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Author(s):Melhorn, Catharine Rose
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Felix Mendelssohn's Opus 60, Die erste Walpurgisnacht, is a cantata approximately forty minutes' long for soloists, mixed chorus, and orchestra, with a ballad text by Goethe. Although not well known or often performed today, it warrants this full study of its intrinsic merit, former popularity, and central place in the development of nineteenth-century cantata repertory.
Long fascinated with the Walpurgisnacht legend, Goethe wrote the poem in 1799 as a ballad-libretto. Some thirty years later it especially appealed to Mendelssohn who had grown personally and artistically close to the aging poet. The ballad's essential conflict between old and new beliefs challenged the composer later known as the "Romantic Classicist."
A survey of early volumes of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung shows the existence and nature of secular cantatas in the several decades prior to Walpurgisnacht. Mendelssohn drew upon this tradition and other traditions--solo, operatic, symphonic--to forge this prototype of a somewhat more clearly defined concert cantata genre which helped meet the growing demand of the new "Gesangvereine" for concert and festival repertory.
Musically, Die erste Walpurgisnacht possesses a striking unity of form and effect without sentimentality. For several decades after its 1843 premiere, the cantata enjoyed extensive popularity in Germany, England, and the United States, as documented from contemporary sources. It seemed particularly to fit the socio-political mood of mid-century Germany. Moreover, Mendelssohn's work influenced numerous later cantatas--by Gade, Schumann, Bruch, Brahms, and others--during the next half-century, although most lack its enduring vitality. But by 1900, suffering the general fate both of the genre and of much of Mendelssohn's oeuvre, Die erste Walpurgisnacht fell into virtual oblivion, overshadowed by the Wagnerian aesthetic, limited by its unsuitability in the standardized concert format and by its unfamiliar mythology.
To study the characteristics, context, and fortunes of Die erste Walpurgisnacht is to contribute to the rediscovery of a piece fully worth reviving. (Appendix A lists seventy-three nineteenth-century concert cantatas after 1843; Appendix B recounts the author's own Walpurgisnacht performance in November, 1982.)
Issue Date:1983
Description:240 p.
Thesis (D.M.A.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1983.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8409999
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-16
Date Deposited:1983

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