one of many musical works in 19th century that was based on
. This popular poem was used by many composers to
set to music, including Wagner, Schumann, and Liszt. Berlioz
first read the French translation of the poem when he was a
23-year-old medical student and he was immediately fascinated by
it. He made two attempts at setting the story of Faust to music.
Shortly after he had read the story, he composed eight pieces of
music depicting eight scenes in the poem. Soon displeased with
them and having a grander plan for a larger work, Berlioz
withdrew them from publication and destroyed any copy he could
find. The second attempt, which is the current form of
Damnation, was much grander in scale, and the movements flow
from one to another more smoothly in telling the story of Faust.
The Tavern and the
The Damnation of Faust was composed
as a 'dramatic legend' rather than as an opera, and is usually
performed in concert form rather than in a staged form with
costumes and scenery and contrived movements as is the case with
'real' operas. It is considered an opera because it has been
staged as such and also because if one closes one's eyes, most
of it sounds like an opera, and quite a dramatic one at that.
More important from our point of view, Berlioz gives us
Auerbach's tavern while the more familiar Faust operas of Gounod
and Boito do not.
Auerbach's Cellar in Leipzig is the
first stop of the tour Mephistopholes
puts on to show Faust what
the good life is about after they have made their infernal
bargain. There is much loutish behaviour, and Faust is
eventually disgusted and leaves. After this, of course, there
are much more attractive pleasures presented him, and he duly
Berlioz follows Goethe quite closely
in this scene. Goethe even gives a 'Song of the Rat' and a 'Song
of the Flea' which Berlioz sets almost as is.
The Bar Review
Unfortunately, Goethe and Berlioz
work hard at ensuring that we come away with a negative
impression of Auerbach's Cellar. The place is really a
representation for all that is low and wicked in the world. I
suppose this is the result of letting intellectuals write plays
on deep and ponderous subjects.
In the rear there are stairs leading
up to the street. The atmosphere is close, dingy, smoky, and
raucous. Around the dozen or so tables, the regulars are
drinking and gambling. They are all regulars and they are
all drunk. They all look like they have been drunk every day for
the past several years. They are crude in language and
behaviour, and often break into fights.
For all this, they do manage some
pretty good bar room singing. Fortunately, the action takes
place before the invention of the stereophonic electronic music
destructor systems which have wreaked such havoc on taverns in
our own time. There are four reasonably good drinking songs
(which may figure eventually in the Drinking Songs
There is a loud chorus to start, then Brander's Song of the Rat,
followed by a delicious, if sacrilegious fugal Amen. Finally
Mephistopheles gives us his Song of the Flea.
Jason C. Lee and James Hill