Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix


Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix

Die erste Walpurgisnacht Op. 60 (Vocal Score)

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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

Die erste Walpurgisnacht Op. 60 (1831-32/rev. 1842-43)

after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cantata for Solo Voices, Mixed Chorus, and Orchestra

(b. Hamburg, 3 February 1809 — d. Leipzig, 4 November 1847)

In August of 1799, Karl Friedrich Zelter, Mendelssohn’s teacher, received from his admired Goethe the text of Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night).

[Walpurgisnacht originated as a pagan festival celebrating Spring’s defeat of Winter. With the arrival of Christianity the pagan rituals were abolished and the date, fixed as the night before the 1st of May, became a night of superstitions aimed at driving away witches and evil spirits.] Goethe, who subtitled it first as a “dramatic ballad” or a “conversation in songs,” and finally as a “cantata,” mentioned it first in his journal on July 30 of that year. Goethe wrote Zelter: “This work is conceived in order to test the concept that the dramatic ballads might be formed in such a way so as to provide a composer with the material for a larger vocal work.” Zelter answered: “Die erste Walpurgisnacht is a very unique poem. The verses are musical and singable. I would like to set it to music and present it to you, and have worked out a goodly part of it, but I cannot catch the breeze that breathes through the piece as a whole, and so I would prefer to let it sit for now.” In November, 1812 – the project had developed no further – Zelter requested further details. Goethe, who had forgotten that in 1797, he had been inspired to produce this piece by Honemann’s Altertümer des Harzes (Ancients of the Harz) and the Archiv der Zeit (Archive of Time), replied on December 3, 1812:
“Presently, a German researcher of ancient history wishes to preserve and justify the historical origins of the witchcraft and devilry of the Brockengebirge (Brocken Mountains), a thing that Germans have carried within themselves since eternity. Namely, that the German heathen priests and forebears, after having been driven out of their sanctified paganism and forced into the Christianity of the people, returned with their faithful supporters to the deserted and inaccessible Harz mountains at the beginning of each Spring, and there, as in the ancient fashion, offered prayers and flames to the formless god of the heavens and the earth. And to protect themselves from the armed converts who would ferret them out, they determined to disguise a number of themselves in order to deter their superstitious opponents so that, protected by the grimaces of their costumed devils, they could perform to completion the holiest of their rituals.”
Zelter would never complete this work. It fell to his student Mendelssohn, who wrote his sister Fanny on February 22, 1831, with news that he had been occupied with a plan to set Goethe’s cantata to music. From Rome he wrote Goethe in Weimar, who kindly replied regarding the composition:


For more information on the piece:

Read the preface to the full score / das Vorwort zur Partitur lesen > HERE

Score No.



Repertoire Explorer


Choir/Voice & Orchestra


225 x 320 mm


Piano Reduction & Voice



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