After the success of Richard Strauss's Salome, the German music world devolved into bitter arguments about the degeneration of both music and society. Simultaneously, Germany's constitutional crisis over imperial wars generated new nationalist coalitions and racist politics to combat revolutionaries. This article demonstrates the shared contours of crisis across music and politics, specifically placing Salome in an imperial context and showing the role of German biopolitics in the repression of modernist music. Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow oversaw a shift from positive to negative biopolitics, which sought to improve national health by removing unhealthy opposition. Both the structures of imperialism and the specter of degeneration should be credited with a pre-Nazi merger of sovereignty and biopolitics, which affected aesthetics no less than eugenics. Modernist music in the vein of Strauss became pathologized and policed by critics, conductors, and state authorities, as composers lost their freedom of expression and exposure to the public.

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