Proserpina: Goethe’s Melodrama with Music by Carl Eberwein

Carysfort Press, 2007
Listen to audio sample

Edited orchestral score, with Lorraine Byrne Bodley’s piano reduction, translation of Goethe’s melodrama and scholarly preface, and full set of orchestral parts

In his early twenties Goethe wrote Proserpina for the Weimar court singer Corona Schröter to perform. His interest in presenting Weimar’s first professional singer-in-residence in a favourable light was not the only reason why his monologue with music (now lost) by Seckendorff is important. Goethe’s memories of his sister Cornelia, who had recently died in childbirth, were in fact the real catalyst: through the work Goethe could level accusations against his parents about Cornelia’s marriage, of which he had not approved. Goethe used the melodramatic form to transform private and cultural issues for women of the time into public discourses and so to manipulate public opinion. His work reveals an astute understanding of musical melodrama and the important impact it had on the cultural dynamics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Whatever the source of inspiration, it is clear that Goethe was very preoccupied with Proserpina. When he returned to this melodrama forty years later he collaborated closely with Carl Eberwein, the court, theatre, and church music director, who composed a new setting which accords with Goethe’s clear understanding of musical declamation in 19th century melodrama. In the intensive collaboration which took place while the production was being prepared in January 1815, Goethe was already anticipating the idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk. He paid close attention to every aspect of the production, especially to its music and its staging. When discussing contemporary settings of the poet’s work, scholars often lapse into regret that Goethe did not have someone of comparable rank at his side for musical collaborations. Yet Eberwein’s willingness to go along with Goethe’s wishes was an advantage here: the selfless striving of the young composer to satisfy the poet’s intentions is everywhere apparent in the score which is the nearest thing we have to ‘a composition by Goethe’.

Despite critics’ positive reception of the first performance on 4 February 1815, the work has never been published before. Musically and dramatically this unknown melodrama is a superb work for solo voice, choir and orchestra, and deserves to be brought before the public today.

“Within the past seven years, the relationship between musicology and German studies in Ireland has notably burgeoned. Conferences, proceedings, symposia, scholarly editions, doctoral dissertations and monographs devoted to this relationship now abound, where once there was only the isolated publication to attest to Ireland’s participation in that enduring discourse between music and letters that elsewhere has characteristically defined the reception history of German musical thought. In this agreeably altered state of affairs, Lorraine Byrne Bodley’s work has been decisive. Her scholarly enterprises in this regard have been immense, both as to the symposia on Goethe and Schubert which she has organized and the edited volumes which have resulted from these initiatives. Suffice it to say that the prominent part played by such scholars as Nicholas Boyle and Susan Youens in this book gives some notion of its significance and scholarly acumen. […]

This book is an editio princeps of Goethe’s melodrama Proserpina, with music by Goethe’s much younger contemporary, the Weimar composer Carl Eberwein (1786-1868). […] This handsome edition, graced by a fine reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s eponymous painting (1874), contains a thoughtful and witty preface by Nicholas Boyle, which is followed by Lorraine Byrne Bodley’s extensive introduction, an essay which places Goethe’s melodrama in context. This exceptionally informative account of the cultural history of the Proserpina myth situates Goethe’s melodrama across a notably wide span of time (from Ovid, as it were, to Eavan Boland). The orchestral score, in which Goethe’s text is accompanied by a parallel English translation (also by Byrne Bodley), a piano reduction of the score, and a sequence of illustrations and appendices (including photographs of the fair copy of Eberwein’s score, now preserved in the Goethe and Schiller archive in Weimar), make up the remainder of this pellucid and extremely well-produced volume. The music typesetting and textual alignments are exemplary.”

Professor Harry White
UCD School of Music

Germanistik in Ireland (2008)

Bodley’s edition was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra and RTE Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Gerhard Markson on 30 November 2007 in the National Concert Hall, toured by the Thüringer Symphoniker in Germany conducted by Oliver Weder (June 2010). The most recent performances were given by the Munich Symphony Orchestra, 16 October, 18 and 20 December 2016, conducted by Kevin Edusai with Salome Kammer as Proserpina. For orchestral parts contact Lorraine Byrne Bodley.


View all books