Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night: The Heathen by John Michael Cooper

By John Michael Cooper

Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis evening addresses tolerance and popularity within the face of cultural, political, and non secular strife. Its element of departure is the Walpurgis evening. The evening, often referred to as Beltane or could Eve, used to be supposedly an annual witches' Sabbath that founded round the Brocken, the top height of the Harz Mountains. After exploring how a notoriously pagan occasion got here to be named after the Christian missionary St. Walpurgis (ca. 710-79), John Michael Cooper discusses the Night's remedies in numerous heavily interwoven works by way of Goethe and Mendelssohn. His e-book situates these works of their instant own contexts, in addition to between remedies via a wide range of alternative artists, philosophers, and political thinkers, together with Voltaire, Lessing, Shelley, Heine, Delacroix, and Berlioz. In an age of decisive political and spiritual clash, Walpurgis evening turned a heathen muse: a resource of religious notion that was once neither in particular Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim. And Mendelssohn's and Goethe's engagements with it supply new insights into its position in ecu cultural heritage, in addition to into problems with political, spiritual, and social identification -- and the kin among cultural teams -- in state-of-the-art international. John Michael Cooper is professor of track at Southwestern college and writer of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony (Oxford college Press).

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Additional info for Mendelssohn, Goethe, and the Walpurgis Night: The Heathen Muse in European Culture, 1700-1850 (Eastman Studies in Music)

Example text

When people saw unexplained lights and moving shapes on the mountain off in the distance they arrived at all sorts of ideas, among them the odd opinion that it might have been something supernatural, witches and with them the devil, and so forth. . The most likely explanation is doubtless the following: a thousand years ago and more, before Christianity had been introduced into Saxony, women and girls held an idolatrous celebration atop this mountain [the Brocken] on May 1, and no men were allowed to participate in it.

Conclusions As a literary artwork Vulpius’s Hexenfahrten probably deserves the obscurity into which it has fallen. It warrants inclusion here, however, because it demonstrates the thematic potency the Walpurgis Night had accumulated by the end of the eighteenth century. As a contribution to the cultural discourse surrounding the fabled Brocken Sabbath, it incorporates many of the themes associated with the lore of the witchcraft into a prose narrative of romance between two fair youths who are unjustly kept apart by discord, ignorance, and superstition.

12 ❧ the cultural and religious prehistories More easily documented are the life and works of the eighth-century Benedictine abbess Walpurgis. 32 The first occurred during her passage over the English Channel in 748. According to legend, the ship carrying her and her missionary sisters was overtaken by a terrible storm that threatened to destroy them all (“doubtless,” an eighteenth-century biographer tells us, “because the evil spirit is generally an enemy of human beings”33), but the storm abated suddenly when Walpurgis issued a contemplative prayer.

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