Vol.  III                                                                                                                                                         

No.  12

issue no 31: November/December 2006

Revised for transfer from www.irishdiaspora.net to www.oscholars.com February 2009


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A monthly page dedicated to Oscar Wilde and Music, compiled by Tine Englebert.  Additionally, we will be looking at some of the other operas of the period, or inspired by it.

To go to other pages of Mad, Scarlet Music, click as appropriate:



Before July 2002, ‘Mad, Scarlet Music’ was incorporated in the main pages of THE OSCHOLARS.

Click  in the Table of Contents for direct access to the information about each item.

I.  De Profundis                                                               

II.  Salome: productions                                                 

III.  Der Zwerg                                                                

IV.  Singing Salome                                                        

V.  Beyond the Wilderness                                             

VI.  Corrections and Updates: (1) Tim de Brie (2) Diane Irvin



I.  De Profundis

There are a number of settings of De Profundis, including one by the Belgium-based American composer Frederic Rzewski.  As far as we know, this has not been recorded, though the score can be obtained from Maestro Rzewski’s agent, Esther G. Freifeld esther.freifeld@systech.be

With kind permission, we publish here Frederic Rzewski’s Notes.

Frederic Rzewski: Notes on De Profundis

My composition De Profundis was inspired by Luke Theodore, an old friend from the Living Theatre to whom the piece is also dedicated.  Luke went out to San Diego in the early 80’s to start his own theatre.  When I visited him in 1984 he was performing a play he and his group had put together on the subject of prisons.  It included some material from the Living Theatre’s ‘Frankenstein’ and a very lyrical and moving reading of episodes from Wilde.  I had read the book, but in Luke’s performance I was struck by the power of the writing. 

In 1989 the filmmaker Larry Brose asked me to write a piece for the pianist Anthony de Mare that could serve as the basis for a film.  I knew Tony’s abilities both as pianist and actor.  Remembering Luke’s performance of the Wilde texts, I suggested these as a possible source.  All of us as well shared an interest in the politics of sexuality; and this aspect of Wilde’s story seemed as lively now as it was a hundred years ago.  The project took some time to get under way, but the piece was finally written in the summer of 1992.  Since then it has been performed by a number of pianists, gay, straight, male and female.  All of the different interpretations which it has received so far have been original, interesting, and different from each other.  The music demands a combination of virtuoso technique and a total lack of inhibition on stage, thus virtually guaranteeing that no mediocre or conventional performer will dare to go near it.

De Profundis is a 30-minute composition for piano solo, in which the pianist recites a text consisting of selected passages adapted from Oscar Wilde’s letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, written during the author’s imprisonment in Reading.  The piece could be described as a melodramatic oratorio, in which eight sections with text are preceded by eight instrumental preludes.  It was written in the summer of 1992 for the pianist Anthony de Mare, in memory of Luke Theodore.

The text is as follows:

1.  People point to Reading Gaol, and say, ‘That is where the artistic life leads a man.’ Well, it might lead to worse places.  Mechanical people to whom life is a shrewd speculation depending on calculation always know where they are going, and go there.  They start with the ideal desire of being the parish beadle, and they succeed in being the parish beadle and no more.  A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself succeeds in being what he wants to be.  That is his punishment.  Those who want a mask have to wear it.  But with the dynamic forces of life, it is different.  People who desire self-realisation never know where they are going.  They can’t know.  To recognize that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom.  The final mystery is oneself.  When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, there still remains oneself.  Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

2.  We are the zanies of sorrow.  We are clowns whose hearts are broken.  We are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humour.  On November 13th, 1895, I was brought down here from London.  From two o’clock till half-past two on that day I had to stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world to look at.  When people saw me they laughed.  Each train swelled the audience.  Nothing could exceed their amusement.  That was, of course, before they knew who I was.  As soon as they had been informed they laughed still more.  For half an hour I stood there in the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering mob.  For a year I wept every day at the same hour and for the same space of time.  In prison tears are a part of every day’s experience.  A day in prison on which one does not weep is a day on which one’s heart is hard, not a day on which one’s heart is happy. 

3.  Morality does not help me.  I am a born antinomian.  I am one of those who are made for exceptions, not for laws.  Religion does not help me.  The faith that others give to what is unseen, I give to what one can touch, and look at.  Reason does not help me.  It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted and the system under which I have suffered are wrong and unjust.  But, somehow, I have got to make both of these things just and right to me.  I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me.  The plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes, the harsh orders, the dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the solitude, the shame - each and all of these things I had to transform into a spiritual experience.  There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.

4.  I have no desire to complain.  One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be.  Suffering is one very long moment.  We cannot divide it by seasons.  We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return.  With us time itself does not progress.  It revolves.  It seems to circle round one centre of pain.  For us, there is only one season, the season of sorrow.  The very sun and moon seem taken from us.  Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thick glass of the small iron-barred window is grey.  It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart.  And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more.

5.  We who live in prison, and in whose lives there is no event but sorrow, have to measure time by throbs of pain, and the record of bitter moments.  We have nothing else to think of.  Suffering is the means by which we exist, because it is the only means by which we become conscious of existing; and the remembrance of suffering in the past is necessary to us as the evidence of our continued identity.  Between myself and the memory of joy lies a gulf no less deep than that between myself and joy in its actuality.  So much in this place do men live by pain that my friendship with you, in the way in which I am forced to remember it, appears to me always as a prelude consonant with those varying modes of anguish which each day I have to realise; as though my life had been a symphony of sorrow, passing through its rhythmically linked movements to its certain resolution.

6.  The memory of our friendship is the shadow that walks with me here: that seems never to leave me: that wakes me up at night to tell the same story over and over: at dawn it begins again: it follows me into the prison yard and makes me talk to myself as I tramp round: each detail that accompanied each dreadful moment I am forced to recall: there is nothing that happened in those ill-starred years that I cannot recreate in that chamber of the brain which is set apart for grief or for despair: every strained note of your voice, every twitch and gesture of your nervous hands, every bitter word, every poisonous phrase comes back to me: I remember the street or river down which we passed : the wall or woodland that surrounded us, at what figure on the dial stood the hands of the clock, which way went the wings of the wind, the shape and colour of the moon.

7.  The gods are strange.  It is not our vices only they make instruments to scourge us.  They bring us to ruin through what in us is good, gentle, humane, loving.  Love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world.  If the world has been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of man reach perfection.  Far off, like a perfect pearl, one can see the City of God.  It is so wonderful that it seems as if a child could reach it in a summer’s day.  And so a child could.  But with me and such as me it is different. 

One can realise a thing in a single moment, but one loses it in the long hours that follow with leaden feet.  We think in eternity, but we move slowly through time.  And how slowly time goes with us who lie in prison I need not tell again.

8.  I hope to live long enough and to produce work of such character that I shall be able at the end of my days to say, ‘Yes! this is just where the artistic life leads a man!’ For the last seven or eight months, in spite of a succession of great troubles reaching me from the outside world almost without intermission, I have been placed in direct contact with a new spirit working in this prison through man and things, that has helped me beyond words: so that while for the first year of my imprisonment I did nothing else, and can remember doing nothing else, but wring my hands in despair, and say, ‘What an ending, what an appalling ending!’ Now I try to say to myself, and sometimes when I am not torturing myself do really say, ‘What a beginning, what a wonderful beginning!’



II.  Salome: Productions

Richard Strauss

1.  Opéra de Nice

Co-produced with Esplanade Opéra de St Étienne

Orchestra Philharmonique de Nice

Chœur de l’Opéra de Nice

20th, 22nd, 24th 26th May 2006


Luca Lombardo


Sylvie Brunet


Irene Cerboncini


Vincent Le Texier


Claude Pia


Patricia Fernandez

Marco Guidarini

Musical Director

Jean-Louis Pichon


Alexandre Heyraud


Laurence Fanon


Michel Theuil


Frédéric Pineau



2.  Lyric Opera, Chicago

21st, 25th, 29th October; 3rd, 6th, 11th,  14th, 18th, 21st November 2006



Deborah Voigt


Kim Begley


Alan Held


Judith Forst


Joseph Kaiser

Sir Andrew Davis


Francesca Zambello

Stage Director

George Tsypin

Set Designer

Tatyana Noginova

Costume Designer

James Ingalls

Lighting Designer

Jane Comfort



3.  Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, Germany

27th, 30th October; 3rd, 5th November 2006. [Information assembled by Tine Englebert, Lucia Krämer and the Editor.]




Angela Denoke


Wolfgang Schmidt


Alan Titus


Iris Vermillion


Nikolai Schukoff


Daniela Sindram

Kent Nagano


William Friedkin

Stage Director

Hans Schavernoch

Set Designer

Petra Reinhardt

Costume Designer

Mark Jonathan

Lighting Designer

David Bridel


Peter Heilker


Plakat "Salome"Design Fons Hickmann m23, Berlin


4.  Salle Pleyel, Paris

Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg

29th May 2007

with Nina Stemme; James Johnson; Anja Silja; Chris Merritt; Rainer Trost.




III.  Der Zwerg (The Birthday of the Infanta)

Alexander von Zemlinsky

Theater Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany

2nd, 10th, 16th, 25th December 2006


Donna Clara

Alla Perchikova


Marisca Mulder

Don Estoban

Juan Carlos Mera-Euler

The Dwarf

Erik Fenton

First lady-in-waiting

Anja Augustin

Second lady-in-waiting

Rosamund Cole

Third lady-in-waiting

Anne Schuldt

First girl

Cornelia Nuernbergk

Second girl

Astrid Thelemann

Walter E. Gugerbauer

Musical Director

Rupert Lummer

Stage Director

Hank Irwin Kittel

Set and Costume design


Alexander Zemlinsky based his opera Der Zwerg on the fairytale The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde.  Georg C. Klaren’s libretto departs considerably from Wilde’s original, portraying the characters not as childishly naïve fairytale creatures, but imbuing the piece instead with a reflective, intensely psychological note. Der Zwerg is not only the tragedy of an ugly person, but a drama about the interaction between artist and society, about the failure of a dreaming aesthete to meet the demands of societal reality.

In a Spanish courtyard, final preparations are underway for the birthday celebration of the young Infanta. Donna Clara is given a dwarf as a surprise gift, one perfectly suited to palace life: a singer who elicits mockery and amusement due not only to his size, but his ugly appearance as well. The dwarf, who has never seen himself in a mirror, thinks he is beautiful and well-formed, misinterpreting the laughter as friendship. He falls in love with the princess, undertaking daring adventures for her in his fantasies. Out of curiosity, Donna Clara plays along with his dream, but is horrified when it crosses over into reality and he attempts to kiss her. Despite this, she gives him a white rose and promises him the first dance. It is only a game for her, but the dwarf once again misinterprets her actions as a sign of love. When by chance he sees himself in a mirror and is confronted with his true appearance, he is devastated. Desperately he clings to his illusion, but the Infanta refuses to disavow his ugliness. Faced with the truth, he can no longer go on living and dies.



IV.  Singing Salome

In last month’s edition, we began to compile a list of those who have sung Salome, with the intention of adding to it subsequently and expanding it with dates and a bibliography.  With the same intention, here is an initial list of those who have sung Herod.

Hans Beirer

Emile Belcourt

Karl-Walter Böhm

Carl Burrian

Philip Brozel

Arthur Carron

Richard Cassilly

Franz Costa

Paul Crook

Gunnar Graarud

Hasso Eschert

Thorstein Hanneson

Horst Hiestermann

Frederick Jagel

Stuart Kale

Walter Kirchoff

Tadeusz Kopacki

Ernst Kraus

Franz Lechleitner

Richard Lewis

Max Lorenz

Peter Markwort

Helmut Melchert

Josef Metternich

Lucien Muratore

Julius Patzak

Konstantin Ploesjnikov

David Rampy

Kenneth Riegel

Neil Rosenheim

Francis Russell

Gerhard Stolze

Robert Tear

Jacque Trussel

Ragnar Ulfung

Ramon Vinay

Quade Winter

Alan Woodrow





Beyond the Wilderness

A glance at some of the other operas with which Wilde’s contemporaries (and sometimes Wilde himself) would have been familiar; and those that derive from the works of the period.

Dayer / maeterlinck

Les Aveugles

This opera by Xavier Dayer, who also wrote the libretto from the play by Maeterlinck,  received its world première at the Théâtre Gerard Philipe in St Denis on 19th August.  It was directed by Marc Paquien, with musical direction by Guillaume Tourniare with soloists from the Lyric Workshop of the Opéra national de Paris (Diana Axentii, Jason S. Bridges, Elisa Cenni, Yun Jung Choi, Ivan Geissler, Igor Gnidii, Marie-Adeline Henry, Hye-Youn Lee, Bartlomiej Misiuda, Joel Prieto, Ugo Rabec, Letitia Singleton) .  The music was played by the Cairn Ensemble: Cédric Jullion (flute), Jérémie Maillard (cello), Sylvain Lemêtre (percussions), Ayumi Mori (clarinet), Christelle Séry (guitar).

Scénographie Gérard Didier - lighting Dominique Bruguière assisted by François Thouret - costumes Claire Risterucci – make-up Cécile Krestchmar.

Lost in a forest, six women and six blind men begin to sing to combat the agony which assails them.  This young composer from Geneva is faithful to the play, where a poetic and mysterious universe borders dream and reality.  The opera was commissioned by the Lyric Workshop of the Opéra national de Paris in collaboration with the Théâtre Gérard Philipe de Saint-Denis and in partnership with the Saint-Denis Festival and the Francofffonies Festival,  the francophone festival in France.

Debussy / Maeterlinck

Pelléas et Mélisande (version originale pour piano)

7th, 9th, 11th, 14th November 2006

Auditorium du Musée d'Orsay,  Paris

Pelléas and Mélisande

A new production had its première on Friday, 17th November at the Theater am Goetheplatz, Bremen, Germany. (Information kindly supplied by Lucia Krämer.]

Pelléas et Mélisande

26th, 28th, 30th January 2007

Opéra Toulon, Toulon, France.



VI.  CorrectionS & UPDATES

1.  Tim de Brie

In an e-mail dated 13th October 2006, Tim de Brie informs us that on our website page
http://www.irishdiaspora.net/ids/exhibits/223/Vol_II_No_2.doc is an outdated link to his old website

The new link is http://composers-classical-music.com/p/PapandopuloBoris.htm.  We are happy to draw readers attention to this.

2.  Diane Irvin

Diane Irvin is the compiler and producer of a CD of Wildëan music, with a complementary booklet, which we commended some years ago (To Oscar: A Collection of Æsthetic Melodies) – eighteen songs, most of which were composed in 1882.  She writes that she is no longer printing out the booklet but including it in PDF format on a second CD with orders. It comes with a copy of ‘Acrobat’ in case purchasers don't have it for viewing on their computer.  It can then be printed it out if so desired. 

All information can be found at http://threecatsgraphics.com/to_oscar.htm.  We are very pleased that Ms Irvin is keeping this in circulation.


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