Faust Symphony

Matthew Richard Baumer - "Aesthetic Theory and the Representation of the Feminine…"

  • Kramer’s view: Liszt omits elements of Gretchen’s character from the play (i.e. her eyeing the jewels), thus turning her into an object to be gazed at (185)
  • Other historical figures unflatteringly compared Gretchen: see for instance Hanslick and reviews in Dwight’s Journal of Music (185-6)
  • Theses:
    • Liszt really captures Gretchen’s essence; she is not a caricature?
    • The Chorus Mysticus actually does portray Liszt’s ideal of the feminine, in a very radical way
  • Pohl and Zellner both emphasize the “ideal” nature of the movements; the characters represent archetypes (189)
  • Exposition of mvt. 2
    • Gretchen’s innocence is depicted in scoring and themes at the beginning of mvt. 2
    • G. is “a rose about to bloom” (190)
    • Special attention needs to be paid to instrumentation; various groups (e.g. the strings or solo oboe) tend to represent the character of G.
    • G.’s motive B (see p. 211) reveals the potential for modulation, is forceful and dynamic
      • It is also very similar to Faust’s motive 4; the two share a deep bond (213)
    • The motion of scale degrees 3 -> 4 becomes an emblem of the eternal feminine and a tool which changes Faust (211)
  • In the development section Faust does not violently seduce G.(192)
    • Instead, the entrance of his themes represents the two’s entire tragic relationship (194)
      • Faust is seen as begging or longing for love (and perhaps deliverance)
    • Nevertheless, there is a sense of “conquest” around letter L (195)
    • The scene d’amour around letter O foreshadows a similar scene in Wagner’s Tristan
      • That Gretchen disappears from the development after this point is problematic for many interpreters
  • How is one to treat the recapitulation? Does G.’s individuality return? Does the recap undo all the action that has occurred so far? (198)
    • Liszt changes around the orchestration for the recap, suggesting the focus returns to G.’s inner thoughts at letter T (199)
    • There has been an “expansion that has taken place in G.’s character because of her relationship with Faust”
    • Later on G. recalls Faust; she is the one doing the gazing (200)
    • G.’s second theme is also altered: the ending is replaced with one of Faust’s themes
      • This might be positively interpreted as G. remaining the same (pure), but F. being transfigured by his relationship (202)
  • Why did Liszt leave out all of the tragic elements of G.’s character? Need for simplicity, fact that it would mess up the archetype he was trying to present? (203)
    • Unlike in Goethe, G. in Liszt takes an active role in Faust’s salvation
  • In mvt. 3, the reappearance of G.’s theme should not be taken as a medusa, but rather as the same original person (205)
    • G.’s appearance is not the same as her initial theme, but it is very similar to the recap in mvt. 2 after Gretchen has a “memory of love’s highest rapture” (207)
  • The Chorus Mysticus
    • “The notion of infinite progress explains why the solo tenor’s avoidance of closure should not be seen as resistance to the idea of the eternal feminine. Indeed, resistance to closure characterizes Liszt’s ‘feminine’ throughout the symphony.” (209)
    • The solo tenor’s motive on “das Ewig Weibliche” has elements of both F. and G. motives in it (214)
    • The tenor’s melody line traces the 3-4-5 motion prevalent in G.’s Theme 1; the tonality of the section hovers between G.’s Ab and Faust’s C/c (218)
    • The tenor’s final 3 notes in mvt. 3 are another augmented (Faustian) triad – Ab, C and E, recalling the end of Faust’s tone row in mvt. 1 (221)
      • The subsequent resolution to C would suggest an acceptance of the feminine
    • The ending of the symphony, with the tenor on the 3rd, is among the most feminine you can get in the 19th C
    • That a male choir takes up the motives of the feminine at the end is much more powerful than if a female choir (who one would presume was feminine all along) did the singing (223)

Elizabeth Reeves Shulstad - "The Symbol of Genius"


Lawrence Kramer - "Liszt, Goethe, and the Discourse of Gender"

  • Liszt is attempting here to represent the archetype of the Eternal Feminine… and “keep women out of history” (102)
  • Kramer (103-6) provides an analysis of the motives and structures of each movement
  • Gretchen has 2 themes: Dolce semplice (after letter A) and Dolce amoroso (letter H)
    • Gretchen’s two themes have both feminine beginnings (unaccented) and endings; and are somewhat like the undeveloped “feminine” secondary themes in Classical sonatas (105)
    • Even more, her themes are marked by diatonicism, descending phrases, conjunct motion, etc.
  • “The most consistent element in Liszt's binary logic is the portrayal of Gretchen in terms that suggest almost complete immobility in opposition to Faust's dynamism. If I had to name the chief representational practice by which nineteenth-century ideology tries to regulate femininity, symbolic immobilization would be my choice. Like most cultural icons, the immobilized woman forms a vehicle for numerous and conflicting meanings, among them sexual purity, erotic passivity, self-abnegation, commodification, and—perhaps above all—availability to be gazed at.” (107)
    • The music thus mirrors Victorian-era beliefs when it came to a woman’s place in society.
    • Gretchen’s themes are also “hermeneutically immobile” and gain significance only in context with those of Faust (108)
    • The music thus ties in to another exploitive patriarchal institution: the gaze (109)
      • Allows men to exert their sexuality and maintain power over women
  • Musical structure: ABA; A sections have Gretchen’s music, the B a development of Faust’s (114)
    • Key happenings: the displacement of G. and the softening of F.
    • Gretchen’s theme is in fact a “narcissistic self-reflection” of F. (115)
    • The scoring of the movement depicts the erotic fantasy in Faust’s imagination (116)
  • 19th century view: women as erotic ideals and spiritual ideals (redemption); “The idealized woman embodies a tenderness and beauty that can restrain and shape masculine energy, an energy that is inherently excessive […]” (119)
    • There’s always a flip side though: as Freud suggests the opposite of the gazed-at woman is the Medusa
      • Men must protect themselves from falling into the clutches of the Medusa
  • Another 19th century thought: women must stay out of masculine spheres (e.g. swordplay or money-making); once a woman is let in, men lose the basis of their masculinity and their whole built-up society collapses (123-4)
  • In representing Gretchen as purity, Liszt represses (dangerously) her Medusa side (124)
    • Consider G.’s motive in Mephistopheles’s movement… it’s thought to remain undefiled, but in fact it is made even more sensuous! (125-6)
    • In mvt. 3 Gretchen’s Ab tonality moves to the dynamic E – Liszt however quickly repudiates her (128-9)
  • The “diabolical” Mephisto movement eventually morphs into something more lighthearted, playful, and virtuosic (just like Liszt’s piano career) (130)
    • Maybe this is Liszt’s “one last hurrah” against the 2 women in his life who opposed his career?
  • Ultimately women can only be celebrated by being negated (130)
    • One obvious example: using a male choir for the “Chorus Mysticus”
    • Unlike in Goethe’s text where Faust is mute, in the symphony a man who embodies Faust takes over G.’s theme
    • The solo tenor line never seems to come to rest (i.e. never become submissive to the feminine), what with the deceptive cadences, ending on scale degree 3, etc.