Clemens Brentano 2


As I promised to do in my first post on Brentano, I dug through John Fetzer's books for excerpts and quotes by this first-wave German Romantic.

In Romantic Orpheus, Fetzer tries for 300 pages to paint Brentano as a modern-day Orpheus, so many of these excerpts are about music.

Let me repeat the quote from the first post, since it remains my favorite:

"I was a golden harp, drawn with animal strings; all types of weather put me out of tune, and the wind played me, and the sun stretched me. And love played forte so passionately that the strings ripped, ripped in such a stupid way that I can scarcely string a spinning wheel with what remains....Now I have purged the harp in fire and strung it with metal and play it myself..." -- from an unsent letter to Fouque, 1811 (trans. John Fetzer in his Clemens Brentano)



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Some wild passages from BOGS (full title: Either the Strange Story of BOGS the Watchmaker (How He, Although Having Long Ago Departed from Human Existence, Still Hopes to be Accepted into the Civic Gun Club after Considerable Musical Suffering at Sea and on Land) or The Concert Review which, as a Supplement, Overflows the Banks of the Baden Weekly):

"Out of all instruments a hurricane of tones broke forth, I closed my eyes...my two hands held the watches in my pockets, good-bye, world! The tempest of heathen symphony seized my thinning hair, my brain with all its capacities slipped out of my ears and opened up like a twin sail, which the wind then caught hold of and bore me through heaven and earth, water and fire, sometimes tossing me against the cliffs -- alas, my watches!"

Fetzer tells us "what follows this introduction are extensive psychic aberrations triggered by the music":

"I was at the bottom of an ocean, all people were fishes, I myself a type of herring; I saw myself a thousand times, then music resounded powerfully, a whale rose up, fantasies of death leaped from its nostrils, a clap from its tail, a flood, we were all washed down its gullet; there sat Jonah, singing and praising God."


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1834: "And that is the sad thing on earth: that eternal hunger which devours itself, that thirst which intoxicates itself, and wretched, pitiful, ragged poetry, half naked, half berouged, half red with shame, half innocent, steps up to the banquet table like an itinerant street singer who has escaped the police, offers toasts and decorates the goblets with immortelles, the greatest part of which have been strewn about for her as chaff."

1816, letter to E.T.A. Hoffmann: "Unfortunately I am so old that my words flow from my lips carrying my feelings not as legitimate inhabitants, but as mice, beasts of prey, thieves, paramours, refugees and the like."



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From Godwi (1801), Brentano's only novel (full title: Godwi, or The Stone Statue of the Month. A Novel Run Wild, by Maria [Maria was Brentano's early pseudonym])

Here the character Molly is speaking: "Whenever I make music, then every individual part is as sad as a letter to a distant, intimate world which misunderstands me because it does not perceive the beat of my heart, my glance, the concept of what I performed in my fantasy, or the impotence of the machine and the tyranny of the lever which my physical self places so clumsily between me and my outer manifestation...

"I indulged in fantasy and expressed myself completely, but soon I became inhibited by the strange feeling that I myself was growing into a wild, formless song which constantly projects outwardly but never returns to itself....I had sung, and nobody had heard me. The note that is not heard is not there. I no longer heard myself, for I sang myself. I sang at public concerts and was enraptured with the general silence."

Peering at the statue of the prostitute Violette from his window, Maria [male, by the way] gets horny and runs to the garden for a better view:

"I felt as though I could see myself in St. Mark's square in Venice at carnival time; all things flowed into one another, and the individual colors which continually appeared among the myriad figures fused together; shadow and light intermingled in playful movement, and hardly had I followed one figure with my glance, than it turned into a hundred others. Towering above all else, however, like the artificially fashioned streams of a huge fountain, like strangely dancing, heaven-directed flames of a pure, white fire, soared the image of Violette toward heaven, rising above all the sordid entanglements, the apotheosis of a lost child..."

I think this is actually the character Godwi speaking: "I saw myself as the blueprint of a building, in my head there was a grand ballroom, but everything was over; I saw the last note of the last dance yawning as it slipped out the door right past the orchestra platform of my ears with a dying, tattered cloak. A number of my youthful plans stood around there, disturbed and out of sorts; the dance was finished, they had masks in their hands and wept tears of relief from their somber, inflamed eyes."

Though it will surely never be translated into English, aspects of Godwi are intriguing. Fetzer: "In a rather bizarre fashion and in a manner calculated to destroy the fictional underpinnings of the narrative in the reader's mind, Godwi comments on several pictorial representations of some major and minor figures in his life..."

And: "...the novel's often startling pronouncements on sex and the emancipation of the flesh, together with the kind of existential ennui which plagues the hero, are regarded as anticipatory of the thematic substance of later trends, from Young Germany down to literary movements at the turn of the twentieth century." Fetzer points to Godwi's probable influence on Buchner's play Danton's Death.


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1816 letter to Luise Hensel: "Often I am like a senile old man whose hands tremble so much that the children joyfully dance to the beat of it [ ], and nothing is more touching than when they -- too tired to dance anymore -- approach me and thank me for having given them such a merry tempo with my hands, and tell me I should stop trembling, since they cannot dance any more. Perhaps this condition of mine helps explain why I have a particular liking for the polonaise, because the fast melody in it moves at a peaceful tempo, just as my vivacity moves in melancholy, or, to put it more honestly, in well-founded depression about my worthlessness or my heavy guilt. From this condition I deduce all my views or, more correctly stated, my feelings with regard to the arts in general."


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More from Watchmaker BOGS:

"Up and down the gentle waves tossed, and rose more and more from the sea's clear surface, and the ringlets wove together as in tonal configurations, they were swallowed up again and broke away from each other gracefully and tenderly, and there was a harmonious rising and falling, as if dainty maidens were exercising their well-formed, slender wave-limbs in a floating dance, and more and more water-nymphs seemed to rise up from the depths, and the turbulence of the waves became greater, but all was still clear and harmonious, and the movement grew faster and faster until it finally became the raging dance of Maenads."

BOGS's condemnation of secular music: "And all you other secular tone-configurations, sonatas, symphonies, or whatever you may be called, spiced confections of virtue and vice, Karl Moor, etc., you have unfortunately gained much ground from the angels of God, angels who used to carry buckets of water up and down God's tone ladder and who filled and emptied them in the breast of the slumbering Jacob. Now the tone ladder lies against the scaffolding for some fireworks that will be ignited on the day of the devil's christening and his birth and on his grandmother's silver, golden and paper wedding anniversary. One must come to such despairing thought when one is compelled to think about you [secular tone-configurations], for tones are of such a divine, pure nature that they, no matter how exploited, no matter how joined together for the purpose of worldly lust and sinful dreams -- as I call it -- still smile through to us in ghost-like, frightening fashion, like the heads of angels and of saints buried alive in walls of earthly pleasure."


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Letter to friend, 1803: "I am not the type...that reduces everything down to its basic parts...that rips the resonant tongue out of tones in order to trace everything...to the wave length of some gut strings through which the secret spirits of music are conjured up."

Letter to a friend, 1826: "Whoever allows one moment of life, the tiniest fragment of nature, to stand calmly on its own, or who simply regards it incidentally -- I certainly do not imply that he understands it -- without distorting, fashioning, or transforming it, that person finds such an infinite, deep, lofty and yet naive, simple dignity and significance in all reality without any further interpretation, that to appreciate this properly there remains only thanks for such receptivity, for such a possession, only sacrifice. Any other dealing with things which twist them, turn, color, adorn and over-distill them -- something which poetry especially seeks to do -- are, in the final analysis, only idolatry which, due to its spiritual nature, is all the more dangerous. [Fetzer points out here that "such a stance seems to repudiate, once and for all, the romantic postulate of imparting 'something of ourselves' to what we see. However, it has been amply documented that Brentano was eminently unsuccessful in this venture of unbiased reporting, that he was not able to suppress the dictates of unbridled fantasy even when this became his avowed aim."]

1842: "we had nurtured nothing but fantasy, and it had, in turn, consumed us in part." [again, Fetzer claims Brentano "remained to the end a romantic at heart."]


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1818, ragging on the concert hall antics of Kapellmeister Krumpipen (apparently a real person, though I could just be dense). Quoting Fetzer (until the blockquote): "Krumpipen, whose name links him with chirping barnyard fowl, surrounds himself with extraneous accoutrements to sustain audience interest: a goldfinch caged beneath the piano sits in abject silence -- the emaciated bird, even though it has access to a bass fiddle case filled with ham and sausage (rather than with the instrument), starves as any true artist would in a prosaic environment offering no spiritual nourishment; a corpulent turkey, however, an unmusical bird, thrives in the milieu provided by Krumpipen's kith and kin,

the stomach enthusiasts and bacon fanatics...who think they are making splendid music when they direct toward heaven like an amorous, snorting bull their bland, self-indulgent stew-countenance (?), while they squeeze out wretched, meaningless, hackneyed passages on the piano-forte and, in the process, press and tremble their fingers as if the keys were alternately soft as butter or glowing hot; usually a tear hangs in their eye, a touch of perspiration clings to their brow, and a drop of sweat lies on their nose -- and they call this dissolving away in lofty, infinite longing.


Brentano often gets himself worked up when criticizing art and music:

On a concert, 1797: "They also play the piano, to be sure, but pure hodge-podge, and they sing, but like genuine cheese-thread; it sounds, on the whole, as if they were fiddling on their shin-bones with strands of hair."

On the 'pictorial arts of Bavaria': a graphic representation "which muddles about and stumbles indecisively between Alpine yodeling and the high-strung sublimity of grotesque dancing."


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From the play Gustav Wasa: "in the orchestra the tones touch each other, individual sounds break forth one by one, seek each other with wonderment, find each other with love; the bass violin grumbles monosyllabically..."

Fetzer: "Although Brentano's early phantasmagoric parody Gustav Wasa was ostensibly written for stage production, its wild medley of scenes and unwieldy array of dramatis personae (including such figures as "Arabesque" and "the Tuning of the Orchestra") made performance in the theater of 1800 impossible."


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Very short excerpts or phrases:

From a letter: "Wretched omniscience."

"The roses...do not speak; but the music also does not speak, and yet I understand it..." [connection to Walser's Speaking to the Rose?]

A character from Godwi describes her artistic ideal: it is "not the glance, but the instant of glancing" for which she yearns. (I'm reminded of Peeping Tom)

Phrase: "around me the objects flew past like moments."

Phrase: "sprained and bone-set goddesses of the dance"

The symbol..."should only be a hint, which coincidentally reinterprets itself; it is to a certain extent a metamorphosis, taking place before our eyes, of matter into an image of its meaning. Within the symbol there is movement, transformation, no mimicry, no intent to portray, no active mirroring...also the symbol must evolve from the ideal...but not be contrived from the real."


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Not Brentano quotes, but culled from the Fetzer books:

Herder: "In all of nature there are euphonious sounds with which we should practice incessantly. Around us resounds a great, eternal concert of movement and rest. The storm, the murmuring of the breeze, the music which must lie in every physical tone from its inception to its extinction in every degree of vibration, all this gives our soul for all times a task of dissolution, foresight, and enjoyment of itself in every tone."

Heine criticizing Brentano's play Ponce de Leon: "And it dances and hops and twirls and rattles, and above it ring out the trumpets of a bacchanalian delight in destruction."

Hugo von Hofmannsthal pinpointing Brentano's problem with words: "We are dealing with a 'too much' in speaking, an exaggeration -- and in this 'too much' is a dichotomy -- one part of the 'I' does what the other part does not want -- and this is viewing diagonally across the exaggerated, bizarre, clever talk which the 'other person' in us engages in (Clemens Brentano)."

Heine, 1841: "The increased spirituality, the abstract thought, these grasp for sounds and tones in order to express a stammering exuberance which is perhaps nothing other than the dissolution of the entire material world; music is perhaps the last word of art, just as death is the last word of life."


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Finally, I found on Harper's a contemporary translation of Brentano’s poem "A Servant’s Springtime Cry from the Deep," translated by Scott Horton. Link.