Dramatic Vocalise Database

Schmitt, Florent (1870–1958)

La Tragédie de Salomé, Op. 50 (1907)

Born in Blâmont, Lorraine, in 1870, Florent Schmitt entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1889, where he studied harmony with Dubois and Lavignac, and composition with Massenet and Fauré.1 His first attempt at the Prix de Rome gained him the second prize in 1897. Three years later he won the Grand Prix. He composed prolifically during his Rome sojourn, traveling afterward to Germany, Austria, Turkey, and North Africa. Upon his return to Paris in 1906, an all-Schmitt concert was given at the Conservatoire. During the next four years he solidified his reputation with Psalm XLVII, op. 38 (1904), and La Tragédie de Salomé.

Schmitt completed La Tragédie de Salomé in 1907 and dedicated the score to Stravinsky. It was first performed on 9 November of the same year at the Théâtre des Arts in Paris, with Désiré Inghelbrecht, also a member of Les Apaches, conducting. In its original form the work was conceived as a choreographic poem. Later, the composer arranged it as a concert suite, after considerably amplifying the orchestration.

Based on a poem by Robert d’Humières, La Tragédie de Salomé closely follows the action of the text. At the opening of the second movement, “Les enchantements sur la mer,” one is immediately confronted with something very similar to the opening measure of Debussy’sSirènes”: the rumbling of low strings, tremolo upper strings, and an initial theme presented by muted horn trio.

Schmitt, La Tragédie de Salomé, op. 40, mvt. 2, mm. 19–21 2

One would soon expect a response from the chorus, again echoing the horns, and yet Schmitt fails to provide such a direct connection. Instead, a solo soprano accompanied by solo oboe vocalizes an “Eastern” sounding melody, indicated in the score as “Chant d’Aïca, collected on the shore of the Dead Sea by Salvator Peïtavi”.

Schmitt, La Tragédie de Salomé, op. 40, mvt. 2, mm. 89–101 3

The score indicates: “Puis une voix monte de l’abîme” [“A voice is heard from the abyss”]. As the music progresses, this melodic idea is taken up by the entire offstage female chorus in three-part harmony while the scene continues to build toward its dramatic climax. Directions given in the score for this section state:

The horn motive is especially reminiscent of Debussy. Just as in “Sirènes,” vocalization is blended into the orchestral texture.

(Nauman 2009, 97–99)



mvt. 2 (excerpt)

mvt. 2 (excerpt)

mvt. 2 (complete)


1 Schmitt’s teacher Jules Massenet (1842–1912) provided an optional offstage humming-chorus for the famous “Méditation” from his opera Thaïs (1894), signifying the protagonist’s religious conversion.

2 Florent Schmitt, La Tragédie de Salomé (Paris: Durand, 1913), 73.

3 Ibid., 95.

4 Ibid., [ii].