How Gounod’s ‘Faust’ Became A Violinist’s Dream

By David Salazar

Violin fantasies based on major operas was a major trend back in the 1800s with such virtuoso violinists like Sarasate, Paganini, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski looking for vehicles that could showcase their skills.

Of these fantasies, Sarasate’s adaptation of “Carmen” is perhaps the best-known of the lot with a 20th-century version by Franz Waxman following suit.

But no opera has been more apt to violinistic adaptation than Gounod’s “Faust.” The instrument has been widely recognized as the “devil’s instrument” making it ideal to take on some of Faust’s lush melodies. It is also essential to recall that Gounod himself employs the instrument as a soloist to accompany the title character’s famed “Salut demeure.”

Here is a look at the most famous instances that violinists appropriated Gounod’s infectious melodies from his famous opera, which had its world premiere on March 19, 1859.

Henryk Wienawski’s “Fantaisie Brillante on themes from Gounod’s Faust” (1865)

The most famous of all the Faust fantasies, the Polish composer starts his work with the opera’s very opening before launching into lyrical revelry that mixes Siebel’s aria and the love duet. “Le Veau D’Or” gets its own treatment here before the work is capped off by a fiendishly difficult rendition of the waltz.

Jean-Delphin Alard’s “Fantasia sull’opera Faust di Gounod” (1868)

Perhaps the least demanding from a virtuoso standpoint, the French violinist’s own adaptation features adaptations of Siebel’s aria, “Salut demeure,” the famous waltz, the love duet and the military march.

Henri Vieuxtemps’s “Fantasie sur ‘Faust’ de Ch. Gounod” (1869)

The Belgian fiddler also put his skills to composing a fantasy based on a few of the composer’s famous themes including Marguerite’s first aria, Siebel’s solo and, of course, the waltz.

Sarasate’s “Nouvelle Fantaisie sur Faust de Gounod” (1874)

The piece starts off rather solemnly with a hint of Faust’s famous “Salut demeure” showcased on the violin’s lower range. Eventually, we get to Mephistopheles famous “Le Veau D’Or,” the violinist commanded to overcome entire gamuts of virtuosic tricks from octave double stops to artificial harmonics. Music from Valentin’s aria and the conclusion of the love duet follow, the violinist allowed ample space for lyrical beauty before the “Salut demeure” returns in all its full-fleshed beauty. And of course to top it all off is the famous waltz.


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