4. National Theater in Berlin.
Wednesday, 12 October, Don Juan oder
der steinerne Gast, by Mozart.
If one unites deep knowledge of art with
the happiest talent of inventing charming
melodies, and combines both of these with
the greatest possible originality, then one has
the most apt picture of Mozart’s musical genius.
Never can one find in his works a thought that
one has already heard: even his accompaniment
is always new. One is ceaselessly swept forward
without rest or repose from one thought to
another, so that admiration of what is most recent
continually overwhelms admiration of all that
preceded it; and even exerting all one’s powers,
one can scarcely grasp all the beauties offered
to the soul. If one were to look for fault in
Mozart, there would probably be only one:
that this abundance of beauties almost tires out
the soul, and the effect of the whole is sometimes
thereby obscured. Yet lucky is the artist whose
only fault consists in all too great perfection.
To go into detail on a Mozart opera is nearly
impossible, because one is not in a position to find
either a beginning or an end. But if I may be
permitted to point to some of the most excellent
pieces, in my opinion. Among these belongs,
above all, the Overture. What a chilling
impression is not made by the slow introduction in
D minor, and how beautiful a contrast on the
other hand is not the cheerful yet extremely noble
Allegro in D major, in which the imitations
are masterfully worked out and of great effect.
Magnificently beautiful, from the standpoint of
expression and the inner economy of the voices,
is the Quartet in the first act of Don Juan, Donna
Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio; the Finale
at the close of the second act, in which the effect
at the words “Bebe, schwarzer Missethäter” is
harrowing to the highest degree; further, the
Septet in the third act; and finally the close of
the opera, whereby the horror of the scene is
so accurately expressed, that while listening one’s
hair truly stands on end. That our composer also
succeeds in happy scenes (of which there are
admittedly few in this opera) is shown by the
chorus of farmers at the beginning of the second
act, and the lovely little duet: Giebt mir die Hand,
mein Leben, which has an enchanting melody.
In a future report on Die Hochzeit des Figaro there
will be more opportunity to shed light on this side
of Mozart’s genius.
Deutsch (Dokumente, 359–60) gives only the first paragraph of this remarkable early review of Don Giovanni (performed in German as Don Juan in the Nationaltheater in Berlin), unaccountably omitting the longer second paragraph that remarks on the excellence of particular numbers in the opera. The numbers referred to specifically in the review are: the overture; the first-act quartet (“Non ti fidar, o misera” in the original Italian); the final section of the first-act finale (“Bebe, schwarzer Missethater” = “Trema, trema, o scellerato,” described in the review as the finale of the second act; the performance may have used the four-act German translation by Friedrich Ludwig Schröder); the “septet” (evidently the sextet “Sola sola in buio loco”); the close of the opera (referring to Don Juan’s descent into hell); the “Bauernchor” (the chorus “Giovinette che fate all’amore,” at the opening of the second act in this version); and the duet “Gieb mir die Hand, mein Leben” (“Là ci darem la mano”).
Deutsch attributes the review to Bernhard Anselm Weber (1764–1821) but gives no grounds for the attribution. In fact, Weber does not appear on the list of contributors to Musikalisches Wochenblatt or its successor Musikalische Monathsschrift. The only name in the contributors list beginning with “W” (the initial given at the end of the review) is Bernhard Wessely (1768–1826), who was music director of the Nationaltheater in Berlin at this time; it is more likely that Wessely was the author of this review, as well as the other items attributed to “W” in the Wochenblatt. (For more on Wessely, see our entry for 23 Jun 1792.)
On Musikalisches Wochenblatt, see our entry for 10 Oct 1791. The portion of this review of Don Juan omitted in Dokumente is given here in blue; three minor corrections to Deutsch’s transcription are in red. The first paragraph of this review is also transcribed in Rudolf von Freisauff, Mozart’s Don Juan 1787–1887. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte dieser Oper (Salzburg: Herm. Kerber, 1887), 53; Freisauff attributes the review to Bernhard Anselm Weber.
The complete text of this review is given in Schwob (2015, 178–180), along with a more complete account of its prior publication history. Schwob likewise attributes the review to Weber; as we argue above, it is probably by Bernhard Wessely. Schwob follows Deutsch in dating this issue of Musikalisches Wochenblatt to 29 Oct 1791, but it was more likely published on Mon, 24 Oct, or perhaps a day or two later; see the Notes to our commentary for 10 Oct 1791.
Schwob, Rainer J. ed. 2015. W. A. Mozart im Spiegel des Musikjournalismus, deutschsprachiger Raum 1782–1800. Beiträge zur Mozart-Dokumentation, vol. 1. Stuttgart: Carus Verlag.
Search Term: mozart
First Published: Sun, 21 Sep 2014
Updated: Sun, 15 Jan 2023
Edge, Dexter. 2014. “Review of Don Juan in the Nationaltheater in Berlin (addendum) (12 October 1791).” In: Mozart: New Documents, edited by Dexter Edge and David Black. First published 21 September 2014; updated 15 January 2023. https://www.mozartdocuments.org/documents/12-october-1791/
Edge, Dexter. 2014. “Review of Don Juan in the Nationaltheater in Berlin (addendum) (12 October 1791).” In: Mozart: New Documents, edited by Dexter Edge and David Black. First published 21 September 2014; updated 15 January 2023. [direct link]