Atonalism, Nietzsche and Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's Use of German Music History and Culture

By Schaub, Thomas | Pynchon Notes, Spring-Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Atonalism, Nietzsche and Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's Use of German Music History and Culture


Schaub, Thomas, Pynchon Notes


Henry-Louis de la Grange, a scholar of Gustav Mahler's life and works, tells us that an "early plan of the Fourth Symphony, put together some time before that symphony was composed ... contained a 'Scherzo in D major' entitled 'Die Welt ohne Schwere' ('The World Without Gravity')" (2.800). Given this suggestive title, any reader well trained by Pynchon to see connections and affiliations in the most trivial detail may recall the dialogue between Saure Bummer and Gustav Schlabone in Gravity's Rainbow and wonder whether Gustav's given name is meant to evoke Mahler's, and wonder also whether the song's words, if any exist, have some relevance to Pynchon's novel. Any account of the German dialectic in music that Schlabone trumpets would surely include Mahler, a contemporary of Strauss and a composer much admired by Schonberg for taking German music the first steps away from tonality, deploying dissonances first initiated by Wagner (Friedrich 167). La Grange describes the fruitful period in which Mahler wrote a series of songs including "Die Welt ohne Schwere," but he says nothing about the song's words. The instrumental music itself, according to La Grange, became the fourth movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

Whether or not Schlabone's first name alludes to Mahler is much less significant than the use Pynchon makes of the sociology and politics of German music during the Weimar and National Socialist eras. Arguments of the sort carried on by Gustav and Saure did in fact occur in the 1920s. As in Gravity's Rainbow, the debates were provoked by Arnold Schonberg's atonalism and his invention of the twelve-tone row, though they had begun earlier in response to the composer Frederico Busoni and the music critic Paul Bekker. Schonberg himself sounded a bit like Gustav when he declared in 1921 that his invention of the Row would "guarantee the supremacy of German music for the next hundred years" (qtd. in Friedrich 178). Similarly, Gustav praises the Row as the culmination of "'the German dialectic, the incorporation of more and more notes into the scale, culminating with dodecaphonic democracy, where all notes get an equal hearing'" (440). With Webern, this dialectic had reached "'the moment of maximum freedom'" (441).

Gustav's contempt for tonality (621) is a direct paraphrase of Schonberg's own attack on tonality in his Manual of Harmony (1911), where he argues for an equality of all twelve tones of the chromatic scale. Whereas the notes in the standard eight-tone system always retain "a simple relationship to the ground note" or root, dissonance goes beyond this loyalty or obedience to the dominant tonic: "Every musical configuration," Schonberg writes, "every movement of tones has to be comprehended as a mutual relation of sound" (qtd. in Friedrich 177). Gustav's association of this music with freedom is a common theme in commentaries about Schonberg. William Austin, for example, writes:

   Schonberg was fascinated equally by the infinite, ungraspable
   extent of the tonal realm and by its continuity, its absolute
   oneness. In nearly every composition he tried to suggest both. He
   was hardly interested at all in any alternative selection of the
   intervals--he wanted complete, continual freedom for all. (37)

As Marc A. Weiner points out in Undertones of Insurrection: Music, Politics and the Social Sphere in the Modern German Narrative, there was in the early Weimar period a "widespread association of sociopolitical issues with music" in German culture (56). Schonberg himself understood his attack on tonality in just such terms, describing the tonal system as a monarchy ruled by a dictator:

   The fundamental tone ... has a certain sovereignty over the
   structures emanating from it just because the most important
   components of these structures are, so to speak, its satraps, its
   advocates, since they derive from its splendor: Napoleon, who
   installs his relatives and friends on the European thrones. … 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Atonalism, Nietzsche and Gravity's Rainbow: Pynchon's Use of German Music History and Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.