Rilke and music
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The impact of the visual arts upon Rilke's work is obvious and indisputable; it has been the subject of much detailed discussion and study and is now more or less taken for granted by Rilke's critics. This emphasis on the visual arts can, in part, be explained by the amount of material readily available: the Worpswede and Rodin monographs, for example, or the highly important Cezanne letters to Clara Rilke. Rilke did, after all, marry a sculptor and act for a while as secretary to Rodin. Perhaps because of this clearly acknowledged debt, the importance of music in Rilke's life and work has been largely overlooked, if not expressly denied. The early writers were fond of regarding Rilke as a Slav musician-poet; but more recent critics have, without more ado, proclaimed that Rilke was not in the least musical and that music never in any way influenced his poetry. One good example here is K.A.J. Batterby, the author of the most recent English study of Rilke, Rilke and France. K.A.J. Batterby states repeatedly that Rilke, unlike the French symbolists, whose writings meant so much to him, was interested exclusively in the representational arts; and, by wisely keeping away from music, he thus avoided the pitfall into which Mallarme fell. When, however, he comes to discuss the late verse, Batterby, like many other writers, realizes that music cannot be entirely disregarded; he therefore gets round the problem by explaining that Rilke, under the influence of Valery, who had studied the Symbolists' preoccupation with music, was suddenly enabled to make use of the true 'music' of his native German language. Those critics who have mentioned Rilke's contact with music have tended to assume that the only decisive experience was in 1914, the year of Rilke's meeting with Frau von Hattingberg, the reason for this being, presumably, the publication of her book Rilke und Benvenuta (which describes their meeting in that year), and, later, of her correspondence with Rilke. Such critics were therefore surprised to find Rilke expressing a marked interest in music in his letter of 1912 about the French scholar and musicologist, Fabre d'Olivet. Eudo C. Mason, however, has hinted that music helped to influence the changes of style in Rilke's poetry after the period of the Neue Gedichte and Malte Laurids Brigge, in the same way as the visual arts effected the changes of style between the StundenBuch and the Neue Gedichte. Indeed, Rilke himself indicated this. There has been only one published study of Rilke's relationship with music: Clara Magr's Rainer Maria Rilke und die Musik. As the author herself states, this work is aimed, not at the Rilke-scholars, but at the Rilke-lovers; she therefore devotes a considerable amount of space to the external details of his life, and quotes all the poems on music in full. She is chiefly concerned to bring together chronologically what she regards as all the available material, without subjecting it to detailed scrutiny. Quite rightly, she stresses the dispersed and fragmentary state of the available material - doubtless the main reason why no attempt at a more minute study of the subject has been made. Clara Magr deals almost exclusively with Rilke's practical attitude to actual music. It is, however, his theoretical idea of music that is most important. His idea of music fits a symbol, and the frequent fluctuations and refinements of that idea played a significant part in his theory of art in general and in the development of the language of his late poetry in particular: the 'Bezug' that prevails in the mature verse certainly owes something to his thoughts on musical form. Each of the two parts of the Neue Gedichte begins, significantly, with a poem to Apollo, god of the visual arts; the Orpheus of the Sonette is at once the god of poetry and of music. This thesis aims at showing that Rilke's contact with music, though not so marked, not so immediately fruitful as his contact with the representational arts, was, nevertheless, highly significant. By doing so, it touches upon common misconceptions concerning the relationship between poetry and music, misconceptions which have caused some critics to see the late verse as 'musical', others as decidedly 'unmusical', and hopes to illuminate Rilke's own idea of the relationship between the two arts.