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To think it was once said the Britain was "Das Land ohne Musik"
But who said that? This has taken a lot of tracking down and I am grateful to the late Reg Williamson as none of the reference books were any help. The origin seems to be the title of a book by a German journalist just before the first war, anti-British in sentiments and generally slagging off the English for a lackof "kultur".
Further information received:

Dear Dr. Mullenger,

The mentioned quote is the title of a book published at first in 1904 (the last edition took place in Munich 1915) by a scholar whose complete name was Oskar Adolf Hermann Schmitz. A lot of the opinions that were published in concoctions like the above mentioned were already obsolete by the time of their publication, and you are right to suspect that his "works" were mainly read (by some patriotic, music-academic circles too) out of reasons that have their origin in an overall jingoism, poisoning the most parts of Europe during this era. In fact the basic impulse to publish this kind of books in Germany (this is only one example among many others) was a chauvinistic one, and not a scientific one.

The true origin of this quote, however, lies much earlier, in 1866 - the year of Arthur Sullivan`s "Irish" - when this obstinate legend was at first expressed, and was at that time also well believed by the British themselves - with good reason.

Schmitz`s basis for his musical prejudices in comprehensively surveying British culture is another notorious german, Carl Engel, a "music scholar" residing in Englandat that time. To give you an impression of the language he preferred to use here is a quote out of his book "An Introduction to the Study of National Music", London 1866:  "Although the rural population of England appear to sing less than those of most other European countries, it may nevertheless be supposed that they also, especially in districts somewhat remote from any large towns, must still preserve songs and dance tunes of their own inherited from their forefathers".

To close this mail let us listen to a true Schmitz original quote out of his above mentioned concoction "Land ohne Musik", München 1904: (I give it to you in original german, because it is quite extensive, but nonetheless worth reading, and, ... it`s worth a good laugh!)

"Ich habe lange gesucht, was es eigentlich für ein Mangel ist, der immer wieder hinter so vielen englischen Vorzügen fühlbar wird und so erstarrend wirkt. Ich habe mich gefragt was diesem Volk fehlt, etwa Güte, Menschenliebe, Frömmigkeit, Humor(!), Kunstsinn? Nein, alle diese Eigenschaften sind in England vorhanden, manche sogar sichtbarer als bei uns. Und schließlich habe ich etwas gefunden, was die Engländer von allen anderen Kulturvölkern in geradezu erstaunlichem Maß unterscheidet, einen Mangel, den jeder zugibt - also gar keine Entdeckung - dessen Tragweite aber wohl noch nicht betont worden ist: DIE ENGLÄNDER SIND DAS EINZIGE KULTURVOLK OHNE EIGENE MUSIK (Gassenhauer ausgenommen). Das heißt nicht bloß, daß sie weniger feine Ohren haben, sondern daß ihr ganzes Leben ärmer ist. Musik in sich haben, und wäre es noch so wenig, heißt, sich verlieren können, Mißklänge ertragen, ja bei ihnen verweilen zu können, weil sie in Wohlklang auflösbar sind. Musik gibt Flügel und läßt alles Wunderbare begreiflich erscheinen."

Greetings from a sligthly anglophile devotee to British music,

Alexander Heinhold

Translation by Alexa Woolf

I have long tried to understand what kind of lack it is that manifests itself in so many English representations which have such a deadening effect. I have asked myself what is missing from this nation. Kindness, love of people, humour or aesthetic sense? No, one can find all these attributes in England , some of them more noticeably than among ourselves. Finally I have found something which distinguishes English people from all other cultures to quite an aastonishing degree, a lack which everybody acknowledges therefore nothing new but has not been emphasised enough. The English are the only cultured nation without its own music (except street music). This does not mean that they have less sensitive ears but that their life overall is much poorer for it. To be immersed in music, even ever so little, means being able to lose yourself. To tolerate even dis-harmonies, even to spend time with such sounds since they can be resolved in beautiful harmony, music provides wings and makes everything beautiful and fantastical seem natural.

The Land without music: some reflections on Anglo-German cultural relations.

I would like to add a few words to the interesting and witty remarks on the subject of the ''Land ohne Musik'' proffered by Alexander Heinhold (see above) and Paul Serotsky see: Programme Notes

The earliest source yet given for this rather persistent German generalisation for the French, I believe, have never concerned themselves much with English musicality at all is Carl Engel's book of 1866, which Oskar Adolf Hermann Schmitz in his Das Land ohne Musik : Englische Gesellschaftsprobleme quotes as a reference. In fact the prejudice held by the Germans in this respect must be adjudged of rather earlier origin than even that. In an earlier note on the Bulletin Board of MusicWeb I dated the sentiment back to Georg Weerth's reports on his English travels undertaken in the 1840s. Weerth (1822 Detmold 1856 Havana) was a young man at the time, sent to the north of England in 1843 by the wool company that employed him. He there became acquainted with Friedrich Engels, whose own book on the condition of the English working class in 1844 regrettably omits to mention musical matters, as I remember, but is nevertheless very much worth reading today, particularly in view of the widening chasm between rich and poor. A few years later Weerth made the acquaintance of the great and much admired poet and cultural observer Heinrich Heine in his Parisian exile from the repressive Prussian state. Weerth was himself to get into hot water with that state for publishing a satirical novel, and his own generally satirical poetry bears some resemblance with those of Heine's verses that addressed the injustices of his day (not, I might mention, the early romantic poems probably best known to readers of MusicWeb in their settings by Schubert, Schumann and others). This acquaintance led me to investigate Heine's prose more closely than I had hitherto done (I have read some but not all of the many pages of the collected edition), and I discovered that Heine had not only penned a fairly acerb critique of English society based on his trip to England in 1827 but in his reports from Paris for a German newspaper in 1840 returned to his general dislike of what he was often pleased to call Albion occasionally adding the qualifier 'perfidious', as ironically later German propaganda was also to do (I have often heard older Germans quote this expression in a mocking tone). On the occasion I shall cite he specifically adverts to the English aptitude for music, which I can only assume he based upon his earlier experiences:

''As I hear, Taglioni met with no applause last year in London; that is truly her greatest claim to fame. Had she given pleasure there, I would begin to doubt the poesy of her feet. The sons of Albion are themselves the most awful of all dancers, and Strauß assures me there is not a single one among them who could keep time. He too fell sick unto death in the county of Middlesex when he saw Olde England dance. These people have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is verily nothing on earth so terrible as English musical composition, except English painting. They have neither an accurate ear nor a sense of colour, and sometimes I am befallen by the suspicion that their sense of smell may be equally dull and rheumy; it is quite possible that they cannot distinguish horse-apples from oranges by the smell alone.'' (Pariser Berichte: 29. Juli 1840).

It is clear that the rancour in this text has been worked up from a temperamental dislike to a pitch of satirical abhorrence calculated to appeal to his German readers, but the observation contained within it is nevertheless of interest when we consider the more extended comments of Weerth, from which I now append a longer extract, in order to give you an impression of the context of the remarks on music:

''One can live well almost anywhere; but in an English factory town a Frenchman would die there on the third day, that's for sure! He wouldn't find any society to speak of and nobody to speak to! And the Italian would shoot himself because he would often not see any blue sky for two months on end; and the Polish Jew would hang himself who knows why! It's only the German, whom you find all over the world, that you meet here too, year in, year out. The German never dies out. He gets accustomed to everything and takes his quiet sociability with him over land and sea.

From Birmingham I permitted myself to be sent off to the West Riding of the county of Yorkshire and I was delighted by the charming landscape. I lived in that part of England for two years and still find myself yearning to be back there again, or at least for the country life in that region. Everywhere the most magnificent hills, the loveliest valleys and the most smiling fields! Little springs bubble up from every gorge, purl through the rocks and are lost beneath the branches of the alder trees and in the emerald verdancy of the meadows. Gnarled and frizzy-leafed oaks wreathe round the sides of the hills, which are seldom very high and roll down towards the plains on gentle slopes. These hills are littered with villages and country houses, where the ivy is encouraged to grow luxuriantly aloft gaily entwining the walls and which are almost always surrounded by the daintiest gardens. The construction style of these houses is extremely simple; but as they are all made of white sandstone, a material found in large quantities throughout the whole region, they have the pleasantest and cleanliest appearance you can imagine. Even the smallest and simplest house in Yorkshire, if it is made of this sandstone and is not too old, looks like a little castle against the background of the beauteous green meadows and mountain swards.

Moreover there blows on these Yorkshire heights the purest and loveliest air; it strews roses on the cheeks of all the country maids, and one is genuinely amazed at the host of blooming faces, which are of course what the English on the Continent noticeably lack.

The superb orderliness that prevails in the arrangement and fencing of the fields, in the disposition of the paths and the use of the meadows and watercourses allows one to survey the whole area with nothing but satisfaction.

The season had already made considerable progress when I first arrived in Yorkshire; only a few meadows seemed yet to resist the hand of approaching winter and glimmered with a mellow green.

The people sitting next to me on the coach delighted in their beautiful countryside no less than I, despite having seen it perhaps a hundred times before. With their coats buttoned up to the top, their necks, mouths and chins wrapped in a thick kerchief and their hands in their pockets, they sat so stiffly on the benches fitted on the top of the coach that one could not help seeing poles before one's eyes. If someone wished to regard his neighbour during their conversation he had to turn his whole body round, for their necks were so firmly bound up that a simple movement of the head was almost impossible.

The conversation turned almost exclusively upon the construction of new railways by which all the great and lesser towns were to be joined up, so that coach travel would soon be a thing of the past. As my fellow-travellers were almost all tradesmen and small factory owners returning to their villages from a neighbouring farmers' market , they knew every meadow, every hill and every wood in the whole region and spent the journey placing wagers concerning the terrains which the head offices of the railway companies would choose for their rails.

One of them asked me if I was from the tariff union, and as I answered affirmatively he never tired of requesting me for all possible particulars concerning this great community of peoples. Railways and steamships remained the principal subject of our discourse, naturally, and when I assured him that his German cousins were hardly acquainted with carriages and mailcoaches any more, being wrapped nearly all day in a fog of coal steam and tobacco smoke, his yearning for such a cultivated nation became so great that I had to calculate for him in shillings and pence how much would be needed for a tour of the blessed groves of my native land. But then he fell again into throes of enthusiasm musing upon his native land; Olde England, he believed, was the crown of all that existed in the world, and he became so eloquent in his description of the beauties of the various counties that in the end I conceded the justice of all he said and sang the praises of Great Britain myself, which moved him almost to tears.

When night finally fell he assured me that it truly vexed him that the moon was not to be seen in the sky that night, for it meant that I could not see the canals and the new church towers and his bleachery then he leaped off the coach and hastened towards his farmsteads.

I regretted as much as my worthy fellow-traveller that the moon was not standing in the sky.

I love the moon. Not because it once provoked me to write a wretched elegy; no, I love the moon only for its own comely self and for that reason I have formed an inseparable friendship with it; the moon is my passion, I dote on it, and I can almost believe that it feels just as great an affection for me. I even have the best reasons to suppose this, for if I reproach it and say ''Shame on you, moon, you are full!'' it is ashamed and shortly relinquishes its waxing style of life in order to stroll about the sky as a sensibly elongated star once more.

In Germany I last saw the moon as it was just setting. ''Stop!'' I called to it. ''I am travelling to England now, God knows how I will get on there; old acquaintances cannot be found everywhere; how about you, my dear friend, determining to set out on the same journey, and what if we two were to meet again in a few weeks over a bottle of Burton Ale, if we should suddenly encounter each other in a county of Olde England? Say, what do you think? Take care of your family arrangements and, dear moon, don't be a fool, slip over the channel like me. One travels so fast nowadays; in Cologne in the morning, Antwerp in the evening, the next day you're in London already and finding amusement in Windsor Park the following night! It's a go!'' Then the moon disappeared behind the hills.

Days and weeks passed; one evening I was wandering around in a small town in Yorkshire with no other thought than to rent a pleasant dwelling in which I might quietly and without disturbance spend the following days reading the first three chapters of Tristram Shandy. There were many fine houses on either side of the street and now and then a church, a chapel or a meeting-house on green lawns. Yet for a long time there was no building that allowed me to suppose me that its rooms might take me in. I soon arrived at the end of the street and involuntarily remained standing before the last house. ''Should you or should you not?'' The good people could at worst only make a disdainful face and tell you to go away, so I determined to merrily sound the bell! I strode up to the door: ''Woodcock'' I read on a plate, that is ''Schnepfe'' in German.''Let us call on this Schnepfe!'' - and from inside the house straight away there was a merry ringing. A moment later and the door was opened. A young girl inclined her head towards me and said a few words that I did not understand. I hardly took any notice of them, however, for all of a sudden so many happy plans, such wonderful conclusions and deductions arose in my mind that I had enough to do with myself and remained standing there sunk in thought. Where there is a young girl in the house, there may be a pair of lovely eyes; where there are lovely eyes, there will be red lips; where there are red lips, a kiss cannot be lacking; where one kisses, there is love; where one loves, one should see one's way to settle!

Ergo, I rent this dwelling! Ergo, I stay here! Ergo ''Ah, forgive me, dear miss'', for the miss was still standing in the open front door waiting rather impatiently for me to declare what I wanted. ''Excuse me, is it not true that Mrs.Woodcock lives here?'' - ''Yes!'' said the miss. ''Very well!!'' I replied and was on the point of commencing the daintiest turn of speech when a coincidence occurred that of all things I had least expected. For at the very same moment, you see, my most beloved moon from Germany glided over the housetops and smiled down on the lane. You can imagine my joy. ''So you kept your troth, my trusty creature, you have escaped your native woods and swum after me over the salty flood? A thousand thanks! Lo, I am well on the way to settling down in a fine vicinity; confess that this girl is worthy of being the daughter of a woodcock; observe the brown hair, the enchanting eyes, the slender shape!'' And sunk in revery I did not notice the increasing embarrassment of the charming child; at last she stamped angrily with her little foot and opened the door wide once again as if to say: ''Either or! In or out! Yes or no!'' Then I awoke and was on the very point of pouring out my heart when the moon, who had entered the street but slowly and, trembling over the path with its silvery light, was just casting its beams as far as the courtyard before the house, now suddenly made its way to the door and in the instant kissed the youthful belle in the middle of her comely face.

During this critical moment I involuntarily grasped the key of the door, which was held by a soft hand, and indeed, if the moon had dared such an impetuous attack, wherefore should not I do the same? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander! Hey, you lovely woodcock child! Then a strange sound was heard and all was over. I lived well in Mrs. Woodcock's home. My sitting room looked on to the garden, which was kept very clean and thus offered a pleasing view. Inside it was all furnished in a most comfortable manner. The carpet, the sofa, the armchair, all were in the best condition; on the little table on one side there were Chinese jugs and vases, on the other was the fireplace, in which I always kept a bright fire burning despite the mild climate. An English home is nothing without a brightly burning fireplace. Books, pipes and spill lay around on the chairs.

I would have been almost happy in such a setting, but unfortunately my hosts had learned that I was a German, unfortunately they imagined that all Germans were musical and idiotically ''fond of music'' and now the singing went on all day long! Hardly had I arisen from my bed at eight o'clock in the morning with a devout spirit and begun to prepare my tea, glad not to have done anything bad yet so early in the day, but the eldest son had already felt my presence. He put down the newspaper and sat himself down at the piano. First a prelude, soft tones and solemn chords all proceeded excellently, it was the beginning of some piece that he had been attempting to learn for years; he even played fast and with some accomplishment when he had happily reached the actual melody; now he was in the middle of the sheet of music, twice or thrice his fingers hit the wrong keys, he was possessed by a certain apprehension you could hear it clearly; the notes stumbled over one another like country oafs tumbling down the church steps. It was impossible to continue properly, despair took hold; his hands galloped ever more wildly and rapidly over the groaning instrument, the confusion grew with every moment, the piano moaned as if suffering from raging consumption, the melody made one more leap, but it was the last, for it ended suddenly with a heartbreaking cry, with the most terrifying discord. The musical Briton realised that he had not yet attained to perfection and was silent. Refreshed, I breathed a sigh of relief and dreamed, of course, of the bliss of having escaped all terrors, but then holy Musica recommenced. Even if one cannot drum out the beat of the waltz one can at least play ''God save the Queen!'' This was the idea of the eldest son and he gave free rein to his enthusiasm. The national anthem was the motto for general jubilation. In the lowest room of the house the kitchen maid drummed the beat with her spoons, Mrs.Woodcock passed on her matutinal orders and sang on the same note, the pretty daughter trilled like a wagtail, and the paterfamilias, just leaving the house to go about his business, was still heard murmuring on the street: ''God save, God save the Queen!''
Pity him who was compelled to listen to this concert! Sublime Spirit, thou gavest them all; thou gavest them Shakespeare and Milton, thou gavest them Westminster Abbey so that both great and small might be comfortably buried there, thou gavest them fleets and oceans, India and China, thou madest them supreme above all other nations. Sublime Spirit, thou gavest them all - but not music! The English can neither sing nor play music. An Englishman will sooner learn how to earn a million pounds than how to keep a tune in his head. They take only two or three songs learned in the cradle with them in their further lives, anything else is utterly closed to them. The fact that this is the case is proved by their eternal repetition of only these two or three songs; the few exceptions, the musical talents that have arisen among the people, that very numerous people, prove the same, and it is proved again by the immense efforts the Englishman will make only to appear just a tiny bit musical.

But that is all one, though it does rather strike you in England how the English, incapable of singing as they are, always maintain in the most ridiculous way that they lead all other nations in this as in other things. Any Englishman will swear that his country is home to the greatest composer in the world because Carl Maria von Weber is buried there. In fact the strong desire to be musical seems even to extend to the animal world in England. Beneath my window a snow-white donkey was grazing on the site of the bleachery. This exceptionally fine animal had been very close to my heart since my entry into the house of Mrs. Woodcock. I began to admire it even more after I read in Punch of the discovery that donkeys were immortal. ''But it is true', the reporter added, ''nobody thinks of one exception known to history: they forget the dead donkey in Sterne's Sentimental Journey!'' Be that as it may, it is enough that to me it was of the greatest importance to have a white immortal English donkey as my neighbour; for after all it just might be immortal. The grace which the dear animal displayed as it wandered through the flowers or looked up to the morning sky had put the idea into my head that it must conceal some special quality. For a long time I could not make my mind up on this question; then one day as the eldest son was just abusing his piano to the point of severe alteration I was standing at the window, counting how often he repeated ''God save the Queen!'', finally crying in extreme wrath: ''A hundred and one times, already! It is too much! No, indeed, there is a limit to everything!'' when a powerful baritone voice interrupted me. I leaped up appalled. ''God knows, I am mistaken, no, one hundred and two times!'' But then I saw how ignominiously I was deceived; it was the white donkey, stirred by the musical furor, expressing its loyal sentiments in song that sounded for all the world like ''God save - '', which was still droning on in my ears. (from: ''England, eine Reise ins Innere des Landes'', Kölnische Zeitung circa 1843, later published in a book).

As we see, Weerth too places some emphasis on the English inability to sing either in time or in tune. Of course neither he nor Heine had much acquaintance with the upper classes and seem not to have frequented cultivated concerts or soirées musicales, so their remarks might even be interpreted as the rather snobbish put-down of the pretensions of the English nouveaux riches by German middle-class jeunesse dorée. It certainly suggests rather higher expectations of musical sensibility than could be fulfilled in the circles in which they moved. In this they were not so different from the later commentators Engel and Schmitz, both of whom stress the English affinity for popular music, as does Weerth by implication. Schmitz's text is interesting for highlighting what one might call the psychological and philosophical aspects of music in general. I will quote the same excerpt from the book in my own translation because it differs from Ms. Woolf's in certain respects which make it more suitable to my purpose.

''I have long sought to understand the nature of that lack which repeatedly becomes apparent behind so many English good qualities and has such a dulling effect. I have asked myself what is missing from this nation, perhaps kindness, love of humanity, piety, humour, aesthetic sense? No, all these qualities are present in England, some even more visibly than in our country. Finally I discovered something that distinguishes the English from all other civilised nations to an amazing extent, a lack which everyone admits thus no discovery at all but the implications of which have probably not yet been emphasised: THE ENGLISH ARE THE ONLY CIVILISED PEOPLE WITHOUT MUSIC OF THEIR OWN (apart from street ballads). That does not mean that they have less fine ears but that their whole lives are the poorer for it. To have music in oneself, even if ever so little, means being able to forget oneself and to tolerate dissonance, even linger with it, because it is resolved in harmony. Music gives us wings and makes everything miraculous easy to understand.''

As Paul Serotsky has already remarked, the attitude taken here was already rather dated in 1904, though having a certain truth in 1866 when Engel's book was published or, I might add, when Hans von Bülow, the great conductor and first husband of Cosima Wagner, presumably made a similar comment (see the notes by Meirion Bowen on Elgar's musical background: ). But the essential point about higher musical meaning is in my opinion a simplified and popularised echo of what earlier German writers on music had attempted to describe. Here is E.Th.A. Hoffmann, best known as the author of what we would now call fantasy fiction but also a passionate supporter of Mozart and Beethoven as Romantic composers:

''Music opens up an unknown realm to man; a world that has nothing in common with the external world of the senses, a world that surrounds him and in which he leaves behind him all feelings definable by concepts in order to surrender to the ineffable.'' (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig, 12. Jahrg., 4. 7. 1810)

This suggests the miraculous and ineffable world alluded to by Schmitz, one in which one loses or forgets oneself; in Hegel's more or less contemporaneous philosophical writing on aesthetics one can find other similarities:

'' ''In such a treatment, now, the more profound music not only may drive its motions to the limits of immediate consonance, and even violate that consonance in order to return to it, but it must on the contrary tear the simple first consonance apart to form dissonances. For only in such opposites are the profounder harmonic relationships and secrets of harmony in which there lies a necessity per se founded, and so the deeply penetrating movements of the melody can only find their basis in these profounder harmonic relationships. The boldness of musical composition therefore leaves the merely consonant progression, proceeds to opposites, calls up all the strongest contradictions and dissonances and demonstrates its own power in the stirring up of all the forces of harmony, whose struggles it has the certainty of being able to subdue, thus celebrating the satisfying victory of melodic appeasement. This is a struggle of freedom and necessity: a struggle of the freedom of imagination to take wing with the necessity of those harmonic relationships it requires for its expression and in which its own significance lies.'' (G.W.F.Hegel: Lectures on Aesthetics III.The system of the individual arts III. The Romantic arts I. Music 2. The particular determination of musical means of expression.c. Melody)

Here the idea of flight that we find in Schmitz is associated with the imagination and the concept of the necessary difficulty and harmonic complication of an art that takes account of the struggle inherent in human nature and social existence. There is no doubt that a Schoenberg could fully subscribe to what Hegel is declaring here with passionate intellectual conviction. It is certainly my impression that on the whole the Anglo-Saxon attitude to music has been less sternly philosophical and more concerned to integrate popular or folk elements into a basically descriptive and more practical musical discourse. This general attitude, even more common in both England and America in the mid-twentieth century, is what led German philosophical writers on music like Theodor W. Adorno to express his contempt for those like Sibelius and Elgar whom he saw as popular escapist composers (not to mention his loathing for jazz) and form the taste of a whole generation of post-war German music-lovers. (There was a time when similar attitudes affected the policy of that august sponsor of serious music, the BBC Third Programme but that is another story...) In Germany, the musical establishment is only slowly beginning to come to terms with the two composers I have mentioned, for example, despite the very real complexity of their work, and few German conductors are willing (or permitted?) to conduct them in concerts or on record. Yet to a world in which popular music has a much higher status than in former times, of course, to call England home of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, to name but two of the most prominent ''the land without music'' must seem like a nonsensical paradox. All comparatist cultural history is full of absurd misunderstandings and grotesque new developments!

(This text and all translations from the German included in it © M.J.Walker 2008)


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