Bozen. September 1st, 1788.

All my dear children: Gottfried, August, Wilhelm, Adelbert, little Luis and Emil!

I am now near to the borders of Germany and have nearly crossed the great highlands of the Tyrol. The mountains are high, on several there has been much snow, and the so-called “Portal” or “Cell” through which one passes into the Tyrol is especially beautiful, splendid and wild. We also came by Martin’s Wall where the Emperor Maximilian got lost, and in Innsbruck we saw a very beautiful memorial to him, of which I will tell you in person. I am now in Bozen where today there is a terribly great mass of people; 19,000 children are to be confirmed, since the bishop has not confirmed for many years. In front of our lodging-house, in the sun, there is a fruit market the like of which you have never seen in your life; there are pears, plums, grapes, nuts, figs; for figs do grow here. Soon we will come to the region where quinces and lemons grow. O, if only you were with me here, or that I could send you a basket of such fruit! But the lovely fruit would go bad on the way, just as lovely human hopes sometimes rot from the inside out. — Already there are flat roofs here, of which there are said to be many in Italy, where one can see a long way in all directions; and the air is entirely gentle, warm and mild. In the Tyrol highlands we saw chamois leaping, in Innsbruck we also ate one, and saw a tame one, entirely charming, that followed its provider, a farmer’s wife, everywhere. It was as agile as I wish you all to be. I would that you had been there with me and seen it, and I wish too, that you may one day see the mountains of the Tyrol and journey through them in gladness.

Apply yourselves to your studies with industry, and behave yourselves well; also, do learn to draw, for I regret very much that I cannot. The region is entirely too beautiful, and between the mountains there are a thousand waterfalls made by a stream, the Etsch. It flows very rapidly and particularly in the diocese of Brixen has beautiful trees on its banks: poplars, birches and willow-trees. For many hours we travelled far beside it. Seek it out on the map, you will be able to find our path. Tomorrow we arrive at Trento, perhaps I will have news of you there. Keep well, dear children, hold me in your affection and be healthy, and live in good accord with your mother and the rest of the household! It is late and no doubt you will be sleeping in your beds. Sleep tight!

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (6.08.06)

Reprinted in H G Fiedler (ed.), Das Oxforder Buch Deutscher Prosa von Luther bis Rilke (1943) Oxford.


Writers still object that because the typewriter does not obey the innervations of the hand it is supposedly incapable of producing a bodily sort of contact between thought and writing; writers for whom such contact is paramount should, it is said, keep with the fountain-pen. O romantic and inexperienced objection, that even maintains the mistrust of technology there where the thought long ago came to the rescue of technology! Nowhere is the contact between word and thought closer than on the typewriter. Not, admittedly, that between writing and thought. The hand that strikes into the material of the keys doesn’t bother itself with the written result that hovers way up there on the horizon of the machine. Rather it chisels word-bodies out of the keys, so clearly that it is as if they were held in the fingers under whose pressure they are sculpted out of the keyboard. On the machine, writing has been transformed back from a two-dimensional into a three-dimensional process. Words, across so many centuries merely read, can once again be felt; perhaps in this way we are getting them back within our grasp, whereas for so long we had been under the sway of their foreign power.

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (Last revised 5.08.2006.)

Written 1931. Collected in Gesammelte Schriften Bd. 20.2 (2003) Frankfurt a. M..

I got to know the music we are accustomed to calling classical as a child, through four-handed playing. There was little of the symphonic and chamber music literature that would not be incorporated into home life with the help of the large wide-format volumes, uniformly bound in green by the bookbinder. They seemed made for page-turning, and I was allowed to turn the pages well before I knew the notes, following only my memory and hearing. Even Beethoven’s violin sonatas found themselves included in peculiar arrangements. Some pieces, such as Mozart’s G-minor symphony, so impressed themselves on me during that time that even today it seems to me that no orchestra could ever produce the tension of the introductory semi-quaver movement as completely as the questionable attack of the second player. This music more than any other was suited to the apartment. It was brought forth on the piano as on a piece of furniture, and those who plied it without shyness in the face of interruptions and wrong notes belonged to the family.

Four-handed playing laid the geniuses of the bourgeois nineteenth century as a gift at my cradle in the beginnings of the twentieth. Four-handed music: that was music with which one could still live and commerce, before the musical compulsion itself demanded solitude and secret craft. That says something not merely about the practice of playing but also about that which was played. Read the rest of this entry »