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‘Between Moscow and New York’: Richard Strauss's Die ägyptische Helena in Cultural-Historical Context

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Abstract

This article offers a contextual reading of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's and Richard Strauss's 1927 opera Die ägyptische Helena. For Hofmannsthal and Strauss, the marital rift between Menelas and Helena caused by her infidelity operated as the symbolic manifestation of a similar schism in pan-Germanic politics, society and the arts – thus highlighting the concomitant necessity for unity through recognition and celebration of a common culture. By recasting the story of Menelas's and Helena's homeward journey from Troy in order to create an aesthetic answer to the problems of the present, Hofmannsthal and Strauss pointed to the distinct similarities between the Trojan War and the recent conflict that had completely changed the political, geographical and social landscape in Europe. As this article demonstrates, Die ägyptische Helena stands as an artwork both expressly aware and uniquely representative of its historical moment through a multi-faceted literary and musical referentiality inherently characteristic of its creators.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Musical Association

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References

1 ‘Besonders meine griechischen Opern haben in Scenen [sic] wie Klytämnestras Traum, Erkennung der Schwester, Erlösung im Tanz, der seelischen Wandlung des Menelas, im Kusse Apollos (in Daphne), in Jupiters Abschied von der Welt den Menschen Tonsymbole geschaffen, die als letzte Erfüllung griechischer Sehnsucht gelten dürfen.’ Richard Strauss, ‘Betrachtungen zu Joseph Gregors “Weltgeschichte des Theaters”, 4. Februar (1945)’, Strauss, Dokumente: Aufsätze, Aufzeichnungen, Vorworte, Reden, Briefe, ed. Ernst Krause (Leipzig, 1980), 103–9 (p. 105). All translations are my own unless otherwise stated.

2 ‘Denn wenn sie etwas ist, diese Gegenwart, so ist sie mythisch – ich weiß kein anderen Ausdruck für eine Existenz, die sich vor so ungeheuren Horizonten vollzieht – für dieses Umgebensein mit Jahrtausenden, für dies Hereinfluten von Orient und Okzident in unser Ich, für diese ungeheure innere Weite, für dieses rasenden inneren Spannungen, dieses Hier und Anderswo, das die Signatur unseres Lebens ist. Es ist nicht möglich, dies in bürgerlichen Dialogen aufzufangen. Machen wir mythologische Opern, es ist die wahrste aller Formen. Sie können mir glauben.’ Hugo von Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, Insel-Almanach (1929), 89–107 (pp. 106–7). This essay, incorporating an imaginary conversation between Hofmannsthal and Strauss, is reprinted in Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Erfundene Gespräche und Briefe, ed. Ellen Ritter, Sämtliche Werke, 31 (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), 216–27.

3 Glenn Watkins, Proof Through the Night: Music and the Great War (Berkeley, CA, 2003), 15.

4 This incarnation became known as the ‘Vienna version’, and was first performed at the 1933 Salzburg Festival.

5 It could be argued that the 1933 shortening, which consisted of two cuts and three brief textual-musical inserts, in effect superseded the original. However, latter-day attention has centred on the 1928 version (two relatively recent concert performances in New York's Avery Fisher Hall – the first in 1998 and the other, the subject of a subsequent Telarc live CD recording, in 2002 – instancing this trend). In so far as is relevant, brief discussion of the inadequacies of the 1933 version follows in the present article in order to point to the superiority of the Hofmannsthal original.

6 Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 13 October 1927. A Working Friendship: The Correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, trans. Hanns Hammelmann and Ewald Osers (London, 1961; hereafter Correspondence), 445.

7 Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 5 June 1916. Ibid., 250–1.

8 See ibid., 108. On 12 June, Strauss requested Hofmannsthal to read ‘Plautus's Miles gloriosus (in Lenz, Volume II) and also the chapter on Sparta in the first volume of J. Burckhardt's History of Greek Civilisation’, adding ‘I hardly think there could be a better setting for an operetta than this late down-at-heel Sparta.’ Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 12 June 1918. Ibid., 302.

9 Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 27 June 1919. Richard Strauss–Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Briefwechsel (5th edn, Zurich, 1978), 447; Correspondence, 328 (translation modified). Maria Jeritza went on to act as veritable muse for the title role in Die ägyptische Helena, which she performed in the Austrian première in Vienna on 11 June 1928.

10 Hofmannsthal's Danae draft later served as the basis for the opera Die Liebe der Danae, completed between 1938 and 1940 by Strauss and Joseph Gregor.

11 See Philip Graydon, ‘“Rückkehr in die Heimat”: Postwar Cultural Politics and the 1924 Reworking of Beethoven's Die Ruinen von Athen by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’, Musical Quarterly, 88 (2005), 630–71.

12 Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 95.

13 ‘Ohne Taten und Leiden der Individuen entsteht kein Mythos: daher bedurfte es der Vorgänge seit 1914, damit die Mächte sich zum Mythos gestalten.’ Hugo von Hofmannsthal, ‘“Ad me ipsum”’, Aufzeichnungen, ed. Herbert Steiner, Gesammelte Werke in Einzelausgaben, 15 (Frankfurt am Main, 1959), 211–44 (p. 233). As Larry Vaughan points out, during his career Hofmannsthal operated with two distinct ‘strains’ of myth: the first (‘dark forces’, ‘bad myth’ or ‘eternal repetition’ – which Hofmannsthal rejected c.1906) was myth which preserved the past, ensuring its own reification in the process. The second type, redemptive myth (or, as Hofmannsthal also termed it, ‘myth on a higher level’), resulted from action and deed, but was often achieved only through suffering in order to alleviate man (and woman) from external forces and redeem human existence. As Hofmannsthal noted: ‘The mythical on a higher level is realized in Helena’ (‘Das Mythische in höherer Sphäre realisiert in Helena’; Hofmannsthal, ‘“Ad me ipsum”’, 240). See Larry Vaughan, ‘Myth and Society in Hofmannsthal's “Die ägyptische Helena”’, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, 36 (1986), 331–42 (p. 335).

14 ‘Aber seit 1920 spiegelte sich in der Phantasie – glitzernd und ungreifbar, wie halbverdeckt fließendes Wasser – ein Stoff, eine Gruppierung von Figuren: eben dieser nunmehr ausgeführte Stoff: jene Heimreise der Helena und des Menelas. Eine Art Neugierde hatte sich der Phantasie bemächtigt, sie war auf die mythischen Gestalten gerichtet wie auf lebende Personen, von deren Leben man einen Teil kennt, für eine wichtige Zeitspanne aber auf Kombination angewiesen ist. In jener Nacht, als die Griechen in das brennende Troja eindrangen (es liegt uns einigermaßen näher, uns die Schrecken einer solchen Nacht vorzustellen, als den Menschen vor 1914) – in jener Nacht muß Menelas in diesem brennenden Paläste seine Frau gefunden und zwischen einstürtzenden Mauern herausgetragen haben, diese Frau, die seine geliebte Gattin und nebenbei die schönste Frau der Welt, die Ursache dieses Krieges, dieser furchtbaren zehn Jahre, dieser Ebene voll totere Männer und dieses Brandes war, und nebenbei noch die Witwe des Paris und die Freundin von zehn oder zwölf anderen Söhnen des Priamos, die nun alle tot oder sterbend dalegen – Welche Situation für einen Ehemann!’ Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 90–1 (emphasis added).

15 ‘Wie erstaunlich, in dieser leichtem Art ein so berühmtes und schreckliches Ereignis zu behandeln – und das Wort drängt sich auf die Zunge – wie modern – wie nahe den Ausdrucksformen unserer Zeit.’ Ibid., 91–2.

16 Hofmannsthal, Reden-Aufsätze 2, Gesammelte Werke in zehn Einzelbänden, 10, ed. Bernd Schoeller, in consultation with Rudolf Hirsch (Frankfurt am Main, 1979), 256.

17 ‘Die erste grosse Begegnung der asiatischen und der griechischen Welt wird als ein Kampf des aphroditisch-hetärisch mit dem heräisch-ehelichen Prinzip dargestellt, die Veranlassung des troischen Krieges auf die Verletzung des Ehebettes zurückgeführt.’ Johann Jakob Bachofen, Der Mythus von Orient und Occident: Eine Metaphysik der Alten Welt: Aus der Werken von J. J. Bachofen, ed. Manfred Schroeter, with an introduction by Alfred Bauemler (Munich, 1926), §21ff. Quoted in Ingeborg Beyer-Ahlert, ‘Entstehung’, Hofmannsthal, Die ägyptische Helena: Opern- und Singspielpläne, ed. Beyer-Ahlert, Singspielpläne, Werke, 25/2 (= Operndichtungen, 3/2) (Frankfurt am Main, 2001), 152–88 (pp. 159–60).

18 ‘Brief I / β Was sind das Individuen? Was sind Menschen, die für einander Schicksal sind – was sind sie einander? Inwiefern können sie einander dialektisch fasslich werden? Im Alltagsleben hören sie eine andere Stimme, eine aus vielen combinierte – unter dem Alltagsgerede – / α Nehmen Sie die Geschichte für modern – den großen Krieg – die Erlebnisse dazwischen all das Unsichere was zwischen Individuen vorgeht, das Chaotische das der Leib über die Seele bringt – das nie direckt ausdrückbare, der Wechsel der Distanzen, zwischen Vereinigung und höchster Ferne: das wahre Individualleben – das nur indirekt zu geben.’ Ellen Ritter, ‘Die ägyptische Helena: Varianten und Erläuterungen’, Hofmannsthal, Erfundene Gespräche und Briefe, ed. Ritter, 519–38 (p. 523).

20 ‘Doch, einem ganz zufällig. Einem französischen Dichter, Géraldy, dem Autor von Aimée und Robert et Marianne, dem ich vorgestern zufällig auf der Strasse begegnete. Aber ich ihm den Stoff nicht in der gleichen Form erzählt wie Ihnen, nicht mit den Namen Helena und Menelas sondern mit vielen aber unwesentlichen Veränderungen, als eine Begebenheit aus unseren Tagen. / Wie ist das möglich? / Sehr leicht. Es sind nur Äußerlichkeiten, die sich verändern. An Stelle des trojanischen Krieges setze ich beispielweise.’ Ritter, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 527.

19 ‘Ja, es ist eine Oper. Wenigstens eine Oper für mich, vielleicht nicht für einen anderen. Sie haben den Stoff doch keinen Menschen erzählt?’ Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 104.

21 Fritz Stern, Five Germanys Have I Known (New York, 2006), 52.

22 Detlev J. K. Peukert, The Weimar Republic: The Crisis of Classical Modernity, trans. Richard Deveson (New York, 1989), 72.

23 Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton, NJ, 2007), 91.

24 Wolfgang Mommsen, Max Weber and German Politics, 1890–1920 (Chicago, IL, 1984), 320.

25 Max Weber, Political Writings, ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, 1994), 309–69, esp. pp. 352–69.

26 Max Weber, Political Writings, ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge, 1994), 309–69, 368.

27 Mommsen, Max Weber and German Politics, 329.

28 Eberhard Kolb, The Weimar Republic, trans. P. S. Falla (London and New York, 1992), 44.

29 Attributed to Rathenau in Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918–1937), trans. and ed. Charles Kessler, with an introduction by Ian Buruma (New York, 1999), 71.

30 Stern, Five Germanys Have I Known, 64.

31 Weitz, Weimar Germany, 100 (Weitz's translation).

32 Berlin in Lights, ed. and trans. Kessler, 183.

33 The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, ed. Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimenberg (Berkeley, CA, 1994), 87.

34 Weitz, Weimar Germany, 102. In Austria the situation was not much better, nor had it been in Vienna since the end of the War. In April 1919, Hofmannsthal wrote from his home in Rodaun on the outskirts of the city to his friend the Countess Ottonie Degenfeld: ‘The poverty here is truly awful; and each region cordons itself off from the others. I rather doubt that we ourselves will be allowed to travel to Aussee, and by no means with guests – oh, certainly not with guests. After all, we have nothing to eat; now even the horse meat, on which we have subsisted for the past year and a half, is no longer affordable and no longer available. But this misery will pass in time.’ Hofmannsthal to Degenfeld, 14 April 1919. The Poet and the Countess: Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Correspondence with Countess Ottonie Degenfeld, ed. Marie-Therese Miller-Degenfeld, trans. W. Eric Barcel (Rochester, NY, 2000), 331.

35 See Richard Bessel, Germany After the First World War (Oxford, 1993), 282–4.

37 Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 30 May 1916. Ibid., 249.

36 Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 25 May 1916. Correspondence, 248–9.

38 A clear case in point in this regard was (perhaps unsurprisingly) Hofmannsthal's attitude toward Intermezzo. Reporting to Strauss on his experiences of its Vienna première on 15 January 1927, Hofmannsthal deftly sidestepped commenting definitively on Strauss's opera: ‘I lack as yet the right perspective’; ‘the style of the whole work I shall understand better once I have heard it a few more times’. Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 17 January 1927. Ibid., 425. While he recognized in the same letter the importance of the symphonic interludes, it is all the more revealing that Hofmannsthal refused to tell Strauss what the latter clearly wanted to hear: ‘I presume the smoothly-flowing, the naturally-flowing dialogue has not escaped the poet Hofmannsthal either.’ Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 22 January 1927. Ibid., 426. As the epigram quoted at the head of this article suggests, it was precisely Strauss's ‘bourgeois dialogues’ that Hofmannsthal seemed to abhor. While one could rightly question why Hofmannsthal had rejected Intermezzo only to conceive and execute another opera largely concerned with marital politics, it appears that Strauss's baldly autobiographical treatment acutely jarred with the poet's sensibilities. In a letter sent to Strauss in mid-1927, Hofmannsthal commented disparagingly on the ‘artists’ drama’ as ‘an odious form’, before adding (for Strauss's sake) the grudging qualification: ‘which can come off tolerably only in the case of a self-portrait – like Torquato Tasso […] or Pfitzner's Palestrina’. Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 16 July 1927. Ibid., 437. For a lifelong aesthete, such confessionalism and (for Hofmannsthal) drably pictorial depiction of quotidian reality as that represented in Intermezzo indicated a petit-bourgeois small-mindedness wholly at odds with the exploration of the symbolic mysteries of life, love and marriage that he held as being the true domain of opera. Another factor may have been his known distaste for Strauss's wife, the notoriously unpredictable Pauline, on whom the character of the composer Robert Storch's wife Christine in Intermezzo was clearly modelled; writing to Countess Ottonie Degenfeld in 1911, Hofmannsthal moaned: ‘The 24 hours with the Strausses were a long, continuous, horrible nightmare. These boorish, half-insane, deathly strange people. Characters out of a dream – who are they?! How did I ever become involved with them? How unbelievably strange. What people!’ Hofmannsthal to Degenfeld, 8 August 1911. The Poet and the Countess, ed. Miller-Degenfeld, 121. Whatever Hofmannsthal's views on the often bizarre dynamic between Strauss and Pauline were, the composer may well have pondered just how, in Die ägyptische Helena, Hofmannsthal planned to modernize a myth concerned with the ‘defilement of the marital bed’ without touching on bourgeois concerns.

39 A select number of specific sticking points pertaining to Helena are discussed later in this article.

41 ‘Menelaos u[nd] Helena, auf der Rückfahrt vom brennenden Troja, verbringen eine Sturmnacht auf einer kleiner Insel – und hier in einer Grotte, erschient ihnen, während sie nachtmahlen, das Phantom, jene andere Helena – und zwischen den drei Figuren entwickelt sich etwas ein Spiel das den platonischen Dialogen verwandt sein könnte, und mit dem willigen Selbst-begräbnis des Phantoms schließt. Phorkyaden u. Lemuren bilden den Chor – den sprechen zu machen ich mir von Ihren mythischen Sprachdämonieen soviel aneignen will als meine Natur verträgt – aber componieren will ich dies kleine Ding nicht lassen, sondern nur allenfalls die Danae, dann aber diese beiden: Danae u. aegyptische Helena zusammenstellen als kleine Dramen zweite Reihe’ (emphasis original). Hofmannsthal to Pannwitz, 2 January 1920. Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rudolf Pannwitz, Briefwechsel: 1907–1926, ed. Gerhard Schuster in association with the German Literature Archive, with an essay by Erwin Jaeckle (Frankfurt am Main, 1994), 492.

40 Rudolf Pannwitz, Der Krisis der europäischen Kultur (Munich, 1917).

42 Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 1 April 1923. Correspondence, 362.

43 Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 8 September 1923. Ibid., 364.

44 Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 14 September 1923. Ibid., 365.

45 ‘“Somewhere between Moscow and New York …”: Rodney Milnes on Strauss's Helena’, Opera, 48 (1997), 780–4 (p. 783).

46 Georg Simmel, ‘Die Idee Europa’, Der Krieg und die geistigen Entscheidungen (1917), ed. Gregor Fitzi and Otthein Rammstedt, Gesamtausgabe, 16 (Frankfurt am Main, 1999), 54–8 (p. 55). Quoted and translated in Jan Ifversen, ‘The Crisis of European Civilisation after 1918’, Ideas of Europe since 1914: The Legacy of the First World War, ed. Menno Spiering and Michael Wintle (Basingstoke, 2002), 14–32 (p. 15).

47 Paul Valéry, History and Politics (New York, 1962), 33. Quoted and translated in Ifversen, ‘The Crisis of European Civilisation’, 15.

48 Valéry, History and Politics, 33, 322. Quoted and translated in Ifversen, ‘The Crisis of European Civilisation’, 15–16.

49 For a thorough investigation of Hofmannsthal's role vis-à-vis the Salzburg Festival, see Michael P. Steinberg, The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival: Austria as Theater and Ideology, 1890–1938 (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1990).

50 Whether through reticence or pressure of work, Hofmannsthal was apparently tardy with regard to Rohan's initial overtures concerning the Cultural Union. Contacting Hofmannsthal and Strauss (and presumably other like-minded figures) around the same time, Rohan had received acknowledgement by the middle of 1922 only from Strauss: ‘What do you think of Prince Rohan and his [Cultural Union]? He said he'd so far been trying in vain to contact you! I have therefore only manifested non-committal sympathy with his intentions.’ Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 29 August 1922. Correspondence, 355.

51 Co-founded in 1923 by Coudenhove-Kalergi and Archduke Otto von Habsburg, the Pan-European Union was the first popular movement for a united Europe. A year previously, Coudenhove-Kalergi published his manifesto, Pan-Europa (Vienna, 1922) – a lucid, interwar apologia defending democratic, multicultural ‘European’ political institutions and the cultural connections between Western and Eastern Europe. Each copy of the book was accompanied by a membership form exhorting its readers to join the Pan-Europa movement, and while it is unclear whether Strauss actually joined, he was sufficiently sympathetic with its aims for Coudenhove-Kalergi to solicit (unsuccessfully) a hymn from him for the opening of the first Congress of the Pan-European Union on 3 October 1926. See Coudenhove-Kalergi to Strauss, 18 July 1926. Der Strom der Töne trug mich fort: Die Welt um Richard Strauss in Briefen, ed. Franz Grasberger in collaboration with Franz and Alice Strauss (Tutzing, 1967), 303–4.

52 Paul Gottfried, ‘Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Interwar European Right’, Modern Age, 49 (2007), 508–19 (p. 508).

53 See Karl Anton Prinz Rohan, Österreichisch Deutsch Europäisch (Bodensee, 1973), 46–53; see also Die konservative Revolution in Deutschland 1918–1932, ed. Arnim Mohler and Karlheinz Weißmann (6th edn, Graz, 2005), 140–2, 493–4. For an English-language critique of Rohan's pan-Europeanism (including comparison and contrast with that of Coudenhove-Kalergi), see Eagle Glassheim, Noble Nationalists: The Transformation of the Bohemian Aristocracy (Cambridge, MA, 2005), 111–22.

54 Hermann Graf Keyserling, Das Spektrum Europas (Heidelberg, 1928).

55 Hermann Graf Keyserling, Das Spektrum Europas (Heidelberg, 1928), 458, 463, 485.

56 Gottfried, ‘Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Interwar European Right’, 508.

57 See Hermann Rudolf, Kulturkritik und konservative Revolution (Tübingen, 1971), 131–44.

58 See Robert E. Norton, Secret Germany: Stefan George and his Circle (Ithaca, NY, and London, 2002).

59 See Robert E. Norton, Secret Germany: Stefan George and his Circle (Ithaca, NY, and London, 2002), 669.

60 On the role of allegory in Hofmannsthal's works, see Steinberg, The Meaning of the Salzburg Festival, 142–64.

61 Walter Jens, Hofmannsthal und die Griechen (Tübingen, 1955), 116.

62 Walter Jens, Hofmannsthal und die Griechen (Tübingen, 1955). Philip Ward has commented on how Hofmannsthal (following Bachofen) identified Helena with earth, night, moon and sea, distinctions she envoices in the libretto: ‘Erde und Nacht, Mond and Meer, helfet mir jetzt!’ (‘Earth and night, moon and sea, help me now!’). See Philip Ward, Hofmannsthal and Greek Myth: Expression and Performance (Berne, 2001), 229. Quotation from Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Die ägyptische Helena, libretto (Berlin, 1928; repr. Mainz, 1987), 20.

63 As implied above in note 38 and exemplified in, among other works, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Die ägyptische Helena, Hofmannsthal was a fervent believer in the sanctity of marriage, as is also made evident in the following note from 1922: ‘The meaning of marriage is mutual resolution and palingenesis. A true marriage can be dissolved only by death, and not even then, actually’ (‘Der Sinn der Ehe ist wechselseitige Auflösung und Palingenesie. Wahre Ehe ist darum nur durch den Tod lösbar, ja eigentlich auch durch diesen nicht’). Hofmannsthal, ‘Buch der Freunde’, Aufzeichnungen, 7–82 (p. 29). Conversely, Strauss's Symphonia domestica and Intermezzo bear witness to the composer's correspondingly earthier view of marital relations.

64 ‘Im Mythischen, ist jedes Ding durch einen Doppelsinn, der sein Gegensinn ist, getragen’; ‘darum ist im Mythischen alles im Gleichgewicht’. Hofmannsthal, ‘Buch der Freunde’, 35. Quoted in Erwin Kobel, Hugo von Hofmannsthal (Berlin, 1970), 334.

65 Quoted in Vaughan, ‘Myth and Society’, 332. To be sure, Hofmannsthal's text abounds with references to Wagner. Helena's awakening at the end of Act 1 is reminiscent of Brünnhilde's, and the potions of oblivion and recollection in Die ägyptische Helena are strongly reminiscent of the mechanics of betrayal in Götterdämmerung (comparison can also be made between the potion of oblivion as administered by Aithra to ensure the rekindling of love in Helena and the love potion administered by Brangäne in Act 1 of Tristan und Isolde). Moreover, the potion of recollection in Helena, which plainly exposes the protagonist's duplicity, also points to the Tristan love potion (given that both potions seemingly assure death), despite Hofmannsthal's firm protestations to the contrary in his correspondence with Strauss. In a letter from April 1928, Strauss asked: ‘Couldn't you marshal a few […] ancient sources [that is, in a preface to the libretto, here proposed by Strauss, for the benefit of critics and public alike], proving that the love potion in Tristan, and the potion of oblivion in Act 1 and that of remembrance in Act 3 of Götterdämmerung are not inventions of R. Wagner?’, to which Hofmannsthal replied: ‘what is all this about the potions? I am utterly at a loss to understand. After all Wagner did not, for heaven's sake, invent these potions! One (in the Ring) comes from the Edda, the other from the Tristan legend. In sagas and myths these potions are a standing institution.’ Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 25 April 1928, and Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 30 April 1928. Correspondence, 471–2, 473.

66 Contrary to his contemporary Austrian pan-Germanists, Hofmannsthal advocated cultural, not political, unity with Germany; moreover, during the 1920s both Hofmannsthal and Strauss nuanced the concept of pan-Germanism by valorizing the long-standing cultural ties between Bavaria and Austria, particularly in their reworking of Die Ruinen von Athen and in Die ägyptische Helena.

67 Leon Botstein has noted how, in a similar fashion, Strauss later drew on Weill's rhetorical gestures (in particular, Mahagonny-Songspiel) in the ensemble-writing for the male-voice chorus representing King Pollux's impatient creditors at the opening of Die Liebe der Danae. See Leon Botstein, ‘The Enigmas of Richard Strauss’, Richard Strauss and his World, ed. Bryan Gilliam (Princeton, NJ, 1992), 3–32 (p. 28). It should be remarked that this particular allusion was perhaps less sardonic than the skit on Hindemith in Intermezzo. In common with the titular city in Weill's dramatic cantata (and the opera for which it formed the basis, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, 1930), King Pollux's bankrupt kingdom represents the failure of unchecked capitalism. Moreover, the ironic slant on the detrimental effects of the commodification of wealth in both Mahagonny and Danae makes this connection between Weill and Strauss all the more compelling.

68 Karl Schönewolf, ‘Die ägyptische Helena: Uraufführung im Opernhaus’, Dresdner Nachrichten, 7 June 1928. The critic from the Schlesische Volkszeitung used the conglomerate term ‘trojanischen Weltkrieg’ following the opera's première in Breslau (now Wroctaw) on 11 November. See [unsigned], ‘“Die ägyptische Helena”: Erstaufführung im Stadttheater’, Schlesische Volkszeitung, 12 November 1928.

69 Schönewolf, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, Dresdner Nachrichten.

70 Siegfried Mattl, ‘The Ambivalence of Modernism from the Weimar Republic to National Socialism and Red Vienna’, Modern Intellectual History, 6 (2009), 223–34 (p. 226).

71 Moreover, from an early stage it was Hofmannsthal's wish that the Seashell – also influenced by the ‘phylactères prophétiques’ he had found in the mythological farce Protée, by the French dramatist Paul Claudel (1868–1955) – was to sound ‘really amusing and mysterious’. Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 16 October 1923. Correspondence, 371. ‘When I mention “gurgling”’, he wrote to the composer, ‘I have in mind the noise of water “speaking” in a pipe. It is not absolutely vital that one should understand what it says; it might in fact be amusing if the Sea shell were to sound distorted like a voice on the telephone when one stands beside the receiver.’Ibid . As Wolfgang Löffler has pointed out, Die ägyptische Helena was the first opera to harness burgeoning sound technology in a live setting by using a microphone and loudspeaker to create this effect. Wolfgang Löffler, ‘Die zwanziger Jahre: Eine Endzeit der Musik?’, Musik der zwanziger Jahre, ed. Werner Keil, in collaboration with Kerstin Jaunich and Ulrike Kammerer (Hildesheim, 1996), 317–31 (p. 321). According to Rudolf Hartmann, the actual result was disappointing – although the latter's description of it causing the voice to distort curiously tallies with Hofmannsthal's original intentions. See Rudolf Hartmann, Richard Strauss: The Staging of his Operas and Ballets (Oxford, 1982), 167.

72 The Saint-Saëns and Wagner allusions did not in the least go unnoticed by contemporary critics. Commenting on the Dresden première of Die ägyptische Helena, Eugen Schmitz asserted how one of the opera's ‘main motifs’ owed its existence to ‘a sentimental phrase’ from Samson et Dalila (‘Ist's nun ein Zufall, daß eines der führenden Motive der “Helena” an eine sentimentale Phrase aus “Samson und Dalila” […] anklingt?’), while Karl Schönewolf adduced that the above-mentioned D? section in which Helena remarks on the splendour of Aithra's hall had been ‘imported fresh out of Valhalla’ (‘frisch aus Walhall importiert’). See Dr Eugen Schmitz, ‘Die ägyptische Helena: Uraufführung der neuen Oper von Richard Strauß, Dresdner Opernhaus, am 6. Juni’, Dresdner Nachrichten, 8 June 1928, and Karl Schönewolf, ‘Die ägyptische Helena: Uraufführung im Opernhaus’, Münchener Zeitung, 9 June 1928.

73 Vaughan, ‘Myth and Society’, 337.

74 ‘Er ist kein Wahnsinniger, aber er ist in dem Zustand völliger Zerrüttung, den man in so vielen Kriegslazaretten bei denen, die aus allzu furchtbaren Situationen kamen, tage- und wochenlang beobachtet hat.’ Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 99. Having seen both military and diplomatic service during the War, Hofmannsthal's experience was acutely first-hand in this respect.

75 Vaughan, ‘Myth and Society’, 337.

76 Vaughan, ‘Myth and Society’, 337.

77 ‘Im übrigen bemüht sich die Musik einer edlen griechischen Haltung, etwa in der Art, wie Goethe die Griechen in seiner “Iphigenie” vorgeschwebt sind.’ Richard Strauss, ‘Interview über Die ägyptische Helena’, Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen, ed. Willi Schuh (3rd edn, Zurich, 1981), 150–3 (p. 150). Later Strauss would invoke Goethe in similar terms to counterpoise opposing visions of antiquity in his mythological operas. Contrasting Elektra with Die ägyptische Helena, he wrote: ‘it should be commented that, with the first, I had in mind the portrayal of the demonic Greeks of the fifth century BC, while the style of “Helena” approaches the purifying, idealistic beauty of fourth-century Greece à la Goethe and Winckelmann’ (‘Zu “Elektra” und “Helena” is zu bemerken, daß mir bei der ersten die Schilderung der dämonischen Griechen des 5. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. vorschwebte, während der Styl [sic] der “Helena” dem gelauterten Schönheitsideal des Goethe–Winkelmannischen Griechentums des 4. Jahrhunderts sich nähern sollte’). Strauss, ‘Betrachtungen zu Joseph Gregors “Weltgeschichte des Theaters”’, 108.

78 ‘Ob man gleich ihren Namen hier nie gehört, die gleiche Situation her, wie dort in der Heimat: man verliebt sich in sie, der Vater und wie der Sohn, man will sie dem Menelas entreißen, man ist bereit, sich um ihretwillen wechselseitig zu töten, aber das ist ein Detail – ich komme zum Kern, und der Kern ist Helena: dies ist die Stärke dieser Frau, darin liegt ihre Genialität – daß sie den Mann, dem sie gehört, ganz haben muß.’ Hofmannsthal, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’, 102. It should be noted that the characterization of Da-ud provided a bone of contention between Strauss and Hofmannsthal, fuelled by the latter's fundamental disagreement over the composer's suggestion regarding the casting of a contralto for the role. While not wholly disinclined toward Hosenrollen per se in an ‘artificial figurative world like that of the theatre’ (the androgynous Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier had been a notable precedent in this regard), Hofmannsthal nonetheless refused categorically to countenance the deployment of similar representation in Die ägyptische Helena, where ‘the juxtaposition of the sexes is built into [the] whole action as a latent tension’. According to Hofmannsthal, Da-ud, in his pointless infatuation with Helena, represented the personification of youthful virility, thus making it nonsensical to cast him as a woman. However, for such a pragmatic man of the theatre as Strauss, the uneven standard of tenor voices at provincial opera houses was enough to spur him into preparing an arrangement of the part for performance by mezzo-soprano ‘at a pinch’ (Strauss). Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 6 May 1927 and 16 May 1927, and Strauss to Hofmannsthal, 22 May 1927. Correspondence, 427–8, 428–9.

80 ‘Eilig zusammen geraffte Gaben / unwert des Hauchs / deiner furchtbaren Lippen! / Befiehl, und im spielenden Kampfe / fließet das Blut dieser Knaben, / jauchzend vergossen / für einen einzigen Blick / aus deinen goldenen Wimpern!’

81 ‘Denn es is recht, daß wir kämpfen / und daß wir sterben im Blachfeld um dieser willen – / denn sie ist die Schönste auf Erden!’

79 Hans-Gerd Röder, ‘Die ägyptische Helena’: An Attempt at an Explanation’, trans. Christopher Norton-Welsh, Richard Strauss-Blätter, orig. ser., 4 (1972), 57–70 (p. 66).

83 ‘Weh dem Unterliegenden / den die Träne näßte! / Weh dem Ausgeschlossene / vom Lebensfeste! / Ah hu! Ah hu! A hu!’

82 As per Hofmannsthal's stage direction: ‘fährt (Menalas) langsam mit der Hand über die Stirn, wie um Vergangenes sich aus dem Gedächtnis zu streichen’.

84 Eva-Maria Lenz, Hugo von Hofmannsthals mythologische Oper ‘Die ägyptische Helena’ (Tübingen, 1972), 147. Indeed, J. D. McClatchy has since expanded upon Hofmannsthal's take on the concept of Verwandlung (transformation) as ‘a moment when nostalgia and necessity collide, when the past is turned inside out and becomes a future that both repudiates and resembles what it has replaced, when we forget in order to change, and change in order to remember’. ‘Introduction’, Hugo von Hofmannsthal: The Whole Difference, ed. J. D. McClatchy (Princeton, NJ, 2008), 1–19 (p. 2).

85 Lenz, Hugo von Hofmannsthals mythologische Oper, 147. By transplanting in the 1933 version Helena's declamation: ‘Aithra, silence! / Here and now begins Helena's feast!’ (in contradistinction to Altair's own self-announced feast and the attendant implication that he sought to steer events forthwith according to his favour) to later in the action, and by excising the ensuing orchestral tutti, Strauss et al. consequently render Hofmannsthal's thematic and structural signpost redundant. Similarly, the abridgement of Altair's courtship scene in the later version – in which the bars describing the hunt are cut and pasted to the end of the same scene – serves inadvertently to obscure the direct link between the (Altair-instigated) hunt and the latter's relentless pursuit of Helena, his willingness to claim her by force if necessary, and the repugnant militarism that Altair himself embodies. For more on the ‘Vienna’ version, see Richard Strauss–Clemens Krauss: Briefwechsel: Gesamtausgabe, ed. Günter Brosche (Tutzing, 1997), 127; Roland Tenschert, ‘Die Neue Fassung der “Ägyptischen Helena” von Richard Strauss (1934)’, repr. in Hofmannsthal, Die ägyptische Helena (libretto), 71–9; and William Mann, Richard Strauss: A Critical Study of the Operas (London, 1964), 234–40.

86 Leon Botstein, ‘Strauss and Twentieth-Century Modernity: A Reassessment of the Man and his Work’, Richard Strauss und die Moderne: Bericht über das Internationale Symposium München, 21. bis 23. Juli 1999, ed. Bernd Edelmann, Birgit Lodes and Reinhold Schlötterer (Berlin, 2001), 113–37 (p. 124).

87 Leon Botstein, ‘Strauss and Twentieth-Century Modernity: A Reassessment of the Man and his Work’, Richard Strauss und die Moderne: Bericht über das Internationale Symposium München, 21. bis 23. Juli 1999, ed. Bernd Edelmann, Birgit Lodes and Reinhold Schlötterer (Berlin, 2001), 113–37., 130.

88 ‘Das Unvergleichliche des Mythos ist, daß er jederzeit wahr und sein Inhalt, bei dichtester Gedrängtheit, für alle Zeiten unerschöpflich ist.’ Richard Wagner, Oper und Drama, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, 4 (2nd edn, Leipzig, 1907), 64.

89 Attributed to Strauss by Joseph Gregor in ‘Richard Strauß: His Personality and his Music’, Universitas: A German Review of the Arts and Sciences (Quarterly English Language Edition), 2 (1958), 11–20 (p. 13).

90 Richard Chase, The Quest for Myth (Baton Rouge, LA, 1949), 97. Quoted in Robert E. Blackburn, ‘The Use of Myth in German Opera, 1912–33, with Special Reference to the Austrian Contribution’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Durham, 1976), 18.

91 Hofmannsthal to Strauss, 14 February 1924. Correspondence, 381.

92 Indeed, as Bryan Gilliam has argued, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Intermezzo and Die ägyptische Helena can be viewed as a trilogy of ‘marriage’ operas, with Helena as the culmination. Bryan Gilliam, The Life of Richard Strauss (Cambridge, 1999), 132.

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