Abraxas – Faust-Ballett nach Heinrich Heine
Landeskapelle Eisenach · Mark Mast, conductor
The Munich ballet scandal of 1948: after five sold-out performances, Bavarian Minister of Culture Hundhammer banned further shows as he thought it would endanger public morals. Of course, this only increased the work’s international popularity, making Abraxas one of Egk’s most successful ballet compositions.
Abraxas is based on Heinrich Heine’s dance-poem Der Doctor Faust, written in 1848 for London’s “Her Majesty’s Theatre”. It was not performed in this form during Heine’s lifetime.
Werner Egk’s Abraxas was staged at the Eisenach State Theater during the 2004/2005 season. This is the first recording of this work made for release.
Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) wrote his dance-poem Der Doctor Faust in 1848 for the director of London‘s Her Majesty’s Theatre, Benjamin Lumley, whom Heine wished to support. A short time before, Adolphe Adams had bestowed exceptional success upon that theater with Giselle, based on the Heine story Die Wilis. Despite this, the Faust rehearsals were discontinued,
no performance ever took place and Lumley blamed the mess on „staging
difficulties“. Today, we have no clue as to other possible grounds, such as whether Lumley may have expected a financial
flop and Heine‘s sarcasm didn‘t seem like it would help at the box office, for ex-
ample. Heine, however, thought that the failure was due to choreographer Jules Perrot, writing bitterly, “This ballet master finds it a dangerous innovation that a poet has written the libretto for a ballet, whereas until now, such products were
only ever delivered by ‚dance monkeys‘ of his type.”
In Heine‘s own explanations about the work, he said that his interpretation – in
contrast to Goethe‘s – was meant as a
“revolt of the realistic, sensual joie de viv-
re against spiritual, Catholic asceticism”.
In any case, Der Doctor Faust, which
in addition to toasting the pleasures of life, made fun of dusty old tradition –
ballet artistes dance banal pirouettes
to fluttery, sugar-sweet music and a come-dia pastoral takes place with graceful
insipidness and stilted Arcadian dances – and disappeared into the annals of history.
In 1900, the fifth act was used as a pantomime in a circus. But not until 1926 was the ballet performed in its entirety in Prague, choreographed by Remislav Remislavsk to music of Frantisek Skvor. It received no further resonance, however.
In the 1940s, Werner Egk (1901–1983) re-discovered the material. His relationship to dance had been formed in the 1920s, when expressionistic dance met the Rus-sian school, resulting in a completely
new understanding of movement. Egk became acquainted with Rudolf von
Laban, who had developed a dance nota-
tion based on such terms as „weight (strong/light)“ or „flow“.
also met Laban‘s student Mary Wig-man, whose monumental dance of death deeply influenced him. For the 1936
Olympics in Berlin, Egk wrote a triptych for the best dancers of his day: Mary Wigman performed a Totenklage (dirge), Harald Kreutzberg a Waffentanz (weapon dance) and Gret Palucca a Musik der
Lebensfreude (music of joy).
At the 1937 world exhibition in Paris,
Egk experienced the works of many Euro-
pean ballet colleagues, including Ninette de Valois with the Vic-Wells Ballet, Diaghilev‘s Ballet Russe, and last but
not least, the ballet of the Paris Opera un-
der Serge Lifars. “After this experience,
I was freed from the subliminal malaise that had always stricken me when con-
sidering the German dance scene.” Egk
assimilated his new impressions in the ballet Joan von Zarissa, which was
accepted and performed by Serge Lifar
at the Paris Opera. Inspired by Lifar, who demanded a „Démon“ from him, Egk
began to work on Abraxas immediately
after the war, although he had no commissions.
At the time, he hardly stressed Heine‘s ironic undertones at all. Egk‘s
completely innocent hopes that the ballet could be premiered in France were dashed after the dismissal of Lifar, however, who was accused of collaboration.
The premiere finally took place on
June 6, 1948 in Munich‘s half-destroyed Prinzregententheater. It was the first premiere of a contemporary story-ballet in post-war Germany and signaled the return of the country‘s cultural life.
But despite the work‘s success, Bavarian Minister of Culture Alois Hundhammer banned the ballet after its fifth per-
formance on the grounds that the work‘s focal point was a black mass that could
endanger public morality. The subsequent discussion concerning freedom of the
arts and censorship rights of the authorities
was followed by the media through-out Germany. The ban was not lifted, but the work became even more popular. In 1949, it was performed for the second time in Berlin. It quickly became part of the
standard German ballet repertoire and was Egk‘s most successful ballet.
Werner Egk chose the title Abraxas in order to provoke as little association
with Goethe‘s Faust as possible. The name comes up for the first time around 125 A.D. in connection with the early Christian Gnostics, who tried to attain insight into the „afterworld“ using magical means. The highest spirit with whom the Gnostics (from Gr. gnosis = realization, recognition) tried to come into contact was Abraxas. The name later evolved into a magic word used for sorcery and was connected to
the number 365 in the most diverse manners and forms. The name was used especially in medieval mysticism.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
The Landeskapelle Eisenach
After first mention of musical activities re-
lated to the legendary singing competition in the early 13th century, Eisenach‘s truly unbroken musical tradition begins in
the first half of the 17th century with the appearance of the Bach family. But the city‘s fame does not only rest on its most well known citizen, Johann Sebastian; many other important musicians, including
Johann Pachelbel, Daniel Eberlin, Georg
Philipp Telemann and Eugen d’Albert have been associated with Eisenach as well. A permanent orchestra, known as the Musikverein, was founded as early as 1836 and began performing in the newly built city theater in 1879. The orchestra‘s conductors and soloists included such personalities
as Franz Liszt, Hans von Bülow, Engelbert Humperdinck, Ferruccio Busoni, Paul Hindemith, Claudio Arrau and Elly Ney. In 1919, a city orchestra was founded: the predecessor of today‘s Landeskapelle.
After the breakdown of cultural life in
1945, this orchestra de facto ceased to exist. But things came to a surprising new begin in 1946, when the Silesian Philharmonic from Breslau temporarily settled
in Thuringia as a result of post-war chaos
and gave a concert. In no time, the city decided to employ many of the ensemble‘s musicians, effectively giving the orches-tra – complemented by members of the
former Eisenach orchestra – a new home.
In this manner, one of Germany‘s most
renowned instrumental ensembles could
develop. In 1952 it was renamed the
Landeskapelle Eisenach, and has since then
shaped the city‘s musical culture as its symphonic and theater orchestra. Conduc-tors or GMDs such as Hans Gahlenbeck, Hermann Abendroth, Horst Förster, Günther Schubert and Wolfgang Wappler were followed in summer 2005 with the appointment of the internationally celebrated
young Japanese conductor Tetsuro Ban as the Landeskapelle‘s General Mu-
This recording is based on the dance production of Werner Ekg‘s Abraxas for the Eisenach State Theater, choreographed by the ensemble‘s head choreographer Tomasz Kajdanski and performed during the 2004/2005 season. This is the first recording ever made of this work.
Born in 1963 in Germany‘s Black Forest
region, Mark Mast studied music in
Heidelberg, Paris and Munich. His en-counter with Leonard Bernstein as
well as several years of study with
Sergiu Celibidache were of great importance
for his conducting career.
Mark Mast is a popular guest con-
ductor who appears regularly with
such ensembles as the Stuttgart Cham-
ber Orchestra, the Wuerttemberg
Chamber Orchestra in Heilbronn, the Munich Symphonic Orchestra, the
Landeskapelle Eisenach and the Wuert-temberg Philharmonic in Reutlingen.
In addition, he has conducted re-
nowned orchestras in Europe and Asia
and was appointed Principle Guest
Conductor of the Moldavian State Phil-
harmonic Orchestra (Jassy, Romania)
in February 2006.
Mast always places great importance
in his programs on music of 20th
century composers, including Carl Orff, Werner Egk, Karl Amadeus Hartmann
and Cecil E≤nger.
As Musical Director of the Orff in Andechs
festival, he has conducted that insti-
tution‘s music theater productions since 1998. He became Artistic Director of the Schwarzwald Musikfestival in 1998
and was named General Manager of the Sergiu Celibidache Foundation in 2001.
Mark Mast is also active as an educator, as illustrated by his position as Artistic
Director of the Young Munich Philharmonic
Association. In this function he fo-
cuses particularly on orchestra and opera academies as well as symphonic master classes, in which he has worked together with Zubin Mehta, Sir Colin Davis and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Mark Mast is a frequent member of international music competition