(b Röcken, nr Leipzig, 15 Oct 1844; d Weimar, 25 Aug 1900). German philosopher. His chief significance for the aesthetics of music is the distinction he drew between the ‘Romantic’ and the ‘Dionysian’ – a distinction which leads to the repudiation of Romanticism as an expression and product of sickness. The immediate application – and quite certainly what Nietzsche had principally in mind – is to the music of Richard Wagner. In 1868, when he was 24, he was introduced to Wagner, who was more than 30 years his senior, and became, as he afterwards wrote, ‘one of the corruptest Wagnerians’. He...
(b Röcken, nr Leipzig, 15 Oct 1844; d Weimar, 25 Aug 1900). German philosopher. His chief significance for the aesthetics of music is the distinction he drew between the ‘Romantic’ and the ‘Dionysian’ – a distinction which leads to the repudiation of Romanticism as an expression and product of sickness. The immediate application – and quite certainly what Nietzsche had principally in mind – is to the music of Richard Wagner. In 1868, when he was 24, he was introduced to Wagner, who was more than 30 years his senior, and became, as he afterwards wrote, ‘one of the corruptest Wagnerians’. He was an intimate of Wagner's household and one of the most active advocates of Wagner's cause. His first published book, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (1872), was regarded by its first readers, and by Nietzsche himself, as primarily a work of Wagnerian propaganda: to a subsequently very influential theory of the ritual origin of Greek tragedy, originally framed within the context of his classical studies and without any thought of Wagner, is appended a much inferior thesis that Wagnerian music drama represents a modern rebirth of tragedy – the final effect being to make the earlier sections of the book, in which its value in fact lies, seem only a preparation for the later. Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, published in 1876 to coincide with the inauguration of the Bayreuther Festspiele, attempts an analysis of Wagner's character and aims which is vitiated by the disciple's determined exaggeration of the significance of Wagner's art. But it is clear from the present knowledge of Nietzsche's biography that by 1876 it required an effort of will for him to continue to side so completely with the composer; during the festival itself this effort was no longer forthcoming and Nietzsche left Bayreuth, suffering from severe headaches, and began work on Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, in which Wagner is not mentioned by name but which contains many critical aphorisms on ‘the artist’ which obviously refer to him. Thereafter Nietzsche maintained a continuously sceptical attitude towards the pretensions of the Wagnerians and an increasingly critical evaluation of Wagnerian opera which culminated in Der Fall Wagner (1888), an extremely brilliant and ferocious attack which, without for a moment diminishing one's sense of Wagner's artistic importance, undercuts his every claim to greatness. This volte-face with regard to Wagner was explained by Nietzsche as the consequence of his having come to recognize that in evaluating Wagner's art so highly he had committed a specific error: the error of mistaking the Romantic for the Dionysian. ‘With regard to all aesthetic values’, he wrote in Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (book 5), ‘I now avail myself of this principal distinction: I ask in each individual case “is it hunger or is it superfluity which has here become creative?”’. He explained this distinction: Every art, every philosophy may be viewed as an aid and remedy in the service of growing and striving life: they always presuppose suffering and sufferers. But there are two kinds of sufferer: firstly he who suffers from superabundance of life, who desires a Dionysian art and likewise a tragic view of and insight into life – and then he who suffers from poverty of life, who seeks in art and knowledge either rest, peace, a smooth sea, delivery from himself, or intoxication, paroxysm, stupefaction, madness. The twofold requirement of the latter corresponds to all Romanticism in art and knowledge, it corresponded … to Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, to name the two most famous and emphatic Romantics which were formerly misunderstood by me.Romantic music is neurotic: ‘Wagner's art is sick … Wagner est une névrose’ (Der Fall Wagner). Against Wagner's music he sets that of Carmen, which seems to him ‘perfect’:It approaches lightly, lithely, politely. It is amiable, it does not sweat. ‘The good is easy, everything godlike runs on light feet’: first proposition of my aesthetics. This music is wicked, cunning, fatalistic: it remains at the same time popular … It is rich. It is precise. It constructs, organizes, finishes: it is therewith the antithesis of the polyp of music, ‘endless melody’. Carmen dispenses with ‘the lie of the grand style’. He concludes: ‘Il faut méditerraniser la musique’ and demands a ‘return to nature, health, cheerfulness, youth, virtue’ in music. Finally, in his autobiography Ecce homo (1888; published in 1908) he sums up: ‘What is it I suffer from when I suffer from the destiny of music? From this: that music has been deprived of its world-transfiguring affirmative character, that it is décadence – music and no longer the flute of Dionysus’. This contrast between neurotic, decadent, perspiring Romantic music and healthy, light-footed, unburdened Dionysian music is sufficiently close to that drawn by the anti-Romantic reaction of the 1920s and later to make of Nietzsche a strikingly direct precursor of that reaction, and of the 20th century's repudiation in general of all that is over-burdened, over-decorated and heavy in the art of the 19th.
Reference Entry. 1661 words.
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