piano. Strauss, though, would only answer to this statement by saying: »›Salome‹ is not written for the piano: it is written for the orchestra.« But it is not only in Harmony that Strauss is a revolutionist, as he even mostly denies all what we perceive as periodical structure the eight-measure system which Richard Wagner still had respected. Strauss’ music could consequently never stand an analysation by picking it to atoms. So in another instance in the drama »Salome,« when five old Jews are disputing over religious questions, Strauss does not mind letting them sing simultaneously in 7–8, 5–8 and 4–4 time, while Herr Schuch unconcernedly conducts in full bars. No word, of course, could be understood then, though it gave a splendid sketch of the Jewish way without making fun over it. Where is rhythm there – where is feeling for measure? Nowhere! All that seems to be put aside as obselete.

Yet in the connection of the whole, together with the orchestra, it sounded logical and marvellous. Everything on this remarkable evening was equal to perfection. Frau Wittig [sic] was at her very best as singer and as impersonator of the title rôle. The handing over her rôle to Frl. Korb (from the ballet) during the dance was absolutely unnoticeable. Herr Burrian, as Herodes, was a splendid representative of this nervous and superstitious king. Equally well was Herr Perron as Johannes, Frl. von Chavanne as Herodias, and all the representatives of the smaller rôles. The orchestration sounded enrapturingly beautiful. And the impression of the whole work was grand and overpowering. Therefore, at the close, the audience seemed to want many seconds to wake up from its dream, and then it burst out into extraordinary applause. Herr Strauss had to reappear on the stage 25 times, accompanied for about twelve times by the singers and Herr von Schuch. The composer may congratulate himself on having experienced this splendid performance. I doubt whether he will ever see equal perfection on other stages. For the Royal Opera House, of Dresden, this première had been a grand advertisement.

verantwortlich für die Edition dieses Dokuments: Claudia Heine


Richard Strauss Werke. Kritische Ausgabe – Online-Plattform, richard‑strauss‑ (Version 2019‑04‑12).

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