The musical power of Salome: Strauss translates Wilde
When Richard Strauss saw Oscar Wilde’s play Salome in Max Reinhardt’s 1901
production, he felt that it “cried out for music”. Indeed, the insistent repetition of dramatic phrases, incantatory dialogue, fashionable orientalism and stark emotional contrasts all lent themselves very well to iconic representation through music, as became abundantly clear in Strauss’ famous opera, first performed in 1905. This paper examines the various semiotic resources that Strauss used to effectively “translate” Wilde’s play into music. They include an exploitation of the possibilities for signification inherent in musical genre, traditional tonality and operatic convention, as well as the use of Wagnerian leitmotif and musical quotation. The result is a musical portrait of world teetering on the brink of moral bankruptcy – an effective rendering of Wilde’s fin-de-siècle spirit, which also offers a subtle comment upon Strauss’ own times.