Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Pilgrimage to Beethoven

Rainer Maria Rilke

The title belongs to Wagner, but the essay below to Rainer Maria Rilke, whose "Der Panther" is already on these shelves (here), and who will be making a third appearance shortly, in a piece comparing his advice to the young writer with Ruskin's to the young artist.

Beethoven died in 1827; Rilke was born in 1875, so his witnessing of the great man was not his live face but his death mask - a poor copy actually, on the outside wall of a Parisian shop (he had come to Paris to serve as personal amanuensis to the sculptor Auguste Rodin), next to that of a young woman who had drowned in the Seine; years later, Rilke commissioned an improved version for his own Private Collection. The original was cast by Josef Dannhauser, two days after the composer's death.

"His face, which knows," Rilke wrote. "That hard knot of senses drawn tightly together. That inexorable self-condensing of a music continually trying to evaporate. The countenance of a man whose hearing a god had closed up, so that there might be no sounds but his own; so that he might not be led astray by what is turbid and ephemeral in noises - he who knew in himself their clarity and permanence. So that only the soundless senses might carry the world in to him, silently, a world in suspense, waiting, unfinished, before the creation of sound.

"World-consummator: as that which comes down as rain over the earth and upon the waters, falling carelessly, at random - inevitably rises again, invisible and joyous, out of all things, and ascends and floats and form the heavens: so our precipitations rose out of you, and vaulted the world with music.

"Your music: it could have encircled the universe; not merely us. A grand-piano could have been built for you in the Theban desert, and an angel would have led you to that solitary instrument, through mountain-ranges in the wilderness, where kings are buried and courtesans and anchorites. And he would have flung himself up and away, for fear that you would begin.

"And then you would have streamed forth, unheard, giving back to the universe what only the universe can endure. Bedouins in the distance would have galloped by, superstitiously; but merchants would have flung themselves to the ground at the edges of your music, as if you were a storm. Only a few solitary lions would have prowled around you at night, in wide circles, afraid of themselves, menaced by their own excited blood.

"For who will now withhold you from lascivious ears? Who will drive them from the concert halls, these corrupted ears whose sterile hearing fornicates and never conceives, as the semen spurts out onto them and they lie beneath it like whores, playing with it; or it falls onto the ground like Onan's, while they writhe in their abortive pleasures.

"But master, if some pure spirit with a virgin ear were to lie down beside your music: he would die of bliss; or he would become pregnant with infinity, and his fertilised brain would explode with so much birth."

This passionate exercise in acolyte idolatry can be found in "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" (here).

My own "A Pilgrimage To Bayreuth", alongside a narrative version of Wagner's Ring Cycle, "The Book of the Ring", are published by TheArgamanPress.

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