Keller Via Freud

By Wintle, Christopher | Musical Times, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Keller Via Freud


Wintle, Christopher, Musical Times


From psychology to music

CHRISTOPHER WINTLE traces the indebtedness of the eminent emigre critic to the father of psychoanalysis

IT IS OFTEN ASKED, what has music to do with psychology - or more particularly with psychoanalysis, its Freudian branch? One of the earliest and most trenchant answers came in 1922 from Carl Jung, father of analytical psychology and a notable Freudian apostate. Basically, his reply was, 'very little'. Only that aspect of art,' he wrote, 'which consists in the process of artistic creation can be a subject of psychological study, but not that which constitutes its essential nature.'1 The 'process of artistic creation' could be observed in two kinds of artists, the extraverted and the introverted, which he equated with Schiller's 'naive' and 'sentimental' kinds: their job was to throw up symbols that tap deeply and inexplicably into the experiences and heritage of a culture - that is to say, to engage with its 'collective unconscious'. Of course, works could be probed for symptoms of their creator's pathology; but this was a distraction, and the results in any case would be merely reductive and uncover the same sexual and familial problems that face us all: 'if a work of art is explained in the same way as a neurosis, then either the work of art is a neurosis, or a neurosis is a work of art.' Artists, moreover, were at their best as vessels for communication, as visionaries possessed by a 'divine frenzy' inimical to cognition, and as mere players in the larger process of 'self-regulation in the life of nations and epochs'. All this had nothing whatever to do with the merely conscious (or preconscious) organisation of art, even - and especially - when a drama was overtly 'psychological'.2 The 'essential nature' of art, on the other hand, belonged quite simply to 'aesthetics'.

In post-war British music, as we know, Jung's views have ruled the roost. Michael Tippett's operas turned Mozart's trials of Tamino into rituals of 'individuation', and Robert Donington dissolved Wagner's musical transformations into the mythic symbols of The ring before turning to opera in general.3 Indeed, Jungian 'archetypes' - that is to say, recurrent 'primordial' or 'mythic' images thrown up by creative fantasy - still stand behind the work of, for example, Harrison Birtwistle and Jonathan Harvey: in Birtwistle's Punch and Judy (1965-68) Punch is the 'archetype', and Harvey's Inquest of love (1993) includes a 'Hermes' type, the Tsychopomp'. The role of Jung in the thought of Peter Maxwell Davies, moreover, requires a separate study.

So where does this leave the Freudians?

AS FAR AS British music goes, the question itself raises a paradox. For the most articulate and best known of them, Hans Keller (1919-85), is, psychoanalytically, the least understood - that is, until now. Keller fled Vienna for London in 1938, shortly after the Kristallnacht, when he had been 'imprisoned, robbed, starved, and beaten up the Gestapo'.4 For the rest of his life he stayed in London. (In fact, one of the first houses he lived in, 32 Herne Hill, had been designed around 1937 by his father, Fritz Keller, in conjunction with Rudi Koempfner of Vienna University and later All Souls, Oxford. Koempner was the brother of Keller's cousin, Inge Trott.) For about twelve years he worked as a freelance writer and fiddle-player, before emerging in the early 1950s as a powerful scourge of critics5 and a champion of Benjamin Britten.6 It was only later, in 1959, that he famously joined the BBC, where he remained for twenty increasingly turbulent years.7 Although he published prolifically on music from about 1947, most of his papers from the early 1940s were unpublished, and hence unknown. This work is nothing if not voluminous. The papers were discovered soon after his death in 1985, sorted into preliminary bundles and acquired by Cambridge University Library in the mid-1990s. They were then catalogued by a specially appointed archivist, Alison Garnham, and after a period of digestion, edited by the present writer in 2002. …

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