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Where Music Meets Science: Traces of Nineteenth-Century Scientific Naturalism in Representations of Madness in Richard Strauss’s Salome

Armstrong, Charlotte (2015) Where Music Meets Science: Traces of Nineteenth-Century Scientific Naturalism in Representations of Madness in Richard Strauss’s Salome. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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This thesis seeks to explore the impact of scientific theory on representations of madness in opera. More specifically, it questions: to what extent do dialogues of nineteenth-century scientific naturalism manifest themselves in the depiction of the title character in Richard Strauss’s Salome? The intellectual climate of Strauss’s Europe may have caused the protagonist to be perceived as one of opera’s ‘madwomen’ by turn of the century audiences. Much literature on the work raises questions about the protagonist’s mental state, and arguably, madness is at the heart of the opera. Though dissected by musicologists for decades, Salome has long escaped analysis from the dedicated viewpoint of scientific history. The current study begins with a review of existing literature and an introduction of key themes, which forms a foundation for a case study of Salome. Traces of the formative evolutionary principles of Darwin and Spencer can be recognized within Strauss’s opera, and this thesis outlines the ideas of evolutionary naturalism and natural selection from their scientific origins, to their emergence within dialogues about the development of music, and their appearance upon the operatic stage within Salome. This thesis does not claim the existence of any direct allusions in the opera to scientific naturalism, but rather, aims to showcase the (possibly indirect) engagement with ideas relating to mental illness within a naturalistic framework at the time surrounding Salome’s composition. The wider implications of these naturalistic ideas are also explored, such as the development of concepts that, despite rising from a culture of progress, ushered in an all-encompassing fear of degeneration and decline. Focussing on the so-called ‘lower races’ and the weak members of society, the era’s nihilistic attitudes to race, gender and disease are shown, along with their relation to the era’s naturalistic intellectual climate, and their reflection within the representation of madness in Salome. This thesis starts from the basis that no artistic endeavour exists apart from the society in which it was written. My research, in constructing a specific cultural narrative, contributes to existing Salome literature by uncovering not only how madness is portrayed, but also why Strauss’s protagonist may have been considered to be mad, and to what extent her type of insanity mirrors the era’s naturalistic mind-set.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > Music (York)
Depositing User: Miss Charlotte Armstrong
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2016 12:19
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2016 12:19
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/13850

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