The Philosopher's Touch: Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
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Renowned philosopher and prominent French critic François Noudelmann engages the musicality of Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Roland Barthes, all of whom were amateur piano players and acute lovers of the medium. Though piano playing was a crucial art for these thinkers, their musings on the subject are largely scant, implicit, or discordant with each philosopher's oeuvre. Noudelmann both recovers and integrates these perspectives, showing that the manner in which these philosophers played, the composers they adored, and the music they chose reveals uncommon insight into their thinking styles and patterns.
Noudelmann positions the physical and theoretical practice of music as a dimension underpinning and resonating with Sartre's, Nietzsche's, and Barthes's unique philosophical outlook. By reading their thought against their music, he introduces new critical formulations and reorients their trajectories, adding invaluable richness to these philosophers' lived and embodied experiences. The result heightens the multiple registers of being and the relationship between philosophy and the senses that informed so much of their work. A careful reader of music, Noudelmann maintains an elegant command of the texts under his gaze and appreciates the discursive points of musical and philosophical scholarship they involve, especially with regard to recent research and cutting-edge critique.
noud15934.indb 39 10/18/11 8:03 AM 4 0 • T H E O F F - B E AT P I A N O due to a certain difficulty of rhythm encountered in jazz, which is so difficult for classical players to grasp. Sight-reading a score does not suffice. In order to play this type of music, you have to attain something like swing, which exceeds its notes while remaining indispensable to them. No doubt Sartre’s dream of being a jazz pianist cannot be fully explained by musical taste. It implies a habitus, an imagination,
sometimes perform for the group, or else retire alone to a room upstairs that Sand had set aside for him. Her house was a regular meeting place for artists and writers. Franz Liszt and Marie d’Agoult—the future parents of Cosima Wagner—often stayed there. Like Chopin and Sand, these two embodied the musician-writer couple, which Nietzsche himself would have liked to reinvent with Lou Salomé. While there, Liszt played Beethoven and Schubert and improvised at the piano with unequaled virtuosity.
they also reveal his illusions. He had in effect taken up a work composed eight years earlier, Eine Sylvesternacht, in order to make a new one titled Nachklang einer Sylvesternacht. The ﬁrst version was written for violin and piano; the second, for piano four hands. Nietzsche was pleased and proud of the new work, which he played with his friend Overbeck before sending it to Cosima, anxious for her opinion. One doesn’t have to be a terribly sophisticated psychologist to understand that Nietzsche
federations seem to have a harder time, however, incorporating musicians. Sartre wrote only belatedly about the music of his own century. He discovered Schoenberg and became interested in serialist aesthetics thanks to René Leibowitz, the composer and theorist who made the twelve-tone technique (dodecaphony) widely known after the war. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that Sartre wrote more generally about the modern composers who were at the heart of contemporary debates (Stockhausen, Xenakis,
certain distance from the community. We share a life that is always a little off to the side, precluding us from totally adhering to collective rhythms and their melding cadence. I believe that piano playing encourages such distancings. First, as a matter of fact, it does so through the music it makes us love. Piano playing privileges an old-fashioned or even intimist Romanticism. This had been the instrument’s moment of glory. But ever since the piano has become estranged from the sound-spaces