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date: 22 November 2019

Einem, Gottfried von (opera)locked

  • Erik Levi


(b Berne, Jan 24, 1918; d Oberndürnbach, July 12, 1996).Austrian composer . He was educated in Germany and England and in 1938 became a coach at the Berlin Staatsoper and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. From 1941 to 1943, he studied composition privately with Blacher. In the following year, the success of his first stage work, the ballet Prinzessin Turandot, secured him the post of resident composer and music adviser to the Dresden Staatsoper. After World War II he worked as a music administrator for the Salzburg Festival and from 1960 to 1964 he held a similar position at the Vienna Festival. He taught at the Musikhochschule in Vienna from 1963 to 1972.

Von Einem’s reputation was established after the war when his opera Dantons Tod received its première at the Salzburg Festival (1947). Unusually for a contemporary opera, the work was praised unanimously by both critics and public and it has remained one of his most durable compositions. Its success can be explained on several levels. The opera’s passionate sense of historical commitment struck an immediate resonance in a world that was just beginning to recover from the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. In addition Blacher’s brilliant libretto, which condenses Büchner’s drama from its original 32 scenes to just six, emerges as a compelling theatrical experience in its own right. While the musical language is hardly innovatory and individual phrases might momentarily suggest the influences of Strauss, Stravinsky, Weill or Blacher, these disparate elements seem to be fully absorbed into an individual style that has sufficient rhythmic and harmonic flexibility to encompass the vast range of emotions demanded by the text. Following Büchner’s designation of the work as a revolutionary drama, the composer gives a particularly prominent role to the chorus; the virtuoso writing for them in the Tribunal Scene (Part 2 scene ii) represents the musical and dramatic high point of the score. Apart from a few recurring motifs, such as the five powerful brass chords which open and close the opera, there is little evidence of formal thematic development. Although an aura of expressionism surrounds the score, especially in its scenes of violence and in its portrayal of Lucile’s madness the opera is fundamentally dissimilar to Berg’s ...

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Musical Quarterly
Österreichische Musikzeitschrift