|Thomas Mann, music lover|
At some point I gathered my courage and opened it up, though, and was immediately captivated. I'm fairly certain that had I read this novel as an undergraduate, I would have elected to become a Thomas Mann scholar. Mann manages to speak about music, the music I've immersed myself in as a violist/chamber musician/classical musician, in a way that ties together the personal, the political and the philosophical while spinning a harrowing yarn of choices gone wrong.
Of course, our hero strikes the Faustian bargain: twenty-four years of unheralded compositional brilliance in exchange for his soul. I don't feel a spoiler alert is required here.
Tomes have been written analyzing this work, and this blog post is not going to pretend to be a scholarly contribution.
There is, however, an observation that I've been wanting to make.
One facet of the book focuses on the isolation of the creative artist in Western culture. Beethoven, Goethe, Schoenberg and van Gogh would all be fine examples of this. The individual generative artist who lives apart from society to a certain extent, imagining worlds, in touch with the muse, but a tortured soul regarded as strange and "other" by his neighbors.
There is a wonderful diatribe in Dr. Faustus about how music became divorced from tradition over the years culminating in late 19th/early 20th century Europe, particularly in Germany. A secondary character, a musicologist, expounds on how the "cult", meaning our deep religious, physical, social sense of connection through collective ritual and celebration was gradually erased from "culture" - rendering the musical arts an experience associated with thought, aesthetics, philosophy and high-mindedness (whatever that is!). The musicologist bemoans not only the loss of deep-rooted connection to a common experience, but also the tragedy of the individual composer's experience - cast away on his own deserted island of creativity.
Cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger composed the deeply moving score to Herzog's film. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is worth listening to as much as being watched. Here's about fifteen minutes of live performance from the score. This music sounds as modern as it does ancient.