They Were Not Impressed

The concert was over. The orchestra, the chorus and the soloists had acquitted themselves admirably. The audience applauded and cheered and bravoed, even though they knew there could be no encore. The music that had been played and sung is of the kind that might be called, not exaggeratedly, divine. But the two brothers who were sitting to the left of us were not impressed, they did not applaud. They had travelled a considerable distance to the concert and had paid hard-earned dollars for their seats and had sat through quietly enough, and were not lowbrows, but nevertheless, they did not applaud. In fact, they rose to leave almost the moment the music was ended.

Then, as we were moving toward the exit, one of the brothers said to us: “By God, I hate Hitler so much I can’t even stand that language any more.” And the other brother chimed in: “It’s an ugly language, anyway.”

The language was German, in which the soloists and chorus had sung Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” to which stanzas Beethoven had set the choral part of the last movement of his Ninth Symphony.

We did not take seriously the brothers’ strictures against the language. I, for one, realize that it is possible to argue oneself into an objection even to Goethe because of Hitlerism, with which Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven and Mozart certainly had nothing to do. But to hate the poetry and the prose which have been produced in the German language because of Hitler’s hate is a reduction to the absurd of blind hate producing only blind hate. And I tried to say something like that, but I confess I couldn’t argue very eloquently against the point of view of the brothers. If German is the language of Hitler, it is the language also of Albert Einstein and, more perfectly, the language of Thomas Mann and of Lion Feuchtwanger and of Hugo von Hoffmansthal.

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