[Paleopsych] Esteban Buch: Ein deutsches Requiem: Between Borges and Furtwängler

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed May 18 22:54:19 UTC 2005

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'
(p. 179).
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'
(p. 174).
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 
.rst biographer.
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' work—not 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 
democratic Germany?
* * *
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 
profane concert.
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 model—and anti­model—in 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 past—from the foundation 
of the Second Reich to the culmination of the Third—than 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 regime—the 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 sound—ruined 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 literature—or 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 
connection. .
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. 
147. .
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' [1853], 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 ' [1934], 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. 
161. .
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.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list