composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt was a great admirer of the
poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the 1780s he started to
set some of his poems to music and in 1793 he put together the
first of a planned series of six volumes with music on texts
by Goethe, part of which was the 'Singspiel' Erwin und Elmire.
This piece was already set to music by Johann André and had
considerable success in Berlin in 1775. At the time it was a
piece in one act. In 1787 Goethe had been in Italy, and had
reworked several of his texts, among which Erwin und Elmire,
which was extended into a two act play.
was the son of a lutenist, and played the lute himself, as well
as the violin and the keyboard, and he also acted as a singer.
From 1771 he travelled extensively, meeting prominent representatives
of the cultural life in Germany: composers like Franz Benda,
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, J.A.P. Schulz, Hiller and Naumann
and poets like Klopstock, Ramler and Lessing. Around 1780 he
established friendships with Klopstock, Herder and Moses Mendelssohn,
and his home in Berlin became a meeting-place for artists and
intellectuals. In 1783 he founded the Concert Spirituel in Berlin,
during which his own music was performed, together with works
by Handel and Haydn.
1775 he became Kapellmeister of the Royal Opera in Berlin, where
from 1786, under Friedrich Wilhelm II, he got the opportunity
to perform his own dramatic works. In 1791 he was given a three
year 'sabbatical' which he used to travel to France. When he
came back he published his impressions, showing a pretty strong
sympathy for the French revolution. This led to his dismissal
as Kapellmeister of the opera, and also troubled his relationship
with Goethe. The next years he lived in his country estate of
Giebichenstein, where the Grimm brothers, Schleiermacher, Schlegel
and Novalis were his regular guests.
political differences between Goethe and Reichardt didn't undermine
their artistic cooperation, though. For Goethe the perspective
of his texts to be set to music by a composer of Reichardt's
standing was too tempting. It was in 1793 that Reichardt finished
his composition of Erwin und Elmire. But it took a long time
before this work was performed in staged form. As far as we
know only two concert performances took place in Berlin in 1793,
and these were positively received by the audience.
story of Erwin und Elmire is simple: Elmire deeply regrets that
she and her friend Erwin have drifted apart due to her moods.
The couple Valerio and Rosa are comforting her, but soon Rosa
finds Valerio's enthusiasm a little suspicious. As a result
the same thing happens to her which has happened to Elmire before:
her friend leaves her.
the second act Valerio meets Erwin, who has taken the place
of an old and wise hermit. When the two girls are also coming
to the hermit to seek his advice the two friends decide to play
a trick on them in order to examine what their true feelings
for them are. In the end both couples are happily reunited.
may seem a little predictable, and Goethe’s story doesn't move
very quickly and isn't overly dramatic. It has a lot of poetic
quality, though, and the characterisation of the protagonists
is rather good. What makes this Singspiel really well worth
hearing is the music by Reichardt.
acts are divided into recitatives, accompagnati and arias as
well as some duets and terzets, but they are 'through-composed':
all sections merge into each other without interruption, which
strongly enhances the pace of the story.
1794 a critic wrote that it needed "a genius of Reichardt's
standing to set the great poet's verses so fittingly to music
without becoming flat or boring in the lengthy recitatives."
Another writer told a friend that "every aria breathed the most profound
expression, every tone love or sublime feeling or romantic enthusiasm."
can only agree with this statement. The music by Reichardt is
very good: colourful, dramatic or tender when needed. One of
the dramatic highlights is Rosa's aria "Nein! Nein! Nein,
nein, ich glaube nicht" which is a kind of rage aria, with
strong dynamic contrasts in the orchestra.
is also Erwin's aria at the beginning of the second act: "Ihr
verblühet süsse Rosen" (You wither, sweet roses) which
is introduced by 2 horns, 2 bassoons, low strings and fortepiano.
Erwin then sings a song accompanied by the fortepiano. So what
we see here is a mixture of aria and 'Klavierlied', which is
a quite original concept. Another highlight is the meeting between
Elmire and the 'hermit' (Erwin), when she acknowledges her guilt
in the 'Lied' "Sieh mich, Heil'ger wie ich bin" (Look
at me, holy man, as I am), in which she is accompanied by strings
playing pizzicato, and after a short and strong accompagnato
by Elmire Erwin bursts into jubilation: "Sie liebt mich"
(She loves me).
performance does full justice to the score: all singers are
very well suited to their respective roles. In the early stages
of the play Rosa seems a little naive, which Johanna Stojkovic
doesn’t fully match, but later on she does very well in portraying
playing of the orchestra leaves nothing to be desired. In particular
in a piece like this the use of period instruments seems to
be a requisite for a convincing performance, bringing the right
amount of intimacy and warmth to this romantic story.
is a first-class performance and can be strongly recommended
as an ideal way to get acquainted to this musical genre.
Johan van Veen