- Wars of the Émigrés: The Doctor Faustus Controversy Revisited
It is rare for a scholarly compilation of letters, diaries, essays, and archival material, especially one whose documents have been translated from another language and are heavily annotated, to be a page-turner, but The Doctor Faustus Dossieris just that. All three of its celebrated protagonists—the novelist Thomas Mann, composer Arnold Schoenberg, and philosopher Theodor Adorno (whose name should be in the title above) emerge from the narrative as brilliant, gifted, and astonishingly productive, but also as surprisingly vain, petty, and contentious. Then, too, their interaction raises issues of race, class, and nationalism rarely discussed in accounts of the remarkable community of refugees from Hitler's Germany that settled in Los Angeles before and during World War II. Earlier treatments of this Weimar on the Pacific, as Erhard Bahr labeled the community in his definitive study, concentrated on the great intellectual contribution of the exiles—especially the Frankfurt School, but also the large circle of film directors, composers, and actors—to American life and letters. 1 The Doctor Faustus Dossierdoesn't minimize that contribution, but shows that it was hardly without its problems.
Many of the items collected and assembled here—Thomas Mann's diaries, his correspondence with both Schoenberg and Adorno, and extracts from speeches, essays, and the music criticism of all three—have been published before, but they are collected and assembled here together for the first time in English, and the editor has provided extraordinarily detailed and valuable notes to each and every entry. The Mann-Schoenberg-Adorno controversy over Doctor Faustus, known in [End Page 815]its broad outlines since its occurrence in the mid-1940s, thus appears in a genuinely new light. Adrian Daub's learned and witty Introduction, moreover, is worth the price of the whole book.
The basic parameters of the story can be summarized fairly briefly. Mann and Schoenberg, living within a few miles from one another in the Pacific Palisades-Brentwood area of Los Angeles throughout the war, become acquainted at the home of mutual émigré friends; they see each other socially quite often and exchange visits. But unbeknownst to Schoenberg, Mann decides to use the latter's controversial avant-garde theory and practice as the model for the musical compositions of his own Dr. Faustus, the composer Adrian Leverkühn. Not well versed enough in the technicalities of modern music, Mann persuades the young music theorist Theodor Adorno to provide him with fictionalized texts about specific musical compositions and technique, including Schoenberg's twelve-tone method. Mann then incorporates the little descriptive essays Adorno gives him into the text of his novel: he appropriates, moreover, other Adorno writings—for instance an analysis of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in C Minor, op. 111, no. 32 in Chapter VIII. In 1948, Mann sends a finished copy of Doctor Faustusto Schoenberg with the dedication "Arnold Schoenberg, dem Eigentlichen"—the Real Oneor simply The One. When Schoenberg reads the book, he is enraged to have been the model for a "hero" who suffers from syphilis, makes a pact with the devil, and ostensibly produces musical compositions that fuse "primitivistic" elements with a new sound system, designed to make a complete break with the past. The Schoenbergian fusion, moreover, is treated in the novel as a thinly veiled allegory for the rise of fascism in Germany. Schoenberg threatens to sue Mann for violating his intellectual property. Mann makes the concession of adding a short explanatory note following the final page of Doctor Faustus, but his condescending reference to Schoenberg as " acontemporary composer and theoretician" only makes matters worse. Meanwhile, Adorno is annoyed that Mann gives so little credit to his contributions to the novel, even as Schoenberg, upon learning that Adorno has all along been "the informer," turns his special wrath from Mann to Adorno; the two never speak again. The controversy over the "Doctor Faustus affair" is...