REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » BERG, A.: Wozzeck
Büchner’s unfinished play, Woyzeck, written between 1835 and 1837, had been brought to light in 1879 by the writer Karl Emil Franzos. Georg Büchner, the son of a doctor, had been born in 1813 at Goddelau, near Darmstadt. He followed his father’s profession and won early distinction, although his radical political sympathies made it necessary for him to take refuge in Switzerland, where he was appointed to the medical faculty of Zürich University. His very promising career was cut short in 1837, when he died of typhoid.
Woyzeck consists of 27 scenes, which have, since 1879, appeared in various arrangements. It is based on the case of an unemployed barber, wig-maker and soldier, Johann Christian Woyzeck, who was found guilty, in 1821 in Leipzig, of the murder of a widow, Frau Woost, for which he was finally executed in Leipzig market-place in 1824, after appeals on the grounds of diminished responsibility had been rejected. The case aroused contemporary legal and medical interest and it was clear that the man was the victim of circumstances, orphaned in childhood, subsequently a soldier in various armies and finally, without the necessary papers, forced into beggary. As in the opera, the situation of Büchner’s Woyzeck is exacerbated by the contemptuous treatment he receives from the captain and the unscrupulous behaviour of the doctor, whose experiments provide money for Marie, whom Woyzeck, through poverty, cannot marry, and their child. He stabs her to death, when he finds she has betrayed him with the drum-major, and finally drowns himself in the lake where he has thrown the knife.
Berg’s opera follows the order of scenes suggested by Franzos in his 1879 edition of Woyzeck, but uses only fifteen of them. The work is intensely moving in its portrayal of the central character, the victim of a society that has no place for him. At the same time it is of the greatest musical interest. It is the first atonal opera, the first opera that makes no use of the established system of keys, just as Lulu was to be the first opera based on the Schoenbergian principles of serialism, musical structures based on an ordering of the twelve semitones within the octave. It also makes use of a series of traditional musical structures, scene by scene, but employed very differently. There are motifs clearly associated with certain characters and events in the narrative.
The first act of Wozzeck shows the man in relation to the captain, with his fellow-soldier Andres, with Marie and with the doctor, ending with the scene of Marie and the drum-major. In this exposition, Wozzeck and the captain has the structure of a Suite, with a Prelude, Sarabande, Gigue, Gavotte and Air, followed by a Postlude that is an inversion of the Prelude; Wozzeck and Andres is a Rhapsody; Wozzeck and Marie is a March and Lullaby; Wozzeck and the doctor is a Passacaglia on a twelve-note theme, and Marie and the drum-major is Andante affettuoso (quasi Rondo).
The second act serves as a dramatic development and is in the form of a Symphony in five movements. Marie and her child, joined later by Wozzeck, is a Sonata movement; the captain and the doctor, later joined by Wozzeck, is a Fantasia and Triple Fugue; the third scene, Marie and Wozzeck, is a slow movement, marked Largo; the tavern garden of the fourth scene is a Scherzo, and the fifth scene, in the barracks, is a Rondo con introduzione.
The third act, which brings the dramatic climax and final disaster, is a series of six Inventions. The first, Marie and her child, has a theme, seven variations and a fugue; the second, Marie and Wozzeck, is an Invention on One Note, followed by a dance-scene in a bar, an Invention on a Rhythm. The fourth scene, the death of Wozzeck, is an Invention on a Hexachord, the six-note chord heard as the scene begins. There is an orchestral interlude, an Invention on a Key, followed by the final children’s scene, an Invention on Quavers.
 Scene 1.
It is early in the morning in the captain’ room, where the soldier Wozzeck is shaving the officer. The captain urges Wozzeck to take his time, asking him what he will do with the time he has before him and telling him to take a grip on his life. Wozzeck’s answers are brief, as he agrees with the captain’s musing on time and eternity, the uselessness of the daily revolving of the earth that makes the sight of a mill-wheel turn him to melancholy. The captain tells Wozzeck that he always seems so agitated, not like a good man, who would do everything slowly. He asks about the weather, which Wozzeck tells him is bad, windy, something the captain says makes him think of a mouse, asking Wozzeck if the wind is South-North. Wozzeck agrees, causing the captain’s laughter at the man’s stupidity, yet Wozzeck is a good man, but not moral, with a child born out of wedlock. This provokes Wozzeck to a fuller reply, quoting the words of Christ:’Suffer little childrento come unto me’. The captain is angry and asks Wozzeck what he means by such an answer. Wozzeck continues, explaining that the poor have no choice, but are flesh and blood: if he were a gentleman, with a top hat, a watch and a monocle, he would be virtuous, but the poor always have the worst of it and even in Heaven will have to work as thunder makers. The captain tells Wozzeck he has no idea of virtue: he himself has moments of temptation when he sees pretty white stockings going down the street in the rain, but reminds himself he is a man of virtue, a good man. Wozzeck tells him that virtue is not for poor people, who only do what is natural. The captain, perhaps embarassed, tells Wozzeck he is a good man, but that he thinks too much: quite upset by the conversation, he tells Wozzeck to go, but slowly down the street, keeping to the middle. Wozzeck goes.
 Scene 2.
It is late afternoon in the bleak fields near the town. Wozzeck and Andres are cutting sticks among the brushwood. Wozzeck says the place is cursed, but Andres happily sings his song of the life of a huntsman, as he works. Wozzeck continues, pointing to the light over the grass, where toadstools are growing, and telling him of a head, appearing at dusk, which a man had once picked up, thinking it a hedgehog, only to be in his coffin three days and three nights later. Andres sees that Wozzeck is afraid, as it grows darker, and continues his huntsman’s song, interrupted by Wozzeck, who thinks he detects free-masons. Andres goes on with his song, trying to calm Wozzeck, but in vain. Wozzeck imagines a chasm, shaking, something moving, coming nearer: then a fire, rising from the earth to the sky with the sound like trombones. Andres still tries to calm Wozzeck, as it becomes darker, gathering his sticks as drums are heard, marking the sunset. For Wozzeck it is as if the world were dead, as Andres urges him home, now night has fallen.
 Scene 3
The sound of a band is heard. It is evening and Marie is in her room, standing at the window, with her child in her arms. The band comes nearer and she marks the rhythm of the march for her child. The band is led by the drum-major, admired by Marie’s neighbour Margret. The man acknowledges Marie, who waves to him, provoking comment from Margret. Marie tells her to mind her own business and take her eyes to the Jews to have them polished and sell them. Margret tells her that she is an honest woman, while Marie, as everyone knows, can see through seven pairs of trousers. Angry, Marie slams the window shut, and talks to her child, the son of a whore, unbaptized, but a joy to his mother. She sings the child a lullaby and he sleeps. There is a knock at the window and she opens it to Wozzeck, who tells her of what he has seen in the sky, as he was cutting sticks, quoting scripture again: ’And lo, there rose smoke from the land, as smoke from a furnace’. It followed him through the town. Marie shows him his child, but he is distracted, leaving Marie to worry that Wozzeck has been thinking too much, as she exclaims on the lot of poor people, before breaking off, trembling.
 Scene 4
It is a fine afternoon. In his study the doctor comes quickly forward to meet Wozzeck, reproaching him for coughing [Büchner: pissing] in the street, barking like a dog, yet he gives him three groschen a day. Wozzeck tells him that it is natural, but the doctor declares that nature can be controlled by the human will, since man is free. He questions Wozzeck about his diet, only beans, and then, in three months, mutton, a scientific revolution. He counts on his fingers, albumen, fats, carbohydrates and then oxyhaldehydanhydride, controlling his anger, which is unscientific. Wozzeck tries to explain how nature is, when the whole world is dark and you stretch out with our hands, groping, and it seems to vanish like a spider’s web. He calls on Marie, and goes on to talk of the red light in the West, like from a forge, as he walks forward, his arms stretched out. He tells the doctor of the voices he hears when the sun is high, at noon, the rings of toadstools in the ground, with symbols to be read. The doctor delightedly diagnoses an idée fixe, an aberratio mentalis partialis of the second species, worthy of extra money. He asks him if he still shaves the captain, will catch leeches for him and eats his beans. Wozzeck will do as he is told, to earn money for his wife. The doctor finds him an intriguing case, and while Wozzeck calls out Marie’s name, he sees the prospect of immortal fame for himself, as he demands to see Wozzeck’s tongue.
 Scene 5
It is dusk. The scene is the street in front of the door of Marie’s house. Marie stands, admiring the drum-major, with a chest like a bull and a beard like a lion. He tells her that she should see him on Sunday, with the feathers in his cap and his white gloves, a real man, in the words of the Prince. He admires Marie, fit to breed now a whole race of drum-majors. He embraces her and she tries to free herself, finally falling into his arms, as they go into the hosue together.
 Scene 1
It is a sunny morning. Marie is in her room with her child, looking at herself in a piece of broken mirror and wondering what the shining stones are that she is wearing. Her child is on her lap and she urges him to shut his eyes tight and sleep, telling him that the gypsies will take him. He huddles up to her, frightened, his eyes shut. Marie goes on looking at herself, the ornament that must be gold and her red lips, as good as any lady, although she is only a poor woman. The child sits up and she tries to quieten him again, flashing the mirror light onto the wall, the sleep-angel, who will blind him, then flashing the light in his eyes. Wozzeck enters behind her, startling her. He asks her what she has in her hand, shining through her fingers, and she tells him it is an ear-ring that she found. Wozzeck says he has never found two together like that, an implied accusation that she resents. Wozzeck calms her and turns to the child, sweating in his sleep, as poor working people must. He gives her the money he has from the captain and the doctor, as he leaves. Left alone, Marie sees herself as a bad woman and could kill herself for what she has done: everything goes to the Devil, man, woman and child.
 Scene 2
It is day-time. The captain and the doctor meet in the street in the town. The captain tells the doctor he is going too fast, addressing him as Herr Sargnagel (Mr Coffin-Nail) to which the doctor replies that the other, Herr Exercizengel (Mr Drill-Master) is walking too slowly. Both preoccupied, as before, by time, one tries to slow the other, who hurries on, not what a good man should do, the captain claims, telling the doctor he is hurrying to an early grave. The doctor slows his pace, but is still pressing on, while the captain seeks his attention. The doctor talks of a woman patient with cancer of the womb, dead in four weeks, like twenty other patients, an interesting corpse, while diagnosing the captain as a fit subject for cerebral apoplexy in four weeks, fat, bloated, with a thick neck, probably due for a stroke on one side or below, obviously an interesting case and a future subject for immortal experiment. The captain coughs, breathless. now visualising mourners at his funeral, praising him as a good man. Wozzeck hurries by, saluting as he goes. The doctor calls to him and the captain asks him if he had all the university dons to shave. He pauses, whistling as he thinks, quoting a saying about fine long beards, which the doctor completes, a reference to the amorous propensities of soldiers. The captain asks Wozzeck if he had found the hair of a beard in his bowl, while the doctor imitates the actions of a drum-major; the hair of an NCO, a drum-major, he suggests. They continue to joke at Wozzeck’s expense, as he becomes more agitated. The doctor takes his pulse and examines his taut face muscles and staring eyes, while the captain tells him again that he is a good man. Wozzeck, agitated, hurries away, without taking leave. For the doctor he is an interesting phenomenon, while the captain adds that a good man is thankful to God but has no courage: only a scoundrel has courage.
 Scene 3
It is a dull day. Marie stands in the street in front of her house, as Wozzeck comes hurriedly towards her, in agitation, asking if it is still her, although such a sin must smell to heaven, yet there is no blister on her red lips: she is fair as sin, if a mortal sin can be fair. He asks if Marie had seen the man there, in the street, and she tells him that there are many people passing in the street. Excitedly he rushes towards her and she tells him rather a knife in her body than his hands on her, something her father never dared when she was ten. Wozzeck repeats her words ’rather a knife’ and, as he goes, sees man as an abyss that makes him giddy.
 Scene 4
It is late evening in a tavern garden. Apprentices, soldiers and girls are dancing or watching the dancing. Two apprentices talk, the first maudlin at the state of the world, while the second finds joy in brandy, as his companion nods off. Dancing resumes and Marie dances with the drum-major, observed by Wozzeck, who rushes in. He hears her words ’Immer zu’ (On we go!) as she passes, and Wozzeck sees everything turning in lust, man and woman, human and brute beast: women are burning hot. He jumps up as Marie and the drum-major dance past him, and is about to intervene, but the dance ends. Apprentices and soldiers sing of the hunter’s life, conducted by Andres, who takes a guitar from the band and continues the song. He gives the guitar back, when the song is over, and approaches Wozzeck, asking why he is sitting near the door, alone. Wozzeck tells him many people sit near the door and know nothing of it, until they are carried through it feet first; he sits alone and will be better alone in the cold grave. Andres whistles to himself, thinking of the dance, and asks Wozzeck if he is drunk. The first apprentice, awake again, climbs onto a table and starts to preach to the company, his blasphemous mock-sermon throwing an ironic slant on the human predicament, with his soul still stinking of brandy. He is carried away by his friends, in general turmoil, while the earlier singing is resumed. Wozzeck, still sitting alone, is approached by the idiot, who tells him he smells blood. Dancing resumes, while Wozzeck sees red before his eyes.
 Scene 5
It is night in the barracks, where soldiers are sleeping, Wozzeck lying on a pallet next to Andres and complaining that he cannot sleep, always seeing the dancers, when he shuts his eyes. Andres answers sleepily, but Wozzeck continues, seeing a shining knife-blade. He prays ’and lead us not into temptation’. The drum-major bursts in, very drunk, boasting of the woman he has, fit to breed drum-majors. Andres asks who it is and the drum-major tells him to ask Wozzeck, to whom he offers a bottle of schnaps. Wozzeck whistles, refusing and the drum-major seizes him by the throat, then letting him go. He whistles as he stumbles out. A soldier points at Wozzeck, remarking that he has had his come-uppance and Andres adds that he is bleeding. Wozzeck sits, staring, with the words ’Einer nach Andern!’ (One after another), as the other soldiers sleep again.
 Scene 1
It is night in Marie’s room. Alone with her son in the candle-light, she sits at the table, reading in the Bible of the woman taken in adultery, told by Christ, before her accusers, to go and sin no more. The sight of her boy pricks her conscience and she pushes him away, then draws him closer to her, telling him a story: Once upon a time there was a poor child and he had no father and no mother, they were all dead and there was no-one in the world, and the boy was hungry and cried day and night, and he had no-one in the world. She breaks off, worried that Wozzeck had not come the day before and turning now in the Bible to the story of Mary Magdalene, who anointed Christ’s feet with her tears and with ointment, she begs the Lord for mercy.
 Scene 2
It is dusk. Marie and Wozzeck walk together along a forest path by a pool. Marie urges him to hurry, as it is late, but Wozzeck sits down with her, reminding her of their first meeting, three years ago last Whitsun. She is frightened and tries to go, but he pulls her back: she is pious, good and true, he says. He kisses her and wishes he could always kiss her. She shivers, as the night dew falls, but he tells her that she will never be cold again in the morning dew. The moon rises, red, like blood-stained iron. He seizes her and stabs her to death, bending over her as she dies, before rushing away.
 Scene 3
It is night in a low tavern, where apprentices and girls, among them Margret, are dancing a wild polka. Wozzeck is sitting atone of the tables, bidding them dance for the Devil and sings a song of a girl waiting for a soldier. He breaks off, jumps up and dances briefly with Margret, before sitting down again with her on his knee, before letting her go. Margret sings a servant girl’s song, for long dresses and pointed shoes are not for servants. Wozzeck tells her that one needs no shoes to go to hell. She sees blood on his hand and others gather round, as he claims to have cut himself. There is blood, though, on his elbow, wiped there, he claims, from the cut on his hand. All cry out that it is human blood, as Wozzeck rushes out.
 Scene 4
The forest path by the pool is lit by the light of the moon. Wozzeck is looking for the knife that he had left there: all is still and dead, he says, then shouts out ’Murder’. He sees Marie’s body and the red mark round her throat, a necklace, a present like the ear-rings. He finds the knife and throws it into the water, fearing it is too near the edge and will be found. He wades into the pool after it, then seeks to wash the blood from him, but the water is blood. He drowns. The captain and the doctor appear. They have heard something, like the sound of a man drowning, but the sound soon stops. They hurry away.
 Scene 5
Marie’s child is playing in the street in front of her house, riding a hobby-horse. It is a bright morning and the sun is shining. Children play ring-a-roses, then joined by others. One of them tells Marie’s boy that his mother is dead, but the boy happily goes on playing, as the others run off to see the body that has been found. The boy is alone for a moment, then follows the others.
Wozzeck at the
Royal Swedish Opera
Berg's masterpiece, Wozzeck, did not reach Stockholm in its first years of popularity before the Second World War, although the Royal Swedish Opera in the 1930s included in its repertoire both Shostakovich's Katerina Ismailova and works by Franz Schreker, Max Brand and Erich Korngold. The Bruchstücke (Fragments) from were first heard in concert as late as 1955 with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and the soprano Kjerstin Dellert. The first Swedish production of Wozzeck was staged by the Royal Opera on the 4th and 5th of April 1957 with Dellert as Marie on both nights (Elisabeth Söderström appeared in the rôle in 1959), and with Anders Näslund and Erik Saedén sharing the title-rôle. The conductor was Sixten Ehrling, who introduced much of modern repertoire into Sweden after the war, and the stage director was Göran Gentele, later artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera. The bitter social tragedy of Wozzeck, Marie and their child was enacted in a series of expressionistic tableaus designed by the artist Sven Erixon on a small elevated stage in the middle of the big stage of the opera house. The acting was highly accomplished and the musical interpretation of great quality. This production played 41 times until shelved in 1971. By then the Swedish Royal Opera had also shown its version of Wozzeck at the Edinburgh festival of 1959.
New productions of Wozzeck in Stockholm and Gothenburg have had a hard time to compete with this legendary production from one of the golden eras of the Royal Swedish Opera. New artists had to compete with memories of intense dramatic performances by Dellert and Saedén in the leading parts and the extreme characterizations of the scurrilous Captain and Doctor by Sven-Erik Vikström and Arne Tyrén. Finally in 2000 the German director Götz Friedrich succeeded in liberating the Büchner text from its early nineteenth-century post-revolutionary ambience and projecting its theme of oppression and humiliation on a wider fresco of human suffering. "Arme Leut", in dozens of languages, was quoted from the oppressed soldier's outbursts in graffitti on the safety curtain. With Wozzeck the late Berlin Deutsche Oper director Friedrich unknowingly bade farewell to the Swedish capital, which had been Felsenstein pupil’s first refuge after escaping from East Germany in the 1970s and where he had been an important guest director since his Western break-through with Jenůfa at the Royal Opera and Così fan tutte at Drottningholm.
Head of Dramaturgy
Royal Swedish Opera
Last Albums Viewed
BERG, A.: Wozzeck