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Op. 60
Manuscript sketch, 1831?

Music Deposit 22, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library

walpurgisnacht Walpurgisnacht Walpurgisnacht

St. Walpurgis was an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon nun who worked as a missionary in the pagan lands that are now Germany. After her canonization, her feast was celebrated on May 1, a date that had long been associated with pagan festivals. This coincidence made “Walpurgis Night” a popular subject for legends and literature having to do with the supernatural, and/or the conflict between Christianity and paganism. In 1799 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a ballad, “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” (“The First Walpurgis Night”), on this theme; Goethe’s pagans cleverly outwit their Christian oppressors. He invited his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter to set it to music, but Zelter’s efforts came to naught. Three decades later, Zelter’s former student Felix Mendelssohn made a cantata from Goethe’s poem. The Gilmore Music Library is fortunate to have a sketch in Mendelssohn’s hand of a portion of the tenor part.

This manuscript has had a hard life: at some point in its history, it suffered extensive damage from fire and water. We are grateful to Paula Zyats (Assistant Head, Special Collections Conservation) for stabilizing its condition so it could be included in this exhibit.