Scenen aus Goethes Faust: A performer's analysis. Page: 2
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Composing dramatic music for Goethe's Faust was a particularly challenging endeavor
for Schumann as he was primarily known as a composer of piano music and German lieder.
Faust was a project that he struggled with from 1844-1853 as the story of Faust calls for
theatrical music depicting psychological emotions of various characters in dramatic situations
requiring a multitude of soloists, orchestra and choir. As further evidence of his struggles with
the Faust music, Schumann admitted in a correspondence to Franz Brendel that he was
intimidated by the idea of whether or not to set Goethe's text to music. "What is the point of
writing music to poetry that's so perfect?"'4 In a letter to Mendelssohn, on September 24, 1845 he
wrote "The scene from Faust lies in my desk drawer; I am really anxious to take another look at
it. What gave me the courage to tackle the subject in the first place was the moving, sublime
poetry of the conclusion. I don't know whether I'll ever publish it."5 The text for Scenen aus
Goethes Faust, with the exception of a few modifications (omission of several lines of text and
occasional repetition) comes directly from Goethe's play. Other composers, including Gounod,
adapted the text for their musical settings by hiring a librettist to set the story of Faust.
Schumann's music for Scenen aus Goethes Faust has been criticized for its lack of a
narrative and dramatic continuity as Schumann only set five percent of Goethe's text.6 Ernest
Newman, in his chapter "Faust in Music" from Musical Studies, discussed the difficulty and the
challenges of setting such an expansive subject to music. Newman states:
It can not be said that they have added very much to our comprehension of the drama;...
One of the main difficulties in the way of the musician even supposing him to have
the brain capacity to rise to the psychology of the thing is the enormous range and
wealth of the material of the drama itself.7
Schumann's setting of Goethe's Faust is unique in that he set only certain scenes to music
leaving out vital parts of the Faust legend assuming that his nineteenth century audience was
already familiar with Goethe's famous setting of the story of Faust. Knowledge of the missing
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Paoletti Jr., Karl. Scenen aus Goethes Faust: A performer's analysis., dissertation, August 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc9053/m1/8/: accessed January 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .