Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809–1847) The First Witches' Sabbath Op. 60 MWV D 3
Ballad [solos,mix ch,orch] Duration: 35' Text: Johann W. von Goethe
solos: ATBar – choir: SSAATTBB – picc.126.96.36.199 – 188.8.131.52 – timp.perc – str
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The First Walpurgis Night [The First Witches' Sabbath] op. 60 is based on a ballad from 1799 by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells of the pagan customs of Walpurgis Night on the Brocken Mountain. It reminds us of a religious and cultural conflict. Goethe describes how people try to protect their pagan rituals from emerging Christian influences. To scare off the “clerical Christians”, the pagans dress up as witches and demons who wreak havoc on the heights of the Harz Mountains.
Goethe originally commissioned Carl Friedrich Zelter to set the work to music, but Zelter passed the task on to his student Mendelssohn. The latter particularly enjoyed setting the “witches’ haunting” to music, even though he was awestruck by the task. Mendelssohn wrote to his patron Goethe from Rome in 1831: “What has occupied me almost exclusively for several weeks is the music to the poem of Your Excellency, which is called The First Walpurgis Night. I intend to compose it with orchestral accompaniment as a kind of great cantata. (...) I have a sense of how great the task is and with what kind of collection and reverence I will have to approach it.” Goethe, however, did not live to see the premiere on January 10, 1833 at the Berlin Sing-Akademie under the direction of the composer. Ten years later, Mendelssohn revised his work. The new version was premiered in Leipzig on February 2, 1843. Hector Berlioz wrote enthusiastically in his memoirs: “From the very first moment, I felt as if I were surrounded by a miracle. The effects of the voices and instruments intersect in all directions, clash and collide, in an apparent disorder that is the pinnacle of art.”
Mendelssohn's setting of the ballad The First Walpurgis Night is an impressive musical realization that captures the dramatic atmosphere and the conflicts between paganism and Christianity. It is an exceptional cantata that is able to raise awareness about tolerance to this day.
|Overture: Das schlechte Wetter
|Uebergang zum Fruehling
|1. Es lacht der Mai
|2. Koennt ihr so verwegen handeln?
|3. Wer Opfer heut zu bringen scheut
|4. Verteilt euch hier!
|5. Diese dumpfen Pfaffenchristen
|6. Kommt mit Zacken und mit Gabeln!
|7. So weit gebracht
|8. Hilf, ach hilf mir, Kriegsgeselle!
|9. Die Flamme reinigt sich vom Rauch