Goethe, Webern


Goethe, Webern

In the introduction to his Theory of Colour, Goethe speaks aphoristically of the “impossibility of accounting for beauty in nature and art … We want to sense laws . . . one would have to know them.” But Goethe sees this as almost impossible – but that doesn’t make it less of a necessity to get to know “the laws according to which nature in general, in the particular form of human nature, tends to produce and does produce when she can …”

What was that? Goethe sees art as a product of nature in general, taking the particular form human nature. That is to say, there is no essential contrast between a product of nature and a product of art, but that it is all the same, that what we regard as and call a work of art is basically nothing but a product of nature in general. What is this “nature in general?” Perhaps what we see around us? But what does that mean? It is an explanation of human productivity, particularly of genius. You see, ladies and gentlemen, it does not come about as ” Now I want to paint a beautiful picture, write a beautiful poem,” and so on and so forth. Yes, that happens too but it’s not art.

And the works that endure and will endure for ever, the great masterpieces, cannot have come into being as humanity, more’s the pity, imagines. What I mean by that must be clear to you from those Goethe sentences. To put it more plainly, man is only the vessel into which is poured what “nature in general wants to express. You see I would put it something like this: just as a researcher into nature strives to discover the rules of order that are the basis of nature, we must strive to discover the laws according to which nature, in its particular form man,” is productive.”


(Anton Webern, The Path to the New Music, transl. by Leo Black, Theodore Presser Company / Universal Edition, 1963 [1960], p. 10-11)