Richard Strauss's Enoch Arden
A Melodrama for Narrator and Piano on the
1864 Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Enoch Arden
"Enoch Arden" watercolor by George Goodwin Kilburne (1839-1924)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson was the Poet Laureate of Victorian Great Britain when, in 1864, he published "Enoch Arden," a narrative poem of tragedy and triumph about a lifelong, star-crossed love triangle. The dramatic tale was so popular that, in 1897, Richard Strauss recast the text into a musical setting for piano and narrator. Here, the narrator speaks the complete text of the story, while the piano, both in interlude and periodic underscoring, depicts the characters, the world, the roiling sea, and the crucible of the heart.


In a small English fishing village, three children - Annie Lee, Philip Ray, and Enoch Arden - play together on the beach. The two boys are rivals for Annie's affections. Philip, the miller's son, is gentle and kind by nature. Enoch, though poor and an orphan, has an enterprising spirit. As the children grow toward adulthood, Enoch embarks upon a plan to acquire his own boat, become a successful fisherman, and build a house for Annie. As his plan comes to fruition, he woos her and wins her heart. Soon Philip happens to see Enoch and Annie together during the annual town hazelnut festival and realizes they are betrothed. Though heartbroken he vows to remain silent and honor their friendship.

Enoch and Annie are married and for seven years, good fortune smiles upon them - they have two healthy children and Enoch's ventures are successful. Then, misfortune strikes: Enoch is injured in a fall from a mast. Unable to work, he is beset with "doubt and gloom" - imagining his wife and children destitute. Enoch utters a desperate prayer, begging God to care for his wife and children - "whatever comes to me."

Almost at once, Enoch is offered the position of boatswain (deck foreman) on a merchant ship bound for Asian ports. The job is lucrative and will enable him to recoup his losses. The timing seems perfect as the ship embarks just as Enoch will have recovered from his injury. Recognizing an answer to his prayer, Enoch accepts the offer. But Annie is dead set against it. She is certain that Enoch will be lost at sea. Enoch disregards her fears, tells her to put her trust in God, and sails away on the ship, "Good Fortune."

Alas, the ship is never heard from again.

Annie struggles to get by as best she can until Philip approaches and persuades her to let him put her two children in school. Annie gratefully agrees and, as the years go by, Philip becomes their surrogate father. After 10 long years of no word from Enoch, Philip persuades Annie to marry him. She delays at first, but finally consents after having a prophetic dream in which she sees Enoch "under a palm tree..." and believes him to be in heaven. Philip and Annie are happily married and soon have a child.

Meanwhile, we learn that Enoch is shipwrecked on a verdant, south sea isle. Year after year, alone in the heart of extravagant, tropical beauty, he waits and prays for rescue. Finally, a ship appears and returns him to England. Enoch arrives to discover that his home has been sold, that Annie is married to Philip and that she has borne him a son.

Though anguished, Enoch loves Annie too much to destroy her happiness. He vows to tell no one of his return and lives a quiet, lonely existence. Soon, he wearies and grows ill. On his deathbed, after swearing his landlady to secrecy, he tells her his sad story. Despite her urgings that he at least see his children, Enoch holds fast to his vow and dies of a broken heart.

~ Sherman Howard
January, 2018

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