La Tragédie de Salomé: Florent Schmitt’s Sinuous Temptress, Seducing Audiences for 100 Years

“[It] is like a half-hour visit to the pleasure dome in Xanadu, and if it doesn’t give you a few spiritual orgasms, then perhaps you need to insert Viagra in each of your ears.”

— Raymond Tuttle, Music Critic, Fanfare Magazine

Costume designs for the 1913 Ballets Russes production of La Tragedie de Salome, designed by Serge Soudeikine.

Costume designs for the 1913 Ballets Russes production of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé, created by Serge Soudeikine.

The ballet La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 is Florent Schmitt’s most famous and oft-recorded composition — and it isn’t hard to figure out why.

Loie Fuller Lamp

All the rage: A Loïe Fuller lamp, created and sold at about the time of Fuller’s 1907 premiere of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé in Paris.

Salomé represents the very best in the French tradition of evocative music on exotic subjects … but in this case, we have a hefty dose of the “epic” and “barbaric” to go along with the Impressionistic and “orientalist” touches.

Composed in 1907 for chamber-size orchestra, the ballet started out nearly one hour long.  Its first performance was at the Théâtre des Arts (now the Théâtre Hébertot) in a production that featured Loïe Fuller, the American-born dancer and choreographer who was famous for her scarves and lighting effects.

Tragedie de Salome 1907 Program Cover

The program cover for the original production of La Tragédie de Salomé, presented at the Théâtre des Arts.

Several years later, Schmitt revisited the score, condensing it to about one-half its original length while substantially augmenting the orchestration and adding optional female voices.

The resulting score, premiered in 1911 as an orchestral suite and featuring composer-conductor Gabriel Pierné directing the Colonne Concerts Orchestra, was a sonic spectacular.

Florent Schmitt with Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky (l.), photographed with Florent Schmitt about the time of the composition of Salomé. Schmitt dedicated the score to him.

Schmitt dedicated his composition to Igor Stravinsky, who is said to have been influenced by the jagged rhythms and barbarism in certain parts of the score.

The French conductor Stéphane Denève, speaking to the audience before a 2011 concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra where he performed the Schmitt piece, declared, “Without La Tragédie de Salomé, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring would not have been the same!”

Of Schmitt’s score — and the fevered story line as dramatized by the French writer and stage director Robert d’Humières — author and composer Edward Burlingame Hill wrote this in his classic 1924 book Modern French Music:

Robert d'Humieres

A noteworthy stage and literary career cut short by the First World War: Robert d’Humières (1868-1915).

“Florent Schmitt has depicted this lurid scenario in music of unexampled vividness — of exotic imagination. 

“His gifts for construction, contrapuntal mastery and appropriate harmonic luxuriance have fired his inventive powers to produce one of the most graphically dramatic works in the range of French music … [indeed] the French prototype of a new species of ballet in which all the resources of scenic production, orchestral splendor, and detailed and plastic accompaniment of action combine.”

La Tragedie de Salome 1912 Florent Schmitt

A newspaper clipping from the 1912 Trouhanova production of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé in the composer’s new version — half the music, twice the musicians.

The plot line at which Edward Burlingame Hill is intimating is the dramatic action conceived by Robert d’Humières and set down in the following narrative that prefaces Schmitt’s published score, as translated from the original French by the music industry producer and administrator Harold Lawrence:

Prelude A terrace of Herod’s palace overlooking the Dead Sea.  The pink and reddish Moab Mountains shut in the horizon.  Dominating the scene is massive Mount Nebo, from which Moses, on the threshold of the Promised Land, greeted Canaan before his death.  The sun is setting.  John the Baptist crosses the terrace and disappears.

Danse des perles (Pearl Dance) — Torches illuminate the scene.  Their light draws sparking reflections from the clothing and jewels that spill out of a precious coffer.  Herodias [Salome’s mother], in a thoughtful mood, dips her hands into the coffer and removes necklaces and silken veils of gold.  Salome appears and leans over the chest in fascination.  She puts on the necklaces and veils, and begins to dance with childish glee.

Les Enchantements sur la mer (The Magic of the Sea) Salome has gone.  Herod is lost in gloomy thoughts of lust and fear.  Herodias spies on her husband.  Mysterious lights gleam in the water’s depths.  Beneath the waves, the outlines of the engulfed Pentapolis are dimly perceived.  Distant sounds of an orgy emerge faintly through the shower of ash and bitumen over Sodom and Gomorrah: fragments of dance rhythms … signs … demented laughter …

A voice is heard from the abyss; Herod listens fearfully.  Vapors float upwards from the sea.  As if created out of troubled dreams and the guilt of old sin, a living cloud takes shape.  Out of this cloud, Salome suddenly leaps into view.  As the sound of thunder is heard in the distance, Salome begins to dance.  Herod stands …

Theatre Hebertot

The interior of the Théâtre des Arts (now known as the Théâtre Hébertot), where Florent Schmitt’s ballet was first mounted in 1907.

Danse des éclairs (Dance of Lighting) Darkness envelops the scene, and flashes of lightning provide the only source of illumination.  In the wanton dance that follows, Herod pursues Salome, seizes her and tears off her veils.  Salome is naked — but only for an instant.  John the Baptist quickly appears and covers her body with his anchorite’s robe.  Herod is furious and orders John to be delivered to the executioner, who takes the prophet offstage and returns later with his severed head on a brass charger.

Salome triumphantly grasps the trophy and begins to dance.  Then, imagining that the voice of the prophet is whispering in her ear, she runs to the terrace’s edge and hurls the charger over the battlements into the sea.  The water immediately turns blood-red, terror grips everyone, and Salome collapses.  Salome recovers, but the head appears, stares at Salome, and vanishes.  From another position, the head reappears.  Salome tries to escape, but the heads multiply, springing up from all sides.  Salome covers her face in an attempt to blot out the grisly apparition.

Danse de l’effroi (Dance of Fright) A storm breaks out.  Raging winds envelop Salome as sulfurous clouds float out of the abyss.  A tempest rocks the sea and agitates the lonely deserts, while lofty cypresses twist convulsively in the wind and crash to earth.  Lightning bolts shake loose the stones of the citadel, Mount Nebo shoots forth flames, the entire Moab Mountain range takes fire — and Salome, swept away an infernal excitement, is crushed in the onslaught of the elements.

Tragedie de Salome + Peri

Brilliant together: Paul Dukas’ La Péri and Florent Schmitt’s Salomé shared billing on the same ballet program in 1912.

Today, while Salomé is performed mainly in the concert hall as a symphonic suite in the tradition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade, one of the most memorable events in the annals of dance occurred in Paris in 1912 when a quartet of ballets was staged in a single evening: Paul Dukas’ La Péri … Vincent d’Indy’s Istar … Maurice Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales … and Florent Schmitt’s Salomé.  Each composer conducted his own stage work, leading the Lamoureux Orchestra.

Nathalie Trouhanova Florent Schmitt Salome

Cover of the 1912 dance programme featuring Natalia Trouhanova in four starring femme-fatale roles: Istar, Péri, Adelaïde (Valses nobles et sentimentales) … and Salomé.

The last Parisian stage production of the ballet happened in the 1950s.  In the past several years the Mariinsky Ballet has revived La Tragédie de Salomé as a theatre piece — to my knowledge, one of just three times the ballet has been presented on stage in more than half a century.

Despite the dearth of stage productions, Schmitt’s music has never lost its popularity in France.  Moreover, it has been brought to the far corners of the world by a surprisingly diverse group of conductors, as the partial listing of public performances presented below illustrates.

Concertgebouw Orchestra Schmitt Salome 1913

The first performance of La Tragédie de Salomé outside of France was with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in 1913.

Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam Schmitt Chausson 1913

The 1913 concert performance of Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé with the Concertgebouw Orchestra shared billing with Ernest Chausson’s Symphony in B-Flat.

Fortunate audiences on five continents have had the opportunity to see and hear this “perilously seductive” score — as one music critic from BBC Music Magazine described it recently.

[N.B. Special thanks to Chandler Cudlipp, former artistic advisor at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, for his assistance in compiling the performance listing below.  Additions and corrections to the information are welcomed.]

FLORENT SCHMITT:  LA TRAGÉDIE DE SALOMÉ

Public Performances Since 1945 – Partial Listing

1945  –  October 18, 19 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Désiré Defauw, conductor

1950  –  (Besançon Festival) – Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; André Cluytens, conductor

1952  –  January 25, 27 – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Paul Paray, conductor

PSO concert program featuring La Tragedie de Salome of Florent Schmitt

In good company: Paul Paray’s 1952 Pittsburgh Symphony performance of Salomé also featured the music of Beethoven, Berlioz and Chabrier.

1955  –  Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Joseph Post/Eugene Goossens, conductors

1955  –  February 21 – Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Pedro de Freitas Branco, conductor

1956  –  March 21, 22, 23, 24, 25  –  Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; André Cluytens, conductor

1958  –  May 20 – Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Pierre Dervaux, conductor

1958  –  October 16 – Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, conductor

1960  –  October 25 – Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Manuel Rosenthal, conductor

1961  –  July 14  –  National Symphony Orchestra of Portugal; Pedro de Freitas Branco, conductor

1961  –  October 20  –  Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; Jean Fournet, conductor

1966  –  February 14  –  Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo; Paul Paray, conductor  (also performed on American tour, March/April 1966)

1972  –  Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Paul Paray, conductor

1973  –  January 7  –  Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo; Pierre Dervaux, conductor

1973 –  January 7  –  Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Jean Martinon, conductor

1973 –  June 19, 21, 22, 23  –  Orchestra of the Florence Maggio Musicale; Edoardo Müller, conductor  [Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Stage Production]

1974  –  March 13, 15, 16 – San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Kazuyoshi Akiyama, conductor

1979  –  November 4, 6  –  San Antonio Symphony Orchestra; François Huybrechts, conductor

1981  –  October 19, 20; November 3, 4, 8, 13  –  L’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal; Charles Dutoit, conductor

Schmitt Salome Koblenz

The program cover for the Coblenz Ballet’s staging of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé in 1994/95.

1982  –  October 20, 21 [Wilmington, DE, USA] – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France; Marc Soustrot, conductor

1983  –  October 2  –  Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo; Lawrence Foster, conductor

1983  –  October 25, 26  –  Fort Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra; Emerson Buckley, conductor

1987  –  August 2  –  Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France; Marek Janowski, conductor [BBC Proms performance]

1994/95 –  October 28, November 2, 4, 11, 14, 19, 22, December 10, 19, January 8, 10, 22, 26, February 19, March 2, 11, 14, 15  –  Coblenz Ballet Orchestra; Marioara Trifan and Christian Letschert, conductors  [Theater der Stadt Koblenz Stage Production]

Soustrot Schmitt Stravinsky Debussy-1995  –  May 21, 23, 24, 1995  –  Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie; Marc Soustrot, conductor

1995  –  June 10, 1995  –  Texas Festival Orchestra; Pascal Verrot, conductor

1996  –  November 27  –  Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra; Jean Fournet, conductor

1997  –  April 23  –  RTVE Symphony Orchestra (Madrid); Richard Fletcher, conductor

1997  –  October 30  –  Berlin Symphony Orchestra; Diego Masson, conductor

1998  –  January 18, 28, 29, 30  –  Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra (Antwerp); Muhai Tang, conductor

1998  –  June 16  –  Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa (Lisbon); Giuliano Carella, conductor

Florent Schmitt: La Tragedie de Salome (score cover)

Brilliant orchestration in the Rimsky-Korsakov tradition: Florent Schmitt’s Salomé.

2000  –  January 9  –  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Heinz Rögner, conductor

2000  –  February 17, 18, 21  –  NDR Hannover Radio-Philharmonic Orchestra; Manfred Trojahn, conductor

2000  –  April 12, 13  –  Thuringia Philharmonic Orchestra; Heinz Rögner, conductor

2000  –  May 9  –  Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra; Jean Fournet, conductor

2000  –  September 1  –  Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra; Heinz Rögner, conductor

2000  –  December 7  –  Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F.; Yevgeny Svetlanov, conductor

2000  –  December 8  –  Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège; Serge Baudo, conductor

2002  –  July 14  –  Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo; Marek Janowski, conductor

2002  –  December 15, 16  –  Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra; Golo Berg, conductor

2003  –  April 17  –  Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse; Michel Plasson, conductor

Stephane Deneve

Passionate advocate: French conductor Stéphane Denève (2004, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017).

2004  –  May 11  –  Orchestra del Teatro Massimo; Stéphane Denève, conductor

2004  –  September 17  –  Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; James Conlon, conductor

2005  –  November 4  –  Irish National Radio & Television Orchestra (RTE); Jacques Mercier, conductor

2006  –  January 22 – Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; Patrick Davin, conductor

2006  –  March 21  –  Ensemble Orchestral de Paris; Juraj Valcuha, conductor

2006  –  November 12  –  Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor

2006  –  November 17  –  Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Ronald Zollman, conductor

2007  –  March 4  –  Edmonton Youth Orchestra; Michael Massey, conductor

2007 – March 11, July 4  –  L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège; Pascal Rophé, conductor

2007  –  May 11  –  Spokane Symphony Orchestra; Eckart Preu, conductor

2007  –  July 29  –  National Orchestra of Italy; Massimiliano Caldi, conductor

2007  –  December 15  –  Southwest German Radio Symphony (Baden-Baden u. Freiburg); Sylvain Cambreling, conductor

2008  –  March 12  –  National Philharmonic of Russia (Moscow); Ion Marin, conductor

2008  –  June 30  –  Zurich Chamber Orchestra; Muhai Tang, conductor (original 1907 version)

2008  –  December 4  –  Orchestre National de France; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

2009  –  February 5  –  Limburg Symphony Orchestra (Maastricht); Lionel Bringuier, conductor

2009  –  February 20  –  Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

2009  –  February 27  –  BBC Symphony Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

2009  –  March 4  –  Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

2009  –  April 14, 24, November 24  –  Orchestre Sinfonica do Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro (Brasilia); Ira Levin, conductor

2009  –  April 24, 26, 27  –  Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

2009  –  May 15  –  Orchestre National Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon; Alain Altinoglu, conductor

2007  –  July  –  Ulster Orchestra; Pascal Rophé, conductor

2009  –  November 22  – Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Yannick Nezet-Seguin recording Florent Schmitt's Tragedie de Salome

Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s 2009 performance with the Orchestre Métropolitain was also recorded and released on the ATMA label.

2010  –  March 20-28  –  Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra; Pascal Verrot, conductor

2010  –  May 20, 21, 22  –  Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, Yan-Pascal Tortelier, conductor

2011  –  March 30, 31  –  Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor

2011  –  May 12, 13 – Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra; Alain Paris, conductor

Schmitt-salome-TSO program-Deneve

French conductor Stéphane Denève brought La Tragédie de Salomé to Canadian audiences in 2011 (Toronto Symphony Orchestra).

2012  –  February 23, 24  –  Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Alain Altinoglu, conductor

2012  –  May 16  –  Orchestre de Paris; Alain Altinoglu, conductor

2012  –  June 1  –  Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse; Alain Altinoglu, conductor

2013  –  May 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1 – Teatro Verdi Orchestra (Trieste); Alexei Repnikov, conductor  [Mariinsky Ballet stage production]

2013  –  November 13 – Iceland Symphony Orchestra; Lan Shui, conductor

2014  –  July 2 – Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra (Stuttgart); Stéphane Denève, conductor

2014  –  October 30 – Sibiu State Philharmonic Orchestra (Romania); Gottfried Rabl, conductor

2015  –  April 16, 18  –  The Cleveland Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

Cleveland Orchetra Lionel Bringuier Schmitt

The Cleveland Orchestra’s concert program, conducted by Lionel Bringuier (April 2015). Maestro Bringuier’s performances of Schmitt’s composition were the first ones presented by The Cleveland Orchestra in more than 70 years.

2015  –  May 14, 15, 16  –  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

Lionl Bringuier Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra Florent Schmitt Salome

Maestro Lionel Bringuier rehearsing Florent Schmitt’s La Tragedie de Salome with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (May 2015).

2015  –  July 31, August 1  –  National Youth Orchestra of Wales; Paul Daniel, conductor

2015  –  October 1  –  Real Filharmonica de Galicia; Paul Daniel, conductor

2015  –  October 8, 9  –  Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux; Paul Daniel, conductor

2015  –  October 17  –  Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Miha Rogina, conductor

Florent Schmitt Salome Miha Rogina

In 2015, the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Miha Rogina performed La Tragédie de Salomé in the Schlosstheater Schönbrunn in Vienna — reportedly the first time the piece had been presented in Austria in decades.

2016  –  April 22 – Moldova Philharmonic Orchestra of Iasi; Gottfried Rabl, conductor

gottfried-rabl-concert-poster

Austrian conductor Gottfried Rabl introduced Schmitt’s score to concert audiences in Romania (2014, 2016).

2016  –  March 7 – Paris Conservatoire Student/Graduate Orchestra; Alain Altinoglu, conductor

2016  –  May 22, 23 – Stuttgart State Orchestra; Sylvain Cambreling, conductor

Schmitt Tragedie de Salome Cambreling Stuttgart 2016

The Stuttgart State Orchestra’s performances of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé were presented in April 2016. Sylvain Cambreling conducted.

2016  –  September 15 – Orchestre National de France; Stéphane Denève, conductor

2016  –  October 22 – Asheville Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Meyer, conductor

2016  –  November 12 – Fresno State Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Loewenheim, conductor

2017  –  January 12, 13, 14 – Philadelphia Orchestra; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor

Philadelphia Orchestra Paris Festival Week 1 Schmitt Canteloube

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra presented La Tragédie de Salomé as part of its Paris Festival series of concerts in January 2017. It was the first time the orchestra had performed Florent Schmitt’s score in nearly a century (1919).

2017  –  February 25, 26 – Spokane Symphony Orchestra; Eckart Preu, conductor

2017  –  April 20, 21 – Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège; John Neschling, conductor

2017  –  May 10, 11 – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra; Stéphane Denève, conductor

2017  –  September 29 – Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra; Daniel Myssyk, conductor

2017  –  October 18, 19 – Orchestre de Paris; Jonathan Darlington, conductor

2017  –  November 16 – Orchestre National de Lyon; Lionel Bringuier, conductor

Recordings of La Tragédie de Salomé

Florent Schmitt Salome Straram 1930

The second commercial recording of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé, made in 1930, featured the composer as conductor, too.

As Florent Schmitt’s most famous composition, it should come as no surprise that more than 15 recordings have been released of this music — either studio recordings or taken from live concert performances.  This article provides details on each of those recordings.

13 thoughts on “La Tragédie de Salomé: Florent Schmitt’s Sinuous Temptress, Seducing Audiences for 100 Years

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  4. Pingback: Available online: Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé, performed live by Alain Altinoglu and l’Orchestre de Paris. | Florent Schmitt

  5. Pingback: The Mariinsky Ballet Revives Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé | Florent Schmitt

  6. Pingback: Florent Schmitt’s Intense, Monumental Piano Quintet (1908) | Florent Schmitt

  7. Pingback: Youthful Exuberance: Lionel Bringuier’s Thrilling Performance of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salomé (Stockholm, 2009) | Florent Schmitt

  8. Pingback: Le petit elfe Ferme-l’oeil: Florent Schmitt’s Children’s Ballet | Florent Schmitt

  9. Pingback: Oriane et le Prince d’amour: Florent Schmitt’s Final ‘Orientalist’ Composition (1933) | Florent Schmitt

  10. Pingback: La Tragédie de Salomé: Florent Schmitt’s most famous composition … 15 commercial recordings and counting. | Florent Schmitt

  11. Pingback: Janiana: Florent Schmitt’s Rich, Robust Symphony for String Orchestra (1941) | Florent Schmitt

  12. Pingback: Excitement on Steroids: Five Live Concert Recordings of Florent Schmitt’s Blockbuster Choral Composition Psalm 47 (1904) | Florent Schmitt

  13. Pingback: Forgotten Records: Resurrecting noteworthy recordings of Florent Schmitt’s music from the LP era. | Florent Schmitt

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