Stefan Zweig was one of the twentieth century's greatest authors and a tireless champion of freedom, tolerance and friendship across borders. Encounters and Destinies collects his most impassioned and moving tributes to his many illustrious friends and peers: literary, philosophical and artistic luminaries from across the Old Europe that Zweig loved so much, and which he grieved to see so cruelly destroyed by two world wars.
Including pieces on Rainer Maria Rilke, Marcel Proust, Sigmund Freud, Maxim Gorky and Arturo Toscanini, this essential collection is also Zweig's tribute to the ideal of friendship: an ideal he clung to as the world he knew was torn apart.
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The Return of Gustav Mahler
He has come home, the great exile of the past, returned in glory to the city that he, as an outcast, departed only a few years ago. In the same hall where formerly his compelling will exercised its demonic effect, his long-absent nature now takes on new spiritual form, resounding in the work.
Nothing can restrain it, not opprobrium or rancour; irresistibly burgeoning with its unique qualities, feeling the purer for no longer being locked in struggle, it now fills and expands our inner world. No war, no event could hinder this elemental blossoming of his fame, and the same man who appeared to people here as something of an irritant and almost a monster has overnight become consoler and liberator. Pain and loss—
his Kindertotenlieder express his spirit more powerfully than any others of the time, and who today does not wish to learn, with empathy, how sorrow transmogrifies itself through depth of feeling in his farewell song, the ‘Song of the Earth’? Never was
Gustav Mahler so revitalized and inspired by this city as now,
when he is far removed from us and the ungrateful city that abandoned him is his eternal homeland. Those who truly loved him were patiently awaiting this hour, but now that it has come it scarcely brings us joy. For while he was engaged in work, our desire was to witness his creations, see them come alive. And now that they have achieved renown, it is he himself we long for, the man who will not return.
Because for us, an entire generation, he was far more than a musician, a master, a conductor, more than an artist: he was the unforgettable presence of our youth. To be young ultimately means to be conscious of the extraordinary, of some wondrously beautiful happening that transcends the narrow world of appearances, of a phenomenon, the fulfilment of a once-dreamt vision. And everything, admiration, enthusiasm,
humility—they all stir up powers of devotion, of exuberance,
they only seem so fiery and chaotic when concentrated in unfinished beings, burning deep within when they appear—
recognized as such or intimated—in art, in love. And there is a certain grace in experiencing such fulfilment in art, in those days of premature, unspent love to observe something truly meaningful, yet free with the fullest flow of feeling. It happened to us. Anyone who has experienced those ten years of opera from Mahler’s youth has enriched his life in ways that cannot be measured in words. With the keen sense of impatience, we sensed from the outset the rare thing, the miracle he harboured,
the demonic man, the rarest of all, one who isn’t entirely at one with creativity, but with something far more mysterious in its essence, possessing a distinctly natural power, the inspired element. There is nothing to distinguish it from the external,
the influence it exerts constitutes its own singularity, something indescribable, which can only be compared to a certain magical arbitrariness of nature. It can be likened to the magnet;
thousands of iron filings may cling to it. All are tragic. They know only how to plunge downwards, commanded by their inner weight, alien to all else and inactive. But there is one piece of iron, seemingly no brighter or richer than any of the rest, which inwardly retains a power, the power of stars or the furthest depths of the earth, that pulls all relatives together,
weaves its own form and frees itself from the internal weight.
What the magnet seizes it enlivens through its own power; if it can hold it long enough, its secret flows forth. It draws towards it kindred metals in order to enter them, dividing itself without weakening the whole: its very nature and instinct are effect. And this power—whether from the stars or the remotest depths of the earth—constitutes the will of the demonic man. Thousands mill around him, thousand upon thousand, each one rushing headlong into his own life, inherently tragic and inanimate.
But he drags them towards himself, he fills the essence of the oblivious with his own will, his rhythm; he propagates himself in them by animating them. Through a kind of hypnosis, he forces them all to draw near, tensing their nerves in time with his own, wrenching them often painfully into his rhythm. He enslaves them, imposes his will on them, lends the willing something of the mystery of his force. It is precisely this demonic will that was in Mahler, a power which suppressed and resisted all opposition, but also one that inspired and enriched. About him was a molten sphere where everyone seemed to glow, always fiery, but working towards clarity. It was impossible to resist.
They say that sometimes musicians tried, but his will was just too hot: all resistance simply melted. With unrivalled energy he transforms his entire world of singers, assistants, directors,
musicians, moulding the chaotic interplay of hundreds of individuals into his single unit in the space of a mere three hours. He literally wrenches the will from them, he hammers,
pounds and files their individual qualities, he drives them on,
already they are aglow with fervour, moving inexorably into his rhythm, until the point when he has salvaged the unique from the ordinary, art from enterprise, until he is fulfilled in the work and the work is fulfilled in him.