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  • Musiktheater—Toward a Definition (1960)
  • Götz Friedrich and Joachim Herz
    Translated by Amy Stebbins

Until now, it has been left largely to individual parlance whether Musiktheater refers to a building in which theater pieces with music are performed or to a form of production that issues a direct challenge to music under the slogan "Let's be totally different." . . . Therefore we will attempt in the following to define the term Musiktheater as the Komische Oper has developed and deployed it—as a synopsis of the work of its creator and artistic director, Walter Felsenstein. In doing so, our efforts toward such a necessarily condensed definition do not supersede the theoretical publications that have emerged from the Komische Oper's work; rather, it presupposes them. These theoretical publications have meanwhile found confirmation in the work we have undertaken of late, but have not yet served as the object of discussion that they require. Musiktheater not only accommodates the most disparate working methods of distinctive director personalities with accordingly disparate results; but it demands these, as a necessary prerequisite for the vital fulfillment of Musiktheater's foundational claims. These foundational claims are indeed absolute. Without them, there is no Musiktheater.

Questions of interpretation are inseparably bound to questions about the creation of new works . . . If the preconditions of foundational claims are not fulfilled in the work, then Musiktheater will be entirely or partially impossible. Consistent application of the principles of Musiktheater in its musical and scenic realization presupposes that those same principles were operative in the creation of the work. There is no danger that any work handed down to us finds itself subject to demands that are foreign to it, because the masterpieces of our repertory are at once examples of and models for the methods of Musiktheater. Precisely Musiktheater—and only Musiktheater—offers the possibility to thoroughly revitalize them, and thereby to have a profound impact on our times. Nor is there any danger that the pattern set by previous examples will be forced onto works yet to be written; for the forms of music theater are as varied as its contents are diverse. [End Page 299]


Musiktheater is the musical and scenic realization of a plot1 with the goal of translating a work's humanistic content and expressive power into the listening spectator's experiences and insights.

The bearer of the plot is the singing person.

A work has been created in the sense of Musiktheater when it has this musical and scenic realization as its unconditional goal.

A work is interpreted in the sense of Musiktheater when its musico-scenic realization is true to the score.


The plot results from the actions of real characters. They are created by the singer, who identifies—based on his own personality—with the motivations and emotions of the represented character or accurately portrays the character's behavior. The individual character attains a unique and unmistakable life by virtue of the creative union of the singer's own personality with that of the character as determined by the work. Understanding the character's dramaturgical function, social position, and psychological structure is both a prerequisite and condition for the character's portrayal.


In order to be believable, the music-making actions of real people require a hyperbolization [Überhöhung] by the piece, one that either grows out of the character's emotional situation or shows the character's prototypical behavior in alienated and intentional form—yet which in both cases compels the character to express himself henceforth through singing and music-making alone. Of these two pathways, the performers must select the one that the composer pursued.


In the event that music-making results from emotional grandeur (as happens in most works in the repertory), the fact of a real person singing is not paradoxical as long as the performer has genuinely achieved the elevated inner state necessitated by the situation and has given birth to the character's actions and expressions from that inner state. Words and music are to be created as if in the moment, out of one's own inner impulse. The performer's inner state is thus ahead of his sung expression...


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pp. 299-302
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