Goethe's Melodrama with Music by Carl Eberwein, Orchestral Score, Piano Reduction, and Translation

by Lorraine Byrne Bodley (Volume editor)
©2007 Monographs LII, 188 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 796


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-inresidence in a favourable light was not the only reason why this 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 this 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 works, 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 and it 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.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Editorial Note
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Appendix 1 | Text and Translation
  • Appendix 2 | Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Proserpina


The idea for this score emerged through my writing the first English translation of the discussion of music in Goethe’s letters to the composer, Zelter: Goethe and Zelter: Musical Dialogues (Ashgate, 2008). The volume of letters is a mine of information about musical life in Germany at that time (1797-1832) and contains many references to unfamiliar works by unknown composers, long omitted from the canon of musical works discussed and performed today. While working on this critical translation of Goethe’s letters I familiarized myself with any music discussed in these letters which I did not already know. Searching through Goethe’s private music collection in the Goethe and Schiller Archive in Weimar, I discovered the work of Carl Eberwein, an unknown composer, whose dramatic setting of Goethe’s melodrama, Proserpina, is for solo voice (speaking part) and orchestra, with a choral finale. Struck by the highly dramatic impact of a manuscript which is beautifully orchestrated and notated, I immediately applied for a copy of the score, and showed it to my husband, Seóirse Bodley, who confirmed my immediate impression of the work. Excited by the discovery, I sent a copy of the score to the principal conductor of the RTE Symphony Orchestra, Gerhard Markson, who was immediately interested in performing it. We discussed the project with Brian O’Rourke, Orchestral Manager of National Symphony Orchestra, and the Irish premiere of this work was scheduled for Friday, 30 November 2007 in the National Concert Hall in Dublin, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, the RTE Philharmonic choir, conducted by Gerhard Markson, with the German singer-actress, Elfi Hoppe in the role of Proserpina. I am immensely grateful to Gerhard Markson for the immediate interest he showed in the score, an interest that was pivotal in bringing it to professional performance.

This score has been in preparation for the past year, and I have been helped by many people. From the time I began, my husband, Seóirse Bodley, was prodigal of his assistance, allowing me to tap his extensive knowledge of preparing an orchestral score for performance. He also kindly read the manuscript, score and piano reduction, and suggested many improvements. He has my heartfelt thanks. Dr Dan Farrelly of Carysfort Press graciously put at my disposal his years of experience as a Germanist and extraordinary knowledge of the Goethe period, and I owe much to his generosity and guidance. The manuscript has been read by Dan Farrelly, from whose criticisms I have greatly profited. Professor Nicholas Boyle took time from his busy life to read my work; he also agreed to write the preface and give a lecture in Maynooth on the afternoon of the performance. The interest he expressed in Goethe’s monodrama Proserpina at the conference Goethe: Musical Poet, Musical Catalyst in Maynooth in April 2004 ignited my initial interest in the melodrama. I feel very privileged that he should travel to Ireland during term time to attend the first performance of this score.

In preparing this edition I owe much to the acumen of Michael Casey, music copyist for this score, who patiently deciphered Eberwein’s music from our first, less than adequate, A4 photocopy of the score. For his good-humour, professionalism and generosity with his time I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to Frau Evelyn Liepsch and Frau Wagner at the Goethe and Schiller Archive in Weimar, who not only hunted down the original manuscript for me to work with, but offered to make me an A3 photocopy of the autograph, which proved invaluable. I am also indebted to the Goethe and Schiller Archive for the newly-taken photographs of the original score for this publication.

I am grateful to the National University of Ireland Maynooth, for facilitating my research. The National University of Ireland Publications Scheme made this score possible by awarding me a publication grant. Thanks are due to the President of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Professor John Hughes, for his support and interest in this publication and performance; to Dr Barra Boydell, who warmly welcomed my suggestion of a research seminar on Proserpina in Maynooth on the afternoon of the performance. My chief gratitude must go to my friends, colleagues, and students of the Departments of Music and German – especially Professor Gerard Gillen – for their unfailing encouragement and support, and to Professor Fiona Palmer for her financial and moral support. The German Ambassador, Herr Christian Pauls, and the Director of the Goethe Institute, Herr Rolf Stehle, also have my warm thanks for their financial support of this research project.

I am grateful for the generous encouragement I have received from the Society of Musicology in Ireland: from the President of that Society, Professor Jan Smaczny (Hamilton Harty Professor of Music, Queen’s University Belfast) who immediately agreed to give a guest lecture at the symposium and to support the project. My thanks are due to the inaugural President of the Society, Professor Harry White (Professor of Music, University College Dublin), who, with his usual generosity, agreed to launch this publication.

I have many specific acts of kindness to record from the following: Marie Breen and Dr Paddy Devine (Department of Music, NUIM); Minister Councillor, Clarissa Duvigneau (German Embassy, Dublin); Rolf Stehle and Barbara Ebert (Goethe Institute, Dublin); Cressida Kocienski (Tate Gallery, London); Professor Florian Krobb (Department of German, NUIM); Dr Michael Murphy (Honorary Secretary SMI), and Tina Talukder (Cultural Department, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany).


LII, 188
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. LII, 188pp., 445. b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Lorraine Byrne Bodley (Volume editor)


Title: Proserpina
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236 pages