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Cao, Hélène – Goethe's Faust in Romantic music




In 1587, Johann Spies printed the anonymous Historia von D. Johann Fausten, the first literary work devoted to a certain Dr Faust, who died around 1540. Although the personage was also to inspire Marlowe, Klinger, Chamisso, Lenau and Heine, it was Goethe alone who raised him to legendary status. In the mid-1770s, he began to work on the subject that would obsess him all his life. In 1808, he published his tragedy Faust (Part One). In 1832, shortly before his death, he completed Part Two of Faust, published posthumously. The play immediately fascinated composers for its concentration of Romantic themes (the quest for an inaccessible ideal, the figure of the ‘eternal feminine’, madness, the folk tone, supernatural scenes) and its non-linear dramaturgy, but also for the importance of music in it: almost a fifth of Faust I and more than a quarter of Faust II consist of songs and choruses. But what was one to do with this drama, the two parts of which comprise 4,614 and 12,111 verses respectively? With this discontinuous plot that intertwines humorous episodes, mythological references and metaphysical reflection? By advocating total art, Goethe in fact induced a fragmentation of his work and musical settings of isolated passages from it. But in treating his text in this way, composers blazed new trails.

    Persons - 6
  • ALKAN, Charles-Valentin (1813-1888)
  • BERLIOZ, Hector (1803-1869)
  • BERTIN, Louise (1805-1877)
  • GOUNOD, Charles (1818-1893)
  • HERVÉ (1825-1892)
  • LISZT, Franz (1811-1886)
  • Works - 3
  • Faust (Barbier & Carré / Gounod)
  • Fausto (Louise Bertin)
  • Mephisto Waltz no.3 S. 216 (Franz Liszt)
  • Theme - 1
  • Courant – Le romantisme musical français ou l’épopée du sentiment au XIXe siècle