File spoon-archives/nietzsche.archive/nietzsche_1995/nietzsche_Nov9.95, message 12

Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 16:46:02 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Music, Nietzsche, Rhythm

On Thu, 9 Nov 1995, Deborah Hayden wrote:

> Meanwhile, this discussion reminds of the lurking question of why Nietzsche
> broke with Wagner. Was it over the nerve-shattering music that destroyed his
> health? Parsifal's sell-out to Christianity? The "malignancy" of Wagner's
> old age? Or something else? 
> What was "the offense"?

It was a combination of all of these factors. "The offense" which led to 
the actual break came when Wagner sent a copy of the libretto of "Parsifal"
to N., bearing the dedication (not exact, but close): "To his good 
friend Professor Nietzsche, from Richard Wagner, Councillor of the Church."
At the same time, ironically (or so Nietzsche claims), N. sent a copy of 
the newly completed "Human, All-Too-Human" to Wagner, the first book to 
distinctly show N.'s break. You may recall that Nietzsche likened this to 
"two swords crossing." Nietzsche of course found "Parsifal"'s unequivocal
surrender to Christianity repulsive. (However, Nietzsche never heard a note
of the music until long after Wagner's death.) However, Nietzsche had 
begun drifting away from Wagner long before that. Some have made a good 
claim that Nietzsche was never a Wagnerian, and I must admit that even in 
"The Birth of Tragedy" N. doesn't seem like an uncritical disciple. 
Supposedly Wagner did other nasty things to Nietzsche when Herr Professor
began to stray from the Wagnerian fold, like writing to N.'s physician and
saying that he believed that Nietzsche's health problems derived from 
excessive masturbation. But that's all fodder for soap operas.

But why did this happen? There is no better account of this relationship 
than that which we have in Nietzsche's books, but I'll give you my take 
on it. First we have to understand why Nietzsche was drawn to Wagner in the
first place. First of all, Wagner was 30 years older than Nietzsche. 
There has been speculation that Nietzsche saw Wagner as a sort of surrogate
father figure. Thus, his rebellion may have been akin to the son 
revolting against the father. This seems reductive to me. Nietzsche had 
always been interested in music, and at a very early age he was drawn to 
Wagner's music. Wagner, it is important to understand, was not a 
conventional composer. Very early in his career he proposed several 
revolutionary new concepts, both musically and dramatically, which came 
to be called the "Music of the Future". This included the idea of continual
music, as opposed to the traditional operatic structure which consisted 
of several different musical forms loosely grouped together; a much 
closer interaction between the music and the libretto text; the leitmotiv,
which was a means of subtly (or not so subtly) drawing thematic connections;
and perhaps most importantly, the "Gesamskunstwerk" (Total Work of Art), 
which was the idea that a new theater was required that would be a synthesis
of drama, poetry and music, whereas before in opera the drama and the poetry
had been merely a means for providing musical settings. Many of Wagner's 
contemporaries, including Nietzsche, recognized that Wagner's theories 
were destined to change the course of development in all of the arts. And 
indeed, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that everything we have 
known culturally in the West in the 20th century is largely a result of 
Wagner's legacy. Also, Wagner considered himself a disciple of Schopenhauer,
and Nietzsche, too, admired S. at the time that he met Wagner. (It is no 
coincidence, I think, that Nietzsche's break with Schopenhauer and Wagner 
comes at about the same time.) Nietzsche recognized Wagner's importance, and 
to be chosen as a follower and friend of such a man must have seemed like 
a divine calling to him as a young man. On Wagner's side, Nietzsche was 
no doubt an exciting friend, although his entire involvement with Nietzsche
was but a minor incident in a long and eventful life. Wagner died in 
1883, so there is no way that he could have known that this small friendship
had brought him into contact with a genius as great as his own. He did 
appreciate Nietzsche's possible value to him as a follower. He had alienated 
most of the intellectuals of his day, and to have a bright young scholar like
Nietzsche supporting him was no doubt a great personal victory for him. 
But when Nietzsche went his own way, Wagner had no more use for him.
     Great minds rarely mix without friction. Nietzsche never would
have been happy as a mere follower of Wagner, and Wagner was far too involved
in his own ideas and theories to tolerate those who disagreed with him. 
Nietzsche gradually moved away. One of the negatives of Wagner's new form of
art was its appeal to popularity. Wagner craved two things which he 
lacked throughout much of his early career: money and acceptance. He 
would do anything to achieve these ends, including appealing to the most 
banal nationalistic, religious and anti-Semitic notions, all common in his 
time. This is the "corruption" that N. refers to in Wagner's old age. The
youthful Wagner had been a revolutionary, standing on the Dresden 
barricades in 1848, while the older Wagner sought to become a state 
functionary. His "Kaisermarsch," an unimpressive piece, was probably written in
the hope that the new Kaiser would choose it for a national anthem. Anyway,
Wagner got his wish, and he quickly ended up with a group of admirers 
around him late in his life - the "Wagnerians" that Nietzsche despised so. Some
of them, like Franz Liszt, were great minds in their own right, but most were 
banal and foolish opportunists who used the label "Wagnerian" to make 
themselves seem sophisticated. This no doubt offended N.'s sensibilities 
most of all. Surely he thought, what kind of music is it that appeals to such
minds? And, in fact, that is the main question that he explores in his 
Wagner books. The conditions that produced a Wagner, the conditions that 
make Wagner appealing, and Wagner's impact on the future. As Nietzsche's
thought developed, he saw the future unfold, and he knew that Wagner was an
integral step on the way to the world of the twentieth century, not 
something that Nietzsche would be pleased to discover. He knew that his own
thought was an act of rebellion against that future. Therefore he could hardly 
continue to support Wagner or the Wagnerians.  So he went his own way. 
     This had little to do with Wagner's Christianity. Wagner's Christian 
notions were but a part of his overall aesthetic. Wagner's music requires one
to surrender completely to the music in order to enjoy it. A drug is a 
very apt metaphor for Wagnerian opera. It is an act of submission to a 
greater power. Speaking from experience, one abandons oneself to the sensual
ocean that washes over one, one's mood and state of mind carried along by 
the flow of the music. How could the individualistic Nietzsche, even though
he had felt the attractive pull of this submission himself, accept anything
that required a surrender of oneself? He could not. 
     In Wagner's credit, I must say that Nietzsche's evaluation of him 
was on a philosophical level. Wagner was a musician and a dramatist, not a 
philosopher. One can experience a drug without becoming addicted to it. That
is the purpose of Apollonian art. Nietzsche failed to appreciate that reality
is not something that one must experience constantly, that there must be 
time for dreams, and these dreams do not necessarily lead one to 
mindlessness and total submission. A Dionysian could never admit that. Also, I
think Wagner was more wily than the older Nietzsche gave him credit for. He did
publicly embrace many things on the road to stardom, but often they were just
that: public posturing. Was Wagner really a Christian? Probably in an 
unorthodox sense. But "Parsifal," as has been stated by several music critics,
is hardly a Christian work. It uses Christian codings as a means of divulging
deeper ideas for those with the ears to hear. Wagner was in many ways as
perceptive a psychologist as N., but he used it to serve artistic ends, to
manipulate the feelings of his audience (hence its narcotic aspects), while
Nietzsche sought truth through psychology. In many ways it is the same
difference that separates art from philosophy. 
     There is no way to reconcile the two. Wagner and Nietzsche 
represent two different branches of the same, 19th century intellectual 
tree. Wagner was the herald of the culture of the future. Nietzsche was 
the herald of the future's neurosis. Personally, I enjoy both. 

John Morgan, Research Secretary   "Poetry must be conceived as a violent  
The University of Michigan         attack on unknown forces, to reduce and
Alzheimer's Disease Research       prostrate them before man."
Center (MADRC)                            --F. T. Marinetti,                          Futurist Manifesto 1909

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