The one-act Liederspiel Mitgefühl (‘Compassion’) was premiered at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna on 21 April 1804. The Liederspiel, a form of Singspiel, had been invented in 1797 by the composer J.F. Reichardt (1752–1814) with his Lieb und Treue (‘Love and Fidelity’). Reichardt’s idea was to take pre-existing poems by famous authors, set them to new music and frame it all in a simple, rural plot. While Lieb und Treue was a great success in Berlin, it never took hold in Vienna.
For Mitgefühl, the librettist G.F. Trietschke (1776-1842) utilized poems by, among others, Goethe and G.A. Bürger. This Viennese experiment in the Liederspiel genre was not successful with its audience, and only one repeat performance was given. Reviews found the poems too unknown, the story too slight, and the music too elaborate for the material.
by Daniel Bernhardsson
Marie sits on a bench before her house spinning and singing. When her lover Niklas enters, they discuss the difference between their two fathers. Marie's father, who is poor but generous and kind, has just rushed off to help fight a fire in a local village, while Niklas's father would not lift a finger to go himself and would not allow Niklas to go for fear the money he was collecting would burn up. Marie tells Niklas that her father has just inherited a large sum of money. The two young lovers rejoice because now Niklas's father can have no more objections to their union. Quaas, Niklas's father, enters and admits that instead of helping to put out the fire in the village, he sat and watched from a tavern because the day was simply too hot to help! Niklas asks his father for his blessing to marry Marie and is met with hearty laughter. Only after the young couple reveal that Marie has the money Quaas requires does he welcome her as his son's bride-to-be.
Marie's father returns home from fighting the fire. The two fathers happily agree to allow their children to marry and all appears to be well until Jakob learns that Quaas has only agreed to the marriage because of the money. Jakob announces that he misread the letter that came along with the money and he actually has nothing more than what he had before. Both fathers then angrily withdraw their permission. The lovers tearfully bid each other farewell but are interrupted by an approaching crowd of farmers, and children from the burned out village. Quaas is in the midst of them.
Michel, one of the men in the crowd tells Niklas that a man who was touched by their plight promised them two-thousand Gulden (exactly the sum Jakob inherited!) but they do not know the identity of the man who has done this good deed. They only know that the money is coming from someone in Niklas's village. They all believe that Quaas must be this good Samaritan, because they have all heard of his riches and they bless him for his kindness. The schoolmaster sets things straight and tells the crowd that he is certain that their benefactor is none other than Jakob. Quaas is visibly moved. The crowd arrives at Jakob's house and praise his valor in fighting the fire and saving lives when no one else would dare to take the risk. Quaas, who has been touched by the scene, rushes to embrace Jakob. Quaas has seen the error of his ways, blesses the young lovers, and gives the farmers more money to help replant their crops. The opera ends with everyone singing Jakob's praises.
by Marisa Solomon
Scoring: 2 Fl, 2 Ob, 2 Cl, 2 Bsn, 2 Hn, 2 Tpt, Timp & Strings
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