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Music in the Early Twentieth Century


CHAPTER 1 Reaching (for) Limits
Richard Taruskin

The composer was Richard Strauss, describing the music of his one-act (but full-evening) opera Salome (1905), a verbatim setting of a preexisting play by Oscar Wilde (1893), originally written in French and published in Paris. That the play, and consequently the music, had a lot to do with perverse sex—and that the task of representing sexual perversity motivated the musical innovations—can go practically without saying. Wilde’s play—one of many representations of the celebrated dancing princess in many artistic media that cropped up at the fin de siècle—was already a benchmark of decadence by the time Strauss set it. That is precisely what attracted the composer, whether in the disinterested pursuit of new musical beauties or (as many insinuated) in pursuit of reichsmarks. (But of course, and as usual, the only evidence of his venality was his commercial success.) The basis of the play, ironically enough, was the Holy Bible. Two of the Gospels contain the story of Herod the king and John the Baptist, given here in the somewhat shorter version of Matthew (14:3–12), according to the New English Bible:

Now Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and thrown him into prison, on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife [whom he desired for himself]; for John had told him: “You have no right to her.” Herod would have liked to put him to death, but he was afraid of the people, in whose eyes John was a prophet. But at his birthday celebrations the daughter of Herodias danced before the guests, and Herod was so delighted that he took an oath to give her anything she cared to ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a dish the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed when he heard it; but out of regard for his oath and for his guests, he ordered the request to be granted, and had John beheaded in prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl; and she carried it to her mother.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 Reaching (for) Limits." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 17 Jun. 2024. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-001012.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 1 Reaching (for) Limits. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Early Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 17 Jun. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-001012.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 Reaching (for) Limits." In Music in the Early Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 17 Jun. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume4/actrade-9780195384840-div1-001012.xml
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