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 Free! He felt that he was free!… Free of others and of himself! The network of passion in which he had been enmeshed for more than a year had suddenly been burst asunder2. How? He did not know. The filaments3 had given before the growth of his being. It was one of those crises of growth in which robust4 natures tear away the dead casing of the year that is past, the old soul in which they are cramped5 and stifled6.  
Christophe breathed deeply, without understanding what had happened. An icy whirlwind was rushing through the great gate of the town as he returned from taking Gottfried on his way. The people were walking with heads lowered against the storm. Girls going to their work were struggling against the wind that blew against their skirts: they stopped every now and then to breathe, with their nose and cheeks red, and they looked exasperated8, and as though they wanted to cry. He thought of that other torment9 through which he had passed. He looked at the wintry sky, the town covered with snow, the people struggling along past him: he looked about him, into himself: he was no longer bound. He was alone!… Alone! How happy to be alone, to be his own! What joy to have escaped from his bonds, from his torturing memories, from the hallucinations of faces that he loved or detested10! What joy at last to live, without being the prey11 of life, to have become his own master!…
He went home white with snow. He shook himself gaily12 like a dog. As he passed his mother, who was sweeping13 the passage, he lifted her up, giving little inarticulate cries of affection such as one makes to a tiny child. Poor old Louisa struggled in her son's arms: she was wet with the melting snow: and she called him, with a jolly laugh, a great gaby.
He went up to his room three steps at a time.—He could hardly see himself in his little mirror it was so dark. But his heart was glad. His room was low and narrow and it was difficult to move in it, but it was like a kingdom to him. He locked the door and laughed with pleasure. At last he was finding himself! How long he had been gone astray! He was eager to plunge15 into thought like a bather into water. It was like a great lake afar off melting into the mists of blue and gold. After a night of fever and oppressive heat he stood by the edge of it, with his legs bathed in the freshness of the water, his body kissed by the wind of a summer morning. He plunged16 in and swam: he knew not whither he was going, and did not care: it was joy to swim whithersoever he listed. He was silent, then he laughed, and listened for the thousand thousand sounds of his soul: it swarmed17 with life. He could make out nothing: his head was swimming: he felt only a bewildering happiness. He was glad to feel in himself such unknown forces: and indolently postponing18 putting his powers to the test he sank back into the intoxication19 of pride in the inward flowering, which, held back for months, now burst forth20 like a sudden spring.
His mother called him to breakfast. He went down: he was giddy and light-headed as though he had spent a day in the open air: but there was such a radiance of joy in him that Louisa asked what was the matter. He made no reply: he seized her by the waist and forced her to dance with him round the table on which the tureen was steaming. Out of breath Louisa cried that he was mad: then she clasped her hands.
"Dear God!" she said anxiously. "Sure, he is in love again!"
Christophe roared with laughter. He hurled21 his napkin into the air.
"In love?…" he cried. "Oh! Lord!… but no! I've had enough! You can be easy on that score. That is done, done, forever!… Ouf!"
He drank a glassful of water.
Louisa looked at him, reassured22, wagged her head, and smiled.
"That's a drunkard's pledge," she said. "It won't last until to-night."
"Then the day is clear gain," he replied good-humoredly.
"Oh, yes!" she said. "But what has made you so happy?"
"I am happy. That is all."
Sitting opposite her with his elbows on the table he tried to tell her all that he was going to do. She listened with kindly23 skepticism and gently pointed24 out that his soup was going cold. He knew that she did not hear what he was saying: but he did not care: he was talking for his own satisfaction.
They looked at each other smiling: he talking: she hardly listening. Although she was proud of her son she attached no great importance to his artistic25 projects: she was thinking: "He is happy: that matters most."—While he was growing more and more excited with his discourse26 he watched his mother's dear face, with her black shawl tightly tied round her head, her white hair, her young eyes that devoured27 him lovingly, her sweet and tranquil29 kindliness30. He knew exactly what she was thinking. He said to her jokingly:
"It is all one to you, eh? You don't care about what I'm telling you?"
She protested weakly:
"Oh, no! Oh, no!"
He kissed her.
"Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You need not defend yourself. You are right. Only love me. There is no need to understand me—either for you or for anybody else. I do not need anybody or anything now: I have everything in myself…."
"Oh!" said Louisa. "Another maggot in his brain!… But if he must have one
I prefer this to the other."
What sweet happiness to float on the surface of the lake of his thoughts!… Lying in the bottom of a boat with his body bathed in sun, his face kissed by the light fresh wind that skims over the face of the waters, he goes to sleep: he is swung by threads from the sky. Under his body lying at full length, under the rocking boat he feels the deep, swelling31 water: his hand dips into it. He rises: and with his chin on the edge of the boat he watches the water flowing by as he did when he was a child. He sees the reflection of strange creatures darting32 by like lightning…. More, and yet more…. They are never the same. He laughs at the fantastic spectacle that is unfolded within him: he laughs at his own thoughts: he has no need to catch and hold them. Select? Why select among So many thousands of dreams? There is plenty of time!… Later on!… He has only to throw out a line at will to draw in the monsters whom he sees gleaming in the water. He lets them pass…. Later on!…
The boat floats on at the whim33 of the warm wind and the insentient stream.
All is soft, sun, and silence.
At last languidly he throws out his line. Leaning out over the lapping water he follows it with his eyes until it disappears. After a few moments of torpor34 he draws it in slowly: as he draws it in it becomes heavier: just as he is about to fish it out of the water he stops to take breath. He knows that he has his prey: he does not know what it is: he prolongs the pleasure of expectancy35.
At last he makes up his mind: fish with gleaming, many-colored scales appear from the water: they writhe36 like a nest of snakes. He looks at them curiously37, he stirs them with his finger: but hardly has he drawn38 them from the water than their colors fade and they slip between his fingers. He throws them back into the water and begins to fish for others. He is more eager to see one after another all the dreams stirring in him than to catch at any one of them: they all seem more beautiful to him when they are freely swimming in the transparent39 lake….
He caught all kinds of them, each more extravagant40 than the last. Ideas had been heaped up in him for months and he had not drawn upon them, so that he was bursting with riches. But it was all higgledy-piggledy: his mind was a Babel, an old Jew's curiosity shop in which there were piled up in the one room rare treasures, precious stuffs, scrap-iron, and rags. He could not distinguish their values: everything amused him. There were thrilling chords, colors which rang like bells, harmonies which buzzed like bees, melodies smiling like lovers' lips. There were visions of the country, faces, passions, souls, characters, literary ideas, metaphysical ideas. There were great projects, vast and impossible, tetralogies, decalogies, pretending to depict41 everything in music, covering whole worlds. And, most often there were obscure, flashing sensations, called forth by a trifle, the sound of a voice, a man or a woman passing in the street, the pattering of rain. An inward rhythm.—Many of these projects advanced no further than their title: most of them were never more than a note or two: it was enough. Like all very young people, he thought he had created what he dreamed of creating.
But he was too keenly alive to be satisfied for long with such fantasies. He wearied of an illusory possession: he wished to seize his dreams.—How to begin? They seemed to him all equally important. He turned and turned them: he rejected them, he took them up again…. No, he never took them up again: they were no longer the same, they were never to be caught twice: they were always changing: they changed in his hands, under his eyes, while he was watching them. He must make haste: he could not: he was appalled42 by the slowness with which he worked. He would have liked to do everything in one day, and he found it horribly difficult to complete the smallest thing. His dreams were passing and he was passing himself: while he was doing one thing it worried him not to be doing another. It was as though it was enough to have chosen one of his fine subjects for it to lose all interest for him. And so all his riches availed him nothing. His thoughts had life only on condition that he did not tamper43 with them: everything that he succeeded in doing was still-born. It was the torment of Tantalus: within reach were fruits that became stones as soon as he plucked them: near his lips was a clear stream which sank away whenever he bent44 down, to drink.
To slake45 his thirst lie tried to sip46 at the springs that he had conquered, his old compositions…. Loathsome47 in taste! At the first gulp48, he spat49 it out again, cursing. What! That tepid50 water, that insipid51 music, was that his music?—He read through all his compositions: he was horrified52: he understood not a note of them, he could not even understand how he had come to write them. He blushed. Once after reading through a page more foolish than the rest he turned round to make sure that there was nobody in the room, and then he went and hid his face in his pillow like a child ashamed. Sometimes they seemed to him so preposterously54 silly that they were quite funny, and he forgot that they were his own….
"What an idiot!" he would cry, rocking with laughter.
But nothing touched him more than those compositions in which he had set out to express his own passionate55 feelings: the sorrows and joys of love. Then he would bound in his chair as though a fly had stung him: he would thump56 on the table, beat his head, and roar angrily: he would coarsely apostrophize himself: he would vow57 himself to be a swine, trebly a scoundrel, a clod, and a clown—a whole litany of denunciation. In the end he would go and stand before his mirror, red with shouting, and then he would take hold of his chin and say:
"Look, look, you scurvy58 knave59, look at the ass-face that is yours! I'll teach you to lie, you blackguard! Water, sir, water."
He would plunge his face into his basin, and hold it under water until he was like to choke. When he drew himself up, scarlet60, with his eyes starting from his head, snorting like a seal, he would rush to his table, without bothering to sponge away the water trickling61 down him: he would seize the unhappy compositions, angrily tear them in pieces, growling62:
"There, you beast!… There, there, there!…"
Then he would recover.
What exasperated him most in his compositions was their untruth. Not a spark of feeling in them. A phraseology got by heart, a schoolboy's rhetoric63: he spoke64 of love like a blind man of color: he spoke of it from hearsay65, only repeating the current platitudes66. And it was not only love: it was the same with all the passions, which had been used for themes and declamations.—And yet he had always tried to be sincere.—But it is not enough to wish to be sincere: it is necessary to have the power to be so: and how can a man be so when as yet he knows nothing of life? What had revealed the falseness of his work, what had suddenly digged a pit between himself and his past was the experience which he had had during the last six months of life. He had left fantasy: there was now in him a real standard to which he could bring all the thoughts for judgment67 as to their truth or untruth.
The disgust which his old work, written without passion, roused in him, made him decide with his usual exaggeration that he would write no more until he was forced to write by some passionate need: and leaving the pursuit of his ideas at that, he swore that he would renounce68 music forever, unless creation were imposed upon him in a thunderclap.
He made this resolve because he knew quite well that the storm was coming.
Thunder falls when it will, and where it will. But there are peaks which attract it. Certain places—certain souls—breed storms: they create them, or draw them from all points of the horizon: and certain ages of life, like certain months of the year, are so saturated69 with electricity, that thunderstorms are produced in them,—if not at will—at any rate when they are expected.
The whole being of a man is taut70 for it. Often the storm lies brooding for days and days. The pale sky is hung with burning, fleecy clouds. No wind stirs. The still air ferments71, and seems to boil. The earth lies in a stupor72: no sound comes from it. The brain hums feverishly73: all nature awaits the explosion of the gathering74 forces, the thud of the hammer which is slowly rising to fall back suddenly on the anvil75 of the clouds. Dark, warm shadows pass: a fiery76 wind rises through the body, the nerves quiver like leaves…. Then silence falls again. The sky goes on gathering thunder.
In such expectancy there is voluptuous77 anguish78. In spite of the discomfort79 that weighs so heavily upon you, you feel in your veins80 the fire which is consuming the universe. The soul surfeited81 boils in the furnace, like wine in a vat82. Thousands of germs of life and death are in labor83 in it. What will issue from it? The soul knows not. Like a woman with child, it is silent: it gazes in upon itself: it listens anxiously for the stirring in its womb, and thinks: "What will be born of me?"…
Sometimes such waiting is in vain. The storm passes without breaking: but you wake heavy, cheated, enervated84, disheartened. But it is only postponed85: the storm will break: if not to-day, then to-morrow: the longer it is delayed, the more violent will it be….
Now it comes!… The clouds have come up from all corners of the soul. Thick masses, blue and black, torn by the frantic86 darting of the lightning: they advance heavily, drunkenly, darkening the soul's horizon, blotting87 out light. An hour of madness!… The exasperated Elements, let loose from the cage in which they are held bound by the Laws which hold the balance between the mind and the existence of things, reign88, formless and colossal89, in the night of consciousness. The soul is in agony. There is no longer the will to live. There is only longing90 for the end, for the deliverance of death….
And suddenly there is lightning!
Christophe shouted for joy.
Joy, furious joy, the sun that lights up all that is and will be, the godlike joy of creation! There is no joy but in creation. There are no living beings but those who create. All the rest are shadows, hovering91 over the earth, strangers to life. All the joys of life are the joys of creation: love, genius, action,—quickened by flames issuing from one and the same fire. Even those who cannot find a place by the great fireside: the ambitious, the egoists, the sterile92 sensualists,—try to gain warmth in the pale reflections of its light.
To create in the region of the body, or in the region of the mind, is to issue from the prison of the body: it is to ride upon the storm of life: it is to be He who Is. To create is to triumph over death.
Wretched is the sterile creature, that man or that woman who remains93 alone and lost upon the earth, scanning their withered94 bodies, and the sight of themselves from which no flame of life will ever leap! Wretched is the soul that does not feel its own fruitfulness, and know itself to be big with life and love, as a tree with blossom in the spring! The world may heap honors and benefits upon such a soul: it does but crown a corpse95.
When Christophe was struck by the flash of lightning, an electric fluid coursed through his body: he trembled under the shock. It was as though on the high seas, in the dark night, he had suddenly sighted land. Or it was as though in a crowd he had gazed into two eyes saluting96 him. Often it would happen to him after hours of prostration97 when his mind was leaping desperately98 through the void. But more often still it came in moments when he was thinking of something else, talking to his mother, or walking through the streets. If he were in the street a certain human respect kept him from too loudly demonstrating his joy. But if he were at home nothing could keep him back. He would stamp. He would sound a blare of triumph: his mother knew that well, and she had come to know what it meant. She used to tell Christophe that he was like a hen that has laid an egg.
He was permeated99 with his musical imagination. Sometimes it took shape in an isolated100 phrase complete in itself: more often it would appear as a nebula101 enveloping102 a whole work: the structure of the work, its general lines, could be perceived through a veil, torn asunder here and there by dazzling phrases which stood out from the darkness with the clarity of sculpture. It was only a flash: sometimes others would come in quick succession: each lit up other corners of the night. But usually, the capricious force haying once shown itself unexpectedly, would disappear again for several days into its mysterious retreats, leaving behind it a luminous103 ray.
This delight in inspiration was so vivid that Christophe was disgusted by everything else. The experienced artist knows that inspiration is rare and that intelligence is left to complete the work of intuition: he puts his ideas under the press and squeezes out of them the last drop of the divine juices that are in them—(and if need be sometimes he does not shrink from diluting104 them with clear water)—Christophe was too young and too sure of himself not to despise such contemptible105 practices. He dreamed impossibly of producing nothing that was not absolutely spontaneous. If he had not been deliberately106 blind he would certainly have seen the absurdity107 of his aims. Ho doubt he was at that time in a period of inward abundance in which there was no gap, no chink, through which boredom108 or emptiness could creep. Everything served as an excuse to his inexhaustible fecundity109: everything that his eyes saw or his ears heard, everything with which he came in contact in his daily life: every look, every word, brought forth a crop of dreams. In the boundless110 heaven of his thoughts he saw circling millions of milky111 stars, rivers of living light.—And yet, even then, there were moments when everything was suddenly blotted112 out. And although the night could not endure, although he had hardly time to suffer from these long silences of his soul, he did not escape a secret terror of that unknown power which came upon him, left him, came again, and disappeared…. How long, this time? Would it ever come again?—His pride rejected that thought and said: "This force is myself. When it ceases to be, I shall cease to be: I shall kill myself."—He never ceased to tremble: but it was only another delight.
But, if, for the moment, there was no danger of the spring running dry, Christophe was able already to perceive that it was never enough to fertilize113 a complete work. Ideas almost always appeared rawly: he had painfully to dig them out of the ore. And always they appeared without any sort of sequence, and by fits and starts: to unite them he had to bring to bear on them an element of reflection and deliberation and cold will, which fashioned them into new form. Christophe was too much of an artist not to do so: but he would not accept it: he forced himself to believe that he did no more than transcribe115 what was within himself, while he was always compelled more or less to transform it so as to make it intelligible116.—More than that: sometimes he would absolutely forge a meaning for it. However violently the musical idea might come upon him it would often have been impossible for him to say what it meant. It would come surging up from the depths of life, from far beyond the limits of consciousness: and in that absolutely pure Force, which eluded117 common rhythms, consciousness could never recognize in it any of the motives118 which stirred in it, none of the human feelings which it defines and classifies: joys, sorrows, they were all merged119 in one single passion which was unintelligible120, because it was above the intelligence. And yet, whether it understood or no, the intelligence needed to give a name to this form, to bind121 it down to one or other of the structures of logic122, which man is forever building indefatigably123 in the hive of his brain.
So Christophe convinced himself—he wished to do so—that the obscure power that moved him had an exact meaning, and that its meaning was in accordance with his will. His free instinct, risen from the unconscious depths, was willy-nilly forced to plod124 on under the yoke125 of reason with perfectly126 clear ideas which had nothing at all in common with it. And work so produced was no more than a lying juxtaposition127 of one of those great subjects that Christophe's mind had marked out for itself, and those wild forces which had an altogether different meaning unknown to himself.
He groped his way, head down, borne on by the contradictory128 forces warring in him, and hurling129 into his incoherent works a fiery and strong quality of life which he could not express, though he was joyously130 and proudly conscious of it.
The consciousness of his new vigor131 made him able for the first time to envisage132 squarely everything about him, everything that he had been taught to honor, everything that he had respected without question: and he judged it all with insolent133 freedom. The veil was rent: he saw the German lie.
Every race, every art has its hypocrisy134. The world is fed with a little truth and many lies. The human mind is feeble: pure truth agrees with it but ill: its religion, its morality, its states, its poets, its artists, must all be presented to it swathed in lies. These lies are adapted to the mind of each race: they vary from one to the other: it is they that make it so difficult for nations to understand each other, and so easy for them to despise each other. Truth is the same for all of us: but every nation has its own lie, which it calls its idealism: every creature therein breathes it from birth to death: it has become a condition of life: there are only a few men of genius who can break free from it through heroic moments of crisis, when they are alone in the free world of their thoughts.
It was a trivial thing which suddenly revealed to Christophe the lie of German art. It was not because it had not always been visible that he had not seen it: he was not near it, he had not recoiled136 from it. Now the mountain appeared to his gaze because he had moved away from it.
He was at a concert of the Städtische Townhalle. The concert was given in a large hall occupied by ten or twelve rows of little tables—about two or three hundred of them. At the end of the room was a stage where the orchestra was sitting. All round Christophe were officers dressed up in their long, dark coats,—with broad, shaven faces, red, serious, and commonplace: women talking and laughing noisily, ostentatiously at their ease: jolly little girls smiling and showing all their teeth: and large men hidden behind their beards and spectacles, looking like kindly spiders with round eyes. They got up with every fresh glass to drink a toast: they did this almost religiously: their faces, their voices changed: it was as though they were saying Mass: they offered each other the libations, they drank of the chalice137 with a mixture of solemnity and buffoonery. The music was drowned under the conversation and the clinking of glasses. And yet everybody was trying to talk and eat quietly. The Herr Konzertmeister, a tall, bent old man, with a white beard hanging like a tail from his chin, and a long aquiline138 nose, with spectacles, looked like a philologist139.—All these types were familiar to Christophe. But on that day he had an inclination—he did not know why—to see them as caricatures. There are days like that when, for no apparent reason, the grotesque140 in people and things which in ordinary life passes unnoticed, suddenly leaps into view.
The programme of the music included the Egmont overture141, a valse of Waldteufel, Tannhäuser's Pilgrimage to Rome, the overture to the Merry Wives of Nicolai, the religious march of Athalie, and a fantasy on the North Star. The orchestra played the Beethoven overture correctly, and the valse deliciously. During the Pilgrimage of Tannhäuser, the uncorking of bottles was heard. A big man sitting at the table next to Christophe beat time to the Merry Wives by imitating Falstaff. A stout142 old lady, in a pale blue dress, with a white belt, golden pince-nez on her flat nose, red arms, and an enormous waist, sang in a loud voice Lieder of Schumann and Brahms. She raised her eyebrows143, made eyes at the wings, smiled with a smile that seemed to curdle144 on her moon-face, made exaggerated gestures which must certainly have called to mind the café-concert but for the majestic145 honesty which shone in her: this mother of a family played the part of the giddy girl, youth, passion: and Schumann's poetry had a faint smack146 of the nursery. The audience was in ecstasies147.—But they grew solemn and attentive148 when there appeared the Choral Society of the Germans of the South (Süddeutschen Männer Liedertafel), who alternately cooed and roared part songs full of feeling. There were forty and they sang four parts: it seemed as though they had set themselves to free their execution of every trace of style that could properly be called choral: a hotch-potch of little melodious149 effects, little timid puling shades of sound, dying pianissimos, with sudden swelling, roaring crescendos, like some one heating on an empty box: no breadth or balance, a mawkish150 style: it was like Bottom:
"Let me play the lion. I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you as it were a nightingale."
Christophe listened: foam151 the beginning with growing amazement152. There was nothing new in it all to him. He knew these concerts, the orchestra, the audience. But suddenly it all seemed to him false. All of it: even to what he most loved, the Egmont overture, in which the pompous153 disorder154 and correct agitation155 hurt him in that hour like a want of frankness. No doubt it was not Beethoven or Schumann that he heard, but their absurd interpreters, their cud-chewing audience whose crass156 stupidity was spread about their works like a heavy mist.—No matter, there was in the works, even the most beautiful of them, a disturbing quality which Christophe had never before felt.—What was it? He dared not analyze157 it, deeming it a sacrilege to question his beloved masters. But in vain did he shut his eyes to it: he had seen it. And, in spite of himself, he went on seeing it: like the Vergognosa at Pisa he looked: between his fingers.
He saw German art stripped. All of them—the great and the idiots—laid bare their souls with a complacent158 tenderness. Emotion overflowed159, moral nobility trickled160 down, their hearts melted in distracted effusions: the sluice161 gates were opened to the fearful German tender-heartedness: it weakened the energy of the stronger, it drowned the weaker under its grayish waters: it was a flood: in the depths of it slept German thought. And, what thoughts were those of a Mendelssohn, a Brahms, a Schumann, and, following them, the whole legion of little writers of affected162 and tearful Lieder! Built on sand. Never rock. Wet and shapeless clay.—It was all so foolish, so childish often, that Christophe could not believe that it never occurred to the audience. He looked about him: but he saw only gaping163 faces, convinced in advance of the beauties they were hearing and the pleasure that they ought to find in it. How could they admit their own right to judge for themselves? They were filled with respect for these hallowed names. What did they not respect? They were respectful before their programmes, before their glasses, before themselves. It was clear that mentally they dubbed164 everything excellent that remotely or nearly concerned them.
Christophe passed in review the audience and the music alternately: the music reflected the audience, the audience reflected the music. Christophe felt laughter overcoming him and he made faces. However, he controlled himself. But when the Germans of the South came and solemnly sang the Confession165 that reminded him of the blushes of a girl in love, Christophe could not contain himself. He shouted with laughter. Indignant cries of "Ssh!" were raised. His neighbors looked at him, scared: their honest, scandalized faces filled him with joy: he laughed louder than ever, he laughed, he laughed until he cried. Suddenly the audience grew angry. They cried: "Put him out!" He got up, and went, shrugging his shoulders, shaking with suppressed laughter. His departure caused a scandal. It was the beginning of hostilities166 between Christophe and his birthplace.
After that experience Christophe shut himself up and set himself to read once more the works of the "hallowed" musicians. He was appalled to find that certain of the masters whom he loved most had lied. He tried hard to doubt it at first, to believe that he was mistaken.—But no, there was no way out of it. He was staggered by the conglomeration167 of mediocrity and untruth which constitutes the artistic treasure of a great people. How many pages could bear examination!
From that time on he could begin to read other works, other masters, who were dear to him, only with a fluttering heart…. Alas168! There was some spell cast upon him: always there was the same discomfiture169. With some of them his heart was rent: it was as though he had lost a dear friend, as if he had suddenly seen that a friend in whom he had reposed171 entire confidence had been deceiving him for years. He wept for it. He did not sleep at night: he could not escape his torment. He blamed himself: perhaps he had lost his judgment? Perhaps he had become altogether an idiot?—No, no. More than ever he saw the radiant beauty of the day and with more freshness and love than ever he felt the generous abundance of life: his heart was not deceiving him….
But for a long time he dared not approach those who were the best for him, the purest, the Holy of Holies. He trembled at the thought of bringing his faith in them to the test. But how resist the pitiless instinct of a brave and truthful173 soul, which will go on to the end, and see things as they are, whatever suffering may be got in doing so?—So he opened the sacred works, he called upon the last reserve, the imperial guard…. At the first glance he saw that they were no more immaculate than the others. He had not the courage to go on. Every now and then he stopped and closed the book: like the son of Noah, he threw his cloak about his father's nakedness….
Then he was prostrate174 in the midst of all these ruins. He would rather have lost an arm, than have tampered175 with his blessed illusions. In his heart he mourned. But there was so much sap in him, so much reserve of life, that his confidence in art was not shaken. With a young man's naïve presumption176 he began life again as though no one had ever lived it before him. Intoxicated177 by his new strength, he felt—not without reason, perhaps—that with a very few exceptions there is almost no relation between living passion and the expression which art has striven to give to it. But he was mistaken in thinking himself more happy or more true when he expressed it. As he was filled with passion it was easy for him to discover it at the back of what he had written: but no one else would have recognized it through the imperfect vocabulary with which he designated its variations. Many artists whom he condemned178 were in the same case. They had had, and had translated profound emotions: but the secret of their language had died with them.
Christophe was no psychologist: he was not bothered with all these arguments: what was dead for him had always been so. He revised his judgment of the past with all the confident and fierce injustice180 of youth. He stripped the noblest souls, and had no pity for their foibles. There were the rich melancholy181, the distinguished182 fantasy, the kindly thinking emptiness of Mendelssohn. There were the bead-stringing and the affectation of Weber, his dryness of heart, his cerebral183 emotion. There was Liszt, the noble priest, the circus rider, neo-classical and vagabond, a mixture in equal doses of real and false nobility, of serene184 idealism and disgusting virtuosity185. Schubert, swallowed up by his sentimentality, drowned at the bottom of leagues of stale, transparent water. The men of the heroic ages, the demi-gods, the Prophets, the Fathers of the Church, were not spared. Even the great Sebastian, the man of ages, who bore in himself the past and the future,—Bach,—was not free of untruth, of fashionable folly187, of school-chattering. The man who had seen God, the man who lived in God, seemed sometimes to Christophe to have had an insipid and sugared religion, a Jesuitical style, rococo189. In his cantatas190 there were languorous191 and devout192 airs—(dialogues of the Soul coquetting with Jesus)—which sickened Christophe: then he seemed to see chubby193 cherubim with round limbs, and flying draperies. And also he had a feeling that the genial194 Cantor always wrote in a closed room: his work smacked195 of stuffiness196: there was not in his music that brave outdoor air that was breathed in others, not such great musicians, perhaps, but greater men—more human—than he. Like Beethoven or Händel. What hurt him in all of them, especially in the classics, was their lack of freedom: almost all their works were "constructed." Sometimes an emotion was filled out with all the commonplaces of musical rhetoric, sometimes with a simple rhythm, an ornamental197 design, repeated, turned upside down, combined in every conceivable way in a mechanical fashion. These symmetrical and twaddling constructions—classical, and neo-classical sonatas199 and symphonies—exasperated Christophe, who, at that time, was not very sensible of the beauty of order, and vast and well-conceived plans. That seemed to him to be rather masons' work than musicians'.
But he was no less severe with the romantics. It was a strange thing, and he was more surprised by it than anybody,—but no musicians irritated him more than those who had pretended to be—and had actually been—the most free, the most spontaneous, the least constructive,—those, who, like Schumann, had poured drop by drop, minute by minute, into their innumerable little works, their whole life. He was the more indignantly in revolt against them as he recognized in them his adolescent soul and all the follies201 that he had vowed202 to pluck out of it. In truth, the candid203 Schumann could not be taxed with falsity: he hardly ever said anything that he had not felt. But that was just it: his example made Christophe understand that the worst falsity in German art came into it not when the artists tried to express something which they had not felt, but rather when they tried to express the feelings which they did in fact feel—feelings which were false. Music is an implacable mirror of the soul. The more a German musician is naïve and in good faith, the more he displays the weaknesses of the German soul, its uncertain depths, its soft tenderness, its want of frankness, its rather sly idealism, its incapacity for seeing itself, for daring to come face to face with itself. That false idealism is the secret sore even of the greatest—of Wagner. As he read his works Christophe ground his teeth. Lohengrin seemed to him a blatant204 lie. He loathed205 the huxtering chivalry207, the hypocritical mummery, the hero without fear and without a heart, the incarnation of cold and selfish virtue208 admiring itself and most patently self-satisfied. He knew it too well, he had seen it in reality, the type of German Pharisee, foppish209, impeccable, and hard, bowing down before its own image, the divinity to which it has no scruple210 about sacrificing others. The Flying Dutchman overwhelmed him with its massive sentimentality and its gloomy boredom. The loves of the barbarous decadents211 of the Tetralogy were of a sickening staleness. Siegmund carrying off his sister sang a tenor212 drawing-room song. Siegfried and Brünnhilde, like respectable German married people, in the Götterdämmerung laid bare before each other, especially for the benefit of the audience, their pompous and voluble conjugal213 passion. Every sort of lie had arranged to meet in that work: false idealism, false Christianity, false Gothicism, false legend, false gods, false humans. Never did more monstrous215 convention appear than in that theater which was to upset all the conventions. Neither eyes, nor mind, nor heart could be deceived by it for a moment: if they were, then they must wish to be so.—They did wish to be so. Germany was delighted with that doting217, childish art, an art of brutes219 let loose, and mystic, namby-pamby little girls.
And Christophe could do nothing: as soon as he heard the music he was caught up like the others, more than the others, by the flood, and the diabolical220 will of the man who had let it loose. He laughed, and he trembled, and his cheeks burned, and he felt galloping221 armies rushing through him! And he thought that those who bore such storms within themselves might have all allowances made for them. What cries of joy he uttered when in the hallowed works which he could not read without trembling he felt once more his old emotion, ardent222 still, with nothing to tarnish223 the purity of what he loved! These were glorious relics224 that he saved from the wreck225. What happiness they gave him! It seemed to him that he had saved a part of himself. And was it not himself? These great Germans, against whom he revolted, were they not his blood, his flesh, his most precious life? He was only severe with them because he was severe with himself. Who loved them better than he? Who felt more than he the goodness of Schubert, the innocence226 of Haydn, the tenderness of Mozart, the great heroic heart of Beethoven? Who more often than he took refuge in the murmuring of the forests of Weber, and the cool shade of the cathedrals of John Sebastian, raising against the gray sky of the North, above the plains of Germany, their pile of stone, and their gigantic towers with their sun-tipped spires227?—But he suffered from their lies, and he could not forget them. He attributed them to the race, their greatness to themselves. He was wrong. Greatness and weaknesses belong equally to the race whose great, shifting thought flows like the greatest river of music and poetry at which Europe comes to drink.—And in what other people would he have found the simple purity which now made it possible for him to condemn179 it so harshly?
He had no notion of that. With the ingratitude228 of a spoiled child he turned against his mother the weapons which he had received from her. Later, later, he was to feel all that he owed to her, and how dear she was to him….
But he was in a phase of blind reaction against all the idols231 of his childhood. He was angry with himself and with them because he had believed in them absolutely and passionately—and it was well that it was so. There is an age in life when we must dare to be unjust, when we must make a clean sweep of all admiration232 and respect got at second-hand233, and deny everything—truth and untruth—everything which we have not of ourselves known for truth. Through education, and through everything that he sees and hears about him, a child absorbs so many lies and blind follies mixed with the essential verities234 of life, that the first duty of the adolescent who wishes to grow into a healthy man is to sacrifice everything.
Christophe was passing through that crisis of healthy disgust. His instinct was impelling235 him to eliminate from his life all the undigested elements which encumbered236 it.
First of all to go was that sickening sweet tenderness which sucked away the soul of Germany like a damp and moldy237 riverbed. Light! Light! A rough, dry wind which should sweep away the miasmas238 of the swamp, the misty239 staleness of the Lieder, Liedchen, Liedlein, as numerous as drops of rain in which inexhaustibly the Germanic Gemüt is poured forth: the countless240 things like Sehnsucht (Desire), Heimweh (Homesickness), Aufschwung (Soaring), Trage (A question), Warum? (Why?), an den1 Mond (To the Moon), an die Sterne (To the Stars), an die Nachtigall (To the Nightingale), an den Frühling (To Spring), an den Sonnenschein (To Sunshine): like Frühlingslied (Spring Song), Frühlingslust (Delights of Spring), Frühlingsgruss (Hail to the Spring), Frülingsfahrt (A Spring Journey), Frülingsnacht (A Spring Night), Frühlingsbotschaft (The Message of Spring): like Stimme der Liebe (The Voice of Love), Sprache der Liebe (The Language of Love), Trauer der Liebe (Love's Sorrow), Geist der Liebe (The Spirit of Love), Fülle der Liebe (The Fullness of Love): like Blumenlied (The Song of the Flowers), Blumenbrief (The Letter of the Flowers), Blumengruss (Flowers' Greeting): like Herzeleid (Heart Pangs), Mein Herz ist schwer (My Heart is Heavy), Mein Herz ist betrübt (My Heart is Troubled), Mein Aug' ist trüb (My Eye is Heavy): like the candid and silly dialogues with the Röselein (The Little Rose), with the brook241, with the turtle dove, with the lark242: like those idiotic243 questions: "If the briar could have no thorns?"—"Is an old husband like a lark who has built a nest?"—"Is she newly plighted244?": the whole deluge245 of stale tenderness, stale emotion, stale melancholy, stale poetry…. How many lovely things profaned246, rare things, used in season or out! For the worst of it was that it was all useless: a habit of undressing their hearts in public, a fond and foolish propensity248 of the honest people of Germany for plunging249 loudly into confidences. With nothing to say they were always talking! Would their chatter188 never cease?—As well bid frogs in a pond be silent.
It was in the expression of love that Christophe was most rawly conscious of untruth: for he was in a position to compare it with the reality. The conventional love songs, lacrymose and proper, contained nothing like the desires of man or the heart of woman. And yet the people who had written them must have loved at least once in their lives! Was it possible that they could have loved like that? No, no, they had lied, as they always did, they had lied to themselves: they had tried to idealize themselves…. Idealism! That meant that they were afraid of looking at life squarely, were incapable250 of seeing things like a man, as they are.—Everywhere the same timidity, the same lack of manly251 frankness. Everywhere the same chilly252 enthusiasm, the same pompous lying solemnity, in their patriotism253, in their drinking, in their religion. The Trinklieder (Drinking Songs) were prosopopeia to wine and the bowl: "Du, herrlich Glas …" ("Thou, noble glass …"). Faith—the one thing in the world which should be spontaneous, springing from the soul like an unexpected sudden stream—was a manufactured article, a commodity of trade. Their patriotic254 songs were made for docile255 flocks of sheep basking256 in unison257…. Shout, then!—What! Must you go on lying—"idealizing"—till you are surfeited, till it brings you to slaughter258 and madness!…
Christophe ended by hating all idealism. He preferred frank brutality259 to such lying. But at heart he was more of an idealist than the rest, and he had not—he could not have—any more real enemies than the brutal260 realists whom he thought he preferred.
He was blinded by passion. He was frozen by the mist, the anæmic lying, "the sunless phantom261 Ideas." With his whole being he reached upwards262 to the sun. In his youthful contempt for the hypocrisy with which he was surrounded, or for what he took to be hypocrisy, he did not see the high, practical wisdom of the race which little by little had built up for itself its grandiose263 idealism in order to suppress its savage264 instincts, or to turn them to account. Not arbitrary reasons, not moral and religious codes, not legislators and statesmen, priests and philosophers, transform the souls of peoples and often impose upon them a new nature: but centuries of misfortune and experience, which forge the life of peoples who have the will to live.
And yet Christophe went on composing: and his compositions were not examples of the faults which he found in others. In him creation was an irresistible265 necessity which would not submit to the rules which his intelligence laid down for it. No man creates from reason, but from necessity.—It is not enough to have recognized the untruth and affectation inherent in the majority of the feelings to avoid falling into them: long and painful endeavor is necessary: nothing is more difficult than to be absolutely true in modern society with its crushing heritage of indolent habits handed down through generations. It is especially difficult for those people, those nations who are possessed266 by an indiscreet mania267 for letting their hearts speak—for making them speak—unceasingly, when most generally it had much better have been silent.
Christophe's heart was very German in that: it had not yet learned the virtue of silence: and that virtue did not belong to his age. He had inherited from his father a need for talking, and talking loudly. He knew it and struggled against it: bat the conflict paralyzed part of his forces.—And he had another gift of heredity, no less burdensome, which had come to him from his grandfather: an extraordinary difficulty—in expressing himself exactly.—He was the son of a virtuoso268. He was conscious of the dangerous attraction of virtuosity: a physical pleasure, the pleasure of skill, of agility269, of satisfied muscular activity, the pleasure of conquering, of dazzling, of enthralling270 in his own person the many-headed audience: an excusable pleasure, in a young man almost an innocent pleasure, though none the less destructive of art and soul: Christophe knew it: it was in his blood: he despised it, but all the same he yielded to it.
And so, torn between the instincts of his race and those of his genius, weighed down by the burden of a parasitical271 past, which covered him with a crust that he could not break through, he floundered along, and was much nearer than he thought to all that he shunned272 and banned. All his compositions were a mixture of truth and turgidness, of lucid273 strength and faltering274 stupidity. It was only in rare moments that his personality could pierce the casing of the dead personality which hampered275 his movements.
He was alone. He had no guide to help him out of the mire276. When he thought he was out of it he slipped back again. He went blindly on, wasting his time and strength in futile277 efforts. He was spared no trial: and in the disorder of his creative striving he never knew what was of greatest worth in what he created. He tied himself up in absurd projects, symphonic poems, which pretended to philosophy and were of monstrous dimensions. He was too sincere to be able to hold to them for long together: and he would discard them in disgust before he had stretched out a single movement. Or he would set out to translate into overtures278 the most inaccessible279 works of poetry. Then he would flounder about in a domain280 which was not his own. When he drew up scenarios281 for himself—(for he stuck at nothing)—they were idiotic: and when he attacked the great works of Goethe, Hebbel, Kleist, or Shakespeare, he understood them all wrong. It was not want of intelligence but want of the critical spirit: he could not yet understand others, he was too much taken up with himself: he found himself everywhere with his naïve and turgid soul.
But besides these monsters who were not really begotten282, he wrote a quantity of small pieces, which were the immediate283 expression of passing emotions—the most eternal of all: musical thoughts, Lieder. In this as in other things he was in passionate reaction against current practices. He would take up the most famous poems, already set to music, and was impertinent enough to try to treat them differently and with greater truth than Schumann and Schubert. Sometimes he would try to give to the poetic284 figures of Goethe—to Mignon, the Harpist in Wilhelm Meister, their individual character, exact and changing. Sometimes he would tackle certain love songs which the weakness of the artists and the dullness of the audience in tacit agreement had clothed about with sickly sentimentality: and he would unclothe them: he would restore to them their rough, crude sensuality. In a word, he set out to make passions and people live for themselves and not to serve as toys for German families seeking an easy emotionalism on Sundays when they sat about in some Biergarten.
But generally he would find the poets, even the greatest of them, too literary: and he would select the simplest texts for preference: texts of old Lieder, jolly old songs, which he had read perhaps in some improving work: he would take care not to preserve their choral character: he would treat them with a fine, lively, and altogether lay audacity285. Or he would take words from the Gospel, or proverbs, sometimes even words heard by chance, scraps286 of dialogues of the people, children's thoughts: words often awkward and prosaic287 in which there was only pure feeling. With them he was at his ease, and he would reach a depth with them which was not in his other compositions, a depth which he himself never suspected.
Good or bad, more often bad than good, his works as a whole had abounding288 vitality289. They were not altogether new: far from it. Christophe was often banal290, through his very sincerity291: he repeated sometimes forms already used because they exactly rendered his thought, because he also felt in that way and not otherwise. Nothing would have induced him to try to be original: it seemed to him that a man must be very commonplace to burden himself with such an idea. He tried to be himself, to say what he felt, without worrying as to whether what he said had been said before him or not. He took a pride in believing that it was the best way of being original and that Christophe had only been and only would be alive once. With the magnificent impudence292 of youth, nothing seemed to him to have been done before: and everything seemed to him to be left for doing—or for doing again. And the feeling of this inward fullness of life, of a life stretching endless before him, brought him to a state of exuberant293 and rather indiscreet happiness. He was perpetually in a state of jubilation294, which had no need of joy: it could adapt itself to sorrow: its source overflowed with life, was, in its strength, mother of all happiness and virtue. To live, to live too much!… A man who does not feel within himself this intoxication of strength, this jubilation in living—even in the depths of misery295,—is not an artist. That is the touchstone. True greatness is shown in this power of rejoicing through joy and sorrow. A Mendelssohn or a Brahms, gods of the mists of October, and of fine rain, have never known the divine power.
Christophe was conscious of it: and he showed his joy simply, impudently296. He saw no harm in it, he only asked to share it with others. He did not see how such joy hurts the majority of men, who never can possess it and are always envious297 of it. For the rest he never bothered about pleasing or displeasing298: he was sure of himself, and nothing seemed to him simpler than to communicate his conviction to others,—to conquer. Instinctively299 he compared his riches with the general poverty of the makers300 of music: and he thought that it would be very easy to make his superiority recognized. Too easy, even. He had only to show himself.
He showed himself.
They were waiting for him.
Christophe had made no secret of his feelings. Since he had become aware of German Pharisaism, which refuses to see things as they are, he had made it a law for himself that he should be absolutely, continually, uncompromisingly sincere in everything without regard for anything or anybody or himself. And as he could do nothing without going to extremes, he was extravagant in his sincerity: he would say outrageous301 things and scandalize people a thousand times less naïve than himself. He never dreamed that it might annoy them. When he realized the idiocy302 of some hallowed composition he would make haste to impart his discovery to everybody he encountered: musicians of the orchestra, or amateurs of his acquaintance. He would pronounce the most absurd judgments303 with a beaming face. At first no one took him seriously: they laughed at his freaks. But it was not long before they found that he was always reverting304 to them, insisting on them in a way that was really bad taste. It became evident that Christophe believed in his paradoxes305: and they became less amusing. He was a nuisance: at concerts he would make ironic306 remarks in a loud voice, or would express his scorn for the glorious masters in no veiled fashion wherever he might be.
Everything passed from mouth to mouth in the little town: not a word was lost. People were already affronted308 by his conduct during the past year. They had not forgotten the scandalous fashion in which he had shown himself abroad with Ada and the troublous times of the sequel. He had forgotten, it himself: one day wiped out another, and he was very different from what he had been two months before. But others had not forgotten: those who, in all small towns, take upon themselves scrupulously310 to note down all the faults, all the imperfections, all the sad, ugly, and unpleasant happenings concerning their neighbors, so that nothing is ever forgotten. Christophe's new extravagances were naturally set, side by side with his former indiscretions, in the scroll311. The former explained the latter. The outraged312 feelings of offended morality were now bolstered313 up by those of scandalized good taste. The kindliest of them said:
"He is trying to be particular."
But most alleged314:
"Total verrückt!" (Absolutely mad.)
An opinion no less severe and even more dangerous was beginning to find currency—an opinion assured of success by reason of its illustrious origin: it was said that, at the Palace, whither Christophe still went upon his official duties, he had had the bad taste in conversation with the Grand Duke himself, with revolting lack of decency315, to give vent216 to his ideas concerning the illustrious masters: it was said that he had called Mendelssohn's Elijah "a clerical humbug's paternoster," and he had called certain Lieder of Schumann "Backfisch Musik": and that in the face of the declared preference of the august Princess for those works! The Grand Duke had cut short his impertinences by saying dryly:
"To hear you, sir, one would doubt your being a German." This vengeful utterance316, coming from so lofty an eminence317, reached the lowest depths: and everybody who thought he had reason to be annoyed with Christophe, either for his success, or for some more personal if not more cogent318 reason, did not fail to call to mind that he was not in fact pure German. His father's family, it was remembered, came originally from Belgium. It was not surprising, therefore, that this immigrant should decry319 the national glories. That explained everything and German vanity found reasons therein for greater self-esteem, and at the same time for despising its adversary320.
Christophe himself most substantially fed this Platonic321 vengeance322. It is very imprudent to criticise324 others when you are yourself on the point of challenging criticism. A cleverer or less frank artist would have shown more modesty325 and more respect for his predecessors326. But Christophe could see no reason for hiding his contempt for mediocrity or his joy in his own strength, and his joy was shown in no temperate327 fashion. Although from childhood Christophe had been turned in upon himself for want of any creature to confide172 in, of late he had come by a need of expansiveness. He had too much joy for himself: his breast was too small to contain it: he would have burst if he had not shared his delight. Failing a friend, he had confided328 in his colleague in the orchestra, the second Kapellmeister, Siegmund Ochs, a young Wurtemberger, a good fellow, though crafty329, who showed him an effusive330 deference331. Christophe did not distrust him: and, even if he had, how could it have occurred to him that it might be harmful to confide his joy to one who did not care, or even to an enemy? Ought they not rather to be grateful to him? Was it not for them also that he was working? He brought happiness for all, friends and enemies alike.—He had no idea that there is nothing more difficult than to make men accept a new happiness: they almost prefer their old misery: they need food that has been masticated332 for ages. But what is most intolerable to them is the thought that they owe such happiness to another. They cannot forgive that offense333 until there is no way of evading334 it: and in any case, they do contrive335 to make the giver pay dearly for it.
There were, then, a thousand reasons why Christophe's confidences should not be kindly received by anybody. But there were a thousand and one reasons why they should not be acceptable to Siegmund Ochs. The first Kapellmeister, Tobias Pfeiffer, was on the point of retiring: and, in spite of his youth, Christophe had every chance of succeeding him. Ochs was too good a German not to recognize that Christophe was worthy336 of the position, since the Court was on his side. But he had too good an opinion of himself not to believe that he would have been more worthy had the Court known him better. And so he received Christophe's effusions with a strange smile when, he arrived at the theater in the morning with a face that he tried hard to make serious, though it beamed in spite of himself.
"Well?" he would say slyly as he came up to him, "another masterpiece?"
Christophe would take his arm.
"Ah! my friend. It is the best of all … If you could hear it!… Devil take me, it is too beautiful! There has never been anything like it. God help the poor audience! They will only long for one thing when they have heard it: to die."
His words did not fall upon deaf ears. Instead of smiling, or of chaffing Christophe about his childish enthusiasm—he would have been the first to laugh at it and beg pardon if he had been made to feel the absurdity of it—Ochs went into ironic ecstasies: he drew Christophe on to further enormities: and when he left him made haste to repeat them all, making them even more grotesque. The little circle of musicians chuckled337 over them: and every one was impatient for the opportunity of judging the unhappy compositions.—They were all judged beforehand.
At last they appeared—Christophe had chosen from the better of his works an overture to the Judith of Hebbel, the savage energy of which had attracted him, in his reaction against German atony, although he was beginning to lose his taste for it, knowing intuitively the unnaturalness339 of such assumption of genius, always and at all costs. He had added a symphony which bore the bombastic340 title of the Basle Boecklin, "The Dream of Life," and the motto: "Vita somnium breve." A song-cycle completed the programme, with a few classical works, and a Festmarsch by Ochs, which Christophe had kindly offered to include in his concert, though he knew it to be mediocre341.
Nothing much happened during the rehearsals343. Although the orchestra understood absolutely nothing of the composition it was playing and everybody was privately344 disconcerted by the oddities of the new music, they had no time to form an opinion: they were not capable of doing so until the public had pronounced on it. Besides, Christophe's confidence imposed on the artists, who, like every good German orchestra, were docile and disciplined. His only difficulties were with the singer. She was the blue lady of the Townhalle concert. She was famous through Germany: the domestic creature sang Brünnhilde Kundry at Dresden and Bayreuth with undoubted lung-power. But if in the Wagnerian school she had learned the art of which that school is justly proud, the art of good articulation345, of projecting the consonants346 through space, and of battering347 the gaping audience with the vowels348 as with a club, she had not learned—designedly—the art of being natural. She provided for every word: everything was accentuated349: the syllables351 moved with leaden feet, and there was a tragedy in every sentence. Christophe implored352 her to moderate her dramatic power a little. She tried at first graciously enough: but her natural heaviness and her need for letting her voice go carried her away. Christophe became nervous. He told the respectable lady that he had tried to make human beings speak with his speaking-trumpet353 and not the dragon Fafner. She took his insolence354 in bad part—naturally. She said that, thank Heaven! she knew what singing was, and that she had had the honor of interpreting the Lieder of Maestro Brahms, in the presence of that great man, and that he had never tired of hearing her.
"So much the worse! So much the worse!" cried Christophe.
She asked him with a haughty355 smile to be kind enough to explain the meaning of his energetic remark. He replied that never in his life had Brahms known what it was to be natural, that his eulogies356 were the worst possible censure357, and that although he—Christophe—was not very polite, as she had justly observed, never would he have gone so far as to say anything so unpleasant.
The argument went on in this fashion: and the lady insisted on singing in her own way, with heavy pathos358 and melodramatic effects—until one day when Christophe declared coldly that he saw the truth: it was her nature and nothing could change it: but since the Lieder could not be sung properly, they should not be sung at all: he withdrew them from the programme.—It was on the eve of the concert and they were counting on the Lieder: she had talked about them: she was musician enough to appreciate certain of their qualities: Christophe insulted her: and as she was not sure that the morrow's concert would not set the seal on the young man's fame, she did not wish to quarrel with a rising star. She gave way suddenly: and during the last rehearsal342 she submitted docilely359 to all Christophe's wishes. But she had made up her mind—at the concert—to have her own way.
The day came. Christophe had no anxiety. He was too full of his music to be able to judge it. He realized that some of his works in certain places bordered on the ridiculous. But what did that matter? Nothing great can be written without touching360 the ridiculous. To reach the heart of things it is necessary to dare human respect, politeness, modesty, the timidity of social lies under which the heart is stifled. If nobody is to be affronted and success attained361, a man must be resigned all his life to remain bound by convention and to give to second-rate people the second-rate truth, mitigated362, diluted363, which they are capable of receiving: he must dwell in prison all his life. A man is great only when he has set his foot on such anxieties. Christophe trampled364 them underfoot. Let them hiss365 him: he was sure of not leaving them indifferent. He conjured366 up the faces that certain people of his acquaintance would make as they heard certain rather bold passages. He expected bitter criticism: he smiled at it already. In any case they would have to be blind—or deaf—to deny that there was force in it—pleasant or otherwise, what did it matter?—Pleasant! Pleasant!… Force! That is enough. Let it go its way, and bear all before it, like the Rhine!…
He had one setback367. The Grand Duke did not come. The royal box was only occupied by Court people, a few ladies-in-waiting. Christophe was irritated by it. He thought: "The fool is cross with me. He does not know what to think of my work: he is afraid of compromising himself." He shrugged368 his shoulders, pretending not to be put out by such idiocy. Others paid more attention to it: it was the first lesson for him, a menace of his future.
The public had not shown much more interest than the Grand Duke: quite a third of the hall was empty. Christophe could not help thinking bitterly of the crowded halls at his concerts when he was a child. He would not have been surprised by the change if he had had more experience: it would have seemed natural to him that there were fewer people come to hear him when he made good music than when he made bad: for it is not music but the musician in which the greater part of the public is interested: and it is obvious that a musician who is a man and like everybody else is much less interesting than a musician in a child's little trowsers or short frock, who tickles369 sentimentality or amuses idleness.
After waiting in vain for the hall to fill, Christophe decided370 to begin. He tried to pretend that it was better so, saying, "A few friends but good."—His optimism did not last long.
His pieces were played in silence.—There is a silence in an audience which seems big and overflowing371 with love. But there was nothing in this. Nothing. Utter sleep. Blankness. Every phrase seemed to drop into depths of indifference372. With his back turned to the audience, busy with his orchestra, Christophe was fully114 aware of everything that was happening in the hall, with those inner antennæ which every true musician is endowed, so that he knows whether what he is playing is waking an echo in the hearts about him. He went on conducting and growing excited while he was frozen by the cold mist of boredom rising from the stalls and the boxes behind him.
At last the overture was ended: and the audience applauded. It applauded coldly, politely, and was then silent. Christophe would rather have had them hoot…. A hiss! One hiss! Anything to give a sign of life, or at least of reaction against his work!… Nothing.—He looked at the audience. The people were looking at each other, each trying to find out what the other thought. They did not succeed and relapsed into indifference.
The music went on. The symphony was played.—Christophe found it hard to go on to the end. Several times he was on the point of throwing down his baton373 and running away. Their apathy374 overtook him: at last he could not understand what he was conducting: he could not breathe: he felt that he was falling into fathomless375 boredom. There was not even the whispered ironic comment which he had anticipated at certain passages: the audience were reading their programmes. Christophe heard the pages turned all together with a dry rustling376: and then, once more there was silence until the last chord, when the same polite applause showed that they had not understood that the symphony was finished.—And yet there were four pairs of hands went on clapping when the others had finished: but they awoke no echo, and stopped ashamed: that made the emptiness seem more empty, and the little incident served to show the audience how bored it had been.
Christophe took a seat in the middle of the orchestra: he dared not look to right or left. He wanted to cry: and at the same time he was quivering with rage. He was fain to get up and shout at them: "You bore me! Ah! How you bore me! I cannot bear it!… Go away! Go away, all of you!…"
The audience woke up a little: they were expecting the singer,—they were accustomed to applauding her. In that ocean of new music in which they were drifting without a compass, she at least was sure, a known land, and a solid, in which there was no danger of being lost. Christophe divined their thoughts exactly, and he laughed bitterly. The singer was no less conscious of the expectancy of the audience: Christophe saw that in her regal airs when he came and told her that it was her turn to appear. They looked at each other inimically. Instead of offering her his arm, Christophe thrust his hands into his pockets and let her go on alone. Furious and out of countenance377 she passed him. He followed her with a bored expression. As soon as she appeared the audience gave her an ovation378: that made everybody happier: every face brightened, the audience grew interested, and glasses were brought into play. Certain of her power she tackled the Lieder, in her own way, of course, and absolutely disregarded Christophe's remarks of the evening before. Christophe, who was accompanying her, went pale. He had foreseen her rebellion. At the first change that she made he tapped on the piano and said angrily:
She went on. He whispered behind her back in a low voice of fury:
"No! No! Not like that!… Not that!"
Unnerved by his fierce growls379, which the audience could not hear, though the orchestra caught every syllable350, she stuck to it, dragging her notes, making pauses like organ stops. He paid no heed380 to them and went ahead: in the end they got out of time. The audience did not notice it: for some time they had been saying that Christophe's music was not made to seem pleasant or right to the ear: but Christophe, who was not of that opinion, was making lunatic grimaces381: and at last he exploded. He stopped short in the middle of a bar:
"Stop," he shouted.
She was carried on by her own impetus382 for half a bar and then stopped:
"That's enough," he said dryly.
There was a moment of amazement in the audience. After a few seconds he said icily:
"Begin again!"
She looked at him in stupefaction: her hands trembled: she thought for a moment of throwing his book at his head: afterwards she did not understand how it was that she did not do so. But she was overwhelmed by Christophe's authority and his unanswerable tone of voice: she began again. She sang the song-cycle, without changing one shade of meaning, or a single movement: for she felt that he would spare her nothing: and she shuddered383 at the thought of a fresh insult.
When she had finished the audience recalled her frantically384. They were not applauding the Lieder—(they would have applauded just the same if she had sung any others)—but the famous singer who had grown old in harness: they knew that they could safely admire her. Besides, they wanted to make up to her for the insult she had just received. They were not quite sure, but they did vaguely385 understand that the singer had made a mistake: and they thought it indecent of Christophe to call their attention to it. They encored the songs. But Christophe shut the piano firmly.
The singer did not notice his insolence: she was too much upset to think of singing again. She left the stage hurriedly and shut herself up in her box: and then for a quarter of an hour she relieved her heart of the flood of wrath386 and rage that was pent up in it: a nervous attack, a deluge of tears, indignant outcries and imprecations against Christophe,—she omitted nothing. Her cries of anger could be heard through the closed door. Those of her friends who had made their way there told everybody when they left that Christophe had behaved like a cad. Opinion travels quickly in a concert hall. And so when Christophe went to his desk for the last piece of music the audience was stormy. But it was not his composition: it was the Festmarsch by Ochs, which Christophe had kindly included in his programme. The audience—who were quite at their ease with the dull music—found a very simple method of displaying their disapproval387 of Christophe without going so far as to hiss him: they acclaimed388 Ochs ostentatiously, recalled the composer two or three times, and he appeared readily. And that was the end of the concert.
The Grand Duke and everybody at the Court—the bored, gossiping little provincial389 town—lost no detail of what had happened. The papers which were friendly towards the singer made no allusion390 to the incident: but they all agreed in exalting391 her art while they only mentioned the titles of the Lieder which she had sung. They published only a few lines about Christophe's other compositions, and they all said almost the same things: "… Knowledge of counterpoint. Complicated writing. Lack of inspiration. No melody. Written with the head, not with the heart. Want of sincerity. Trying to be original…." Followed a paragraph on true originality392, that of the masters who are dead and buried, Mozart, Beethoven, Loewe, Schubert, Brahms, "those who are original without thinking of it."—Then by a natural transition they passed to the revival393 at the Grand Ducal Theater of the Nachtlager von Granada of Konradin Kreutzer: a long account was given of "the delicious music, as fresh and jolly as when it was first written."
Christophe's compositions met with absolute and astonished lack of comprehension from the most kindly disposed critics: veiled hostility394 from those who did not like him, and were arming themselves for later ventures: and from the general public, guided by neither friendly nor hostile critics, silence. Left to its own thoughts the general public does not think at all: that goes without saying.
Christophe was bowled over.
And yet there was nothing surprising in his defeat. There were reasons, three to one, why his compositions should not please. They were immature395. They were, secondly396, too advanced to be understood at once. And, lastly, people were only too glad to give a lesson to the impertinent youngster.—But Christophe was not cool-headed enough to admit that his reverse was legitimate397. He had none of that serenity398 which the true artist gains from the mournful experience of long misunderstanding at the hands of men and their incurable399 stupidity. His naïve confidence in the public and in success which he thought he could easily gain because he deserved it, crumbled400 away. He would have thought it natural to have enemies. But what staggered him was to find that he had not a single friend. Those on whom he had counted, those who hitherto had seemed to be interested in everything that he wrote, had not given him a single word of encouragement since the concert. He tried to probe them: they took refuge behind vague words. He insisted, he wanted to know what they really thought: the most sincere of them referred back to his former works, his foolish early efforts.—More than once in his life he was to hear his new works condemned by comparison, with the older ones,—and that by the same people who, a few years before, had condemned his older works when they were new: that is the usual ordering of these things. Christophe did not like it: he exclaimed loudly. If people did not like him, well and good: he accepted that: it even pleased him since he could not be friends with everybody. But that people should pretend to be fond of him and not allow him to grow up, that they should try to force him all his life to remain a child, was beyond the pale! What is good at twelve is not good at twenty: and he hoped not to stay at that, but to change and to go on changing always…. These idiots who tried to stop life!… What was interesting in his childish compositions was not their childishness and silliness, but the force in them hungering for the future. And they were trying to kill his future!… No, they had never understood what he was, they had never loved him, never then or now: they only loved the weakness and vulgarity in him, everything that he had in common with others, and not himself, not what he really was: their friendship was a misunderstanding….
He was exaggerating, perhaps. It often happens with quite nice people who are incapable of liking401 new work which they sincerely love when it is twenty years old. New life smacks402 too strong for their weak senses—the scent200 of it must evaporate in the winds of Time. A work of art only becomes intelligible to them when it is crusted over with the dust of years.
But Christophe could not admit of not being understood when he was present and of being understood when he was past. He preferred to think that he was not understood at all, in any case, even. And he raged against it. He was foolish enough to want to make himself understood, to explain himself, to argue. Although no good purpose was served thereby403: he would have had to reform the taste of his time. But he was afraid of nothing. He was determined404 by hook or by crook405 to clean up German taste. But it was utterly406 impossible: he could not convince anybody by means of conversation, in which he found it difficult to find words, and expressed himself with an excess of violence about the great musicians and even about the men to whom he was talking: he only succeeded in making a few more enemies. He would have had to prepare his ideas beforehand, and then to force the public to hear him….
And just then, at the appointed hour, his star—his evil star—gave him the means of doing so.
He was sitting in the restaurant of the theater in a group of musicians belonging to the orchestra whom he was scandalizing by his artistic judgments. They were not all of the same opinion: but they were all ruffled407 by the freedom of his language. Old Krause, the alto, a good fellow and a good musician, who sincerely loved Christophe, tried to turn the conversation: he coughed, then looked out for an opportunity of making a pun. But Christophe did not hear him: he went on: and Krause mourned and thought:
"What makes him say such things? God bless him! You can think these things: but you must not say them."
The odd thing was that he also thought "these things": at least, he had a glimmering408 of them, and Christophe's words roused many doubts in him: but he had not the courage to confess it, or ope............
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