Nietzsche and Wagner

The importance of friendship for Western music making remains a rather neglected topic. In which ways are composers and performers affected by their closest interlocutors, especially when they are not musicians? Conversely, how does a musician’s friendship touch their best friends?

The interests that my “other self,” pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, and I share make us find often many parallels between our friendship and that of Wagner and Nietzsche.*  Like them, we are a musician and a writer; we reflect together on the tension between performance and thought; we are fascinated by modernity’s quest for Hellenism; we are interested in the Twilight of the Gods and the Idols; we explore ideological, artistic, and political radicalism; we believe that music matters tremendously for cultural and philosophical (and not just purely musical) reasons; we have a comparable marital status; and we have approximately the same age difference. Sometimes we laugh and say that there is yet another similarity between the two friendships:  the younger person denounces his friend and never sees him again yet he remains in an all-encompassing conversation with him.

“There was a time in our lives when we were so close that nothing seemed to obstruct our friendship and brotherhood, and only a small footbridge separated us. Just as you were about to step on it, I asked you: ‘Do you want to cross the footbridge to me?’ – Immediately, you did not want to any more; and when I asked you again, you remained silent. Since then mountains and torrential rivers and whatever separates and alienates have been cast between us, and even if we wanted to get together, we couldn’t. But when you now think of that little footbridge, words fail you and you sob and marvel” (Nietzsche: “Over the footbridge,” The Gay Science [1882] #16: tr. W. Kaufmann, 1974; see also #279).

June 20, 2014

* “The relationship between Nietzsche and Wagner was almost a Gesamtkunstwerk in itself, centered on philosophy, religion, and music; the ultimate tenets of nineteenth-century German art and society.”

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