The Plague Of Darkness
A Lyric Poem (Singgedicht) in one act by ERNST VON WOLZOGEN.
Music by RICHARD STRAUSS.
The new Opera of the highly gifted young Bavarian composer was
represented for the first time in Dresden on November 21st 1901.
This absolutely original composition was received with acclamation, and
it deserves it. The musical part is so difficult, that it can only be
performed on a few very first rate stages, and it wants many hearings
to take in all its charm of instrumentation and its eminently modern
harmonies and intervals.
The text is very witty and very clever, and quite worthy of the music.
The story is taken from an old Dutch legend of rather free conception.
The scene is laid in Munich; it takes place at the summer solstice in
the far away middle-ages, or, as the author calls it "fabulous no-time."
The title has a double meaning as the explanation of the plot will show.
A band of merry children wanders from house to house, singing and
demanding wood for the bonfires of the summer solstice. After having
got a plentiful supply at the burgomaster's house, they cross over to
the opposite house, an old decayed building, called the Wizard's house.
Its inmate at first takes no notice of the children's noisy summons; at
last he appears at the door.
He, Kunrad, is a young dreamer, who has forgotten the outside world
over his books and studies. But the merry songs wake him suddenly to
life and sunshine. He gives up his whole house to the uproarious band,
beginning himself to tear down the battered shutters. The children set
to work to carry off every piece of wood, that is not too firmly
riveted, and Kunrad helps them full of glee.
Suddenly he perceives, Diemuth, the burgomaster's lovely daughter. His
hitherto perfectly untouched heart catches fire, and all at once he
steps up to her, presses her to his heart and kissing her he
passionately explains: "I will leap through the fire; wilt thou leap
Diemuth, who has all the time been gazing at the stranger like one in a
trance wakes up and turns from him with a cry of shame and indignation.
Kunrad is now attacked on all sides for his impertinence and Diemuth,
turning to her maiden friends, who secretly envy her for the adoration,
the noble stranger has shown her, whispers into their ears, that
she will revenge herself for the disgrace he has brought upon her.
While the evening is setting in the citizens begin to wander out of
town to see the bonfires.
The burgomaster is obliged to walk away alone, after having vainly
tried to persuade his daughter to accompany him.
Diemuth steps into the house, and soon appears on the balcony, combing
her heir. Kunrad standing at his battered house-door renews his
protestations of love and begs her in passionate terms to let him in.
At first she refuses tartly but by and by she seems to relent, and
pointing to the large basket in which the wood had been let down to the
children she invites him to get into it and says that she will draw him
up.--Kunrad complies with her wish.
While she slowly winds the basket up her three companions peep round
the corner and perceive with delight, that Diemuth's trick is
successful, and that the bird is caught. The tercet of the maidens is
one of the loveliest pieces of music ever written.
Before the basket reaches the balcony, Diemuth pretends that her
strength is failing. At his entreaties she loosens and lets down her
long hair, but when he tries to grasp it she jerks it back with a cry
of pain and rates him harshly.--At last he perceives, that she has been
fooling him all the time. He is helplessly caught in the trap and the
returning citizens seeing him hanging between heaven and earth
deride him, congratulating Diemuth on having caught such a fine bird.
Then Kunrad rises in a towering rage. Loudly invoking the help of his
friend and master, the mighty sorcerer, he suddenly plunges the whole
town into utter darkness. When the good citizens of Munich find
themselves deprived of fire and light, they break out into loud
lamentation; the frightened children wail and the head officials of the
town vow to hang Kunrad for his insolence and his witchcraft.
At this moment the moon shining through the clouds throws her light
upon Kunrad, who has swung himself on to the balcony, and smiling down
upon the people he pronounces a powerful oration upon their
He reminds them, that the owner of his house, whom they drove out of
the town, Richard Wagner was one of the greatest masters the world had
ever seen and who would have brought them fame and greatness, if they
had not rejected him. He, Kunrad (Richard Strauss) claims to be his
successor, who is to carry on the great work nothing daunted, and in
spite of all the small minds of the world.
For his helpmate he has chosen Diemuth, but she too has failed to
understand, that love is higher than even virtue and morality, and for
this reason he has extinguished their lights and fire, to show them,
that all light comes, from love, and that without love the world is
dark and cold.
As soon as he has ended, Diemuth softly opens her door and draws Kunrad
in. The citizens, convinced by his burning words begin to praise him
and acknowledge his high courage and good words. Meanwhile the windows
of Diemuth's chamber begin to gleam faintly; Diemuth and Kunrad have
fulfilled the law of love and all at once, the flames of the bonfires
leap up and the windows and streets are again aglow with the light,
that is given back to the city.
Next: Hoffmann's Tales