About this Recording
8.223627-28 - PFITZNER: Herz (Das)
English 

Peter P

Peter P. Pachl

 

Das Herz as Operatic Material

 

In 1826 Wilhelm Hauff wrote a moral fairy-story, based on original primitive motifs,

a myth. The hero of Hauff's story, the poor but good-natured young charcoal-burner Peter Munk, exchanges his warm heart for a cold and turns into a usurer and murderer. Since he has, however, three wishes, in the end he manages to change again the cold heart for his own warm heart. Fir-cones change into pieces of gold, as Peter reaches the understanding that money and possessions cannot make up for a warm heart. A German fairy-story indeed. This subject was set to music for the stage by, among others, Mark Lothar, Heinrich Sutermeister, Norbert Schultze, Klaus Hofmann and Volker David Kirchner. Hans Pfitzner's opera Das Herz borrows only certain elements of Hauff's story. Here the heart is not exchanged for a stone, but remains shut in a chest, while the former owner lives a full year. No longer is the individual the master of his own heart, but it is in the possession of a doctor, himself in the power of the demon Asmodi. To save a life he must take another life, a modern interpretation. Pfitzner understands the word heart in the romantic sense of soul in his last opera, and one thinks instinctively of his Eichendorff Cantata, Von deutscher Seele, which could equally well bear the title Aus deutschem Herzen.

 

The principal character, drawn by Pfitzner as a restless Semitic figure, the Jewish doctor, Daniel Athanasius, is, nevertheless, unexpectedly German, in his urgent quest for the stars, as in his impiety, his failure and his final resistance.

 

Today only excerpts of the opera are heard occasionally in broadcasts. At the time of the first heart-transplants the work, with a libretto by Pfitzner's pupil Hans Mahner-Mons (the nom-de-plume of Hans Possendorf), might arouse new interest, but obviously directors have balked on the one hand at staging a work that has not completely lost the odour of a forerunner of the Third Reich and on the other at a confrontation with the Pfitznerians, who have the reputation of being even more conservative than the object of their veneration.

 

What, then, is a starting-point for today?

As a man of the theatre, stage-director and conductor, Pfitzner always allowed himself intervention in the work of other masters -slight changes, transpositions and newly composed passages. These offences of his own against original works he excused as helpful arrangements that should serve to create a greater dramatic effect from the edited work. That, however, should be the intention of all other stage-directors and conductors, who allow themselves similar intervention in original works. Obviously there is a contradiction between the purist's original work and actual performance. They lead a stage-director or conductor, satisfied in a measure with the original work, into a conflict, which consequently ends, inevitably, in that schizophrenia which means that the legislator may always do what is forbidden to others. This is clearly seen in the case of Pfitzner himself. Since this schizophrenia to my knowledge is found only in German-speaking countries, it is possibly specifically a "German" problem.

 

If now there is to be a staging of Pfitzner's Das Herz in Rudolstadt, for many this may be a stroke of luck, but for many also a scandal in regard to the original. This is in contrast to the secondary product, the work as now staged, and this, not for the first time, affects our understanding of the primary element, the original work itself.

 

Eckart Kroplin

 

Comments on the Opera

A heart is transplanted, a man has a new life -an everyday medical event, and yet no patient has yet in the long run survived this surgical intervention. Modern genetic research creates genetic vegetables, genetic mice, and we must ask when we may have a genetically engineered human being. The manipulation of human genes could naturally remove the frontiers between life and death. A fascinating prospect? If genetic research becomes one of the available resources of power political interests, it can lead to unthinkable consequences, to the final destruction of humanity.

 

The fairy-story Das Herz first performed in Berlin and Munich in 1931, dealing with supernatural demonic life and the remarkable and ambiguous death of the miracle-doctor Daniel Athanasius (there is also a clear parallel with the old Faust legend) gives rise to perplexing associations with problems of modern life and the anxieties of our own time.

 

Athanasius can, through a satanic pact, bring men from death to life, and he accomplishes this unheard of deed by means of a heart-transplant. Thereby, however, he walks consciously into the trap of power political manipulation, which can lead to incalculable, dehumanising consequences. He refuses in the end seductive advancement from the repetition of his action and meets a wretched end, that seems to him, nevertheless, a liberating release.

 

Unusually vivid and colourful, as well as dark and harsh, at times grotesque and yet nostalgic, the music of this work is replete with romantic beauty. A thematic and symphonic method of working, following the example of Richard Wagner and a strict attention to form is evident. The old-fashioned Pfitzner appears, with his opera Das Herz, entirely original and without comparison in the history of opera of our century. Pfitzner sought an artistic position between the avant-garde, the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg, and traditionalism, like the later work of Richard Strauss. Many of his compositions border on atonality, but fundamentally they do not belie their orientation in the romantic music of the nineteenth century.

 

Yet there are also so many obvious spiritual and thematic links with other representative artistic phenomena of that period - with the Frau ohne Schatten of Richard Strauss (1919), Ferruccio Busoni's Doktor Faust (1925), Sergey Prokofiev's Fiery Angel (1928), Paul Hindemith's Cardillac (1926) and Mathis der Maler (1938), and also Alban Berg's Lulu (1935) or even Schoenberg's Moses und Aron (1932). A key literary work of our century, Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faust, shows similarly surprising analogies, and there may be reference too to the incredible and abundant fascination that the demonic theme of world destruction exercised in the silent films of the twenties; Nosferatu, Golem or Metropolis and characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein or Dr. Mabuse may be cited as examples, which then, as today, excited people.

 

Not to be ignored in these artistic signs of the time are resonances of the forebodings and anxieties that marked the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of Fascism, fears too of the misuse of art, science and ideology, before the sell-out to a super-power hostile to the spirit of humanity; there are also, however, very considerable parallels with the social events of today.

The political position of Pfitzner remains controversial. His rejection of modern art and music, specifically of Busoni, his backward-looking nationalism, his not ungrounded mistrust of the democracy of the Weimar Republic, placed him unwittingly in the field of influence of National Socialist ideology. Yet his musical work remains stamped with sincere, deeply felt humanity, with purity of artistic purpose and the inexorable search for truth.

 

Eckart Kroplin

 

History of the Names

The names chosen for the principal characters - Asmodi, Daniel Athanasius and Helge - have informative Old Testament or mythological sources. The clarification of these can deepen insight into the operatic fate of these protagonists.

Asmodi: In the Old Testament (Tobit 3, 8) there appears a wicked spirit, called Asmodius, who according to other traditions in the Talmud is seen generally as the prince of demons. In Christendom he became a devil; his followers condemned to death: Thou shalt not meddle in sooth-saying nor sorcery. Thou shalt not turn to necromancers and astrologers and shalt not question them. If a man or a woman can conjure spirits or interpret signs, they shall die the death (Leviticus 3, 19, 26 & 31, and 20, 27). These and similar texts are also in the Preface to the Christian Reader in the popular publication that appeared in 1587, The History of D. Johann Faust, and are cited as a warning and deterrent. Actually Asmodius is descended from old Persian Zoroastrian religious teaching (7th century B.C.), where he is called Eschma-Dewa. Europe in the Middle Ages took him as a demon in its magic conception of the world. His special talent was the ability to make himself invisible to men and to reveal hidden treasure.

 

Athanasius: (that is "the one who brings about immortality") is, among other things, the name of a Greek Church Father (Bishop of Alexandria in the 4th century), to whom, for example, the introduction of monasticism is attributed, and of a Patriarch of Constantinople (at the turn of the 14th century), who set the seal on the final schism of the Eastern Church from Rome.

 

Daniel: (that is "God is my judge") appears in the Old Testament as a wise man of early times. He lived, according to tradition, as a Jewish slave at the court of Nebuchadnezzar and of his son Belshazzar and worked there as an interpreter of dreams, as one who could reveal secrets (Daniel 2, 47) and who had the spirit of God (Daniel 5, 11). In one of his dreams a fearful vision appeared before the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar; his human heart shall be taken from him and he will be given the heart of a beast (Daniel 4, 13). Daniel interpreted this dream, as later he did a dream of Belshazzar; then he interpreted the famous words "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin" -"Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting" (Daniel 5, 25-27). Finally there is Daniel, unhurt in the lions' den, who, in a notable vision, warned how a human heart was given to a lion (Daniel 7, 4).

 

Helge: The name Helge comes from Helga (old Nordic: "the horned one") or from Helgi (characters in the North German heroic saga, the Edda, who appear as liberators of the oppressed).

 

In Pfitzner's opera the monastic, ascetic Daniel, living only for his magic knowledge and his sinister science stands in a region between demonic seduction of power through Asmodi and love in the arms of Helge, with redemption through death. The mythical world of an Asmodi, of a Daniel and of a Helge are finally incompatible, and the opera cannot and will not bring them together; the gap between biblical and heathen, demonic and godly, inhumanity and humanity, is too wide.

 

Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich

 

Hans Pfitzner

 

In a number of respects Hans Pfitzner is a highly problematic figure in the history of modern German music. He felt himself to be a "difficult" artist and was so perceived by the public of his own time. Born in 1869 in Moscow, the son of a violinist, he was brought up in Germany and remained throughout his life overshadowed by Richard Strauss, his elder by five years. This stroke of fate always gave him trouble and he felt himself constantly under comparison with his successful contemporary.

 

Pfitzner was no late developer. He wrote his first music-drama, Der Arme Heinrich, at the age of twenty-two, with a text by Hartmann von der Aue, a mystery of wilful suffering and redemption, full of music of sombre resignation, typical altogether of the successors of Wagner, yet fundamentally very personal. This was a far cry from Strauss, with his roots in the Empire. In 1893 Pfitzner had the opportunity to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of his own compositions. From this time onwards, at least, he was counted among the ranks of prominent German composers.

 

The reputation of Strauss, however, did nothing to help spread Pfitzner's name. He appeared rather as the preceptor of a fanatical sectarian following. While Strauss won an international public, Pfitzner collected a sworn band about him, who held in respect his aesthetic and musical-political opinions and continued to do so even after the death of the composer, until very recent times.

 

From 1908 onwards Hans Pfitzner was Music Director, Head of Opera and Director of the Conservatory in Strasburg. The outcome of the world war put an end to this activity. Already in 1917 Pfitzner's pamphlet against Ferruccio Busoni had appeared, The Danger of Futurism. There followed the pamphlet A New Aesthetic of Musical Impotence, a settlement of accounts with the clever and perceptive writer Paul Bekker, in which antisemitic undertones are present. With the attempts of composers like Hindemith, Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Pfitzner saw himself belittled in reputation in the fashion-conscious Berlin of the 1920s, where he certainly always could have co-existed as a respected musical figure. The wise creator, detached from the world, as he imaginatively portrayed himself in his Palestrina, was by no means a true picture.

 

His followers realised his envy of colleagues, not directed towards Strauss, against whom he could find no objection. It was disastrous that Pfitzner in speech and polemic came very near to the popular national custodians of culture and worked straight into their hands. With nationalism, the cult of the irrational, aesthetic anti-intellectualism, and such expressions, Pfitzner found himself in full agreement with the Nazis and their struggle against so-called Cultural Bolshevism.

 

When in 1934 Pfitzner gave up his composition master-course at the Munich Academy, to undertake no further public service, he was in no way politically motivated. As conductor, opera-director and pianist, chiefly in his own works, he occupied a position of undisputed cultural prominence. Nevertheless those years brought no more militantly nationalistic statements, perhaps since those in power too seemed coolly disposed towards him. For a true representative of the Third Reich Pfitzner appeared all too feeble; his artistic pessimism was not stirring or heroic and the love of death in the unperformed choral fantasy of 1929, Das dunkle Reich (The Dark Kingdom) sounded too passive and meditative to thrill the common soldier with urges to suicidal attempts at world-conquest, a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack.

 

Pfitzner died in Salzburg in May 1949, shortly after his eightieth birthday. He was buried with due honour in Vienna.

 

Synopsis

Act l

The doctor Daniel Athanasius is said to have magic powers. He is in fact in possession of secret knowledge that can be put into practice if he makes a pact with the demon Asmodi. Athanasius hesitates for a long time to apply his miraculous medical knowledge, until he is called to cure the young heir to the throne, Prince Tancred, who is in danger of death. A young woman, Helge von Laudenheim, persuades him to this. Through magic spells he calls up the spirit Asmodi. The object of the pact is the heart of a living person, which is to remain for one year at the disposal of Athanasius. He implants this in the dead Prince Tancred and brings him back to life. As a reward he is raised to the nobility, with Helge von Laudenheim as his wife.

 

Act II

There is a celebration at the house of Athanasius on the anniversary of the Prince's recovery. It is also on that day that the pact must be completed. Asmodi demands the heart back. The Prince dies. Athanasius is accused of witchcraft and arrested.

 

Act III

Athanasius is threatened with a painful death. Nevertheless the Duke is ready to forget everything, if Athanasius will bring Tancred back again from the dead. The doctor, however, refuses a second pact, which means yet again the death of an innocent. Helge appears. Athanasius dies.

 

CD1

Act l

 

[1] There is a brief orchestral introduction, before the curtain rises.

 

[2] Scene 1. The scene is the study of Doctor Athanasius. There is a door in the middle, leading to the entrance-hall. A second door, on the left, leads to a side- room. Athanasius and his assistant Gwendolin are busy with an examination of a blood sample. A young cavalier, exhausted after the bleeding, is seated uneasily in an arm-chair. The young man asks anxiously for the diagnosis, and Athanasius urges patience. He laments his noble blood, which the doctor remarks has burned all too hot. He is, though, a man, and must know the truth. The doctor asks him why he has not come before: it is too late. The young man jumps up: he will pay the doctor any sum. Athanasius tells him that he could have been saved, so God help him, had he come in time: now, however, he is beyond cure. The young man brutally reproaches Athanasius, who has mentioned the name of God: it is well known that the doctor has occult powers. Gwendolin interrupts, bidding him be quiet, but Athanasius says the young man may believe what he will. The latter begs for help, but Athanasius cannot cure him by the means permitted him. Help me then by forbidden means, the young man cries, call on the Devil. Athanasius, however, claims no truck with the Devil: he serves God alone and will do nothing against God: this is his last word: the young man has brought his own misfortune on himself, now he must suffer, as God has ordained. The cavalier now swears that the whole country shall hear that Athanasius is a sorcerer, a blasphemer, a bungler, a charlatan, a wretch, to be condemned by God. In desperation he goes out. Athanasius, deeply disturbed and pondering, sinks into an arm-chair.

 

[3] Scene 2. Gwendolin approaches Athanasius, urging him to pay no heed: his reputation as a healer is beyond doubt. Athanasius tells her that what has been said is not all lies. To her incredulity, he tells her that he has occult knowledge, revealed to him by priests in Egypt: he knows the spirits of Hell, their names, their works and how they are to be served. Gwendolin's horrified interruption is silenced, as he continues: there is no need for fear, for he has never called on a demon or made a pact: he serves only God, whose command limits what he can do for his patients. Gwendolin pities his dilemma and asks if he has never been tempted. He is human, and has felt temptation, with power that he cannot use: he could create riches, do wonders, have the wealth of the world at his feet, a demi-god, but what is he now? Gwendolin assures him: he is a virtuous man, while for the other course he would sacrifice his soul. Athanasius declares that the Devil himself seeks souls and holds them fast to eternity, but lesser spirits demand less: Amazeroth, after the death of a follower, holds souls imprisoned in burning Hell: Paymon transforms his victim into something loathsome, while others visit their adepts with madness and plague. Is this a lower price, Gwendolin asks? Yes, Athanasius tells her, for after many hundred years penance there is forgiveness: another demon he knows who exacts nothing from his followers, neither body nor soul. What then must be offered him? Only the heart of another man. So he, Gwendolin exclaims, is the most wicked of all. His name is Asmodi: his sign -he will show her, but Gwendolin does not want to see. Athanasius, however, tells her not to be afraid: the sign alone is not enough to summon the demon: for this there are magic formulae, incense and spells. He takes a piece of chalk and as quickly as lightning makes the sign of Asmodi on the dark wall. At once there is knocking at the door, and Athanasius quickly wipes away the sign. Gwendolin is alarmed, but he assures her that this will be another patient. So late, she asks?

 

[4] Scene 3. Gwendolin opens the door. There stands the Counsellor Asmus Modiger, who seeks pardon for coming so late. He introduces himself as a counsellor at the ducal court, his name Asmus Modiger. Athanasius hears at once the similarity to the name of his demon. His visitor asks the identity of the young assistant, and is reassured. The doctor bids Asmus Modiger be seated and asks how he may be of service. With many compliments, the counsellor tells him that the young Prince Tancred is mortally ill, his doctors powerless and his parents in despair: it is not the Duke nor the Duchess who has sent him, but a lady at court, noble but impoverished, Helge von Laudenheim, who knows the doctor. Athanasius has no recollection of the name. She, however, knows the doctor, whom she claims is the only one who can save the Prince. Athanasius still cannot remember the name. Asmus Modiger assures him that he would not forget her, if he saw her, such is her beauty that, old as he is, he would have her. Athanasius interrupts him, reminding him of his errand. Asmus Modiger, however, must first report his impression of the doctor to the Duke. Athanasius impatiently asks if he needs, then, recommendations from important gentlemen, from dignitaries and princes, but the counsellor is satisfied, and bids him prepare, before taking his own departure.

 

[5] Scene 4. A strange man, Gwendolin remarks, but Athanasius sees in him nothing more than an old chatterer. Gwendolin has her own doubts and finds unsuitable his reference to Helge von Laudenheim. Athanasius, however, is excited at the commission he has received, since now a good star seems to shine on him, if he may help to heal the Prince. The door-bell is heard and Athanasius at first tells Gwendolin not to open but then tells her to bid any patient come back in the morning. Gwendolin hurries out and returns to announce the arrival of Helge von Laudenheim, sent by the Duchess. Helge comes in, followed by Gwendolin, who closes the door and herself goes into the side-room. Helge shyly asks if Athanasius recognises her. Only your name, Athanasius answers, a name he has already heard from the counsellor. She explains that the Duchess sent her directly to him before the counsellor's return: the young Prince lies dying, his soul leaving his body, unless... Athanasius calls for his instruments, a box of laudanum and other medicines. Meanwhile he shows Helge to a chair and sits down, prepared to talk, and asks if he owes his recommendation to her. Helge owes him much, since he saved the life of her mother: eight years earlier she first saw him, at Laudenheim. Her mother lay ill, hardly able to draw breath, and Helge herself, her beloved daughter, was only a child: she hurried out to seek help, and then heard of a doctor staying at the inn: at night she went to him: does Athanasius not remember her now? Athanasius assents. Helge continues her story: she took Athanasius to her mother and he woke her, gave her a draught to drink and left her to sleep sweetly until the morning: when she awoke she was no longer ill. Helge had been full of gratitude, but had come too late to thank the doctor, who had already left for France: she never forgot his name, and now she can thank him with her whole heart, and, in tears, expresses her gratitude for the cure of her mother, who is still alive. Kneeling before him, she seeks to kiss his hands, but Athanasius urges her to desist and hurry back to the palace: he will come as quickly as he can.

 

[6] Scene 5. As she goes, in some confusion, Athanasius calls to Gwendolin, who appears at the door, assuring him that all is prepared. Seeking his stick and hat, he calls for help in his task from all the angels - or all the devils. As they hurry out, the curtain falls.

 

Second Tableau

 

[7] Scene 6. The scene is a room in the Duke's castle. At the back, to the right, is the main entrance, with a second entrance to the left. Prince Tancred lies dying in a splendid bed. The Duke stands by, while the Duchess is kneeling by the bed.

 

Two ladies-in-waiting are present. The Duchess sees that her son still breathes, and must not die: she calls Tancred's name, but the Duke tells her they must be strong. She interrupts, for God could not be so cruel, but her husband begs her not to look so at their son. They watch, with increasing horror, the death of Tancred. Helge hurries in, bringing news of the doctor's approach. The Duke collects himself and bids two candles be set by the bed to light the soul of the Prince on its dark journey. He closes his son's eyes, lamenting such an untimely death. Helge returns with candles and sets them by the bed, leaving the door open. A servant ushers in Athanasius and Gwendolin and Helge draws the attention of the Duke to their arrival. The latter tells them that they have come too late, unless they can do magic: the Prince is beyond the help of doctors. Athanasius is about to go, but is prevented by the Duchess, who assures him that he is not too late, since there must still be a spark of life in the boy: she begs him cure her only child, kneeling in supplication. The-Duke tells her to desist, since the boy is dead, but Athanasius announces that he will live. For the Duke this is blasphemy, but Athanasius insists. Helge and the Duchess urge him to cure the boy, Athanasius continues to express confidence, while the Duke declares his words madness. Athanasius tells them to leave him alone with the sick Prince. The Duke leads his wife out, telling Athanasius to do what he can, by righteous means. Athanasius asks Helge to bring fire and a censer, necessary for the cure.

 

[8] Scene 7. Gwendolin has examined the Prince and declares him dead. Athanasius knows: he had realised that at his first arrival. He draws a key from his pocket and tells Gwendolin to take it and open the great chest that has always remained closed: she must bring him the wooden silver-ornamented coffer therein as quickly as possible. Gwendolin reminds him of the threats of the Duke, but Athanasius tells her that the coffer holds an elixir, hitherto unused, but now needed. Gwendolin hurries out to do as she has been bidden. Athanasius, greatly excited, throws himself into a chair: now he must become a sinner and cross those bounds that have held him back: to hesitate would be cowardly, now he is near the brink. Helge returns, bringing what he needs, flint, tinder and censer, and as she makes to go, he begs her to stay. She does not want to stay, for what kind of art can bring back the dead? The Duke is a hard man and she is anxious for Athanasius. He urges her to trust him, since it was her trust that had helped him cure her mother: now he needs the same trust. She finds his obvious tenderness towards her shocking, particularly in this place and on this occasion.

 

[9] Scene 8. Athanasius stays behind, seized with a wild determination. Gwendolin returns with a metal-mounted black coffer under her arm. She asks if this is the one Athanasius had wanted, so like a coffin. He assures her that it is the right one and tells her to open it, which she tries in vain to do, for she can find no opening: the coffer seems to be a solid block of wood. Athanasius takes it from her and, kneeling down, strikes it, pronouncing mysterious magic words five times, at the last of which the coffer springs open, to Gwendolin's amazement. From the coffer Athanasius takes a porcelain box and the censer. Now he takes hemlock, nightshade, spermaceti, myrrh, asafoetida, the ground bones of a black goat, and then the last, his secret, its name not to be spoken. Now the mixture must be heated. Gwendolin is alarmed and wants to leave him, but Athanasius needs help. While she tends the censer, Athanasius takes from the coffer a round black stick, painted with white mystical signs, then a black scapula and head-covering, a thick book and a black carpet. On the carpet is a great white circle, with mystical signs. Gwendolin shudders at what she realises is black magic and refuses further help. Athanasius will not let her leave and wafts the smoke in her direction, and she stays, too weak to go. Athanasius quickly unrolls the carpet, dons the cap, puts on the scapula and places the censer in the background. Then, on the wall, he makes the sign of Asmodi and stands in the middle of the carpet. He tells Gwendolin to kneel before him and she drags herself towards him, compelled by the book he holds in his hands. He tells her to hold the book and be silent, then summons the great spirit. He takes hold of the wand at both ends and holds it above his head, calling on Asmodi, Prince of Hell, mighty Demon, to appear. He pronounces the magic spell and the spirit seems to free itself from its fetters. Athanasius calls on Asmodi a second time, again pronouncing the magic syllables. In the smoke from the censer there appears a gigantic and terrible face. A third time Athanasius calls on Asmodi, and the face takes more definite shape. The voice of Asmodi is heard, the same voice as that of the counsellor Asmus Modiger, asking who calls him, after two hundred years, a worm of earth daring to summon him. Athanasius greets the great spirit of Asmodi, his face now and through the scene turned away from his sight. He asks Asmodi not for gold or treasure, not for sensual pleasures, titles or honours, but for the power to heal the sick, to cure the incurable and to bring back to life those who have died. Asmodi asks if he knows the price. Athanasius tells him that he has heard that Asmodi does not take the souls of his disciples, as Satan and the other lords of Hell. Asmodi assents: he takes nothing from his disciples themselves, but demands a human heart, not of his disciple's father, mother or friend, not of one he loves, only a human heart, however slight or unknown. Athanasius asks what will become of the heart and Asmodi tells him that he must keep it secretly for a whole year, after which Asmodi will again appear and take it: then Athanasius must offer Asmodi a new human heart, or his power will come to an end. After a short struggle with himself, Athanasius agrees, but asks how he can take this heart. Asmodi explains that men's hearts are set free in sleep and crowd into the kingdom of dreams: he will lead Athanasius into this realm of dreams, where, from the dancing crowd, Athanasius must seize one and keep it in the shrine that he alone can open: the choice must now be made. After a final struggle Athanasius agrees. The demon disappears and Athanasius casts the cap and scapula from him.

 

[10] Scene 9. Voices are heard, singing of pleasures and pains. Athanasius throws down his wand and wonders at the mysterious dream-like sounds of these voices: he must not hesitate. Gwendolin continues trying to restrain him from this wickedness, for any heart is a human heart. The voices are heard again, singing of a wonderful city, golden towers and silver bridges shining in the light of evening, while others sing of fearful deserts, in the burning sun. Athanasius will not listen to Gwendolin's objections, as she tries to hold him back, but Athanasius breaks free and, as the dream-hearts flee, seizes one in both hands. The voice of one is heard singing woe.

 

[11] Scene 10. Athanasius stares at the heart in his hands: now it has come to pass, as Gwendolin too well knows. In terrible haste he wraps the heart in a black cloth and puts it, with all the other instruments of his magic, into the coffer, which he shuts violently. Gwendolin tells Athanasius that he has now given himself into the power of the demon for ever, her poor master. Athanasius bids Asmodi stand by him, as the room grows lighter. He blows out the funeral candles and approaches the Prince: my little Prince, wake from your sleep! The boy opens his eyes, sits up and speaks, asking who this strange man is and calling for his mother. Athanasius reassures him: he is a doctor, now he must go to his mother. He raises the child, dressed in a white shirt, from the bed, sets him on his feet, takes him by the hand and walks with him. Gwendolin runs to the door, opens it and cries out that the Prince lives: everyone must come. The Duke and Duchess hurry in, followed by their courtiers. The Duchess, overjoyed, embraces her child, while the assembly is amazed. She calls for Helge, but is told that she is resting, tired by her watching. The Duke expresses his gratitude and apologizes for his doubts and his intention of punishing the doctor with death. Helge joins them, while the Duke bids everyone join them, to see that the heir to the dukedom lives: he must now pay homage to the doctor, but Athanasius begs to be left alone for a while. At a sign from the Duke, those present disperse, except for Helge, who remains kneeling, unnoticed by the others.

 

[12] Scene 11. Helge looks up and sees Athanasius, and seeks to approach him,

begging his pardon for her wicked, sinful words: now she addresses him as a wonderful man that she will always follow. He stretches his arms out to her and bids her stay by him. Helge throws herself on her knees before him and offers herself to him as his servant, his own to the end of her life. They embrace passionately, as the curtain falls.

 

CD2

Act II

 

[1] Prelude

 

[2] Scene 1. The scene is set in the gardens of the house of Athanasius. To the right, in the background, part of the house can be seen, with glass doors, through which an elegant salon is visible. In front of the house is a terrace, with steps leading down into the garden. To the left is a great tree. In the middle is a moonlit lawn and fish-pond. The Duke and Duchess, their courtiers, Athanasius, Helge, the counsellor and Gwendolin are all dressed as Greek gods and goddesses. The older men, like Athanasius, wear voluminous cloaks. The curtain rises to reveal Helge standing under the great tree to the left, with two ladies-in-waiting. All three are dressed as Greek goddesses. Opposite them, to the right, stand the Duke and Duchess, dressed as Jupiter and Juno. The rest of the courtiers are a little distance away. Helge and the two ladies-in-waiting sing in honour of the ducal pair, praising Jupiter and Juno and offering gifts. The first lady gives the Duke a laurel-wreath of gold, with which she crowns him, the gift of Minerva. The second lady offers the Duke a sword, a gift from the huntress and warrior Diana. To the Duchess Helge offers a bouquet of roses, made of rubies and emeralds, the gift of Venus. The three then repeat their song in their honour. The Duke and Duchess, and the courtiers, applaud, congratulating the three on their song and their gifts and thanking them, while the Duchess praises Helge as truly the goddess of beauty. Venus. The Duke calls for an apple, which a servant quickly brings, but then declares himself no Paris to make a judgement. The counsellor asks if the task should be his, to the amusement of the bystanders, but the Duke tells him he more closely resembles Pluto, the god of the underworld. The Duchess turns to Athanasius, suggesting that he gives his wife Helge the apple, but the Duke rejects the idea of such a partial judge, to general agreement. The Duchess then proposes Gwendolin. a suggestion that meets with the courtiers, approval: Gwendolin must give the apple to the most beautiful, and this she does, kneeling before Helge. The latter, however, has forgotten what Venus must do with the apple, and the Duke turns and asks Athanasius for his opinion. Athanasius tells him that mythology has nothing to say on the subject, and Helge, making the best choice, bites the apple, to the amusement of everyone. The counsellor Asmus Modiger, however, maliciously likens Venus to Eve, now united in one woman, and tells her to let her Adam taste of it. Helge, displeased, throws the apple from her. The Duke urges the company, gods of Olympus, dazzled by the beauty of Venus, not to forget Aesculapius. More seriously he addresses Count Athanasius, reminding him that this first visit to his house celebrates the miracle of a year before, when the Prince had been cured, something for which he remains eternally grateful: now there must be games and dancing on this summer night. First, however, Athanasius seeks leave to refresh his guests with nectar and ambrosia. The company begin to make their way indoors, mounting the steps to the terrace, leaving Athanasius alone in the garden.

 

[3] Scene 2. Athanasius stands alone under the tree, regretting what he has done and Helge's pure innocence. Gwendolin appears on the terrace, calling him. Athanasius answers, and she tells him that the Duke asks for him. He reminds her that a year has now passed and this night must bring accomplishment of his pact. Gwendolin asks where the coffer, with its human heart, is hidden, and he tells her that it lies in this very place, buried at the foot of the tree. What then will happen, when the spirit appears that night, she asks. Athanasius, despairing, says it cannot be, for he knows spells to send Asmodi back to his own kingdom. Gwendolin seeks to know whether her master will defy him and refuse him the heart, but Athanasius sees now no way to avoid the course he has chosen. Gwendolin presses him to refuse to give Asmodi the heart: whoever owns the heart, be he never so mean and poor, still has those who love him. Athanasius bids her not torture him more: how can he withstand this demon? Gwendolin sees the Countess Helge approaching.

 

[4] Scene 3. Helge appears on the terrace. Athanasius tells Gwendolin to go quickly in and tell the Duke and Duchess that he is coming. Helge asks him why he fails the banquet, and he tells her that if he fail her not, then all is well. She tries to cheer him, singing and dancing, remarking on his earlier happiness, which he claims was feigned. He declares her pure heart happy in its innocence, as Love itself, but man is granted no such purity: secret guilt oppresses them, over them and in them are demons. Helge innocently comforts him, for the kingdom of grace is always near, but he can only exclaim on her sweetness of heart, her purity and innocence, things for which he longs. They embrace and then sit side by side on a garden bench.

 

[5] Scene 4. Unseen by them, the counsellor has come into the garden and stands now before them, declaring Athanasius, the god Aesculapius, a fine host. Athanasius and Helge are unpleasantly surprised. Asmus Modiger jokes that Athanasius has left his Olympian guests at the table and now, like a satyr in the bushes, is in tender embrace with Venus. Athanasius remarks that the counsellor has missed him, but Asmus Modiger replies that it is not he but rather Jupiter that misses him and now sends for him the third time. Athanasius thanks him for his message and makes to escort Helge into the house. The counsellor, however, detains him, with a word for him alone, something for which he has long sought an opportunity. Athanasius addresses him as counsellor, but Asmus Modiger replies that now he is the god Pluto, the mighty lord of the kingdom of shadows, who seeks for a short while the company of the gods of the upper world and the joys of love. Athanasius bids him return to his shadows, better suited to earthly than heavenly happiness. The counsellor reminds him that Venus was not made for him alone: if he is mean with his pleasures, then he will lead him down that very night into the kingdom of the dead. Athanasius has enough of this clumsy joking, but the counsellor is in earnest: for a long time he has burned with desire for Helge von Laudenheim and it was he who first told Athanasius of her beauty: he would have married her, but Athanasius stole her from him: now he seeks one night with her at his side. Athanasius reaches for his sword, threatening payment in blood for this insult. The counsellor answers that it is Athanasius who must pay, for he overheard what was done that night a year ago, how he had cured the Prince through cursed, devilish power and sorcery: if Athanasius gives him his wife for one night, he will be silent: if not, he will accuse him of witchcraft. Athanasius draws his sword from its scabbard and holds it to the counsellor's breast, bidding him be silent. Asmus Modiger pushes aside the sword with his hand, telling him to strike, while Athanasius stands powerless before him: but they call for him, witch Athanasius! He hurries back into the house.

 

[6] Scene 5. There is thunder and lightning, as the spirit draws near. Athanasius tries, by his magic spells, to prevent his appearance, in the name of Gabriel, by the holy name of Emmanuel, by Jehovah. As he invokes the powers of good, Asmodi becomes gradually visible, bidding Athanasius leave his spells, since he cannot be thwarted: he has come for the heart promised him. Athanasius falls down in terror, as Asmodi continues to demand the heart. In fear he says he cannot give it, for the heart lies buried deep. Asmodi will help him fetch it, and, to the sound of thunder, the earth beneath the tree opens, revealing the coffer, the lid of which springs open. Now Athanasius must give him the heart he has promised, but he refuses, telling the demon to take it himself, if he can. Asmodi demands the heart: hesitation for a moment will bring death. Helge appears on the terrace staring in horror at Athanasius, and crying out to her Daniel, as he takes the heart and gives it to the cursed demon, Asmodi. Helge falls lifeless, and Athanasius turns and rushes towards her, and throwing himself on her body. Asmodi, in triumph, declares the heart, seized in the kingdom of dreams, to have been Helge's heart, the heart of his wife. Athanasius cries out aloud in anguish, as the demon disappears.

 

[7] Scene 6. Gwendolin appears on the terrace, peers into the garden and rushes to Athanasius, calling his name. She sees him with the body of Helge and returns to the room, calling for help. The Duke and Duchess and their courtiers come out onto the terrace and into the garden, soon realising that Helge is dead. The Duchess kneels by her side, calling her name. They are joined by Asmus Modiger, who announces that all must know, the great, wise doctor, Count Athanasius, works black magic in company with the devil: he is a sorcerer and a cursed witch: if anyone doubts it, let them see the tools of witchcraft. Going to the coffer, he reveals the magic paraphernalia, the magic wand, the scapula, painted with magic signs, the black carpet with its magic circle, and the book of black magic. Servants hurry in, announcing the illness of the young Prince, to the horror of the Duchess. A third servant enters with the news that the Prince is dead. All are horrified, but Asmus Modiger has his point to make: now everyone can see how the Prince was cured through the power of the Devil, who granted the witch a year of life, now completed. The Duke orders Athanasius to be seized and, to general tumult, armed servants do his bidding, as the curtain falls.

 

Act III

 

[8] Introduction

 

[9] Scene 1. The scene is set in a tower-room with rounded walls and serving as a prison. At the back is an iron-bound door, to which steps lead up: to the right a simple bed, on the wall a large crucifix. There is a barred window at shoulder- height: to the left, in the foreground, a small secret door. Athanasius lies on the bed, his face buried in his hands. At the foot of the bed sits Gwendolin, her head sunk. She asks if the verdict is due that day. Athanasius laments that Gwendolin too will suffer punishment, paying with her life for her silence before the judges. Gwendolin tells him that it would have been disloyal and cowardly to lay blame on her master: does a child revile his father? Athanasius is not only her master but a father to an orphan: as she has lived with him, so she will die with him. Athanasius perceives the depth of his guilt. From outside is heard the murmuring of the crowd. Gwendolin goes to the window and reports that the judge has come into the square, the people crowding round him: he comes towards the tower: the verdict has been given. Athanasius fears that condemnation of Gwendolin will be on his head: she has been his good angel, sent to him by God to lead him in the right path, but not recognised. Gwendolin hears steps approaching: their hour has come.

 

[10] Scene 2. The prosecutor, followed by two armed guards, comes in and stands by the door. He announces the verdict: Athanasius has been found guilty by his own confession of making a pact with the Devil and of sorcery: for this wickedness he has been condemned to the harshest torture and death by burning: he must make ready to die, for the pyre will soon be prepared. Turning to Gwendolin, he tells her that it has not been proved that she freely or actively took part in this Devil's work: she is now free and may go. She begs to be allowed to stay with her master and the prosecutor has no objection to this. She embraces Athanasius, promising to implore God for his safety, as long as she lives, for him and the heart of his wife. Athanasius tells her that her pleading, hopes and prayers will be in vain, his own repentance useless, his atonement and suffering: pain, torture and death are all useless: the demon never lets go his prey, the purest heart that ever beat on earth.

 

[11] Scene 3. The Duke comes into the room through the secret door: he sees Gwendolin and stops short, asking her what she does there. Gwendolin says she has leave to stay, but the Duke interrupts her, telling her to be gone, before he has the guards throw her out. Gwendolin tells her master to hope and be strong, since some day they will see each other again. Athanasius denies this, telling her that she will go to eternal joy and happiness, but he to eternal torment. Gwendolin goes out, and Athanasius sits on the bed. The Duke says that Athanasius does not know him, confused by the fear of death, not understanding that his Prince stands there, ready to save him. Athanasius remains motionless, as the Duke continues. He asks if he does not trust his goodness: does he not realise that he has been favoured with imprisonment in this tower-room rather than in an underground dungeon: it was the Duke who asked for this act of mercy. Athanasius still does not move. The Duke tells him he comes as his saviour, the judge persuaded to follow his plan. Athanasius must retract at once everything that he was mad enough to confess. The counsellor Asmus Modiger will be accused of slander and be sentenced to a long term of imprisonment and then secretly sent abroad, with Athanasius acquitted. The latter seeks to know the meaning of such undeserved mercy. With forceful passion the Duke tells him that he must restore to life the heir to the throne. Athanasius assures the Duke that his power is at an end, but the latter goes on to declare that Athanasius has a pact with the Devil, the bargain with the heart that he had confessed: it is in his power to offer a second heart. Athanasius tells him that he is out of his senses, but the Duke goes on, suggesting that each year another heart may be offered: often a general or prince must sacrifice many thousand men for the good of the country: giving life to the Prince would cost no more than forty or fifty subjects. Athanasius answers that the young Prince has gone to blessed rest, but the poor hearts in the clutches of Asmodi are damned for all eternity. The Duke asks if he does not fear death in the flames, but to Athanasius the fiercer the flames, the better. The Duke threatens a cruel death, with flames burning slowly, but Athanasius wants nothing better than that. This is not all: there will be long torture, but for Athanasius the worst torments will be too mild. The Duke accuses him of being obsessed, since no agony and suffering to death will save Helge's lost heart, but Athanasius, if he cannot save her heart, will at least make expiation. Is Athanasius then as hard as stone, has he no compassion? Does he not consider the poor Duchess? The Duke, his prince, humbles himself and bends his knee like a beggar before him, but Athanasius asks if then from compassion he should offer another human heart. The Duke springs to his feet, now he sees that Athanasius is obdurate, refusing his master for the last time, and condemns him as a witch, a devil, to suffer the harshest pains of death that a man can. Beside himself with rage, he leaves the room.

 

[12] Scene 4. Athanasius sinks down before the crucifix: so be it, my Redeemer, let my body burn, plunged in torture and blood, grant me the harshest end, let me do penance for ever: only redeem, save the heart of my sweet wife. Two executioners enter, the door closing behind them. They tell him his hour has come and that no prayer can save him. Athanasius rises and goes with firm steps to the executioners, declaring himself ready. They are surprised at his courage, his knees not shaking: they bind his hands and lead him to the door.

 

[13] Scene 5. Suddenly the door springs open, while the room is in darkness. In the doorway stands the spirit of Helge, white and translucent, like an astral body. The executioners fall back, powerless, and Athanasius goes down on his knees. He addresses the apparition, Helge, his dear wife: where is her heart? The spirit tells him that her heart suffers unspeakable torments in the clutches of Asmodi and her body wanders restless between earth and heaven, homeless for all eternity: yet he must not be troubled, but live anew: what lies before him, all the pains of Hell will not give back to her poor body her heart: he must save himself: she has come to open the door of his prison: now he must save himself, before it is too late. Athanasius refuses this chance, pledged to suffer a thousand times the agony of her heart and body: he will not flee. At this moment Helge's heart is seen, shining, in her translucent body, and voices announce the victory: God has granted an end to her suffering and given her back her heart, while blessed voices sing of happiness beyond words. She stretches both hands out to Athanasius, who approaches her, his hands outstretched. As their fingers touch, the apparition disappears and all is in darkness. Now the walls of the chamber become translucent, and the figures of Athanasius and Helge are seen, wandering together into the distance. The light behind the walls fades, and it is clearer in the room. The body of Athanasius lies motionless between the two executioners, who stagger to their feet, wondering what has happened. They bid Athanasius stand and try to pull him to his feet. The prosecutor bursts in, asking the fellows why they delay. One of them tells him that the man is dead. The curtain slowly falls.

 

(English version by Keith Anderson)

 


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