The first Walpurgis Night

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The first Walpurgis Night op. 60 ( MWV D 3 ) is a ballad written in May 1799by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , set to music by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in the form of a secular cantata for solos, choir and orchestra (1833).

Work history

From the beginning it was Goethe's intention that his ballad should be set to music as a choral cantata. He had chosen his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter as a composer . When he read the text for the first time, however, he is said to have exclaimed: “If you want to set this to music, you first have to take off the old, worn cantata uniform!” He himself did not feel able to do so, but gave the template to his student Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy further.

In 1830/31 Mendelssohn traveled through Switzerland and Italy. From Rome he wrote to Goethe: “What has occupied me almost exclusively for a few weeks is the music to the poem by Your Excellency, which is called the first Walpurgis Night. I want to compose it with orchestral accompaniment as a kind of large cantata. ... I don't know if I will succeed, but I feel how great the task is and with what compassion and awe I have to attack it. ”- It was only after Goethe's death on March 22nd, 1832 that the work was heard for the first time in autumn 1832 , in Mendelssohn's parents' house. The public premiere followed on January 10, 1833 in the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin . The composer himself stood at the podium.

Ten years later, in 1842/43, Mendelssohn fundamentally reworked his work. This second version had its world premiere, like the previous one, rehearsed and directed by the composer, on February 2, 1843 in the Leipzig Gewandhaus . Among the audience were Robert Schumann and Hector Berlioz , who was particularly enthusiastic about the work. In this second version the work is usually performed nowadays.


Singing: four-part mixed choir, 4 solos (alto, tenor, baritone, bass)

Orchestra: 3 flutes (3rd piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, B and C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C, F, E and D, 2 trumpets in D, E and C, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals and strings


In his letter to Zelter of December 3, 1812, Goethe himself wrote a kind of summary of his ballad as follows:

“So now one of the German antiquarians has wanted to save and justify the witch's and devil's ride in the Brocken Mountains, which has been carried out in Germany since time immemorial. That the German pagan priests and grandfathers, after they have been driven out of their holy groves and Christianity has been forced upon the people, go with their faithful followers to the desolate inaccessible mountains of the Harz Mountains in the beginning of spring in order to offer prayer and flame in the old fashion to judge the formless God of heaven and earth. In order to be safe against the armed converts who were tracking them down, they would have found it good to mask a number of theirs, and thereby keep their superstitious opponents away and, protected by the devil's grimaces, to complete the purest worship. "

Work description


It consists of two parts:

  • I The Bad Weather (Allegro con fuoco)
  • II The transition to spring (Allegro vivace non troppo, quasi l'istesso tempo)

1. A druid (tenor) and choir of druids and the people (Allegro vivace non troppo)

May is laughing!
The forest is free
of ice and frost.
The snow is gone;
in the green place
chants resound.
Pure snow
lies on the heights;
but we rush up
commit the old sacred custom,
Allfather there to praise.
The flame blazes through the smoke!
Follow the ancient sacred custom.
Up! Up!
Allfather there to praise.
So the heart is lifted up.

2. An old woman from the people (Alt) and the choir of women from the people (Allegro non troppo)

Can you act so boldly?
Then do you want to walk to death?
Do you not know the laws
our stern overcomers?
Their nets are set in rings
on the Gentiles, on the sinners.
Oh, they are slaughtering on the wall
our fathers, our children.
And all of us
we approach a certain trap,
on the camp high wall
slaughter our children for us.
Ah, the stern overcomers!

3. The priest (baritone) and choir of the druids (Andante maestoso)

Who victim today
shy away from bringing
first deserves his gang!
The forest is free!
Bring the wood
and layers it to the fire!
But we stay
in the bush district
quietly during the day
and we put men on guard
for the sake of your concern.
But then let go with fresh courage
to do our duty.
Up! Up!
Spread out, brave men, here!

4. Choir of the Guardians of the Druids (Allegro leggiero)

Spread out, brave men, here,
through this whole forest area,
and watch here in silence,
when they do the duty.

5. A Guardian of the Druids (bass) and Choir of the Guardians of the Druids (recitative)

These dull priest Christians
let's cheekily outsmart them!
With the devil they fable
let's scare them ourselves.
Come! Comes with prongs and with forks
and with embers and rattle sticks
we make noises at night
through the narrow rocky stretches!
Owl and owl,
Howl into our howling,
Come! Come! Come!

6. Choir of the Guardians of the Druids and the Gentile People (Allegro molto)

Comes with prongs and with forks
like the devil they fable
and with wild rattling sticks
through the narrow rocky stretches!
Owl and owl,
howl into our round howl.
Come! Come! Come!

7. The priest (baritone) and choir of the druids and the Gentile people (Andante maestoso)

Brought so far
that we at night
Sing allfather secretly!
But it is day
as soon as you like
bring you a pure heart.
You can today
and some time
allow the enemy much.
The flame cleans itself of the smoke:
Purify our faith!
And if we are robbed of the old custom
Your light, who wants to steal it?

8. A Christian Guardian (Tenor) and Choir of Christian Guardians (Allegro molto)

Help, oh help me, fellow warrior!
Oh, all hell is coming!
See how the bewitched bodies
glow through and through with flame!
Human wolves and dragon women,
that pass in flight!
What a terrible din!
Let's, let's all flee!
The evil one flames and rushes above.
From the soil
a hellbread steams all around.
Let's flee!

9. The priest (baritone) and general choir of the Druids and the Gentile people (Andante maestoso)

The flame is cleansed of the smoke;
so purify our faith!
And if we are robbed of the old custom
your light, who can steal it?

Discography (selection)

  • Mendelssohn: Walpurgis Night , Bamberg Symphony Orchestra with their choir under the direction of Claus-Peter Flor, soloists: Rappé, van der Walt, Scharinger, Hölle; RCA Victor No. 09026 62513 2
  • Mendelssohn: The first Walpurgis Night (among others) , Gewandhausorchester and Rundfunkchor Leipzig under the direction of Kurt Masur, soloists: Burmeister, Büchner, Lorenz, Vogel; BERLIN Classics

Web links


  • John Michael Cooper: Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis night: the heathen muse in European culture, 1700--1850. Rochester, 2007.