Salome was eventually first staged in English at the Gate Theatre club on 27 May 1931 with a distinguished cast that included Margaret Rawlings, Robert Speaight, Flora Robson and John Clements. Choreography was by Ninette de Valois, and this may explain why the task of composing and conducting the incidental music that was required was given to the 25-year-old Constant Lambert, for they had already worked together. Lambert was anyhow already famous as the composer of The Rio Grande (1929).
The musical numbers are short, even scrappy, for this is all that was needed to link the scenes and events of the play. The one exception is, of course, the Dance of the Seven Veils, for which something more extended was required. Fresh from his close association with Façade, and doubtless on a tight budget, Lambert selected an ensemble consisting of just four of the six players used by Walton, that is to say clarinet, trumpet, cello and percussion, the latter with a decidedly exotic tinge. The autograph, and the instrumental parts copied by Lambert himself, languished in the BBC Music Library until 1998 when the composer Giles Easterbrook decided to put the material into performable shape by slightly reordering and connecting it up to form the Suite that here receives its first recorded performance.
The Suite comprises three sections. The first has an arresting prelude, after which there is an extended clarinet recitative which sets the sultry, moonlit atmosphere of the play’s opening. At the end there is a loud interruption, depicting the noise of revelry coming from Herod’s banqueting hall.
The second section consists mainly of sombre, reflective music, including that heard immediately after the young Syrian captain of the guard, infatuated with Salome, kills himself.
The longest section is the third in which a brief introduction gives way to the Dance of the Seven Veils. Inevitably this doffs its hat to the famous parallel section of Richard Strauss’s opera. After the dance’s climax we also hear music that accompanies the executioner’s descent to Jokanaan’s cistern, and the energetic passage following Herod’s final cry to the soldiers, ‘Kill that woman!’.
from notes by David Lloyd-Jones © 2001