Oscar Wilde’s story of Salome has fascinated several composers, notably Florent Schmitt whose ballet The Tragedy of Salome appeared at the same time as Strauss’s opera. Strauss was concerned that the erotic nature of the story would meet opposition from the censor, especially in Berlin, so he had the premiere in Dresden. Here, the role of Salome was sung by a particularly large Wagnerian soprano, as Strauss was insistent on a voice that could be heard over the vast orchestra. A lithe ballerina performed the Dance of the Seven Veils. The premiere was met with 38 curtain calls, for the singers and the composer. Eventually Strauss convinced the Kaiser that Salome should be performed in Berlin. Mahler had been advising him on how to go about this. Strauss enjoyed recounting the conversation with Wilhelm II. ‘So you are another of these modern musicians?’ Strauss bowed. ‘I have heard Ingwelde by Schillings, it is detestable, there isn’t an ounce of melody.’ ‘Pardon me, Your Majesty, there is melody, but it is hidden in the polyphony.’ The Kaiser looked at Strauss. ‘And you are one of the worst!’Another bow from Strauss. ‘All modern music is worthless, there’s no melody – I prefer Freischütz’ bellowed Wilhelm. ‘Your Majesty, I also prefer Freischütz.’
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