About this Recording
8.111014-15 - STRAUSS, R.: Salome (Goltz, Patzak, Krauss) (1954)

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

First the historical background surrounding the Salome story. The area of Palestine was incorporated into the Roman Empire in 64BC. The new rulers, anxious not to offend existing local religious sensibilities, decided that the Herod family should rule as client kings. Herod the Great, who ruled from 37BC to 4BC, had three sons, Archelaus, Philip, and Herod Antipas. On their father’s death the kingdom was split to enable the three offspring to rule. The middle son was married to Herodias with whom Antipas was infatuated. Forced by Herodias to divorce his first wife, a Nabatean princess, Herod Antipas then married her. The prophet John the Baptist denounced the king for marrying his brother’s wife. Herod, outraged by such criticism, had John imprisoned. Then the ruler, at a drunken party held to mark his birthday, made a rash promise to his sixteenyear- old stepdaughter Salome that he would grant her whatever she might ask. Her reply, after consulting with her mother, came: ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter’. Unable to retract his pledge, Herod had the prophet John beheaded, his head then presented to Salome, who in turn offers the ‘trophy’ to her mother. The account is taken from the Gospels of St Mark and St Matthew in the New Testament.

Salome was possibly the most important event in German opera since those of Wagner. Its creation marked a new development in operatic art with its concentrated power, its eerie and sinister harmonies and its extraordinarily exotic and colourful orchestration. This, allied to the subject matter and story line, caused a storm of controversy following the opera’s première in Dresden on 9th December 1905. The critics after this event were totally perplexed by what they had heard and forecast that the piece would soon disappear from the repertory. The conservative public at the beginning of the twentieth century was outraged and shocked by the raw and cruel plot. The closing twenty minutes of the opera were deemed as depraved and beyond the bounds of common decency, so much so that in New York the opera was withdrawn after a single performance. Time and greater tolerance have prevailed, however, so that the work is now recognised as an extraordinary masterpiece.

Recalling the events surrounding its composition Richard Strauss remarked many years later in a book entitled Recollections and Reflections, published in 1949: “Once in Berlin I went to see … Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. After the play I met Heinrich Grünfeld, who said to me: ‘My dear Strauss, surely you could make an opera of this!’ I replied: ‘I am busy composing it’.” In the course of the recollection, Strauss also commented: “I had long been criticising the fact that [earlier] operas based on oriental and Jewish subjects lacked true oriental colours and scorching sun. The needs of the moment inspired me with truly exotic harmonies. … The wish to characterise the dramatis personae as clearly as possible led me to bitonality … to express the antithesis between Herod and the Nazarene”. On the portrayal of the infamous heroine the composer remarked: “Anyone who has been in the east and has observed the decorum with which women there behave, will appreciate that Salome, being a chaste virgin and an oriental princess, must be played with the simplest and most restrained gestures”.

The vocal demands of the sixteen-year-old Salome are such that she must have a dramatic soprano voice in addition to looking her age and also be able to dance. Then the character of the decadent and lusting Herod is one of the most vivid portrayals of the medical condition know as neurasthenia, typified by the signs of lassitude, inertia, fatigue, loss of initiative, restless fidgeting, over-sensitivity and undue irritability. Contrasted with this is the honest nobility of John the Baptist. Then there are the Jews and the Nazarenes. Strauss and his librettist Hoffmansthal brilliantly capture all the nervous instability, the sense of suffocation and the feeling of suppressed lust with uncanny skill.

For the rôle of Salome Decca selected Christel Glotz. She was born in Dortmund, Germany in 1912 and began her studies in piano, dancing and singing with Ornelli-Leeb in Munich in 1930. Five years later she joined the Chorus of Furth Opera, making her solo début as Agathe in Der Freischütz later that season. She then sang in Plauen, which led to to her first appearance at the Staatsoper Dresden as Reiza in Weber’s Oberon. She would remain with this company until 1950. In 1947 she also became a member of both Staatsoper and Städtische Oper in Berlin. Her London début at Covent Garden was as Salome, followed by Marie in the British stage première of Berg’s Wozzeck under Erich Kleiber. In 1954 she appeared at the Salzburg Festival and then her United States début at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with six performances of Salome. She also appeared in Buenos Aires and sang regularly in Munich, Vienna and Berlin until 1970. A fine actress and performer of great intensity, her voice was both brilliant and clear over a range of three octaves. She appeared in the premières of Carl Orff’s Antigone and Liebermann’s Penelope. She was particularly admired as Salome, a rôle she recorded three times, in 1950, 1954 and 1963, as Marie and as Elektra.

The role of her stepfather Herod was sung by the Viennese-born tenor Julis Patzak (1898-1974). He first studied conducting with Franz Schmidt but then turned to singing, being largely self-taught. After his début in 1926 at Reichenberg in Bohemia as Radames in Verdi’s Aida, he joined the opera at Brno for the 1927-28 season, before moving to the Staatsoper in Munich where he would remain until 1945. In the latter year he became a member of the Vienna State Opera, where he remained until 1960. His first London appearance was as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte in 1938, returning in 1947 with the Vienna Company when he sang Herod and Florestan. He would appear regularly in the years 1951- 54, again as Florestan, and also as Hoffmann. He appeared at the Salzburg Festival in the post-war years 1948-50, being especially remembered for his memorable Florestan, Herod and the title-rôle in Pfitzner’s Palestrina. In addition he created rôles in Orff’s Der Mond and Pfitzner’s Das Herz. Patzak was a highly intelligent and stylistic interpreter, equally at home in Lieder and oratorio. He is also remembered as the tenor in Kathleen Ferrier’s celebrated Das Lied von der Erde (Naxos 8.1108871).

The rôle of Herodias, Herod’s wife and Salome’s mother, was taken by the mezzo-soprano Margareta Kenney (born it is thought in 1918). Little is known about her early life except that she was brought up in Argentina where she studied before making her début as one of the Valkyries in Die Walküre at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. She came to Vienna in 1950 and remained with the State Opera for the next decade. Her rôles there included Eboli, Herodias, Amneris, Brangäne and Azucena. In 1954 she sang in Florence and Perugia, before singing Lady Macbeth in Rome in 1956. She also appeared in Naples and Lisbon. Her other recordings include D’Albert’s Tiefland and Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

The Viennese-born baritone Hans Braun (born 1917) sings Jochanaan. As a child he sang in the Vienna Boys’ Choir, before studying with two famous Viennese singers Hermann Gallos and Hans Duhan. His début took place in early 1938 in Königsberg as the Count in Figaro. This was followed by engagements in Bremerhaven, Saarbrücken and the Deutsches Opernhaus, Berlin. His first Viennese appearance was as a guest at the State Opera in 1939. It was not until 1945, however, that he joined the company, singing German and Italian rôles in addition to Tarquinius in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and John Sorel in Menotti’s The Consul. In 1947 Braun was a member of the Vienna Company which visited Covent Garden in London, and he returned as a guest in 1948-49 to sing the Count in Figaro and Melot in Tristan, and again in 1953, as Orest in Elektra under Erich Kleiber. He also appeared in Italy and Spain, and in 1953 sang the Herald in Lohengrin at the Bayreuth Festival.

The Yugoslav-born tenor Anton Dermota (born 1910) first studied piano and composition in Ljubljana before beginning vocal studies with Marie Rado in Vienna. Following his début in Cluj in 1934, he was engaged by Bruno Walter for the Vienna State Opera two years later, singing the rôle of the First Armed Man in Die Zauberflöte. He sang Mozart’s Requiem and Bruckner’s Te Deum under Walter in November 1937 and made his first appearance at the Salzburg Festival as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni the following summer. A decade later he visited London with the Vienna Company, singing Ottavio, Ferrando in Così fan tutte and Narraboth in Salome. He sang Florestan at the reopening of the State Opera in the autumn of 1955. From 1966 he taught singing at the Vienna Academy of Music. Dermota was a greatly admired Mozartian, in the line of Tauber and Patzak. He also enjoyed a distinguished career in the concert hall as a Lieder and oratorio singer.

The Page is sung by German-born contralto Else Schuroff (1898-1961), who was born in Wuppertal. First studying in Berlin she made her professional début in 1928 and the following year joined Hanover Opera, moving to the Vienna State Opera in 1941, where she remained until 1953, before working in Hamburg until her retirement. Her career was primarily based in German-speaking countries.

In overall charge in his last-ever recording, before his untimely death in May 1954 in Mexico City, was the Viennese-born conductor Clemens Krauss (born 1893). As a boy he was a member of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, later studying conducting with Graedener and Heuberger. In 1913 he was appointed chorus-master in Brno, making his début as a conductor with Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann later that season. Then followed years in Riga (1913-4), Nuremberg (1915-6), Stettin (1916-22) and Vienna (1922-4, as assistant to Franz Schalk). In 1924 Krauss was appointed Generalmusikdirector of Frankfurt Opera, before taking up a similar post at the Vienna State Opera in 1929 for a period of six years. In 1937 he moved to Munich, remaining there until 1942. His Bayreuth début occurred in 1953, when he conducted a much-acclaimed Ring cycle in addition to Parsifal. His London début took place in 1934 and he returned there with the Vienna Company in 1947 to conduct Salome and Fidelio. Other London appearances were to conduct Falstaff and Tosca at the Stoll Theatre in 1949, and three seasons at Covent Garden between 1951 and 1953, conducting Tristan, Fidelio and Die Meistersinger. Krauss was a close friend of Richard Strauss, conducting premières of Arabella (1933), Friedenstag (1938), Capriccio (1942) and Die Liebe der Danae (1952). He also began the annual New Year’s Days concerts in Vienna, being recognised as a peerless interpreter of the music of the Strauss family.

The great merit of this recording is the magnificent playing of the Vienna Philharmonic under Krauss: it is a model of clarity and the balance he achieves between voices and orchestra reveals his vast experience in the opera house. The interpretations of both Patzak and Dermota have always been deemed a major asset of the recording, and the smaller rôles were without exception well sung. Braun’s Jochanaan was also commented upon favourably. The choice of Goltz was controversial in that the quality of her voice was difficult to record but she was greatly admired at the time for her portrayal on stage.

The producer of this recording, Victor Olof (1898- 1976) later wrote in his unpublished autobiography that he considered he learnt more about the craft of conducting from working with Clemens Krauss than anyone else. The conductor’s early death in May 1954 was one of the contributory reasons for Olof’s departure from Decca two years later.

Malcolm Walker

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