Detail of Dürer's "Melancolia I."
Here, at the request of Michael Cooper of the New York Times, are various materials relating to the music of Adrian Leverkühn, as imagined in Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus. When I first became a Faustus obsessive thirty years ago, I jotted down a list of Leverkühn's works on a blank page of a beat-up paperback; I give an expanded version of that list there, alongside a partial selection of works that informed Mann’s descriptions and a list of real-life works that took inspiration from Mann’s fictional creation. S. Fischer Verlag’s critical edition of Doktor Faustus, edited by Ruprecht Wimmer and Stephan Stachorski, was of assistance.
Short biography: Adrian Leverkühn was born on June 6, 1885, in Kaisersaschern, Germany. He pursued theological studies in Halle and Leipzig, and from 1905 to 1910 he studied music privately with Wendell Kretzschmar in Leipzig. He lived in Munich from 1910 to 1913, then moved to Pfeiffering bei Waldshut, in Oberbayern, where he remained until his death. The manifest difficulty of his musical style hindered public acceptance, although he received support from such leading conductors as Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, and Ernest Ansermet. His creative career ended on or about May 16, 1930, when, twenty-four years to the day after an apparent pact with the Devil, he suffered a mental collapse. He died on August 25, 1940, and is buried in Oberweiler churchyard. The principal source of information about his life is an unsystematic biography by his longtime friend Serenus Zeitblom.
R. 1 Six- to eight-part choruses
R. 2 Fugue for string quintet and piano
R. 3 Symphony
R. 4 Cello Sonata in A Minor
R. 5 Meerleuchten (Phosphorescence) (c. 1906)
Première: Geneva, 1910; second performance in Basel, Ernest Ansermet cond. Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
R. 6 Songs from Provençal, Catalan, Spanish, and Portuguese texts. Includes settings of Sá de Miranda and San Juan de la Cruz.
R. 7 Settings of Dante’s Divina Commedia
R. 8 Songs on poems of Paul Verlaine (1906-7). Includes La lune blanche, Chanson d’automne, Un grand sommeil noir, Sur l’herbe, Les indolents.
R. 9 Songs on poems of William Blake (1906-7). Includes The Sick Rose, A Poison Tree, Silent, Silent Night.
R. 10 Concerto for string orchestra
R. 11 Klavierstücke
R. 12 Quartet for flute, clarinet, basset horn, bassoon
R. 13 Brentano Lieder, thirteen settings for various voices and instruments
1. O lieb Mädel. 2. Abendständchen. 3. Hymne. 4. Die lustigen Musikanten, for soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and boy soprano, string orchestra, woodwind, and percussion. 5. Der Jäger an den Hirten. 6. Eingang. 7. Der Feind. 8. Als ich in tiefen Leiden. 9. Frühlingsschrei eines Knechtes aus der Tiefe. 10. Großmutter Schlangenköchin. 11. Wiegenlied. 12. Aus den Nachklängen Beethovenscher Musik. 13. Sprich aus der Ferne.
Première: 1922, Zürich Tonhalle, Volkmar Andrae cond., Jacob Nägli as boy soprano.
R. 14 Love’s Labour’s Lost, opera after Shakespeare, libretto by Serenus Zeitblom (1913)
Première: 1914, Lübeck, Wendell Kretzschmar cond.
R. 15 Songs on poems of Blake and Keats (1913). Includes Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy.
R. 16 Frühlingsfeyer (Spring Festival), for baritone, organ, and string orchestra, after Klopstock
R. 17 Die Wunder des Alls (Wonders of the Universe), symphony in one movement (1914)
Première: 1920, Weimar, Bruno Walter cond.
R. 18 Gesta Romanorum, work for marionette theatre (1914)
Première: 1921, Donaueschingen
R. 19 Apocalipsis cum figuris, oratorio after the Revelation of St. John, inspired by the woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer (1919)
Première: Feb. 1926, International Society of Contemporary Music, Frankfurt, Otto Klemperer cond.
R. 20 Violin Concerto (1923)
Première: Vienna, early 1924, Rudi Schwerdtfeger as soloist. Subsequent performances in Basel and Zürich, with Paul Sacher cond. the Swiss Chamber Orchestra.
R. 21 Ensemblemusik for three strings, three woodwind, piano (1927)
R. 22 String Quartet (1927)
R. 23 String Trio (1927)
R. 24 Ariel’s Songs from The Tempest, for soprano, violin, oboe, bass clarinet, celesta, and harp (1928)
1. Come unto these yellow sands. 2. Full fathom five thy father lies. 3. Where the bee sucks, there suck I.
R. 25 Dr. Fausti Weheklag (The Lamentation of Dr. Faustus), symphonic cantata after the Faust chapbook of 1587 (1929-30)
Meerleuchten is described as resembling Debussy and Ravel—presumably, La Mer in particular. I imagine it sounding like Zemlinsky's Seejungfrau, Schreker's Chamber Symphony, or Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande, all of which show Debussy's influence. The young Leverkühn was also somewhat under the spell of Richard Strauss; in 1905, shortly before Meerleuchten was composed, he was present for the première of Salome in Dresden, and subsequently attended the work's Austrian première in 1906 — at least, claimed to do so, that trip having constituted a pretext to visit the syphilitic-Satanic prostitute Esmeralda.
The settings of Verlaine bring to mind Debussy and perhaps also Stravinsky. The Brentano Lieder suggest Mahler, although the description of Leverkühn’s “strict” method points toward Schoenberg. Gesta Romanorum, for marionette theatre, calls to mind Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat and Petrushka.
The Apocalipsis makes one think variously of Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron (the Dance Around the Golden Calf), Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc (the episode for shouting chorus), Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, and early experimental works of John Cage (the use of amplifiers and loudspeakers).
The Violin Concerto, with its late-Romantic overtones, recalls Berg’s Violin Concerto. Theodor W. Adorno, who was Mann’s musical adviser, was responsible for most of the description of this and other late Leverkühn works, and his relationship with Berg undoubtedly colored the text.
The later chamber music is inspired by Schoenberg. The Ensemblemusik resembles the instrumentation of Pierrot lunaire and the Serenade; the Quartet suggests Schoenberg’s Third and Fourth Quartets; the String Trio is modeled on Schoenberg’s work in the same form, which he discussed with Mann in October 1946, while the novel was in progress.
The Lamentation of Dr. Faustus, described as a revocation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, seems to draw variously on late Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg, and Berg. The progression from the sardonic “choral scherzo” of Faust’s descent into hell to a desolate Adagio lamentoso echoes the progression from Rondo Burlesque to Adagio in Mahler’s Ninth. The "lamentoso" marking points toward Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. The description of the ending follows Adorno’s account of Berg’s Lyric Suite: “One instrument after another falls silent. The viola alone remains, but it is not even allowed to expire, to die. It must play for ever; except that we can no longer hear it.”
Works influenced by Leverkühn
Hanns Eisler, libretto for unrealized Doktor Faustus opera (1951) [inspired by Mann’s employment of the sixteenth-century Faust text]
György Ligeti, Chromatic Fantasy (1956) [Ligeti first learned of the twelve-tone method of composition, eccentrically deployed in this piece, from reading Doktor Faustus. Ligeti’s Requiem may also exhibit Leverkühnian elements.]
Henri Pousseur, Votre Faust (1960-68)
György Kurtág, The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza (1963-68)
Humphrey Searle, The Devil’s Jig (1977) [contains realizations of Leverkühn works]
Rolf Wilhelm, music for Franz Seitz's film Doktor Faustus (1982)
Konrad Boehmer, Apocalipsis cum figuris (1984)
Poul Ruders, Corpus cum figuris (1985)
Zoltán Jeney, Twelve Songs for female voice, violin and piano, to poems by e. e. cummings, Tandori Dezső, William Blake, Sándor Weöres, and Friedrich Hölderlin (1985) [the setting of Blake’s “In a mirtle shade” is marked “Adrian Leverkühn’s song"]
Peter Maxwell Davies, Resurrection (1987)
Bengt Hambraeus, Apocalipsis cum figuris secundum Dürer (1987)
Alfred Schnittke, Faust Cantata (1983) and opera Historia von D. Johann Fausten (1995) [Schnittke told me in 1994 that Doktor Faustus “had an incredible influence on me.”]
Hans Werner Henze, Violin Concerto No. 3 [Drei Porträts aus dem Roman Doktor Faustus von Thomas Mann: 1. Esmeralda, 2. Echo, 3. Rudi S.] (1996/2002)
Lars Petter Hagen, To Zeitblom (2011)
Thomas Mann’s son Golo once wrote to Benjamin Britten: “My father, incidentally, used to say, that if it ever came to some musical illustration of his novel, Doctor Faustus, you would be the composer to do it.” Britten and Leverkühn both set Blake’s “The Sick Rose” and Verlaine’s “Chanson d’automne”; both had a taste for archaic folk poetry and medieval subjects; both composed a Shakespeare comedy. Doktor Faustus can be seen on the shelves of the library of the Red House in Aldeburgh, but Donald Mitchell told me that Britten never read it.
See also: Imaginary Concerts.