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Saturday, January 02, 2016


Mozart and Steppenwolf

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather it makes things visible”—Paul Klee (1879-1940), Swiss-born artist.

In a novel popular at Cal State Chico in the 1970s, Carl Jung's collective unconscious took center stage.  A protégé of Sigmund Freud, Jung believed a man’s inner self harbored both Anima and Animus: the feminine as well as the masculine.  

In "Steppenwolf," Herman Hesse, a popular German-Swiss author, explored this idea, in part, when his protagonist, Harry Haller, “rejected” Hermine, his Anima figure (the feminine side of his unconscious). 

According to historical accounts, Hesse’s second marriage had tanked, and like the character in his book, Hesse struggled with depression, or as Haller called it, the struggle between laughter and the more ugly side of human nature, the Wolfe der Steppen (which Steppenwolf explored in their rock music).  


Thus, the interplay between conflicting realities (and emotions) creates a struggle between good and evil, and through it all, according to the novel, music offered an escape.

The music recommended, however, wasn't Steppenwolf (not available at the time, of course), but Mozart.  In fact, Mozart was “immortal, " according to Haller.  But readers were also left with the impression that by entering the so-called "Magic Theatre" (For Madmen Only!), a better understanding of life followed.  Haller's guide on this journey was a Jazz musician named Pablo.

“Steppenwolf" was first published in 1927, and the cavalier treatment of Hermine’s death, where life is a journey, and death a game to reach the perfect state of being, cannot be marginalized.  But for many “baby boomers,” who were born just after Hitler died, the quest to find, and accept ones' Anima (or Animus) played out in the novel like a modern-day Bible story.  And for some, the novel’s obsession with Mozart pushed classical music to the fore.

Unfortunately, Mozart does not come easy.  Boys, for example, don't “do” Mozart, and a reporter still remembers his struggle accepting the sissy music, even after years of Mendelssohn and Beethoven.  Without even listening, Mozart's music was just too dainty.

In truth, however, it can be hard hitting and personal. His Piano Concerto No. 20, for example, is cringe-worthy (it was certainly written with an individual in mind — possibly after a row with his father).

Interestingly, one definition of Animus is hostility (reflected in the killing of Hermine).  Thus, conflicting doubts about Mozart, and the avant-garde, created a rage that Haller struggled with on his journey. After all, Mozart is for wimps (how can he be divine?), and certainly this frustration is why Haller sought to destroy Hermine — at least to a Midwestern thought process anyway. 1 

Then there was the wild, jazzy lifestyle Pablo showed him — more masculine, yes, but a sure ticket to hades, according to many at the time.  

“I understood it all,” Haller said after "killing" Hermine.  “I understood Pablo.  I understood Mozart, and somewhere behind me I heard his ghastly laughter. …  One day I would be a better hand at the game.  One day I would learn how to laugh.  Pablo was waiting for me, and Mozart too.”


The death of Hermine was troubling, and the book controversial.  But the "Magic Theatre" was symbolic of a troubled man's emotional and mental struggle.  Simply, there was no "real" murder (although, in reality, Jung believed that dream states such as Haller's could indicate a real homicidal personality).

Today, of course, Jazz is not seen as it once was, and Mozart's music is for men too.  Still, it is not easy to sit through, or listen to, an entire Mozart piano concerto. And for those in doubt, the one shared here is good, but difficult. The encores are remarkable too, but just try watching the entire video.... 2

Or as Klee, the Swiss-born artist said in German, Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern macht sichtbar. Buyer beware, the Wolfe der Steppen will not be able to understand the music.


Footnote
1 It should be noted that individualization, often absent in German Pietism (the religion of Hesse’s family and native Swabia), was a luxury Hesse had to fight for as a young man. Some writers, Christoph Gellner on a web post, for example, have written the possible genesis behind the biblical character, Cain,  shows a radical flight against repression (an original rebel as it were). 

Thus it has been theorized, Hesse, standing against the mind numbing repression of individuality found in Pietism, created his life and works.  The “evil” of Jazz and its “lifestyle,” thus, could well be fictional motive for murder to a man torn between the divine of Mozart, and the “degenerative” nature of Jazz. As history has shown, Hitler, and others, had a problem with "degenerate art,” and even the corresponding lifestyle found in Jazz saloons. 


2 This performance is remarkable, but unfortunately it is constantly shut down.  If gone again, due to "multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement," hopefully a copy will be posted legitimately (this YouTube video, for example, ends before the conclusion of the second encore, but is very high quality).  Another, which is not, is complete.

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