The music of Florent Schmitt this weekend. From the 1949 Besançon Festival and recorded by the ORTF in Paris, a performance of La Tragédie de Salome conducted by the legendary André Cluytens, leading the Paris Conservatoire in live concert.
In 1907 Schmitt composed the ballet, La tragédie de Salomé, to a commission from Jacques Rouché for Loie Fuller and the Théâtre des Arts. The original ballet score required twenty instruments and lasted about an hour, In 1910 Schmitt prepared a suite using several of the ballet’s movement, half as long as the ballet score, for a much expanded orchestra. The suite is much better-known, with commercial recordings conducted by Schmitt himself, Paul Paray, Jean Martinon, Antonio de Almeida, Marek Janowski and others. There is also a recording of the 1907 original score under Patrick Davin on the Marco Polo label. The rhythmic syncopations, polyrhythms, percussively treated chords, bitonality, and scoring of Schmitt’s work anticipate Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. While composing The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky acknowledged that Schmitt’s ballet gave him greater joy than any work he had heard in a long time, but the two composers fell out with each other in later years, and Stravinsky reversed his opinion of Schmitt’s works.
This particular recording has not been issued commercially, though Cluytens did record it along with a vast output of other recordings of French works during the 1950s and 1960s.
André Cluytens was born Augustin Zulma Alphonse Cluytens; (26 March 1905 – 3 June 1967), a Belgian-born French conductor who was active in the concert hall, opera house and recording studio. His repertoire extended from Viennese classics through French composers to 20th century works. Although much of his career was spent in France, he was the first French conductor at Bayreuth in 1955; he also conducted the Ring and Parsifal at La Scala.
Having made his debut with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra on 20 December 1942, he succeeded Charles Munch in 1949 as principal conductor, which post he held until 1960. His contract required him to conduct half of the orchestra’s concerts each season; he also led them on foreign tours. Cluytens was due to conduct the first concert to be given by Alfred Cortot in Paris after his disgrace for Vichy activities, in 1947; in the event the concerto was dropped and Cluytens refused to acknowledge Cortot as he and the orchestra left the stage for Cortot to play solo. Cluytens conducted the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra in a Beethoven symphony cycle and then on its tour of Japan in 1964, continuing on his own to conduct the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, South Australian Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Victorian Symphony Orchestra and Queensland Symphony Orchestra into July that year.
Cluytens died in 1967 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Here is that concert performance of Florent Schmitt’s La Tragédie de Salome from the 1949 Besançon Festival.