Hello, and welcome to this, the third of the three late literary lunches, hosted here on FMR 101.3 by me, Tony Westwood.  On the menu, music that appears in works of literature.  In our first lunch, Beethoven appeared in various guises; last week it was the turn of English writers, and, consoled by the finale from Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, we witnessed the destruction of the earth.  I promised you a mountain at this week’s lunch and a mountain you shall have — and a Magic Mountain at that.

 

10 years in the writing, German writer Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, large both in scope and size, appeared in 1924.  On the surface, the story of a young man’s visit to a Swiss TB sanatorium in the years leading up to the Great War — World War I –, the novel takes a look at a Europe headed who knows where out of Modernism, taking in the human condition in itself – but always with a twinkling ironic eye.  This novel, one chapter of it, chapter 47 of 51 chapters, is the focus of today’s lunch.

 

Now this is a challenge.  How do I give a perspective on a chapter 47 that occurs six or seven years and 630 pages into ‘our hero’s’  (note the inverted commas) ‘our hero’s’ three-week visit up the mountain?

 

To achieve this, I must confess to having a special relationship with Mann’s novel.  I have turned this novel into a three-act musical entitled ‘Love in a Time of Tuberculosis’, the first musical since The Bells of St Mary’s to have tuberculosis as a theme.  So, using a few words and a bit of music, I will quickly get you genned up enough to understand why Thomas Mann chooses to highlight the music he brings into chapter 47, a chapter he entitles ‘Fullness of Harmony’.

 

We start with the call of the Magic Mountain.  ‘Up here’ — the invitation on the Alphorn echoes across the valleys.

 

Call

 

The writer Thomas Mann sends a young man named Hans Castorp for a three-week rest 5000 feet up in the Alps at the Swiss resort of Davos.  There is apparently not a lot to this young German from a well-to-do Hamburg business family.  This, at least, is the view of some of those he is to meet on the Magic Mountain.

 

Take King Arthur, Drake, Siddartha, Theseus,

Prometheus, Siegfried.

Ev’ry name’s a claim to fame and glory.

their stories they lead.

Here’s our leading man –

o, gents and ladies,

I am afraid he’s

not much to show.

Just one glance at our young Hans shows clearly

he’s really no hero.

 

Not very A

 

Not very bright, not very dim,

Not very much that would distinguish him.

Not very smooth, not very rough,

not really fit for all his hero-stuff.

 

Hans has come to visit his young cousin Joachim, a keen soldier who is an unwilling patient in the TB sanatorium.  Joachim is mixture between the Chocolate Soldier and Saint Sebastian and has a lovely tenor voice.

 

He tells Hans about life ‘up here’.

 

Up here Intro

 

Up here where the air breathes new life into body and soul; up here, up here scenes so fair all conspire to restore and make whole. The atmosphere is clean and crystal-clear; the perfect cure for all ills of the chest. The views are sublime; it’s a marvellous climate and just what doctors suggest.

 

Up here

 

For here, he sings, up here Alpine heights seemed to mock us in time’s endless stream.  Up here, up here any flight’s to be thought of, at most, like a phantom or ghost; no more than a fanciful dream.

 

Joachim has already been on TB treatment of 18 months. Eventually he will desert his duty as a TB patient and, in Act 2, will return, though not cured, to his military life.  He comes back much later in the novel — in Act 3 — and dies of TB of the larynx — not nice for a tenor.  What Hans thinks about this is revealed in his choice of music in chapter 47.

 

On the Magic Mountain, Hans is rather intrigued by the general attitude of the patients to life up here.

 

Eat, drink and be merry, they sing, for tomorrow we die!

 

Eat drink and be merry.

 

After all, many patients stay up here for years trying — or are they really trying?  — to be cured of TB.  Hans finds this enforced indolence rather alluring.

 

Also alluring is one of the female patients, Claudia Chauchat.  She comes from a republic in the Caucasus – her theme is a freedom, liberty – an approach to living that she picks up from her country.  She gives her home country the Russian pronunciation. Chechenya….

 

Chechenya

 

Hans is infatuated by Claudia, but he doesn’t know why.  She’s ill, isn’t she?

 

As a counterweight to Claudia’s erotic influence on Hans, Thomas Mann inserts Signor Ludovico Settembrini, an Italian humanist rationalist.  He also has TB, and he tries to recruit Hans to the cause of Western rational progress and Modernism.

 

Reason 1

 

The light of Human reason will illuminate the world

The thoughts of Man brought together can create a blueprint and a plan.

 

Reason 2

 

Settembrini does not approve of Hans’ attraction to Claudia’s liberated carnality.

 

As a separate counterweight to Signor Settembrini’s ideas, we also meet Father Naphta, a small ugly Catholic priest with TB and a penchant for polemical religious nihilism.  He and Settembrini have a series of dingdong battles for Hans’ paltry soul. In musical terms, Naphta is a discordant C minor and Settembrini a rather warmer E major.

 

Debate

 

In a wonderful theatrical moment towards the end, in the throes of advanced TB, Settembrini and Naphta have a real duel with pistols.

 

Preparing to return home after three weeks on the Magic Mountain, Hans develops a cough.  He goes to the doctors.

 

TB or not TB that is the question

Whether ‘tis or ‘taint, or ‘tis; now there’s no question.

 

TB or not TB

 

Yes, Hans has TB.    He will have to stay on the Magic Mountain. He is not sorry.

 

So now the stage is set for Joachim, Settembrini, the chorus of TB patients, Claudia and Naphta unwittingly to help our modest hero find his own way through a jungle of matters material, psychological and spiritual to reach his own conclusions about life, the universe and everything.

 

In chapter 47 (here we are at last), a new gadget appears on the Magic Mountain for the delight of the patients— a gramophone.  Hans is attracted.  He becomes a kind of DJ and this gives him the access to the five records that mean a great deal to him; that connect to all he has seen and heard and felt ‘up here’.  What music is it?  What did Thomas Mann choose for Hans?

 

First comes the end of Verdi’s opera Aida.  Why this?  Naphta’s inflexible, nihilistic god is heard in the priest’s condemnation of Radames.

 

Aida priests

 

Radames’ choice of Aida and true love over country is greater than those priests are — like Joachim’s fatal choice was, like Hans’s is. Aida and Radames, their entombed love, speaks to Hans. ‘You, here in this tomb?!’ Radames exclaims to Aida.

 

Aida

 

Hans sat there with folded hands. Ultimately what he felt, understood, and relished was the victorious ideality of music, of Art, of human emotions, their sublime and incontrovertible ability to gloss over the crude horrors of reality. You had only to picture coolly and calmly what was actually happening here.  Two people were being buried alive; their lungs full of the gases of the crypt, cramped with hunger, they would perish together, or even worse, one after the other; and then decay would do its unspeakable work on their bodies, until two skeletons lay there under those vaults, each indifferent and insensitive to whether it lay there alone or with another set of bones.  That was the real, factual side of the matter. For the Radames and Aida of the opera, this factual future did not exist.  They let their voices sweep in unison to the blessed sustained note of the octave, secure in the belief that Heaven was opening before them, but their longings were bathed in the light of eternity.  The consoling power of beauty to gloss things over did its listener a great deal of good and contributed much to his special fondness for this segment of his favourite concert.

 

As a balm after this terror, Hans plays a dreamy piece of music.  A piece of music that frees one from all responsibility — as the Magic Mountain did Hans. I don’t think you’ll have difficulty working out what this music is:

 

This was the dream that Hans Castorp dreamed: he was lying on his back on a meadow sparkling in the sun and strewn with colourful asters, a little mound of earth under his head, one leg pulled up slightly, the other laid across it — and, let it be noted, they were the legs of a goat.  Just for the pure joy of it, since he was quite alone on the meadow, he let his fingers play at the stops of a woodwind  he held to his lips, a clarinet or reed pipe, from which he coaxed gentle, nasal tones, one after the other, purely at random, and yet in a satisfying sequence that arose carelessly into the deep blue sky.  The gently swaying, peaceful, summery scene around him became a blend of sounds that gave ever-changing, constantly surprising harmonic meaning to his simple pipings.  He was very happy on his summer meadow. There was no responsibility, no War Tribunal of priests judging someone who’d forgotten his honour, lost it somehow.  It was depravity with the best of consciences, the idealised apotheosis of the total refusal to obey Western demands for an active life.  To our nocturnal musician’s ears, this one piece’s soothing effects made it worth many others.

 

Faun

 

Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun with Hans Castorp as Faun, played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The second of Hans Castorp’s favourite works.

 

Record number 3 is a clever choice by Mann.  Part of Bizet’s opera Carmen.  I wonder if Mann had Bizet’s characters in mind when he painted his own in his novel?  Claudia for Carmen.  Don Jose for Joachim.  Not specifically certainly, but Hans definitely hears echoes as he listens to Bizet’s music in the dead of night.  The scene is that in which Carmen tantalises Don Jose, and then scorns his need to follow the bugle call back to barracks.

 

Carmen 1

 

Carmen uses a very simple means to get her way.  She claims that if he leaves, he does not love her; and that is precisely what Jose cannot bear.  He implores her to let him speak.  She refuses.  Then he forces her to listen — a devilishly serious moment.  Ominous sounds rose from the orchestra, a gloomy, threatening scheme, which as Hans knew, moved through the whole opera until the catastrophic end, but here also served as the introduction to the little soldier’s aria — the next record.  And he put it on now.

 

Carmen 2

 

‘Oh my Carmen’, he sang.  ‘My being is yours,’ he sang in desperation, repeating the same anguished melodic phrase, which the orchestra also picked up again on its own, ascending two notes up from the dominant and with deepest fervour moving back to the fifth below.  ‘My heart is yours,’ he assured her in trite, but tenderest excess, using that same melodic phrase again; now he moved up the scale to the sixth to add, ‘and I am eternally yours’, then let his voice sink 10 intervals and in great agitation confessed, ‘Carmen, I love you’ — the last few notes agonisingly sustained above shifting harmonies, before the ‘you’ with its grace note finally resolved the chord.

 

Carmen 3

 

Also echoed in Don Jose’s song is Hans’ own fervent avowal of love sung to Claudia during the Mardi Gras celebrations at the end of Act 2: ‘I believe this dream was meant to be,’ he sang.

 

I believe

 

‘Yes, yes,’ Hans said in sombre gratitude, and put on the finale, where everyone congratulated young Jose for standing up to his officer, and thus cutting off his retreat, so that he would now have to desert the colours, just as Carmen had demanded, to his horror only moments before.

 

The chorus sang — and you could understand the words quite clearly.  ‘To roam and walk with happy pride your fatherland, the world so wide!  You shall obey your will alone.  A gift more rare than precious stone is freedom, freedom, it is your own!’

 

Carmen 4

 

Yes, yes, Hans said once more,…..

 

Claudia’s freedom, and dear friend and cousin Joachim’s fateful desertion from his duty to stay the course of his TB treatment, and Hans’s own delighted, though temporary, fall into the hands of a femme fatale are all linked in his mind with Bizet’s Carmen.

 

Hans moved on to a fourth piece, something very fine and dear to him.

 

Record 4 is also French and is also linked to Joachim.  In Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, Marguerite’s soldier brother Valentine is off to war.  He promises to pray every day for her protection.  This means a lot to Hans as it connects him — the soldier’s voice connects him with dead Joachim.

 

When to war I’m called away

I’ll remember every day

to entreat our God on high

to protect you if I die.

 

The music, Valentine’s Cavatina, from Gounod’s Faust links Hans with Joachim in a macabre way in the very next chapter of Mann’s novel.  Hans attends a séance — yet another diversion for the patients, though one of the doctors calls it a serious psychological study. Hans has asked that Joachim be called from ‘the other side’. The medium (a young girl who has TB, haven’t they all?) is not having much success. Then Hans puts on the record of Valentine’s Cavatina:

 

Valentine’s Cavatina. (The next paragraphs are spoken over the music at the times indicated)

 

(13 seconds ) No one spoke.  They listened.  Hans held the medium’s hand. The moment the music began, she took up her labours again.  She started up in her chair, shuddered, groaned, pumped, and put Hans’s slippery wet hands to her brow.

 

(1 minutes 8 seconds) The record continued to play.  It came to the middle section, the passage about battle and danger.

 

(1 minute 55 seconds) The music moved on to the finale, the reprise, with augmented orchestra swimming in massive terms: ‘O Lord of heaven, hear my prayer.’ Hans was occupied with the medium.  She reared back, drawing air in through her constricted throat, sank forward again with a long sigh, and crouched there without a sound.  One of the patients squeaked in terror. Hans did not straighten up.  There was a bitter taste in his mouth.

 

(after the end of the music) The record had come to an end.  No one turned off the machine.  Hans lifted his head, and without having to search, his eyes looked in the right direction.  There was now one more person than before in the room.  There sat Joachim.  It was Joachim with a shadowy hollow cheeks and warrior’s beard from his final days.  He sat leaning back, one leg crossed over the other.  Two deep creases were engraved on his brow between the eyes, which had sunk deep into their bony sockets, although that did not distract from the tenderness of the gaze that came from a beautiful, large, dark eyes, directed in friendly silence at Hans, at him alone.  Hans stared at the visitor in the chair.  For a moment, he thought that he would vomit.  His throat contracted and cramped for four or five fervent sobs.  ‘Forgive me!’ he whispered to himself, and then the tears came to his eyes and he saw nothing more.

 

Throughout the novel, Hans Castorp plays a dance with death, trying to get the measure of it.  Even the bones of the dead lovers in Aida are part of this. The last of his favourite records is linked with death – The Linden – or Lime – tree – Schubert’s short song from his song cycle, The Winter Journey. The tree calls a young man to suicide on its rustling branches.

 

Beside the flowing fountain

A spreading lime tree grows

And often in its shadow

I liked to dream and doze.

I carved upon its sturdy trunk

The words that love expressed.

In times of joy or sadness

It drew me there to rest.

 

But now when I walk past it

Alone at dead of night

I dare not, in the darkness,

Allow it into my sight.

But still the rustling branches

Are whispering to me

Their gentle invitation,

“Come here and rest in peace.”

 

Der Lindenbaum

 

This song, Schubert’s Der Lindenbaum, appears again right at the end of the novel. World War 1 has arrived and, up there on the Magic Mountain for seven years, Hans had cut himself off so effectively, much to Ludovico Settembrini’s chagrin, that he was not even aware that it was coming. The war brings to an end life ‘up here’, and we take our leave of Hans in a very different setting.

 

Where are we? Where has our dream brought us?  Dusk, rain, and mud, fire reddening a murky sky that bellows incessantly with dull thunder, the damp air rent by piercing, singsong whines and raging, onrushing, hell hound howls that end their arc in a splintering, spraying, fiery crash filled with groans and screams, with brass blaring, about to burst, and drumbeats urging onward, faster, faster. 

 

There is our friend, there is Hans! He is soaked through, his face is flushed, like all the others.  He runs with feet weighed down by mud, his bayoneted rifle clutched in his hand.  What’s this?  He’s singing?  The way a man sings to himself in moments of dazed, thoughtless excitement, without even knowing — and he uses what tatters of breath he has left to sing to himself:

 

‘I carved upon its sturdy trunk the words that love expressed’

 

He stumbles.  No, he has thrown himself on his stomach at the approach of a howling hound of hell, a large explosive shell.  He lies there, face in the cool muck, legs spread, feet twisted until the heels press the Earth.  Laden with horror, this product of science gone berserk crosses 30 yards in front of him, buries itself in the ground, and explodes like the devil himself, bursts inside the earth with ghastly superstrength and casts up a house-high fountain of soil, fire, iron, lead, and dismembered humanity. 

 

Explosion

 

He gets up, he limps and stumbles forward on mud-laden feet, singing thoughtlessly:

 

‘But still the rustling branches Are whispering to me

Their gentle invitation, “Come here and rest in peace.” ‘

 

And so, in the tumult, in the rain, in the dusk, Hans disappears from sight.

 

Epilogue

 

No more to tell

We break the spell

And say farewell.

 

And it is farewell from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and farewell from me, Tony Westwood, and farewell from our Late Literary Lunches. Thank you very much for listening, and sharing these literary meals. I suppose there might be some left-overs: we’ll have to see.  Happy reading and happy listening.