Wilhelm Furtwängler: On Love and Music

Film: » Furtwängler’s Love «

One has to immerse oneself in a work of art, it’s a self-contained world, a world unto itself. This process is called love. It is the opposite of evaluating or comparing. It only sees the incomparable, the unique. It is this love, provoked by the work again and again, that enables us to grasp the work as a whole. And the whole is nothing other than love. Every part can be grasped by the intellect, but the whole can only be understood with this kind of love.

The basis of the tonality is the cadenza. A certain space is encompassed by its simplest steps, one to the dominant and then to the sub-dominant and finally back to the tonic. These steps not only make a connection between one chord and the adjacent one but also – and this is crucial – they also create a greater, superior context that connects together all the links in the cadenza from its starting-off point to its end. This superior context, this space that the cadenza creates, is nothing less than the decisive element: the music can take shape, it has found a point from which it can depart and an end that it can reach. A fugue such as Bach wrote or a movement from a symphony such as Beethoven wrote represent literally a cadenza extended into gigantic proportions.

Thus a piece of tonal music offers something like a view of the sea: there are smaller waves on top of big ones, and smaller ones again on top of them, and so on. The wave is here the same as the tension in a cadenza, large ones and ever-smaller ones laid on top of one another. We are therefore dealing here with a system of independent forces that take their effect independently of our desires and wishes. It is not until our desire for expression becomes one with the desire for expression of these forces that the work of art can arise.

Accompanying an atonal musician hand-in-hand is like going through a thick forest. Along the path, weird and wonderful flowers and plants draw our attention and one does not know oneself where one has come from or where one is going. The listener is gripped by the feeling of being exposed to the power of elemental existence. There is admittedly no denying that a certain note has thus been struck in the modern human being’s feeling for life.

In contrast to that the cadenza arises in tonal music on the firm foundations of the triad. The tension grows out of the release of tension in order to grasp the diversity of life’s forms and ultimately, according to the law that governs it, to return to the starting-off point, the so-called tonic. The more tranquil and complete the release of tension is the more powerful are the tensions that become possible on its basis. Indeed, it is only through the corresponding release of tension that must precede it that any kind of tension is possible in the first place and can be recovered afterwards. Every great piece of tonal music, therefore, despite all the excitement that can be driven to the limit of human comprehension, exudes a deep and unshakeable tranquillity that permeates everything and everyone like a memory of the majesty of God.

(Compiled by Jan Schmidt-Garre from Furtwängler’s essays and letters)

Film: » Furtwängler’s Love «