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Prince Henry of Hoheneck, lying sick in body and mind at his Castle of Vautsberg, on the Rhine, has consulted the famous physicians of Salerno, and learned that he can only be cured by the blood of a maiden who shall, of her own free will, consent to die for his sake. Regarding the remedy as impossible, the Prince gives way to despair, when he is visited by Lucifer, disguised as a travelling physician. The Fiend tempts him with alcohol, to the fascination of which he ultimately yields in such measure as to be deprived of place and power, and driven forth as an outcast.
Prince Henry finds shelter in the cottage of one of his vassals, whose daughter, Elsie, moved by great compassion for his fate, resolves to sacrifice her life that he might be restored. The prayers of her mother, Ursula, are of no avail to turn her from this purpose, and, in due time, Prince Henry, Elsie, and their attendants set out for Salerno. On their way they encounter a band of pilgrims, with whom is Lucifer, in the garb of a friar. He also is journeying to Salerno.
On reaching their destination, Prince Henry and Elsie are received by Lucifer, who has assumed the form of Friar Angelo, a doctor of the medical school. Elsie persists in her resolve to die, despite the opposition of the Prince, who now declares that he intended to do no more than test her constancy. Lucifer draws Elsie into an inner chamber, but the Prince and attendants, breaking down the door, rescue her at the last moment.
Miraculously healed, Prince Henry marries the devoted maiden, and is restored to his rightful place.
The six scenes of the Cantata illustrate the passages in the foregoing story. In the Prologue, the defeat of Lucifer is foreshadowed by an impotent attempt to wreck the Cathedral of Strasburg. In the Epilogue, the beneficent devotion of Elsie is compared to the course of a mountain brook, which cools and fertilises the arid plain.
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