Being the Confession and Last Testament of Johannes Gensfleisch, also known as Gutenberg, Master Printer, formerly of Strasbourg and Mainz
The present day. G, alone on stage, explains that he has reluctantly returned from the grave to tell his story - though he admits that the story mightnšt be entirely accurate (When it comes to truth/No one knows the first thingš).
Strasbourg in the 1440s. While celebrating the profits he has made from manufacturing mirrors for pilgrims, the materialistic G (whose worldly values are echoed by an Evil Angel) tells his colleagues that he has a more ambitious project in mind. Enter Ennnelina, his fiancee, who asks if she and G can now be married - he fobs her off, confessing, after she has left, that his work matters more to him. As he discloses to Nicholas of Cusa, he has begun an experiment in printing books - Nicholas approves of this and suggests he print the Bible. Alone G excitedly reflects on the possibility of freeing the word of God from the hands of priests. But his reverie is rudely interrupted when he learns that one of his workers has contracted the plague and is close to death - the manšs two brothers are now wanting a share in Gšs business and he has to fight them off. Further trouble ensues when Ennelina returns with her mother, who angrily accuses him of breaking a marriage promise. Soon he is besieged on all sides: by creditors, to whom he owes money; by soldiers, conscripting men for war against the Armagnacs; by scribes, who feel threatened by his invention; and by women siding with the distressed Ennelina. As he reaches crisis-point, three spectral deliverers appear - Johann Fust, his daughter Christina and Peter Schoeffer - and G dreams of returning to his home town of Mainz.
Mainz in the 1450s. Gšs work on the Bible is now in full swing, and in a busy printshop he lectures his men on the importance of keeping their great work secret. As becomes clear in the conversation he has with his talented apprentice Peter, and through the appearance of the Good Angel, G is now a changed man, devoted to God and to aesthetic beauty. When Fust, his backer, turns up to monitor progress, G, irritated, defends the painstaking slowness of the work. Fust is angry and impatient. So is his daughter Christina, who canšt marry Peter till the Biblešs finished. So are Gšs workers, who, because of Gšs lack of funds, have not been paid for some time. For now, a crisis is averted, and G and Peter discuss the imminent completion of the work. But when Christina shows her father proof that G is using his loan for other purposes, Fust - as he reveals to a tortured Peter - decides to take him to court. G, refusing to hear the prophecy of a Beguine nun (Ennelina), who has foreseen his ruin, is so confident of winning the case that he declines to attend the trial, and sends his servant Beildeck instead. Among the witnesses who are called is Peter, who effectively betrays G. The case is awarded to Fust.
The present day. A benign G muses on his achievement and asks, now that the print era he inaugurated is over, to be left in peace.
- Copyright Schott Music publishers, 2001. All rights reserved.