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date: 21 November 2019

Harmonie der Welt, Die (‘The Harmony of the World’)locked

  • Geoffrey Skelton

Extract

(‘The Harmony of the World’)

Opera in five acts by Paul Hindemith to his own libretto; Munich, Prinzregententheater, 11 August 1957.

Based on the life of the astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) and set against the background of the Thirty Years War, the opera describes in a series of scenes, far apart in time and place, the astronomer’s search for universal harmony, deriving its title from Kepler’s own book, De harmonia mundi. Kepler (baritone) is shown in encounters with the emperors Rudolf II and Ferdinand II (combined role, bass) and the warlord Wallenstein (tenor), for all of whom he worked; and with less powerful figures such as the astrologer Tansur (bass); Hizler, the priest who denied him holy communion (bass); and his sceptical pupil Grüsser (tenor), eventually one of Wallenstein’s assassins. Others playing a significant part in his life are his superstitious mother Katharina (contralto), his second wife Susanna (soprano), and young Susanna, his daughter (soprano). On his deathbed Kepler realizes that his efforts have been in vain: ‘The great harmony is death. To effect it, we must die. In life it has no place’. The opera ends with an extended visionary scene (musically a passacaglia), in which the main characters reappear as the planets they embodied in their life on earth: the emperors (Sun), Kepler (Earth), Wallenstein (Jupiter), Grüsser (Mars), Hizler (Mercury), Tansur (Saturn), Susanna (Venus), Katharina (Moon) and finally the chorus as the Milky Way. They proclaim that the planets are themselves only a part of the sublime order and have no knowledge of its ultimate origin and aim, but Kepler and Susanna, in their humble search for world harmony, ‘dreaming, sensing, believing, praying’, had raised themselves high above the fallible ways of mankind....

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