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Synesthesia in Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi


These days I’m fortunate enough to be reading a timeless novel, Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi. In it, Joseph Knecht, little-known master of the glass bead game, has a clear case of synesthesia:

Well now, every experience has its element of magic. In this case the onset of spring, which had enthralled me as I walked over the wet, squishing meadows and smelled the soil and the buds, had now been concentrated into a sensual symbol by the fortissimo of that elder shrub’s fragrance. Possible I would never have forgotten this scent even if the experience had remained isolated. Rather, every future encounter with that smell deep into my old age would in all probability have revived the memory of that first time I had consciously experienced the fragrance. But now a second element entered in. At that time i had found an old volume of music at my piano teacher’s. It was a volume of songs by Franz Schubert, and it exerted a strong attraction upon me. I had leafed through it one time when i had a rather long wait for the teacher, and had asked to borrow it for a few days. In my leisure hours I gave myself up to the ecstasy of discovery. Up to that time I had no known Schubert at all, and I was totally captivated by him. And now, on the day of that walk to the elderberry bush or the day after, I discovered Schubert’s spring song, “Die linden Lüfte sind erwacht” and the first chords of the piano accompaniment assailed me like something already familiar. Those chords had exactly the same fragrance as the sap of the young elder, just as bittersweet, just as strong and compressed, just as full of the forthcoming spring. From that time on the association of earliest spring, fragrance of the elder, Schubert chords has been fixed and absolutely valid, for me. As soon as the first chord is struck I immediately smell the tartness of the sap, and both together mean to me: spring is on the way.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) :: Gerald Moore (piano)


Die linden Lüfte sind erwacht,
Sie säuseln und weben Tag und Nacht,
Sie schaffen an allen Enden.
O frischer Duft, o neuer Klang!
Nun, armes Herze, sei nicht bang!
Nun muß sich alles, alles wenden.

Die Welt wird schöner mit jedem Tag,
Man weiß nicht, was noch werden mag,
Das Blühen will nicht enden;
Es blüht das fernste, tiefste Tal:
Nun, armes Herz, vergiß der Qual!
Nun muß sich alles, alles wenden.

Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862)

Faith in Spring

The gentle breezes have awakened,
They whisper and float day and night,
They create on all sides.
O fresh fragrance, o new sound!
Now, poor heart, be not afraid!
Now all, all must change.

The world becomes more beautiful with every day,
No one knows, what may become,
The blossoming will not end;
It blooms in the farthest, deepest valley:
Now, poor heart, forget thy pain!
Now all, all must change.

Translation by FiDiTanzer528

February 3, 2010 2:03 am

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