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  • pf/str
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  • 16 min
    • 22nd March 2024, E-Werk, Freiburg, Germany
    • 23rd March 2024, Im Wizemann , Stuttgart, Germany
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Programme Note

How I came to Compose the Ode to Napoleon [Opus 41], 1942

The League of Composers had asked me (1942) to write a piece of chamber music for their concert season. It should employ only a limited number of instruments. I had at once the idea that this piece must not ignore the agitation aroused in mankind against the crimes that provoked this war. I remembered Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, supporting repeal of the jus prime noctis, Schiller's Wilhelm Tell, Goethe's Egmont, Beethoven's Eroica and Wellington's Victory, and I knew it was the moral duty of intelligentsia to take a stand against tyranny.

But this was only my secondary motive. I had long speculated about the more profound meaning of the Nazi philosophy. There was one element that puzzled me extremely: the resemblence of the valueless individual being's life in respect to the totality of the community or its representative: the Queen or the Führer. I could not see why a whole generation of bees or of Germans should live only in order to produce another generation of the same sort, which on their part should also fulfill the same task: to keep the race alive. I even surmised that bees (or ants) instinctively believe their destiny was to be successors of mankind, when this had destroyed itself in the same manner in which our predecessors, the Giants, Magicians, Lindworms [Dragons], Dinosaurs and others had destroyed themselves and their world, so that first men knew only a few isolated specimens. Their and the ants' capacity of forming states and living according to laws -- senseless and primitive, as they might look to us -- this capacity, unique among animals, had an attractive similarity to our own life; and in our imagination we could muse a story, seeing them growing to dominating power, size and shape and creating a world of their own resembling very little the original beehive.

Without such a goal the life of the bees, with the killing of the drones and the thousands of offspring of the Queen seemed futile. Similarly all the sacrifices of the German Herrenvolk [Master Race] would not make sense, without a goal of world domination -- in which the single individual could vest much interest.

Before I started to write this text, I consulted Maeterlinck's Life of the Bees. I hoped to find there motives supporting my attitude. But the contrary happened: Maeterlinck's poetic philosophy gilds everything which was not gold itself. And so wonderful are his explanations that one might decline refuting them, even if one knew they were mere poetry. I had to abandon this plan. I had to find another subject fitting my purpose.

--Arnold Schoenberg