This is an interesting and in-depth article about Kafka's relationship with music. Even though I think the author, Will Self, is wrong (perhaps deliberately so) in his interpretation, he tosses out many a thoughtful theory. But he certainly gives Max Brod too short a shrift concerning his motives and importance to Kafka. I am more prone to go by the remarks Kafka actually made about music, to come to my conclusions. Kafka's comments lead me to believe he was tone deaf (which, I will unkindly point out, might support some of Self's ideas). However, for me, the most telling comment comes from Kafka when he was staying with his sister in a remote village. He was rudely interrupted by the sound of someone on a piano in a neighbouring house. I paraphrase, but he wrote, in effect, 'Just my luck, to find myself near the only piano in all of Bohemia.'
By the way, the comments to this article are well worth the read.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Franz Kafka: was the author completely unmusical?
Far from being completely unmusical, as he himself claimed, Kafka's unconventional tastes were ahead of his time, argues Will Self
by Will Self
As with so much concerning Kafka – his strange life, and stranger fiction – we are almost compelled to begin with the observations of Max Brod, his friend, sanctifier and – some might argue – crypto-amanuensis. In his biography of the writer, Brod recounts the deepening of their friendship in the spring of 1911 thus: "I showed my love for my friend, too, by setting to music his little poem 'Little soul – though leaping dancest' to a simple melody accompanied by variations on the piano." Brod goes on to say of Kafka: "as if to compensate for the remarkable gift he had of musical speech, he had no talent for pure music." Brod clearly believes that there's a fixed amount of musicality available to any given individual, and that since Kafka's prose "bears all the characteristics of good music in its rhythm and dynamic", there's nothing "left for the world of musical sounds". He informs us that Kafka played no musical instrument, and that he "once told me he couldn't tell the difference between The Merry Widow and Tristan and Isolde."
Brod, always at pains to airbrush Kafka's image into hazy iconography – and possessing that sense of his own cultured condition beloved of the second-rate artist – won't allow that Kafka was unmusical: "he possessed a natural feeling for rhythm and tune," and he recounts that he used to "drag him along to concerts until I gave it up, when I found his reactions to them were of a purely visual character". Brod then quotes Kafka's own diary entry following one such concert, emphasising this telling remark: "Listening to music, by its nature, sets a wall around me, and the only lasting effect is that, shut in in this way, I am anything but free." Brod acknowledges that this was a response to a Brahms programme, but what he doesn't seem to get – as ever, the witless Robin to Kafka's brooding Batman – is the sense of dark irony that pervades Kafka's self-analysis, just as, I'd argue, a rather more playful irony is evident in his conflation of Franz Lehár with Richard Wagner. (Who were, in that order, Hitler's favourite composers, not that we should necessarily make anything of this.)
(more + comments)