Context and Critical Reception
'His new opera, which is to be produced early next year, will probably show whether he is going to realize our best hopes or our worst fears,' predicted Ernest Newman in the final sentence of his 1908 biography of Richard Strauss -- just three years after the première of Salome and one year before Elektra.1 Newman's hope was that Salome would prove to be an aberration, that Strauss would return to the 'high-minded seriousness of Tod und Verklärung and Guntram'. His fear was that the crude pictorialism and a disposition toward extravagance that he recognized in Salome might represent a lasting stylistic change for the composer. Would Salome signify a new direction for Strauss, or would it merely be an exceptional tour de force? In the first decade of the twentieth century this question was not an easy one . to answer.
At the time of Salome Strauss was firmly established as a successful composer of tone poems and Lieder, but he remained an enigma as an opera composer. The audience's perplexity about Strauss's musical development in the first decade of the twentieth century stemmed from two related problems. The first one was that his audience perceived no stylistic consistency in his first three operas. Paul Bekker, indeed, viewed Strauss's early operas as a 'series of style experiments'.2 The second, and much broader, problem is that no one at that time seemed to know in which direction post-Wagnerian German opera was heading. In Die deutsche Musik der Gegenwart, published the year of Elektra's première, Robert Louis called Wagner 'the last landmark in the history____________________