One of the most famous characters in German literature is Dr. Faust, a man who sells his soul to the Devil in order to gain all the knowledge in the world. The fantastical legend was originally used as a morality tale, in that Faust rejects divine knowledge in order to gain human knowledge.
This Christian philosophy is what the great writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe expounded upon in his monumental play Faust. This is by far the most famous version of the Faust legend, and its text has been set numerous times by composers through the ages.
Goethe’s version is also the setting of several great operas and concert pieces, including both in Charles Gounod’s classic opera Faust and this piece, The Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz.
A favorite number from Berlioz’s version is the “Hungarian March,” which we hear at the very beginning of the work. As Faust is lamenting his desire for knowledge on a plain in Hungary, he is interrupted several times by music off in the distance: first, by peasants singing and dancing, and second by a marching troop of Hungarian soldiers.