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Unformatted text preview: Yael Braunschweig Comp Lit 225 12/19/05 Salome and Musical Censorship at the Fin de Sicle We are no supporters of censorship. But if sadists, masochists, lesbians and homosexuals come and presume to tell us that their crazy world of spirit and feeling is to be interpreted as manifestations of art, then steps must be taken in the interests of health . Art has no interest in sanctifying bestialities which arise from sexual perversity. Only this cry matters: out with them! 1 In a letter dated 18 August 1905, Richard Strauss queried the conductor of Viennas court opera, Gustav Mahler: have you really the intention announced in the enclosed notice from Der Tag ? If soby 1 September [my] publishing firm will have finished preparing the vocal scoresfrom whichstudy of the main parts can [begin]. 2 Ever eager to report the operatic worlds gossip, Der Tag published the possibly fabricated rumor that Mahler had bid for the rights to premiere Strausss Salome . Reading of the news for the first time in the paper, Strauss wrote to Mahler asking for clarification. The notice has obviously been conjured from nowhere, wrote Mahler in (mock?) exasperation. 3 Given the calculated half-truths Mahler would use in his attempts to stage Strauss third opera, the ingenuousness of his written remarks is ever an open question. For what erupted was a censorship scandal, not unlike those surrounding early English attempts to produce Oscar Wildes play, but relatively uncommon at this time on European operatic stages. 4 1 Quotation taken from a 1907 pamphlet of compiled newspaper clippings from the first performance of Salome in Wiesbaden as translated by John Williamson in Critical Reception, in Richard Strauss: Salome , ed. Derrick Puffett (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 133. 2 Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss: Correspondence 1888-1911 , ed. Herta Blaukopf, trans. Edward Jephcott (Boston: Fabor, 1984), p. 81. 3 Ibid., 82. 4 With the important exception of Russia. See for example, Richard Taruskin, Christian Themes and Russian Opera: A Millennial Essay, Cambridge Opera Journal 2 (1990): 83-91. Ordinarily, operas deemed objectionable in subject matter would receive a treatment of textual bowdlerization rather than a wholesale ban. New Testament subjects were the ones that most frequently encountered difficulties. Early 1 Indeed Mahler, among many others, had predicted the censors backlash before Strauss had even set Salome to music. As Mahlers widow reported in her memoirs, when Strauss had told Mahler that he wanted to put Wildes Salome to music, Mahler opposed the idea violently. He had a thousand arguments against it, ethical to begin with but not least the probable impossibility of performing the working in Catholic countriesso now Strauss had finished the composition, and there was a note of triumph in his offer [to let Mahler hear it]. Strauss played and sang incomparably wellMahler was entirely won over.incomparably wellMahler was entirely won over....
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