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Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night

Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night: The Heathen Muse in European Culture, 1700-1850

Volume: 43
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night
    Book Description:

    Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night addresses tolerance and acceptance in the face of cultural, political, and religious strife. Its point of departure is the Walpurgis Night. The Night, also known as Beltane or May Eve, was supposedly an annual

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-691-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    John Michael Cooper
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Chapter One The Cultural and Religious Prehistories
    (pp. 1-29)

    Throughout Western European spheres of influence the night of April 30 is home to a conspicuously secular celebration. It is known in Germany as die Walpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night), alternatively in the United Kingdom and the United States as Beltane or May Eve; in Italy as la notte di Valpurga, Beltane, or Calendimaggio; in Spain as la noche de Walpurgis, and in France as La nuit de Walpurgis or simply La Walpurgis. After Christmas and Easter it is one of the major holidays in Finland and Sweden (VapunAatto and Valborgsmässoafton, respectively). Its origins antedate written records, and it is host to...

  7. Chapter Two Tolerance, Translation, and Acceptance: Goethe’s and Mendelssohn’s Voices in European Cultural Discourse to ca. 1850
    (pp. 30-53)

    Long after fears of demonic sabbaths atop the Brocken had been generally assigned the status of superstitious lore rather than realistic threats to the well-being of society, the Walpurgis Night continued to function as a vehicle for artistic communication on issues that were real and pressing matters of the present. By the mid-eighteenth century, it was sufficiently familiar as a cultural topos to be able to function as a point of convergence for any number of intellectual, religious, and social cross-currents. It thus naturally offered artists a means to deal literally with a calendrical and social event that was familiar...

  8. Chapter Three Reality and Illusion, Past and Present: Goethe and the Walpurgisnacht
    (pp. 54-77)

    By the early eighteenth century the Brocken was synonymous with the cultural topos of the Walpurgis Night, and the Harz Mountains generally had become known for their mysterious but forbiddingly rugged beauty. In a world increasingly committed to “civilization” but romantically fascinated with nature’s most impenetrable domains, the Harz represented a challenge to humanity and an opportunity to contemplate the great mysteries of humankind’s relationship to God and nature. The Mountains’ abundant lore of ghosts, phantoms, and sundry otherworldly experiences (especially the Walpurgis Night itself) added the Supernatural to this potent mix. It is thus hardly surprising that the natural...

  9. Chapter Four The Composition, Revision, and Publication of Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht
    (pp. 78-96)

    The Walpurgis Night was already heavily invested with potential for artistic commentary on cultural, political, religious, and social issues by the late eighteenth century, and it became even more so in the wake of Goethe’s powerful treatments. In the German-speaking countries particularly, the ideological glorification of a pre-Christian Germanic heritage was attractive in many sectors because it effectively emancipated Christianity from its indebtedness to the “pagan” monotheism of Judaism. This movement, termed “philo-heathenism” by Jeffrey Sposato,¹ had attained a significant following by the beginning of the century and one of its most noted exponents was Friedrich Schleiermacher, among whose followers...

  10. Chapter Five The Sources, Structure, and Narrative of Mendelssohn’s Walpurgisnacht Settings
    (pp. 97-161)

    Mendelssohn’s letters concerning the final version of Die erste Walpurgisnacht make clear that the differences between it and the version of 1831–33 were crucial. In this instance there is no doubt that in retrospect Mendelssohn regarded these two versions as different stages in the life of a single work-concept rather than autonomous texts validated by their respective contexts.¹ Nor is there any question but that he considered the later version superior once it had been completed. Nevertheless, through the mid-1830s he intended to revise rather than rewrite the early version, and as late as August 1835 he expected these...

  11. Chapter Six At the Crossroads of Identity: Critical and Artistic Responses to Goethe’s and Mendelssohn’s Walpurgisnacht Treatments
    (pp. 162-196)

    To view Goethe’s and Mendelssohn’s artistic engagements with the theme of the Walpurgis Night from a latter-day perspective is deceptively simple. Figuring centrally in the foreground are the colossus of the Walpurgis Night scene in the first part of the Faust tragedy and the final version of Mendelssohn’s cantata, which, while dwarfed by Goethe’s Walpurgisnacht treatment in Faust I, nevertheless ranks among the most-performed choral/orchestral compositions worldwide. Surrounding these are Goethe’s 1799 ballad on the subject, which is known primarily through Mendelssohn’s music, and the “Classical Walpurgisnacht” of Faust II, whose reception even today might be reasonably compared with the...

  12. Chapter Seven Performing Identity and Alterity: Die erste Walpurgisnacht Then and Now
    (pp. 197-216)

    The historical, religious, and societal conflicts reflected in the various texts discussed here, as well as the works themselves, all stem from European culture of the nineteenth century and earlier, but the body of readers, listeners, and performers to whom these texts address themselves is considerably broader. Latter-day readers are not simply auditors to the extensive literary, musical, and visual discourses that center on the Walpurgis Night; we are participants in them. Our voices commingle in discourse with other voices whose physical sources of enunciation are long dead, but whose ideas remain alive and vibrant. Goethe’s 1799 ballad, his Faust...

  13. Appendix A: Original Texts of Select Lengthy Documents Originally Written in Languages other than English
    (pp. 217-232)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 233-260)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 261-274)
  16. Index of Works by Goethe and Mendelssohn
    (pp. 275-278)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 279-284)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-289)