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"Peter Gast"

From: The Journal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue 32, Autumn 2006
pp. 62-67 | 10.1353/nie.2006.0016

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The name Peter Gast is a familiar one in the literature on Friedrich Nietzsche's life and thought. As everyone knows, it is the pseudonym used by his younger friend and assistant, Heinrich Köselitz. It is often noted that the suggestion came from Nietzsche. Yet, surprisingly, generations of scholars have failed to read the name. What that involves is just recalling the Latin or Greek origin of the name Peter and the meaning of the German word Gast and putting these together. Then one sees the point: "Peter Gast" means "stone guest." In other words, the name is a joke and, what is more, a musical joke. Though the "stone guest" figures in other works, Nietzsche can only be thinking of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, which he knew well. This insight opens up several interesting questions. Why was a pseudonym needed for Köselitz in the first place? And why did Nietzsche propose this one, with its particular associations? I will offer solutions to both of these puzzles.

The pseudonym arose from the time that Nietzsche and Köselitz spent together in Recoaro, in northern Italy, in spring 1881, as letters sent afterward show. It has much to do with the musical composition that Köselitz had just completed: his opera Scherz, List und Rache. Nietzsche's suggestion was that the work should be presented to the public under this name rather than Köselitz's own. To understand why, we need to consider both the composition and its context.

Köselitz based his opera on a libretto written by Goethe for a short-lived collaboration with the composer Philipp Christoff Kayser and used again by composers such as E. T. A. Hoffman and Max Bruch. Apparently it was Nietzsche's friend Paul Rée who suggested that the text deserved yet another musical setting. When Nietzsche heard the music played by Köselitz in Recoaro, he expressed enthusiastic admiration. He wrote to his colleague Franz Overbeck, "Our friend K. is a musician of the first rank, his work of a new and individual miracle of beauty, in which nobody living can equal him. . . . What is more: there is an affinity between this music and my philosophy, which has found its most eloquent advocate!" The affinity was signaled in the book Nietzsche had begun to write, The Gay Science, where the title "Scherz, List und Rache" is used for a "Prelude in German Rhymes."

Why was any pseudonym needed at all? Nietzsche was not in the habit of advising his friends to publish anonymously or under an assumed name, although several had done so of their own accord. The idea seems to have been Köselitz's. Curt Paul Janz states that Köselitz thought his name was unsuitable for a composer, that Italians would find it too hard to pronounce, and that his plan to use the libretto of Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto for his next project required a name that would be accepted in Italy. Yet these arguments look like rationalizations for Köselitz's temperamental reserve. His main concern in Recoaro was not Il matrimonio segreto but the newly completed Scherz, List und Rache, a Singspiel that would find its chances of being published or performed in Germany, not Italy. We need to look more closely to find a reason not just for a pseudonym but for this particular one.

An important clue is the fact that Nietzsche had tried to have Human, All Too Human published under the name Bernhard Cron. There was a reason for that plan: he knew that the book displays a change in direction that would surprise and even offend readers of his earlier work—as it did when the book came out, on his publisher's insistence, under his own name. Köselitz too had a previous reputation to consider: not as a composer but as a writer. While a student in Basel, he had published an article in the Wagnerian Musikalisches Wochenblatt that attacked the city's musical culture, accusing it of a "philistinism" similar to that satirized by Nietzsche in the first of his Untimely Meditations. Moreover, his article had plainly come from a Wagnerian direction...



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