Walter Braunfels (1882-1954)
Capriccio C5354

Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
Gregor Bühl, conductor
Rec. 11-16 juin 2018
8 mars 2019



This orchestral work by German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) is a set of twelve (loose) variations on the theme of Mephistopheles' "Flea Song" from the opera "The Damnation of Faust" Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). Braunfels described his inspiration, "During my young years Frank Wedekind had spoken to me about his flea ballet. Nothing came of the composition at the time. But when I later heard 'Le damnation de Faust' [by Berlioz], I could not stop thinking of Mephisto's flea song, and I began to compose a piece: life, deeds, and opinions of a flea. The 'Fantastic Appearances' later developed from this [...]." At the same time, Braunfels draws upon his own impressions and personal experiences during the First World War for inspiration in this piece. The work begins with an ominous, demonic introduction, evocations of screaming and a quotation of the main theme, Mephistopheles' flea song. A series of "Erscheinungen" follow, which are not so much variations as motivic explorations and imaginative experiments. The third Erscheinung conjures up a thunderstorm out of the flea song motif and whips the music into a frenzy reminiscent of the overture to Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman." The sixth Erscheinung, on the other hand, is calmer and more reticent, with a solo cello introducing a new espressivo theme. The seventh Erscheinung features a solo violin possessed with demonic furor, which leads into a dramatic fugato passage. Note that the ninth Erscheinung is omitted here (this was standard practice in performances for many years). The eleventh Erscheinung is a heavier, slower funeral march, alluding to the composer's war experience, and it leads to the final Erscheinung that quotes the melody of "Für's Vaterland zu sterben" ("To perish for one's Fatherland"). The finale brings together recollections of the previous Erscheinungen and closes the work with a final rendition of the flea song.