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  • Rob Will

Klimt, Mahler, Nietzche and Anti-Semitism Letter To a Friend In France

Compañero Henri:

An embrace of Strength and Solidarity! Our most excellent Austrian compañero Heinz shared with me the song by Gustave Mahler you recently posted. I love Mahler. I believe it was Richard Strauss who said that no other composer had so eloquently expressed the human condition through music the way that Mahler did. Are you familiar with the Austrian artist Gustave Klimt? I adore Klimt with a mad passion! Klimt actually painted Mahler into one of his pieces—he is the “Knight” in Klimt’sBeethoven Frieze! There’s quite an interesting story behind this. As part of a Vienna Secession exhibition —the art movement Klimt was a part of—which included Max Klinger’s Monument To Beethoven, Klimt did his Beethoven Frieze. At the time Gustave Mahler was the director of the Vienna Opera and this was highly “controversial” because Mahler was Jewish and anti-Semitism permeated through the realm of the Austrian intelligentsia of the day like some putrid infectious disease. (I find anti-Semitism particularly abhorrent, by the way.)

Remember, at the time the intellectual elites of the German speaking world—and really Europe as a whole—were actually having quite obscene debates which centered around questions such as “Should Jews be allowed to teach at universities?” Can you imagine such a thing, Henri? Well, perhaps such sickness isn’t too hard to fathom—it wasn’t long ago that academics in the U.S. were debating such questions concerning black folks. And remember it was only about 10 years before the Secession exhibition when Nietzsche expressed his disgust with the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment amongst German “intellectuals.” I’m essentially in a war-zone Compañero and in such a situation my battle-axes stay ever-ready and ever-sharp. I do indeed keep my sharpening implements within reaching distance—I have my Nietzsche on my desk and I can’t resist sharing with you something he wrote to his sister, Elisabeth Förster – Nietzsche in 1887 that is very relevant to this discussion:

“You have committed one of the greatest stupidities—for yourself and for me! Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses a foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me again and again with ire or melancholy…It is a matter of honor with me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal in relation to anti-Semitism, namely, opposed to it, as I am in my writings. I have recently been persecuted with letters and Anti-Semitic Correspondence Sheets. My disgust with this party (which would like the benefit of my name only too well!) is as pronounced as possible, but the relation to Förster [Nietzsche’s sister’s husband], as well as the aftereffects of my former publisher, the anti-Semitic Schmeitzner, always brings the adherents of this disagreeable party back to the idea that I must belong to them after all. It arouses mistrust against my character, as if publicly I condemned something which I have favored secretly—and that I am unable to do anything against it, that the name of  Zarathustra is used in every Anti-Semitic Correspondence Sheet, has almost made me sick several times…”

Yes indeed anti-Semitism was terribly present in the German speaking world around the time of the 19th century. So, Gustave Mahler re-orchestrated the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth for wind and brass and actually conducted it with the Vienna Opera in front of Klinger’s statue and Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze on the opening day of the exhibit. Can you imagine Henri? The anti-Semites of the Germanic “intellectual” world are in an uproar because Mahler is going to perform a re-orchestration of their beloved Beethoven’s Ninth at the exhibition. A scandal! And what does Klimt do? What does this brilliant Paganini of the Viennese art scene who was constantly being denounced as “improper, too sensual,” “too unconventional” do? He actually paints Gustave Mahler into his Beethoven Frieze as a Knight in armor! In one of his last letters Nietzsche—in his typically brilliant sarcastic manner—remarked that he was “just out having all of the anti-Semites shot.” Indeed, Klimt unleashed a mighty war blow to the consciousness of the pompous anti-Semitic and traditionalist art critics of the day with his Beethoven's Frieze.

I love such things! I love historical examples of people challenging oppressive ideology (and actions!) through Art, Creativity and all forms of struggle. I live in this tradition. I thought that since you brought the text of the Mahler piece to my attention I would perhaps recommend a few pieces of music to you: Hayden’s symphony no.59, the Fire Symphony. I don’t believe I’ve written about this much but my art comes from visions I experience while meditating. The Cyclical Mindtrip paintings I did are manifestations of a particular form of depth meditation. At one point I was listening to Hayden’s Fire Symphony while working on the Cyclical Mindtrip I piece. While listening to the music I imagine a beautiful fire dance, a sensual dance, the flames licking the night sky reaching up to the stars, to the Cosmos. Check the symphony out Henri, it’s sensual yet playful and I think you might enjoy it.

Another piece of music I listened to while working on Cyclical Mindtrip I is“King Queen” by the Nels Cline Singers. It’s a kind of Jazz-Funk piece that is just brilliant. Well, Compañero, I could discuss music and art and such things all day, but there is much work to do. Because of where my case is at our organizing efforts must be stepped up and we must push forward with a renewed vigor. We must indeed seize the time. I’m hoping to gain more active support form France—Abondance de biens ne nuit pas!*—and I hope this is something you can help with. In the spirit of challenging the status quo, in the spirit of Free-Thought I’ll sign off with warm vibes of:

Peace, Strength & Solidarity


*English translation: There’s no harm in having too much.

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