Die Piccolomini

Die Piccolomini; The Piccolomini (1799)

In Act One, Illo congratulates Buttler on his promotion and complains that Vienna wants to clip Wallenstein’s wings. Octavio Piccolomini tells Questenberg, the Emperor’s emissary, that Altringer and Gallas have already abandoned Wallenstein. Octavio assures Questenberg that he has everything under control, and that he knows all of Wallenstein’s plans. Octavio’s son Max is, however, still loyal to Wallenstein and knows nothing of his father’s schemes. Max tells his father he has experienced the joys of peace for the first time in his life:

[…] es führte mich

Der Weg durch Länder, wo der Krieg nicht hin –

Gekommen – oh! das Leben, Vater,

Hat Reize, die wir nie gekannt. – Wir haben

Des schönen Lebens öde Küste nur

Wie ein umirrend Räubervolk befahren,

Das, in sein dumpfig-enges Schiff gepreßt,

Im wüsten Meer mit wüsten Sitten haust,

Vom großen Land nichts als die Buchten kennt,

Wo es die Diebeslandung wagen darf.

Was in den innern Tälern Köstliches

Das Land verbirgt, oh! davon – davon ist

Auf unsrer wilden Fahrt uns nichts erschienen.

(lines 507-19)

[...] My way led me

Through lands which the war had not yet –

Touched – Oh! Life, father,

Has charms that we have not known. – We have

Sailed only around the barren coasts of the beautiful life, Like a wayward band of pirates,

Who, enclosed in their damp, cramped ship,

Living on the wild sea with wild behaviour,

Have known only the inlets of the great land mass

Where we dared to make a thieves’ landing.

The priceless beauties of the inner valleys

Hidden by the land – Oh! Of these beauties, these

On our wild journey we have seen nothing!


Max leaves and Octavio realises that Max has fallen in love with Wallenstein’s daughter Thekla.

In Act Two, Wallenstein’s wife the Duchess (Herzogin) has returned from Vienna and urges him to make peace with the Emperor. Thekla is presented to her father Wallenstein, whom she hasn’t seen since she was eight. Wallenstein opens a letter from Vienna and learns that he is to be replaced as supreme commander by Ferdinand III, the Emperor’s son. Wallenstein tells Illo he wants his generals to sign unconditional pledges to serve only him. Terzky and Illo urge Wallenstein to act but Wallenstein says he must consult the stars first. Terzky also warns Wallenstein not to trust Octavio but Wallenstein replies that he trusts Octavio because they are both born under the same stars. At the meeting, Questenberg delivers the Emperor’s message and Wallenstein threatens to stand down as commander. Max begs him not to do anything until he has consulted further with his generals.

In Act Three, Illo explains to Terzky that he will tell the generals that the oath of allegiance to Wallenstein that they are signing will not affect their oaths to the Emperor, and that there will be a clause to this effect. But he will wait until they are drunk and give them a different version to sign, which does not contain the get-out clause. Max tells Countess Terzky of his love for Thekla. Thekla enters and describes the astrological tower which she has just been shown by Seni, the astrologer. Max thinks that Wallenstein is going to make peace but Countess Terzky advises him not to put his dagger away just yet. She tells Max he must go to dinner. Thekla sings a touching song which concludes:

Ich habe genossen das irdische Glück,

Ich habe gelebt und geliebet. (lines 1765-66)

I have enjoyed the happiness of this earth,

I have lived and loved.


Then Countess Terzky returns and warns Thekla that Wallenstein is not planning a wedding:

Blick um dich her. Besinn dich, wo du bist –

Nicht in ein Freudenhaus bist du getreten,

Zu keiner Hochzeit findest du die Wände

Geschmückt, der Gäste Haupt bekränzt. Hier ist

Kein Glanz als der von Waffen. (lines 1811-15)

Look around you. Think where you are –

You have not entered a house of pleasure,

Not for any wedding are the walls decorated,

Nor the heads of the guests garlanded. Here

The only things which gleam are the weapons.


In Act Four, the generals have a feast and get drunk. Buttler tells Illo and Terzky he has seen through the trick with the missing clause, but he doesn’t care, he will still be loyal to Wallenstein. A ceremonial goblet is fetched; the Kellermeister explains that the designs on the cup symbolise the political and religious freedoms of Bohemia, which the Habsburgs have annulled. Somebody toasts Duke Bernhard of Weimar (the Lutheran enemy). All the generals sign the oath except Max who says it is too late for business, he’ll sign tomorrow. Illo, who is drunk, lets slip the secret of the removed clause and tries to threaten Max with his sword. He is disarmed.

In Act Five, Octavio tells Max that Wallenstein is planning to steal the army away from the Emperor, join the Swedes and force the Emperor to make peace. Max is horrified and refuses to believe his father. Octavio shows Max a letter from the Emperor stating that Wallenstein is outlawed, and that command of the army will be given to Octavio. Octavio says that he will only use this letter if Wallenstein actually commits treason. A cavalryman arrives and tells Octavio that Count Gallas has captured Wallenstein’s messenger to the Swedes, Sesin. Max remains unconvinced and tells Octavio he must go and speak with Wallenstein in order to find out what to believe.