Where to find my ‘The Magic Mountain’ review:
Hans Castorp becomes keeper of the wonder-box, a device that has been provided by the Hofrat to disperse the effects of the Great God Dumps, a significant chapter for me that I feel impelled to transcribe below in full:
“Fullness of Harmony
WHAT new acquisition of House Berghof was it which at length released our longstanding friend from his patience-playing mania, and flung him into the arms of another passion, nobler, though at bottom no less strange? We are about to relate, being ourselves much taken by the mysterious object, and eager to communicate our enthusiasm.
The excellent management, in its sleepless concern for the happiness of its guests, had considered matters, there in the bowels of the earth, had resolved, and acted. It acquired, at a cost which we need not go into, but which must surely have been considerable, a new device for the entertainment of the patients, and added it to those already installed in the largest of the reception-rooms of House Berghof. Was it some clever artifice, of the same nature as the stereopticon, the kaleidoscope, or the cinematographic cylinder? Yes—and yet, again, no, far from it. It was not an optical toy which the guests discovered one evening in the salon, and greeted with applause, some of them flinging their hands above their heads, others stooping over and clapping in their laps. It was an acoustical instrument. Moreover, the simple devices above-mentioned were not to be compared with it—they were outclassed, outvalued, outshone. This was no childish peep-show, like those of which all the guests were sick and tired, at which no one ever looked after the first few weeks. It was an overflowing cornucopia of artistic enjoyment, ranging from grave to gay. It was a musical apparatus. It was a gramophone.
We are seriously concerned lest the term be understood in an unworthy, outworn sense, and ideas attach to it which are applicable only to the primitive form of the instrument we have in mind, never to the elegant product evolved by a tireless application of technical means to the Muses’ own ends. My dear friends, we implore you to realize that the instrument we describe was not that paltry box with a handle to it, a disk and shaft atop and a shapeless brass funnel attached, which used to be set up on the table outside country inns, to gratify the ears of the rude with its nasal braying. This was a case finished in dull ebony, a little deeper than broad, attached by a cord to an electric switch in the wall, and standing chastely on its special table. With the antediluvian mechanism described above, it had nothing in common. You lifted the prettily bevelled lid, which was automatically supported by a brass rod attached on the inside, and there above a slightly depressed surface was the disk, covered with green cloth, with a nickelled rim, and nickelled peg upon which one fitted the hole in the centre of the hard-rubber record. At the right, in front, was a time-regulating device, with a dial and figures like a watch; at the left, the lever, which set the mechanism going or stopped it; and behind, also on the left, the hollow, curving, club-shaped, nickel-plated arm, with its flexible joints, carrying the flat round sound-box at the end, with a fitment into which the needle was screwed. If you opened the double doors at the front of the box, you saw a set of slanting shelves, rather like a blind, stained black like the case—and that was all.
“Newest model,” the Hofrat said. “Latest triumph of art, my children; A-I, copperbottomed, superfinísimo, nothing better on the market in this line of goods”—he managed to give the words the twang of an eager and ignorant salesman. “This is not just a machine,” he went on, taking a needle out of one of the gay little metal boxes ranged on the table, and fitting it into the holder, “it’s a Stradivarius, a Guarneri; with a resonance, a vibration— dernier raffinemang, Polyhymnia patent, look here in the inside of the lid. German make, you know, we do them far and away better than anybody else. The truly musical, in modern, mechanical form, the German soul up to date. And here’s the libretto,” he said, and gestured with his head toward a little case on the wall, filled with broad-backed albums. “I turn it all over to you, it is yours. But take care of it; I commend it to the solicitude of the public. Shall we shoot it off once, just for fun?”
The patients implored him to do so. Behrens drew out a fat magic tome, turned over the heavy leaves, and chose a paper envelope, which showed a coloured title through a round hole on the front. He placed the record on the disk, set it in motion, waited until it was at full speed, and then carefully set the fine steel point upon the edge of the plate. There was a low, whetting sound. He let the lid sink, and at the same moment, from the open doors in front, from between the slats of the blind, or, rather, from the box as a whole, came a burst of music, with a hubbub of instruments, a lively, bustling, insistent melody: the first contagious bars of an Offenbach overture. They listened, their lips parted in smiles. They could scarcely believe their ears at the purity and faithful reproduction of the colour of the wood-wind. A solo violin preluded whimsically; the bowing, the pizzicato, the sweet gliding from one position to another, were all clearly audible. It struck into the melody of the waltz, “Ach, ich habe sie verloren” ; the orchestral harmony lightly bore the flattering strain—enchanting it was to hear it taken up by the ensemble and repeated as a sounding tutti. Of course, it was scarcely like a real orchestra playing in the room. The volume of sound, though not to any extent distorted, had suffered a diminution of perspective. If we may draw a simile from the visual field, it was as though one were to look at a painting through the wrong end of an opera-glass, seeing it remote and diminutive, though with all its luminous precision of drawing and colour. The vivid, consummate piece of music was reproduced in all the richness of its light-hearted invention. The finish was abandon itself, a galop with a drolly hesitating beginning, a shameless cancan that called up a vision of top-hats waved in the air, flying skirts and tossing knees, and seemed never to come to the end of its triumphal jollification. But at length the mechanism stopped automatically. It was over. There was cordial applause. They called for more, and it was forthcoming. A human voice welled out from the casket, a masculine voice at once soft and powerful, with orchestral accompaniment. It was a famous Italian baritone; the marvellous organ swelled out to the full extent of its natural register, there could be no talk here of any diminution or veiling of the sound. If one sat in an adjoining room and did not see the instrument, it seemed not otherwise than as though the artist stood in the salon in his own person, notes in hand, and sang. He sang an aria di bravura in his own tongue— Eh, U barbiere! “Di qualità, di qualità! Figaro qua, Figaro là, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!” The listeners almost died of laughter at his falsetto parlando, at the contrast between the deep voice and the tongue-splitting facility with which it rendered the words. The musical followed and admired the art of his phrasing, his breathing-technique. He was a master in the irresistible, a virtuoso of the Italian da capo school; he must have come forward to the footlights and flung up his arm, as he held the last tone before the closing tonic, so that the audience involuntarily burst out in shouts of applause before he ceased. It was beyond words.
Followed a French horn, playing, with delicate scrupulosity, variations on a folksong. A soprano voice, with the loveliest freshness and precision, the most exquisite staccato, trilled and warbled an air from La Traviata. The spirit of a world-famed violinist played as though behind veils a romance by Rubinstein, to a piano accompaniment that sounded thin and cold, like a spinet. The wonder-box seemed to seethe: it poured out the chimes of bells, harp glissandos, the crashing of trumpets, the long rolling of drums. Lastly, dance records were put in. There were specimens of the new imported dance, the tango, in the taste of a water-side dive, calculated to make a Viennese waltz sound sedate and grand-fatherly by contrast. Two couples displayed the fashionable steps, Behrens having by now withdrawn with the admonition that a needle should be used no more than once, and the whole instrument handled “as though it were made of eggs.” Hans Castorp took his place as operator.
But why precisely Hans Castorp? In this wise. With suppressed eagerness he had opposed those who had thought to take over, on the Hofrat’s departure, the changing of plate and needle, the switching on and off of the current. “Let me do it,” he said to them, gently putting them aside; and they gave way, first because he wore an air of having known all about it for years, and second because they cared little to take their pleasures actively, instead of sitting to be served to as much and such enjoyment as they could comfortably and unbored receive.
Not so Hans Castorp. While the Hofrat was introducing his new toy to the guests, the young man had remained in the background, not laughing or applauding, but following the performance with tense interest, rubbing an eyebrow round with two fingers, as he had on occasion a way of doing. Several times he restlessly shifted his position, even went into the reading-room to listen from there; then took up his stand close to Behrens, with his hands behind his back, and an enigmatic expression on his face, fixing the casket with his eye, and observing the simple operation of it. But within him something was saying: “Hold on! This is an epoch. This thing was sent to me!” He was filled with the surest foreknowledge of a new passion, a new enchantment, a new burden of love. The youth in the flat-land, who at first sight of a maiden marvels to find himself pierced to the heart with love’s barbed arrow, feels not greatly different. Jealousy followed hard upon. Public property, was it? Had that feeble curiosity the right, or the strength, to possess anything? “Let me do it,” he had said between his teeth, and they were content it should be so. They danced a little more, to the rollicking pieces he ran off; asked for another vocal number, an operatic duet, the barcarole from the Contes d’Hoffmann, which sounded lovely enough. When he closed the lid they all flocked off, chattering in their ephemeral pleasure over the new toy, these to the evening rest-cure, those to bed. He had been waiting for them to go. They left behind all as it was, the boxes of needles open, the plates and albums strewn about. It was like them. He made as though to follow, but then left them on the stairs, turned back to the salon, closed all the doors, and stopped there half the night, busy as a bee.
He made himself acquainted with the new possession, and worked in undisturbed enjoyment through the contents of the heavy albums. There were twelve, in two sizes, with twelve records each; many of the flat, round, black disks were inscribed on both sides, not only with the continuation of a piece of music, but also because many of the plates held two distinct records. Here was a world to conquer, large enough that even to survey it was a difficult task at first, and bewildering; yet a world full of beautiful possibilities. He played some twenty or thirty records; using a kind of needle that moved softly over the plate and lessened the sound, in order that his activity might not offend the silence of the night. But twenty or thirty were scarcely the eighth part of the riches that lay asking to be enjoyed. He must be content tonight with looking over the titles, only choosing one now and again to set upon the disk and give it voice. To the eye one was like another, except for the coloured label in the centre of each hardrubber plate; each and all were covered to the centre or nearly so with concentric circles; but it was these fine lines that held all imaginable music, the happiest inspirations from every region of the art, in choicest reproduction.
There were many overtures, and single symphonic movements, played by famous orchestras, the names of whose conductors were given on the record. There was a long list of lieder, sung to piano accompaniment by famous prima donnas; some of these were the lofty and conscious creation of individual artists, others simple folksongs, still others fell between the two categories, in that they were products of an intellectual art, and at the same time sprang from all that was profoundest and most reverent in the feeling and genius of a people—artificial folk-songs, one might call them, if the word artificial need not be taken to cast a slur on the genuineness of their inspiration. One of these Hans Castorp had known from childhood; but from now on began to attach to it a quite special love and clothe it with many associations, as shall be seen hereafter. What else was there—or, simply—what was there not? Operas aplenty. An “international troupe of famous artists, male and female, displayed their highly trained, God-given talent in arias, duos, ensembles illustrating various periods and localities in the history of the opera—to discreet orchestral accompaniment. The opera of the south, a high-hearted, light-hearted ravishment; the German, racy of the people, whimsical, hobgoblinish; and both grand and comic opera in the French style. But was that all? Oh, no. A succession of chamber music followed, quartets and trios, instrumental solo numbers for violin, ‘cello, flute; concert numbers with violin or flute obbligato, piano solos—and then there were the light diversions, the “couplets,” the topical and popular numbers, played in the first instance by some small orchestra or other, and needing a coarse needle to render them suitably.
Hans Castorp, bustling and solitary, sifted and classified it all, and tried a fraction of it upon the instrument. At a late hour, as late as on the occasion of the first carouse with Pieter Peeperkorn of majestic memory, he went flushed of cheek to bed, where from two to seven he dreamed of the wonder-box. He saw in his sleep the disk circling about the peg, with a swiftness that made it almost invisible and quite soundless. Its motion was not only circular, but also a peculiar, sidling undulation, which communicated itself to the arm that bore the needle, and gave this too an elastic oscillation, almost like breathing, which must have contributed greatly to the vibrato and portamento of the stringed instruments and the voices. Yet it remained unclear, sleeping as waking, how the mere following out of a hair-line above an acoustic cavity, with the sole assistance of the vibrating membrane of the sound-box, could possibly reproduce such a wealth and volume of sound as filled Hans Castorp’s dreaming ear.
Next morning he was early in the salon, even before breakfast; and comfortably sitting with folded hands, listened to a glorious baritone voice, singing to a harp accompaniment: “Blick’ ich umher in diesem edlen Kreise.” The harp sounded perfectly natural, there was no distortion or diminution of the sound that poured out of the casket accompanying the swelling, breathing, articulating human voice—it was simply amazing! And there could be on earth nothing more tender than the next number he chose: a duet from a modern Italian opera, a simple, heartfelt mingling of emotion between two beings, one part taken by the world-famous tenor who was so well represented in the albums, the other by a crystal-clear and sweet little soprano voice; nothing more lovely than his “Da mi il braccio, mia piccina” and the simple, sweet, succinct little melodic phrase in which she replies.
Hans Castorp started as the door opened in his rear. It was the Hofrat, looking in on him; in his clinical coat, the stethoscope showing in his breast pocket, he stood there a moment, with his hand on the door-knob, and nodded at the distiller of sweet sounds. Hans Castorp, over his shoulder, replied to the nod, and the chief’s blue-cheeked visage, with its one-sided moustache, disappeared as he drew the door to behind him. Hans Castorp returned to his invisible, melodious pair of lovers.
Later in the day, after the noon and evening meals, he had a changing audience for his performance—unless one must reckon him in with the audience, instead of as the dispenser of the entertainment. Personally he inclined to the latter view. And the Berghof population agreed with him, to the extent that from the very first night they silently acquiesced in his self-appointed guardianship of the instrument. They did not care, these people. Aside from their ephemeral idolatry of the tenor, luxuriating in the melting brilliance of his own voice, letting this boon to the human race stream from him in cantilenas and high feats of virtuosity, notwithstanding their loudly proclaimed enthusiasm, they were without real love for the instrument, and content that anyone should operate it who was willing to take the trouble. It was Hans Castorp who kept the records in order, wrote the contents of each album on the inside of the cover, so that each piece might be found at once when it was wanted, and “ran” the instrument. Soon he did it with ease and dexterity. The others would have spoiled the plates by using worn-out needles, would have left them lying about on chairs, would have tried all sorts of imbecile tricks, playing some noble and stately piece of music at breakneck speed and pitch, or setting the indicator at zero, so that nothing but a hysterical trilling or a long expiring groan came from the instrument. They had tried all that already. Of course, they were ill; but they were also pretty crude. After a while, Hans Castorp simply took the key of the little cabinet that held the needles and albums, and kept it in his pocket, so that his permission must needs be asked if anyone desired to play.
Evening, after the social quarter-hour, when the guests were gone, was his best time. He remained in the salon, or returned stealthily thither, and played until deep in the night. He found there was less danger than he had feared of disturbing the nightly rest of the house; for the carrying power of this ghostly music proved relatively small. The vibrations, so surprisingly powerful in the near neighbourhood of the box, soon exhausted themselves, grew weak and eerie with distance, like all magic. Hans Castorp was alone among four walls with his wonder-box; with the florid performance of this truncated little coffin of violin-wood, this small dull-black temple, before the open double doors of which he sat with his hands folded in his lap, his head on one side, his mouth open, and let the harmonies flow over him.
These singers male and female whom he heard, he could not see; their corporeal part abode in America, in Milan, Vienna, St. Petersburg. But let them dwell where they might, he had their better part, their voices, and might rejoice in the refining and abstracting process which did away with the disadvantages of closer personal contact, yet left them enough appeal to the sense, to permit of some command over their individualities, especially in the case of German artists. He could distinguish the dialect, the pronunciation, the local origin of these; the character of the voice betrayed something of the soul-stature of individuals, and the level of their intelligence could be guessed by the extent to which they had neglected or taken advantage of their opportunities. Hans Castorp writhed when they failed. He bit his lips in chagrin when the reproduction was technically faulty; he was on pins and needles when the first note of an often-used record gave a shrill or scratching sound—which happened more particularly with the difficult female voice. Still, when these things happened, he bore with them, for love makes us forbearing. Sometimes he bent over the whirring, pulsating mechanism as over a spray of lilac, rapt in a cloud of sweet sound; or stood before the open case, tasting the triumphant joy of the conductor who with raised hand brings the trumpets into place precisely at the right moment. And he had favourites in his treasure-house, certain vocal and instrumental numbers which he never tired of hearing.
One group of records contained the closing scenes of a certain brilliant opera, overflowing with melodic genius, by a great countryman of Herr Settembrini, the doyen of dramatic music in the south, who had written it to the order of an oriental prince, in the second half of the last century, to celebrate the completion of a great technical achievement which should bind the peoples of the earth together. Hans Castorp had learned something of the plot, knew the main lines of the tragic fate of Radames, Amneris, and Aida; and when he heard it from his casket could understand well enough what they said. The incomparable tenor, the royal alto with the wonderful sob in her register, and the silver soprano he understood perhaps not every word they said, but enough, with his knowledge of the situation, and his sympathy in general for such situations, to feel a familiar fellow-feeling that increased every time he listened to this set of records, until it amounted to infatuation.
First came the scene of the explanation between Radames and Amneris: the king’s daughter has the captive brought before her, whom she loves, whom she would gladly save for her own, but that he has just thrown all away for the sake of a barbarian slave—fatherland and honour and all. Though he insists that in the depth of his soul honour remains untarnished. But this inner unimpairment avails him little, under the weight of all that indisputable guilt and crime, for he has become forfeit to the spiritual arm, which is inexorable toward human weakness, and will certainly make short work of him if he does not, at the last moment, abjure the slave, and throw himself into the royal arms of the alto with the sob in her register—who, so far as her voice went, richly deserved him. Amneris wrestles fervidly with the mellifluous but tragically blind and infatuated tenor, who sings nothing at all but “In vain” and “I cannot,” when she addresses him with despairing pleas to renounce the slave, for that his own life is in the balance. “I cannot”. . . “Once more, renounce her”. . . “In vain thou pleadest”—and deathly obstinacy and anguished love blend together in a duet of extraordinary power and beauty, but absolutely no hope whatever. Then comes the terrifying repetition of the priestly formulas of condemnation, to the accompaniment of Amneris’s despair; they sound hollowly from below, and them the unhappy Radames does not reply to at all.
“Radames, Radames,” sings the high-priest peremptorily, and points out the treason he has committed.
“Justify thyself,” all the priests, in chorus, demand.
The high-priest calls attention to his silence, and they all hollowly declare him guilty.
“Radames, Radames,” sings the high-priest again. “The camp thou hast left before the battle.”
And again: “Justify thyself.” “Lo, he is silent,” the highly prejudiced presiding officer announces once more; and all the priests acain unanimously declare him guilty.
“Radames, Radames,” for the third time comes the inexorable voice. “To Fatherland, to honour and thy King, thy oath thou hast broken”—“Justify thyself,” resounded again. And finally, for the third time, “Fellonia,” the priestly chorus proclaims, after noting that Radames has again remained absolutely silent. So then there is nothing for it: the chorus announces the evil-doer for judgment, proclaims that his doom is sealed, that he must die the death of a deserter and be buried alive beneath the temple of the offended deity.
The outraged feelings of Amneris at this priestly severity had to be imagined, for here the record broke off. Hans Castorp changed the plate, with as few movements as possible, his eyes cast down. When he seated himself again, it was to listen to the last scene of the melodrama, the closing duet of Radames and Aida, sung in the underground vaults, while above their heads in the temple the cruel and bigoted priests perform the service of their cult, spreading forth their arms, giving out a dull, murmurous sound. “Tu—in qitesta tomba?” comes the inexpressibly moving, sweet and at the same time heroic voice of Radames, in mingled horror and rapture. Yes, she has found her way to him, the beloved one for whose sake he has forfeited life and honour, she has awaited him here, to die with him; and the exchange of song between the two, broken at times by the muffled sound of the ceremonies above them, or blending and harmonizing with it, pierced the soul of our solitary night-watcher to its very depth, as much by reason of the circumstances as by the melodic expression of them. They sang of heaven, these two; but truly the songs were heavenly themselves, and heavenly sweet the singing of them. That melodic line resistlessly travelled by the voices, solo and unisono, of Radames and Aida; that simple, rapturous ascent, playing from tonic to dominant, as it mounts from the fundamental to the sustained note a half-tone before the octave, then turning back again to the fifth—it seemed to the listener the most rarefied, the most ecstatic he had ever heard. But he would have been less ravished by the sounds, had not the situation which gave them birth prepared his spirit to yield to the sweetness of the music. It was so beautiful, that Aida should have found her way to the condemned Radames, to share his fate for ever! The condemned one protested, quite properly, against the sacrifice of the precious life; but in his tender, despairing “No, no, troppo sei bella” was the intoxication of final union with her whom he had thought never to see again. It needed no effort of imagination to enable Hans Castorp to feel with Radames all this intoxication, all this gratitude. And what, finally, he felt, understood, and enjoyed, sitting there with folded hands, looking into the black slats of the jalousies whence it all issued, was the triumphant idealism of the music, of art, of the human spirit; the high and irrefragable power they had of shrouding with a veil of beauty the vulgar horror of actual fact. What was it, considered with the eye of reason, that was happening here? Two human beings, buried alive, their lungs full of pit gas, would here together—or, more horrible still, one after the other—succumb to the pangs of hunger, and thereafter the process of putrefaction would do its unspeakable work, until two skeletons remained, each totally indifferent and insensible to the other’s presence or absence. This was the real, objective fact—but a side, and a state of affairs quite distinct, of which idealism and emotion would have none, which was triumphantly put in the shade by the music and the beauty of the theme. The situation as it stood did not exist for either operatic Radames or operatic Aida. Their voices rose unisono to the blissful sustained note leading into the octave, as they assured each other that now heaven was opening, and the light of its eternity streaming forth before their yearning eyes. The consoling power of this aesthetic palliation did the listener good, and went far to account for the special love he bore this number of his programme.
He was wont to rest from these terrors and ecstasies in another number, brief, yet with a concentrated power of enchantment; peaceful, compared with the other, an idyll, yet raffiné, shaped and turned with all the subtlety and economy of the most modern art. It was an orchestral piece, of French origin, purely instrumental, a symphonic prelude, achieved with an instrumentation relatively small for our time, yet with all the apparatus of modern technique and shrewdly calculated to set the spirit adreaming. Here is the dream Hans Castorp dreamed: he lay on his back in a sunny, flowerstarred meadow, with his head on a little knoll, one leg drawn up, the other flung over—and those were goat’s legs crossed there before him. His fingers touched the stops of a little wooden pipe, which he played for the pure joy of it, his solitude on the meadow being complete. He held it to his lips, a reed pipe or little clarinet, and coaxed from it soothing head-tones, one after the other, just as they came, and yet in a pleasing sequence. The care-free piping rose toward the deep-blue sky, and beneath the sky stretched the branching, wind-tossed boughs of single ash-trees and birches whose leaves twinkled in the sun. But his feckless, day-dreaming, half-melodious pipe was far from being the only voice in the solitude. The hum of insects in the sunwarmed air above the long grass, the sunshine itself, the soft wind, the swaying treetops, the twinkling leaves—all these gentle vibrations of the midsummery peace set themselves to his simple piping, to give it a changeful, ever surprisingly choice harmonic meaning. Sometimes the symphonic accompaniment would fade far off and be forgot. Then goat-legged Hans would blow stoutly away, and by the naïve monotony of his piping lure back Nature’s subtly colourful, harmonious enchantment; until at length, after repeated intermission, she sweetly acceded. More and higher instruments came in rapidly, one after another, until all the previously lacking richness and volume were reached and sustained in a single fugitive moment that yet held all eternity in its consummate bliss. The young faun was joyous on his summer meadow. No “Justify thyself,” was here; no challenge, no priestly court-martial upon one who strayed away and was forgotten of honour. Forgetfulness held sway, a blessed hush, the innocence of those places where time is not; “slackness” with the best conscience in the world, the very apotheosis of rebuff to the Western world and that world’s insensate ardour for the “deed.” The soothing effect of all which upon our nightwalking music-maker gave this record a special value in his eyes. There was a third. Or rather there were many, a consecutive group of three or four, a single tenor aria taking up almost half the space of a whole black rubber plate. Again it was French music—an opera Hans Castorp knew well, having seen and heard it repeatedly. Once, at a certain critical juncture now far in the past, he had made its action serve him for an allegory. The record took up the play at the second act, in the Spanish tavern, in crude Moorish architecture, a shawl-draped, roomy cellar like the floor of a barn. One heard Carmen’s voice, a little brusque, yet warm, and very infectious in its folk-quality, saying she would dance before the sergeant; one heard the rattle of castanets. But in the same moment, from a distance, the blare of trumpets swelled out, bugles giving a military signal, at which sound the little sergeant starts up. “One moment, stop!” he cries, and pricks up his ears like a horse. Why? What was it then, Carmen asked; and he: “Dost thou not hear?” astonished that the signal did not enter into her soul as into his. “Carmen, ‘tis the retreat!” It is the trumpets from the garrison, giving the summons. “The hour draws nigh for our return,” says he, in operatic language. But the gipsy girl cannot understand, nor does she wish to. So much the better, she says, half stupidly, half pertly; she needs no castanets, for here is music dropped from the sky. Music to dance by, tra-la, tra-la! He is beside himself. His own disappointment retreats before his need to make clear to her how matters stand, and how no love-affair in the world can prevent obedience to this summons. How is it she cannot understand anything so fixed, so fundamental? “I must away, the signal summons me, to quarters!” he cries, in despair over a lack of understanding that doubly burdens his heavy heart. And now, hear Carmen! She is furious. Outraged to the depths of her soul, her voice is sheer betrayed and injured love—or she makes it sound so. “To quarters? The signal?” And her heart? Her faithful, loving heart, just then, in its weakness, yes, she admitted, in its weakness, about to while away an hour with him in dance and song? “Tan-ta-ra!” And in a fury of scorn she sets her curled hand to her lips and imitates the horns: “Taran-tara!” And that was enough to make the fool leap up, on fire to be off! Good, then, let him be off, away with him! Here are helmet, sabre, and hanger—away, away, away with him, let him be off, let him be off, off to the barracks! He pleads for mercy. But she goes on, scorching him with her scorn, mocking him, taking his place and showing in pantomime how at the sound of the horn he lost what little sense he had. Tan-tara! The signal! O heaven! he will come too late! Let him go, let him be off, for the summons sounds, and he, like a fool, makes to go, at the very moment when she would dance for him. From this time, so she will account his love!
He is in torments. She cannot understand. The woman, the gipsy girl, cannot, will not understand. Will not—for in her rage and scorn speaks something more and larger than the moment and the personal: a hatred, a primeval hostility against that principle, which in the accents of these Spanish bugles—or French horns—called to the lovelorn little soldier. Over that it was her deepest, her inborn, her more than personal ambition to triumph. And she possesses a very simple means: she says that if he goes he does not love her—precisely that which José cannot bear to hear. He beseeches her to let him speak. She will not. Then he compels her—it is a deucedly serious moment, dull notes of fatality rise from the orchestra, a gloomy, ominous motif, which, as Hans Castorp knew, recurred throughout the opera, up to its fatal climax, and formed also the first phrase of the soldier’s aria, on the next plate, which had now to be inserted.
“See here thy flow’ret treasured well”—how exquisitely José sang that! Hans Castorp played this single record over and over, and listened with the deepest participation. As far as its contents went, it did not fetch the action much further; but its imploring emotion was moving in the highest degree. The young soldier sang of the flower Carmen had tossed him at the beginning of their acquaintance, which had been everything to him, in the arrest he had suffered for love of her. He confesses:
“Sometimes I cursed the hour I met thee, and tried all vainly to forget thee”—only next moment to rue his blasphemy, and pray on his knees to see her once more. And as he prayed—striking the same high note as just before on the “To see thee, Carmen,” but now the orchestration lends all the resources of its enchantment to paint the anguish, the longing, the desperate tenderness, sweet despair, in the little soldier’s heart—ah, there she stood before his eyes, in all her fatal charm; and clearly, unmistakably, he felt that he was undone, for ever lost—on the word undone came a sobbing whole-tone grace-note to the first syllable—lost and for ever undone. “Then would an ecstasy steal o’er me,” he despairingly asseverated in a recurrent melody repeated wailingly by the orchestra, rising two tones from the tonic and thence returning ardently to the fifth: “Carmen, my own,” he repeats, with infinite tenderness but rather tasteless redundancy, going all the way up the scale to the sixth, in order to add: “My life, my soul belongs to thee”—after which he let his voice fall ten whole tones and in deepest emotion gave out the “Carmen, I love thee!” shuddering forth the words in anguish from a note sustained above changing harmonies, until the “thee” with the syllable before it was resolved in the full accord. “Yes, ah, yes,” said Hans Castorp, with mournful satisfaction, and put on the finale: where they are all congratulating young José because the meeting with the officer has cut off his retreat, and now it only remains open to him to desert, as Carmen, to his horror, had before now demanded he should.
“Away to the mountains, away, away,
Share in our life, careless and gay,”
they sang in chorus—one could understand the words quite well:
“Freely to roam, the world our home,
Gaily to pass o’er land and sea
And enjoy, all else excelling,
“Yes, yes,” he said, as before; and passed on to a fourth record, something very dear and good.
It is not our fault that it was French again, nor are we responsible for its once more striking the military note. It was an intermezzo, a solo number, the Prayer from Gounod’s Faust. The singer, a character warmly sympathetic to our young man’s heart, was called in the opera Valentine; but Hans Castorp named him by another and dearly familiar, sadness-evoking name; whose onetime bearer he had come largely to identify with the operatic character whom the wonder-box was making vocal—though the latter to be sure had a much more beautiful voice, a warm and powerful baritone. His song was in three parts: the first consisting of two closely related “corner”—strophes, religious in character, almost in the style of the Protestant chorale, and a middle-strophe, bold and chevaleresque, war-like, light-hearted, yet God-fearing too, and essentially French and military. The invisible character sang:
“Now the parting hour has come
I must leave my lovéd home”
and turned under these circumstances to God, imploring Him to take under His special care and protection his beloved sister. He was going to the wars: the rhythm changed, grew brisk and lively, dull care and sorrow might go hang! He, the invisible singer, longed to be in the field, to stand in the thickest of the fray, where danger was hottest, and fling himself upon the foe—gallant, God-fearing, altogether French. But if, he sang, God should call him to Himself, then would He look down protectingly on “thee”—meaning the singer’s sister, as Hans Castorp was perfectly aware, yet the word thrilled him to the depths, and his emotion prolonged itself as the hero sang, to a mighty choral accompaniment:
“O Lord of heaven, hear my prayer!
Guard Marguerite within Thy shelt’ring care!”
There the record ceased. We have dwelt upon it because of Hans Castorp’s especial penchant; but also because it played a certain rôle on a later and most strange occasion. And now we come back to the fifth and last piece in his group of high favourites: this time not French, but something especially and exemplarily German; not opera either, but a lied, one of those which are folk-song and masterpiece together, and from the combination receive their peculiar stamp as spiritual epitomes. Why should we beat about the bush? It was Schubert’s “Linden-tree,” it was none other than the old, old favourite, “Am Brunnen vor dem Tore.”
It was sung to piano accompaniment by a tenor voice; and the singer was a lad of parts and discernment, who knew how to render with great skill, fine musical feeling and finesse in recitative his simple yet consummate theme. We all know that the noble lied sounds rather differently when given as a concert-number from its rendition in the childish or the popular mouth. In its simplified form the melody is sung straight through; whereas in the original art-song, the key changes to minor in the second of the eight-line stanzas, changes back again with beautiful effect to major in the fifth line; is dramatically resolved in the following “bitter blasts” and “facing the tempest”; and returns again only with the last four lines of the third stanza, which are repeated to finish out the melody. The truly compelling turn in the melody occurs three times, in its modulated second half, the third time in the repetition of the last half-strophe “Ay, onward, ever onward.” The enchanting turn, which we would not touch too nearly in bold words, comes on the phrases “Upon its branches fair,” “A message in my ear,” “Yet ever in my breast”; and each time the tenor rendered them, in his clear, warm voice, with his excellent breathing-technique, with the suggestion of a sob, arid so much sensitive, beauty-loving intelligence, the listener felt his heart gripped in undreamed-of fashion; with an effect the singer knew how to heighten by head-tones of extraordinary ardour on the lines “I found my solace there,” and “For rest and peace are here.” In the repetition of the last line, “Here shouldst thou find thy rest,” he sang the “shouldst thou” the first time yearningly, at full strength, but the second in the tenderest flute-tones.
So much for the song, and the rendering of it. For the earlier selections, we may flatter ourselves, perhaps, that we have been able to communicate to the reader some understanding, more or less precise, of Hans Castorp’s intimate emotional participation in the chosen numbers of his nightly programme. But to make clear what this last one, the old “Linden-tree,” meant to him, is truly a ticklish endeavour; requiring great delicacy of emphasis if more harm than good is not to come of the undertaking.
Let us put it thus: a conception which is of the spirit, and therefore significant, is so because it reaches beyond itself to become the expression and exponent of a larger conception, a whole world of feeling and sentiment, which, whether more or less completely, is mirrored in the first, and in this wise, accordingly, the degree of its significance measured. Further, the love felt for such a creation is in itself “significant”: betraying something of the person who cherishes it, characterizing his relation to that broader world the conception bodies forth—which, consciously or unconsciously, he loves along with and in the thing itself.
May we take it that our simple hero, after so many years of hermetic-pedagogic discipline, of ascent from one stage of being to another, has now reached a point where he is conscious of the “meaningfulness” of his love and the object of it? We assert, we record, that he has. To him the song meant a whole world, a world which he must have loved, else he could not have so desperately loved that which it represented and symbolized to him. We know what we are saying when we add—perhaps rather darkly—that he might have had a different fate if his temperament had been less accessible to the charms of the sphere of feeling, the general attitude of mind, which the lied so profoundly, so mystically epitomized. The truth was that his very destiny had been marked by stages, adventures, insights, and these flung up in his mind suitable themes for his “stock-taking” activities, and these, in their turn, ripened him into an intuitional critic of this sphere, of this its absolutely exquisite image, and his love of it. To the point even that he was quite capable of bringing up all three as objects of his conscientious scruples!
Only one totally ignorant of the tender passion will suppose that such scruples can detract from the object of love. On the contrary, they but give it spice. It is they which lend love the spur of passion, so that one might almost define passion as misgiving love. But wherein lay Hans Castorp’s conscientious and stocktaking misgiving, as to the ultimate propriety of his love for the enchanting lied and the world whose image it was? What was the world behind the song, which the motions of his conscience made to seem a world of forbidden love?
It was death.
What utter and explicit madness! That glorious song! An indisputable masterpiece, sprung from the profoundest and holiest depths of racial feeling; a precious possession, the archetype of the genuine; embodied loveliness. What vile detraction!
Yes. Ah, yes! All very fine. Thus must every upright man speak. But for all that, behind this so lovely and pleasant artistic production stood—death. It had with death certain relations, which one might love, yet not without consciously, and in a “stocktaking” sense, acknowledging a certain illicit element in one’s love. Perhaps in its original form it was not sympathy with death; perhaps it was something very much of the people and racy of life; but spiritual sympathy with it was none the less sympathy with death. At first blush proper and pious enough, indisputably. But the issues of it were sinister.
What was all this he was thinking? He would not have listened to it from one of you. Sinister issues. Fantastical, dark-corner, misanthropic, torture-chamber thoughts, Spanish black and the ruff, lust not love—and these the issues of pure-eyed loveliness!
Unquestioning confidence, Hans Castorp knew, he had never placed in Herr Settembrini. But he remembered now an admonition the enlightened mentor had given him in past time, at the beginning of his hermetic career, on the subject of “spiritual backsliding” to darker ages. Perhaps it would be well to make cautious application of that wisdom to the present case. It was the backsliding which Herr Settembrini had characterized as “disease”; the epitome itself, the spiritual phase to which one backslid—that too would appeal to his pedagogic mind as “diseased”? And even so? Hans Castorp’s loved nostalgic lay, and the sphere of feeling to which it belonged—morbid? Nothing of the sort. They were the sanest, the homeliest in the world. And yet—This was a fruit, sound and splendid enough for the instant or so, yet extraordinarily prone to decay; the purest refreshment of the spirit, if enjoyed at the right moment, but the next, capable of spreading decay and corruption among men. It was the fruit of life, conceived of death, pregnant of dissolution; it was a miracle of the soul, perhaps the highest, in the eye and sealed with the blessing of conscienceless beauty; but on cogent grounds regarded with mistrust by the eye of shrewd geniality dutifully “taking stock” in its love of the organic; it was a subject for self-conquest at the definite behest of conscience.
Yes, self-conquest—that might well be the essence of triumph over this love, this soul-enchantment that bore such sinister fruit! Hans Castorp’s thoughts, or rather his prophetic half-thoughts soared high, as he sat there in night and silence before his truncated sarcophagus of music. They soared higher than his understanding, they were alchemistically enhanced. Ah, what power had this soul-enchantment! We were all its sons, and could achieve mighty things on earth, in so far as we served it. One need have no more genius, only much more talent, than the author of the “Lindenbaum,” to be such an artist of soul-enchantment as should give to the song a giant volume by which it should subjugate the world. Kingdoms might be founded upon it, earthly, alltoo-earthly kingdoms, solid, “progressive,” not at all nostalgic—in which the song degenerated to a piece of gramophone music played by electricity. But its faithful son might still be he who consumed his life in self-conquest, and died, on his lips the new word of love which as yet he knew not how to speak. Ah, it was worth dying for, the enchanted lied! But he who died for it, died indeed no longer for it; was a hero only because he died for the new, the new word of love and the future that whispered in his heart.
These, then, were Hans Castorp’s favourite records.”
These two passages, among many such passages above, are of some note in the context of my whole real-time review:
“And what, finally, he felt, understood, and enjoyed, sitting there with folded hands, looking into the black slats of the jalousies whence it all issued, was the triumphant idealism of the music, of art, of the human spirit; the high and irrefragable power they had of shrouding with a veil of beauty the vulgar horror of actual fact. What was it, considered with the eye of reason, that was happening here? Two human beings, buried alive, their lungs full of pit gas, would here together—or, more horrible still, one after the other—succumb to the pangs of hunger, and thereafter the process of putrefaction would do its unspeakable work, until two skeletons remained, each totally indifferent and insensible to the other’s presence or absence. This was the real, objective fact—but a side, and a state of affairs quite distinct, of which idealism and emotion would have none, which was triumphantly put in the shade by the music and the beauty of the theme.”
“Here is the dream Hans Castorp dreamed: he lay on his back in a sunny, flowerstarred meadow, with his head on a little knoll, one leg drawn up, the other flung over—and those were goat’s legs crossed there before him. His fingers touched the stops of a little wooden pipe, which he played for the pure joy of it, his solitude on the meadow being complete. He held it to his lips, a reed pipe or little clarinet, and coaxed from it soothing head-tones, one after the other, just as they came, and yet in a pleasing sequence. The care-free piping rose toward the deep-blue sky, and beneath the sky stretched the branching, wind-tossed boughs of single ash-trees and birches whose leaves twinkled in the sun. But his feckless, day-dreaming, half-melodious pipe was far from being the only voice in the solitude. The hum of insects in the sunwarmed air above the long grass, the sunshine itself, the soft wind, the swaying treetops, the twinkling leaves—all these gentle vibrations of the midsummery peace set themselves to his simple piping, to give it a changeful, ever surprisingly choice harmonic meaning. Sometimes the symphonic accompaniment would fade far off and be forgot. Then goat-legged Hans would blow stoutly away, and by the naïve monotony of his piping lure back Nature’s subtly colourful, harmonious enchantment; until at length, after repeated intermission, she sweetly acceded. More and higher instruments came in rapidly, one after another, until all the previously lacking richness and volume were reached and sustained in a single fugitive moment that yet held all eternity in its consummate bliss. The young faun was joyous on his summer meadow. No “Justify thyself,” was here; no challenge, no priestly court-martial upon one who strayed away and was forgotten of honour. Forgetfulness held sway, a blessed hush, the innocence of those places where time is not; “slackness” with the best conscience in the world, the very apotheosis of rebuff to the Western world and that world’s insensate ardour for the “deed.” The soothing effect of all which upon our nightwalking music-maker gave this record a special value in his eyes.”
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW NOW RESUMES HERE.