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He suspected witchcraft in the phenomena of pregnancy and childbirth to this day the aborigines of Central and Northern Australia do not realise the connection between generation and birth. As a rule it was remembered that a certain woman had given birth to a certain child by the fact of her having carried it about and fed it at her breast. Occasionally it was forgotten to which mother a child belonged; perhaps the mother had died; perhaps the child had strayed beyond the boundaries of the [Pg 22] community and the mother had failed to recognise it on its return.
But it was clear beyond all doubt that every child had a "mother.
Experience had taught our primitive ancestors two undeniable facts, namely "that women gave birth to children" and "that every child had a mother. We must assume that sexual intercourse was irregular and haphazard up to the dawn of history. Every woman—within the limits of her own tribe, probably—belonged to every man. Whether this assumption is universally applicable or not, must remain doubtful; later ethnologists, more particularly von Westermarck , deny it because it does not apply to every savage tribe of the present day.
Herodotus tells us that promiscuity existed in historical times in countries as far removed from each other as Ethiopia and the borders of the Caspian Sea. There can be no reasonable doubt that sexual intercourse took the form of group-marriage, the exchange or lending of wives, and other similar arrangements. The relationship between mother and child having been established by Nature herself, the first human family congregated round the mother, acknowledging her as its natural chief.
This continued even after the causal connection between generation and birth had ceased to be a mystery. In all countries on the Mediterranean, more especially in Lycia, Crete and Egypt, the predominance of the female element in State and family is well attested; it is reflected in the natural religions of the Eastern races—both Semitic and Aryan—and we find innumerable traces of it in Greek mythology.
The merit of discovering this important stage in the relationship of the sexes is due to Bachofen. In every respect obedient to the laws of physical existence, its gaze was fixed upon the earth, it worshipped the chthonian powers rather than the gods of light. These early races of men realised themselves only as a part of nature; they had not yet conceived the idea of rising above their condition and setting their intelligence to battle with its blind laws. Incapable of realising their individuality, they bowed in passive submission to nature's undisputed sway.
They were members of a tribe, and the fragmentary existence of the single individual was of no importance when it clashed with the welfare of the clan. The family—centred round the mother—and the tribe were the real individuals, in the same way as the swarm of bees, and not the individual bee, makes the whole. They lived in complete harmony with nature; they had no spiritual life, no history, for civilisation and the creation of intellectual values which are the foundation of history depend on the rise of a community above primitive conditions.
Differentiation had hardly begun to exert its modifying influence; all men not unlike the Eastern Asiatics of our day resembled each other in looks, character and habits. In the countries on the Mediterranean as well as in India and Babylonia the first stage of sexual intercourse, irresponsible and promiscuous, was systematised by religion. The annual spring-festivals in honour of Adonis, Dionysus, Mylitta, Astarte and Aphrodite, celebrated unbridled licentiousness. The whole community greeted the re-awakening vitality of the earth by an unrestrained abandonment to passion.
Man aspired to be no more than the flower which scatters its seed to the winds. The incomprehensible lords of cupidity and rank vegetation did not suffer the individualisation of desire. The complete [Pg 24] union of the male and female qualities, as manifested both in nature and man, was solemnised in the Orgies, and not by any means the relationship of an individual man to an individual woman, or sexuality connected with individuals and dominated by them.
Nor was this unfettering of instinct a symbolical act; for it to be so, man must have stood over against nature as an intellectual being, mirroring and transforming her acts by his own deeds. He was as yet far from this. His ambition did not reach beyond the desire to fulfil nature in himself. Before the majesty of sex—worshipped in the vague, shadowy mothers of mankind, Rhea, Demeter, Cybele, and their human offspring, the phallic Dionysus and the hundred-breasted goddess of Ephesus—the individual with his piteous limitations shrank into insignificance.
Between the succeeding generations there was but one bond, the natural bond of motherhood. It was the first tie realised by mankind, a tie not felt as a concrete relationship between two individuals, but as a general, maternal, natural force. The presiding divinities were the "mothers," the eternal, incorporeal deities, enthroned outside time and space, and therefore immortal givers of life and preservers of mankind.
Before their silent greatness the desire of man to know his whence and whither, to win shape and individuality, became blasphemy. They had given immortality to sex, but upon the individual they had laid the curse of death. Thus we have first a stage of fatherless, natural conception, corresponding with the philosophical theories which maintained that all created things had [Pg 25] sprung from the elements.
Later ages discovered a spiritual principle, a becoming, or an eternal being, and finally a conflict between spirit and matter. But the general attitude towards sexual intercourse underwent a change as soon as here and there individuals appeared who were conscious of their individuality. Natural selection could not come into play in a community the members of which resembled one another so closely that all personal characteristics were obliterated in a general monotony. One woman was as good as another, although in all probability a healthy, youthful and strong individual would be preferred to a sickly, puny specimen.
But apart from this, the wish to choose a partner instead of being content with the first comer, must have coincided historically with the outward, and later on with the inward differentiation of the race. I cannot prove my theory by quoting chapter and verse from ancient writers, but obviously a feeling of preference could not have arisen until individuals had begun to show very noticeable traces of difference.
Therefore with growing differentiation a new factor—modest at first and operating within narrow limits—the factor of choice, had come into the sexual life. The slow development of personality gave birth to the feeling which rebelled against universal sexual intercourse and gynecocracy in general.
The men desired to shape their own world; they had no share in the immortality of maternal life. As relatively speaking single individuals they stood over against the material bond of the generations living in the chain of the mothers. Demigods, the sons of the gods of light and mortal mothers, were credited with the salvation of men from a confused, chaotic existence, and the introduction of new conditions of life, no longer based on the dictates of nature but on the moulding genius of man.
They laid the foundations of man's great achievement, civilisation, and [Pg 26] were the first to worship the gods of light. They delivered humanity from the gross materialism in which it had hitherto been steeped; they were the awakeners of spiritual life, which is a higher life than the life of the senses; they were as incorruptible as the sun from whence they came, the heroes of a new civilisation distinguished by gentleness, a higher endeavour and a new dispensation.
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Heinrich Schurtz has proved though not in connection with matriarchy that side by side with the family, unions of unmarried men existed in many countries at a very early time. The object of these unions, which had nothing of the rigidity of blood-relationship, was fellowship. As soon as the boys had outgrown the care of their mother they were compelled to combine for the purpose of playing games and later on for war and hunting; these men's unions therefore were the outcome of the necessary conditions of life. It is obvious that innovations and inventions of all sorts originated in these unions rather than with the temperamentally conservative women, and that we have to look upon them as the hotbed of all spiritual and social evolution.
These confederations and leagues not based on a natural or blood-relationship, but on a feeling of brotherhood and friendliness, might well have been an attack upon the natural ties of the family, an expression of a feeling of hostility to and contempt for women, and probably stood in close relationship to a striking characteristic of the past: a widely spread homosexuality. Whether Schurtz gives us a correct picture of these men's unions or not, there can be no doubt that the struggle against matriarchy originated in them. This struggle led eventually to the victory of the male principle, the acknowledgment of the authority of the father, the institution of male government which deprived women of all legal rights, and the dominion of the spiritual; the victory of the gods of light over the dark lords of fertility.
This revolution of princi [Pg 27] ples was perhaps the completest revolution humanity has ever known. A long road, marked by numerous compromises and limitations, led from casual intercourse to the final establishment of the monogamous system. Free intercourse had been sanctioned by the gods, who suffered no restrictions and modifications, and sacrifices in the shape of a temporary universal unfettering of instinct were required to pacify their anger and reconcile them to the new system. The first and most important of these compromises was the temple-prostitution practised by many nations in Asia Minor, the Greek Archipelago, India and Babylonia.
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Many a girl gained in this way the marriage portion which enabled her later on to find a husband, to whom she invariably remained strictly loyal. Thus all religious requirements were satisfied. At first this was an annually recurring rite, but gradually it became an isolated ceremony in the life of every female individual. With the growth of civilisation a few girls, the hierodules, were set apart for the purpose of pacifying the offended deities and their act ransomed the rest of the female citizens.
It was not on erotic grounds, but for political and social reasons that the Greek introduced monogamy. The reason which weighed in the scales more heavily than all others was the necessity for legitimate offspring. It was natural that a man of property should desire a legitimate heir who would inherit it on his death.
The right of succession from father to son, incorporated later on in the Roman Right, originated during this period. But this was not the only advantage connected with the possession of a son: religion [Pg 28] taught that after death the body required sacrificial food which could only be provided by the legitimate male descendants of the deceased. The same belief was held by the Indians and Eastern Asiatics.
In several Greek States marriage was compulsory and bachelors were fined. At the same time the contraction of a marriage did not interfere with the personal freedom of the man; he was at liberty to go to the hetaerae for intellectual stimulation unless he happened to prefer the friends of his own sex and to his slaves for the pleasures of the senses.
His wife, although she was not free, was respected by him as the guardian of his hearth and children. There was but one legal reason for divorce: sterility, which frustrated the object of matrimony. Conjugal love as we understand it did not exist; it is a feeling which was entirely unknown to the ancients. With the exception of the gradually weakening hold of religion on the imagination of the people towards the decline of the Roman Empire, no perceptible change occurred in the social life of the old world until the dawn of the Middle Ages. To quote Otto Seeck: "A wife had no other task than to produce legitimate offspring; and yet she gave herself airs and graces, embittered her husband's life with her jealousy and bad temper or, worse even, set all tongues wagging with her evil conduct.
Is it to be wondered at that marriage was merely regarded as a duty to the State, and that a great number of men were not sufficiently patriotic to take such a burden upon their shoulders? Thus the victory of the male spiritual principle over universal sexual intercourse ushered in the second stage which checked the sexual impulse and directed it upon certain individuals, a distinction however, which bears no relation to love.
The profoundly mystical core of the most powerful Greek tragedy which has come down to our time, the [Pg 29] Orestes of Aeschylus, represents the victory of the new gods of light over the old maternal powers. Orestes has sinned against the old law, for in order to avenge his father's death, he has slain his mother. The sun-god Apollo and the sinister Erinnys, the upholders of the old maternal right, are waging war over the justifiableness of the deed. To the Erinnys, matricide is the foulest of all crimes, for man is more nearly related to the mother than to the father.
But Apollo had commanded the deed, so that the father's murder should not remain unavenged. Athene, the virgin goddess, the motherless daughter of Zeus, appearing as mediator between the opponents, decides in favour of the new dispensation which places the father's claim above the mother's. Orestes is free of guilt; his deed was justifiable according to the canons of the new law.
The tragedy is the symbolical commemoration of the victory of the male principle in Greece. But Athene is the embodiment of the new hermaphroditic ideal of the Greek which stood in close connexion to their homosexuality, and with which I propose to deal later on. There is a psychical law ordaining that nothing which has ever quickened the soul of man shall be entirely lost. Were it not so, the storehouses of the soul would stand empty. New values are created, but the old verities endure; as a rule they are relegated to a lower sphere, to inferior social layers, but they persist and frequently merge into the new.
This law applies without exception to the relationship between the sexes; we shall come upon it again and again. During the second stage, characterised by [Pg 30] the spiritual love foreign to the ancients, the purely sexual impulse continued as an unimpaired force, but it had lost its prestige and was not only regarded as ignoble and base, but also stigmatised as sinful and demoniacal.
The hearts of men were stirred by new ideals. A similar attitude, perhaps not quite so uncompromising because the contrast was less pronounced, existed in classical Greece. The more highly developed, self-conscious Hellenic genius, shrinking from promiscuous intercourse, had systematised the instinct and set up a new ideal in Platonic love. But below the surface raged the unbridled natural force, and in perfect harmony with the Greek spirit—it was not hysterically hidden, but assigned a place in the new system. Wrapped in the obscurity of the Mysteries, concealed from the gaze of the new gods of light, it attempted to assuage its inextinguishable thirst.
The Mysteries were the annual tribute paid as a ransom by Apollo-worshipping Hellas to chaotic Asia, so that she might be free to pursue her higher psycho-spiritual aims. The brilliant civilisation of Athens was based on the dark cult of the Mysteries. On the festivals of the hermaphroditic Dionysus and Demeter, which are identical with the cults of Adonis and Mylitta, the impersonal, generative elements were worshipped. Thus, below the surface of the Greek State, founded on masculine values and attempting to restrict intercourse for the benefit of a more systematised progeniture, flourished the orgiastic cult of the ancient Eastern deities, who had vouchsafed to mortals a glimpse of the great secret of life in the ardour of procreation and conception.
The women upheld the religion of passion as an end in itself; bacchantes, men in female attire, emasculated priests, sacrificed to the blindly bountiful gods. We are told that Dionysus conquered even the Amazons and converted them to his worship.
Euripides described in the Bacchantes —the sub [Pg 31] ject of which is the war between the uncontrolled sexual impulse and the new order of things—how Dionysus traversed all Asia and finally arrived in Hellas accompanied by a crowd of abandoned women. But his religion was more than a cult of wine and sensual pleasure, it embraced a gentle worship of nature, throwing down the barrier between man and beast—impassable by the spirit of civilisation—and lovingly including every living creature. We read in the Bacchantes that the women who had fled from the town to follow the irresistible stranger, Dionysus, dwelled in the mountains, binding their hair with tame adders, carrying in their arms the cubs of wolves and the young deer, and feeding them with the milk of their breasts; that milk and wine welled up when they struck the earth with the thyrsus; and so on.
Dionysus implores Pentheus, the representative of the Hellenic masculine system, not to venture undisguised among the maenads: "They'll murder you if they divine your sex," and, knowing the secret of the male and female temper:. Pentheus, recognising in Dionysus the foe of a more spiritual conception of the law, the effeminate stranger who had driven the women to madness, is torn to pieces by the frenzied bacchantes who fall upon him, led by Agave, his mother, and sacrificed to the bull-god Dionysus.
At the conclusion of this strange and profound epos, Agave recovers her senses and curses the acts which she has committed in her madness We realise now why Hera, the tutelary goddess of the newly introduced monogamous system, hated Dionysus and attempted to kill him before he was born. The subject treated in the beautiful myth of Orpheus [Pg 32] is the relationship between the primitive sexual impulse and its individualisation on a single personality. For seven months Orpheus bewails the death of Eurydice and regards all other living creatures with indifference.
This loyalty offends and infuriates the women of Thracia, who divine in it a spirit inimical to a life in harmony with nature. One night, during the celebration of the Dionysian rites, they attack the poet—the representative of the higher Hellenic poetical ideals—and rend him limb from limb. But as the head of the murdered singer floats down the river, the pale lips still frame the beloved name: Eurydice!
It is certain that in those remote legendary days such love did not exist. But the prophetic Greek spirit contrasted promiscuous intercourse with love for a single woman. So far we have encountered only a general, not an individualised, sexual instinct and, in a limited measure at least, a struggling tendency towards individualisation.
But even so it was merely a question of instinct, and did not bear the least resemblance to love as we understand it to-day. Love did not exist in the old world. I admit that in the legend of Orpheus we are face to face with a sentiment which is not unlike modern love, but, as far as I am aware, this is an isolated case in Greek history, and may be regarded as a divination of something new, just as we find unmistakable anticipations of Christianity in Plato's writings.
Such phenomena—the occasional occurrence of which I do not altogether deny, although I regard them as on the whole improbable as far as the sphere of my research is concerned—are not infrequently met with in history, but their effect upon civilisation was nil; they were presentiments, incomprehensible in their day, and for this very reason probably preserved as curiosities.
In spite of the fact, however, that in those far-off days spiritual love of a man for a woman was un [Pg 33] known, we find Plato contrasting "a base and degraded Eros with a divine Eros. He loves the body more than the soul His only striving is to obtain the object of his desire, and he cares not whether it be worthy or unworthy. The Eros he worships is the ally of that younger goddess in whom male and female attributes are blended. But the other Eros is the companion of Aphrodite, Urania, the divine; unbegotten by a father, unconceived by a mother, she is the offspring of the male element, the elder one, unstained by passion The sensualist who loves the body more than the soul is base.
His love passes away like the object of his passion. But the companion of the Olympic goddess is the Eros who fills the hearts of the lovers with the longing for virtue.
The other Eros is the confederate of the debased Aphrodite. Plato's [Pg 34] theory of ideas is the philosophical victory of the male-spiritual principle over nature, matter and their warden: woman. Perhaps it is even the revenge of the Greek genius for man's original enslavement.
If a man will follow after beauty, he is foolish not to conceive the beauty of all bodies as one and the same. As soon as he has learned this, he will become a lover of all beautiful forms; his fervent passion for one will diminish, he will scorn the individual and hold it cheap. With the Hellenic homosexuality an element foreign and even hostile to the original and natural bi-sexual sensuality crept into the erotic life of the human race; it found its classical representation in the Platonic dialogues "Symposium" and "Phaedros.
In the mutual love of all noble souls lies the germ of all higher things; it is the way to the gods of light which, in this connection, are conceived philosophically as ideas, though in the true Hellenic spirit as objective ideas, the prototypes and culminations of everything human. To grasp the meaning of Platonic love it is essential to realise that—unlike the spiritual woman-worship peculiar to the Middle [Pg 35] Ages—it is not a personal feeling of one individual for another; platonically speaking, the love for an individual is only a first stage; the path which leads to the love of beauty and the eternal ideas.
The characteristic of this metaphysical love which Plato was the first to conceive, was therefore love for the universal, and not love for an individual. The latter, as we shall find later on, is the characteristic of the true or, more modestly speaking, specifically European conception of love. Platonic love, finally, was the perception of perfection, the Socratic knowledge; its alpha and omega was not, as the mystic and true erotic would have it, its ardour and passion, the fulness of its own being.
It had an alien purpose: the knowledge of things divine, by a later period Christianised and understood as the divine mysteries. To Plato, the essence and climax of antique, ante-Christian culture, every individual, even the beloved mistress, was but a preliminary, a finger-post, pointing the way to the perception of perfect beauty. True virtue is the outcome of profound knowledge; it transforms men into gods. The purely spiritual woman-worship of the Middle Ages was only another aspect of this yearning to attain to virtue and perfection through the love of an individual.
We must not lose sight of the fact that it was already strongly emphasised and upheld in the Platonic ideal of love. In the dark excesses of the Mysteries the beauty of the human form counted for nothing; voluptuousness and intoxication ruled. In the Asiatic cult of the sexes there was no room for beauty, no time for selection.
The Greeks were the discoverers of the beauty of the human form. Beauty kindled the flame of love in their souls, beauty was the gauge which determined their erotic values. Their ideal was a kalokagathos , a youth beautiful in body and soul. In "Phaedros" Plato contrasts with far greater force than in the "Symposium" him "who craves for sensual [Pg 36] pleasure like the beasts in the fields" with him "who strives after beauty and perfection.
All beautiful bodies represent to him in an increasing measure the idea of the beauty of form, which again is subordinate to the beauty of the soul. It points the way to metaphysical beauty, the eternal and imperishable idea of mankind. Socrates could scorn the beauty of the individual because he saw in it merely an imperfect reflection of perfect beauty. In its truest sense Platonic love is, therefore, impersonal; it is not spiritual love for a human being, but a peculiar characteristic of the Greek cult of beauty.
We shall again meet this principle of beauty-worship in metaphysical love, the adoration of woman; thanks to Plato, it has for all time become the inalienable property of the human mind. The striving to rise above all individualism was another ideal which a later period revived. But the pivot round which the emotions revolved was the love for a beloved individual, the modern, European, fundamental motive, as opposed to the antique Platonic cult of ideas. Thus Plato, too, was a citizen of the old world, at whose threshold stood universal sexual intercourse, tolerating nothing personal, knowing of no individuals, acknowledging only unchecked, uncontrollable instinct, and whose decline was again characterised by the extreme impersonality of ideas.
It had traversed the path of human existence in a huge cycle. Starting from an unconscious existence in complete harmony with nature, it had passed through individualised man to the loftiest spiritual conceptions in the impersonal world of ideas. The Hellenic ideal of beauty was almost invariably realised in the male form. The Greeks of the classical period disdained woman; she was for them inseparably connected with base sensuality, but their contempt [Pg 37] had its source partly in a feeling of horror.
The days when matriarchy was the form of government were not very remote; it survived in a great number of myths and also, subconsciously perhaps, in the soul of man. To the Greek mind woman was the embodiment of the dark side of love, and it was merely the logical conclusion of this conception when, at a later period, she was regarded as the devil's tool.
It is certain that the origin of the idea must be sought in Plato's time. In intercourse with women man dimly felt the vague elementary condition from which he had struggled hard to emerge, and fled to the more familiar companions of his own sex. Would not love between man and man deliver him from the basely sensual, strengthen his spirituality and lead him to the gods? Plato, in propounding this doctrine, drew thereby the most radical conclusion of the new, apparently male, but at heart hermaphroditic ideal of civilisation, conceived in the heroic epoch and elaborated and brought to perfection by the Greek of classical times.
This ideal was the victory of the spiritual principle over promiscuous sexuality and irresponsible propagation and, quite in the true Hellenic spirit, it was again interpreted materially. Because individualised love was an unknown quantity to the ancients, they ornamented their sarcophagi with symbols of ecstatic life, with dancing and embracing fauns and maenads.
Generations passed away, but new ones arose, embracing and begetting life—for life was eternal.
Death was vanquished in the ecstasy of the nameless millions, for the true meaning of life lay in the preservation of the species. The death of the individual did not have a deep and poignant meaning until the soul had become the centre and climax of life.
An individual had passed away for ever—nothing could recall him. But love, too, had changed; it was no longer sexual impulse, depending on the body and perishing with it, but a craving of the soul, conscious of itself and stretching out feelers far beyond the earth. A new pang had come into the world, but also a new reconciliation. The memory of the figure and preaching of Christ had so powerfully influenced the centuries that it had gradually permeated and transformed not only the Platonic doctrine of ideas—that maturest fruit of Greek wisdom—but also the Semitic mediaeval monotheism.
Something new had sprung into being, something which expressed a hitherto unknown feeling for life and for humanity, vague and uncertain in the beginning, but growing in clearness and uniformity. On the throne of the Roman emperors sat a bishop, whose power was increasing with the development of the new civilisation, and whom the final victory of the new transcendental world-principle had made master of the world.
The building up of this new civilisation had absorbed the intellectual force of a thousand years; it had monopolised thought and every form of energy. The reward was great. For the first time in the annals of the world the questionings of brooding intelligence were fully answered, the anguish of the tortured soul was stilled. The purpose of the universe, the destiny of man, were comprehended and interpreted, good and evil being finally known. At the close of the first Christian millenary, all moral and intellectual values were grouped round and dominated by one supreme ideal; the loftiest value in this world and the next, side by side with the greatest secular power, were in the hands of the Church; together with the [Pg 40] imperium she had succeeded to the spiritual and ethical inheritance of the dead civilisations.
Without her uncouth barbarism reigned, and it was her task, while elaborating the system of the universe for which she stood, to teach and convert the new nations, to spread a uniform Christian civilisation. On the mere face of it it must seem strange that a religion which had grown on foreign soil, out of foreign spiritual assumptions, should have been accepted so readily and quickly by nations to whom it must have been alien and unintelligible. The love of war and valour of the Teutonic tribes and Christian asceticism were diametrically opposed ideals, and very often their relationship was one of direct hostility.
I need only remind the reader of the contempt expressed for the chaplain by Hagen in the "Song of the Niebelungen". On the other hand, the ancient Celtic and Teutonic races shared one profound characteristic with the Christian world, the consequences of which were sufficiently far-reaching to raise the religion of Christ to the religion of Europe. The characteristic common to the still uncultivated European spirit and Christianity, and meaningless alike to the Asiatic barbarians, the Jews of the Old Testament and the Greeks, was the importance which both attached to the individual soul.
Through the Christian religion this new intuition which saw in the soul of man the highest of values, became the centre and pivot of life and faith—a position to which even Plato, to whom the objective, metaphysical idea was the essential, never attained. It had been the most personal experience of Christ, and centuries after his death the nations rediscovered it as their highest value. It entitled Christianity to become the natural religion of Europe, and the soul of its new system of civilisation. It formed the most complete contrast to all Asiatic cults, Brahminism and Buddhism, a fact which, since Schopenhauer, one is inclined to overlook.
To the Indian, the soul of man is not an [Pg 41] entity; his consciousness is a republic, as it were, composed of diverse spiritual principles and metaphysical forces which are not centralised into an "I-centre," but exist impersonally, side by side. This may be a great conception, but it is foreign to the feeling of the citizen of Europe. To the latter the I, the soul, the personality, is the pivot round which life turns.
The tetrarch is a picture of modern neurosis, a sensualist with a yearning for the moral life, his music awash in overlapping styles and shifting moods.
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He comes out on the terrace; looks for the princess; gazes at the moon, which is reeling through the clouds like a drunken woman ; orders wine, slips in blood, stumbles over the body of a soldier who has committed suicide; feels cold, feels a wind—there is a hallucination of wings beating the air. The orchestra plays fragments of waltzes, expressionistic clusters of dissonance, impressionistic washes of sound.
When Herod persuades his stepdaughter to dance the Dance of the Seven Veils, she does so to the tune of an orchestral interlude that, on first hearing, sounds disappointingly vulgar in its thumping rhythms and pseudo-Oriental exotic color. Mahler, when he heard Salome , thought that his colleague had tossed away what should have been the highlight of the piece. But Strauss almost certainly knew what he was doing: this is the music that Herod likes, and it serves as a kitschy foil for the grisliness to come.
She refuses. The executioner prepares to behead the Baptist in his cistern prison. At this point, the bottom drops out of the music. A toneless bass-drum rumble and strangulated cries in the double basses give way to a huge smear of tone in the full orchestra. At the climax, the head of John the Baptist lies before Salome on a platter. Having disturbed us with unheard-of dissonances, Strauss now disturbs us with plain chords of necrophiliac bliss. The mystery of love, Salome sings, is greater than the mystery of death. Herod is horrified by the spectacle that his own incestuous lust has engendered.
Hide the moon, hide the stars! Something terrible is going to happen! He turns his back and walks up the staircase of the palace. The moon, obeying his command, goes behind the clouds. Above it, the flutes and clarinets launch into an obsessively elongated trill. At the moment of the kiss, two ordinary chords are mashed together, creating a momentary eight-note dissonance.
The moon comes out again. Herod, at the top of the stairs, turns around, and screams, Kill that woman! The orchestra attempts to restore order with an ending in C minor, but succeeds only in adding to the tumult: the horns play fast figures that blur into a howl, the timpani pound away at a four-note chromatic pattern, the woodwinds shriek on high. In effect, the opera ends with eight bars of noise.
The crowd roared its approval—that was the most shocking thing. Nothing more satanic and artistic has been seen on the German opera stage, Decsey wrote admiringly. Strauss held court that night at the Hotel Elefant, in a never-to-be-repeated gathering that included Mahler, Puccini, and Schoenberg. Salome went on to be performed in some twenty-five different cities. Strauss would relate this story and add with a flourish: Thanks to that damage I was able to build my villa in Garmisch! He considered Salome a significant and audacious piece— one of the greatest masterworks of our time, he later said—and could not understand why the public took an immediate liking to it.
Genius and popularity were, he apparently thought, incompatible. Traveling in the same carriage was the Styrian poet and novelist Peter Rosegger. According to Alma, when Mahler voiced his reservations, Rosegger replied that the voice of the people is the voice of God— Vox populi, vox Dei. Mahler asked whether he meant the voice of the people at the present moment or the voice of the people over time. Nobody seemed to know the answer to that question. One group, including Alban Berg, met at a restaurant to discuss what they had heard. The happy-go-lucky revolutionary, cocky and conciliatory.
Never were the avant-garde and the box office so well acquainted. Shocks and discords aplenty—then he good-naturedly takes it all back and assures the philistines that no harm was intended. But a hit, a definite hit. As for Adolf Hitler, it is not certain that he was actually there; he may merely have claimed to have attended, for whatever reason. But something about the opera evidently stuck in his memory. The Austrian premiere of Salome was just one event in a busy season, but, like a flash of lightning, it illuminated a musical world on the verge of traumatic change.
Past and future were colliding; centuries were passing in the night. Mahler would die in , seeming to take the Romantic era with him. Schoenberg, in and , would unleash fearsome sounds that placed him forever at odds with the vox populi. Hitler would seize power in and attempt the annihilation of a people. And Strauss would survive to a surreal old age. I have actually outlived myself, he said in At the time of his birth, Germany was not yet a single nation and Wagner had yet to finish the Ring of the Nibelung.
The sleepy German city of Bayreuth is the one place on earth where the nineteenth century springs eternal. At the same time, Kestenberg lacked the political skill to placate the right wing, which deplored all avant-garde doings. During the Great War, Paul Hindemith banged the bass drum in a military band, racing back and forth a mile or so behind the front lines, playing marches and dances for soldiers who were recovering from their spell in the trenches.
He also performed in an all-soldier string quartet, at the behest of a cultured commanding officer, Count von Kielmannsegg, who adored Debussy. The count himself died in action a few months later. A no-nonsense man with a bulbous face and a machine-gun manner of speech, Hindemith had nothing aristocratic or bourgeois in his background. He was the son of a small-town manual laborer, and attended the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt with the help of a full scholarship.
In the first months of the peace, he declared his in de pen dence from German Romanticism by completing a series of six sonatas for stringed instruments, crisply constructed pieces in which the influence of Debussy and Ravel was pervasive; few German composers of the preceding fifty years had written music of such uncomplicated grace.
The young composer also showed a deep feeling for pre-Romantic traditions, for the stately forms of the Renaissance and the Baroque, although he modernized them relentlessly. The music is intense, but it does not take itself particularly seriously, or seriously at all.
The Home Collection [No Place Like Home
There was something bracingly un-German about this new German talent. Hindemith was anything but visionary in his preoccupations; he was practical, efficient, down-to-earth. Another catchword that became attached to him was Gebrauchsmusik, or music for use. If, say, a bassoonist and a double-bass player were looking for something to play, then Hindemith would dash off a Duet for Bassoon and Double Bass and not worry what posterity might make of it. He worked fast and to order; on one occasion he wrote two sonata movements in the buffet car of a train and performed them on arrival.
The Munich-born Carl Orff, who would find everlasting fame as the composer of Carmina burana, cultivated it assiduously.
If Hindemith, like Stravinsky, found rejuvenation in the curt forms and sharp timbres of the Baroque, Orff went much further back in time, to the music theater of ancient Greece. In his early years Orff tended to the political left, setting poems by Bertolt Brecht. But his most singular achievement was a massive cycle of pieces for children, the School Work project, which, by way of infectious musical invention, instructed youngsters in the basics of mode, harmony, form, and rhythm. Kestenberg took notice, and by the early thirties he was proposing to give Orff control of the entire German music education system.
The Nazi takeover in ended that prospect. Yet the denunciation rests on specious logic. There is nothing intrinsically fascistic about the longing to connect music to a community; it can just as easily serve as a vehicle for the propagation of Democratic thought. Untold millions of children would learn the basics of musical language by tapping out notes on the mallet percussion instruments that Orff had constructed to his purposes. The man himself may have been politically duplicitous, but his passion for teaching was profound, and it probably touched more lives than any music described in this book.
A publicity photo issued by the music publisher Universal Edition in shows the twenty-seven-year-old Austrian composer Ernst Krenek in a vaguely druggy double exposure, an endless cigarette holder dangling from his mouth. With his sharp suit and unlined face, he looks like a baby gangster gone legit.
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