Gesamtkunstwerk or Universaltheater?
Goethe’s Faust and Wagner’s Ring cycle represent twin peaks in 19th-century art, and this chapter focuses on whether, like its counterpart, Faust can be described as a Gesamtkunstwerk. It demonstrates Goethe’s lifelong attempts to find a suitable form of music to match his dramatic poem, and in so doing brings to light some of the basic problems which arise in collaborative projects, problems which Wagner solved by himself writing both libretto and music. Like Wagner Goethe was a ‘man of the theatre’ but primarily a literary genius who was distrustful of the extent to which his ‘dramatic poem’ might suffer at the hands of musicians (including even Beethoven). The case of Faust raises the question of whether the Gesamtkunstwerk, at the level of fusion achieved by Wagner, could be successful in collaboration, or any progress achievable in the long-standing debate about the relationship between words and music.
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