View Full Version : OTF – Faust (not by Gounod)

July 2nd, 2012, 10:48 PM
Last month, we featured a pair of operas based on works by the German author and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Undoubtedly, the most famous such opera would be Charles Gounod’s Faust – and we will get to that one at our next fortnightly post. I thought it would be interesting to look at other Fausts – musical settings of the work by other composers, either for the stage or the concert hall.

About Faust – the literary work

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend; a scholar dissatisfied with his life, who makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.

Plays and comic puppet theatre loosely based on this legend were popular throughout Germany in the 16th century, often reducing Faust and Mephistopheles to figures of vulgar fun. The story was popularised in England by Christopher Marlowe, who gave it a classic treatment in his play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. In Goethe's reworking of the story 200 years later, Faust becomes a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for "more than earthly meat and drink". Nikolaus Lenau’s Faust: Ein Gedicht (published 1836, revised 1840) is noticeably derivative of Goethe’s telling of the story.

Faust in Music

Goethe's Faust was the basis for three major operas: trhe aforementioned Gounod, Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito and Doktor Faust by Ferruccio Busoni. There is also an operatic version by the British composer Havergal Brian.
It has inspired major musical works in other forms, such as the "dramatic legend" La damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust, the second part of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Franz Liszt's Faust Symphony (http://youtu.be/3ZUQ7yZTFco) and Richard Wagner’s A Faust Overture.

Since I had featured the Faust Symphony in a post I did last year on another site (http://www.talkclassical.com/blogs/itywltmt/435-better-late-than-never.html), I added another Liszt work to the playlist. The Mephisto Waltz No. 1 takes for its program an episode from Faust, not by Goethe but by Nikolaus Lenau. The following program note, which Liszt took from Lenau, appears in the printed score:

There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust pass by, and Mephistopheles induces Faust to enter and take part in the festivities. Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a full-blooded village beauty in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the fiddle grow softer and softer, and the nightingale warbles his love-laden song.

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
A Faust Overture, in D Minor, WWV 59
Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Gretchen am Spinnrade, D.118
Renee Fleming with Christoph EIschenbach

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Selections from La Damnation de Faust, Op.24
(Menuet des follets, Ballet des Sylphes, Marche Hongroise)
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Monteux

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Overture to Szenen aus Goethes Faust, WoO 3
Ensemble 212 under Yoon Jae Lee
[Complete performance (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5266991B3207BF63)]

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Part II of the Symphony No.8 in E-Flat Major ('Symphony of a Thousand')
(Closing Scene from Goethe's Faust)
Twyla Robinson, soprano (Magna Peccatrix)
Christine Brewer, soprano (Una Poenitentium)
Anna Prohaska, soprano (Mater Gloriosa)
Janine Baechle, mezzo-soprano (Mulier Samaritana)
Mihoko Fujimura, mezzo-soprano (Maria Aegyptiaca)
Johan Botha, tenor (Doctor Marianus)
Michael Volle, baritone (Pater Ecstaticus)
Ain Anger, bass (Pater Profundus)
Tölzer Knabenchor, Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, choral director
Lettischer Staatschor, Māris Sirmais, choral director
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Peter Dijkstra, choral director
Sinfonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Mariss Jansons, conductor

Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S. 514
André Laplante, piano

YouTube Playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEB4B924C6339F807

Donèt forget to follow my two summer series: The Summer of the Sonata on TalkClassical (http://www.talkclassical.com/blogs/itywltmt/)and MQCD Musique Classique) every Tuesday this Summer and The Great Escape on the ITYWLTMT Friday Blog (http://itywltmt.blogspot.ca/) and Podcast (http://itywltmt.podomatic.com).

July 3rd, 2012, 08:54 AM
Another Faust's inspired piece is Alfred Schnittke's Faust Cantata, written in 1983 and based on the tale by Johann Spies, centering in the last hours of the life of Faust, sharing a dinner with his disciples.

The fragment "Es geschah" describes the death of Faust, as told by Mephistopheles, sung by an alto here, while in other parts of the Cantata is performed by a countertenor. The chorus are Faust's disciples. This is an engaging and brilliant piece of music:


July 3rd, 2012, 11:55 AM
The other operatic adaptation of Faust was by prince Antoni Henryk Radziwiłł, remembered today mainly as early supporter of Chopin. I don't think we can hear it on recording, but Ferenc Liszt once wrote that it's the best musical adaptation of Faust he knows (of course it was before Gounod's work and many others) so I guess it was opera of certain quality and worth of mention. Chopin seemd to appreciate it as well: "he showed me his Faust and many things in it I've found well thought, even genial, as I would never expect from the governor" (1829 letter). It's also the first successful attempt to bring Goethe's drama to operatic stage (first performance, fragmentary, was in 1810).