G

BEING THE CONFESSION AND LAST TESTAMENT OF JOHANNES GENSFLEISCH, ALSO KNOWN AS
GUTENBERG, MASTER PRINTER, FORMERLY OF STRASBOURG AND MAINZ


by Gavin Bryars
libretto by Blake Morrison




PROLOGUE

G alone on stage, as if roused from the grave or from sleeping under
his printing press, addresses the audience.


G
The year of my birth,
the cause of my death,
my character and appearance
- no one knows the first thing.

Where I travelled,
whether I married,
what my beliefs were
- scholars canıt agree.

Iım a name
in a quire of paper,
a monument in a square,
a portrait with a beard I never had.

Even in my own time
I chose to be anonymous.
It was enough, so I thought,
to leave my art.

Now they come stirring my dust
with endless questions.
Youıd think a soul
might be left in peace,

But for you, just once,
Iıll tell my story.
Please bear in mind
my memory is poor.

I was too busy to take notes.
Itıs only a version.
When it comes to truth
No one knows the first thing.

CHORUS (off stage)
Evangelium secundum Joannen


ACT ONE: STRASBOURG

SCENE 1

By the river at Strasbourg.
From here the wealthier pilgrims depart by boat towards Aachen, while the poorer go on foot.
Choir of monks pass (MALE CHORUS), singing the opening of the Book of John
in Latin:

CHORUS OF MONKS
In principio erat verbum,
et verbum erat apud Deus
et deus erat verbum.

In ipso vita erat, et vita
erat lux homineum.
Et lux in tenebris lucet
et tenebris eam non comprehenderunt.

Fuit homo
missus a Deo
cui nomen erat Johannes.

Hic venit in testimonium,
ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine
ut omnes crederunt per illum.

Non erat ille lux,
sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine.

They are followed by pilgrims (FEMALE CHORUS) buying or clutching mirrors,
who sing:

CHORUS OF PILGRIMS (female chorus)
...de lumine...

With these mirrors
the light of heaven
will enter our lives.

With these mirrors
weıll catch the soul of God
and bear it home.

With these mirrors
weıll clothe our bodies
in the Virginıs robe.

With these mirrors
weıll draw the blood of Christ
into our veins.

With these mirrors
weıll capture holy rays
to heal the sick.

With these mirrors
weıll arm ourselves
against the Devil.

With these mirrors
the light of heaven
will fill our lives....

SCENE 2

G, drinking wine with his fellow workers DRITZEHN and HEILMANN,
watches the sale of mirrors and the procession with obvious enjoyment.

G
Weıll make a fortune from this.
Look how many weıve sold already.
A thousand in a day!
Let us give thanks to God
for the faith of these pilgrims.

CHORUS
With these mirrors... [they sing simultaneously with D and G: see NOTE, below]

DRITZEHN
Do you share their faith?
Do you believe our mirrors work?

G
My beliefs are neither here nor there.
A man must earn his living somehow.
So long as my workmanship is honest
then Iım a happy man.
My jobıs to give the faithful what they need.

HEILMANN
But if theyıre stupid and credulous
as a flock of sheep
and we prey on their ignorance,
does that not trouble you?

G
Not if thereıs money in it.
What profiteth a man to save his soul
if his time on earth is spent in poverty?
Damn the piety of priests!
Their relics and indulgences
are as much a racket as ours.
No need to feel guilt, Matthias. Drink up.
Letıs enjoy life while we can.

Enter EVIL ANGEL/FUST (with GOOD ANGEL) holding a mirror. He hovers round the three men -
mostly round GUTENBERG to start with, but at the end round DRITZEHN

EVIL ANGEL
Take joy and pleasure in this time.
The world forsakes you in your prime.
To ponder death avails you nought.
Shouldst come, it asks no further thought.
So eat and drink and leave your books.
There is not truth in life but looks.
And use this glass wheneıer you can
To gaze on beauty, beauteous man.

DRITZEHN
I have drunk too much
or am sickening for something.

Exit DRITZEHN with EVIL ANGEL

CHORUS
With these mirrors... [see NOTE, below]

HEILMANN
Arenıt you tempted to follow these pilgrims?
The route would take you home to Mainz.

G
What would I want with Mainz?
Excluded from the guilds,
bored with hunting
I was glad to leave the place
and to travel in pursuit of arts
which, when Iıve honed
and gathered them,
will bring me riches
- and a well-stocked wine cellar.

HEILMANN
You can afford more than wine now.
With the profits on the mirrors,
you could buy a house
and marry.

CHORUS [fading in distance]
With these mirrors...

G
Not till our new enterprise
has been concluded.
It will take a year or two
but once we finish weıll be rich.
Next to the handful of silver
these mirrors have made us,
the profits from our secret art
will be pure gold.


[NOTE: Throughout the scene above, the CHORUS sing simultaneously with G and D - having sung their original ode to holy mirrors, they become progressively more confused as they walk away, getting the words slightly wrong - ³match² for ³catch², ³loathe² for clothe², etc. - and by implication losing their reason, or at the least the reason for their journey. The words of their confused ode go as follows:

With these mirrors
weıll match the soul of God
and wear it home

With these mirrors
weıll loathe our bodies
in the Virginıs dome.

With these mirrors
weıll claw the hood of Christ
under our reins.

With these mirrors
weıll rapture holy days
to peel and lick.

With these mirrors
weıll warm ourselves
against the winter.]

SCENE 3

Enter ENNELINA

ENNELINA
Did I hear right, my love?
That youıre rich at last
and thinking of settling down?
That you will buy a house?
That we can be married?

Exit HEILMANN , tactfully withdrawing

G
My friend has more wine in him than sense.
You know I kiss the ground you walk on.
Your eyes are like stars lighting my path,
There is no pleasure on earth
like lying with you by the river.

But what has that to do with marrying?
Letıs not suffocate our happiness
with a wedding ring.
Free spirits shouldnıt be shut in.
We need no contract but our love.

ENNELINA
Free spirits sometimes fly apart.
Mother worries youıll abandon me.
Where would I be then?
Iım not getting any younger.
I should be thinking of children soon....

G
Children? I feel like a child myself.
My workıs an adventure -
thereıs so much to achieve.
I canıt be pressing out children
until Iıve made my mark.

ENNELINA
There are things I want to achieve too -
to journey as a Beguine
through Christendom helping the poor
has long been a dream of mine.
Iıve only stayed from love of you.

G
Just wait another year or so...

ENNELINA
Wait another year or so!

G
Or less. It all depends...

ENNELINA
On what does it depend?

G
On how I invest my money.

ENNELINA
Invest in me too!

G
On whether my art and adventure
makes me the money I need...

ENNELINA
It isnıt money I need, but love, time,
a token to seal our contract.

G
Have these then, two letters in metal
- an E for you and G for me.
Do not ask what they are
but keep them
as proof of my art - and love.

ENNELINA
I shall treasure them.
Come talk to mother.
She worries for me.
Promise youıll come tonight.
Give me your word.

G
Iıll come tonight.
You have my word.

Exit ENNELINA.

G
Ennelina, Ennelina, Ennelina,
thereıs no one else I care for like her.
But if Iım honest, money and work
are more important to me than love.

Paul says: ³Better to marry than burn².
My desire for Ennelina could stoke a forge.
But if in that forge I make gold,
then I am better to burn than wed.

SCENE 4

Enter FRAU BEILDECK, cautiously

BEILDECK
Master. A visitor.
A man of God, it seems.

Enter NICHOLAS OF CUSA. At some point during the following scene, HEILMANN
enters and busies himself about the press

NICHOLAS
How is the work, Johann?
Not making mirrors still?
I know some in the Church
are glad to see them,
but to me they are cheap trinkets
unworthy of your name.
A man could better serve God
by fighting corruption,
which has spread so wide
that half the clergy care
only to line their coffers.
Meanwhile the poor
grow poorer every day
and are led ever further
from God, whose word
stays locked in books
which no monk or priest
will let the layman read.

G
If it is books you want,
then you might approve my latest enterprise.

NICHOLAS
What enterprise is that?

G
Work I must keep secret at all cost.
Between ourselves, it is a form of pressing
Imagine letters made in metal.
Imagine a wine-press being used to squeeze out words.
Imagine ink flowing rather than the juice of grapes.
Imagine books written without the hand of scribes.
More than that I dare not tell you.
If word of this were to get out,
rivals would steal it and ruin me.

NICHOLAS
But is such an art possible?

G
I have already made a start.
A Latin primer shall be our first book.

NICHOLAS
The Church could use such an invention.
If you made psalters and missals
and undercut the cost of scribes,
we would order copies from you.

G
Or the Bible: if I printed that?

NICHOLAS
The Bible! Every monastery
between here and Rome would buy one.
Iıd make sure of that.
Your sales would run to thousands
and your talents be employed
in service of God.
The Bible, yes - letıs speak of this again.

G
The Bible...
The Bible....

EXIT NICHOLAS. A CHORUS of scribes enter carrying lecterns and quills, which they set up in regulated rows, as if in a scriptorium, singing the following.

CHORUS
Unless we scribes this book enhance
By writing in Godıs hand,
The words will lack His governance
And never breathe or stand.

G
The days of scribes are numbered.

CHORUS
And never breathe or stand

G
Quills are too slow and careless

CHORUS
Likewise in vain we undertake to
Decorate the page..

G
The Bible

CHORUS
..Which if His brightness shines not through
Will turn to dust and age.

G
My press when it is finished
will do the work ten times as fast

CHORUS
Will turn to dust and age

G
Yes to set a page in metal
takes longer than to write it in ink.

CHORUS
Though we rise early in the morn
And to bed in darkness sink,
Yet are our labours lost and worn
Without His flowing ink.

G
But from that page a thousand more
will come in no time

CHORUS
Without His flowing ink.

G
Each one exactly the same

CHORUS
But those whose ever-faithful pen
The hand of God doth bless,

G
Maybe?

CHORUS
Their books shall last beyond mere men
Despite all storm and stress.

G
Some books can be cheaply made

CHORUS
Despite all storm and stress

G
And every man and woman learn to read.

(Despite the piety of the words, the atmosphere of the scriptorium is irreverent, noisy, bored and clearly inclined to bad copying)

G
And why not the Bible?
If I could lift it from Church lecterns,
and free it from monastery libraries,
so it flew like a dove and spread the word of God.
Not just one Bible for the priest, but flocks of them!
A Bible in every house along the Rhine!
A Bible perching in every hand!
For art and adventure like that,
Iıd do without a wife and children.

Enter HEILMANN, holding a page proof

So, Matthias, how goes our work?

HEILMANN
Poorly, sir. The type keeps breaking off.
The hand-mould will not clasp tight.
The letters come out twisted.
The press will not stand firm.
The ink runs like a stream...

G
Persistence is our only answer.
To fail each time a little better.
To trust to trial and error
till we are justified.
Let us try again.

SCENE 5

Enter JORG and CLAUS DRITZEHN (brother of ANDREAS DRITZEHN, who we met earlier). JORG is the more aggressive, CLAUS the dimmer

G
Whereıs your brother, Jorg?
Not feeling sick still?

JORG
Heıs worse - very ill in fact.
Not likely to last the night.

CLAUS
The doctor says the Plague.

HEILMANN
Poor Andreas. Here, take these coins
and buy his children something to eat.

CLAUS
If he should die, I hope
youıll let us take his place.

JORG
He put good money in your enterprise.

G
Itıs not the time to speak of it.
Go home and sit with him.
Weıll all say prayers tonight.

JORG
We hear youıre short of money.
You need not pay his money back
if you make me a partner.

CLAUS
And me. Like Andreas,
I am a willing worker.

G
Andreas was trained here
till he acquired a range of skills.
No brother could replace him.

JORG
Either you take us on,
or weıll sue for every pfennig he invested.

G
The money he put in was trifling.
If thereıs any due to him,
it wonıt be much.

CLAUS
Please think again.
His children need support.

JORG
Youıd better think again,
or weıll see you in court.

Exit CLAUS and JORG


HEILMANN
What jackals!
They laughed at us before
but now they want a share.

G
Itıs empty bluster.
Theyıll see this differently
when theyıve calmed down.

HEILMANN
Itıs dark now.
Weıd best be going home ourselves.

G
Letıs light the candles and work
until weıve made some progress.

SCENE 6

Enter FRAU BEILDECK, with ENNELINA and ELLEWIBEL

BEILDECK
Sorry to interrupt you sir.
Ennelina and her mother
said they were expecting you
and insisted on coming here.

Exit (or withdraw) BEILDECK and HEILMANN.

ELLEWIBEL (pointing to ENNELINA)
Sir! Do you recognise this woman?
Do you see her truly?
These eyes, which shine only for you.
These cheeks, which burn only for you.
These feet, which come tripping each time you call.
These breasts, which ache to suckle your children.
What would a man not give
for this woman to be his wife?
If you wonıt wed her as you promised,
there are others who will.

ENNELINA
Stop, mother, youıre embarrassing me.
He has given me his word.
The point is not to marry
for the sake of marriage
but to marry the man I love.

GUTENBERG
And I do love her.
I confess it freely.
Iıve told her so many times.

ELLEWIBEL
Iım sure you have.
Itıs what a man tells a woman
to get her into bed.
But will you put it in writing
before the Lord?

Enter (or move forward) HEILMANN, looking pleased - he shows a sheet of paper (a page proof) to G, who seems more interested in it than in ELLEWIBEL.

ELLEWIBEL
Will you keep your word
and marry my daughter?

G
Keeping words is my business.

HEILMANN
Master, a word...

G
See this sheet of paper
and how beautifully
the letters are formed.

HEILMANN
Master, look.

G
No scribe wrote them
but this machine behind you.
One day Iıll make my fortune
and be a worthy husband.

HEILMANN
Sir?

G
But I canıt think of marrying
until that taskıs complete.

ELLEWIBEL
A machine that does the work of scribes?

HEILMANN
Master.

ELLIWIBEL
Itıs just another trick,
as all your words are.
Come, Ennelina,
weıll find you a proper man
and sue this one
for breach of promise.
Letıs see a lawyer straight away.

EXIT ELLEWIBEL

HEILMANN
Master, can I show you?

G
Trust me, Ennelina.
I have my work to do.

HEILMANN
Master.

G
But once itıs done...

ENNELINA
I want to trust you, Johann.
But all I see
is that your work
comes before me.

HEILMANN
Sir?

ENNELINA
That my rivals are metal and ink.
That you are married to this press.

HEILMANN
Master, look!

ENNELINA
That you prefer a sheet of paper
to lying between the sheets with me.

ELLIWIBEL (offstage)
Ennelina!

HEILMANN
Master!

G
Ennelina!

BEILDECK
Master!

ENNELINA
I donıt want to fight you in court.
But you have destroyed our love.


ENNELINA gives back Gıs love-tokens and runs out

G
Iıll win her back.
Iıll buy a ring.
Iıll think of something.

SCENE 7

Enter FRAU BEILDECK. CHORUS, divided in four parts, heard in the distance, gradually getting closer
1. (basses) Volunteer SOLDIERS, conscripting others to fight the Armagnacs
2. (tenors) Gıs CREDITORS, led by the DRITZEHN brothers
3. (altos) SCRIBES angry at the threat which Gıs invention poses them
4. (sopranos) WOMEN - ELLEWIBEL, ENNELINA and female friends of theirs

BEILDECK
Bad news, master.
Andreas Dritzehnıs dead...

CREDITORS (in distance)
Where is Gensfleisch?

BEILDECK
...and a writ against you has been served
by his brothers.

CREDITORS (in distance)
Where is Gensfleisch?

BEILDECK
Your creditors are looking for you.

CREDITORS (in distance)
He owes us gulden.

SOLDIERS (in distance)
Where is Gensfleisch?

BEILDECK
And thereıs news of the Armagnacs
coming close -

SOLDIERS
We need him to bear arms with us.

BEILDECK
- the city requires
you buy yourself a sword and armour

SOLDIERS/SCRIBES (in distance)
Where is Gensfleisch?

BEILDECK
and contribute half a horse...

G
Half a horse! You donıt see many of those.

BEILDECK
...or the equivalent in gulden.

CREDITORS (in distance)
Where is Gensfleisch?

Exit BEILDECK

G
Even with the sale of mirrors,
I could not find that.

(Simultaneously with Gıs text)
WOMEN
Where is he? Where is Gensfleisch?

(Simultaneously with Gıs text)
CREDITORS
Where is Gensfleisch?

G
Iım heavily in debt already.

WOMEN
Holy Rays.

G
As for fighting, why risk my life
for Strasbourg, when every burger
Iıve borrowed money from
wants to ruin me?

WOMEN
Promises to book.

Enter HEILMANN, frowning, with another page proof

HEILMANN
Master.

G
...As to my art,
for every advance thereıs a retreat.

(CHORUS gradually getting closer)

SCRIBES
Where is Gensfleisch?

G
The hand-mould will not fit.
The type keeps breaking off.
The press will not stand firm.
The ink runs like a stream.
The paper tears and creases.
In time, I can put these right.
But time is what I lack.

Enter here, having previously been an intermittent shadowy presence much earlier, the CHORUS, divided in four groups. The four groups chant their threats and grievances

SOLDIERS
Where is Gensfleisch? We need him
to bear arms with us for Strasbourg.
Death to all Armagnacs!

CREDITORS
Where is Gensfleisch? He owes us gulden.
We lent him money in good faith.
He is the Devil in disguise.

SCRIBES
Where is Gensfleisch? He has invented
a machine to replace us.
A plague on his black art!

WOMEN
Where is Gensfleisch? He has played
fast and loose with promises.
He must be brought to book.

G
Iım harried from all sides.

HEILMANN
Master, look!

G
Is there no way out?

HEILMANN
Master, look!

Three figures appear as if in a fantasy FUST, SCHOEFFER and CHRISTINA. They bow, low, three times

FUST/SCHOEFFER/CHRISTINA
O Perfectus...
Super throno Salomonis
sedile componitur
sub quo firme stationis
duplex manus sculpitur
brachiis formatis

Aurea Moguntia, City of Gold,
Where the Rhine beats strong and smooth

Aurea Moguntia, City of Gold,
Where the towers of churches are forged in lead

Mainz, Aurea Moguntia,
Where men of mettle command the guilds

Mainz, Aurea Moguntia,
City of Gold

G/FUST/SCHOEFFER/CHRISTINA
Amen, Amen

END OF ACT ONE