May 2010

Freud and the violin

May 27, 2010 07:22

A Mr. Villeneuve, having failed to follow the discussion with regard to Freud, has tried to leave open the question of whether Freud played the violin. The following is incontrovertible evidence that Freud neither played the violin, nor was a musician of any kind:


Gay's source for his assessment of the consequences of this much-quoted act of selfishness on Freud's part is no doubt the son Martin again; for he had written that his father

showed no selfishness except on one strange point: his demand that no piano should play in the flat was inflexible. He had his way then … and he had his way later when he had a home of his own. His attitude towards musical instruments of any kind never changed throughout his lifetime. There was never a piano in the Bergasse (sic) and not one of his children learnt to play an instrument. This was unusual in Vienna then, and would probably be thought unusual today: because to be able to play the piano is considered to be an essential part of middle-class education (1957, pp. 19-20).

Whatever effect this piano-deprivation may have had on Anna, it did not break the musical spirit of Freud's only brother Alexander, who was some ten years his junior and is a first-hand source for the story of Anna's piano (Bernays, 1940, p. 142). In the course of his account, the younger man specifically says that their mother was ‘very musical’; and Martin Freud reports that his uncle managed to develop a lively interest and competence in the art, with which he used to entertain his nephews and nieces (M. Freud, 1957, p. 17).

Brother Alexander does confirm (p. 17), however, that Freud the parent and paterfamilias imposed (as we have just seen) the same sort of musical deprivation upon his own children as he had upon his oldest sister, though not quite with the vehemence that he recommended to the parents of the young violinist prodigy Fritz KreislerErnest Jones (1953, pp. 19-20, 206) tells us that Freud was of the opinion (perhaps not to be taken literally) that they should have throttled the boy rather than indulge him with expensive and disruptive musical tuition abroad. When it came to the education of his own daughter Anna, she was inevitably poorly prepared to tackle the elementary musical requirements of her teacher-training programme in 1915. But fortunately she was able to secure successful tutoring from one of the singers at the Opera, Hedwig Hitschmann, whose husband Eduard had been introduced to Freud's ‘Wednesday meeting’ by Paul Federn some ten years previously (Diaz de Chumaceiro, 1993, pp. 261-2). It was this same Eduard Hitschmann who was later (1927) to oppose Freud so vigorously on the subject of lay analysis (Gay, 1988, p. 495).

With reference to the verbal protestations of unmusicality, a few of the most conspicuous may be called to witness. In the last decade of his life, he could write about mysticism to Romain Rolland, the romantic littérateur and musicologist, that that subject was to him ‘just as closed a book as music’ (Freud, 1929); and he had confided many years before to his American follower J. J. Putnam, ‘I have no ear for music’ (1910c). Even in the last few years of his life, he found it necessary to remind his long-time friend Marie Bonaparte, in a letter which, as we shall see, paradoxically contains its own contradiction of the assertion that he is a ‘completely unmusical person’ (ganz unmusikalischer Mensch) (Freud 1936, p. 430). His own brief interpretation of this deficiency follows an almost confidential ‘aside’ in the famous essay on a visual art-work, namely the Moses of Michelangelo. Having claimed that, by contrast with literature and the visual arts, he is ‘almost incapable of deriving any pleasure’ from music, he goes on to speculate:

Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me (1914ap. 211).


The unfortunate Mr. Villeneuve even misspelled oxymoron which for some reason he put in bold-faced type. It is clear that he has insufficient educational background to operate in any kind of scholarly undertaking. He really should not play with the big boys. 


Charles Johnston


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