Nietzsche's Letters | 1872© The Nietzsche Channel

Nietzsche's Letters


Previous | Next

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: The content of this website, including text and images, is the property of The Nietzsche Channel. Reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited. © The Nietzsche Channel.


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).
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

Not to be reproduced without permission. All content © The Nietzsche Channel.