Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (cymbals, triangle), harp, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 17, 1930, Karl Krueger conducting
Faust was a pervasive presence in the Romantic world of such composers as Berlioz, Gounod, and, above all, Franz Liszt. This enigmatic musician, whose long life saw him evolve from a hugely gifted piano virtuoso and a legendary lover to the restrained and reclusive Abbé Liszt, was clearly obsessed with the legend of the artist who sold his soul only to regret the transaction. Liszt was especially fascinated by the merchant of souls, Mephistopheles, and his power to enchant. After relinquishing his career as a touring performer and settling in Weimar to concentrate on composition and conducting, Liszt composed his first (of four) Mephisto Waltz. In its original incarnation, bearing the title The Dance in the Village Inn, the music was the second of a pair of orchestral works representing “Two Episodes” drawn from a Hungarian version of Faust (by Nikolaus Lenau [1802-1850], whose poetic words also served to inspire one of the first Strauss tone poems, Don Juan).
Max Harrison provides this concise summary of the events depicted so vividly in Liszt’s music: “Faust and Mephistopheles enter a country tavern where peasants are dancing. Mephistopheles takes a violin and intoxicates everybody with his playing. Two by two they slip out into the woods and, in Lenau’s phrase, ‘sink in the ocean of their lust.’ Some of the music is truly demonic, but when the orgy has spent itself the stars are still shining and a nightingale sings.”
Dennis Bade is the Philharmonic’s Associate Director of Publications.