Hector Berlioz (1803­69)

La Damnation de Faust

Légende dramatique en 4 parties

H. 111


Plaines de hongroie

Introduction ­ Ronde de paysans ­ Marche hongroise


Nord d'Allemagne

Faust seul dans son cabinet de travail ­ Chant de la Fête de Pâques

La Cave d'Auerbach à Leipzig

Chur de buveurs ­ Chanson de Brander ­ Fugue sur le thème de Brander ­ Chanson de Méphistophélès

Bosquets et prairies du bord de l'Elbe

Air de Méphistophélès ­ Chur de gnomes et de sylphes (Songe de Faust) ­ Ballet des sylphes ­ Finale: Chur de soldats; Chur d'étudiants


Tambour et trompettes sonannt la retraite ­ Air de Faust dans la chambre de Marguerite -- Le Roi de Thulé (Chanson gothique) ­ Evocation ­ Menuet des follets ­ Sérénade de Méphistophélès avec chur de follets ­ Duo ­ Trio et Chur


Romance de Marguerite ­ Forêts et cavernes: Invocation de Faust à la nature ­ Récitatif et Chasse ­ La Course à l'abyme: Duo ­ Pandæmonium: Chur de damnés et de démons ­ Le Ciel: Chur d'esprits célestes; Apothéose de Marguerite

For Faust (Tén.), Méphistophélès (Bar. ou Basse; ce rôle est écrit avec des variants pour les deux voix), Brander (Basse), Marguerite (M.-Sopr.); Chur (Sopr. I-II, Tén I-II, Basse I-II), Chur d'enfants (Sopr. I-II); Fl. I-III (P. fl. I-III), Hb. I-II (C. a. I-II), Cl. I-II, Bns I-IV, Cors I-IV, Tromp. I-II, Cornets à pistons I-II, Tromb. I-III, Oph. & Tuba, 2 pr. Timb. (4 Timbaliers), G. c., Tamb., Cymb., Tri., Tam-tam, Cloches, Harpes I-II, Cordes (15-15-10-12-9).

Text by Berlioz, Almire Gandonnière, and Gérard de Nerval, after Goethe.

Composed November 1845­October 1846.

First performed 6 December 1846 (Paris: Opéra-Comique; Gustave Roger, Faust; Hermann-Léon, Méphistophélès; Henri, Brander; Mme Duflot-Maillard, Marguerite; Berlioz, conducting).

Published by S. Richault (Paris, 1854). Dedicated à Franz Liszt.

Duration: about 2½ hours.

La Damnation de Faust probably began to take shape in the summer of 1845 as Berlioz planned his concerts for the 1845­46 season. He was in the habit of refashioning earlier material for concert use--as in the case, for instance, of the overture Le Carnval romain, adapted in 1843 from Benvenuto Cellini of 1838. Thus he at first considered a simple rewriting of the 1829 Huit Scènes de Faust, composed in a flush of excitement at discovering Gérard de Nerval's translation of Goethe's Faust. But Berlioz had grown immeasurably as a composer since the Huit Scènes, and on reflection he saw that they could only serve as the starting point for a new, much larger Faust. In September 1845, accordingly, Berlioz contracted with the librettist Almire Gandonnière to provide the expanded text; simultaneously he decided to set out for Vienna and its outlying cities to conduct concerts of his own music there. Gathering up his notes, sketches, and texts for Faust, he left Paris on 22 October 1845 in the company of his mistress, Marie Recio, for a concert tour that was to last more than seven months.

He worked on Faust during every leg of the journey: by day in stagecoaches, steamboats, and railroad trains; at night in the hotels of Passau, Vienna, Prague, Breslau, and Pest. When he ran out of Gandonnière's text, he fashioned his own, beginning with the Invocation à la nature and its images of forêts and rochers that had captivated him since his wanderings in the mountains of Italy. The chorus of rowdy students, Jam nox stellata, reflects an incident outside his window in the university town of Breslau. In Vienna a Hungarian nobleman, presumably Casimir Bathyány, suggested he orchestrate the Hungarian national march Rákóczy for his forthcoming appearances in Pest--because "the French know how to write revolutionary music." (At the concerts of 15 and 20 February the public, perceiving the bass drum strokes as the cannon fire of revolution against the Austrians, was consumed in a near-riotous frenzy of cheers and foot-stomping.) He completed the work during the late summer of 1846, in part at the chateau in Normandy of the Baron de Montville. The autograph was finished and dated on 19 October 1846.

Producing so massive a work as Faust entailed an enormous personal financial risk. Denied access to the Salle du Conservatoire, Berlioz was forced to take the Opéra-Comique, a hall to which the concert-going public was not accustomed to coming on Sunday afternoons but the only one available that could accommodate the large performing force. He mounted a formidable publicity campaign, placing countless notes in the press on the conception of the work, its composition in Germany, its evocative color. He sent the published libretto to the king and queen and the Duchesse d'Orléans, hoping that royal interest might draw attention to his new work. Meanwhile the rehearsals went slowly, with singers and instrumentalists alike finding the music exceptionally difficult. The premiere was postponed from late November until 6 December 1846.

The performance were apparently brilliant, and there were a few cries of bis! shouted from the audience. But Faust was an utter failure at the box office. At neither the premiere nor the second performance on 20 December 1846 was the house more than half full, and those who did come seemed bewildered by the unusual form and epigrammatic treatment of the story. By then it was clear that Berlioz had incurred a gross financial loss, by far the greatest of his career. The third performance was canceled: too much money had already been lost.

The performers and Baron Taylor of the Association des Artistes-Musiciens, anxious to assuage him, offered a subscription dinner on 29 December 1846 and arranged for the casting of a gold medal commemorating the work. Knowledgeable artists saw that Faust was Berlioz's best composition to date. But there was no erasing the pain of the worst failure he was ever to endure. "Nothing in my career as an artist wounded me more deeply that this unexpected indifference." Berlioz's morale was permanently affected, his urge to compose stifled for years. He was never again to have confidence in the Paris public, and would later risk his own purse again for only one new work, L'Enfance du Christ.

Nevertheless La Damnation de Faust is (alongside Les Troyens, we now understand) Berlioz's most nearly perfect composition. No previous work of his fits together so effortlessly, goes by so quickly, or seems so lean and carefully trimmed. No other Faust, for that matter, so successfully captures Goethe's spirit. Yet La Damnation de Faust can be taken on its own terms: derivative of its sources but not reliant on them; Germanic in tradition but French in musical style, a souvenir of the vagabond years, yet equally the refined product of Romance language, reason, embellishment, and above all sensitivity to paysage and panorama--on the printed page, on canvas, and in the theater. Well before Berlioz's death Jules Pasdeloup (1819-87) began to popularize some of the orchestral excerpts in his mass-market Concerts Populaires from 1861, and Pasdeloup can be credited with the universal popularity of the so-called "Three Pieces from La Damnation de Faust:" the Hungarian March, Ballet of Sylphs, and Minuet of the Will-o'-the-Wisps. Édouard Colonne (1838-1910), whose orchestra concerts began in 1873, premiered a complete, well-rehearsed Damnation de Faust in February1877, repeated it for six consecutive weeks, and before his death had conducted more than 160 performances.

In truth it was not to Goethe that Berlioz was trying to do particular justice, but to the more general concept of Romantic longing. (The Germans would hold anyway--and did--that no Frenchman could possibly succeed with so Teutonic a legend.) In organizational concept, Faust is not so different from Roméo et Juliette: an evenings worth of symphonic music devoted to a single story. As in the dramatic symphonies, there is a series of related tableaux with relatively little connective tissue. From the beginning Berlioz had intended to incorporate in Faust elements of opera. Three of the soloists (Brander, Méphistophélès, and Marguerite) and the chorus were predetermined by the use of the Huit Scènes, anyway. To these Berlioz added solo arias for Faust, a love duet, and the three big scenes at the end of the story. For the orchestra alone there were the march and the two ballets as well as the military music at the beginning of part III. For a time Berlioz considered his work an opéra de concert, but in its finished form Faust had become a symphonic légende dramatique, a panoply of scenes assembled into four distinct parts.

The strong unity that informs Faust comes from recurring motives of orchestration, a pervasive tonality of D major infected with B-flat and above all the most pronounced control of thematic foreshadowing, recall, and transformation that Berlioz ever practiced. The foreshadowing is evident at the very beginning, where the pastoral calm of Fausts reveries is interrupted by presentiments of the ronde des paysans and military fanfares of the Marche hongroise --the latter a full forty pages before the march finally bursts forth. Méphistophélès first appears to a brilliant trombone figure with Freischütz-like exclamation point in the flutes and piccolos, an effect that nearly every observer from Saint-Saëns forward thought one of Berliozs most inspired strokes. (This figure is a gloss on the main melodic gesture of the Chanson dune puce.) It occurs twice more to introduce Méphistophélès, after the "Amen" fugue and at the beginning of the scene in Marguerites room. And Méphistophélès is nearly is nearly always supported by the deep brass, as in the rich trombone underpinning of his aria Voici des roses.

Thematic transformation is practiced on a grander scale as well. Branders tipsy song of a kitchen rat, roasted during its dying delirium, is followed by the drunken "Requiescat in pace, Amen," where the fugue subject is drawn from the song of the rat. Méphistophélèss silly serenade in part III--his "moral song, the better to mislead her"--is foreshadowed in the coda of the will-o-the-wisps sprightly minuet just before. The most sustained essay in thematic transformation is in the scene by the Elbe, which commences with Voici des roses, made up entirely of versions of the melody first fashioned for the chorus of sylphs. The ballet, over a long-heald D pedal, serves as a dissolution.

Though Faust is not one of the works Berlioz terms "architectural," he brings his sense of musical space to bear in a number of the scenes. When the paths of the soldiers and the rowdy university students cross, Berlioz composes a stylized réunion des thèmes, with the soldiers march (in 6/8 and B-flat major) overlapping the students Latin song (in a modal D minor and 2/4). Both texts celebrate women and the glories of seducing them, thus commenting indirectly on Faust and Marguerite. Then, in the exceptional "Ride to the Abyss," Berlioz undertakes another masterly treatment of musical space. As Faust and Méphistophélès tear through the countryside with thundering hooves and an eerie oboe theme, we are presented with a succession of passing scenes: a litany of peasants at devotion by a roadside cross, quite similar to effects in Harold and Cellini, and a Freischütz world of hideous howling beasts, flapping night birds, and dancing skeletons. There is Fausts great cry and plunge into the abyss, to the delighted cries of demons and the damned in their "infernal" language-- Ha! Irimiru Karabrao: Has! Has! and so on, followed immediately by Marguerite's apotheosis in Heaven, with (like the Sanctus of the Requiem and the final tableau of L'Enfance du Christ) high-pitched consonance, slow, simple chord progressions; and hymn-like chorales.

The idea of the language of the damned, incidentally, was first used in the "ancient Nordic" of the Chorus of Shades in the Mélologue; I think it is also a souvenir of the many languages Berlioz had heard around him but failed to understand in the months just preceding.

La Damnation de Faust has nothing to lose, in sum, by comparison with the work of any composer anywhere in Europe during those years. It is conceptually superior to Wagners Tannhduser (1845) and Glinkas Russlan and Ludmilla (1841) and technically more secure than either; it makes Mendelssohns wonderful Elijah (1846) seem a relic of the distant past and makes Verdis Nabucco (1842) and Macbeth (1847) seem longwinded. Its concision and sense of pace, indeed, surpasses that of every single product of the Paris stage for more than a decade. Yet Faust, though not Berliozs last major work, is his last forward-looking one.