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(contributed by Peter Hopper <Historics@msn.com>)
Egk was essentially a man of the theatre. He began writing incidental music while he was still a pupil of Orff in Munich, and established himself with the operas Die Zaubergeige (1935) and Peer Gynt (1938). He then remained in Germany during the war, though his only major work of this period was the ballet Joan von Zarissa (1940), followed after the war by more ballets (Abraxas, 1948; Die chinesische Nachtigall, 1953) and operas (Der Revisor, 1957), always written to his own scenarios or librettos.
La Tentation do Saint Antoine, a concert work for contralto and string quartet written in 1945 (and adapted for contralto, quartet and string orchestra in 1952) stands therefore rather apart from his main output in its genre, though not in its ironic tone. According to its title-page, the piece is "Based on airs and verses of the 18th. cent.", so that the demons besetting the saint wear curiously charming masks out of ancien régime pastoral, and the apocalyptic uproar mentioned in the first song is rendered by the musical means of a classical cantata. There is room, though, for Egks playful musical personality to excert itself, rather in the manner of Stravinsky in Pulcinella. The vocal lines seem to have been kept pretty much intact, if rhythmically altered, but the strings, almost always used to provide homogeneous textures, are in a spikier harmonic world, and Egk evidently revelled in the inappropriateness of his chosen airs, which often have a nursery-rhyme simplicity, to the expression of spiritual crisis. In doing so, however, he was contributing to the strong tradition of comedy in the St. Anthony story, a tradition which deals with the last things not as the dire threat everyman felt himself to face, but as so much absurdity.
(Notes by Paul Griffiths.)