On Mann and Music

This is a rich, rich subject that we should return to again, but I just wanted to respond briefly to John's remarks re: Hanno, Thomas Mann, and classical music. John writes:

Similarly, after reading Mann's beautiful rendering of Hanno's musical experiences in Part 8, I'm interested to learn more about the role of music in the writer's life. Scott, having enjoyed Doctor Faustus so much, perhaps you've read about Mann's musical background. Was he a musician himself, or was his understanding more scholarly? He seems to grasp the unspeakable aspects of musical communication with enough depth that I imagine he at least played as a hobbyist, but I'm not sure.

I can't speak to whether or not Mann ever tried to compose, but his grasp of the subject was firm enough for Alex Ross to declare Doctor Faustus the greatest book on classical music written in the 20th century. Having not read nearly as many scholarly works on the subject as Ross, I'm in no way qualified to judge that remark, but I can say that my own reading of Faustus greatly enhanced my understanding of classical music.

One of my pet peeves about classical music writing is that generally writers attempt to put the music into words, but it either ends up sounding like a bunch of jargon of a bunch of flowery language that in no way conveys anything vaguely musical. Well, Mann writes a lot about the sounds of music in Faustus (he does, after all have an entire fictitious oeuvre to describe) and I can hear Adrian's pieces. If nothing else, Mann can evoke the feel of music on the page, no mean feat.

I think Mann also must have had a firm grasp of the subject-matter since he includes a full, lengthy, and in my opinion quite lucid lecture on Beethoven's final piano sonata in Faustus. (Ross also admires it.) Some of the knowledge Mann exhibits on this subject in Faustus also comes through in descriptions of classical music in Buddenbrooks vis a vis Hanno.

More from Conversational Reading:

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  2. More Mann to Come (?) I’m somewhat surprised to see that people seem to have responded rather favorably to my somewhat casually strewn thoughts on Doctor Faustus. They were even...
  3. Doctor Faustus I’ve been slowly making my way through Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. Despite recently reading proust, Grass, and Kenzaburo Oe, I can pretty easily say that...
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like the schopenhauer earlier on, i think there’s also cribbing from adorno and probably schoenberg’s writing itself in ‘faustus’.

And there is an extended portion in The Magic Mountain, where Hans Castorp takes charge of the gramophone and gets deeply involved in his collection of music.

John Hargraves wrote a book on Music in Broch, Mann, and Kafka, called, wait for it… MUSIC IN BROCH, MANN, AND KAFKA.

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