The Evangelimann

In two acts.

With Text and Music by WILHELM KIENZL.

The author has learnt a great deal since the days, in which he composed

Urvasi. His music has become more original and more independant of

great models. The new opera, while not so poetical is eminently

touching and true; the text, founded on fact, runs smoothly and is

cleverly done, the verses being well adapted to the music. Like

Verga's Cavalleria the subject is such as to be impressive even without


It is necessary to explain the title of this opera, which signifies a

man who goes about reciting biblical verse after the fashion of street

singers. This means of earning a livelihood is unknown in Germany, but

forms a speciality in Austria.

The music of the first act puts one in mind of the Meistersingers; as a

whole it is very captivating, fresh and drastic, especially during the

nine-pin scene. The orchestra predominates, but there are truly poetic

airs, which will linger as much in the heart as in the ear of the

hearer. Such is: "O sweet days of my youth," and in the last act:

"Blessed are they who are persecuted," from Christ's Sermon on the

Mount. Another charming bit of music is the children's waltz, in which

the composer has paraphrased one of Lanner's well-known waltz-motives.

The first scene is laid in the village of St. Othmar in Austria, or

rather in the court of the convent of the Benedictines of that place.

Mathias, a young clerk of the convent has an interview with Martha, the

niece and ward of Frederic Engel, the rich warden of the convent.

John, Mathias' elder brother and the village-schoolmaster sees them

together. Being in love with the girl himself he warns her uncle of

his brother's courtship and excites his wrath against the lovers, so

that Engel, coming across the young people, gruffly tells Mathias, that

he has already chosen a rich bridegroom for his ward. In vain, the

lovers beseech the old man's pity, for his anger only waxes stronger,

and he goes so far, as to discharge Mathias, warning him to leave the

place altogether. Martha left alone bemourns her guardian's hardness,

and John, thinking to profit by the occasion approaches her and asks

for her hand. But he is so decidedly rejected by Martha, that he

swears to have his revenge.

Meanwhile the evening approaches, and the country-folk come to the inn

next to the convent, to play their game of ninepins.--During this very

animated scene Mathias finds Magdalen, his sweetheart's friend, whom he

entreats to take a message to Martha, asking her to meet him at

eleven o'clock in the bower near the skittleground for a last farewell.

John hears this and when night sets in and the gates of the convent are

closed, he remains outside alone, hiding behind the barn-floor. When

the clock strikes eleven Martha and Mathias approach the bower. They

swear to remain true to each other, come what may. Their tender words

excite John's jealousy to the utmost, and while the lovers are

engrossed with their sorrow and make plans for the future, he sets fire

to the barn-floor. Soon the flames leap up to the sky, but the lovers

are oblivious of everything, till they hear the watchman's cry of fire.

Mathias persuades Martha to hide herself; so he is found alone on the

place and seized by the crowd and brought before the warden. Engel at

once jumps to the conclusion, that he has been the incendiary, to

revenge himself for Engel's hard-heartedness, and despite his

protestations of innocence Mathias is put in chains and carried away,

while Martha, who comes out from her hiding-place falls back in a swoon

after proclaiming his innocence.

The second act takes place thirty years later in Vienna. Magdalen sits

under a lime-tree in the court of an old house and muses sadly over

days gone by. After long, lonely years she has found the school-master

John sick unto death, and now finds comfort in nursing him. Nothing

has ever been heard of Mathias again, and she wonders sadly what has

become of him. Children throng into the court, they dance around the

lime-tree, while an old organ-grinder plays pretty waltz-tunes to

their steps.--While they are dancing, an Evangelimann comes into the

court. He reads and sings to the children the verses from Christ's

Sermon on the Mount, and teaches them to repeat the melody. When they

are able to sing it faultlessly, he faintly asks for a drink of water,

which Magdalen brings him. She asks him, whence he comes, and when he

tells her, that his father's house stood in St. Othmar, she recognizes

in him her old friend Mathias. Then he relates his sad story, how he

lay imprisoned for twenty years, the real incendiary having never been

discovered. When he was set free, he returned home, only to find that

his bride had drowned herself. All his efforts to earn a livelihood

were fruitless; nobody would employ the convict, until he was at last

obliged to become an Evangelimann, and wandered from place to place,

preaching the gospel to the poor, and getting such small bounties they

could afford to give.--Exhausted by hunger and overcome by sad

remembrances Mathias sinks down on the bench half fainting, but is

revived by bread and broth brought to him by Magdalen, who earnestly

entreats him to return soon, and to bring comfort to the sick man she

is nursing.

The last scene takes place a day later in John's sick-room. He is

lying on a couch, a prey to bitter thoughts and pangs of conscience,

when his brother's voice reaches his ear from below, and dimly awakens

sweet memories in him. He bids Magdalen to fetch the singer, and when

the latter enters, he feels so drawn to him without recognizing

his brother, that he begs leave, to unburden his soul to him.

Mathias soon recognizing his brother is about to fold him in his arms,

but John despairingly shrinks from him, while confessing his guilt in

broken words and beseeching his forgiveness. The unfortunate Mathias,

whose life has been so utterly ruined by his brother, battles fiercely

with his natural feelings. But when he sees the wretched John on his

knees before him, so broken down and exhausted he finally forgives him.

With a last faint gasp of thanks John falls back and dies, while

Magdalen prays "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that

trespass against us." Outside the children's voices are heard once

more: "Blessed are they, that are persecuted for righteousness' sake;

for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

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