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Schubert (1797-1828) and His Circle

I think these brief selections from Newman Flower's Franz Schubert: The Man and his Circle (1928) are of broad philosophical interest. (I first read this book more than thirty years ago, and in the days following Christmas I reread it for the first time.)

Schubert and Beauty

I should like to say with Goethe: "Who can bring back to me but one hour of that sweet time!" [Ach, wer bringt die schönen Tage ... Ach, wer bringt nur eine Stunde Jener holden Zeit zuröck!] That time when we used to sit together so comfortably, and each revealed to the other the offspring of his Art, not without dread, as he awaited anxiously the verdict which love and truth would pronounce; that time when each inspired the other, and thus all were animated by a mutual striving to attain beauty. (Letter, Summer 1824)

Schubert is reported to have been Wittgenstein's favorite composer, and yet Schubert wrote of "striving to attain beauty". Schubert was a Romantic (The thirst for beauty is the soul of Romanticism) as his words show, but as Wittgenstein claimed not to be: he deprecated to concept 'beauty' when he wrote in 1949: "Strange that whole epochs cannot free themselves from the grips of certain concepts, 'beautiful' and 'beauty' e.g." (CV p. 79, a remark from 1949), as if he had no feeling for or understanding of Schubert's words at all. So ... (More remarkable to me seems the ability of Wittgenstein's epoch to "free" itself from the concept 'beauty' altogether.)

Schubert's friend Baurenfeld wrote: "Until I have created something worth while I am not a man" (Dairy, 8 March 1826). (I remember when I thought that way too, but Baurenfeld prefixed that with the statement "If only one might know oneself!" and it is only once one knows one's own limits that one knows whether one is capable of creating something worthwhile or not. I am not.)

Religious music had always stirred him deeply. He was impressed by the religious motives of Michael Haydn [Joseph's brother (1737-1806) was Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Salzburg]. A Mass by Haydn or Beethoven captured his admiration and held it. He was a man who accepted religious principles and strict dogmas. In site of the pitiless beat of the world upon him which might have suggested to others a God that slept or cared not, his faith remained unshaken and was adorned by some of his richest composition.

[In 1825] Schubert stayed at Salzburg [where] he paid his tribute to Michael Haydn. He went to his devotions at the little corner in the Cathedral where the monument to Haydn is partly concealed. "I was thinking, if only your pure and clean mind could touch me, you dear Haydn," he wrote. "Even if I cannot be as pure and clean, nobody has a greater reverence for you than I have."

That music is, however, never heard in these days, neither in the parish church nor in the concert hall. All the church music that is abandoned by a culture that does not understand or know how to appreciate it ... There has never been a time of not "O tempora, O mores", but in these times there is no higher, only lower culture. There is not even a higher culture to shake one's head at the nothing-to-say-ness of its creators.


But Mayrhofer had another nickname of his own for Schubert -- a name which was the result of those two years together. He called him "Kanevas" (Kann er was? -- Can he do anything?), which was the first question Schubert asked when a stranger was brought into the room.

Which is a bit different from the way I remembered it, but still in the same spirit. "What can he do?"

The most fundamental of things

[Schubert was] in danger of suffering destruction in the merciless prisondom of schoolteaching.

A philosopher would not say that: for it is what is most fundamental that can be most interesting. That which children learn by rote -- how many philosophical questions are posed by these very things! Could e.g. Wittgenstein's work not have been profoundly affected by his having been a schoolmaster (Well, but he seldom refers to children in that work: "And a trained child or animal is not acquainted with any problems of philosophy" (PG i § 138, p. 191))?

The understanding needed to understand the things children learn without understanding!

If a child asks if "the Earth round like a ball or round like a plate" -- This is not a stupid question: Pictures that don't misrepresent yet do mislead | picture may mislead as well as make clearer | North and south, Up and Down.

Fate as spider-like

To Mayrhofer, life seemed a serious burden laid upon man, a worthless gift which might be thrown away with advantage..... He would sit at his window looking out on the street with half-closed eyes, always smoking, always brooding, until his melancholy became an actual pain too terrible to bear. Then he would leave his rooms, seek a kindred soul, and ... dilate upon the bestiality of Fate which made man no better than a fly in the web of some gigantic spider.

This was in the years after the death of Schubert. Mayrhofer threw himself from an upper story window and that was how he died.

"Not really going towards, but only walking side by side"

Nobody understands another's sorrow, and nobody another's joy. One always believes that he is going towards another, only to discover that one is only walking side by side. Oh, the torment of him who realizes this! (Schubert wrote, apparently in his diary, in 1823, when he was 26 years old)

Recall the (at least) two meanings of 'understand'. In his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth Schweitzer wrote that the most we can ever do is "walk side by side" with another human being ("Of that which constitutes our inner life we can impart even to those most intimate to us only fragments", tr. Campion), as companions. But for one man (Schubert) this is painful; for the other man (Schweitzer) it seems not.

The incompetent stage-manager

The world resembles a stage on which every man is playing a part. Approval or blame will follow in the world to come. A part is handed out, thus we also have our parts handed out to us, and who shall decide for himself whether he has acted well or badly? The manager is to be blamed who distributes the parts to his players which they are unable to act. (Schubert, Diary, 1816)

The courage of a true Adagio

... why, Wagner asked himself, did "Mendelssohn often conduct so fast, where speed was not at all in order .... Mendelssohn personally told me, as regards conducting, and he expressed this view several times, that a too slow tempo was more harmful than anything else, and that he would rather recommend taking a piece somewhat too fast" ... [Wagner said that] he had never been able to teach "Mendelssohn who was always too fast", any feeling for Beethoven's Eighth, that Mendelssohn always botched the third movement of that symphony by neglecting to play it in the proper tempo.

Wagner found Mendelssohn's cardinal sin still cultivated in London after the conductor's death: "It flowed like water from a public fountain; any slowing down was unthinkable, and every Allegro inevitably ended as a Presto...." Naturally this procedure also ruined the dynamics: "The orchestra never played anything but mezzoforte; it no longer could play any real forte, as it never achieved any real piano...." the breed of 'elegant composers' raised by Mendelssohn ... lacked 'faith in, hope for and love of a genuine Adagio" ... They no longer trusted the redeeming force of their own music; they were always afraid of being boring. (H.E. Jacob, Felix Mendelssohn and His Times, 1963, p. 312-313)

Lyrical commonplaces

In 1859 when composing the 2nd Serenade, Brahms wrote to his Aunt Auguste:

I am in love with music, I love music, I think of nothing but music, and of other things only when they make music more beautiful to me. Just wait, I shall start to write love songs again, and not to ___ ____ but to music itself.

[Journal note, 1 July 1983, about recordings I had listened to.] Leonard Bernstein conducts the Adagio of Brahms' 2nd Serenade with the tenderest love. Adrian Boult and Bernard Haitnik, on the other hand, take the final three movements, marked Adagio, Minuet, and Allegro at one and the same tempo; this makes the work a "lyrical commonplace" (an expression used mockingly by Robert Schumann), a "light and pleasing work" for the good people to play while they do the evening crossword puzzle. The Adagio non troppo is the love song; Adagio non troppo ≠ Allegro. Of those last two conductors -- They lacked the courage of a true Adagio.

They feel themselves already fully occupied, these good people, be it by their business or by their pleasures ...; it seems they have no time whatever left for religion; and above all, it is not obvious to them whether it is a question of a new business or a new pleasure --" (Beyond Good and Evil, no. 58, tr. H. Zimmern)

At immigration: "Are you traveling for {business} or {pleasure}?" Being "poor in categories". Indeed, in this case "impoverished in categories" -- and not feeling there to be an absence of meaning in a life divided into these two categories alone is soullessness. As in music: {pleasing} and {boring} and no other.

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