|There was only one person who understood why Busoni refused the South American invitation, and that was Gerda. 'Let me finish Doctor Faust first,' he said to her, 'and when that is over, we can go to South America or anywhere you like.' She knew that it would have been useless to try to explain that to [Isidor] Philipp or to any one else. Busoni knew that Philipp was his truest friend and his wisest counsellor; but Philipp could not help regarding Busoni primarily as a pianist-indeed as the most marvellous pianist that the world had ever seen. About that there could be no doubt whatever; his reputation as a composer could never be so incontestable, even for his most fervent admirers. It was inevitable that musicians, however discerning, should have formed that opinion; Bach and Mozart themselves had in their lifetimes been considered first and foremost as executants. And on the subject of Doctor Faust Busoni had become strangely secretive. It was well known that he was composing an opera; the subject was known, the poem had been published as a separate book, the Dresden Opera House had accepted it for production. But he showed the score to no one except Gerda. He became more and more reluctant to talk about it, except to her. She knew every note of it. Ever since their marriage it had always been Gerda to whom he first confided each new project of his whole career. In earlier days he had talked or written freely about his plans and ideas, to [Egon] Petri, to Robert Freund, to [Volkmar] Andreae, and others. Doctor Faust belonged to Gerda alone; it belonged to her so intimately and so completely that it would have been impossible to make any one else understand the place which it held in his life, in that life which he had always tried to plan out with such rigorous forethought. For ten years the subject of Faust had been rooted in his mind; the germ of the idea had been present to him for thirty years and more. The time had come when the work must be completed at all costs; there was no longer anything to which it could be sacrificed, for however short a moment.
THE WANDERING JEW
|In the prologue to Doctor Faust Busoni mentions Merlin as one of the dramatic figures which he had at one time considered as the possible subject of an opera. It may be suspected that this idea first occurred to him at Leipzig when he was commissioned to write a Fantasia on Goldmark's opera Merlin [19 Nov. 1886 Hofoper Wien]. There is no trace of his ever having proceeded farther with it. But about 1892 he began to sketch a libretto on the subject of the Wandering Jew (Ahasvers Ende). It is a legend which has a certain affinity to the story of Faust.
The few sketches for Ahasver that have survived are so fragmentary that one can form no idea of the work as a whole, though it can be seen that the opera was to have its comedy as well as its tragedy. The beginning of the story is lost - perhaps it was never written. There is a sketch for a scene in which Ahasuerus appears as a typical wealthy Jew of Busoni's own time; he is a liberal patron of the fine arts and is entertaining a party which includes various old friends whose acquaintance he made centuries ago - Don Juan, Falstaff, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. His curse never allowing him to rest, he is obliged perpetually to walk up and down, and excuses himself to his guests on the ground that his doctor has ordered him constant exercise. But the Wandering Jew belongs to the future as well as to the present and past. In another scene we find him as the sole survivor of mankind after the entire human race has been destroyed by the arrival of a new Ice Age. Amid ice and snow Ahasuerus wanders alone under the stars; a bear, last survivor of earth's creatures, seeks in vain for food. He would gladly be its prey, but as he draws near it, the beast drops dead of cold. He attempts to throw himself over a precipice, but a hand holds him back - it is Death himself. Now that the whole earth has been given over to Death, Death's functions are fulfilled; he is charged to accompany Ahsuerus until the end of all things.
At the beginning of the scene there is a long monologue in which Ahasuerus recalls the whole history of the world as he his witnessed it. He has lost all sense of time; his life has stretched backwards as well as forwards-he is Adam, Moses, David, Solomon, as well as Spinoza. And now he sees himself condemned not merely to wander, but to wander for ever in utter loneliness.
A SENSE OF SOLITUDE
|'Knowest thou no pity, thou that callest thyself the God of mercy? Is this thy love towards man? I must acknowledge thy power, but thy goodness I acknowledge not.' Then he repents of his blasphemy and prays for forgiveness, or at least for some sign that he is not alone. An aurora borealis appears in the sky; he begins to hope once more. He would willingly bear his curse to its appointed end if he knew that by so doing he would set thousands of thousands of others free from penance. Apocalyptic portents are seen; the resurrection is at hand. After a prayer of thanksgiving, Ahasuerus, last survivor of humanity, makes himself the advocate of mankind before its judge. The trumpets of the Last judgement ring out, Ahasuerus is struck dead, the resurrection begins and the curtain falls.
Ahasver was evidently the sort of opera which a young composer sketches but never completes. Berlioz had once sketched a subject almost identical. There is no need to criticize the suitability of Busoni's conception to the practical exigencies of the theatre. What is significant in these fragments is their monodramatic character. They reveal a strange sense of solitude, a sense of solitude perceptible in almost every one of Busoni's works or projects for the stage. Even amidst the merriment of Die Brautwahl we see Edmund Lehsen standing alone before his fresco in Rome; the unwritten Italian operas were to end, the one with Dante sitting alone in the Piazza at Florence, the other with Leonardo deserted by his patrons and protectors. Arlecchino ends with Ser Matteo alone with his tailoring and his Dante. Faust dies deserted by man, God, and Devil. Doctor Faust was the creation of a solitary, and in a certain sense Busoni had been a solitary all his life.
|At some period - the subject is never mentioned in his letters -Busoni had even considered the idea of an opera on Don Juan. We see traces of this idea in the synopsis of the drama that he once planned, exhibiting a hero in three different lives, artist, Don Juan, and millionaire. He speaks of the Don Juan project only in the preface and prologue to Doctor Faust. There were other ways of treating the legend besides da Ponte's. Busoni had read Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman
in July 1909, and it almost looks as if he knew Shadwell's The Libertine
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when he hints at a Don Juan libretto full of monks, inquisitors, subterranean vaults, Moors and Jews and singers of madrigals, ending with the second supper-party at which Don Juan is the guest of the Statue in a ruined chapel. But it was impossible to forget Mozart, and in considering Faust it was impossible to forget Goethe until Busoni determined to go back to the Faust of the early puppetplays, not only for his subject-matter, but to a large extent for his constructive method as well.
|From 1909 to 1914 Busoni kept a sort of diary, in which every three or four days he jotted down a few words - hardly ever a complete sentence. It is not the sort of diary which could be published, but it affords curious revelations of the workings of Busoni's mind. On December 31, 1909, sailing for America on board the Barbarossa, he writes:
Rückblick - Ein ereignisreiches Jahr-Abschied von den übrigen 42.
(Retrospect - an eventful year-farewell to the other forty-two.
The name of Faust appears suddenly on October 16, 1910:
Faust-Casperle! besonders ergriffen von drei Studenten. So müsste neues Werk beschaffen sein!
(Faust-Casperle! singularly moved by the three students. That is how the new work ought to be made!)
The reference is clearly to the old German puppet-play of Faust, in, which Kasperle, the comic figure - a sort of German Harlequin - makes a frequent appearance.
FRONT EINES KASPERLE-THEATERS UM 1900 (SAMMLUNG DR. WIMMER)
On December 9:
F? Literarisch zu schwer, durch Goethe-Vergleich. Oder es müsste etwas ganz Neues sein.
(F[aust]? From a literary point of view too difficult, owing to comparison with Goethe. Or else it would have to be something quite new.)
The year 1911 was occupied with Die Brautwahl; 1912 was the year of Busoni's conversations with d'Annunzio on the subject of Leonardo da Vinci. It was in this same year that he conceived the first inspiration for Arlecchino, as well as being invited to compose music for Wedekind's parody of Faust. In 1913 there are again allusions to Faust in the diary:
Juli: 20. Faust, Delacroix stets anregend. Translation: 'a gallant knight.'
EUGÈNE DELACROIX - FAUST AND MEPHISTOPHELES
21. F Musik zum ersten Teil nicht ganz befriedigend. Ostergesang, 3 Erzengel, wie das machen?
Oktober: Liceo: wie Faust zu Parma Zeit verlierend - 'The man who could work miracles.'
(July: 20. Faust, Delacroix always suggestive. Translation: 'a gallant knight'.
21. Faust music to the First Part not altogether satisfactory. Easter Hymn, three Archangels-how is that to be done?
October: Liceo: wasting time like Faust at Parma - 'The man who could work miracles'.)
|Busoni was evidently still considering Goethe's Faust as a basis in July; the mention of Parma in October shows that he had reverted to the puppet-play.
Delacroix illustratore del «Faust»
A note in the early part of the following year hints at a reversion to much older projects:
Februar: 23. Entwurf zu gotischen Theater, Festspielhäusern, Beethovendenkmal. Aladdin, Ahasver tentation.
(February: 23. Sketches for Gothic theatre, festival theatres, Beethoven monument. Aladdin, Wandering Jew temptation.)
Was Busoni in 1913 seriously considering the possibility of abandoning Faust and going back to his youthful idea of making an opera out of Oehlenschläger's Aladdin,
or even of completing The Wandering Jew? On September 3, 1914, he writes the three words 'Lionardo: italienischer Faust'. In November he was considering Goethe's sequel to The Magic Flute; it will be remembered that Busoni's original idea for Oehlenschläger's Aladdin was that it should be 'something like The Magic Flute'. A week later he notes 'a strange and shuddering Faustus-feeling, when the new door with the books on it is shut, and the lamp lighted!' On December 7 comes an allusion to Strindberg on Luther, and Dr. Faust as Luther's companion. 'Must remember the Lionardo sheets after the concert.' A recital was impending; after it was over Busoni began to look for the sketches of Leonardo. What he found, however, were the sketches for Faust.
'Suddenly everything came together like a vision,' he writes in the diary (December 21). 'Five movements. Monologue about studies falls out. Assumed that Gretchen episode is all over. During the pact Easter bells ring! Garden festival at the court of Parma, the Duchess betrays her love, in a vision appear Herod (Salome) and John with resemblance: Duke, Faust. Three students from Cracow, beginning. Night watchman-End. Query, Casperle-Intermezzi in front of the curtain, without music, or not?'
He bought a new drawing-block the next day to sketch a scene for the church episode. From that moment the libretto proceeded without interruption until it was finished on December 26.
Busoni did not live to complete the music. Up to the final monologue of Faust the opera was on paper to the last note; there was no instrumentation of rough sketches to be done. It had been settled for some time that the opera was to be brought out at Dresden; Alfred Reucker, who had recently succeeded Scheidemantel as Intendant, had been Director of the theatre at Zurich during the years of war and had discussed the production of the opera with Busoni in detail. The production at Dresden was naturally delayed by the difficult problem that arose from the unfinished state of the score. No Italian or German composer of recognized standing could have attempted its completion with any chance of success; the change of style would have been too disastrously evident. [There was some talk of inviting Arnold Schönberg to compose the final scene.] Most of Busoni's own composition pupils, gifted as some of them were, had not yet had time to acquire the necessary experience, an experience intellectual as well as technical. The only musician who could possibly be seriously proposed for the task was Philipp Jarnach. For a long time he refused to undertake the responsibility, but finally yielded to the pressure of Busoni's family and intimate friends. The opera was staged for the first time at the Dresden Opera House on May 21, 1925. It was received with respect rather than with enthusiasm; not more than four performances were given. [Since then Doctor Faust has been performed at Berlin, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Hanover.]
THEORY OF OPERA
Busoni recorded the history and the theory of his opera in a prologue in verse which forms part of the printed libretto and also more fully in a prose preface o the score; this preface was printed for the first time in Ausblick, the magazine of the Dresden State Theatres, for May 1925. The second stanza of the prologue in verse admirably sums up his theory of opera in general:
Die Bühne zeigt vom Leben die Gebärde,
Unechtheit steht auf ihrer Stirn geprägt;
Auf dass sie nicht zum Spiegel-Zerrbild werde,
Als Zauberspiegel wirk' sie schön und echt;
Gebt zu, dass sie das Wahre nur entwerte,
Dem Unglaubhaften wird sie erst gerecht:
Und wenn ihr sie, als Wirklichkeit, belachtet,
Zwingt sie zum Ernst, als reines Spiel betrachtet.
(The stage exhibits the gestures of life, but it bears plainly the mark of unreality. If it is not to become a distorting mirror, it must act fairly and truly as a magic mirror. Grant that the stage only lowers the values of what is true, it can then do full justice to the incredible, and though you may laugh at drama judging it as reality, it will compel you to seriousness if you regard it as mere play.)
OPERA AND PUPPET-PLAY
|And Busoni ends his prologue with the reminder that his opera is frankly and undisguisedly a puppet-play by origin. It is difficult to define in words what constitutes the puppet-play style - in what way a play for puppets must be planned and written differently from a play for living actors, and in what particular qualities the puppetplay is, or may be, more grimly moving than an ordinary play. Busoni cannot possibly have intended his Doctor Faust to be actually performed by puppets, for it can only be given in a large opera-house with every modern technical appliance, not to speak of its vast choral and instrumental requirements. But it has something of the puppet-play in its remoteness from everyday sentiment and sentimentality; the figures in the drama say and do only what is necessary and no more-they have no need and no chance to elaborate their parts with all those 'subtle touches' that on the commercial stage do so much to enhance the private personality of the actor or actress and to appeal thereby to the affections rather than to the intellect of the spectators. The result of this restriction is that Doctor Faust may seem lacking in what we might call humanity; but the more nearly it approaches to the manner of the puppet-show, the more it gains in austerity and dignity.
Even in the stage presentation the puppet-show is brought clearly to the notice of the audience. When the main curtain rises, it reveals a second curtain, on which is painted a puppet-theatre, with the characters of the opera ranged in a row before its miniature proscenium. It is but dimly illuminated, and they appear only as suggestions.
|The orchestral prelude begins; that too is only a vague suggestion, an impressionistic study of distant bells, represented by the orchestra alone without any actual bells or percussive imitations of them. An actor rises from a trap in front of the puppet-show and recites the eighty-two lines of the prologue in verse. He disappears, and at once the first scene is revealed-Faust's study at Wittenberg, with Faust anxiously watching some aichemical process at the hearth. Wagner enters and tells him that three students wish to see him. At first he refuses to receive them, but relents on hearing that they have brought him a book with a strange title - Clavis Astartis Magica. As Wagner leaves the room he bursts out into excited soliloquy: this is the book which will give him the magic power that he is seeking.
Three young men enter and stand silent; they are dressed in black, with cabalistic signs on their breasts.
'Who are you?'
'Students from Cracow.'
Cracow! The name recalls Faust's youth, with the dreams and hopes of his own student days; he welcomes the students with a sudden kindliness. They hand over to him a book, a key to unlock it, and a letter which makes it Faust's property. How shall he reward them? Later, they answer. He offers hospitality, but they will not stay.
'Then tell me that I shall see you again!'
'Perhaps. Farewell, Faust.'
They go, and a moment later Wagner returns.
'Did you see the students? Are you not going to show them out?'
'Sir, I saw no one!'
'They left me just now.'
'I saw no one.'
'You have missed them - Ah! Now I know who they were-' and the vessels on the hearth begin to boil and bubble and steam until the whole scene disappears in the fumes. Behind the stage voices take up the music of the first prelude. Are they voices? or are they bells ringing in the distance? What is the word that we catch now and then? Pax. [Busoni wrote this part of the music at Zurich in 1917.]
The curtain rises for the second prologue-the scene is the same, at midnight. Faust, the key in his hand, draws a magic circle round him with a sword. The old puppetplays make him draw the circle with his girdle; Busoni substitutes the sword, as the symbol of protection against danger. He calls on Lucifer to send him his servant, and in the darkness there appear six flames hovering in the air. Question them, says an unknown voice. The first gives his name as Gravis.
'How swift art thou?'
'As the sand in the hourglass.'
Faust dismisses him with contempt; so also he dismisses the next four, Levis, Asmodus, Beelzebub,
Image by Bob Jefferson
and Megaeros. Not one is swift enough for him. Megaeros is swift as the storm. That is better, but not enough - 'Storm, I blow thee out!'
One flame remains. Faust steps out of the circle; he is disappointed, and thinks it hardly worth while to question the last spirit. The sixth voice calls him.[The scene with the six flames is conceived musically as a set of variations on a theme; the first spirit is a deep bass, and the voices rise progressively, so that the last-Mephistopheles--is a high tenor. Busoni treats him very ruthlessly from a singer's point of view.] The sixth flame persists, though Faust will not question it. The spirit says that he is swift as human thought. That is more than Faust had hoped. He bids him appear in tangible shape, and Mephistopheles
«Mephistopheles» (After Adolphe Monticelli)
is there. But Faust has stepped out of the magic circle, and instead of being his master, he is his servant. Yet Mephistopheles is willing to serve him-for the present: what is Faust's will? Faust's answer is not that of the conventional Faust; it is characteristic of his new creator's mind:
'Give me for the rest of my life the unconditional fulfilment of every wish; let me embrace the world, the East and the South that call me; let me understand the actions of mankind and extend them; give me Genius! give me its pain too, that I may be happy like no other - make me free!'
And afterwairds? Faust must serve Mephistopheles for ever. Serve! Faust will not serve; rather will he dismiss Mephistopheles like the rest. But the Devil will not be dismissed; and he is more practical than Faust:
'Listen, Faust! Your creditors are at the door; you have deceived them. You have got your girl into trouble; her brother is after your life. And the priests are after you too; they smell a rat. Not far wrong either; you'll be burnt at the stake.'
As he speaks there is a knocking at the door; again it comes, and more threateningly.
'One word from you,' says Mephistopheles -
There is silence. Faust has given way. Still reluctantly he signs his pact. During part of this scene a chorus of voices has been heard behind, singing the words of the Credo and Gloria. As the curtain falls they burst into an Alleluia, and in full force there ring out the Easter bells.[Busoni had three real bells cast at a bell-foundry in Switzerland; they are engraved with the names of Gerda, Benvenuto, and Raffaello.]
The clamour of the bells dies gradually away, and as the curtain rises for the Intermezzo, the sound of an organ is heard. The scene is a Romanesque side-chapel in a cathedral, and the music of the organ dominates the whole episode. Busoni wanted the organ to be no mere background: it was to fill the whole theatre with its reverberation. Unfortunately there are few theatres which possess organs of sufficient power to carry out the composer's design.
Before a crucifix kneels a soldier in armour; he is described as 'the girl's brother'. The girl has no part in the opera; her story was finished long ago. We see only the brother praying that he may find her seducer and avenge her ruin. In the doorway Mephistopheles points him out to Faust. He must be got out of the way, and Faust lets Mephistopheles see to it. He puts on a monk's frock and tries to induce the soldier to confess to him. The soldier refuses; he suspects him for what he is. 'Look to the door,' says Mephistopheles; and an officer with other soldiers enters. He points out the kneeling man as the murderer of their captain; the others fall upon him and slay him, while Mephistopheles in his monk's frock assumes an air of grotesque reprobation. He has killed three birds with one stone: a murder and a sacrilege, and both put down to Faust's account-a good day's business.
Now begins the main action of the play. The Duke of Parma has just married his beautiful Duchess, and the wedding festivity gives occasion for an introductory pageant and ballet, in which Busoni proclaims his devotion to Bizet. The music incorporates the Cortège and the Tanzwalzer which Busoni composed in the autumn of 1920. There is a procession of huntsmen with trophies, and a fencing display by little pages. The Master of Ceremonies proposes that the Duke and Duchess shall receive the famous Doctor Faust, and he is introduced by Mephistopheles disguised as a Herald. After a chorus of wonder and admiration he begins to display his magic arts by turning light into darkness. He asks the Duchess what she would like to see. Ask the impossible, whispers the Duke in her ear. She asks to see King Solomon, and he appears, playing the harp [Busoni appears to have confused Solomon with David.]; in a moment the Queen of Sheba is at his side. The Duke notices that the Queen resembles the Duchess, and that Solomon wears the features of Faust. The Duchess demands more; but this time Faust must guess her desire. He summons up Samson and Delilah; under Delilah's couch huddles a black slave-woman who hands her mistress the fatal shears. Again the Duke notices the resemblance of the figures to Faust and the Duchess. The Duchess tells Faust to choose the next vision himself, and the same faces are seen as Salome and John the Baptist. There is a third figure this time, who resembles the Duke - it is the Executioner.
'At Salome's bidding his head falls,' says Faust.
'He must not die,' the Duchess urges.
Faust knows that she loves him and presses his suit; she tries vainly to resist. The Duke breaks off the show and invites Faust to the feast, but Mephistopheles warns him not to accept: the food is poisoned, the clergy are on the watch. They leave the stage together. A moment later the Duchess comes back alone, calling to Faust and seeking his love. As she goes out singing, the Duke enters with his chaplain, who breaks the news to him that the Duchess and Faust have eloped together, riding through the air on a pair of flaming horses. It would be best to hush the matter up and marry the Duke of Ferrara's sister for reasons of state. 'Heaven speaks through you,' says the kneeling Duke, as the chaplain raises a claw-like hand in benediction - we recognize Mephistopheles.
Time passes, and Faust is back again at Wittenberg, discussing philosophy with his students in a tavern. Wine and metaphysics lead to quarrelling; Faust intervenes. Nothing is proved, nothing is provable, he says. Let them follow the good advice of Luther - but before he can finish his sentence Protestants and Catholics are on the way to a fight. Faust manages to quell them and quote Luther's famous words, on which they start to sing the praise of wine and woman, the Catholics in Latin and the Protestants in German. A musical scene worthy of Berlioz develops in which the tune of Ein' feste Burg becomes prominent. Faust sits absorbed in dreams. A student asks him to tell them about his adventures with women. There was a woman once - a Duchess - in Italy -on her wedding-day - hardly a year ago, though it seems an eternity. Does she ever think of him?
A courier hurries in - it is Mephistopheles.
'Don't let me disturb you! The Duchess of Parma is dead and buried: sends you this for a memento.'
It is the corpse of a new-born child. Is it? No, it is only a bundle of straw. Mephistopheles sets it on fire, and in the smoke there appears Helen of Troy. Faust is left alone with the vision, but just as he is about to grasp it it vanishes. Three dark figures stand in the shadow; they are the three students from Cracow, come to demand the return of the book, the key, and the letter. It is too late; Faust has destroyed them. His time is up at midnight, they say. He dismisses them with contempt. 'Go thy ways, Faust!' Their voices die away in the distance. Faust views the moment not with fear, but with relief. All is over at last; the way is free; the evening's end is welcome.
The last scene shows a street in Wittenberg; snow is on the ground, and the night-watchman's high grating voice announces ten o'clock. A party of students are congratulating Wagner on his inaugural speech; be has succeeded Faust as Rector of the University. It was a discourse worthy of his great predecessor, says one. That was an unfortunate remark. Dr. Wagner is a genuine German professor: 'Faust? well, Faust was - a visionary - more than that. As a man of learning by no means infallible; and - Lord have mercy upon us - his way of life was deplorable. Good night, gentlemen.'
He retires; the students sing a serenade, interrupted by the Watchman, who puts them to flight. Faust enters, and looks up at Wagner's house that once was his own. On the doorstep sits a beggar-woman with a child at the breast. In the church opposite they are singing the Dies Irae. Faust turns to give something to the beggar-woman and recognizes the Duchess. She hands him the child; it is dead. She vanishes; Faust, aware of evil spirits, moves towards the church, but the soldier stands in the doorway and bars his entrance with his sword. But Faust is still master of spirits, and bids this one vanish too. He kneels before the crucifix at the side of the church door. He would pray, but he can remember no prayer, only magical incantations. As he kneels the Watchman passes by and raises his lantern; the light reveals the figure not of Christ but of Helen. Faust turns away in horror, then controls himself and sets about his last final effort of will.
It is at this point that Busoni's manuscript ends and Jarnach's completion begins.
Faust lays the corpse of the child on the ground before him and covers it with his cloak; then he throws his girdle on the ground and steps within its magic circle. By the supreme effort of will and longing Faust transfers to the child his own personality. In the child he will continue his own existence and his own activity; what he built askew the child shall make straight; he shall carry out what Faust neglected and unite Faust, as an Eternal Will, with all generations that are to come. He dies then, as the Watchman is heard announcing the stroke of midnight, the dead body sinks and there rises a naked youth holding a green twig in his hand. With arms uplifted he strides gaily through the snow into the town. Over Faust's body the Watchman lifts his lantern. Has this man met with an accident? he asks. It is Mephistopheles; he picks up the body and carries it off as the curtain falls.
THEORY OF OPERA
|One cannot apply to Doctor Faust the ordinary standards of operatic criticism. It moves on a plane of spiritual experience far beyond that of even the greatest of musical works for the stage. On its first production a German critic said of it that it could be compared only with Parsfal; it may be doubted whether the comparison would altogether have pleased Busoni. The poem by itself is a literary work of extraordinary power and imagination. It shows clearly how much Busoni owed to the lifelong study of Goethe; it is not Goethe's portrait of Faust, but it is written in Goethe's language. It combines the simplicity of the puppet-plays with something of the concentrated agony of Marlowe.
Busoni's prose preface (On the Possibilities of Opera) cannot be summarized shortly. Its argument is directed against a traditional prejudice, still even now perhaps current in Germany, that opera is an inferior form of musical art, and that the loftiest ideal of music is to be found only in the symphony. Busoni takes Mozart's view, that the music of an opera must form a complete musical whole in itself, independently of words or actions, and he further points out what is well known to any serious student of musical history, that most of the language of what is called absolute music is historically derived from the music of opera. An opera must have musical form, just as much as a symphony, and Doctor Faust is divided up into a number of separate musical forms - a plan which has been followed by various later composers of opera. And opera, Busoni contends, is the one form into which the musician can throw everything that he has to say; there is no style of music which it necessarily excludes. But there is much that has to be excluded when we come to consider the drama and its words, for an opera should deal only with such subjects as are incomplete without music; Busoni stands in direct opposition to the 'music-drama' of Bayreuth. And he will have no using of music to describe what can be seen upon the stage by the eye, just as Mozart in The Magic Flute makes no attempt to describe musically the fire and the water; in that scene the music represents only the sound of the magic flute itself and the general sense of solemnity and awe.
Thus the stage demands a purer standard of music than the symphony; it demands a type of music in which expression is concentrated to its utmost. Thanks to the conditions of the theatre, the extremest and most painful intensities of expression are accepted there without hesitation. There must necessarily follow a decline in the productivity of operatic composers, for Busoni conceives as an ideal an opera in which a truly creative composer should give expression to everything of which his imagination is capable - 'a musical Dante, a musical Divine Comedy!'
Busoni was resolved to put 'everything' into Doctor Faust. It is the summing-up of his life's work and experience. Each of his larger compositions is surrounded by a number of small satellites, and Doctor Faust takes up and develops ideas from various shorter works that had preceded it, such as the Nocturne Symphonique and the Second Sonatina. The Sarabande and Cortège had been written definitely as studies for the opera; to what extent Faust may have been in Busoni's thoughts when he composed the other works cannot be said. But in any case they help to explain the opera and the opera helps to explain them. That most mysterious of all Busoni's compositions, the Second Sonatina, becomes clear when we hear its themes associated with the three students from Cracow. It is not that the Sonatina in any way 'represents' the figures of the opera; it is simply that the sound of the orchestra in the theatre makes clear what was obscure and even unpleasant on the pianoforte.
SOUNDS AND MUSIC
|Musicians, in so far as they have thought over the philosophical problems of music at all, have been divided in their opinions as to its ultimate nature. Some have taken the view that the only music which exists is that which has been made by men, the actual sounds produced by actual instruments, a number of actual identifiable works composed by various persons at various periods of history. Busoni took the other view-that music exists as an ideal, of which our most venerated mastepieces are merely fragments often inadequately overheard in the composer's imagination, and inadequately reproduced there in audible sounds. Still more inadequately are these fragments committed to notation on paper. This philosophy was the basis of Busoni's attitude to the classics that he interpreted at the pianoforte. We see it far back in the letter to the Belgian critic Marcel Rémy, about 1902, in which he defends his 'modernizations'.
Busoni, even then, was one of the most remarkable pianists living, but he was only at the beginning of his own career as a pianist and as a musician. Regarding him as a pianist alone, his life was a perpetual series of 'new beginnings', and all these new beginnings were necessary to him, because his ever widening experience of life and of music made him discontented with the pianoforte as he himself commanded it. There was no limit, it seemed, to the problems of pianoforte technique, in order to master the infinite resources of the instrument - resources hitherto undiscovered - for the interpretation of that ideal music which a life's experience revealed, and a lifetime's wisdom gradually discarded. The Fantasia Contrappuntistica was planned for no instrument; it is music and nothing else.
We have seen already how both in his pianoforte-playing and in his composition Busoni was constantly striving towards that state of music which he called iluflosung, a state in which one should be conscious of it not as made up of single notes or phrases but as a direct spiritual experience. It is in Doctor Faust that he reaches the farthest heights of spirituality, and it is this mystical quality which makes Doctor Faust unique among all operas. But it is a hard task for humbler mortals to follow Busoni's path, and we cannot hope to attain understanding of his vision until we have pursued it along his own track, sharing the successive experiences that each of his earlier works recorded.
|Faust is the seeker after experience. The nature of that experience has varied with that of the poets who have portrayed him: there is the Faust of Marlowe, of Goethe, and also of Gounod. Busoni's Faust is his own. The outline of the story remains the same, but magic and the devil are mere symbols for things perhaps impossible to express in words. Every poet has to paint in Faust the portrait of himself, whether it be that self which the world sees, or that other self which the poet may perhaps never have been able to realize in life.
Der dritte meiner Reih' ist nicht geringer,
Ein trotz'ger Geist, ein Einzelner, auch er:
Ein Tiefbelesener, ein Höllenzwinger,
Vieldeutiger zumal, und sonst auch mehr;
Ein schwacher Mensch und doch ein starker Ringer,
Den Zweifel tragen hin und wider her;
Herr des Gedankens, Diener dem Instinkt,
Dem das Erschöpfen keine Lösung bringt.
The third of my series [i.e. Merlin, Don Giovanni, Faust; 'the others' in line 4 are the first two names.] is no lesser:
a spirit of defiance, a solitary too;
a man deep-read, a constrainer of Hell,
more mysterious than the others, and more than that;
a weak man, yet a stout wrestler,
whom doubts drive hither and thither;
master of thought, slave to instinct,
exhausting all things, finding no answer.
If the stanza does not quite accurately describe Busoni as his friends knew him, it may well describe him as he inwardly felt himself to be. And from the first moment of the drama to the end we are constantly made to feel that Faust speaks with Busoni's own voice. 'Life rolls ever faster, and-no longer upwards. I may not give so much time to others.' It is Busoni composing his Doctor Faust and wondering if he will ever live to finish it. 'Oh my old beloved Cracow! Your shapes recall my youth. Dreams, ambitions! How greatly have I hoped!' One recalls the scene in the restaurant at Hamburg in 1912 and that strange cry of 'Klagenfurt!' Even the tiny touch of the hospitality and courtesy offered by Faust to the mysterious students from Cracow at once reminds one of Busoni himself; in the opera it is so small a thing that one wonders why it should be there at all unless it was a subconscious expression of his own personality.
The pact with Mephistopheles -'Give me Genius' - is a new interpretation of Faust's desires. 'Genius, with all its sufferings, that I may be happy as no other.' And then, at the moment when Faust signs the bond, as the unseen chorus sings:
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos,
Faust's despairing and defiant cry:
'There is no mercy, no eternal blessedness, no forgiveness. There! When my time runs out we shall see; perhaps thou yet wilt be the loser-am I not thy master?'
Faust as the magician, with his visions of Solomon, Samson, and John the Baptist, each bearing his own features; is it not Busoni, most miraculous of interpreters, yet always, in the vision of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, presenting himself? Faust among the students at Wittenberg; one remembers Busoni, always surrounded by the young, provoking them by terrifyingly critical observations on all that they had been taught blindly to revere. 'You will never be happy,' said Philipp to Busoni once; 'you are Faust and Mephistopheles in one.' It was true enough; Faust, the seeker after truth, was always accompanied by Mephistopheles, the eternal sceptic. And this Faust is not merely a philosopher; he is a man who can enter joyously into all the pleasures of life and share them with others.
It is Busoni again who speaks to us after the vision of Helen has eluded his grasp:
'Man is not able to attain perfection. Then let him strive according td his measure and strew good around him, as he has received it. I, wise fool, hesitator and waster, have accomplished nothing; all must be begun afresh; I feel as if I were drawing near to childhood again.
'I look far out into the distance; there lie young fields, uncultivated hills that swell and call to new ascent. Life smiles with promise.'
NEVER LOOK BACK
|How many times in Busoni's life had he spoken and written of 'a new beginning'! 'Never look back'-the words recur perpetually in his letters.
The students return and demand the book; Faust dismisses them 'with the commanding gesture of a grand seigneur'. One sees Busoni in the flesh.
The last scene of all - Faust with the dead child. The child, Busoni tells us in his preface, is a symbol. Faust's union with the Duchess was an act of impulse, with no sense of deliberate purpose towards an ultimate end. The appearance of Mephistopheles with the dead child is meant to convey to Faust a warning of this ultimate purpose, but Faust does not understand it, and Mephistopheles leads him further astray by conjuring up the vision of Helen. From the body of the dead child the 'Ideal' is to arise, but Faust finds this 'Ideal' false and deceptive. He renounces all hope of it, and renounces magic too by destroying the magical book. It is only when he meets the Duchess again in the last scene that he grasps the significance of the child, and it is only after his last attempt at an approach to God has proved vain and futile that he can perform the mystic rite by which he transfers his own personality to the oncoming generation, thereby renewing his own exhausted life in the life of the future.
LIFE AND DEATH
|Busoni had been brought up in an atmosphere of Catholic piety, but he had already reacted against the doctrines of the Church when he was a young man, and although he never altogether lost a certain affection for the picturesque aspect of Catholicism, he never again returned to the Christian faith. Writing to the Swiss poet Hans Reinhart - a keen enthusiast for Wagner - in 1917, he says:
'Wagnerism and Christianity as well are nothing to me, and my feeling is that it is time to sweep away these two beliefs altogether, or at least to leave them in peace and not to poke about in them any more.'
To the same correspondent he wrote again in May 1923, thanking him for a book, to which he alludes in the first sentence here quoted:
'I suspect that your, «New Life» becomes a dream-vision in other forms of what previously was hostile to life. It has always affected me unpleasantly from childhood to note how South German art makes eyes at death and treats death as its perpetual motive. Against that my Latin blood rebels. Our Latin inability to preoccupy ourselves with death is seen at its best in Verdi's Requiem and Rossini's Stabat Mater, in which life departed is irradiated by the life of the present. Even Dante's Inferno is retrospective, and concerns itself exclusively with the acts committed by the damned during their lives. In Orcagna's Dance of Death [Busoni refers to the frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa.] living people walk past coffins, holding their noses.
Andrea Orcagna , detail from Triumph of Death, fresco
in Museo S. Croce, Florence.
'Nowhere in my life did I hear so much talk about death as in Switzerland, where people (to speak honestly) are unusually careful and concerned for their earthly existence. Those of Latin origin will exchange life for an idea without any longing for death; they do so rather from a longing to enrich their lives.'
Faust at his last end is conscious of being liberated from God and Devil alike; he will set mankind free from the eternal quarrel which has been handed on from generation to generation. It is to the new world of youth that he looks forward. That new generation which he loved - and often chastised so ruthlessly - is already learning to carry on those ideals to which all his life he had aspired.
'Habe nun, ach! Philosophie, Juristerei und Medizin-'
|Faust is the seeker after experience. There are many people who value their experiences, but few who value experience. They are only too often afraid of pursuing experience beyond those single experiences that they have valued, because they are afraid that new experience may destroy for them the value of the old. Busoni's life had been crowded with experiences in endless profusion and variety. Setting aside what he had traversed in fifty years of professional life as a musician, he had enriched his personality with an astonishing knowledge of literature, painting, and architecture. In his travels over almost all Europe and North America he had stored up the memory of landscape in all its diversities; in every country he had sought the knowledge of human beings of all conceivable types. He had known the struggles and the glories of the virtuoso, the inward concentration of the composer, the self-dedication of the teacher; he had won the love and devotion of pupils and friends, he had experienced what perhaps was to him the most precious experience of all in his life-thirty years and more of unclouded sympathy and happiness in marriage.
Busoni had the courage not only to pursue experience, but to discard without hesitation or regret those fruits of earlier experience which in the course of time had come to lose their savour. We can trace his musical progress in his pianoforte repertory; [See Appendix.] we can watch him gradually discarding one composer after another, as they fail to satisfy his ever soaring standard. That keen critical sense which he applied so rigorously to himself, both as pianist and as composer, gave him the reputation among the more traditional-minded of being nothing but an iconoclast and a destroyer. To timid souls it was certainly frightening to hear him speak of Schubert as 'a gifted amateur', [Recorded by Wilhelm Kienzl.] to listen to his grotesque mockery of Schumann and his titles to the movements of Carneval, to read that Chopin did not understand how to write for the pianoforte and that Beethoven did not possess the technique to express his emotions. In those last years, when he wrote to Philipp that he felt himself forced to abandon the whole of his former repertory, he might well seem, for the moment, to be no more than a world-weary cynic hurling forth his-last gesture of surfeit and despair. But despair was an emotion entirely outside Busoni's experience.
ENDS AND BEGINNING
|'Dear Gerda, let us hope for the future,' he had written to his wife at a moment when fortune looked blackest. Whatever he discarded he left behind him in the spirit of the snake that casts its skin. It had been precious while it lasted; one has only to turn back to his earlier writings or recall the memory of earlier conversations to see that he discarded nothing until he had completely exhausted all that tiere was to be learned from it. Even the ruin remained sometimes as a memorial; if younger friends attempted in their haste to overtake his startling judgements, they were reminded that they had no right to discard these things until they too had gone through all the experience of understanding them.
THE INFINITY OF MUSIC
|The greatest, the most apparently inexhaustible, of the masters were but tiinsitory; this fact one must recognize without trembling. Even the score of Figaro, he found, had its weak places. All must come to an end in its time, but each end was a new beginning - a new beginning not for his own development alone, but for the whole art of music. Music was infinite: its past was as nothing to its future. If he was forced to recognize the limitations of human life, there was always a new music to come, far beyond the boundaries of his own personal knowledge. In the endless history of the art, what could be the achievement of any one man, be he Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven? They were all 'beginners', each the beginner of a new era, prophet of a new vision of music's infinity.