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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Doctor Faustus (1947) by Thomas Mann

Video description of 12 tone music

Example of 12 tone music

Book Review
Doctor Faustus (1947)
 by Thomas Mann

  Doctor Faustus is the fictional "biography" of a syphilitic German composer, based loosely on Arthur Schonenberg, who may or may not have sold his soul to the devil. (alternatively, he may have hallucinated the entire transaction in a syphilitic fit.)  The narrative jumps backward and forwards in time, and also deals with the attractions and ultimate moral bankruptcy of National Socialism/Nazism.  Mann wrote Faustus while he was waiting out World War II in Los Angeles, and the scope of erudition as it pertains to the development of modern music is frankly astonishing.  I'm talking about in depth, theoretical discussions about the evolution of "classical" to "modern" music in the 20th century, and as a layman, I could barely keep track of what the characters were talking about.

  The Faustus is Adrien Leverkuhn.  He starts out as a divinity student in early 20th century Germany, but becomes obsessed with the aesthetic qualities of music.  Somewhere along the line he contracts syphilis, then maybe he sells his soul to the devil, then he spends the rest of his life writing a gran Apocalyptic work of music that is both transcendent and misunderstood.

  Sound familiar?  Any working musician or interested party would find Doctor Faustus of interest.  It's the most musically sophisticated novel of any that I have read in my entire life, and it's worth reading simply for the discussion of the development of "modern" "12 tone music" in a fictionalized format.

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