Nietzsche's Letters | 1872© The Nietzsche Channel

Nietzsche's Letters


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Friedrich Nietzsche.
From photo by:
Friedrich Hermann Hartmann, Basel.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Basel, July 20, 1872:
Letter to Hans von Bülow.

Dear sir,

How much I would like to express to you once again with what admiration and gratitude I always keep you in mind. You have given me access to the most sublime artistic impression of my life; and if I was unable to thank you immediately after the two performances,1 then attribute this to a state of total shock, in which a man does not speak, does not thank, but withdraws into himself. All of us, however, parted from you and from Munich with the deepest feelings of personal obligation; and being unable to express this more clearly and eloquently, I came up with the idea of telling you by sending a composition,2 in the admittedly meager but necessary form of a dedication intra parietes, revealing my wish to be able to prove that I am quite grateful to you. Such a good wish! And such a dubious piece of music! Laugh at me, I deserve it.

Now I hear, from the newspapers, that on the 8th of August you will perform Tristan again. I will probably be in attendance again. My friend Gersdorff will be back in Munich in time for it.3 — Recently I had the pleasure of a letter from Mr. von Senger.4 Have you read R W[agner]'s Open Letter on classical philology?5 My colleagues are quite exasperated by it. A Berlin pamphlet against my writings — under the title "Future-Philology!"6 — tries to annihilate me, and, so I hear, a soon-to-appear rebuttal of Prof. Rohde in Kiel has yet again the intention to destroy the pamphleteer.7 I myself am occupied with the conception of a new, unfortunately yet again "future-philological" work8 and wish every pamphleteer a similar occupation. Halfway through it, I would like to experience the healing power of Tristan again: then I can return to the Greeks, renewed and purified. But since you have this magic potion at your disposal, you are my doctor: and if you find that your patient is making atrocious music, you know the secret Pythagorean art of curing him by means of "good" music. But by doing so you rescue him from philology: while he, left to himself without good music, sometimes begins to moan musically, like cats on the rooftops.

Remain, dear sir, convinced of my affection and devotion!

Friedrich Nietzsche.

1. In Münich on June 28 and 30, Nietzsche (along with Carl von Gersdorff, Malwida von Meysenbug, and Olga Herzen) attended two performances of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Hans von Bülow.
2. Nietzsche's piano composition, Manfred Meditation.
3. It was postponed until the 18th.
4. Hugo von Senger (1835-1892): composer, pianist, conductor and music professor in Geneva.
5. Richard Wagner's published letter "An Friedrich Nietzsche ... 12. Juni 1872." In: Norddeutschen Allgemeinen Zeitung, 23. Juni 1872. See Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen. Bd. 9. Leipzig: Fritzsch, 1873, 350.
6. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Zukunftsphilologie! Eine Erwidrung auf Friedrich Nietzsche's "Geburt der Tragödie." Berlin: Borntraeger, 1872.
7. Erwin Rohde, Afterphilologie. Zur Beleuchtung des von dem Dr. phil. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff herausgegebenen Pamphlets "Zukunftsphilologie!" Sendschreiben eines Philologen an Richard Wagner. Leipzig: Fritzsch, 1872.
8. Probably "Homer's Wettkampf" (Homer's Contest), or perhaps preparatory work on "Die Philosophie im tragischen Zeitalter der Griechen" (Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks).


Hans von Bülow (1830-1894).
Leipzig, 1870-71.
From b/w collotype by:
Meisenbach, Riffarth and Co., Leipzig.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Munich, July 24, 1872:
Letter from Hans von Bülow.

Highly honored Herr Professor,

Your kind letter and submission1 has put me in a dilemma, uncomfortableness which I have seldom felt so vividly in such matters. I ask myself, should I remain silent, or respond with a civil banality — or — just come out with it? To the latter belongs an increase in courage to the point of boldness: in order to muster courage, I must say in advance, firstly, that I hope you are firmly convinced about the respect with which I pay homage to your creative genius as an exponent of scholarship — furthermore, I have to rely on two privileges, which, understandably, I resort to most reluctantly; the first, a more doleful nature: which by my count has had ten or fifteen years more than yours; the second: my profession as a musician. As to the latter, I, like Hansemann, usually practice the principle "business is business"2: in materia musices3 politeness ceases.

But to the point: your Manfred Meditation is the most extreme form of fantastical extravagance, the most unedifying and antimusical thing I have seen put down on music paper in a long time. Several times I had to ask myself: is the entire thing a joke, did you perhaps intend a parody of the so-called music of the future? Is it by intent that you continuously mock every rule of tonal connection from ordinary orthography to the highest syntax? Apart from its psychological interest — for in the product of your musical fever one can sense, with all its aberrations, an uncommon, distinguished mind — your meditation from a musical standpoint is equivalent to a crime in the moral realm. I have not been able to discover a trace of the Apollonian element and as for the Dionysian, frankly speaking, it made me think more of the lendemain4 of a bacchanal than of the bacchanal itself. If you really have a passionate urge to express yourself in the language of sound, then it is essential to acquire the primary elements of this language: a rapturous fantasy reveling in reminiscenses of Wagnerian sounds is no foundation for production. The unprecedented audacities of Wagner, apart from the fact that they derive from a dramatic texture that is justified by the words (in purely instrumental compositions he abstains from similar monstrosities) are, moreover, always to be understood as grammatically correct — down to the smallest details of the notation; if the insight of a nonetheless refined musical understanding like Herr Dr. Hanslick5 is insufficient for this, then it just clarifies that in order to truly appreciate Wagner as a musician, one must be musicien et demi.6 If you, highly esteemed Herr Professor, should have meant quite seriously your aberration into the field of composition — as to which I still have doubts — then at least confine yourself to vocal music and let the word steer the rudder of the boat that tosses you upon the wild ocean of sounds.

Once again — no offense (after all, even you describe your music as "atrocious") — it is in fact more atrocious than you think, maybe not detrimental to the commonweal, but worse that that, detrimental to yourself, you who cannot waste more poorly any excess of leisure than to rape Euterpe in this kind of manner.

I cannot object if you tell me that I have overstepped the bounds of civilité puérile7: "You must discern in my ruthless candor (rudeness) sincere deep respect as well" — I won't make such a lame excuse. I just have to give vent to my indignation regarding such antimusical tonal experiments: perhaps I should turn part of it against myself, insofar as I've made the performance of Tristan8 possible, and am therefore indirectly to blame for such an eminent and enlightened mind as yours, esteemed Herr Professor, having been afflicted with such regrettable fits at the piano.

Well, perhaps you will be cured by "Lohengrin"9 on the 30th, which by the way will be performed not under my direction, unfortunately, but under that of Wüllner,10 the acting director of the court orchestra (I rehearsed it in the year 1867) — the dates for the Dutchman11 and Tristan are not yet certain — we're talking about August 3 and 6 — some say August 5 and 10. I can't tell you anything officially, since until Sunday His Excellency and every singer in the country will be on vacation.

I am again in the same dilemma as when I took pen in hand. Don't think badly of me, esteemed sir, and recall only my kindness regarding your truly edifying, instructive and splendid book12 — which I hope will soon be followed by similar works — and for that reason most respectfully and sincerely yours

H v Bülow

1. Nietzsche's piano composition, Manfred Meditation.
2. "in Geldsachen die Gemüthlichkeit aufhört": a saying coined by David Hansemann (1790-1864): Prussian politician and banker.
3. In musical matters.
4. The day after.
5. Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904): music critic and author of On the Musically Beautiful. Nietzsche owned the third edition, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: ein Beitrag zur Revision der Aesthetik der Tonkunst. Leipzig: Weigel, 1865.
6. Half again as much a musician.
7. Good manners.
8. Tristan und Isolde: opera by Richard Wagner. Hans von Bülow conducted the first performance in 1865.
9. Lohengrin: opera by Richard Wagner.
10. Franz Wüllner (1832-1902).
11. Der fliegende Holländer: opera by Richard Wagner.
12. The Birth of Tragedy.


Hans von Bülow (1830-1894).
Based on a b/w print (from a photo by Elliott & Fry, London).
By: Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum (1849-1925).
Published in Harper's Weekly, April 6, 1889, p. 260.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Basel, October 29, 1872 or shortly before:
Draft of a Letter to Hans von Bülow.

Well, thank God that I have to hear this, and precisely this, from you.1 I now know what an uncomfortable moment I have given you, for which I'll tell you how much you have benefited me. You should know that every discipline in my musical self-instruction has gradually been discarded, that I have never heard a judgment on my music from a musician and that I am truly happy to have been enlightened in such a simple way about the nature of my very last period of composition. For, unfortunately, I have to confess — I've been making music by my own method of construction since childhood,2 derived theory by studying Albrecht[s]berger's,3 have written fugues en masse and am capable of a pure style — up to a certain degree of purity. On the other hand, sometimes I have been overcome by such a barbaric, excessive desire, a mixture of defiance and irony, that I — no less than you — can keenly sense what things were meant to be serious, caricature, or derision in [my] most recent music. I presented it to my fellow housemates4 (oh, the boni!)5 as a pamphlet on program music. And the original characterization of the mood was cannibalido. Unfortunately, it is now clear to me that the whole thing, together with this mixture of pathos and malice, corresponded absolutely to an actual mood and that I found writing it down a pleasure like nothing I had done before. There is therefore something quite sad about my music and even more about my moods. How does one describe a condition in which delight, contempt, exuberance, sublimity have got mixed up? Here and there I lapse into that dangerous state of the moonstruck. At the same time, I am — you must believe me — infinitely far removed from judging and admiring Wagnerian music while in this semi-psychiatric musical excitation. The only thing I know about my music is that with it I become master over a mood, which, unsatisfied, is perhaps more harmful. In the latter I honor precisely this supreme necessity — and where I, as an inadequate musician, do not understand it, I presuppose it by faith. But what I particularly enjoyed in my recent music was precisely a certain caricature of that necessity, during the wildest state of exuberance. And precisely this desperate counterpoint must have confused my feelings to the extent that I had an absolute loss of judgment. And in this state of distress I sometimes thought even better of this music — a most regrettable state from which you have now rescued me. Thank you! So that is not music at all? I'm quite happy about it, since I no longer need to bother with this kind of otium cum odio, with this really odious way of spending my time. It's a matter of truth to me: you know it's more pleasant to hear it than to say it. Thus I am doubly in your debt again[.] — Yet I request of you only one thing, not to make Tristan6 responsible for my sin. I certainly would no longer have conceived of such music after hearing Tristan — it cured me of my music for a long time. Would that I could hear it again!

But now I will really try to undertake a musical cure for my health: and perhaps I will remain under your intellectual supervision and guidance if I study your edition of Beethoven sonatas.7 Apart from that, the entire thing is a highly instructive experience for me — the question of education,8 which I am dealing with in other areas, has been raised for me in the field of art with particular urgency. To what dreadful aberrations is the solitary man now exposed!

1. See above.
2. See Friedrich Nietzsche in Words and Pictures. Appendix 2. Chronology of Nietzsche's Music.
3. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, J. G. Albrechtsberger’s sämmtliche Schriften über Generalbaß, Harmonie-Lehre, und Tonsetzkunst zum Selbstunterrichte. [J. G. Albrechtsberger’s Collected Writings on Thorough-Bass, Harmony, and Composition, for Self-Instruction.] 3 Bde. Wien: Strauss, 1826. See his entry in Nietzsche's Library.
4. Franz Overbeck and, later, Heinrich Romundt.
5. Oh, the good fellows!
6. See above.
7. Cf. Sonaten und andere Werke für das Pianoforte von Ludwig van Beethoven. Unter Mitwirkung von Immanuel Faisst bearb. u. hrsg. von Sigmund Lebert [und Hans von Bülow]. Bd. 1. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1872. [Drei Sonaten, op. 2 Sonate, op. 7 Drei Sonaten, op. 10 Sonate pathétique, op. 13 Zwei Sonaten, op. 14.]
8. Nietzsche delivered five lectures "Über die Zukunft unserer Bildungsanstalten" (On the Future of our Educational Institutions) in the winter of 1872. A planned sixth lecture was never given. In German. In English.


Hans von Bülow (1830-1894).
Colorized image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Basel, October 29, 1872:
Letter to Hans von Bülow.

Esteemed sir,

I have given myself time to take to heart the admonitions in your letter and to thank you for them, haven't I?1 Rest assured that I would never have dared, even in jest, to ask you for an estimation of my "music," if I had had only some idea of its absolute unworthiness! Until now, unfortunately, no one has jolted me from my naive conceit — from the ability to make out of this conceit a quite amateurish grotesquerie, but for me very "natural" music — now I recognize, though only in retrospect, looking back on your letter about my composition, what unnatural dangers I exposed myself to by consenting to it. Yet even today I still believe that you would have judged me a shade — just a tiny shade, of course — less harshly had I but played that non-music2 for you in my way, badly, but expressively: a number of things in it, because of technical awkwardness, reached the paper so askew as to offend any true musician's sense of propriety and purity.

You must realize that, since my earliest youth until now, I have been living under the craziest illusion and have taken so much joy in my music!3 You see how it stands with "enlightening my understanding," which you have brought to light with such a good estimation. It has always been a problem for me: where does this joy come from? There is something so irrational about it, in this regard I could turn neither left nor right, the joy was always there in front of me. Precisely in this Manfred music I had such a grim, indeed scornful pathetical feeling, it was a pleasure, as in the case of a devilish irony! My other "music," you have to believe me, is more human, gentler and also purer. Even the title was ironic — for I'm hardly able to think of the Byronic Manfred,4 which I admired almost as my favorite poem when I was a boy, other than as a wildly unstructured monotonous absurdity. —

But now I will keep silent about all that and know that I, since I know better because of you, will do what is fitting. You have helped me very much — a confession it still somewhat pains me to make.—

Do the following words of Prof. Rohde perhaps somewhat amuse you? The notion of "Wagnerian philologists" is really new — you see, there are now just two of them.5

Think of me kindly, esteemed sir, and forget, for my sake, the musical and human anguish which I caused you by my rash submission: whereas I will certainly never forget your letter and your advice. I say, as children say when they've done something stupid, "I certainly won't do it again" and remain in your avowed affection and high esteem

as your ever devoted
Friedrich Nietzsche.

1. In the summer of 1872, Nietzsche informed his friends Gustav Krug and Erwin Rohde of Bülow's harsh criticism. He wrote an unsent draft of a letter shortly before composing this one.
2. Nietzsche's piano composition, Manfred Meditation.
3. See Friedrich Nietzsche in Words and Pictures. Appendix 2. Chronology of Nietzsche's Music.
4. See Nietzsche's early essay "On the Dramatic Works of Byron." In: Nietzsche's Writings as a Student.
5. Nietzsche and his friend Erwin Rohde were ostracized by the philological establishment: Nietzsche for his publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Rohde for defending it.

Nietzsche's Letters | 1872© The Nietzsche Channel

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