Tag Archives: Johannes Brahms


by Ray Monk

"People nowadays think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them - that does not occur to them." 
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

Though Wittgenstein is widely regarded as the greatest and most influential philosopher of the twentieth century, there is an aspect of his thinking that has been largely ignored by much of the work that has been written about him and inspired by him, even though he himself thought it centrally important to everything he did. That is his opposition to scientism, the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge, all real understanding scientific understanding.
Continue reading

Schubert manuscripts and ‘acts of piety’: sourcing a Wittgenstein anecdote

by Sebastian Smallshaw

Music didn’t dominate Ludwig Wittgenstein’s thinking to the extent it did Theodor Adorno’s, but it was a significant preoccupation, and music appears persistently in Wittgenstein’s writings and correspondence as the subject of observations, aphorisms and analogies. One such musical reference, which Wittgenstein parenthesizes in his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough , alludes to an obscure episode in the ownership history of Schubert’s manuscript fragments:

‘Recall that after Schubert’s death his brother cut some of Schubert’s scores into small pieces and gave each piece, consisting of a few bars, to his favourite pupils. This act, as a sign of piety, is just as understandable to us as keeping the scores untouched, accessible to no one. And if Schubert’s brother had burned the scores, that too would be understandable as an act of piety.’

The Wittgenstein biographer Ray Monk asked me via Radmila Schweitzer, the General Secretary of the Wittgenstein Initiative, if this story was true, and where Wittgenstein might have heard it. A few recent studies have addressed Wittgenstein and matters of music – James K. Wright’s Schoenberg, Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle and Katrin Eggers’ Ludwig Wittgenstein als Musikphilosoph are two book-length examples – but nowhere does it seem that a source for this Schubert remark, minor footnote that it might be, has been proposed. As it happens, a trail that plausibly led Wittgenstein to this story can be pieced together without much difficulty.

The image above shows an autograph fragment of the song ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’ (D 531), one of Schubert’s most recognized Lieder, cut up exactly how Wittgenstein describes. The revised German edition of O. E. Deutsch’s catalogue of Schubert’s works offers the following information: ‘According to a note by E. Mandyczewski dated 15/6/1917, the autograph page had been cut up by Schubert’s half-brother Pater Hermann Schubert, whose initials appear on the original recto side, in order to give [the pieces] to some of his students as awards.’1)  Hermann was the ordained name of Anton Eduard Schubert (1826-1892), a popular Benedictine priest.

Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929) came to Vienna aged 18 from the eastern periphery of the Austro-Hungarian empire, studied music history at the Vienna Conservatory with illustrious names including Eduard Hanslick and Martin Gustav Nottebohm, and made his mark as a musician and scholar before being appointed archivist of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1887, a post he held until his death. D 531 was not the only fragment which came his way via Schubert’s relatives: in 1907 he prepared (for first publication) two song settings of Goethe, ‘Jägers Abendlied’ (D 215) and ‘Meeres Stille’ (D 216), for which autographs were presented to him by Anna Siegmund, the daughter of another half-brother of the composer, Andreas Schubert (1823-1893).

As the curator of Johannes Brahms’s estate, which remains to this day in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde archive, Mandyczewski was close to Brahms and is named in Max Kalbeck’s biography as one of the guests Brahms brought along to musical evenings at the palatial Wittgenstein residence on Vienna’s Alleegasse 2).  Mandyczewski must have established some rapport with the family on such occasions, and so much is suggested in a Wittgenstein-related letter written in 1913, some years after Brahms’s death, by the music theorist Heinrich Schenker 3).  At this time Schenker was in the middle of editing the last five piano sonatas of Beethoven, and due to his methodical working style (this Beethoven edition would become a major event in music editing) required multiple visits to the Wittgenstein house, which housed the autograph manuscript to one of the sonatas. In this 1913 letter to his publisher, Schenker writes vividly about his Alleegasse visits, getting rather grouchy in characteristic Viennese style about how fiercely the manuscript was guarded. Implied is that the Wittgenstein matriarch Leopoldine (fn. 11) would only allow supervised access, and on one of Schenker’s return visits he was overseen by Paul Wittgenstein. But on Schenker’s first visit the supervisor had been Mandyczewski, supplying not only specific manuscript-related business Mandyczewski had in the Alleegasse but also indicating he had the Wittgensteins’ presumably hard-earned trust in these matters.

Besides placing Mandyczewski among the Wittgensteins, sources also reveal that he mentioned his dealings with Schubert’s family and their keepsakes when in social company. That Mandyczewski actually told the story of the Schubert fragments to Brahms himself is documented quite satisfactorily in the foreword to the published correspondence between Brahms and the eminent surgeon Theodor Billroth 4).  Here, Otto Gottlieb-Billroth (Billroth’s son-in-law) addresses the key incidents which put strain on the close friendship between the two men, one of which was what Billroth did to honour Brahms’s dedication and gifting of the manuscript to the A minor string quartet (op. 52/II), which involved cutting out a fragment of handwriting from the title page and affixing it to a Brahms portrait which hung in his study. To Brahms, who cherished manuscript scores, it was vandalism, a viewpoint not shared by Billroth, who dismissed autograph collecting as ‘fetishism’. Gottlieb-Billroth proceeds: ‘Much later (in conversation about a Schubert manuscript, which Schubert’s brother had cut into pieces and distributed to various people as souvenirs) Brahms commented quite heatedly to Mandyczewski: “Now just think, Billroth also cut up my quartet, can you imagine! And yet must have known that I’m so fond of him that I’d copy out the entire quartet again if he so wished! And snip a piece out of that!”

Wittgenstein’s version of the story has taken on a life of its own and become far more discussed by philosophers than the source has been by Schubert scholars, and of course what Wittgenstein reads into it, with his observation about the instinctive intelligibility of ritual acts, is a different kind of insight to the textual commentary which goes into critical editions. The most interesting thing about tracing Wittgenstein’s source in this way is perhaps for the example it provides of the privileged social and cultural context – what Allan Janik writes of in these pages as Vienna’s ‘second society’ – from where his patchwork musical knowledge came.

Sebastian Smallshaw studied music at Cambridge University and lives and works in Vienna.

1)In the original German: ‘Das autographe Blatt hat nach einer Notiz E. Mandyczewskis vom 15.6.1917 bereits Schuberts Halbbruder Pater Hermann Schubert, dessen Initialen auf der ursprünglichen Vorderseiten stehen, zerschnitten, um sie einzelnen seiner Schüler als Auszeichnung zu schenken‘. Deutsch, O. E. (1978). Franz Schubert. Thematisches Verzeichnis seiner Werke in chronologischer Folge. Kassel: Bärenreiter, p.310.

2)Kalbeck, M. (1915). Johannes Brahms. Band 4. Berlin: Deutsche Brahms-Gesellschaft, p.507.

3)Handwritten letter from Heinrich Schenker to Emil Hertzka, dated 19th July 1913. Transcribed by Ian Bent on the Schenker Correspondence Project website, 2008: http://mt.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/schenker/correspondence/letter/wslb_167_7-19-13.html.

4)In the original German: ‘Noch viel später (im Gespräch über ein Schubert-Manuskript, das der Bruder Schuberts in Zettelchen zerschnitten und so an verschiedene Leute als Andenken verteilt hatte) äußerte sich Brahms ganz aufgeregt zu Mandyczewski: „Nu, denken Sie nur, auch Billroth hat mein Quartett zerschnitten, denken Sie! Und mußte doch wissen, daß ich ihn so lieb habe, daß ich ihm, wenn ich ihm damit einen Wunsch erfülle, auch das ganze Quartett noch einmal abschreibe! Und schneidet da ein Stück heraus!“’ Gottlieb-Billroth, O. ed. (1935). Billroth und Brahms im Briefwechsel. Berlin: Urban & Schwarzenberg, p.28.

An Exercise in Enlightenment: Why is the Wittgenstein Family of Interest to Us?

by Allan Janik

Answering this question involves reflecting upon the broader goals of the Initiative’s project. Our central interests involve casting light upon the crises and conflicts that are typical of the hugely complex nature of the problems in a globalized world. We seek to develop holistic perspectives on the issues that in one way or another tend to overwhelm citizens in democratic societies today. Ours is thus an exercise in enlightenment.

Vienna 1900, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, is particularly important to this project because the critical approach to modernity that developed around figures like Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Sigmund Freud, Robert Musil, to name just a few, has lost none of its relevance over the last hundred years. Indeed, the concept of reflective, self-critical Bildung that they advocated has become more important (and, if anything, rarer) in the meanwhile.

The culture of enlightenment that was part and parcel of Wittgenstein’s Vienna had a social and material basis that is an essential part of the story. This is where the family enters the picture. Focus on the Wittgenstein family should help us to get hold of a presupposition of cultural growth on the basis of Besitz und Bildung. This often cited but scarcely understood phrase refers the idea that self-realization through the accumulation of wealth carried social responsibility with it.

The Wittgensteins were, for all their uniqueness, typical representatives of Vienna’s “second society”, the elite, moneyed haute bourgeoisie, that formed a highly self-conscious oligarchy in Habsburg Vienna. This group was made up of some 200 financially interlocked and to a great extent socially intermarried families. Indeed, our modern conception of the nuclear family: father, mother, children and the immediate small circle of related siblings is misleading as a basis of comparison. We have to make an effort to understand the Family as the Viennese “second society” once did.

The upper middle class family, then, was a broadly related group of frequently multiply interrelated families, a family of families as it were. Thus the Wittgensteins were connected with the Franz family (leaders of the Protestant community) through more than one marriage. The same is true of their relationships with the Salzer family (one Salzer much concerned with his family was surprised earlier this year to realize that there was more than one Salzer connection in the Wittgenstein family). In referring to the Anglo-Jewish gentry this large scale agglomeration of relationships is sometimes referred to as a “cousinhood” (we also need to say something about the peculiarities of its Jewishness below). The term is appropriate here. It is the cousinhood that is interesting to the Wittgenstein Initiative in the plurality of its cultural achievements and not merely its individual members.

Surely Ludwig, Paul, and Gretl are extraordinary figures pure and simple but as we look to the cousinhood such figures seem to be everywhere. In order to see that we have to go back in time two generations to Jewish emancipation (such as it was in 1848).

Granddad Hermann Christian Wittgenstein was anything but a parvenu. He was born into the European Jewish elite, the so-called Hofjuden, who had financed Christian monarchs from time immemorial, in the way that the more famous Rothschilds and Montefiores had done. When he came to Vienna shortly after freedom of movement was permitted in the monarchy in the wake of the 1848 Revolutions, his circle of friends was positively extraordinary – far beyond anything his son Karl would achieve. It included the dramatist, Friedrich Hebbel, the astronomer Carl Ludwig von Littrow, the physiologist Ernst von Brücke and the philosopher-philologist, Hermann Bonitz. Little wonder that he would marry Fanny Figdor, daughter of one of Central Europe’s biggest bankers. She would befriend her cousin Joseph Joachim and his colleague Johannes Brahms would practically become part of the family too. One of Fanny’ sisters, Emelie, would marry Michael Hainisch, later president of Austria. Two other Figdors would also place their unmistakable stamp on Viennese culture: Albert, who was one of the most monumental and systematic art collectors who ever lived and Wilhelm, who would found the Vienna Vivarium, one of the first centers for biological research worldwide. When Karl Wittgenstein ceased playing the Prodigal Son, he married Leopoldine Kalmus, whose accomplishments as a pianist and deep concern for musical culture made her salon into the center of Viennese musical life. Leopoldine’s “cousins” Edwin and Alfred Kalmus became among the most prominent music publishers of their generation. The examples could be multiplied again and again.

The question of the Jewishness of the Wittgensteins – and the other families of the grand bourgeoisie – is one which inevitably comes up in discussion today (see Steven Beller’s classical study Vienna and the Jews 1867-1938). It is not easy to answer and many people are unhappy at the lack of clarity in this complex issue. Most people in this social strata had long ceased to practice Judaism by the turn of the century, if not long earlier. Many had become Protestants; some Catholic. One of the most prominent “assimilated” Jews Lazar Auspitz summed up their attitude as well as it can be: Judaism was “un pieux souvenir de famille.” These people were descendants of the followers of Moses Mendelssohn, the father of the Jewish Enlightenment, for which science and culture came to replace religion. They did not see themselves as Jews and were even occasionally capable of producing hostile critique of traditional encrusted “unenlightened” Jews. Little wonder that the first reaction of Hermine Wittgenstein and Helene Wittgenstein-Salzer at being told that they were subject to the Nuremberg Laws was dismay.

Be that as it may, what is important for the Wittgenstein Initiative is how the values of the Enlightenment came to pervade this cousinhood and in doing so helped to form our culture.

Prof. Dr. Allan Janik is Emeritus Professor of Cultural History and Philosophy at the universities of Vienna and Innsbruck and the Royal Instituten of Technology in Stockholm. He specializes in the cultural history of modern Austria and in philosophy. Together with Stephen Toulmin, he wrote Wittgenstein’s Vienna (1973).