A chamber opera based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Plan Author

  • Felix Jarrar, 2016

Fields of Concentration

  • Music

Sample Courses

Project Description

The composition and production of an original chamber opera.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Stan Charkey
  • Brenda Foley

Outside Evaluator

  • Lewis Spratlan, Amherst College


This Plan included the composition and production of an original chamber opera, a paper analyzing Franz Liszt’s setting of “Die Lorelei” by Heinrich Heine, and a lecture-recital featuring new piano music influenced by research and analysis of birdsong and Liszt’s music. “The Fall of the House of Usher” was produced with professional actors and musicians, performing an original libretto and score, and premiered in both Marlboro and New York City to dramatic effect. The paper examines how three versions of Franz Liszt’s text setting of the poem Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine reflect Liszt’s New German School biases, which directly contradict Heine’s poetic content.


Heine’s biting humor is apparent in the words that are übertrieben in the poem. These exaggerations are satirical references to the naive qualities of Brentano’s Volk­like lyrics. For example, the übertriebene Hebungen, or stressed syllables in the strophic form, such as dunkelt (line 5), funkelt (line 7), sitzet (line 9), blitzet (line 11), and the constant references to her gold hair (gold’nes Geschmeide (line 11), gold’nes Haar (line 12) , gold’nem Kamme (line 13)) all fall into a strophic pattern that is in keeping with the structure of the Volksliedstrope and poke fun at the simple­minded nature of the subject.

The New German School’s philosophy directly collides with Spätromantiker such as Heine, who merge the real world with the poetic in their poetry. Heine’s merging of these two spheres gave way to writing full of wit, satire, and self­mockery that clashed with Hochromantik ideals like Erhöhung des Dichters und Universalpoesie. The disillusioned and naive characters in Brentano’s tale are subjected to “cynicism and self­mockery” which “predominate (his poetry).” The harmonic far­out­point of Die Lorelei, the opening measures with the diminished seventh, is contrasted with the harmonic simplicity of the im Balladentone theme, which is a look back to the Volk and the Volksliedstrope. Furthermore, such a contrast reinforces the idea of art being a transformative experience that is continually resynthesized.