Auf der Suche nach der poetischen Zeit - Der Prager Davidsbund

Auf der Suche nach der poetischen Zeit - Der Prager Davidsbund (In Search of the Poetic Age - the Davidsbund of Prague) by Bonnie and Erling Lomnäs, and Dietmar Strauß
Saarbrücken, PFAU-Verlag, 1999
Volume I: Commentary, Registry of Works, Concert Documents
407 pages, softbound, German language

Early in the 19th Century, there began a massive, concerted attack on the tradition of European Classical Music, which had reached a high point in the work of Mozart and Beethoven. The European oligarchy recognized, and feared, the role of these masterworks of art, in fostering a cultural environment that encouraged the spread of Republican ideas (which, in the cases of Mozart and Beethoven, was entirely conscious and deliberate). The form that this attack took, was the patronage of music that was technically flashy, but impoverished of ideas; or, yet worse, music that substituted novel and titillating sensual effects, in the place of ideas. This is what became known as the "New German" style, the "Music of the Future", and ultimately as Romanticism; the leading practitioners of this approach, were Liszt and Wagner. The leader who emerged, to defend the Classical idea, was the composer and journalist, Robert Schumann. Ironically, it is commonly believed today, that Schumann was himself a Romantic.

The standard litany of the academics, goes something like this: during the historical period that preceded Beethoven, all composers were Classical. Beethoven started out as a Classical composer, but then, for some undetermined reason, perhaps glandular in origin, he became Romantic. Henceforth, all composers became increasingly Romantic, until they reached a point where they underwent another metamorphosis, and became Modernist. This story does not correspond to reality. The most distinctive quality that Robert Schumann's masterworks, such as the "Carnaval", have in common with Beethoven's late works, such as the quartets opus 131 and 135, is that the emotional tone seems to move rapidly and abruptly from one affective state to another, from what might be termed tragic, to comic, to heroic. What the composer is doing, is creating ironies, paradoxes, which are resolved by an overarching, unheard idea, that maintains the absolute, perfect unity of the composition (and it is this degree of rigor, which allows the artist to be "playful" in the Schillerian sense). However, to the listener whose cognitive powers have been damaged by the pathology of Romanticism, what is perceived is a mere kaleidoscope of contrasting effects. A musician whose understanding of the composition suffers from this outlook, can easily destroy it in performance -- while a musician, who understands it properly as Classical music, can drive home the paradoxes with powerful effect, while the greater idea acts as a polar star to keep the performance on course, maintaining the cognitive tension that leads the listener's mind, toward the joyful resolution of the paradoxes.¹

Lyndon LaRouche, in his essay, "Politics as Art" [Executive Intelligence Review, November 17, 2000] writes the following: "The point is, that in art, nothing must ever be arbitrary, never as the Romantics and so forth insist upon arbitrary, irrational whims, whims whose claims to art are limited to the presumption that that which is utterly irrational, such as the works of Richard Wagner, is unfathomably mysterious, and therefore incredibly artistic and sexy as well. There must be governing necessity, as there is in science. That governing principle of reason, must be supplied by the governing, underlying role of contrapuntal development, the contrapuntal development derived from the spark of well-tempered thorough-composition." The conclusive proof, that Schumann understood this idea, may be found in his compositions. However, in order to combat the growing tendency toward the arbitrary and irrational in music, as well as the merely banal and pedestrian, Schumann became a political organizer, using as a vehicle, the journal of music criticism that he founded, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music). Schumann populated the pages of his journal with a cast of characters called the "Davidsbündler" or "League of David," after the biblical King David, who played and composed music, wrote poetry, and slew the Philistines. The half-fictitious members of the Davidsbündler, who contributed articles and aphorisms to the journal, all had their counterparts in the real world, among those whom Schumann counted as his allies in the war against the latter-day Philistines: "Chiarina" represented the piano virtuosa Clara Wieck, who later became Schumann's wife; "Felix Meritis" was Mendelssohn; and "Florestan" and "Eusebius" were two contrasting aspects of Schumann's own personality. These characters also appear in Schumann's compositions, particularly the Carnaval, which concludes with the heroic "March of the Davidsbündler against the Philistines."

The authors of "Auf der Suche nach der Poetischen Zeit" present a detailed account, of a group of critics and composers in Prague, who enlisted as soldiers in Schumann's army. Among them, were August Wilhelm Ambros, Eduard Hanslick, Franz Balthasar Ulm, Josef August Heller, Josef Bayer, Friedrich Bach, Hans Hampel, Joseph Alexander Freiherr von Helfert, and Bernhard Gutt. They constituted themselves as the Davidsbund of Prague, and wrote in a style similar to that of Schumann. Prague had always played an important role in the musical history of Europe, as the capitol of Bohemia, which produced composers such as Zelenka, Reicha and Dussek. Mozart had a network of collaborators there. Then, at the point where Bohemia (what today, is the Czech Republic) began to assert its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there came the two Czech composer/patriots, Bedrich Smetana and Antonín Dvorák. It was in the early 1840s, shortly before the emergence of the movement for independence, that the Davidsbund of Prague became active.

There were differences between this Davidsbund, and Schumann's; whereas Schumann's Bündler were all essentially his own creations, and expressed, in a variety of ways, his ideas, the Davidsbund of Prague was comprised of a number of distinct individuals, who did not necessarily see eye to eye on all matters. They were not unanimous in opposition to composers such as Liszt, Wagner, or Berlioz, although the most prominent among them, Eduard Hanslick, ultimately became such a fierce opponent of Wagner, that Wagner lampooned him in Die Meistersinger as a pedantic character named Beckmesser. Schumann himself vacillated somewhat in his views toward the "new breed" of composers; he originally praised Berlioz, only to later attack him. ² A. W. Ambros wrote: "When Berlioz appeared in person 1845/46, that was it. 'You were completely beside yourselves', said Schumann with a smile, thereby forgetting, that he himself, ten years earlier, had been 'completely beside himself' over the French composer." ["Als Berlioz 1845/46 in Person erschien, war's vollends aus. 'Ihr waret ja ganz aus dem Häuschen', sagte lächelnd Schumann, welcher dabei nur vergaß, daß er über den französischen Componisten zehn Jahre vorher selbst 'aus dem Häuschen gewesen'."]

The Prague Davidsbund shared with Schumann, a reverence for Bach and Beethoven. Hanslick wrote the following in tribute to Ambros, who used the name "Flamin, the last Davidsbündler": "But that person, who now kneels reverently before Sebastian Bach and Beethoven and broods over ideas of great music and spatters ink upon music paper, that is Flamin, the last Davidsbündler." ["Aber jener Mensch, der jetzt vor Sebastian Bach und Beethoven verehrend kniet und sich mit Ideen zu großen Musiken trägt und Notenpapier beklext, das ist Flamin, der letzte Davidsbündler."] The authors report an anecdote about F.B. Ulm's "...all too early morning walk to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth in a church, although he was a late riser, this with the observation, that the Ninth is also a church service." ["...morgendlich allzu frühem Gang zu einer Aufführung von Beethovens Neunter in einer Kirche, obwohl er ein Spätaufsteher war, dies mit der Bemerkung kommentierend, die Neunte sei auch ein Gottesdienst."] It is this recognition, that the tradition of Bach and Beethoven must be honored and defended, that absolutely distinguishes these writers from the Romantics. ³

The one Prague Bündler, who attained the most prominent historical role, was Eduard Hanslick, and authors report, with relish, some of his choicest polemics (for example, he characterized Wagner's music as "Wirkung ohne Ursache," or "effects without a cause.") Hanslick wrote an extremely influential manifesto against "program music" and other tenets of Romanticism, entitled "Vom Musikalisch-Schönem" ("Of the Musical/Beautiful.") And, it was Hanslick who personally introduced Brahms to Dvorák.

What one might have hoped for from this book, were a greater appreciation of the historic significance of this movement in Prague. Despite the fact that the Prague Bündler had mixed opinions about the "music of the future", the fact that there was any opposition to it at all was noteworthy. Certainly, the collective vision of the group was less clear than the personal vision of Schumann, and with the passage of time, the tradition of Bach and Beethoven was growing fainter; in Europe to the West, the Romantics were increasingly hegemonic. But, this movement in Prague set the stage for another development of great importance: after Schumann, in his last journalistic foray, had proclaimed Johannes Brahms as his successor in composition, Brahms went on to sponsor others, in particular, Antonín Dvorák. Dvorák, in turn, found other protegés, in the Afro-American composer Harry Burleigh, and the Afro-Englishman Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. So, in a Europe that was increasingly enveloped in the fog of Romanticism, Prague was a beacon of sorts. The authors of this book, in keeping with the conventional wisdom, do not view the conflict between Classicism and Romanticism, as a vital struggle beween two opposing images of Man. Their stated objective, is to meticulously document a "forgotten chapter in the music history of the 19th Century." ["ein vergessener Abschnitt der Musikgeschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts."] They report, in a "non-judgmental" fashion, some of the ideas, other than Schumann's, that shaped the Prague milieu: Novalis, the brothers Schlegel, and Ludwig Tieck, all of whom Helga Zepp-LaRouche indicted, in an address to the conference of the Schiller Institute, as the direct counteroperation to Schiller and the Weimar Classic. While lacking this epistemological overview, the authors nonetheless have done a yeoman's service, in producing such a detailed account of this little-known movement. Volume II of the book is made up entirely of source documents from the Prague Davidsbund.

1. For a truthful performance of the "Carnaval", look for a recording by Arturo Benedetti Michaelangeli.

2. In fact, the only person in Schumann's circle, who never wavered from a militant opposition to the "music of the future," was Schumann's wife, Clara.

3. One problem, in discussing Schumann's role, is that he occasionally used the term "Romantic" to describe the music and musicians he was promoting. However, the issue is brought into clearer focus by Schumann's observation: "The so-called Romantics are far closer to Bach than to Mozart. As for me, I confess daily to this high one, and seek through him to purify and strengthen myself."

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