Nietzsche’s Passion for Music and the Drama of Disillusionment

Nietzsche experienced music as authentic reality and colossal power. Music penetrated the core of his being, and it meant everything to him. He hoped the music would never stop, but it did, and he faced the quandary of how to carry on with his existence. On December 18,1871, Nietzsche traveled from Basel to Mannheim to hear Wagnerian music conducted by the composer. Upon his return to Basel, he wrote to his friend Erwin Rohde: “Everything that… cannot be understood in relation to music engenders… downright aversion and disgust in me. And when I returned home from the concert in Mannheim, I actually had a peculiarly exaggerated weary dread of every-day reality, because it no longer seemed real to me, but ominous”.

His return to a daily routine devoid of music was a problem that Nietzsche pondered incessandy. There is such a thing as life after music, he deliberated, but can it be endured? “Without music, life would be an error”.

It could be claimed that his entire philosophy was an endeavor to cling to life even when the music stopped. Although Nietzsche attempted to make music with language, thought, and ideas as much as humanly possible, displeasure was his constant companion. “It should have sung, this ‘new soul’— and not spoken!”, Nietzsche wrote in a later self-critical preface to The Birth of Tragedy. His discontentment continued to dog him. Among his fragments written in early 1888, the following remark appears: “The fact is ‘that I am so sad’; the problem Ί don’t know what that means’… The tale from the distant past'” (13,457). Nietzsche was on the trail of Heinrich Heine, recalling lines from Heine’s famous poem “The Lorelei,” in which a beautiful woman seated on the cliffs lures sailors to their deaths with the allure of her song. Having heard the siren song, Nietzsche grew dissatisfied with a culture in which the sirens had fallen silent and the Lorelei was nothing more than a tale from the past. His philosophy originated in postsirenian melancholy. He strove to preserve at least the spirit of music in words and an echo of farewell while tuning up for the possible return of music, so that the “bow” of life “does not break”.

SAFRANSKI, Rüdiger, Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. Transl. by Shelley Frisch. London: Granta Books, 2002, pp. 19-20.