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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

Charles Francois Gounod


Eugene Delacroix
Illustrations for Goethe’s Faust

Gounod - FAUST - Kraus, Ghiaurov, Freni, Wilbert
Prête-Opera of Chicago 1980

Salzburger Festspiele 2016 - Gounod - Faust

The legend of Dr. Faustus seems to be the perfect story to attract both dramatists and composers. Marlowe and Goethe wrote great plays on the subject—not to mention some thirty lesser dramatists who wrote lesser plays. Beethoven once toyed with the idea of doing an opera on the subject. Wagner composed a Faust Overture. Liszt did a cantata. And Berlioz, Boito, and Gounod all wrote very find Faust operas. Spohr and Busoni wrote less successful ones; and there is even a Faust opera by that rara avis, a female opera composer — Louise Bertin. Gounod’s setting is easily the most popular of all of them—and in many ways the best. It is based, more closely than most critics have been willing to admit, on Part I of Goethe's drama; and its theme is, of course, that of the old German scientist-philosopher who sells his soul in return for youths.



Opera in four acts by Charles Gounod with
libretto in French by Jules Barbier and Michel
Саггe based on Part I of Goethe's Faust


Faust, a doctor of philosophy
Mephistopheles, the Tempter
Valentin, a soldier
Marguerite, his sister
Siebel, a boy in love with Marguerite 

Marthe, a mature neighbor of Marguerite 

Wagner, a student 


Time: 16th century

Places: Wittenberg, Leipzig, and the Harz Mountains
First performance at Paris, March 19, 1859



Tenor. The ageing philosopher, Dr Faust , agrees to help Méphistophélès (Satan) in the underworld in return for which Méphistophélès will satisfy Faust's longing for youthful pleasures. Faust meets Marguerite , sister of the soldier Valentin, and falls in love with her. She has his child and is imprisoned for infanticide. Aided by Méphistophélès , Faust enters her cell. She refuses to leave with them, prays for the Lord's help and dies. Faust prays as her soul rises to heaven. Created ( 1859 ) by Joseph‐Théodore‐Désiré Barbot.

Monostatos' Aria - The Magic Flute 


Bass. The Devil, Satan, he offers Faust fulfilment of his desire for youthful pleasure, if Faust will help him in the underworld. Faust agrees and Méphistophélès leads him to meet Marguerite. She becomes pregnant, kills the baby, and is imprisoned. Méphistophélès helps Faust enter her cell but, recognizing the evil in Méphistophélès, she refuses to leave with them, and dies. Created ( 1859 ) by Emil Balanqué.

Mephistopheles' aria "Le Veau D'Or" from Gounod's Faust


Bar. A soldier, brother of Marguerite. Created (1859) by Mons. Reynald.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Valentin's aria from Faust by Charles Gounod, Moscow, June 24 2008


Soprano. Sister of Valentin. She is loved by his friend Siebel. Faust falls in love with her and she bears his child. She is imprisoned for infanticide. Faust, aided by Méphistophélès, gets the key to her cell, but she refuses to leave with them. She prays to the Lord for forgiveness and dies. Aria: Ah! je ris de me voir (‘Ah! I laugh to see myself’)—the Air de Bijoux (the Jewel Song). Created (1859) by Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho.

Faust - Gounod, Aria of Marguerite


Mezzo-soprano. Travesti role. A youth in the village, in love with Marguerite, to whom he brings flowers, but she falls in love with Faust. Created (1859) by Amélie Faivre.


Mezzo-soprano. Friend and neighbour of Marguerite, to whom Méphistophélès is attracted. Created ( 1859 ) by Mlle Duclos.


Baritone. Friend of Valentin. Created (1859) by M. Cibot.



The orchestral prelude begins with slow, soft music in a minor key and a contrapuntal style skillfully suggestive of the gloomy medieval scholar's cell on which the curtain will shortly rise. Then, in a completely different style, the melody of Valentine's aria Even Bravest Heart May Swell is played, and the prelude closes with a few measures of reltgtoso music.


Scene 1 deals with the contract Faust makes with the Devil— Mephistopheles. After the prelude, the old scholar, seatea in his study in the medieval town of Wittenberg, complains that all bis learning has brought him nothing. He is about to poison himself, when he hears youthful voices outside his study praising the Lord. In desperation Faust calls on the Devil for aid, and, much to his surprise, Mephistopheles appears, clothed like a sixteenth-century gentleman. At first Faust turns from him; but when Mephisto offers whatever he wants, Faust cries out that he desires—youth!


Nothing could be simpler for Mephisto. He shows the old man a vision of the lovely young girl, Marguerite, and almost at once the philosopher is ready to sign the contract. On earth, Mepnisto will serve him in everything. But below, the Devil will be master. A quick signature, a quick magic potion, and Faust is changed to a young man in elegant costume. The scene ends with a spirited duet, as the two go off in search of adventure—and love.

Scene 2 takes us to a village fair in sixteenth-century Leipzig. Soldiers, students, villagers are milling around and singing the praises of light wines and beer. Valentine, who is Marguerite, brother, is m a more serious frame of mind. He is worried about who will guard over his sister while he is at the wars, and he sings the familiar aria Even Bravest Heart May Swell. (Gounod, by the way, wrote this aria originally using the English words. The French translation begins: Avant de quitter ces lieux.) Now a student, Wagner, begins a song about a rat, but he is interrupted by Mephistopheles, who claims he knows a better song. This is the Calf of Gold, which is so rhythmic that everyone joins in the chorus, for as yet they do not recognize this genial basso as the Devil. Mephisto then produces, by magic, some excellent wine (much better, he says, than the local stuff), and he proposes a toast to Marguerite. Valentine is angered by having his sisters name thus bandied about, and challenges the stranger. But just as he is about to attack, Mephisto points at him, and Valentine's sword breaks in half. Now the villagers know whom they have to deal with. Led by Valentine, they reverse their swords, thus making the sign of the cross; and as tihey sing the Chorale of the Swords, Mephisto grovels on the ground.

When they have left him alone, Faust appears on the stage, demanding to meet Marguerite, and the Devil is himself again. The famous waltz from Faust begins, and in the midst of the dancing Marguerite comes on the stage. Faust offers her his arm; she very politely declines; and the waltz resumes as the badly smitten Faust voices his newborn love. In a swirl of madder and madder waltz rhythms the scene ends.


Act II is the justly famous Garden Scene. It takes place the same evening in Marguerite's garden, and the familiar melodies that come from that garden may justly be called a sweet bouquet of great arias and concerted numbers. A list of them will make the action clear. First of all, there is Siebel's Flower Song. Siebel is the young man who is in love with Marguerite; and as he sings, he gathers flowers and finally places them where Marguerite cannot fail to see them. The next great aria is Faust's Salut demeure - "All hail thou dwelling pure and lowly." In it he expresses his enchantment with the beautiful and simple surroundings wherein the lovely Marguerite grew up. Immediately after it Mephistopheles 
comes in and leaves a casket of jewels beside Siebel's bouquet —a bit of unfair competition, I always thoughts. And, when the two gentlemen have retired, in comes Marguerite and, as she sits beside her spinning wheel, she sings the simple ballad The King of Thule. Every once in a while she interrupts herself as she moons a little about the handsome young stranger who bad greeted her at the dance. Immediately after ibis she discovers first Siebel's flowers, and then the casket of jewels. This is the signal for the brilliant Jewel Song, during which she decks herself out in the finery she finds.


Marguerite now is joined by her gossipy old neighbor, Marthe, and then both are joined by Faust and Mephisto. And while Mepbisto makes mock love to Marthe, Faust and Marguerite get to know each other better. A very fine quartet is the natural musical outcome. Twilight comes on, and Mephistopheles solemnly intones his Invocation to Night. He hopes it may lead to trouble for poor Marguerite, and Faust and Marguerite are then left alone for their great Love Duet. As she superstitiously plucks a daisy for the old he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not test, as she protests that it is growing too late, as she says she loves him so much that she would die for him. Gounod paints a picture of dawning love that few composers have ever equaled. Faust, who retains some compunctions about seducing an innocent maiden, finally consents to leave and return the next day. But the Devil knows his business only too well. Just as Faust is leaving the garden, he stops him and points to Marguerite's window. There she is, leaning out of it, and singing to the stars about her new love. It is one of the most enchanting bits in the whole scene. Faust rushes to embrace her passionately; and Mephistopheles, his end achieved, laughs a hearty, wicked laugh as the orchestra swells and then fades away, picturing the love of Faust and Marguerite.


Scene 1, though based on a famous bit in Goethe's play, is almost always omitted in modern performances, possibly
because its theme—that of the deserted woman—is the same as the theme of the more dramatically powerful scene which follows immediately.

Marguerite is alone in her room, horrified by the laughing taunts or her girlish ex-playmates, who may be heard outside giggling over her departed gallant. She sits at her spinning wheel, sadly bemoaning the lover who will return no more, in the aria Il ne revient pas. Young Siebel calls and gallantly offers to avenge her, but Marguerite admits she loves the man still. Thereupon Siebel sings the consoling aria Si le bonheur ("When All Was Young"), which remained a popular drawing-room ballad long after the better judgment of impresarios had banished the entire scene from the stage.


Scene 2 is equally brief. It shows Marguerite praying in the church despite her belief that her sin will never be pardoned. Her prayer is interrupted by the Devil, who, from behind a pillar, mockingly reminds her of the days of her innocence. A chorus of demons punctuates Mephisto's remarks with cries of "Marguerite! Marguerite!" Meantime, a service is going on in another part of the church; and as the choir intones the solemn Dies Irae, Marguerite's voice soars above it, wildly begging for pardon. But when Mephisto cries, "Marguerite! Sois maudite! A toi l'enfer!" (that is, "Marguerite, be cursed to hell"), she cries out piteously, and faints away. The quiet, religious tones of the organ close the scene—as it began it.

Scene 3 takes us to the street outside Marguerite's home. Into the square pour the soldiers, home from the wars. They sing, of course, the famous Soldiers' Chorus from Faust. Among the veterans is Marguerite's brother, Valentine. He invites Siebel into his house, but Siebel, in great confusion, declines. Suspiciously Valentine goes inside, and presently he hears a mocking serenade. It is sung by Mqphistopheles, who has brought Faust back with him. The three octaves of Ha-ha-ha's that close this serenade bring out a very angry Valentine. He now knows what has happened while he was away, and he immediately challenges Faust to a duel. As the two men prepare, a stirring trio is sung. Then comes the duel, indicated by strong, suspenseful music in the orchestra. Surreptitiously the Devil directs the sword of Faust—and it finds the heart of Valentine. As the villagers (who have heard the disturbance) gather, Mephisto takes Faust from the scene.Now Valentine has his powerful death scene. Painfully he lifts himself to his knees, and he bitterly curses his sister with his dying breath. The villagers are shocked and horrified; and when the soldier dies at their feet, there is a moment of utter silence. They barely whisper a short prayer—and the clarinet sings a mournful tune as the act ends.


Scene 1 is omitted by opera companies that do not wish to expose the inadequacy of their ballet wings and proudly mounted by those with terpsichorean pretensions. It is the Walpurgis Night scene and gets its name from the German superstition that on the eve of May 1 (the day of St. Walpurgis, an eighth-century proselytizing nun from England) the Devil holds a festival on the Brocken in the Harz Mountains. Mephistophdes brings his protege to this festival, conjuring up for him such classical beauties as the Sicilian Lais and the Egyptian Cleopatra. Supernatural females of dubious morality dance for the enchanted philosopher to the strains of the so-called Ballet Music from Faust, which still forms a staple part of the repertoire of concert bands. Presently Mephisto calls for drinks, and Faust is joining in the reverly when the orchestra suddenly plays, pianissimo, a theme from the Love Duet. A vision of Marguerite appears in the background, a red line about her neck, which Faust, horrified and filled with remorse, describes as looking like the cut of an ax. Peremptorily he demands that Mephisto take him to her, and the scene ends with what a movie-pianist friend of mine used to call “hurry-up music.”


Scene 2 In the final scene we find Marguerite in a prison cell. She is to be executed that very morning for the murder of her child. Under the terrible strain, her mind is giving way. Mephistopheles and Faust break into the prison; and while Mephisto goes off to fetch horses for their escape, Faust awakens the sleeping Marguerite. They sing of their love for each other, but Marguerite's mind begins to wander. She thinks she is again at the fair, where she met Faust, and in the garden, where they made love. We hear music from these earlier scenes. Suddenly Mephistopheles reappears. The horses are ready, he says, and they must hurry. But Marguerite recognizes the Devil at last. "Le demon, le demon!" she cries, and sinks to her knees in eloquent prayer. The exciting final trio is then sung, as Mephisto and Faust urge Marguerite to leave and she steadfastly repeats her prayer—each time in a higher key. At the end she sinks, exhausted and dying, to the grounds Mephisto pronounces her damned. But a choir of angels brings the final sound of her salvation—and her soul goes to Heaven as the opera ends.

Charles Francois Gounod

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