This month I’m taking a look at controversial pieces. Music has often been a source of controversy in modern society. Attempts have been made to censor and destroy music that has been deemed offensive and inappropriate. Here are some of the most controversial pieces of music ever released. The Listen Here buttons connect to Spotify where you can listen to pieces.
Richard Strauss - Salome
Salome is an opera by Richard Strauss which was written in…1905!
Marie Wittich, who acted in the lead role at its debut, refused to perform the infamous “Dance of the Seven Veils” — in which Salome dances seductively before Herod Antipas — famously telling the composer, “I won’t do it; I’m a decent woman.” A dancer was brought in to take her place for that particular scene. I remember when playing it all the guys in the brass and percussion section looking up at the stage and being very distracted…. Have a listen for yourself in the link below.
Beethoven - Symphony No 3 ‘Eroica’
It’s hard to imagine a famous composer like Beethoven being controversial. You might be surprised to learn that Beethoven’s monumental third symphony wasn’t without its controversies when it was composed. The issue lay in the attribution. Legend has it Beethoven originally intended to honour Napoleon Bonaparte, but upon Napoleon’s being crowned emperor he scrapped the name in favour of the more abstract, "Eroica" meaning "heroic”.
According to Beethoven biographer Ferdinand Ries, the composer flew into a rage, declaring Bonaparte a “tyrant” who “will think himself superior to all men.” (Clearly having a bad day…..)
Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring was famously greeted with a riot when it premiered at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1913. A Ballets Russes ballet as controversial for its subject matter (a sacrificial pagan ritual in which a virgin dances herself to death, described by one critic as “puerile barbarity”) and Nijinsky’s forceful choreography as it was for Stravinsky’s "savage" music, it seems The Rite’s premiere was destined for chaos.
When interviewed about performing in the premiere, dancer Lydia Sokolova said the audience indeed “had got themselves all ready. They didn't even let the music be played for the overture and as soon as it was known that the conductor was there, the uproar began.”
You might recognise this piece as used for lots of film and tv scores. Have a listen for yourself. it might not seem controversial today but in 1913...
Would you call four minutes and 33 seconds of "silence" music? John Cage did when he "composed" 4’33” in 1952. A conceptual work in “three movements” that requires the performer of any instrument to sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds, it's all about exploring the ambient—or “other”—sounds heard in a musical performance, and takes Cage’s notion that all sounds can constitute music to the very limits.