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Faust Symphony

A Faust Symphony in three character pictures (German:

Eine Faust-Symphonie in drei Charakterbildern), S.108,
or simply the "Faust Symphony", was written by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt and was inspired by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe's drama, Faust. The symphony was
premiered in Weimar on September 5, 1857, for the inauguration of the GoetheSchiller Monument there.


1.2 Gretchen
This slow movement is in the key of A-at major. Following the introduction on the utes and clarinets, we
are given the pure oboe's melody gurated by the viola's
tender decorations, which expresses Gretchens virginal
innocence. A dialogue between clarinet and violins describes her naively plucking the petals of a ower, in a
game of 'he loves me, he loves me not'. She is obsessed
by Faust, and therefore we may hear Fausts themes being introduced progressively into the music, until his and
Gretchens themes form a passionate love duet. This
draws the second movement to a peaceful and short


The rst clue as to the works structure is in Liszts title: A Faust Symphony in Three Character Sketches after Goethe: (1) Faust, (2) Gretchen, (3) Mephistopheles. Liszt does not attempt to tell the story of Goethes
drama. Rather, he creates musical portraits of the three
main protagonists.[1] By doing so, though this symphony
is a multi-movement work and employs a chorus in its
nal moments, Liszt adopts the same aesthetic position
as in his symphonic poems.[2] The work is approximately
seventy-ve minutes in duration.


An alternative interpretation of the Gretchen movement

is that, as Lawrence Kramer writes, What we have been
calling Gretchens music is really Fausts.[3] The entire
Gretchen movement could be seen as representing her
from the perspective of Faust. Consequently, the listener really learns more about Faust than about Gretchen.
In Goethes drama, she is a complex heroine. In Liszts
symphony, she is innocent and one-dimensionala simplication that could arguably exist exclusively in Fausts
imagination. The listener becomes aware of this masquerade when the Gretchen mask Faust is wearing slips
with the appearance of the Faustian themes in bars 44
through 51 and bar 111 to the end of the movement.[4]


This large-scale movement (usually lasting around 30

minutes) is a very loose sonata-form with a short central development and a protracted recapitulation. One
might say that this movement represents the very synthesis of the whole symphony, since many of its themes and
motives appear throughout the score in various guises, a
process of thematic transformation which Liszt mastered
to the highest level during his Weimar years. The basic
key of the symphony (C minor) is already rather blurred
by the opening theme made up of augmented triads and
containing all twelve notes of the chromatic scale consecutively (this is the rst published use of a twelve-tone
row, other than a simple chromatic scale, in any music).
This theme evokes the gloomy Faust, a dreamer, in everlasting search for truth and knowledge. Next follows the
so-called 'Nostalgia' theme introduced by the oboe. At
the end of a slow crescendo, there appears a violent Allegro agitato ed appassionato theme, depicting Fausts insatiable appetite for the pleasures of life this theme establishes a gingery C minor threatened with collapse under
the weight of highly chromatic elements. A melody of the
oboe and clarinet represents the heros 'painful delights.
The last theme is pentatonic and resolute. From all these
elements Liszt weaves a musical structure of power and
grandeur, in which some critics recognise the composers

1.3 Mephistopheles
Some critics suggest that, like Gretchen, Mephistopheles
can be seen as an abstractionin this case, one of the destructive aspects of Fausts character, with Faust mocking
his humanity by taking on Mephistopheles character.[4]
Regardless of which interpretation a listener chooses,
since Mephistopheles, Satan, the Spirit of Negation, is not
capable of creating his own themes, he takes all of Fausts
themes from the rst movement and mutilates them into
ironic and diabolical distortions. Here Liszts mastery of
thematic metamorphosis shows itself in its full power
therefore we may understand this movement as a modied recapitulation of the rst one. The music is pushed to
the very verge of atonality by use of high chromaticism,
rhythmic leaps and fantastic scherzo-like sections. A
modied version of Fausts second and third themes then
creates an infernal fugue. Mephistopheles is, however,

powerless when faced with Gretchens innocence, so her

theme remains intact. It even pushes the Spirit of Negation away towards the end of the work.


Text of the revised ending

It is here that the two versions of the Faust Symphony

merit dierent interpretations. Liszts original version of
1854 ended with a last eeting reference to Gretchen and
an optimistic peroration in C major, based on the most
majestic of themes from the opening movement. Some
critics suggest this conclusion remains within the persona
of Faust and his imagination.[4] When Liszt rethought the
piece three years later, he added a 'chorus mysticus, tranquil and positive. The male chorus sings the words from
Goethes Faust:
The tenor soloist then rises above the murmur of the
chorus and starts to sing the last two lines of the text,
emphasizing the power of salvation through the eternal
feminine. The symphony ends in a glorious blaze of
the choir and orchestra, backed up by sustained chords
on the organ. With this direct association to the nal
scene of Goethes drama we escape Fausts imaginings
and hear another voice commenting on his striving and


becomes more varied, more complete, richer,

more communicative ... (than Manfred) ...
Fausts personality scatters and dissipates itself; he takes no action, lets himself be driven,
hesitates, experiments, loses his way, considers, bargains, and is interested in his own little
happiness. Manfred could certainly not have
thought of putting up with the bad company
of Mephistopheles, and if he had loved Marguerite he would have been able to kill her, but
never abandon her in a cowardly manner like

Despite Liszts apparent antipathy toward the character

of Faust, his residency in Weimar surrounded him with
Goethe and the Faust legend at practically every turn.
He had barely served out his rst year as Kapellmeister
when Grand Duke Carl Alexander decreed that the city
would celebrate the centennial of Goethes birth on August 28, 1849. During this celebration Liszt conducted,
among other things, excerpts from Robert Schumann's
Scenes from Goethes Faust for orchestra and choir. After the centennial remembrance, he helped in the creation of a Goethe Foundation; this culminated in the
2 Instrumentation
publication of Liszts brochure De la Fondation-Goethe
Weimar. In the summer of 1850 Grard de Nerval himThe work is scored for an orchestral complement of self stayed as Liszts guest. There was much talk about
piccolo, two utes, two oboes, two clarinets, two Faust and the topic would spill over into their subsequent
bassoons, four French horns, three trumpets, three correspondence[7]
trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, organ, harp,
The performance of Berliozs La Damnation de Faust
and strings. A tenor soloist and male TTB choir are also
in 1852, conducted by the composer, encouraged Liszt
further, though he still hesitated, writing Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein, Anything having to do
with Goethe is dangerous for me to handle. However,
3 Overview
the nal catalyst for the symphony came in a two-month
period between August and October 1854. This period coincided with a visit to Weimar by English novelist
3.1 Composition
Mary Ann (Marian) Evans, better known by her pen name
Hector Berlioz, who wrote his own version of Faust and George Eliot. Her consort George Henry Lewes was gathbecame the eventual dedicatee of Liszts Faust Sym- ering information for his biography of Goethe. During
phony, introduced Liszt to Goethes Faust in the 1830s visits to Liszts residence, the Altenburg, Lewes and Eliot
through the French translation of Grard de Nerval. Al- had several discussions with both him and Princess Carthough sketches exist from the 1840s, he was hesitant olyne about Goethe and his place in German literature.
about composing this work. He commented wryly to one Once Liszt began writing, it was all-consuming; the work
correspondent, The worst Jesuit is dearer to me than the was produced in a white heat of inspiration.
whole of your Goethe.[6] In an 1869 letter, Liszt makes The symphony was revised three years after it was coma revealing comparison between Faust and Manfred:
pleted. Additional parts for heavy brass were added, as
was a Chorus Mysticus to the nale; in the latter, words
In my youth I passionately admired Manfrom Faust Part II are sung by a male chorus and a tenor
fred and valued him much more than Faust,
soloist to music from the middle movement. Other miwho, between you and me, in spite of his marnor changes were made but much of the original score
vellous prestige in poetry, seemed to me a deremained unchanged.[8] In 1880, Liszt added some ten
bars to the second movement.[9]
cidedly bourgeois character. For that reason he


Performance history

After its premire under Liszts baton in 1857, the symphony (in its revised version with nal chorus and tenor
solo) received a second performance under Hans von
Blow in 1861, the year the score was published. Richard
Wagner witnessed the performance in Weimar: Blow,
who had been chosen to conduct Liszts Faust Symphony,
seemed to me the wildest of all. His activity was extraordinary. He had learned the entire score by heart, and gave
us an unusually precise, intelligent, and spirited performance with an orchestra composed of anything but the
pick of German players.[10] In later years von Blow was
highly critical of the work: I have given that nonsense a
thorough going-over! It was indescribably painful. Its
sheer rubbish, absolute non-music! I don't know which
was greater, my horror or my disgust! Suce it to say
that to cleanse my palate I picked up Ivan the Terrible
[by Anton Rubinstein] - it seemed like pure Brahms, by
comparison! No, Faust is an aberration: let us drop the
subject once and for all.[11] Thereafter, apart from one or
two sporadic performances, the symphony was neglected
for roughly 50 years. Lack of interest was so great that
the orchestral parts were not published until 1874. Felix
Weingartner became the works rst modern interpreter
(giving a performance with the Berlin Staatskapelle in
1892)[12] but he stood practically alone in his advocacy
of the score until modern times, when Thomas Beecham
and Leonard Bernstein, among others, began championing the piece.[13]



Liszt transcribed the complete score for two pianos,

and the middle movement alone (Gretchen) for solo
piano.[14] The transcription of 'Gretchen' was recorded by
Leslie Howard as part of his set of complete recordings
of Liszts solo piano music.
Following Liszts tradition of transcribing orchestral
works such as Beethoven's nine symphonies, the Hungarian pianist Ervin Nyiregyhzi transcribed the Faust Symphony for solo piano, which he performed at a recital in
Novato, California on April 30, 1978.[15] More recently,
part of August Stradal's solo piano arrangement of the
Faust Symphony has been recorded.[16]


[1] Walker, New Grove 2, 14:7723.
[2] MacDonald, 18:429.
[3] Kramer, 108, 115.
[4] Shulstad, 217.

[5] Shulstad, 219.

[6] Quoted in Searle, Orchestral, 304.
[7] Walker, Weimar, 327.
[8] Walker, Weimar, 328.
[9] Searle, New Grove, 11:434.
[10] Wagner, Richard (1911). My Life, Vol II. (Mein Leben).
New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 788.
[11] Birkin 2011, p. 358, citing Hans Von Blow: Briefe und
Schriften, Vol. VII.
[12] Birkin 2011, p. 358n.
[13] Walker, Weimar, 3356.
[14] See IMSLP e.g.
[15] Performance on Youtube
[16] OCLC 829395697

Birkin, Kenneth (2011). Hans Von Blow: A Life
for Music. Cambridge University Press. p. 358.
ISBN 9781107005860.
Kramer, Lawrence, Liszt, Goethe and the Discourse of Gender, Music as Cultural Practice,
18001900 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1990).
MacDonald, Hugh, Symphonic poem in Sadie,
Stanley, The New Grove Dictionary of Music
and Musicians, First Edition (London: Macmillan,
1980). ISBN 0-333-23111-2
Shulstad, Reeves, Liszts symphonic poems and
symphonies in Hamilton, Kenneth, The Cambridge
Companion to Liszt (Cambridge and New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2005). ISBN 0-52164462-3 (paperback).
Walker, Alan, Liszt, Franz in Sadie, Stanley, The
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (London: Macmillan, 2001). ISBN 0333-60800-3
Walker, Alan, Franz Liszt: The Weimar Years,
18481861, copyright 1989, Cornell U. Press edition of 1993, ISBN 0-8014-9721-3 pp. 326336,
esp. pp. 3267 and 335, and page 319 as well with
the original 1854 version, in 7/8 time of the Allegro agitato main sonata theme of the rst movement,
later changed to common time in the revision.)
Warner Classics, Warner Music UK Ltd., from the
'Apex Titles Collection', disc number 2564 614602, concept by Matthew Cosgrove

External links
Faust Symphony (Orchestral score and parts,
S.108), (Solo piano version of Gretchen, S.513),
(Two piano version, S.647), (Piano duet arrangement by Stade), (Piano solo arrangement by
Stradal): Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
Eine Faust-Symphonie, Leipzig 1918: Digitale Bibliothek Mnchener Digitalisierungszentrum.


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