Without question, La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 is Florent Schmitt’s most famous composition. Composed in 1907 and revised in 1910, this ballet is far more often performed as a symphonic suite these days (although the Mariinsky Ballet revived the stage version in 2013).
The composition became famous from the very start – recognized by music critics and audiences alike as one of the best examples of French tone painting.
So it’s not surprising that Salomé is also the composition of Schmitt’s that has enjoyed the most commercial recordings over the years.
Beginning in 1929/30 – when the first two recordings were waxed within a few months of one another – and continuing up to the present day, there have been no fewer than 15 commercial recordings made of this music.
As an interesting aside, a number of music critics took notice of the fact that portions of the Coppola recording were taken at substantially swifter tempos than those of Schmitt’s own recording. Writing in the July 5, 1931 edition of the New York Times, the British-American journalist T. Compton Packenham noted:
“In comparing these two versions it will be noticed that the composer has taken another record to cover the same ground. The result is greater clarity and stronger emphasis in a work which requires considerable accenting.”
And we have Piero Coppola’s own words about Schmitt’s reaction to his recording, which he included in his book Seventeen Years of Music in Paris: 1922-1939:
“[Many] composers did me the honor of attending and collaborating on my recordings, and it was a joy for me to be able to contribute to the dissemination of their works …
Unfortunately, Florent Schmitt, of whom I was a sincere admirer, was absent when I recorded his Tragédie de Salomé … [for which I had] taken all my care to achieve the best result. Upon his return from the Pyrenees, Mr. Schmitt did not agree with the tempo at which I had directed the very last part of the work; but this slight cloud later dissipated, and I retain my feelings of administration for the composer and gratitude to the music critic of Le Temps, who was always very courteous and complimentary about my orchestral works.”
One recording of the original (1907) version of the ballet has also appeared – a fascinating reading of a score for reduced orchestra that’s nearly twice as long as the one the world knows best.
We are very fortunate to have a variety of interpretive approaches to this music. I have listened to all but one of the recordings (the elusive 1942/43 Charles Munch reading). While a number of the recordings appeal to me more than others, to my ears each of them has its own merits.
Indeed, Florent Schmitt has been quite lucky in the quality of conductors and orchestras that have been inspired to bring this music in front of the microphones.
In fact, one recording could be considered a “definitive” interpretation because the composer himself is leading the musical forces.
Listed below are all of the commercially released recordings of La Tragédie de Salomé of which I’m aware. (Corrections or additions to the data are welcomed.)
Orchestre Symphonique du Gramophone; Piero Coppola, conductor. Recorded September 1929 … Original 78-rpm release: Gramophone W 1055-57 … CD reissue: Lys 373 (with works by Golestan, Honegger, Rabaud, Roussel)
Orchestre des Concerts Straram; Florent Schmitt, conductor. Recorded April 18-19, 1930, Théatre des Champs-Elysées (Paris) … Original 78-rpm release: LFX 68-71 … CD reissue: EMI 54840-2 (with works by Roussel)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire; Charles Munch, conductor. Recorded October 15, 1942 and April 3, 1943, Salle du Conservatoire (Paris) … Original 78-rpm release: Gramophone W 1559-62 (Never reissued)
L’Orchestre du Théatre National de l’Opéra de Paris; Pierre Dervaux, conductor. Recorded October 16, 1957 (in the presence of the composer), Maison de la Mutualité (Paris) … Original LP release: EMI/Voix de Son Maitre FALP 530 … CD reissue: Forgotten Records FR 410 (with works by Dukas)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Paul Paray, conductor. Recorded March 23, 1958, Orchestra Hall (Detroit) (Winner, Grand Prix du Disque award, 1960) … Original LP release: Mercury SR 90177 Stereo … CD reissue: Mercury Living Presence 434336-2 (with works by Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Richard Strauss, von Weber)
Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional; Pedro de Freitas Branco, conductor. Recorded July 14, 1961, Studio A, Emissora Nacional de Radiodiffusão (Lisbon) (Live recording) … Original CD release: Strauss SP 4113 (with works by Debussy, deFalla)
New Philharmonia Orchestra; Antonio de Almeida, conductor; Gloria Jennings, mezzo-soprano; Ambrosian Singers. Recorded 1970, London … Original LP release: RCA Victor LSC 3151 Stereo … CD reissue: ReDiscovery RD 082 (with works by Chausson, Dukas, Duparc)
L’Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F., Jean Martinon, conductor; Andréa Guiot, soprano; Choeurs de l’O.R.T.F. Recorded October 6-7, 1972, Salle Wagram (Paris) … Original LP release: EMI/Pathé Marconi C 069-12166 Stereo/Quadraphonic … CD reissue: EMI CDC 749748-2 (with works by Schmitt, Debussy)
L’Orchestre Philharmonique + Choeurs de Radio-France; Marek Janowski, conductor; Sharon Sweet, soprano. Recorded October 1988, Studio 103, Radio-France (Paris) … Original CD release: Erato 2292-45029-2 Stereo … CD reissue: Apex 2564-62764-2 (with other works by Schmitt)
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Patrick Davin, conductor. Recorded December 18-19, 1991, Pfalzbau-Hall (Ludwigshafen) … Original CD release: Marco Polo 8.223448 Stereo (Original 1907 version)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Thierry Fischer, conductor; Christin Buffle, soprano; BBCNOW Chorus. Recorded October 24-25, 2006, Brangwyn Hall, Guildhall (Swansea) … Original CD release: Hyperion DCA 67599 Stereo (with other works by Schmitt)
SWR Symphony Orchestra (Baden-Baden u. Freiburg); Sylvain Cambreling, conductor. Recorded December 2007, Konzerthaus (Freiburg) … Original CD release: Hänssler Classic 93.223 Stereo (with works by Debussy, Stravinsky)
Borusan-Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra; Sascha Goetzel, conductor. Recorded May 24-29, 2009, Borusan Oto, Istinye (Istanbul) … Original CD release: Onyx 4048 Stereo (with works by Hindemith, Respighi)
Orchestre Métropolitain; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor. Recorded July 2010, Église Saint-Ferdinand, Laval (Québec) (Winner: Félix Award, 2011; Opus Award, 2012) … Original CD release: ATMA ACD2 2647 Stereo (with works by Franck) (View a video clip of the recording session)
Orquesta Sinfónica do Estado de São Paulo; Yan-Pascal Tortelier, conductor; Susan Bullock, soprano; OSESP Women’s Chorus. Recorded July 5-9, 2010, Júlio Prestes Cultural Center (São Paulo) … Original CD release: Chandos CHSA 5090 Super Audio (with other works by Schmitt)
A measure of the importance of the Salomé score — and of the performers involved — is the fact that nearly all of these recordings remain available today in CD or download formats — even most of the ones from the 78-rpm and pre-stereophonic eras.
Update (5/1/14): In the months since this blog post was published, there have been two additional recordings released of La Tragédie de Salomé — both of them taken from broadcast performances made by French National Radio in the 1950s. They have now been released for the first time by Forgotten Records:
Pierre Dervaux and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (radio broadcast performance from May 20, 1958). Forgotten Records FR 918 (with works by Chabrier, Debussy, Lalo and Ravel)
Pedro de Freitas Branco and l’Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (radio broadcast performance from February 21, 1955). Forgotten Records FR 928 (with works by Aubert and Ropartz)
Update (11/13/20): The 18th commercial recording of La Tragédie de Salomé has now been released. Directed by JoAnn Falletta, this conductor has been an indefatigable champion of Schmitt’s music, and this new recording is her second all-Schmitt release on the NAXOS label.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano; Buffalo GirlChoir. Recorded March 4, 2019, Kleinhans Music Hall (Buffalo) … Original CD release: NAXOS 8.574138 Stereo (with other works by Schmitt)
Update (12/11/21): The newest release of this music actually takes us back more than 60 years — and is particularly interesting in that the performance was part of an all-Schmitt concert presented as a memorial to the composer five weeks following his death in 1958.
The celebrated conductor Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, who had been a close friend of Schmitt for many decades, led the ORTF in the very piece that Maestro Inghelbrecht had premiered in Paris back in 1907.
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française; Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, conductor (live performance, October 9, 1958), Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris … Forgotten Records FR 1984 (with other works by Schmitt and Debussy)
[Note: This same Inghelbrecht performance has also been released by St-Laurent Studio, on a CD which includes all of the music presented at the October 9, 1958 Schmitt memorial concert in Paris. That recording is available for purchase here.]
Update (4/25/22): Yet another recording of broadcast performances of Florent Schmitt’s music from the archives of French National Radio has now been released by Forgotten Records (FR 2032). It features three of the composer’s famous “orientalist” compositions including La Tragédie de Salomé, Antoine et Cléopatre, Op. 69 (Suite No. 2), and excerpts from Salammbô, Op. 75.
The performances are led by a trio of conductors who were prominent in France during the 1950s and 1960s, but who were commercially recorded only rarely (Charles Bruck, Rémus Tzincoca and Tony Aubin). As music critic Steven Kruger notes about Maestro Bruck’s performance: “I would single out Charles Bruck in Strasbourg for concluding La Tragédie de Salomé with an unusually slow, convulsive and dramatic hammering out of the coda, which can occasionally come across a bit ‘slam-bam-thank you-ma’am.’ The composer himself took the coda slowly in his own recorded version, and I expect Bruck was honoring his approach.”
Orchestre National de Strasbourg; Charles Bruck, conductor (live performance, September 5, 1962), Strasbourg Opera House … Forgotten Records FR 2032 (with other works by Schmitt)
Update (5/15/23): The 1950s saw regular ORTF concert broadcast performances of Florent Schmitt’s music, and another three of them have now been issued by Forgotten Records (FR 2149).
Included on the CD is a 1957 performance of La Tragédie de Salomé led by Pierre-Michel Le Conte, a conductor who had a very active career, but limited mainly to France. Also included on the recording is a 1953 performance of Psaume XLVII (directed by Igor Markevitch) plus a 1956 performance of the second of Schmitt’s Mirages (conducted by Pierre Dervaux).
Orchestre National de la Radio-Télévision Française; Pierre-Michel Le Conte, conductor (live performance, February 20, 1957) … Forgotten Records FR2149 (with other works by Schmitt)