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Exiles fall out in La La Land
December 2018 / January 2019


Thomas Mann (left) and Arnold Schoenberg:
Mann was “unpleasantly shaken up by Schoenberg’s insanity” and feared he might be “ruined”

Before and during World War II many illustrious European émigrés — Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Franz Werfel, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood as well as Arnold Schoenberg and other composers — gathered amidst the sunny palm trees and beaches of Los Angeles. Schoenberg was puzzled by the hyper-real paradise: “It is Switzerland, the Riviera, the Vienna woods, the desert, the Salzkammergut, Spain, Italy — everything in one place.” Yet, like many others, he felt out of place and feared his identity had been lost: “To the Germans I am a Jew, to the Latins a German, to the communists I am bourgeois.” He had also lost his traditional supporters and lamented that “the Jews are for Hindemith and Stravinsky”.

All great modern writers — Proust, Joyce and Lawrence — based fictional characters on real people, often exaggerating their qualities to achieve satiric effects. Proust had used César Franck’s music as the model for Vinteuil’s violin sonata, and Mann said, “if I had been born a musician, I would have composed more or less in the manner of César Franck.” Using the montage technique, Mann absorbed into Doctor Faustus (1947) the Revelation of St John, Dürer, Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky and Nietzsche, and even described his sister’s suicides. He used Schoenberg’s music, but not his personal character, in his portrayal of the demonic composer Adrian Leverkühn.

The Doctor Faustus Dossier, a heavyweight labyrinth of absurd misunderstandings, describes the intellectual dispute between Schoenberg and Mann, two giants of German modernism, in the irritable hothouse climate of the Los Angeles émigrés. It contains extracts from the diaries and letters of Mann, Schoenberg and their allies; four German articles about the controversy; two essays reprinted from the 1980s, the second repeating the contents of the dispute; and six appendices with articles by Mann, Schoenberg and the philosopher-musicologist Theodor Adorno. The foreword by the editor (Schoenberg’s grandson) and the repetitive and tendentious introduction by Adrian Daub are distinctly pro-Schoenberg and anti-Mann. Daub condemns Mann’s “casual erasure of Schoenberg’s story,” “mendacious, fictional version of himself,” “fatal lack of respect,” “thoughtless appropriation,” “philistine judgment” and “aesthetic vampirism.” But the evidence in the book clearly contradicts these assertions and supports Mann.

Schoenberg bitterly resented the greater success and fame of Thomas Mann, whose name sounded American, his knowledge of English and support of his publisher Alfred Knopf, his Nobel Prize and undisputed leadership of the German émigrés. Mann’s pronouncement, “Where I am there is Germany. I carry my German culture in me,” sounds like Goethean hubris, but it was true.
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