References for this article

[A version of this article appeared in Theory and Practice: Journal of the Music Theory Society of New York State 17 (1992): 103-118.] 


Schoenberg and the Occult: Some Reflections on the "Musical Idea"[1]

John Covach



     In 1911, the same year that saw the publication of Schoenberg's Harmonielehre, the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky published his Concerning the Spiritual in Art.  At one point in his book, Kandinsky writes the following: 

      Shades of colour [die Töne der Farben], like those of sound, are of a much finer texture and awake in the soul emotions too fine to be expressed in words.  Certainly each tone [jeder Ton] will find some probable expression in words, but it will always be incomplete, and that part which the word fails to express will not be unimportant but rather the very kernel of its existence [das Wesentliche in demselben]. (Kandinsky [1911], 41) 

     As Jelena Hahl-Koch [1980] has documented, Schoenberg agreed with much of what Kandinsky writes in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, and with regard to Kandinsky's discussion of music, Schoenberg writes to Kandinsky on 14 December 1911 that 

      I have still not read all of your book, only two thirds of it.  Nevertheless, I must already write to you that I like it extraordinarily, particularly what you say about about color in comparison to musical timbre.  That is in accord with my own perceptions. (Hahl-Koch [1980], 38) 

     The importance of the Kandinsky-Schoenberg relationship for the interpretation of Schoenberg's thought will be further explored later in this study.  For present purposes one may note Schoenberg seems in this instance to agree with Kandinsky's position--or at least he does not specifically object--that what is most fundamental to the musical experience, "the very kernel of its existence," will always escape a precise verbal description.  Further, the fact that this ultimate musical essence seems to be beyond verbal characterization is not viewed as problematical, but rather it is viewed as crucial to the nature of music.[2] 

     If we turn now to Schoenberg's own writing on music, one could assert that if any component has at once occupied a central place in Schoenberg's thought and also eluded every attempt at precise verbal characterization, is it certainly the musikalische Gedanke.  The problem in understanding Schoenberg's meaning arises first because he sometimes used different terms when he appears to have had a single concept in mind, and second because he sometimes reused a single term when he had different concepts in mind.[3]  It is clear that Schoenberg himself despaired at his lack of success in defining the musikalische Gedanke.  At one point in the Gedanke manuscript, Schoenberg gives up an attempt to define the Gedanke and comments: 

     I thought that I'd be able to state this clearly today.  I had it so clearly in mind but I must still wait.  Perhaps though I shall come to it yet [7 April 1929]. (Goehr 1977, 5) 

Considering Schoenberg's own failure to bring this notion to precise formulation, it may come as no surprise that this elusive component has given rise to various interpretations in the Schoenberg secondary literature; Charlotte Cross (1980), Rudolf Stephan (1982), Patricia Carpenter (1983), Alexander Goehr (1985), Severine Neff (1990), and Claire Boge (1990) for example, have each offered different readings. 

     This study will suggest that while the musikalische Gedanke must be understood as the ultimate point of arrival in Schoenberg's musical thought, it is by its very nature beyond any complete or precise verbal description.  That does not mean that it is beyond our understanding, but only that any verbal characterization will necessarily be incomplete.  This interpretation argues that Schoenberg's thinking was influenced, in part, by philosophical perspectives that would today be labeled occult; I believe that understanding these occult ideas sheds considerable light on the nature of the musikalische Gedanke.  It is true that Schoenberg's musikalische Gedanke can be understood partly in the context of Schopenhauer's "aesthetics of absolute music."[4]  But an understanding of both Emanuel Swedenborg's ideas, as they are represented in the "philosophical" novels by Honoré de Balzac, and Rudolf Steiner's interpretation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's scientific writing leads to a fuller recovery of Schoenberg's meaning.  Interpreted in this intellectual context, it should become clear why the Gedanke eludes, and even should be expected to elude, precise verbal characterization.  In order to establish a foundation for this interpretation of Schoenberg's thought, we need to look first into the mystical worlds of Emanuel Swedenborg and Rudolf Steiner.   


     Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Stockholm on 29 January 1688.[5]  Until the age of 57, there is nothing in Swedenborg's life that indicates a tendency toward mysticism; he was educated at Uppsala University where he majored in philosophy, graduating in 1709.[6]  He went on to hold a government office as a member of the Swedish Board of Mines.  Swedenborg was an active scientist and philosopher, and in the period between 1720 and 1745 he wrote twenty volumes' worth of books and essays, many of which were published during this time.  In 1745, however, things changed drastically for Swedenborg.  After having had a number of strange visions and dreams, he had an experience in which he believed that he had been visited by a spirit.  According to Swedenborg this spirit told him that God needed a human to serve as a means of further revealing himself to mankind and Swedenborg was the one "called" to this mission.  In the period between his vision of 1745 and his death in 1772, Swedenborg wrote a virtual library of theological books, including the Arcana Coelestia in twelve volumes, and the Apocalypse Explained in six.   

     Swedenborg's theological writings drew the attention of a number of figures in late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe; his writings, for example, drew criticism from the young Immanuel Kant and praise from Goethe.[7]  His theory of correspondences especially exerted a strong influence over a number of nineteenth-century writers.  Swedenborg taught that every object in the material world corresponds with an object in the spiritual world: 

The whole natural world corresponds to the spiritual world--not just the natural world in general, but actually in details.  So anything in the natural world that occurs from the spiritual world is called a correspondent.  It is vital to understand that the natural world emerges and endures from the spiritual world, just like an effect from the cause that produces it. ([1758], 81) 

For Swedenborg, the Bible must be interpreted according to his system of correspondences between particular physical images and their spiritual correspondents.  According to literary critic Anna Balakian (1967, 12-28), this doctrine of correspondences was picked up, and in a certain sense transformed, by the nineteenth-century symbolist writers beginning with Baudelaire.[8]  

     Most important to the study of Schoenberg's thought is the fact that Honoré de Balzac came under the influence of Swedenborg's writings.  V. S. Pritchett (1973, 41) reports that Balzac was probably exposed to the mystic author through his mother's interest in Swedenborg.[9]  However Balzac came to Swedenborg's thought, his ideas played a decisive role in Balzac's "philosophical novels," and especially in his Séraphita.  Balzac seemed to be intrigued by Swedenborg's idea that there exists a series of finer worlds than ours.  These worlds exist, more or less, "between the atoms" of our coarse physical reality.  These worlds, or heavens, are populated by disembodied souls, or angels.  Swedenborg insisted that he was able to speak with these souls and that they were the source of his spiritual knowledge.[9] 

     In Séraphita, the main character is an androgynous being, Séraphita/Séraphitus, who appears to two young lovers, to the man (Wilfred) as a woman and to the woman (Minna) as a man.  In the final chapter, entitled "The Assumption," Séraphita/Séraphitus ascends into heaven and the young couple are treated to a glimpse into this higher realm, an experience that almost overpowers them in its strength.  Balzac's fascination with the possibility of glimpsing into a higher spiritual realm is not limited to this novel however.  In Louis Lambert, a story important to Balzac scholars because it is in part autobiographical, Lambert becomes so engrossed in viewing the higher spiritual realm that by the end of the story he is no longer able to communicate with the physical world; his living body is stuck in the physical realm while his mind (or spirit) is firmly fastened on the higher spiritual world. 

     Balzac's philosophical stories were not without influence in the late nineteenth century.  Art historian Dore Ashton (1991) describes how Balzac's "The Unknown Masterpiece" played important roles in the lives of Cezanne, Rilke, and Picasso.  Again in this story we meet Balzac's fascination with the ability to see into other worlds.  The old master painter Frenhofer paints a portrait that he believes is his greatest achievement, but when his friends finally talk the old master into showing it to them, they find that it is only blotches of color, except that in one corner they can discern a marvelous rendering of a woman's foot.  The old painter is furious at his friends' lack of comprehension and throws them out of the studio.  Clearly the master is able to see something that the others cannot. 

     Balzac's story "Gambara" presents a similar situation to that of Frenhofer, but in this tale the main character is not a painter but rather a composer.  An Italian living in Paris, Gambara is considered eccentric because he composes music that nobody is able to understand; his listeners find the music too dissonant and therefore incomprehensible.  If Frenhofer anticipates the abstract painter, Gambara as well could be seen to prefigure the atonal composer.[9]  Gambara "hears" into a world that others are unaware of.  At the end of the story Gambara states his case in such a manner that he could almost be mistaken for Schoenberg: 

My music is good.  But as soon as music transcends feeling and becomes an idea [l'idee], only persons of genius should be hearers, for they alone are capable of responding to it!  It is my misfortune that I have heard the chorus of angels, and believed that men could understand those strains. ([1837], 391) 

     We know that Schoenberg held both Balzac and Swedenborg in very high regard as early as 1911.  In his essay on Franz Liszt he writes  

     Great men's effect, if any, on life is infinitely slight.  If one observes what Plato, Christ, Kant, Swedenborg, Schopenhauer, Balzac and others thought, and compares it with what people now believe . . . then one doubts whether progress exists. (Schoenberg 1975, 446) 

Whether Schoenberg actually studied Swedenborg directly is difficult to determine.  Schoenberg does list one volume of Swedenborg in his library but it is unannotated (Steuermann 1979, 218).  Balzac, however, refers to the Swedish mystic throughout Séraphita; the third chapter especially describes Swedenborg and his philosophy in some detail.  It is therefore possible that Schoenberg took his basic knowledge of Swedenborg from Balzac's novel.[12]  It is certain that Schoenberg read and admired many of Balzac's novels and Stuckenschmidt (1974, 234-5) describes how especially taken Schoenberg was with Séraphita.  A letter from Berg (1987, 135-36) also suggests that Schoenberg was very fond of Louis Lambert.[13] 

     Schoenberg considered setting the assumption chapter of Séraphita in the early stages of Die Jakobsleiter and even considered combining it with August Strindberg's "Jacob Wrestling" from Legends (Stuckenschmidt 1974, 235).  Strindberg's story was written very much under the influence of Swedenborg's philosophy and so the combination of these two texts is not as unlikely as it might seem at first.[14]  As far as Schoenberg's feeling for Strindberg's writing is concerned, the composer felt such a strong artistic affinity with the Swedish writer that he may even have mused over the fact that the names Arnold Schoenberg and August Strindberg are very similar (Schoenberg 1986, 243).[15] 

     Karl Wörner (1965) was perhaps the first to note the strong influence of Swedenborg's thought on Schoenberg's final version of the Jakobsleiter text.  Wörner also notes that Swedenborg's thought plays a crucial role in Schoenberg's notion of the "unity of musical space" (p. 338)  The influence of Swedenborg and Balzac is indeed acknowledged by Schoenberg in the famous "Composition with Twelve Tones" essay (1975, 223).  Though our post-World-War-II sensibilities may be embarrassed by such occult philosophy as that of Swedenborg, one is forced to note how unembarassed Schoenberg was to acknowledge such an intellectual debt.  And indeed, Schoenberg seems to have sustained his fascination with such ideas in as much as he still held out hope of finishing Die Jakobsleiter until the end of his life.   


     The claim for the existence of alternative planes of existence also plays a major role in Rudolf Steiner's interpretation of Goethe's scientific writings.  Steiner was born in Hungary in 1861.[16]  In 1879 Steiner came to the Technische Hochschule in Vienna where he studied German literature with Karl Julius Schöer.  Schöer recommended Steiner for the task of editing the scientific writings for the Kürschner edition of Goethe's work, and in the period between 1884 and 1891 Steiner edited volumes 33 through 36, providing extensive commentaries.[17]  Thus already at the age of twenty-three Steiner was making a name for himself as a leading young scholar of Goethean science.  Steiner then edited a portion of the scientific works for the prestigious Weimar edition of Goethe's work, a project that had him working at the Goethe archive in Weimar in the 1890's. 

     For most of the 1880's, though, Steiner was in Vienna.  In 1888 he delivered a lecture to the Vienna Goethe Society entitled "Goethe as the Father of a New Science of Aesthetics."  By the turn of the century he had published, in addition to the Vienna lecture and his extensive commentaries for Kürschner, two more books on Goethe, The Science of Knowing: Outline of an Epistemology Implicit in the Goethean World View [1886], and Goethe's World View [1897]. 

     Steiner's interpretation of Goethe is distinctive in that Steiner insists that Goethe advocated a kind of super-sensory seeing.  When Goethe spoke of the Urpflanze, the Urtier, or the Urphänomen, Steiner insisted that Goethe meant that those things really exist as things that one can learn to see.  In sharp contrast to Kantian epistemology, Goethe's Urpflanze, for example,  is not an image that one holds in the mind while viewing some plant.  For Steiner it really exists "out there":   

     Goethe's basic conviction was that something can be seen in the plant and in the animal that is not accessible to mere sense observation.  What the bodily eye can observe about the organism seems to Goethe to be only the result of the living whole of developmental laws working through one another and accessible to the spiritual eye alone.  What he saw about the plant and the animal with his spiritual eye is what he described. (Steiner [1897], 77) 

Steiner interprets Goethe as advocating that scientists need to cultivate the ability to see with the "geistige Auge."  In fact, Steiner seems to say, true empirical observation requires the subject to penetrate the obvious physical reality to see into the finer realm of true reality.   

     While it is true that Steiner, after 1900 or so, went on to become the leader first of German theosophists and then of his own Anthroposophic Society, in these early years in Vienna and Weimar he was considered to be a kind of "rising young star" of Goethe scholarship.  In fact, considering his fast rise and his residence in Vienna during most of the 1880's, it may not be too much to assume that those in Vienna who came to Goethe's scientific work, especially non-specialists, would have almost certainly have come into contact with Steiner's interpretations.[18] 

     In the late 1880's, Steiner was a friend of Friedrich Eckstein (Webb 1985, 62).  According to historian William McGrath (1974, 93-99), Eckstein seems to have been involved in any number of interesting movements in Vienna starting in the 1870's and extending into the 1930's.  In the 1870's and 80's Eckstein was a devout Wagnerian, at one point making a pilgrimage to Bayreuth on foot and in sandals.  When Wagner made the turn to vegetarianism, Eckstein and those around him quickly followed suit.  Eckstein also headed up a group of Pythagoreans that dressed in all cotton gowns year round, sporting shoulder-length hair and long beards.  Eckstein was active in the so-called Pernersdorfer circle, a group that followed the writings of Wagner and Nietzsche and included, among others, Viktor Adler, Gustav Mahler, and at one time, Hugo Wolf. 

     According to occult historian James Webb (1985, 44-45; 62), Steiner was a frequent visitor at the Café Griensteidl, where the Wagnerians, vegetarians, Pythagoreans, poets, and artists went to converse and often times, argue.  In fact, Steiner developed a reputation for constantly disagreeing with any position taken by Hermann Bahr.  All this suggests that in the Vienna of the 1890's where Schoenberg was a young developing intellectual, Rudolf Steiner was probably a name that arose often in connection with Goethe's scientific writings.   

     By the time Steiner became head of the German branch of the Theosophical Society in 1902, the Viennese occult community was already very developed.[19]  Steiner developed a substantial occult following throughout the German speaking countries and in 1913 formed his own Anthroposophical Society.  While Steiner's views before 1900 were still within the bounds of legitimate scholarship, his views after that time are unquestionably occult.  Steiner argued, for example, that there exist an astral and a causal plane of existence that are finer than our coarse physical plane and that one can learn to see into these higher realms.  With this marked occult turn of mind come the notions of the human aura, out-of-body experiences, telepathy, and ancient lost cultures that possessed the ultimate truths of existence.[20]  Despite making this move away from established belief systems, Steiner continued to maintain that much of what he was now teaching was founded upon Goethe's science, and especially Goethe's Farbenlehre.  Because he was well versed in German philosophy and literature, Steiner was able to argue that many of his ideas were merely extensions of the great German intellectual tradition.[21] This gave many of Steiner's ideas a kind of seriousness and level of intellectual discourse that is exceptional in occult writings.[22] 

     It seems, then, that Steiner's influence in the German occult community can hardly be underestimated.  This helps account for the sudden interest in Goethe's scientific writing among German artists around the turn of the century and after.  Karlheinz Essl (1989, 16) has suggested that Webern was exposed to Goethe's Farbenlehre by the followers of Rudolph Steiner.  The present author has argued that many of the key ideas in Josef Matthias Hauer's theories bear a striking resemblance to Steiner's Goethe interpretations (Covach 1990, 83-103).  The German occultists had a good part of their world view invested in Steiner's brand of Goethean science.  It seems likely that these people would have promoted Steiner's views such that artists coming into contact with Goethe's writings could have gotten the Steinerian slant on Goethe simply in cafe conversation; and this is especially likely in Vienna, where Steiner had a personal history going back to the 1880's. 

     Most important to our study is the case of Wassily Kandinsky.  Through examining documentary evidence in the Kandinsky estate, art historian Sixten Ringbom (1970) has been able to demonstrate that, during the period surrounding the writing of Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky studied the writings of Rudolf Steiner very closely, especially Steiner's Goethe writings.[23]  Ringbom asserts that Kandinsky's abstract painting developed in an attempt to portray the higher spiritual realm in painting; perhaps like the painter Frenhofer in Balzac's novel, Kandinsky was attempting to portray a higher reality behind the physical one.   

     That Kandinsky's period of involvement with Steiner's writings and the beginnings of his friendship with Schoenberg overlap is very suggestive.  As was mentioned above, Schoenberg found much in Kandinsky's book to agree with, stating in "The Relationship to the Text" that  ". . . with great joy I read Kandinsky's Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which the road for painting is pointed out (1975, 145)."  One wonders, considering Schoenberg's involvement both with the Blaue Reiter group generally and with Kandinsky in particular, whether discussions of Steiner's Goethe writings ever arose. 

     The 1924 Schoenberg 50th birthday Festschrift includes an article by Walter Klein (1924) entitled "Schoenberg as Theosophist."   While it is not clear why this brief article was included in the collection, it is perhaps more significant that it was not excluded; or if Schoenberg or members of his circle found Klein's arguments truly misguided, why does such a statement not appear in one of the letters?  Karl Wörner (1965, 253-57) has suggested that Schoenberg's Die Jakobsleiter text resembles in many ways Rudolf Steiner's Mystery Dramas, works that were performed in Vienna in the years before war broke out in 1914.  In any event, it is certainly possible that Schoenberg got the essence of Steiner's views from his life-long friend Oskar Adler, a man who was certainly no stranger to occult ideas.[24] 


     It is certain that Schoenberg knew and admired Swedenborg's writings, even if he got much of it through Balzac's novels.  Schoenberg's knowledge of Goethe's scientific writings probably came to him through occult channels; in this regard it is important to note, as Severine Neff (forthcoming) has demonstrated, that Goethean science was central to Schoenberg's own music-theoretical formulations.  While attempts to interpret Schoenberg within the context of the fin-de-siècle Viennese intellectual discourse have tended to stress the influence of figures like Schopenhauer, Karl Kraus, and Adolf Loos, I believe that this context must be opened up to include figures like Steiner, Swedenborg, and the occult community generally.[25] 

     But even if these points are conceded, one might ask, what does all this have to do with Schoenberg's music?  It is certainly possible that Schoenberg would have read and admired any number of occult books and continued to compose music relatively unaffected by all this.  It seems clear that some of Schoenberg's texts show the influence of occult ideas, especially Die Jakobsleiter and Die glückliche Hand (one might even add Moses and Aron).[26]  But how could all this have influenced Schoenberg's musical thought? 

     To address that question, let us return to the proposition that the musikalische Gedanke is impossible to capture in words.  In a 1946 essay, "New Music, Outmoded Music, Style and Idea," Schoenberg writes 

     I myself consider the totality of the a piece as the idea [Gedanke]: the idea which its creator wanted to present.  But because of the lack of better terms I am forced to define the term idea in the following manner: . . . (1975, 123) 

Here one notes the words "lack of better terms."  Earlier in the same essay Schoenberg writes  

     I would like to proceed now to my self-appointed task of discussing what seems to me to be most important in a work of art--the Idea. (121) 

From these two statements, one might interpret Schoenberg as asserting that while the idea is the most important facet of a work of art, it cannot be accurately characterized in language. 

     If this is true, then how does one come to be aware of the idea in the first place?  In 1922 Schoenberg writes the following in the Gedanke manuscript: 

     Science is concerned to present its ideas conclusively and in such a way that no question remains unanswered.  Art on the other hand is satisfied with what is many sided, and the Idea rises up unambiguously from this, without having to be directly defined.  A window remains open through which intuition may enter. (Goehr 1985, 61) 

     There is an implicit point-of-view in this statement that ties it to occult thought generally.  Science concerns the world of physical things and the accurate verbal descriptions of those things: science is rational.  Art is the world of spiritual things where accurate verbal descriptions are impossible: art is perceived super-rationally, or intuitively.[27] Going back to his essay "The Relationship to the Text," which it should be remembered appeared in the Kandinsky's Der Blaue Reiter, Schoenberg can be found extolling intuition as the ultimate mode of musical perception.[28]  For Schoenberg, the composer, through intuition, first sees the work whole, and all the rest is just a painstaking working out of details. 

     But if the idea is perceived intuitively, where exactly does it reside?  Schoenberg gives us a very good clue in his 1941 essay, "Composition with Twelve Tones."  In discussing inverted and retrograde motives in Beethoven's Op. 135, he tells us that 

     Whether or not this device was used consciously by Beethoven does not matter at all.  From my own experience I know that it can also be a subconsciously received gift from the Supreme Commander. (1975, 222) 

Schoenberg then goes on to discuss the hidden connections between the two principal themes of his First Chamber Symphony.  He immediately follows that with the well-known reference to Swedenborg[29]

     But the validity of this form of thinking is also demonstrated by the previously stated law of the unity of musical space, best formulated as follows: the unity of musical space depends upon an absolute and unitary perception.  In this space, as in Swedenborg's heaven (described in Balzac's Séraphita) there is no absolute down, no right or left, forward or backward. (223) 

     When one begins to put together the notions of intuitive perception, Swedenborg's heaven, subconscious gifts from the Supreme Commander, and, as he writes at the beginning of the "Twelve Tone" essay, references to divine creation, it seems that if the all important Gedanke resides anywhere, it must reside in some other, or even higher realm than the physical one.  In fact, it is quite possible that Schoenberg thought of the musikalische Gedanke as residing in a spiritual realm above the physical one, a higher realm closed off to rational-verbal thought and accessible only to intuitive perception.  Through intuition, the composer is able to glimpse into this higher realm where time and space are radically transformed.  A work of art as it ends up being composed out in the physical realm amounts to a kind of laying out in material time and space of something that is essentially non-physical.  But the listener, in the act of hearing the piece, in effect retraces the steps of the composing genius and can be transported to a state of higher consciousness; one is transported to a state in which one can perceive the musikalische Gedanke

     That Schoenberg could have believed that music has such a power is attributable to Schopenhauer's "metaphysics of music."[30] For Schopenhauer, only music is able to provide an unmediated perception of the "thing-in-itself," the Will.  For Schopenhauer, music constitutes a kind of alternate world to the physical one, and could, he suggests, even exist in the absence of the phenomenal universe.[31]  It is well known that Schoenberg admired Schopenhauer's writing, and Pamela White (1985) has established that Schoenberg studied Schopenhauer's work very closely.  Thus it seems not so unlikely that he would have attributed a very high level of significance to the ability of music to transcend physical reality and rational thought. 

     Of course, there is no way to determine conclusively whether such an interpretation of the musikalische Gedanke is entirely accurate.  Schoenberg's remarks are scatterred across many essays and fragments, some of which are still unpublished, and these writings span almost forty years' time.  Each remark must be read in its own context and it seems that no possible fitting together of the puzzle pieces that make up Schoenberg's literary legacy will ever create a systematic whole; and this situation is not likely to change much even if new puzzle pieces are put forward.  For these reasons, it is most useful to view Schoenberg's remarks as commentaries on issues within the dis­course of the fin-de-siècle Viennese intellectual and artistic environment in which Schoenberg lived and thought.  By determining those issues that Schoenberg addresses in each instance and noting the intellectual position he assumes, it is possible to let this interaction inform and thereby enrich our interpretations. 

     The occult component is certainly only one source of influence on Schoenberg's thought, though this study asserts that it is an important one.  Ultimately one would desire to compare and inform this interpretation with the interpretive writings of, for example, Alexander Ringer and Carl Dahlhaus.[32]  Still, considering Schoenberg's enthsiasm for Bal­zac's novels, one cannot help thinking of him as a kind of latter-day Louis Lambert, with his body stuck in the physical, and his mind firmly fastened on the spiritual.

[1] An earlier version of the present study was presented at the Music Theory Society of New York State / Arnold Schoenberg Institute Conference at Columbia University, 5 October 1991. 

[2] While one cannot be entirely certain that Schoenberg was referring to the specific remarks of Kandinsky quoted here--though they do occur between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way through Kandinsky's book (p. 74 out of 104 in the 1912 edition)--one need only look to Schoenberg's essay "Das Verhaeltnis zum Text" of 1912 to find Schoenberg discussing the essence of music in much the same terms as Kandinsky.  In this essay, written for inclusion in the Kandinsky/Marc Der Blaue Reiter [1912], Schoenberg cites Arthur Schopenhauer's assertion that "the composer reveals the inmost essence of the world and utters the most profound wisdom in a language that his reason does not understand" (Schoenberg 1975, 142).  Schoenberg remarks that while the philosopher understands the composer's vision, Schopenhauer nevertheless 

loses himself later when he tries to translate details of this language which the reason does not understand into our terms.  It must be clear to him that in this translation into the terms of human language, which is abstraction, reduction to the recognizable, the essential, the language of the world, which ought perhaps to remain incomprehensible and only perceptible, is lost. (Schoenberg 1975, 142)  

For a slightly different translation see Kandinsky and Marc  [1912], 91-92; for the original in German version see Schoenberg 1976, 3-6. 

[3] This point is made by Carl Dahlhaus (1987, 128-29) and examined by the present author in Covach 1991 (33-34).  For a thorough discussion of Schoenberg's terminology, see Neff (forthcoming) and Cross (1980).  

[4] . See Dahlhaus [1967] (42-46) for an outline of Schopenhauer's "aesthetics of absolute music," Dahlhaus [1978] for a tracing of the "idea of absolute music," and Dahlhaus 1987 (81-93) for an interpretation of the place of Schoenberg's thought within that tradition.  

[5] The biographical information presented here and in the re­mainder of this paragraph is drawn from Synnestvedt 1984, 15-35, and is corroborated by Spalding 1956, 15-19. 

[6] It is perhaps interesting that Swedenborg's father, Jesper, was professor of theology at Uppsala University and later became Bishop of Skara (Synnestvedt 1984, 16; Spalding 1956, 15). 

[7] According to Max Morris (1899, 503; cited in Benz 1938, 156), Goethe's enthusiasm for Swedenborg's writings can be found in his review of a book by J. C. Lavater (Goethe [1772]), in which he recommends Swedenborg to Lavater as the "worthiest seer of our age" ("gewürdigsten Seher unsrer Zeiten"); and in a letter to Lavater dated 14 November 1781 (Goethe [1781], 371-74) in which Goethe voices his admiration for Swedenborg.  For an interpretation of Swedenborg's influence on Goethe's Faust, see Morris 1899 and Gollwitzer 1968.   

     Kant's criticism of Swedenborg is the main focus of his Träume eines Geistersehers, erläurtert durch Träume der Metaphysik of 1766.  For a discussion of the Kant-Swedenborg relationship, see John Manolesco's commentary and appendices in Kant [1766].  For early twentieth-century reactions to the claims of Swedenborg followers, see Paul Carus's 1902 discussion in Kant [1789], 188-195; and Cassirer [1918], 77-92.  For a discussion of Swedenborg's influence on 18th- and 19th-century German thought, see Benz 1941.

[8] While citing Swedenborg's influence on Baudelaire, Balakian (1967, 29-53) does not consider Baudelaire himself to have been a symbolist. 

[9] Herbert J. Hunt (1959) states that Balzac had only read Swedenborg "at second hand" (52).  Dore Ashton (1991, 25) cites Andre Maurois' claim that Balzac knew Swedenborg only from a French outline of his writings.  Ashton then cites the contradic­tory claim of Theophile Gautier that "Balzac's phenomenal reading capacity allowed him to absorb his mother's entire set of the voluminous works of Swedenborg in a few days" (25).

[10] In discussing a skeptical attitude to the possibility of knowing what heaven is like, Swedenborg remarks as follows: 

To prevent so negative an attitude (which is particularly prevalent among people with much worldly wisdom) from infecting and corrupting people of simple heart and simple faith, it has been made possible for me to be right with angels and to talk with them person to person.  I have also been allowed to see what heaven is like and then what hell is like . . . . (1758, 27)

[11] In his chapter, "The Incommunicable Vision," F. W. J. Hemmings (1967, 3-18), considers these two stories together with a third, "Massimilla Doni."  Hemmings considers these stories to be closely related to Louis Lambert, and points out that Balzac himself referred to Gambara as "that Louis Lambert of Music" (13).   

     Jacques Barzun (1951, 262; cited in Hunt 1959, 143) believes that certain passages in "Gambara" were influenced in part by Hector Berlioz's music reviews.  Barzun even speculates that Berlioz could have conspired with Balzac in some of the details of Gambara's fictitious opera.  For a discussion of the influence of Jacques Strunz and J. Fr. Fétis on Balzac's musical descriptions, see Hunt 1959, 142-146.

[12] There are three passages in Séraphita that explicitly state the nature of time and space in heaven: 

 . . . in fact, to the spirit, time and space are not.  Distance and duration are proportions proper to matter; and spirit and matter have nothing in common. (Balzac [1835], 143) 

But the spirit was in the infinite, and they did not know that in the infinite time and space are not, that they were divided from him by gulfs, though apparently so near. (148) 

 . . . in short, everything was at once sonorous, diaphanous, and mobile; so that, everything existing in everything else, extension knew no limits, and the angels could traverse it everywhere to the utmost depths of the infinite. (151)  

     In Swedenborg's conception of heaven, time does not exist as an external, physical measure (the movement of the Earth); and space is not a measure of physical distances.  There are measures of time and distance however, and these depend upon "spiritual states."  Thus, while the natures of time and space in heaven are vastly different, succession in time (events) and arrangement in space (location) are maintained.  See Swedenborg 1758, 129-32 and 145-148.

[13] There are two other philosophical novels in which certain details correspond to details in Berg's work and suggest that Berg may have known them.  The Wild Ass's Skin describes a scene after a drunken orgy; the main character, Raphael, is telling his life's story to a friend while the remainder of the party has fallen into a drunken slumber.  As the two men fall asleep Balzac describes the snore-filled room as follows: “Soon the two friends added their snores to the music that echoed through the various rooms.  A concert without an audience!”  One is reminded of Act II, scene 5 of Wozzeck where the soldiers' snores constitute a concert with an audience. 

     In The Quest of the Absolute, a chemist named Balthazar Claes ruins his family fortune by his single-minded pursuit to discover the common substance from which all chemical elements are derived.  As Hemmings (1967, 20) points out, Claes' fanatical pursuit and the debt he builds up are clearly autobiographical.  Thus, identifying the name--BALthaZAr Claes--reveals this facet of the work.  Besides the character of the theory-driven scien­tist--a character type that plays a major role in both the Büchner- and Wedekind-based opera libretti--one is reminded of the three musical figures in the Chamber Concerto that spell out ArnolD SCHoenBErG, Anton WEBErn, and AlBAn BErG (see Jarman 1979, 74).   

     With regard to Berg's awareness of matters occult, see Douglas Jarman's (1991, 19) brief discussion of occult currents in the Schoenberg circle.  Jarman prefaces an earlier discussion of numerology in Berg's Violin Concerto (Jarman 1982, 5-6) with an examination of the influence of Wilhelm Fliess's theories within the context of fin-de-siècle Vienna.  Also focusing on turn-of-the-century occultism and music, a recent study by David Paul Goldman (1991) reviews the issues surrounding possible occult influences in the music of Claude Debussy.

[14] For a thorough discussion of the impact of both Balzac's Séraphita and Swedenborg's writings on Strindberg (especially with regard to "Jacob Wrestles"), see Brandell 1974, pp. 98-159.

[15] Schoenberg ([1912], 16) once made the following entry in one of his diaries: 

     On the 28th, in the Berliner Tageblatt: Strindberg's thank-you for birthday wishes.  Could have been [written] by me.  Exactly my sentiments and experiences . . . .

[16] McDermott 1984 provides Steiner's 1907 "Autobiographical Sketch" (13-23) and a Steiner chronology (25-33).  Most of the biographical information that follows is drawn from those pages.  See also Hemleben [1963] and Steiner [1925].

[17] Steiner's commentary from the Kürschner edition are collected and translated in Steiner 1988.

[18] For more detailed support of this claim, see Covach 1990, 83-103.

[19] It is perhaps not surprising that the first president of the Vienna Theosophical Society was Eckstein (Webb 1985, 75).

[20] Webb (1985, 62-66) offers an interested account of Steiner's turn from the world of mainstream scholarship to the "occult underground."

[21] Steiner discusses his philosophical studies in his "Autobiographical Sketch" (McDermott 1984, 13-23).  In his preface to his early occult study, Theosophy: An Introduction to the Supersensible Knowledge of the World and Destination of Man [1904], Steiner opens with a discussion of Fichte's philosophy (xvii), and Chapter One takes up a discussion of Goethe (1).  This is typical of Steiner's practice of setting out his own philosophical ideas against a background of "legitimate philosophy."

[22] Geoffrey Ahern (1984, 31-49) provides an interesting survey and profile of the current Anthroposophical Society membership in North America and Europe. 

[23] For a survey of occult ideas in twentieth-century European painting in general, see Ringbom 1966 and Lipsey 1988.

[24] See Ringer 1990, 188-89 for a discussion of Adler's possible influence on Schoenberg with regard to number mysticism. 

[25] Two standard studies of fin-de-siècle Vienna are Janik and Toulmin 1973 and Schorske 1980.

[26] For a discussion of the possible occult sources in Die Jakobsleiter, see Wörner 1965, Christensen 1979, and Lessem 1979; for a discussion of Die glückliche Hand, see Hahl-Koch [1980]; and for a discussion of Moses und Aron see White 1985.

[27] The history of the role that science (materialism) plays in the occult literature of nineteenth-century Europe is a topic too broad to be traced here.  James Webb (1988, 5-13) offers the view that occultism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries amounts to what he terms a "flight from reason."  Colin Wilson (1971, 121-41) also explores the occult-science dialectic.

[28] In discussing his path to abstract painting, Kandinsky ([1913]; Herbert 1964, 27) describes the shattering of his faith in science as follows: 

   A scientific event cleared my way of one of the great­est impediments.  This was the further division of the atom.  The crumbling of the atom was to my soul like the crumbling of the whole world.  Suddenly the heaviest walls toppled.  Suddenly everything became uncertain, tottering and weak.  I would not have been surprised if a stone had dissolved in the air in front of me and become invisible.

[29] In a diary entry dated 28 November 1923, Schoenberg describes having heard his deceased wife's voice call out to him three or four times.  He characterizes the first cries as "indeliberately fast" ("ohne Berechtung schnell," though "Berechtnung" is illegible in the manuscript).  This he explains is obviously the result of the fact that those from the "realm of the dead" find it difficult to adapt to our way of doing things one after another.  Presumably the dead live outside of time as we know it in the physical realm.  Here one notes Swedenborg's conception of heavenly time exerting a definite influence in Schoenberg's thinking (Schoenberg [1923], 79). 

[30] In addition to Dahlhaus [1967] cited above (fn. 14), see Magee 1983, 177-88, for a discussion of Schopenhauer's musical aesthetics.  Magee's discussion of the influence of Schopenhauer's philosophy on Richard Wagner (326-78) is very informative.

[31] Schopenhauer [1819] states it as follows: 

      . . . music, since it passes over the Ideas, is also quite independent of the phenomenal world, positively ignores it, and, to a certain extent, could still exist even if there were no world at all, which cannot be said of the other arts. (I: 257)

[32] I have elsewhere (Covach 1991b) offered an interpretation of Schoenberg's thought that places the occult component within a context that also takes aspects of Dahlhaus's interpretation into account.