Salome's Allure from the "Dance of the Seven Veils"

A Tonal-Harmonic Analysis

copyright © 2002 by Larry J Solomon

Richard Strauss's opera has become one of the canonic works in operatic literature. The music, completed in 1905, possibly Strauss's most advanced, contains melodies with augmented seconds that portray the exotic middle-Eastern dance, and a highly chromatic vocabulary. The last scene is one of the most harmonically advanced in Strauss's works, containing polytonality and polychords, appropriately underscoring the ghoulish conclusion of the opera. This analysis, however, will be mostly confined to the "Dance of the Seven Veils". Even the beginning of the dance confounds a conventional harmonic analysis. [Keys are here indicated with a colon following either a Capital letter for a major key, or a lower case letter for a minor key; e.g., a: means a minor, C: means C major.]

Example 1. Salome's Dance, measures 1-2

The first chord is straightforward enough, Am (A minor), tonic in the key of a:. But, what is the chord on the third beat of each measure? Is it an Eb+, an F7, or perhaps something else? And if it is an F7, why does it end with a G? Already, the very first measure is a harmonic enigma. I will attempt to solve this enigma after first analyzing Salome's "Allure".

What I am calling Salome's "Allure" begins in measure 98 (numbering from the beginning of Salome's Dance, or rehearsal letter P+7 [Dover's score]), where the key signature changes to c# minor.

Example 2. The beginning of Salome's Allure

It is notable that this passage, which is easy enough to analyze, alternates i and VI, a common theme/progression in the dance. Measure 103 contains an altered, minor Neapolitan, i.e., flatting the third. The C is a pedal that becomes a B# in 104.

An interesting transformation begins in m109. Although the chord is spelled as a Bb7 it functions as a V7/ii in the old key of c#: (A#7). Strauss modulates briefly to eb: until m113, where the tonic functions as an enharmonic pivot back into C#minor (V/V). From 115 to 117 the harmonies alternate between a Vb9 and a Neapolitan. In 117 an F# minor chord serves as a pivot into Eb: (iii). this is followed by a Vb9/V, a German sixth, and an authentic cadence on Eb, m122.

This Eb7 becomes an Eb+6, a German sixth of G: in 123, although it is still written as an Eb7. There is a typical resolution to a second-inversion tonic of G:. This G major chord then slides up chromatically to become a G#7 in m125, the V7 of c#: Finally, the section ends with iv6 V7 I in c#:.

Of special interest to the "enigma" of the beginning of the dance is the alternation of i and VI commencing in the Allure section. This, I believe, corroborates that Salome's Dance begins with the same progression, i.e., i to VI in a:.

Therefore, the essential notes in measure 1 are those of the A minor tonic and an F major (VI) chord. The notes A and C are common to both. The G and B are neighbor tones that return to A C, and the soprano G is a neighbor to F. The Eb with the VI does not function as a dominant seventh. In fact, it functions as D#, i.e., as part of a German augmented-sixth (F A C D#), because it is a displaced neighbor of the E in the bass. Thus, the basic progression of Salome's Dance, which recurs throughout the dance, is tonic (A minor) to F+6 (German), then back to tonic. Due to the augmented-sixth note of D# (or Eb) a tritone progression becomes motivic, (A Eb/D# A) the diabolus, which is associated with evil and with Salome herself.

The question of Eb versus D# is an interesting one. Strauss himself seems unable to make up his mind. In measure 21, for example, D# occurs in the bass simultaneously with an Eb in the treble. Salome's exotic, turning embellished lines contain D#s, often in combination with melodic augmented seconds. Many times these D#s move to E, as in 4-6, 9-10, and their subsequent recurrences. At the end of m13 and 16, Eb ascends to E. In 25, D# again occurs simultaneously with Eb. In light of their enharmonic notation, it seems logical to consider all of these as functional D#s. Acceding this, the dance is actually fairly easy to analyze, alternating the German F+6 and tonic. The first 32 measures are in A minor and consist mostly of these two chords.

Measure 34 contains an unusual, yet characteristic, "Straussian" modal cadence, Dm Em7 Am, or iv v i. The chromatic Ab and Eb are simply passing notes. This section continues in A minor until 48. Nothing very unusual occurs. There is use of a Neapolitan in 41, and a brief fourth sequence in 42.

Although 48 begins with a second inversion tonic, it procedes to a chromatic mediant, C#, which is used to modulate to C# major. This key apparently lasts only three measures, 49-51. Measure 52 returns to the F+6 and to A minor, using the dominant resolution (E) as a transition to G# minor in m55 via the chromatic mediant relation. G# lasts only until 62, where a D pedal is introduced.

The passage from 62-71 is tonally ambiguous and either presents a suspension of tonality or is polytonal. A D#o7 recurs resolving to E minor, against a stubborn D pedal. Then an F#o7 resolves to G. The C#7 in 70 is actually a mispelled Db+6 that resolves to C in 71, the dominant of F. Against all this is the recurring motive of Salome's "Come Hither", in the key of A minor. So, no less than three key centers are represented simultaneously: e:, a:, and D: (although the last is only a pedal). The bass has descended chromatically from D to C.

Measure 73 relents to F major. In 81, the F+6 returns (this time correctly spelled), modulating to A major in 82. An interesting juxtaposition of a G# pedal against an incorrectly spelled A+6 occurs in a passage commencing in 87. But this gives way to the deceptive movement, G7 to Ab in 91. The Ab continues as the enharmonic pedal of G# in the bass. Curiously, the Ab reverts to G# in 96. This reveals the true function of the Ab section -- it is really the enharmonic G#, serving as the dominant of a return to C# (this time minor), 98, Salome's Allure.

See also: Salome's Leitmotifs and Keys