Salome's Leitmotifs and
copyright © 2002 by Larry J Solomon
Text painting is integral in the construction of the leitmotifs, following
- Salome's motive, centered in c#: has a capricious structure (depicting Salome's
capricious nature), constantly alternating upward and downward intervals and
a cambiata consisting of an Fx and A that doesn't resolve.
- Narraboth's motive first rises in large leaps, depicting his sexual arousal,
and then falls, forcasting his fall.
- John's motive, in Eb: is purely diatonic (symbolizing his purity and sacred
character) and pompous.(Strauss himself referred to John's motive as comically
- The Cistern motive consists of the forboding tritone, the Diabolus in
musica, forboding John's doom.
- The prophesy motive consists of downward fourths, one of the perfect or
"noble intervals" pointing to its Godly power.
- Interestingly, the prophesy motive moves into the Yearning motive by a tritone,
indicating its opposite (Ex 4).
- The yearning motive centers on a C-major pedal-chord with upper and lower
chromatic neighbor notes longingly (slowly) pulling toward the resolution
to the third of the chord, E.
- The Kiss (6a-b) begins with three repeating notes, depicting Salome's insistence
and ends with a falling sigh as she pleads to John.
- Salome's Come Hither motive repeats an enticing bird-call-like major-third
in quick alternation, up and down.
- Salome's Determination motive, already forshadowed in the Kiss, bluntly
repeats an accented single note (insisting), followed by an ascending three-note
scale a tritone away, imitating a shout. This figure is an inversion of the
falling part of the Kiss motive which functioned as a sigh or plee. Now it
is transformed into a demand. The alternating minor third is a dark transformation
the "Come Hither" motive.
- Salome's Allure is a gently undulating, falling sequence of three notes
(mimicking her seductive vulnerability or coyness) in the strings accompanied
by a rising arpeggio in the bass (hopeful of male arousal).
- Salome's Exotic Eroticism (the Dance) alludes to the melodic augmented-second
used in middle Eastern dances.
- Salome's Dark Allure is a sinuous rising figure in a rich alto register,
suggesting its dark, seductive qualities.
- The Argument of the Jews is a repetitive, untransposed four-note litany
without variation, mimicking monotonous complaining.
- Herod's motives are either a stright line up, suggesting his power, or a
straight line down, suggesting his weakness.
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.
||Salome, the exotic femme fatale
||Goodness, purity, power, prophesy
||Salome's Come Hither
|| The Jews
||John the Baptist
||Doom, cistern (John's fate)
- C: is the key used to represent purity, goodness, and God’s power.
It is “pure” because it contains only natural notes, untainted
by “accidentals”. It is also associated with the white keys of
the piano, hence the whiteness of John’s body, his holy purity, etc.
It’s connected with John’s sacred mission and refers back to Medieval
sacred music, which avoided and abhorred accidentals.
- If C: is the purest key, its opposite is C#:, Salome’s key. This key
has no natural notes at all, and hence is the most unnatural or abnormal,
appropriate to Salome’s character; c#: is simply a darker version of
the same tonality.
- Many of the keys in this opera have the maximum or near maximum number of
unnatural notes, e.g., C#:, Db:, eb:, g#:, B:, E:, Ab:, etc. thus corroborating
the dark, unnatural character of the drama.
- A: (one of Salome’s key) and Eb: (John’s) are a tritone apart,
thus allude to these opposite, diametrically opposed characters, just as do
C: and C#:. The tritone is also the Medieval Diabolus, and is used to symbolize
the protagonists’ evil juxtaposition and the doom to which this leads.
It is also used as the musical motive of the cistern that holds John prisoner.
- F: is used with the German word for fruit, Fruchte.
- E: is used for the mouth because the letter E resembles a gaping mouth biting
- c: has been traditionally used to represent death, such as in Siegfried’s
funeral music, in Liszt’s music, and it is the key of Beethoven’s
- g#: is used in connection with the “horrible” and “terrible”.
This could be because it is the most accessible key that has a double sharp
(crossbones), which by sacred standards is more terrible than single accidentals.
- d: may have been used for the Jews because D is the first usable musical
key-letter in the word Jude, the German word for Jew.
For more information on Tonality and Form in Salome see: Murphy, Edward,"Tonality
and Form in Salome," The Music Review, Vol. 50, No. 3/4, Aug/Nov
1989, pp 215-230.