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For reasons that will be touched on in a moment, the relationship between the Faust figure and music has often been as intimate as it has been problematic. At the risk of seeming wayward, I want to begin by invoking not Goethe's Faust, but another treatment of the Faust legend – Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus. I do so because Mann is as centrally concerned to understand the Faust/music nexus as is Goethe – and because there is an all-important difference between the two works. Mann's narrative of the life of the fictitious composer Adrian Leverkühn invites us time and again to reflect on both the ontology and the history of music. The ontological argument highlights the complex dialectic of music: it is both abstract and visceral. And the historical argument shows us music as deeply implicated in the broad currents and counter-currents of cultural and historical change in the first three decades of the twentieth century. In these terms, then, and in a great many others, Mann's Doktor Faustus is about music. But it is not – despite all its stunning coherence of structure and formal patterning – a work sustained by musicology. Whereas its greatest antecedent in the German tradition, Goethe's Faust, is precisely that.
In what sense, then, is Goethe's Faust a musical work? It is so in at least three ways. Firstly, it is a work that contains a great many musical numbers. Hans Joachim Kreutzer estimates that almost nineteen per cent of Part I and some twenty-four per cent of Part II are conceived as involving music in one form or another. And Tina Hartmann pushes the analogy with music even further, likening Part I to a Singspiel, and suggesting that the seemingly modern form of Part II, with its major scenic blocks, is best understood in the context of the fondness of early music theatre for masques, processions, and so on. Secondly, the musical sections that figure in the Faust text are integral rather than incidental; they are implicated in the very fabric of the work, which is, by that token, a musical drama rather than a drama with music.
In 1774, a slim volume called Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) appeared anonymously from the Leipzig publisher Weygand. It was the first work of German literature to achieve European best-seller status. Within Germany, it created an absolute furore – not least because the anonymous work did not remain so for long. The text was – and this was public knowledge at the time – embarrassingly close to real-life events.
Goethe, the charismatic angry young man of German letters in the early 1770s, worked for a time in Wetzlar, at the judicial centre of the Holy Roman Empire. There he fell in love with a young woman, Charlotte Buff, engaged to a man called Johann Christian Kestner. The ‘eternal triangle’ of the novel was uncomfortably close to the less-than-eternal triangle in Wetzlar. And while Goethe – who for the rest of his life could not escape being the author of that amazing best-seller – always resented being asked about the relationship between art and real life, he himself, in writing the work, exploited its umbilical linkage to extra-literary events. For the ferocious description of Werther's suicide at the end of the novel, he drew on a case of suicide at Wetzlar; a young man called Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem took his own life – and the event was much talked about both within and beyond Wetzlar.
In this chapter I want to stress two matters in particular. One is that there is an omnipresence of abundant, kaleidoscopic theatricality in Goethe's Faust project. The other is that that theatricality is not simply decoration, not simply (as it were) icing on the cake, but is, rather, germane to the central concerns of the drama. Whether we read Faust as a philosophical drama, as a drama of desire or as the historical drama of modernity (and it is to this aspect that I wish to pay particular attention), at every turn we find that the theatrical statement is the correlative of the theme.
Let me begin with somewhat personal and anecdotal rather than scholarly concerns. On two occasions I have been involved in directing students of German at University College, London in theatre productions of Goethe's Faust. We performed an acting version of both parts. What resulted was a three-act drama. At its centre was the so-called Gretchentragödie, the love story of Faust and Margarete. This was our Act 2. It was preceded by the material that is often referred to as the Gelehrtentragödie – the tragedy of the despairing scholar – which extends, in Goethe's Part i, from the opening monologue of Faust's lacerating despair, through the wager with Mephisto, to Faust's rejuvenation in the ‘Witch's Kitchen’. This constituted our Act 1.
In many ways Goethe does not strike one as a born storyteller. There is little in his prose fiction of that teeming materiality we have come to expect from the great European novelists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Yet the narrative mode evidently meant a great deal to him because he wrote prose fiction throughout his long creative life. And he was a remarkably sophisticated witness to the emergence of the various forms of modern narrativity, particularly the novel.
Admittedly the tradition of German novel writing of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which he helps to inaugurate does not figure in the pantheon of established European ‘classics’. Within the broad compass of narrative realism, with its wholehearted acknowledgement of the omnipresence of social life, German fiction tends to figure as at best a marginal presence. But all the same it has valuable insights to offer; most particularly, German writing of this period sustains and is sustained by an urgent dimension of reflectivity, one which invests the narrative process with an unmistakable intensity of theoretical self-commentary. Three of Goethe’s theoretical comments on fiction can serve to focus the particular contribution he makes to this tradition.
There is a widespread view of German culture generally which says that it is, in all kinds of ways, thoughtful, sophisticated and profound; but that it is curiously bereft of any sustained relationship to the familiar, empirically knowable facts of daily living. Instead of concerning themselves at all vigorously with outward things, the Germans, so the argument runs, attend to such pursuits as music (that supremely nonreferential art), speculative philosophy, and theology (particularly when it assumes the guise of radical inwardness). This problematic condition of inwardness reveals its shortcomings nowhere more clearly than in the bulk of narrative prose works that issued from the German-speaking lands in the great age of European realism (that is, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards): whatever distinction may inhere in that body of prose writing, it cannot be claimed to be the distinction of common-orgarden realism.
However overstated such a view of German culture may be, there are elements of truth to it. Certainly its prose literature from Goethe on does pose an acute evaluative problem. The dilemma is felt by both non-German and German critics alike. Wolfgang Preisendanz speaks for many commentators when he writes:
If one takes as one's yardstick the contribution made [by German writers] to the definition of their contemporary age, then there seems to be much justification to the frequently voiced reproach that the assertion of 'poetry's direct access to the highest court of appeal' caused a withdrawal from - or at the very least a lack of contact with - the urgent, burning problems and realities of politico-social life, and that - yet again - the social integration of the creative writer in Germany was prevented.
Since its appearance in critical writings of the late eighteenth century, especially through the periodical Athenaeum (1798–1800), the early Romantic literary theory of Germany has enjoyed the reputation of having introduced a new manner of thinking about poetry and our approach to literary works in the West. This reputation has manifested itself not only in the appreciation and adoption of a new critical attitude, but also in sharp polemics against its alleged aesthetic absolutism. Such intense scrutiny has resulted in a widespread influence of early German Romantic thought on the critical scene during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as evidenced by its reception by Coleridge, Poe, and Baudelaire, by Scandinavian and Slavic critics, and in the literary thinking of the main Mediterranean countries of Europe. This reception has generally understood the early Romantic literary theory of Germany as a rupture with the system of mimesis and representation that had dominated European aesthetic thought during the previous centuries.
A certain disproportion can be detected between the casual origin of the theory and its actual importance and influence on successive centuries of critical thought. The formation of what we call early Romantic theory actually lasted scarcely more than six years, from about 1795 to 1801, and was the communal product of a group of about six young authors of different backgrounds and orientations who, out of mutual interests and communal literary pursuits, assembled for a few years and were ironically labelled the ‘new school’ or the ‘Romantic school’ by their contemporaries. After the turn of the century the members of the group dispersed, each taking his own path.
Originally, the Jena group was not at all aware of the new approaches to art pursued by Wackenroder and Tieck, especially to painting and music. Through A. W. Schlegel's reviews in the ALZ and Friedrich Schlegel's move to Berlin in the summer of 1797, the Jena Romantics became the first intellectuals in Germany, however, to take cognizance of these new trends and connect them with their own endeavours. With Friedrich Schlegel's departure from Jena, the centre of gravity of early Romanticism occasionally shifted to Berlin. It was here that the Athenaeum, the journal that soon became the target of widespread polemics in Germany, was published, and that A. W. Schlegel delivered his grand lecture courses on Romantic critical theory. Another publication closely linked with Berlin and also subject to violent attacks was Friedrich Schlegel's novel Lucinde of 1799. In the wake of these events, one can no longer speak of a Jena Romanticism in the same tone as during the time prior to Friedrich Schlegel's move, although as far as Romanticism is concerned, the great days for Jena were still to come. They occurred in the autumn of 1799, when Friedrich Schlegel moved back to Jena, followed by Dorothea, and when Ludwig and Amalie Tieck also settled there. For a short time, a union of the early Romantic school took place in A. W. Schlegel's and Caroline's house on the Löbdergraben. Novalis, living close by in Weißenfels, was a frequent participant in this circle, as was Schelling, a philosophy professor at the university.
The emergence of a new theory of literature in the German Romantic period constituted a decisive turning point in the history of criticism. Prepared by new trends in critical thought during the latter half of the eighteenth century, a view of the literary work and the artistic process developed which diverged sharply from the dominant classicist understanding of aesthetics and poetics. It recognised the infinite changeability of genres, their constant mingling, and the frequent emergence of new literary forms, and asserted the rights of genius and creative imagination. It was also characterised by its intimate connection with the prevailing philosophy of its time, transcendental idealism. Professor Behler provides a new account of this crucial movement, illustrating each theoretical topic with close reference to a characteristic work by a major writer of the period.
Through Wackenroder and Tieck, early Romantic theory came to embrace painting and music, two forms of art that had never been strongly emphasized by the Jena group. Painting and music were almost completely absent from the early writings of the Schlegels, and although Novalis did give some consideration to these art forms in his fragments, he saw them for the most part in analogy to poetry and never really considered them in their own autonomy. In the critical writings of Wackenroder and Tieck, however, the entire concept of art is no longer envisioned according to a poetic paradigm, but follows the model or, as the two friends preferred to say, language, of painting and music. This new direction in the exploration of art is in itself almost exclusively Wackenroder's achievement. Tieck followed Wackenroder to some extent in this new orientation but was most original and successful when he dealt with these subjects through the medium of his fiction and poetry rather than theoretically. Wackenroder's influence grew incessantly and soon manifested itself in Tieck's Franz Stembald's Wanderings, in August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel's dialogue ‘The Paintings’ (AWS SW 9, 3–101), Friedrich Schlegel's descriptions of paintings in his periodical Europa of 1803–5 (KFSA 4), and especially in the predominance of painting and music in the theories of art of later periods of Romanticism.
Initially, these impulses came almost exclusively from a small and unpretentious book with the peculiar title Outpourings of an Art-Loving Friar. By the time it appeared in 1797, Wackenroder, the author, had already died. Out of respect for Wackenroder's father, who would have disapproved of his son's career as a writer, Tieck published the text anonymously.
The emergence of the early Romantic theory of literature in Germany towards the end of the eighteenth century constitutes a decisive turning-point in the history of criticism. Incited by Lessing, Herder, and Schiller, and stimulated by Goethe's poetic creations, a new view of the literary work and the artistic process developed that differed sharply from the dominant classicist understanding of aesthetics and poetics. The European classicist tradition had stressed unchangeable norms for art, codified a hierarchical system of immutable genres, bound artistic production to an imitation of nature and an adherence to verisimilitude, and defined poetic unity according to strict rules. The early Romantic critics made decisive inroads into this classicist view of poetry by recognizing the infinite changeability of genres, their constant mixing and mingling, as well as the frequent emergence of new literary forms. They saw the poetic unity of a literary work as an inner conformity with itself, connecting a multiplicity of phenomena to a unity of its own. This task of redefinition, however, could not be accomplished by applying external rules, but was instead to be carried out by the shaping power of the imagination.
Given these features, early Romantic literary theory seems to be closely related to transcendental idealism, the prevailing philosophy of the time. In his Critique of Judgment of 1790 Kant laid the foundations for the autonomy of art, and for the uniqueness and distinctiveness of aesthetic, as opposed to scientific and moral judgments, thus decisively changing the ground rules in the debate about art and the beautiful that had prevailed in European criticism for centuries. Other decisive impulses came from Fichte and Schelling.
With his move to Jena in August 1796, Friedrich Schlegel's interests came to focus more and more on modern and contemporary literature, as well as on the philosophy of his time. He was still working on his History of the Poetry of the Greeks and the Romans and spent part of the winter with F. A. Wolf in Halle to bring the initial sections of this work into their final shape. Yet, after the first volume appeared in 1798, he actually abandoned this project, which had served as the starting-point for his search into the nature of poetry. Instead he composed the grand essays of these years (1796–8), intense studies of Jacobi, Forster, Lessing, and Goethe (KFSA 2, 57–146). Their common theme can be described as a particular type of writing that has left behind the habitual distinctions between poetry and prose, science and art, literature and philosophy. The writers discussed, all great literary authors themselves, were equally prominent in philosophy and the theoretical discussion of issues of the modern world. Although strongly bound in their mode of expression to drama, lyric poetry, the novel, or the philosophical treatise, they represent in large sections of their literary production what Schlegel at that time considered the modern bourgeois prose writer. Since their mode of viewing the world was no longer the absolute understanding of the traditional philosopher nor the holistic manner of the older poets, nothing appeared to be more appropriate than to expound their ideas and their art of writing in the form of the essay, and thereby initiating a genre projected in Friedrich Schlegel's notebooks as the new ‘German essay’ (KFSA 18, 219).
Early German Romantic literary theory, as it developed during the last five or six years of the eighteenth century, certainly relates to the formation of the Romantic movement in Germany and Europe during the first decades of the nineteenth century and thereby participates in the great epochal change from the Enlightenment and the classicist doctrine to Romanticism. Yet, we can easily recognize features of this theory that make it an event of far greater significance than merely incepting Romanticism and relate it directly to the origin of our own modernity. Obviously the term ‘early Romanticism’ is a subsequent and retrospective designation unknown at the time when this theory arose. The original name for the phenomenon was ‘Romantic school’, but this label proved to be misleading because of its close association with the later Romantic movement in Germany. ‘Early Romanticism’, however, did not originate as a period designation until the beginning of our century and became an established category only during the latter half of it. The idea underlying this term is obviously to ascertain at the very beginning of the Romantic period a distinct body of thought and literature that is hard to bring into line with any other intellectual trend of the time. For want of a better name, but also because of the favoured use of the term ‘Romantic’ among its representatives, this brief phenomenon of decisive change gained the title ‘early Romanticism’.
During the last decade of the eighteenth century, Jena was a lovely residential area in Thuringia mostly known for its excellent and progressive university. The city, situated in close proximity to the Wartburg, had been a traditional stronghold of Protestantism. This spirit animated the university, which since its founding in 1558 had maintained its reputation as an intellectually independent, self-governed institution. Its founder was the Saxon Elector, Johann Friedrich, called the ‘magnanimous’. Among the German universities of the time, Göttingen and Leipzig certainly predominated, but Jena, although relatively small, was attractive to students and scholars because of the spirit of innovation and open-mindedness which contrasted favourably with the stale atmosphere of the Enlightenment still dominant at these other institutions.
All of the representatives of early Romanticism were university students, and most of them had followed curricula in the humanities, primarily in literature (both ancient and modern) and philosophy. August Wilhelm Schlegel had pursued all his studies in classical and modern literature at Göttingen University, where he obtained a degree granting him the title of ‘counsel’, perhaps comparable to the present MA degree. Friedrich Schlegel studied law at Göttingen and Leipzig without obtaining a degree, but later, in 1800, became a Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Jena. Tieck and Wackenroder studied at the universities of Erlangen and Göttingen. Wackenroder obtained a law degree from Göttingen, but was also drawn into literary courses by Tieck, who made the study of literature his main object. Schleiermacher's field of study was theology, first pursued at private pietist institutions. But he completed his education at Halle University, where he also studied Kantian philosophy and classical philology with the great Hellenist Friedrich August Wolf.