Thomas Mann and Schumann

Letter to the Editor

© The Musical Times, June 1972 (p. 557)

On the substantive Mann/Schumann question (Feb MT, p.148; April MT, pp. 359-6) it is certain that the former had heard of the latter's syphilis, and by June 1943, i.e. at the inception of Dr Faustus (see Briefe, 1963, ii, 324). In addition to the many testual points and parallels already noted, the following may be of interest. In the second chapter Schumann's native town of Zwickau is mentioned, in the third we are told how Adrian Leverkühn as a child was initiated into the mysteries of butterflies, hieroglyphs and ciphers. He later unites these notions in the note-cipher which is the name of a butterfly and a woman, haetera esmeralda. These Schumannian references (cf PapillonsAbeggEstrella) are surely deliberate. Even the cipher is Schumannian (letter S note Es – E flat, as in Carnaval). Furthermore, we are told that the cipher-notes were used as harmony as well as melody; Mann (or Adorno) presumably knew Abegg and Carnaval rather well. Again, the first work that we hear Adrian practising is Kinderszenen; the first Lieder he studies are Mondnacht and Zwielicht; his visit to the Leipzig brothel is followed by a reference to Schumann's third symphony. Adrian invokes the idea or a tutelary spirit or genius', just as Schumann did; both wrote Faust music; both were obsessed by guilt feeling; both were tragically bereaved by a child's death. And both had visions or Satan, who (with atypical unsubtlety) appeared to Adrian in the guise of a music critic – which may suggest further identifications.

Eric Sams, Sanderstead


Schumann's Health

Letter to the Editor

© Times Literary Supplement, July 1984 (p. 783)


Sir, - It takes a highly specialized psychiatrist to claim that a man who had a genital lesion and showed classical symptoms of syphilis over the next twenty-five years before dying insane in 1856, was really just suffering from “what we would now call a bi-polar (manic-depressive) affective disorder”. Peter Ostwald (Letters, July 6) offers no reasons or evidence at all for his own opinion. He does not even mention Eliot Slater's medical and psychiatric review of Schumann's illness (Robert Schumann, ed Alan Walker, revised edn 1976, pp 406-17) with its surely very strong arguments for syphi­lis, or the diagnosis from the leading neurolog­ists Drs Henson and Urich (BMJ, April 8, 1978, p 900) of “organic brain disease” by 1854. Whether or how creativity might have been thus affected is certainly debatable; but it is fair to point out that Menuhin's effusive assess­ment of the Violin Concerto (1853) would not have been shared by Brahms or Joachim, who jointly suppressed that work as unworthy.



32 Arundel Avenue, Sanderstead, Surrey.