Hermann Hesse on Music

Dernière mise à jour : 31 janv. 2021

Portrait of Hermann Hesse, by Ottilie Roederstein (1909)

"In prehistoric times music, like the dance and every other artistic endeavor, was a branch of magic, one of the old and legitimate instruments of wonder-working. Beginning with rhythm (clapping of hands, tramping, beating of sticks and primitive drums), it was a powerful, tried-and-true device for putting large numbers of people "in tune" with one another, ngendering the same mood, co-ordinating the pace of their breathing and heartbeats, encouraging them to invoke and conjure up the eternal powers, to dance, to compete, to make war, to worship.

And music has retained this original, pure, primordially powerful character, its magic, far longer than the other arts. We need only recall the many testimonies of historians and poets to the power of music, from the Greeks to Goethe in his Novelle. In practice, marches and the dance have never lost their importance..."

Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game / Magister Ludi

“Well," he said with equanimity, "you see, in my opinion there is no point at all in talking about music. I never talk about music. What reply, then, was I to make to your very able and just remarks ? You were perfectly right in all you said. But, you see, I am a musician, not a professor, and I don't believe that, as regards music, there is the least point in being right. Music does not depend on being right, on having good taste and education and all that." "Indeed. Then what does it depend on ?" "On making music, Herr Haller, on making music as well and as much as possible and with all the intensity of which one is capable. That is the point, Monsieur. Though I carried the complete works of Bach and Haydn in my head and could say the cleverest things about them, not a soul would be the better for it.

But when I take hold of my mouthpiece and play a lively shimmy, whether the shimmy be good or bad, it will give people pleasure. It gets into their legs and into their blood. That's the point and that alone. Look at the faces in a dance hall at the moment when the music strikes up after a longish pause, how eyes sparkle, legs twitch and faces begin to laugh. That is why one makes music.”

Hermann Hesse


"If I were a composer, I could without difficulty write a melody for two voices, a melody that would consist of two lines, of two rows of tunes and notes that correspond with one another, complement one another, fight with one another, limit one another, but in any case at every instant, at every point in the sequence, have a most profound interrelationship and reciprocal effect. And anyone who can read music could read off my double melody and always see and hear with every tone its counter-tone, its brother, its enemy, its opposite.

Now it is just this, this double voice and constantly advancing antithesis, this double line, that I would like to express in my own medium, in words, and I work myself to the bone trying and do not succeed. I am always attempting it and if anything at all lends tension and weight to my works, it is this intensive concern for something impossible, this wild battling for something unattainable.

I would like to find expression for duality, I would like to write chapters and sentences where melody and counter-melody are always simultaneously present, where unity stands beside every multiplicity, seriousness beside every joke. For to me, life consists simply in this, in the fluctuation between two poles, in the hither and thither between the two foundation pillars of the world."

Hermann Hesse

A Guest at the Spa (1924)

Romantic Songs, by Hermann Hesse (1899)

“I like listening to music, but only the kind you play, completely unreserved music, the kind that makes you feel that a man is shaking heaven and hell. I believe I love that kind of music because it is amoral. Everything else is so moral that I'm looking for something that isn't.”