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In 1939, at the age of 21, Gottfried von Einem came across the first play written by 22-year-old Georg Büchner – and was overwhelmed. The result of this encounter, Dantons Tod, was the first opera by a living composer to be premiered at the Salzburg Festival (1947). The significance of the work was immediately recognized and soon followed productions in Vienna, Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover, Stuttgart, Paris, Brussels and New York. Translated into six languages, Gottfried von Einem's opera conquered the stages of the world. In contrast to Büchner, the people - the revolution - play one of the main roles and the chorus scenes are among the most effective that Von Einem composed in his basically tonal score. The mass scenes, as well as Danton's justification in front of the Revolution Tribunal, provide a pathos of melodrama in the opera, which is completely foreign to Büchner and which Einem additionally fuels with his striking musical language. The work has maintained its important role in the opera repertoire to this day.
The subject of Dantons Tod is based on the drama by Georg Büchner published in 1835, the libretto was written by Boris Blacher together with the composer. The work takes place in 1794 against the backdrop of the French Revolution and deals with George Danton, who, unlike Maximilien Robespierre, wants to create a republic without violence, but in the end becomes a victim himself. While Robespierre pursues his goals, literally going over dead bodies and finally condemning Danton to death, Danton, who once knew how to gather the masses behind him as an extremely charismatic revolutionary leader, has resigned himself. Disillusioned, he finds that the events of the revolution have by no means led to the state he had hoped for, with germinating feelings of guilt about his own misdeeds in the implementation of revolutionary ideas doing what they do and robbing him of his last energy. In the drama it becomes clear that the revolution against the absolutist system of the king and the nobility has produced another system with terror and violence - that of tyranny. Those who opposed Robespierre and his followers (the Jacobins) or had any other idea of a republic were declared enemies of the people and sentenced to death. One ruling system was thus replaced by another.