Le vin herbé
Frank Martin 1890–1974
Secular Oratorio (1938/1941)
Libretto by Joseph Bédier
First performed (in concert) March 26 1942, Tonhalle Zurich
First staged performance August 15 1948, Salzburg
Re-rehearsed new production after corona prevented performances / Never staged in Frankfurt before
Sung in French with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances and available here on video shortly before opening night
A prologue heralds the tale of Tristan und Iseut (Isolde). How they loved each other passionately, in great sadness. And died of it.
Part 1: The Love Potion Iseut, called the fair, is to be taken to Cornwall by ship to marry King Mark, against her will. Her mother prepared a love potion, which she entrusted to Iseut's companion Branghien's safekeeping, to be given to Iseut and the King on their wedding night. Tristan, sent by his uncle Mark to bring Iseut to a foreign land, is also on board. Iseut hates Tristan because he killed her uncle. While the ship puts in to port and everyone has gone ashore, Tristan and Iseut remain on board. He tries to console the future Queen. A young serving girl unwittingly gives them the love potion. Tristan felt as if a bramble was growing in his heart, whose branches were tying him to Iseut. Tristan and Iseut try in vain to fight their quickening desires. Iseut, in despair, tells Branghien what happened. She's told that: the drink promises love and death. The ship is nearing King Mark's land. Part 2: The Forest of Morrois Iseut is now King Mark's wife. But he soon finds out about her love for Tristan. The lovers flee into the forest of Morrois. When the King, pursuing them, takes the lovers unawares he sees that Tristan's sword lies between them. Moved by the chasteness of their love, he forgives them. When Tristan and Iseut awake they realise that the King has spared them. Full of remorse, Tristan prays for the strength to be able give his beloved back to his uncle. Iseut accuses herself of infidelity. They part. Part 3: Death Three years later Tristan married Iseut, the whitehanded. Hoping this might help him forget Iseut, the fair. His wife is Duke Hoël's daughter, and his friend Kaherdin's sister. Tristan is wounded in battle by a poisoned lance. He begs Kaherdin to bring Iseut the fair to him. His wife, Iseut the whitehanded, secretly listens to their conversation and finds out that when Kaherdin returns he's to set a white sail if the beloved woman is with him, a black one if not. Iseut, filled with undiminished love, grants Tristan's wish. After a long, hazardous voyage, the ship approaches under a white sail. But the whitehanded woman tells her mortally ill husband that it is black. Tristan dies. Iseut finds out about her beloved's death when she comes on land. She embraces Tristan and dies. King Mark has them buried them next to each other. A flowering bramble grows out of Tristan's grave and into Iseut's. An epilogue closes the story, promising solace for all love's travails.
The Swiss composer Frank Martin’s plan to set the legend of Tristan to music in a new way, 60 years after Wagner, was single-minded and brave. Another Tristan emerged, subtitled a secular oratorio, as a clear »counterpart« to Wagner’s opera. Unlike its overwhelming, musically dramatic forerunner the Swiss composer wrote for solo voices, vocal ensemble, six solo strings and piano. He distanced himself from Wagner further in his choice of literature, taking up the 1900 Le Roman de Tristan et Iseut by the French Middleages researcher Joseph Bédier instead of Gottfried von Straßburg's narration. Martin’s chorus tells and comments on the story while Tristan, Iseut and King Marc, are soloists. Told in 18 scenes, a prologue and epilogue Martin shapes the story of Tristan and Isolde from the voyage to Cornwall, where Isolde is to marry King Mark, against her will, to their deaths. The composer avoided large-scale theatrical effects, emphasizing the ambivalence of the characters with complex chamber music instead.