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Goethe - Faust

Faust, two-part dramatic work by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Part I was published in 1808 and Part II in 1832, after the author’s death. The supreme work of Goethe’s later years, Faust is sometimes considered Germany’s greatest contribution to world literature.

Part I sets out the magician Faust’s despair, his pact with Mephistopheles, and his love for Gretchen.
Part II covers Faust’s life at court, the wooing and winning of Helen of Troy, and his purification and salvation.

In earlier eras the play was often decried as formless because of its array of lyric, epic, dramatic, operatic, and balletic elements. It includes almost every known poetic metre, from doggerel through terza rima to six-foot trimetre (a line of verse consisting of three measures), and a number of styles ranging from Greek tragedy through medieval mystery, baroque allegory, Renaissance masque, and commedia dell’arte to something akin to the modern revue. To modern critics, however, this mixture of forms and styles suggested a deliberate attempt to create a vehicle of cultural comment rather than an inability to create a coherent form of his own, and the content with which Goethe invested his forms bears out the modern interpretation. He drew on an immense variety of cultural material—theological, mythological, philosophical, political, economic, scientific, aesthetic, musical, literary—for the more realistic Part I no less than for the more symbolic Part II.



Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend, based on the historical Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480–1540).

Faust is a charlatan who is highly successful yet dissatisfied with his life, which leads him to make a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The Faust legend has been the basis for many literary, artistic, cinematic, and musical works that have reinterpreted it through the ages. "Faust" and the adjective "Faustian" imply a situation in which an ambitious person surrenders moral integrity in order to achieve power and success for a delimited term.

The Faust of early books—as well as the ballads, dramas, movies, and puppet-plays which grew out of them—is irrevocably damned because he prefers human to divine knowledge; "he laid the Holy Scriptures behind the door and under the bench, refused to be called doctor of Theology, but preferred to be styled doctor of Medicine". 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 (whose date of publication is debated, but likely around 1587). In Goethe's reworking of the story two hundred years later, Faust becomes a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for "more than earthly meat and drink" in his life.

Harry Clarke - Faust and Mephistopheles

Arrigo Boito


Harry ClarkeI - llustrations for Goethe’s Faust

Arrigo Boito - Mefistofele
Samuel Ramey, O'Neill, Benackova - 1989

Of making Fausts there is no end. Between the time that Marlowe wrote his great play (itself based on a dubiously historical account of the medieval philosopher and probably on some lost stage pieces) and the time that Goethe's masterpiece first saw the stage, some thirty German dramas on the subject are said to have been written and produced. And once Goethe's work discouraged other dramatists from trying to surpass him, the operas began. Besides the three represented in this book (Boito’s, Gounod’s,and Berlioz’s),there have been operas on the subject by Spohr, Bertin, Bruggemann, Busoni, and Lutz. Beethoven considered an opera on the subject; Schumann composed some of the music for one; Wagner

got as far as an overture; Liszt wrote a Faust Symphony, some choruses, and a song; and many other composers have written cantatas, individual scenes, songs, and incidental music inspired by Goethe. One composer, Florimond Негve, even wrote a highly successful French operetta called Le petit Faust, which held the stage in France, on and off, for sixty-five years and was exported to many European countries and New York.

Boito (1842-1918), who wrote his own libretto, was the highly literary composer who supplied the first-rate books for Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, and the less literary but more popularly successful one for Ponchielli's La Gioconda. He was one of the few composers to tackle the second as well as the first part of Goethe's huge philosophical drama. As a result, the premiere in 1868 took six hours and was a failure—too much pbflosophy, not enough action. Boito, always a careful worker, took seven years to shorten and revise it for a new production, and then another year to work it into final shape. The following briet description is based on this final version.




Opera in prologue four acts, and epilogue by
Arrigo Boito with libretto in Italian by the
composer, based on the drama by Jobann Wolfgang yon Goethe


Mephistopheles, the Devil

Faust, a philosopher

Wagner, his favorite student

Margherite, a peasant girl

Martha, her mother

Helen of Troy 

Pantalis, her companion

Nereo, an attendant



Time: medieval and ancient

Places: Heaven, Germany, and Greece

First performance at Мilan, March 5, 1868



Bass. The devil, he makes a pact with Faust—he will have Faust's soul in exchange for one moment of pure happiness. He takes Faust to see a vision of the Walpurgis Night orgies. He uses his evil influence to bring about the death of Faust's beloved Margherita. But Faust escapes him in the end, begging God's forgiveness and redemption before he dies. Created ( 1868 ) by François Marcel Junca.

Norman Treigle - Boito "Mefistofele". 1968. 
1. "Ave Signor" 2. "Ecco il mondo"


The aged doctor strikes a bargain with the devil (Mefistofele)—his soul for a moment of pure happiness. He fails in love with Mardherita, but she is wrongly imprisoned and dies. In classical Greece Faust falls in love with Helen of Troy (Elena). However, as he nears death he realizes how empty is the life the devil has shown him. He appeals to God for forgiveness and redemption, and thus thwarts Mefistofele. Created (1868) by Sig. Spallazzi.

Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele Finale


Ten. A pupil of Dr Faust. Creator (1868) not traced.

Monostatos' Aria - The Magic Flute 


Soprano. The girl with whom Faust falls in love. Under the influence of the evil Mefistofele, she is accused of her mother's death and imprisoned. She begs Faust to take her away to some place where they can be happy. When Mefistofele declares this to be impossible, Margherita dies. Created ( 1868 ) by Mlle Reboux

Boito - Margherita's Aria uit Mefistofele


Contralto. A friend of Margherita, with whom Mefistofele flirts. Created (1868) by Mlle Flory.

Helen of Troy:

Soprano. Helen of Troy, with whom Faust falls in love when he visits classical Greece under the influence of Mefistofele. Created (1868) by Mlle Reboux. 


Contralto. Pantalis - Helen's companion 


Tenor. Nereo a Greek elder.



As in Goethe, the prologue consists of a dialogue between Mephistopheles, who sticks his bead through some stage clouds, and the hosts of Heaven, who don’t appear at all. Mephisto, with a kind of sardonic politeness, wagers that he will be able to tempt the renowned philosopher, Dr. Faustus, to sin. The mystic choirs, the cherubim, and others do not seem to be particularly concerned by this boast, but they sing some very impressive choruses.


Scene 1
 represents a lively Easter Sunday in medieval Frankfort am Main with students, burghers, children all join- ing in the merriment. The old philosopher, Johann Faustus, observes these goings-on with his favorite pupil, Wagner, and when the crowd disperses, they engage in brief philosophical colloquy. A strange Gray Friar passes, and Faust believes he sees something supernatural about him. As the philosopher leaves the stage, the stranger follows him.

Scene 2 Alone in his study, Faust sings his beautiful aria Dai campi, dai prati in praise of natural goodness; and yet he is troubled. The mysterious Gray Friar, who has followed him into his study, suddenly doffs his cloak to reveal himself as Mephistopheles—the Devil himself. He sings what is aptly called the Whistle Aria and describes his own evil nature. Faust is not frightened; yet, before the scene is over, he has signed a contract with Memphisto. On earth Mephisto must serve Faust and show him some beauty. But below, in Hell, Mephisto will have the soul of the learned old gentleman.


Scene 1 is the famous Garden Scene. In the evening, in Margherite's garden, Faust (now a handsome young man by grace of the Prince of Darkness) is wooing that innocent young German girl. To help him out, Mephistopheles is, at the same time, wooing her mother, Martha. Naturally, the two males are entirely successful in their nefarious scheme, which is earned on in a highly melodious series of duets and quartets.


Scene 2 is the Wapurgis Night scene. Mephisto takes his protege to the heights of the Brocken Peak high up in the Harz Mountains. The Devil leads a fiendish chorus of male and female witches, and they enact their satanic rites. Suddenly Faust sees a vision of Margherite. She is bound in chains, and there is a bloody line around her throat. But the fiendish chorus only goes on, and on.


Margherite has poisoned her mother and drowned her illegitimate child. She is now insane and is soon to be taken from her prison cell to be executed. Pitifully she sings an aria about it, the repressive L'altra notte. Mephistopheles brings Faust to her, ready to help her escape. But poor, demented Margherite does not understand. She is comforted in again seeing her old lover, and they sing a moving duet But when Mephisto appears, she is frightened. She refuses to leave despite his urgings; she prays to Heaven; and in the last effort she dies. For a moment Mephisto thinks that he has won her soul for Hell, but from on high comes an angelic choir. Ё salva - "She is savedl" it sings; and both Mephisto and the executioner are cheated of their prey.


A complete change comes over the music in the final act. Hitherto we have been in medieval Germany; now we are in ancient Greece. Mephisto has transported Faust here—in time and space-in the philosopher's search for beauty, and they have found the most beautiful woman of all—Helen of Troy. She sings ravishingly with her companion, Pantalis. Mephisto —strictly a medieval character—feels out of place here. He says so, and he retires before a ballet begins. The balance of the act is given over to a love duet between Faust and Helen while a chorus and a male attendant named Nereo comment admiringly on the high-class love affair that is going on before their eyes.


Faust, once again an aged philosopher, is seated in his study at night. Mephistopheles is still trying to win his soul, but Faust, repenting his ways, is no longer tempted. Even when the Devil fills the room with visions of sirens, the old philosopher only prays to God. From high above come the voices of the cherubim in answer. In vain Mephisto tries to work his magic, Faust now has a new idea of beauty: it is the vision of the celestial gates. And as, in an ecstasy, his earthly body expires, the cherubim send over it a shower of roses. He is forgiven forever—and the Devil has lost his wager.

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