Concerning the Disposition and Posthumous Publication of Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s Plays
On 19 February 1798, Wilhelm Schlegel wrote to Goethe (letter 195d; Körner-Wieneke 65–66; Goethe Jahrbuch 18  84) after several remarks about Caroline’s health and about a visit by Luise Gotter, who was in need of cheering up:
She has one of Gotter’s comedies, Der schöne Geist, which, although brought to an end, is nonetheless still not quite finished and which, with the help of my wife, who had heard the author himself read it aloud, she completely retrieved from among her husband’s jumbled manuscripts and is thinking about perhaps submitting to the Berlin theater.
Given the various sad and unsettled circumstances in which Madam Gotter has lived since her husband’s death, only now has she gotten round to examining his papers. She writes that she found the comedy Der schöne Geist in such disarray that she is unsure it can ever be published; in any event, she does not feel comfortable trying to organize the individual parts without the help of my wife, to whom Gotter himself read the entire play aloud, and this would involve a delay till the autumn, when Madam Gotter is thinking about coming to visit us. —
The revised piece Mariane has been presented to the Berlin theater; moreover, you would probably not be interested in it for Die Horen, since it is no longer really new. Hence all that remains is the Geisterinsel, and if you were inclined to accept part or all of it, we could immediately write and request the manuscript. It will presumably not be performed any time soon because it is proving difficult to place it in Berlin together with the music score.
Die Geisterinsel was based quite freely on Shakespeare’s Tempest and included a figure of Miranda recalling Gurli, a young, close-to-nature female character in August von Kotzebue’s comedy in three acts, Die Indianer in England (Leipzig 1790) (which premiered in a different version in 1789).
In the Taschenbuch für die Schaubühne 1778 (Gotha 1778) 107, however, Erich Schmidt found the following announcement: “Einsiedel, An Opera, Der Sturm, after Shakespeare.” See Goethe’s diary for 16 April 1798: “After dinner, discussion with Herr von Einsiedel with regard to the Geisterinsel.” Schiller, who had no particular reason to be well disposed toward Gotter, did, however, need padding for Die Horen. He wrote to Wilhelm Schlegel on 3 July 1797 (Körner-Wieneke 42):
Gotter’s Geisterinsel will constitute an extremely pleasant contribution to Die Horen, and I will also be glad to take the other piece if it can be reassembled. If you would be so kind as to write concerning the first, it would be a great favor to me. As soon as it is printed, I will ask Cotta to pay out the honorarium of 4 louis d’or per sheet immediately.
Wilhelm wrote to Schiller from Jena on 28 July 1797 (Körner-Wieneke 47–48):
My wife wrote some time ago to both Herr von Einsiedel and Madam Gotter with regard to Die Geisterinsel. The latter would greatly prefer for the opera to appear wholly in Die Horen; she merely thought she could not send off the manuscript without first consulting with the composer, since, once it has been completely published, other composers as well would be able to acquire the text for their own compositions and because a musician at the Berlin theater already made claims to it. The composer till now, Fleischmann, can have no objections to a partial publication, and in general he cannot claim any rights to the opera; the above merely takes reasonable consideration of his efforts. As soon as Madam Gotter has received his response, she will send the manuscript along.
And on 17 August 1797 (Körner-Wieneke 48–49):
Enclosed you will find the first act of Die Geisterinsel, the other two acts will follow at latest in two weeks.
The composer would very much like to be mentioned in some fashion upon publication of the piece in Die Horen, to wit, that “Gotter entered into an exclusive contract with Herr Fleischmann in Meinungen for composing the opera; the composer completed his work before the writer’s death, presented it to the latter to hear, and received from the latter the attestation that the composition was fully commensurate with his, the writer’s, own ideas” (I myself can attest that Gotter did indeed assess the composition thus); “the opera will very soon be performed in the theater and can be distributed as sheet music and libretto after the first performance, to which end any theater management wishing to possess it is kindly advised to direct queries to the composer or the writer’s widow.”
If from one or the other aria you might wish to include some of the music in piano excerpts, she would no doubt be at your service, and I myself could immediately write to her in that regard. I do believe, however, that lieder occur in the following acts that might be even more appropriate in that regard.
Schiller, however, assumed a decisively more derisive tone in a letter to Goethe on 17 August 1797 (Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 378–79):
From Gotter’s legacy I have received his opera The Enchanted Island [Die Geisterinsel], which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest; I have read the first act, which, however, is very weak and very meager food. However, I thank heaven that I have got some sheets wherewith to fill Die Horen, and this, moreover, from a classical author, who before his death complained so bitterly about the Xenien. Hence, therefore, Gotter, who during his lifetime would have nothing to do with Die Horen, shall be forced to make his appearance in it after his decease.
On delivering the remaining material on 3 September 1797, Wilhelm himself could not refrain from several critical comments himself (Körner-Wieneke 52):
Here is the remainder of Die Geisterinsel. I find it contains some very charming things indeed — sometimes almost miracles of versification in the brief rhymed lines, as well as some quite delightful creative ideas, especially the one involving counting the coral. [Ed. note: At the end of the second and the beginning of the third act, Prospero gives the characters Fernando and Miranda bags of coral to count during the night, but forbids them from helping each other with the counting.]
At the same time, however, the tone of the presentation does not seem quite properly maintained everywhere; too much sentimental seriousness here and there; and the good Lord, who makes several appearances, might better have been left out of such a merry world of enchantment.
Three acts appeared in Die Horen (1797) 11, no. 8, 1–26; no. 9, 1–78); a performance contract in Frankfurt prevented the play from being published in its entirety.
The first installment of the publication of Die Geisterinsel in Schiller’s Die Horen (1797) 11, no. 8, 1–26, was prefaced on page 1 by the following note:
From Gotter’s literary estate. This opera, by virtue of a formal and exclusive contract with the writer, was set to music by Herr Fleischmann in Meinungen, and indeed finished while the writer was yet alive. Its execution enjoyed the deceased writer’s complete approval. The opera will very soon be performed in the theater, and immediately after the first performance both the score and the libretto will be available, in which regard the theater directors who wish to acquire such are advised to direct their requests either to the composer or to the poet’s widow.
The musical accompaniment of Friedrich Fleischmann from Meiningen was rejected in Berlin and that of Johann Friedrich Reichardt accepted with open arms instead; that of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg was used in Stuttgart and Hamburg.
See also the anonymous anecdote “Beitrag zur Karakteristik der Tonangeber” published in Der Freimüthige oder Ernst und Scherz (1804) 220 (Saturday, 3 November 1804) 358:
In the town of R— I recently attended a performance of Die Geisterinsel. The execution of the opera — they had chosen the music of Zumsteeg — was admittedly only mediocre. While exiting I overheard the following conversation between a connoisseur — a so-called pilier du parterre [Fr., “pillar of the parterre”] — and another audience member accompanying him:
K. But pray do tell me to whom in the world we owe the pathetic mess with which they tormented us this evening.”
Z. The original was admittedly merely by Shakespeare.
K. (surprised) By Shakespeare? And its miserable German mutilation?
Z. Merely by Gotter.
K. Then may Apollo himself chastise the wretched composer who dared take up this masterpiece!
Z. And yet he is none other than merely Zumsteeg, whom just yesterday you yourself insisted was your favorite.
K. Impossible! — Indeed, I really will have to have a very good look at this thing again sometime!
And with these words, he disappeared into the crowd.
From Weimar, Einsiedel had written to Gotter on 24 June 1795 (cited in Schmidt (1913), 1:718–19):
I must report to you, my dear friend, that during my epistolary silence I was in Meynungen and heard the first act of the Geister-Insel by Herr Fleischmann. In the meantime, the score for the opera Semiramis by Himmel in Berlin also arrived. —
We almost have no choice except between these two composers. We will probably have to do without any genuine authors’ profit because neither of these two composers yet enjoys any significant fame, and because the theater management, which is excessively frugal in any case, will not purchase anything on mere speculation. Himmel’s composition greatly resembles that of Naumann — Fleischmann’s is far better than the first echantillon [Fr., “sample”]; he was more economic with instrumentation and tried to make the vocals more pleasant.
After I have received the score of the first act from Herr Fleischmann, which he has promised to get to me soon, we can compare the talents of the two composers — and to that end, might I perhaps expect to see you here next month? I would like to flatter myself with this expectation and put off the resolution requested by Herr Fleischmann at least until then.
Please do tell me, my good friend, whether I might hope to have this opportunity to discuss the matter with you in person soon. In order to pique your curiosity even more in the direction of my wish, allow me also to inform you that I am working on a grand tragedy of which the detailed plan and almost two acts are already finished. — If such a magnet is powerless, then the natural order must indeed be out of joint. We are moving to the Tiefurth Valley today, hence please excuse my haste, which was prompted by the various attendant business in that matter, along with my poor handwriting. I embrace you with all my heart.
Concerning the musical fate of Die Geisterinsel, see also supplementary appendix 107a.1.
Translation © 2012 Doug Stott