Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Adolph Bernhard Marx, Victim of the Post-Schering Syndrome

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Adolph Bernhard Marx, Victim of the Post-Schering Syndrome

Article excerpt

WHEN WE CONSIDER THE LONG HISTORY OF SCHOLARLY explorations of extra-musical thought in the instrumental music of Beethoven, the first name that leaps to mind these days is Arnold Schering (1877-1941), whose notorious Beethoven in Neuer Deutung (Leipzig, 1934), and even more notorious Beethoven und die Dichtung (Berlin: Junker und Dunnhaupt, 1936),1 produced a cause célèbre that turned this particular avenue of Beethoven research into scholarly anathema. I call this fierce reaction - which is still in force, sixty years later the "Post-Schering Syndrome."

The deep suspicion of - and in some cases, determined antagonism toward - the study of extra-musical elements in Beethoven's instrumental compositions has had one particularly regrettable result. It has relegated to the shelves of dusty books rarely consulted, several extremely valuable works of Adolph Bernhard Marx (1795-1866), most particularly his Ludwig van Beethoven: Leben und Schaffen (Berlin, 1859). This book experienced six subsequent printings, the last of these in 1910. In the early twentieth century, English and French translations were planned, but unfortunately never came to pass - thus limiting the dissemination of Marx's important ideas about Beethoven.

Adolph Bernhard Marx and the search for the "deeper idea"

In July of 1825 the then fifty-four-year-old Beethoven wrote a letter to the Berlin publisher Adolph Martin Schlesinger, wherein the composer starts out with an admiring reference to a young (thirty-year-old) scholar, Adolph Bernhard Marx, whom Beethoven had never met:

I have received with great pleasure your communication of June 24th together with the Allgemeine Berliner musikalische Zeitung. Please arrange for it to be sent to me regularly in the future. When turning over its pages I noticed a few articles which I immediately recognized as the products of that gifted Herr Marx.2 I hope that he will continue to reveal more and more what is noble and true in the sphere of art. And surely that ought gradually to throw discredit upon the mere counting of syllables.3

Adolph Bernhard Marx was born May 15, 1795, which is to say that he was born when Beethoven was twenty-four years old - and that the life spans of these two men overlapped by almost thirty-two years. Although they lived in widely separated cities (Berlin, Vienna), Marx understood Beethoven's Zeitgeist - since that Zeitgeist was his own.

Marx, on his father's insistence, was educated as a jurist, but then he turned to his first love, music. His initial calling was as a composer, but he next became keenly interested in music pedagogy and ultimately in the history of music. He became a very productive music historian, his special concerns being the music of Handel, Gluck, and Beethoven. So impressive were his scholarly achievements that the University of Berlin created for Adolph Bernhard Marx a professorship in music history - which some have suggested was probably the first post of its kind in the discipline of musicology. (This professorial chair was created for Marx on the recommendation of his close friend Felix Mendelssohn.)

Already quite early in his life Marx became interested in the debate over musikalische Malerei (musical depiction or painting), a debate that had raged since the early 1770s. The early contributors to this debate were mostly very critical of this new vogue of composing instrumental music of a pictorial nature. Some of these eighteenth-century critics were men of intellectual distinction (Sulzer, Engel, et al.); but they were not themselves musicians. In the early nineteenth century a few musicianly authors took a stand against these earlier philosophical aestheticians, now coming to the defense of musikalische Malerei4 - and Marx seems to have read the entire literature on this intriguing subject.

In 1828 he published his Über Malerei in der Tonkunst: ein Maigruss an die Kunstphilosophen (Regarding Tone-painting in Music: a Greeting in the Spring, to the Philosophers of An), wherein Marx poses this rather verbose question:

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