The opening scene of my book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, took place ninety-nine years ago today. It feels like I've been writing it for nearly that long. The finished product won't be available until the fall of 2006, but here's a teaser:
When Richard Strauss conducted his sensuously savage opera Salome on May 16, 1906, in the Austrian city of Graz, the crowned heads of European music gathered to witness the occasion. The world première of Salome had taken place five months before, in Dresden, whence word had spread that Strauss, the master provocateur of German music, had created something beyond the pale—an ultra-dissonant Biblical spectacle, based on a play by a recently deceased British degenerate whose name was not to be mentioned in polite company; a work so frightful in its depiction of adolescent lust that imperial censors had banned it from the Court Opera in Vienna.
Gustav Mahler, the Court Opera’s director, attended with his wife, the beautiful and controversial Alma. Giacomo Puccini, the matinee-idol creator of La Bohème and Tosca, made a trip north to hear what “terribly cacophonous thing” his German rival had concocted. The bold young composer Arnold Schoenberg arrived from Vienna with his brother-in-law, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and no fewer than six of his pupils. One of them, Alban Berg, traveled with an older friend who left a memoir of the occasion, describing the “feverish impatience and boundless excitement” that all were feeling as the evening approached. Raoul Auernheimer, a protégé of Arthur Schnitzler, was one of several rising literary stars in attendance. The widow of the waltz king Johann Strauss, no relation to the composer of Salome, represented old Vienna. Ordinary music-enthusiasts filled out the crowd—“young people from Vienna, with only the vocal score as hand luggage,” Strauss noted. Among them may have been an Austrian teenager named Adolf Hitler, who had just seen Mahler conduct Tristan und Isolde in Vienna, on the night of May 8th. Hitler later told Strauss’s son and daughter-in-law that he had borrowed money from relatives to make the trip to Graz.
There was even a fictional character present—Adrian Leverkühn, the hero of Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus, a tale of a composer in league with the devil....
Happy birthday, Alex S.!