[Paleopsych] Esteban Buch: Ein deutsches Requiem: Between Borges and Furtwängler
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Esteban Buch: Ein deutsches Requiem: Between Borges and Furtwängler
Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2002)
'Many things will have to be destroyed so that we can construct the New Order:
we know now that Germany will be one of them'.1 So says Otto Dietrich zur Linde
in Deutsches Requiem, the story that Borges published in Sur in February 1946,
just as the Nuremburg Trials were being held. The title of Brahms's opus 45,
Ein deutsche s Requiem, but now with the inde.nite article amputated, was
transferred to a .ction about the defeat of Nazism. The dimension of mourning
of the original thus found a contemporary inscription with the imminent execut
ion of the story's narrator amidst the ruins of Germany. The double shadow of
this historical experience, where the destinies of individual and nation
coincide, is also projected on to the postwar world: 'Tomorrow I will die, but
I am a symbol of the generations to come'(p. 174). Borges's title, which
remains enigmatic given that the author does not reference its source, creates
multiple echoes from the association, itself enigmatic, between death and what
is German. A German requiem, a requiem in German, a requiem for a German, a
requiem for Germany.... These are all possible meanings for the service for the
dead, originally a Catholic sung mass, which Brahms transposes into the
Lutheran ethos. The requiem asks for eternal rest for the dead and in doing so
promises earthly peace for the people or things that survive. Death, immortal
without hope of consolation, can escape into the regime of requiem aeterna m.
But what lives on here is violence, the only truth of Nazi doctrine: 'What
matters is that violence reigns, not this servile Christian timidity. If
victory, injustice and happiness are not for Germany, then let them belong to
other nations. Let heaven exist, even though our dwelling place is in hell'
So injustice is compatible with happiness . Deutsche s Requiem treats Nazism as
a moral problem, as a 'act of morality' as the narrator says (p. 176), and this
would include the apparent paradox that so disturbed Thomas Mann and George
Steiner, of the coexistence of absolute evil with high culture. In the Borges
story, this tension is embodied in the .gure of zur Linde himself, the
subcommandant of a concentration camp. He is crippled, impotent and cruel, and
at the same time is devotedto Schopenhauer, Shakespeare and Brahms. 'He who
pauses in wonder, moved by tenderness and gratitude, before any aspect of the
works of these auspicious creators, let him know that I also paused there, Ithe
abominable' (p. 174). The speaker is a man 'repelled by violence' (p. 174), but
one who, with the austere renunciation and commitment of an executioner engage
d in redemptive sacri.ce, carries out the most brutal acts on a daily basis.
This image is in.nitely more terrible than the cliche´ of the Wagnerian Nazi,
who reads out passages of the AntiChrist to his victims. The narrator's
preferenc e for the 'pure music' of the Germanic tradition moves the moral
question onto an abstract plane. Is it a call to think about the common humanit
y shared by ordinary people and someone seen as 'abominable'? Or is it a
condemnation of the inhuman that is always lying in wait for a normal human
being capable of 'wonder'? Or is it perhaps an allusion to what is abominable
in the work of the 'auspicious'? In fact, the passion for high culture is not
the reverse side of the monster but a constitutive element of his moral
personality. Brahms is not the residue of morality in the immoral man, not even
a neutral site for the suspension of practical judgement, but a vector in the
perversion of that judgement. The character's autobiographical remarks reveal
that the very people who led him away from Christianity and towards his belief
in the primacy of violence were precisely his three culture heroes:
'Schopenhauer , with direct arguments; Shakespeare and Brahms for the in.nite
variety of their worlds'
It is not coincidental that this last sentence carries an echo of Borges's own
reading of Schopenhauer : 'The in.nite number of possible melodies correspond
to the in.nite varietyof individuals , faces and lives that Nature
produces'.2The de.nition of Nazism as a cult of violence dates back at least to
a 1940 article that Borges wrote attacking Argentine 'Germanophiles' and in
which Schopenhauer 's name was invoked in an argument against barbaris m
(Brahms's name, by contrast, was absent).3 Deutsche s Requiem is a .ction, but
the obligation to read it in moral or political terms lies in a complex mesh of
displacements and recon.gurations, which include other writings by Borges as
well as differen t traces of historical and literary reality.4 There is an
intertextual work represented inside the story itself, in the counterpoint
between the narrator's monologue and the footnotes of an unknown editor, who
not only points out the narrator's omissions but also leaves out, or censors,
the description of zur Linde's torture of the Jewish poet David Jerusalem,
thereby acting as a sort of moral voice.
Revealing some of the strands of this fabric might throw light on the
historical inscription of the text. For example, there really was a man called
Otto zur Linde,5who was an 'almost forgotten'Expressionist poet. In May 1933, a
party was given to celebrate his sixtieth birthday by a group of young National
Socialists. This was, according to the Nazi newspaper, the Vo¨lkischer
Beobachter, because his work was 'dedicated to the people and the Fatherland '
and 'was prophetic in announcing the birth of a new human race'.6Whether Borges
knew about this particular episode or not, the skewedmoralitythat takes shape
in his storyseems already inscribed in the trajectory of this obscure reallif
e .gure. The reconstitution of such elements, be they intentional or not, means
that items of historical information go beyond their relevanc e to the sources
of the .ction to become data for a contemporary interpretation. In the story,
Otto zur Linde carries out his tasks in Tarnowitz concentration camp. The place
never existed, but its name evokes the Polish village of Tarnow, where a local
uprising was crushed by the Nazis in 1943.7Likewise, the .rst editorial
footnote points out the omission in the narrator's ancestry of the 'theologian
and Hebrew scholar' Johannes Forkel, without mentioning that this imaginary
name recalls that of Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who was Johann Sebastian Bach's
Perhaps this would be insigni.cant for a political history of literature, but
from a musicological perspective it links the mention of Brahms to the whole
canon of Germanic music.
But, more importantly, the editor indicates in another of his notes that the
apocryphal poet David Jerusalem is not so much a 'madeup character' but 'a
symbol of various individuals', adding that 'many Jewish intellectuals, among
them the pianist Emma Rosenzweig' were tortured at Tarnowitz on zur Linde's
orders. Thus, the editor attributes to zur Linde what is in fact Borges's own
literary strategy, the latter, for example, giving to his imaginar y pianist
the name of the real writer Franz Rosenzweig, the author of Der Stern der
Erlo¨sung (The Star of Redemption, a book which stands in complex relation to
the work of Martin Heidegger), and that of Arthur Rosenzweig, the head of the
Jewish Council in the Krakow Ghetto, murdered by the Nazis in May 1941.
Numerous pianists died in the camps, among them Renee GartnerGeiringer, who
was deported from Vienna to Theresienstadt, where she would give concerts of
Brahms's music, before being later murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.8 The surname
Geiringer also belongs to one of Brahms's chief biographers, a librarian at
Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, who went into exile after the Anschluss
. There is another echo of Schopenhauer in the description of the pianist as
intellectual, since the philosopher had resolved the polarity of the narrator's
emotions, 'music and metaphysics', by attributing a metaphysical meaning to
music, long before the nationalist musicologists of the Third Reich came to
celebrate music as 'the most German of the arts'.9 In taking account of a
'Jewish intellectual' annihilated twice over, .rst by torture and then by the
omission of her name, the text con.rms its critical distance from the Nazi
project to make Brahms and Theresienstadt, or 'Brahms' and 'Tarnowitz', exist
side by side.
Only the title itself and the epigraph from the Book of Job'Though he slay me,
yet I will trust in him'stand outside this dialogical game between narrator
and editor. The status of these two elements is uncertain. The quotation from
the Book of Job in particular suggests a specular game between the character's
faith and the JudeoChristian tradition, condemning Nazi doctrine as no more
than an inverted re.ection of its enemies' beliefs. Years later, Borges would
explain that 'the protagonist zur Linde, is a kind of saint, evil and mad, a
saint whose mission is abhorrent'.10 But how did Borges get to the German
Requiem? Why this particular title? There are no indications that Borges had a
chance to hear it in Buenos Aires during that period; had he done so, the
circumstances might have given the gesture a certain public relevance. Nor did
the work have a private relevance, then or at any other time: 'I was aware that
Brahms had written a work with that title, but I didn't know it. I chose the
title simply because it seemed to .t'.11
So the writer exploited the emblematic potential of the piece never having
heard it, and thus having no aesthetic experienc e of the music. The work
becomes a political symbol at the cost of its insigni.cance, or its silence.
Can one ask: if Borges had known the work, would his tale have been any
different, would it have been any better? The question is banal since there is
no way of answering it, but it gives rise to the possibility that, in all
ignorance, Borges might have echoed something which was present in the
non.ctional reception of Brahms' worknot in Buenos Aires, but in Germany.
Might he not have reproduced a gesture already present in the actual musical
practices of that key moment in the collapse of the Third Reich, Year Zero of
* * *
The polysemy in Borges's title is directly related to Brahms's project. To
begin with, the words Ein deutsches Requiem nach Worten der heiligen Schrift,
fur Soli, Chor und Orchester (Orgelad lib.) point up the originality of a mass
for the dead in German, based on texts of the Lutheran Bible chosen by the
composer. The work is inscribed in a Catholic tradition, de.ned liturgically by
the Latin text and legitimized aesthetically by the canonical place awarded to
the Mozart Requiem, but constitutes a development of that form, becoming an
original, one might say, almost modern gesture, yet at the same time one that
is close to the German tradition of works for the dead, such as those of
Heinrich Schutz (Teutsch e Begrabnissmissa) or Johann Sebastian Bach (Actus
Tragicus BWV 106).
However, the range of meanings of the term 'deutsch' in the Germanyof 1868 is
irreducible to this descriptive dimension. Brahms was not only conscious of
this fact but saw it as a source of misgivings. This concern appears in a
letter written the previous year to Carl Reinthaler, who was then preparing the
work for its .rst performance in Bremen. 'As far as the text is concerned, I
confess I would be happy to leave out the word Deutsch, and replace it by the
word Menschen (Human)'.12 Extracted from the letter that was only published
in 1908, this sentence would become crucial to the work's reception, and in
general it would provide a justi.cation for its antinationalist
interpretation, a gesture that would be extended to the stylistic plane by John
Eliot Gardiner, to warrant a 'deWagnerized ' version.13 But it is only with
some dif.culty that Brahms's misgivings can be explained by his critical
distance from nationalism. The opposition between cultural nationalism and a
universalist humanism, so characteristic of the decades after the Second World
War, makes for anachronistic judgements when projected back to Brahms's own
As Daniel BellerMcKenna has demonstrated,14 at the time of the Requiem's
composition the adjective 'German' might have had unwanted connotations. For
example, it might have indicated a preference for Prussia, something quite
contrary to Brahms's own feelings as a native of Hamburg who was attracted by
Vienna, even after Austria's defeat in the war with Prussia in 1866. Or it
might have suggested a Protestantism far too militant for a man like Brahms who
was receptive to less dogmatic versions of religion. Nevertheless, the risk of
language, politics andreligion interferin gwiththe interpretation of the work
in a potentially uncontrollable way did not dissuade Brahms from keeping the
word 'deutsch'in its title, thoughone symptom of Brahms's continuing unease is
his referringto the piece as 'my socalled [sogennante]German Requiem'.
The work remains open, too, from a generic and stylistic point of view. As a
major composition by a 'young maestro' (Brahms was then 35 years old) it
succeeded in combining some of the principal opposing tendencies of the period:
a knowledge of counterpoint with an audacious sense of harmony; a command of
form with subjective expression; tradition and modernity. It is certainly true
that the work is lackin g in an instrumental dimension that would make it a
symbol of 'absolute music'. It also lacks the legitimizatio n that Wagner
brought to vocal music when he transposed the secular rite of opera into tragic
terms. On the other hand, as a major composition for soloists, chorus and
orchestra it takes its place in the oratorio tradition, which, from Handel,
Haydn and Mendelssohn onwards, had made it possible for the professional and
amateur musical worlds to come together. In other words, it brought together in
an altogether decisive manner the .eldofsacred music andthe space of the
This is well illustrated in an analysis ofone of its mostcharacteristic
moments: the second movement, Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras ('For all
Flesh is as Grass'). This begins with an instrumental funeral march,
repetitive, almost obsessive, over which the choir intones a melody, which in
its impressive simplicity immediately recalls a chorale. In fact, the composer
was actually inspired by a chorale, though in a quite differen t way than
Mendelssohn had been when making his backwardlooking gesture in the oratorios.
The allianc e between the vocal form, characteristic of the Protestant service
of communal singing within the closed space of the church, and the instrumental
passages, which mark the moment of collective mourning in the open spaces of
the city, illustrate the way Brahms articulates the semantics of musical
genres. He does not simply quote, nor does he negate tradition, but, rather, he
produces a synthesis and a recon.guration of their elements. This is con.rmed,
moreover, by the abrupt passage from the circular logic of the .rst part of the
movement, in B .at minor, to the contrapuntal joy of the second part in D
major. This dramatizatio n of the polarityof the Christian discourse on death
(pain on earth, glory in the beyond) shows that cultivated technique does not
lead to a sacri.ce of intelligibility of expression. At the same time, the
delicate modulation of the melody of the chorale (a change of mode in the
descending section of the phrase) reveals a desire to subordinate the evocation
of traditional material to an enrichment of the harmonic vocabulary and thus
reveal the originality of the new maestro. This is the modern dimension,
necessary for the composer to be included in the line that begins with Bach and
Beethoven. Schumann had already announced Brahms's place in 1853, in.ecting his
prophecywitha commentabout genre: 'If his magic wand can summon from the abyss
forces that contain the potential of the masses and harness them in choir and
orchestra, then we can expect marvellous new visions of the mysterious world of
the spirit'.15 The programme was accomplished: Ein deutsche s Requiem would
ensure Brahms a rapid entry into the national pantheon as a great composer, who
would .gure in Hans von Bulow's famous triad Bach-Beethoven-Brahms.
This establishmentof Brahms as a greatnationalcomposer was connected to the
FrancoPrussian War, and more speci.callyto the memorial ceremonies for the
soldiers who had died during the con.ict. Ein deutsche s Requiem had indeed had
a partial premiere in Vienna in 1867, and then a full premiere in Bremen
in1868, and had then been performed in various cities in Germany during 1869.
But there then followed a year's silence, until 10 November 1870, when the work
was heard in Cologne, and for the .rst time as 'fu¨ r in die Kriege
Gefallenen'. Other commemorations followed, including, in September 1871, a
partial version of the Requiem in Plauen for the Sedanfeier.16 So, in these
concerts in memory of the war dead, the 'German Requiem' echoes as a 'Requiem
for the Germans'a nationality de.ned here in relation to the outside, to the
foreign, to the enemy, as be.ts the context of a war that was also seen as an
ideological confrontation. But not, on the other hand, a 'Requiem for Germany':
not only had Prussia won the war, but its victory had opened the gates to the
foundation of the German Empire. To perform the Requiem for the fallen brought
it closer to the dialecti c of sacri.ce of the soldiermartyr: they died so
that the Fatherland might live. Of course, the nationalist resonance did not
completely obliterate the relative autonomy of musical practice. But a
heteronomous hearing of this work would be further reinforced by a new piece by
Brahms that would openly aspire to the category of political music. The
Triumphlied , opus 55, with its original dedication to 'The victory of German
Arms', and then to the foundation of the Reich and the Emperor Wilhelm I, would
lead the 'composer of the German Requiem' to be awarded the status of 'the most
important German composer alive today', at least by the antiWagnerians.17
This ranking would be preserved beyond the conjuncture of 1871 and the .eeting
transformation of Ein deutsche s Requiem into a political symbol.
Subsequently, Brahms's opus 45 would become an important work in the
repertoire, but without its political interpretations being in any way
coherent. And if this were true in Germany, there was even more reason for it
to be so in countries like England and France. The work was .rst performed in
London in 1871 (in an arrangement for two pianos, known as the 'London
Version')and was absorbed into the tradition of Handelian oratorio and the
choral works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and any political symbolism in the work
eluded its English audience , never much inclined to search for one in the .rst
instance. In Paris, the work was conducted for the .rst time by Jules Pasdeloup
in 1876. Until the First World War, the work's presence in the repertoire
continuously provoked negative comment, which was consonant with the low
estimation of all of Brahms's work in France at the time. The composer was
caught in the cross.re between those who wished to reduce him to the .gure of
an antiWagnerian conservative, and those who wanted to see him as the vector
of an aggressive Germanism. Visible in the external politics of the Reich, this
was also uncovered in the musical works that Paris was regularly exposed to, in
part thanks to the frequent visits of conductors of German orchestras. But
there were very few who saw the Requiem as more than just one example amongst
many of the 'heaviness' of recent German music. Only the critic of the Mercur e
de France, Jean Marnold, seems to have metaphorically exploited the fact that
the work was a requiem, linking it in an article he wrote in 1905 to 'the
learnedmentalityofa people who would appear incapable of leaving their dream of
the sentimental lied without falling into an indigestible didacticism, which
is either empty or banal, and whose spirit, burned out after so long as the
epoch's shining sun, can now only manage to light candles in amphitheatres or
After the First World War, the reception of the Requiem was in line with its
composer's loss of prestige as an antiromantic reaction took hold. Even the
attempts of Schoenberg and Adorno to rehabilitat e Brahms during the centenary
of his birth in 1933 failed to arrest his waning reputation.19 But at the same
time his work provided the compositional modeland antimodelin two works that
in their own ways representedthe polarities of German musical life prior to the
Second World War: Kurt Weil's Berliner Requiem (1929), settings of poems by
Brecht and a modernist critique of of.cial memory of the First World War, and
Gottfried Muller's Deutsche Heldenrequiem (1934), which set a text of Klaus
Niedner, and was a neoRomantic apology for the Nazi doctrine of heroic
sacri.ce, projected backwards onto those who fell in the War of 1914-18. During
the Third Reich itself, Johannes Brahms preserved his place at the heart of the
German cultural Pantheon, as a representative of a musical patrimony that was
regularly invoked as an antidote to critical or modernist pretensions. But in
the face of the Wagner cult and the enthronement of his historical rival, the
great symphonist Bruckner, Brahms, the friend of the Jew Joseph Joachim, could
expect no special honours. And military events would not inspire the Nazi
authorities to evoke a Requiem that was meant to inspire resignation in the
face of death rather than martial values or a willingness for selfsacri.ce.
* * *
Nor was the work used in any systematic way after the war to give a ritual form
to the work of mourning or to offer a critical revision of history, of the sort
that Borges's character would attempt. However, we can link the .ction to
certain episodes, so as to yield, if not a coherent totality, then at least
some signi.cant relations. On 30 March 1945, the very day on which the Red Army
entered Austrian territory and two weeks before the capital was taken, the
Vienna Philharmonic under Clemens Kraus gave a performance of Ein deutsches
Requiem in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. A few days after the cancellat
ion of an 'Anschluss concert' becaus e ofthe shelling of the Staatsoper, this
would be the lastconcert that the Philharmonic gave during the Nazi period, in
its incarnation as a 'German' orchestra seriously committed to the Hitler
regime. The historian Clemens Hellberg gives an account of this episode, based
on a 'war record' that the orchestra's management put together, and describes
it as 'without doubt particularlyemotional'.20But beyond this, there is no
other testimony from the period that would allow one to give a political
interpretation other than the very fact of historical inscription.
Things were differen t in the Bremen performances of 19, 20 and 21 November
1945. The concerts markedthe resumption of musical life under the auspices of
the North American authorities, and a wellknown music teacher from the city
commented in the local paper: 'This solemn mass for the dead occupies a
particular place in the hearts of Bremen musiclovers, since it was here that
it had its .rst performance on 10 April 1868.... And it was the cathedral choir
that once again gave a performance of the highest artistic calibre, to
commemorate the 75th anniversary of that notable event, on 10 April 1945.
Becaus e of this, the choir has made very effort to give several performances
of this work, so resonant of the desire for peace.'21 Despite his nodding to
'the desire for peace' resonant in the work, the writer of the article was much
more interested in underlini ng a continuity with the pastfrom the foundation
of the Second Reich to the culmination of the Thirdthan with making the recent
catastrophe an occasion for rupture and renovation. Despite its
apparentmodesty, sucha project seemed to use Brahms's work as the basis for a
veritable memorial programme for Year Zero, something which Otto Dietrich zur
Linde would surely have countenanced, given his own desire to associate his
ancestrywith the whole of German military history since the eighteent h
century, including the FrancoPrussian War of 1870.
More enigmatic considerations are suggested by the careers of two .gures, who,
each in his own way, crystallize the moral problem posed by the role of music
in the Third Reich. On 20 August 1947, Ein deutsches Requiem was performed at
the Lucerne Festival: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Hans Hotter sang the solo
roles, and the performance was conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Two months
later, the same soloists sang on a recording of the work by the Vienna
Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. The Lucerne performance was
one of the .rst concerts given by Furtwängler after his exoneration by two
Denazi.cation Hearings in Vienna and Berlin. The Karajan recording, on the
other hand, preceded his de.nitive exculpation, thanks to the skills of the
producer Walter Legge in convincing the Occupation authorities that the ban on
Karajan giving concerts did not prevent him from making records.
Neither Furtwängler nor Karajan seems to have left any account of his feelings,
re.ections or intentions in these truly historical circumstances. And if there
were commentators who remarked on the exceptional nature of these occasions,
none of them didso in a political key.22 Denialor simple indifference ? In any
case, the real political meaning of the musical performances is a matter of
speculation. For Karajan's biographer, Richard Osborne, the 1947 Requiem is
'sincere and moving to the point where it becomes unendurable '23 and reveals
that his hero had 'acutely perceived the events of the time'. But Osborne does
not explain the basis for his particular account of the work, and on the
previous page denies that the recordings that Karajan made of Johann Strauss's
works during the Third Reich contain any audible trace of the conductor's
understandingwith the regimethe understanding of a man who had joined the
Nazi party in 1933, but whose brilliant career had been checked after his
marriage in 1942 to a woman of Jewish origin. The question of what Karajan
really felt at that moment remains open.
The same is true of the meaning of the performance of the Requiem that
Furtwängler conducted in Lucerne, despite the fact that the characteristic
features of his style are perfectly identi.able: the slow construction of the
initial crescendo, the impressive presence of the timpani in the second
movement, the interminable pause at the .nale of the third movement, the
dramatic explosion in the sixth movement. But perhaps the most striking
political dimension of this version is its incomplete and imperfect recording,
which, as the recent reconstruction by the Paris Furtwängler Society has
revealed, bears the ambiguous splendour of ruins in soundruined sound, a
technological trace of a Europe that had itself become a huge .eld of ruins as
a consequence of the 'violence and faith in the sword' proclaimed by Otto
Dietrich zur Linde.
The composer Paul Hindemithsaw that this momentrepresenteda rupture in the
history of the German nation. His response was the 1946 work written in the
United States, whose original title, An American Requiem, was a directallusion
to the Brahms Requiem. With settings of poems by Walt Whitman, When lilacs last
in the dooryard bloomed, A Requiem 'For those we love' has a Jewish melody in
its eighth movement which could be interpreted as a subtle referenc e to the
Holocaust. One can recognize something of the composer's own historical
experienc e in this passage from the withered grass ofthe Old Testament to the
New World's .owercovered .elds. Thus, after the catastrophe the political
legacy of Brahms's work would sound from the other side of the Atlantic,
through the mouth of one of the principal representatives of the 'German music'
that the Nazi regime had condemned as 'degenerate '. It was this same Hindemith
whom even Furtwängler's intervention with Josef Goebbels failed to save from
disgrace in 1934, an episode that must surely rank, however, as one of the most
digni.ed moments in the tortuous and tortured career of the most famous
conductor of the Third Reich.
But it was on the ruins of Hitler's Germany that the future, the world of
postwar Europe, would be constructed. 'The world believe d that after defeating
the demon that was Hitler's Germany good would triumph and order would be
reestablished . But it was only the .rst incarnation ofa demon that
stillsurvives, ever more angry...' Furtwängler writes in his notebook in
1946.24At exactlythe same moment, Borges has his character say: 'An implacable
era is hovering over the world. We forged it, we who are already its victims.
What does it matter if England is the hammer and we are the anvil?' (p. 179).
Of course, the torturer praises what the musician laments. However, the moral
differenc e does not eliminate the fact that the two ideas converge: both the
.ctional and the historical .gures believe that from now on violence will reign
rather than 'servile, Christian timidity'.
Although the conductor was not talking aboutmusic here, it is as if Brahms's
Ein deutsche s Requiem echoes in his words, with all the emotional charge of
Borges's Deutsches Requiem. It is as though, for all his ignorance and his
deafness, the Argentine writer was like a sleepwalker and, in a work that he
did not even know, divined the historical opening it represented, in all its
tragedy and chaos. Borges's lack of interest in music was suf.ciently blatant
to discourage any thought of making him engage in dialogue with the history of
music, and with classical music in particular. For all his pleasure in
listening to Brahms during his meetings with Bioy Casares, Borges never seemed
to have let the music stop him working: Brahms, as opposed to Debussy, was just
background noise. On the other hand, music as an art had a conceptual place in
his universe; at least it did so after he had read The World as Will and
Representation. Thus one can read in 'History of the Tango': 'Schopenhaue r has
written that music is no less immediate that the world itself: without the
world, without a common fund of memories that can be evoked by language, there
would certainly be no literature, but music can do without the world: there
could be music and no world'.25
The quotation continues: 'Music is will, passion: the tango, as music, would
directly transmit thatwarlikejoy whose verbal expression was the aim of Greek
and Germanic rhapsodies in remote times'.26 We can leave on one side for the
moment to what extent the tango was an expression of will or passion for
Borges. As for classical music it is clear that he saw it not as an immediate
experienc e but, in an eminently nonSchopenhaueria n way, as a 'common fund of
memories that can be evoked by language '. In other words as literatureor as
history. This is something that might create legitimate doubts and even a sense
of disapproval in music lovers, but is not so far distant from the way in which
works of music and their titles go on living in the shared space of the public
world. They are reproduced as parts of canonical formulae and become partof the
historicalmemoryof nations andregister collective horrors. Theyare transformed
into symbols. An intuition that Borges, although describing himself as an
'intruder' in the domain of music, would con.rm in 1976, in the poem To
Johannes Brahms, the musician who, according to the text, knew how to lavish
his 'gardens' on 'the plural memory of the future'.27
Translated by Philip Derbyshire
1. Jorge Luis Borges, 'Deutsche s Requiem', Sur, No. 136 (February 1946), pp.
7-14; reprinted in El Aleph in Obras completas I (Buenos Aires: Emece´, 1996),
pp. 576-581. Translated by Julian Palley in Labyrinths, ed. by Donald A. Yates
and James E. Irby, with a preface by Andre´ Maurois (Harmondsworth: Penguin
Books, 1970), pp. 173-179. (Translation amended.) .
2. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representati on, trans. by E.F.J.
Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1966). .
3. Jorge Luis Borges, 'De.nicio´ n de un germano´ .lo', El Hogar (Buenos Aires,
13 December 1940). .
4. See Annick Luis, 'Besando a Judas. Notas alrededor de Deutsche s Requiem '
(Kissing Judas: Notes on 'Deutsche s Requiem') in Jorge Luis Borges:
Intervenciones sobre pensamient o y literatura, ed. by C. Canaparo, W. Rowe and
A. Louis (Buenos Aires: Paido´ s, 2000), pp. 61-67. .
5. Thanks to Annick Louis for pointing out Otto zur Linde's Expressionist
6. Vo¨lkischer Beobachter, Berlin (10 May 1933). .
7. Aharon Weiss, 'Tarnow', in Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, ed by I. Gutman
(New York and London: Macmillan, 1990), vol. 4, pp. 1451-1454. .
8. Joza Karas, La musique a Terezin, 1941-1945 (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), p.
9. See Pamela M. Potter, Most German of Arts: Musicology and Society from the
Weimar Republic to the End of Hitler's Reich (New Haven, London: Yale
University Press, 1998). .
10. Interview with James E. Irby [January 1960], in Jorge Luis Borges (Paris:
Cahiers de l'Herne, 1964), p. 395.
11. Ibid., p. 396. .
12. Letter of 6 October 1867, Johannes Brahms im Briefwechsel mit Carl
Reinthaler (Berlin, 1908), pp. 7-12, quoted in Daniel BellerMcKenna , 'How
deutsch a Requiem? Absolute Music, Universality and the Reception of Brahms's
Ein deutsches Requiem, opus 45', in 19th Century Music XXII/I (Summer 1998),
University of California Press, p. 5. .
13. John Eliot Gardiner, 'Brahms and the 'Human' Requiem', Gramophone , 68/815
(April 1991), pp. 1809-1810. Quoted in ibid., p. 4. .
14. Article cited. .
15. Robert Schumann, 'Voies nouvelles' , Sur les musiciens (Paris: Stock,
1979), p. 285. .
16. See Max Kalbeck, Johannes Brahms. Band II, 1862-1873 (Berlin: Deutsche
BrahmsG esellschaft, Berlin, 1921), reprint Hans Schneider, Tutzing, pp.
284-286; and Klaus Blum, hundert Jahre Ein Deutsches Requiem von Johannes
Brahms (Vienna: Tutzing, 1971), pp. 109-112. .
17. Franz Gehring, Algemeine musicalische Zeitung, No. 26 (26 June 1872). .
18. Jean Marnold, Mercure de France (15 June 1906), p. 610. .
19. Arnold Schoenberg, 'Vortrag, zu halten in Frankfurt am Main, 12.II.1933',
in Verteidigung des musikalischen Fortschritts. Brahms unde Schonberg, ed. by
A. Dumling (Hamburg: Argument, 1990), pp. 162-170. Theodor W. Adorno, 'Brahms
Aktuell ' , in Gesammelte Schriften 18, Musikalische Schriften V
(Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1984), pp. 200-223. .
20. Clemens Hellsberg, Les grandes heures du Philharmonique de Vienne (Paris:
Editions du May, 1992), p. 369.
21. Ernest Kretschmer, 'Ein deutsches Requiem', Weser Kurier, Year 1, No. 2 (22
September 1945). .
22. See for example R. de. C., 'Semaines musicales de Lucerne', Gazette de
Lausanne (6 September 1947). .
23. Herbert von Karajan. Une vie pour la musique. Entretiens avec Richard
Osborne (Paris: Archipel, 1999), pp. 25-26. .
24. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Carnets 1924-1954. Ecrits fragmentaires (Geneva: Georg
Editeur, 1995, 1946), p. 84. .
25. Jorge Luis Borges, Evaristo Carriego, in Obras completas I, op. cit., p.
26. Ibid. .
27. Jorge Luis Borges, 'A Johannes Brahms', La Moneda de Hierro (The Iron
Coin), in Obras completas III (Buenos Aires: Emece´, 1996), p. 139.
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