Sunday, November 15, 2009

Goethe's Afterlife

The Goethezeitportal has recently posted a piece on the illustrations on Liebig meat extract packaging representing scenes from Hector Berlioz' opera The Damnation of Faust. Justus von Liebig (1808-1873) was a German chemist, one of the fathers of organic chemistry. From the 1840s Liebig began to study the relation of organic chemistry to agriculture and physiology, and in 1847 he developed the meat extract. Though the product went on to conquer the world, Liebig did not profit greatly, as he owned only 100 shares of the stock. The first illustrations or "Liebigbilder" appeared on the product in 1875 and are today a major collectible. Of course, Goethe has gone on to be the inspiration for numerous consumer products, even in the English-speaking world.

Series 791, Faust's Damnation, appeared in 1911. The Goethezeitportal offers a nice selection of Liebigbild images as well as information concerning the genesis of Berlioz' work. Berlioz was familiar with Goethe's drama from Gérard de Nerval's translation. By 1828/29 he had written eight scenes, which he sent to Goethe, who in turn sent them to his friend and "musical adviser" Carl Friedrich Zelter. Zelter adamantly rejected the composition, charging that Berlioz was intoxicated by Mephisto's "sulfur odour" (Schwefelgeruch). Berlioz' work was also influenced by Delacroix's illustrations of Faust.

Goethe never responded to Berlioz, who 15 years later took his composition on the road, touring Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Schlesia. According to Goethezeitportal, Berlioz' biggest alteration was the musically brilliantly arranged ride and fall of Faust into hell ("der musikalisch fulminant gestaltete Ritt und Sturz Faustens in die Hölle"). The first scene was set in Hungary, which allowed Berlioz to incorporate the popular Rákóczi March. According to the Wikipedia entry on La damnation de Faust, "The visionary French composer was inspired by a bold translation of Goethe's dramatic poem." Indeed. I look forward to listening to the opera this evening during our Sunday pre-dinner "cocktail hour."

1 comment:

Zentrist said...

"Faust Proves Visually Striking." Title of an article in this morning's Dallas Morning News, the opera review section. Goethe would have loved that some of the seats for the performances at Lincoln Cetner are only 20 bucks. Article by music critic, Scott Cantrell. I very much enjoy this blog!