Marschner, Heinrich August

Marschner, Heinrich August

(hīn`rĭkh ou`go͝ost märsh`nər), 1795–1861, German opera composer. Marschner's first opera, Heinrich IV und d'Aubigné, was produced by Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden in 1820. He worked with Weber at the Dresden Opera from 1823 to 1826. His most famous works are Der Vampyr (1828); Der Templer und die Jüdin (1829), based on Scott's Ivanhoe; and Hans Heiling (1833). Marschner's operas continued Weber's romantic style; his use of full orchestration influenced Wagner.

Marschner, Heinrich August (1795–1861)

(pop culture)

Heinrich August Marschner, the author of the first vampire opera, was born on August 16, 1795, in Zittau, Germany. He manifested an early talent for music but left home at eighteen to pursue law at the University at Leipzig. Fortunately, one of his professors recognized his true talents and convinced him to drop out of law. Marschner moved to Vienna, where he met Beethoven and wrote his first operas. In 1823 he became music director at the opera house at Dresden.

Four years later he moved back to Leipzig. By the time of his return to Leipzig, the vampire had become an item of fascination for French artists and that interest was being felt in Germany. Thus, in 1828, while in Leipzig, Marschner wrote his opera Der Vampyr. The finished piece was a collaborative product. The libretto was written by Wilhelm August Wohlbrück, Marschner’s brother-in-law. It was based on Charles Nodier‘s very successful stage play that had first brought the vampire to Parisian theater audiences. Nodier’s work was in turn based on John Polidori‘s “The Vampyre”. The opera opened with a gathering of witches. Lord Ruthven appeared and was told that he had twenty-four hours to locate three victims. Janthe, the first of his three victims-to-be, soon arrived, and she and the vampire departed into the vampire’s cave where he killed her. Janthe’s father then killed Ruthven, but he was revived when his friend Aubry placed him in the moonlight. (Moonlight, a theme introduced by Polidori, was retained in the nineteenth-century works based on “The Vampyre,” but disappeared from the twentieth-century lore.)

The next scene was the home of Malwina, the young woman with whom Aubry was in love. They were prevented from consummating their love, however, as Malwina’s father had promised his daughter to the Earl of Marsden—that is, Ruthven. Aubry could not expose Ruthven because he had taken an oath never to reveal Ruthven’s vampiric condition. On his way to the wedding, Ruthven located his third victim, Emmy, the daughter of a peasant. After killing Emmy he headed for another needed feeding. Unable to prevent the wedding by his best arguments, Aubry finally broke his oath and revealed Ruthven’s true nature.

Cosmic forces took over, and Ruthven was struck by lightning and fell into the pits of hell. The opera ended with the wedding guests singing a closing song thanking God.

Der Vampyr opened in Leipzig on March 29, 1829. The opera was a great success and was taken on the road. It opened in London in August and ran for some sixty performances at the Lyceum Theater, the same theater that later played such a central role in Bram Stoker‘s career and the site of the original dramatization of Dracula. In 1831 Marschner continued his career at Hanover, where he wrote his most critically acclaimed work, Hans Heiling. In 1859 he was pensioned as Hanover’s general music director. He died two years later on December 14, 1861. The town erected a monument to him in 1877.

Der Vampyr has been revived only rarely since the 1820s; however, in 1992 the BBC sponsored a modern production of it. The new production, entitled Der Vampyr—A Soap Opera, utilized Marschner’s music but had a completely new libretto written by Charles Hart that transferred the setting to modern London. Lord Ruthven became Ripley the Vampyr. (His part was sung by Omar Ebrahim.) The outline of the old plot survived, however, and Ripley, after several bloody scenes that would satisfy any vampire enthusiast, received his just reward in the presence of the wedding guests. The new version of Der Vampyr has been released on a Virgin Classics compact disc.

Sources:

Brautigam, Rob. “Der Vampyr.” International Vampire 1, 4 (Summer 1991): 8–10.
———. “The Vampyr—A Soap Opera.” International Vampire 10 (1993): 5.
Palmer, A. Dean. Heinrich August Marschner: 1795–1861. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1980. 591 pp.

Marschner, Heinrich August

 

Born Aug. 16, 1795, in Zittau; died Dec. 14, 1861, in Hanover. German composer and conductor.

From 1811 to 1816, Marschner studied composition under J. Schicht. Beginning in 1813 he studied law at the University of Leipzig. He made his debut in 1817 in Pressburg (now Bratislava), where his career as a conductor began. Between 1824 and 1826, Marschner conducted in Dresden and toured various cities. He was the musical director of the Leipzig opera house from 1827 to 1831 and the Hanover opera house from 1831 to 1859.

Marschner is an outstanding representative of early German romantic music. The best of his 14 operas are Der Vampyr (produced in 1828), Templer und Judin (1829), and Hans Heiling (1838). Based for the most part on medieval legends (with elements of fairy-tale fantasy), his operas were in the tradition of those of C. M. von Weber and, to a certain extent, anticipated Wagner’s musical dramas. Marschner placed increased importance on the role of harmony, the symphonic principle in opera, and the psychological bases of dramatic action. He also wrote songs, choruses, and instrumental compositions.

REFERENCE

Kohler, V. Heinrich Marschners Biihnenwerke. Gottingen, 1955. (Dissertation.)