Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > La Damnation de Faust (Berlioz)
La Damnation de Faust
(English title:The Damnation of Faust)
The "Damnation of Faust, dramatic legend," as Berlioz calls it, was written in 1846. It is divided into four parts, the first containing three, the second four, the third six, and the fourth five scenes, the last concluding with an epilogue and the apotheosis of Marguerite. It was first produced in Paris in November, 1846, and had its first hearing in the United States, February 12, 1880.
The opening scene introduces Faust alone on the Hungarian plains at sunrise. He gives expression to his delight in a tender, placid strain ("The Winter has Departed, Spring is here"). It is followed by an instrumental prelude of a pastoral character, in which are heard fragments of the roundelay of the peasants and of the fanfare in the Hungarian march, leading up to the "Dance of Peasants," a brisk,vivacious chorus ("The Shepherd donned his best Array"), begining with the altos, who are finally joined by the sopranos, tenors, and basses in constantly accelerating time. The scene then changes to another part of the plain and discloses the advance of an army, to the brilliant and stirring music of the Rákoczy march.
The second part (Scene IV) discloses Faust in his chamber. He sings a soliloquy, setting forth his discontent with worldly happiness, and is about to drown his sorow with poison, when he is interrupted by the Easter Hymn ("Christ is risen from the dead"), is a stately and jubilant six-part chorus, in the close of which he joins. As it comes to an end he continous his song ("Heavenly Tones, why seek me in the Dust?"), but is again interrupted by the sudden apparition of the Mephistopheles, who mockingly sings ("Oh, pious Frame of Mind"), and entraps him in the compact. They disappear, and we next find them in Auerbach's cellar in Leipzig, whe the carousing students are singing a rollicking drinking-song ("Oh, what Delight when Storm is crashing"). The drunken Brander is called upon for a song, and responds with a characteristic one ("There was a Rat in the Cellar Nest"), to which the irrverent students improvise a fugue on the word "Amen," using a motive of the song. Mephistopheles compliments them on the fugue, and being challenged to give them air, trolls out the lusty Lied ("There was a King once reigning, who had a big black Flea"), in the accompaniment of which appear some very ralistic effects. Amid the bravas of the drunken students Faust disappears, and is next found in the flowery meadows of the Elbe, where Mephistopheles sings in a most enchanting melody ("In this fair Bower"). Faust is lulled to slumber, and in his vision hears the chorus of the gnomes and sylphs ("Sleep, happy Faust"), a number of extraordinary beauty and fascinating charm. In effect is still further heightened by the sylphs' ballet in waltz time. As they gradually disappear, Faust wakes and relates to Mephistopheles his vision of the "angel in human form." The latter promises to conduct him to her chamber, and they join to a party of soldiers and students who will pass "before thy Beauty's dwelling." The Finale of the scene is composed of a stirring soldiers' chorus ("Stoutly-walled Cities we fain would win") and charateristic students' song in Latin ("Jam Nox stellata"), at first sung separately and then combined with great skill. The third part begins with a brief instrumental prelude, in which the drums and trumpets sound the tattoo, introducing a scene in Marguerite's chamber where Faust sings a passionate love-song ("Thou sweet Twilight, be welcome"). At its close Mehistopheles warns him of the approach of Marguerite and conceals him behind a curtain. She enters, and in brief recitative tells her dream, in which she has seen the image of Faust, and discloses her love for him. Then while disrobing she sings the ballad ("There was a King in Thule"). As its pathetic strains come to a close, the music suddenly changes and Mephistopheles in a characteristic strain summons the will-o'-the-wisps to the bewilder the maiden. It is followed by their lovely and graceful minuet, in which the Berlioz again displays his wonderful command of orchestral realism. This is followed by Mephistopheles, closing with a chorus of mockers which indicates the coming tragedy.
The fourth part opens with the romance ("My Heart with Grief is heavy"), the familiar "Meine Ruh' ist hin" of Goethe, sung by Marguerite, and the scene closes with the songs of the soldiers and students heard in the distance. In the next scene Faust sings a somber and powerful invocation to Nature ("O boundless Nature, Spirit sublime!"). Mephistopheles is seen scaling the rocks, and in agitated recitative tells his companion the story of Marguite's crime and imprisonment. He bids his sign a scroll which will save him from the consequences of the deed, and Faust thus delivers himself over to the Evil One. Then begins the wild "Ride to Hell," past the peasants praying at the cross, who flee in terror as they behold the riders, followed by horrible beasts, monstrous birds, and grinning, dancing skeletons, until at last they disappear in an abyss and are greeted by the chorus of the spirits of hell in a tempest of sound, which is literally a musical pandemonium ("Has ! Irimiru Karabras," etc.) In its discordant vocal strains, mighty dissonances, and supernatural effects in the acompaniment. A brief epilogue ("On Earth") follows, in which Faust's doom is told, succeeded by a correspondingly brief one ("In Heaven") in which the seraphim plead for Marguerite. The legend closes with ("Marguerite's glorification"), a jubilant double chorus announcing her pardon and acceptance among the blest.