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Subject: Simon on Burckhardt
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 14 Jul 2017 20:30:01 -0400

text/plain (56 lines)

Commentary by John Simon.


The greatness of the Swiss cultural and art historian Jacob Burckhardt
(1918-97) is unquestionable. Splendid are even his lesser works, like
the *Weltgeschichtlische
Betrachtungen*, whose English translation, *Reflections on History*, I
don’t possess. From time to time I dip into the original, as I did the
other day, when his thoughts on music caught my eye. Some of this I
translate herewith.

“Its [music’s] effect is (i.e., in the right instances) so great and direct
that the feeling of gratitude immediately seeks out the creator and
coincidentally proclaims his greatness. The great composers belong among
the undisputed geniuses. More questionable is their perpetuity. It depends
in the first place on the ever renewed efforts of posterity, to wit
performances, which must compete with performance of all subsequent and
(each time) contemporary works, while other arts can display their products
once and forever; and depends in the second place on the survival of our
tone system and rhythm, which is not everlasting. Mozart and Beethoven may
become for a future mankind as incomprehensible as might now be to us the
Greek music so highly praised by its contemporaries. They will remain great
on credit, on the enthusiastic say-so of our times, like, say, the painters
of antiquity, whose works have been lost.”

Which makes me wonder: am I that postulated man of the future who has no
use for Mozart and Beethoven—and throw in for good measure Bach and all
others before the coming of the Romantics, Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz, and
the rest. I have a huge collection of CDs, but nothing before circa 1827.
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven (yes, even the vaunted late sonatas and quartets)
are anathema to me.


If Mr. Simon had gotten Burckhardt's dates right (1818-97, not 1918...) he
might have better understood where this quote is coming from.... Burckhardt
was Swiss, a Calvinist an anti-German AND an anti-Romantic).

Clearly Harvard PhDs in Comparative Literature don't care much about
historical accuracy (nor even comparative comparisons).

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