Goethe at Home
Gavin Plumley, arts writer from entartetemusik.blogspot.com, gets ready for our next production of Werther by visiting Goethe’s home. He arrived in a snowbound Frankfurt in the depths of winter last year to track down the great man’s abode.
Modern-day fiscal Frankfurt is hardly where you’d look for one of the sites of European Romanticism. Yet here in the shadow of the Commerzbank headquarters is the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Just like Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District, Goethe’s well-appointed town house became one of the epicentres of Romantic culture. It was here that the eminent German author wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, one of the springboards of the Romantic Movement and the inspiration behind one of the great achievements of late 19th-century French opera.
When I visited the house in January 2010, snow had fallen heavily right across Germany. The unassuming maid’s well in the courtyard was frozen. A grayish forlorn light filled the rooms, lending them the muted texture of a painting by the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi. On this particular winter’s day, the house was empty of tourists and I drifted slowly through Goethe’s former home. The music room, with its piano, echoed with the eerie Christmas carol that the children sing in the first and last acts of Massenet’s tragic opera. But it was the uncanny stillness in the house that struck me most.
Despite the present-day tranquility, this was a place of great diligence; like his hero, Goethe was fiercely ambitious. And with the success of his Werther novel, as well as the later cheerier tales of Wilhelm Meister, Goethe became a major literary celebrity. No young man would be seen travelling through Europe without a copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther tucked under his arm. Many dressed even like the title character while, sadly, others mimicked his unfortunate suicide. Coming to the house in which the story was written, it’s impossible not to feel something of its touching sadness pulsing through the rooms. And when you reach the top floor, overlooking the snow-clad roofs of Old Frankfurt, the visitor finally sees the writing slope on which this great tale was written.
Gavin writes and broadcasts widely about Austrian and German culture in the 19th and 20th centuries. You can read more of his posts on his blog www.entartetemusik.blogspot.com.
Goethe’s Werther returns to the opera house this May. Visit the production page to book tickets and take a look at the production images below.