Wm. James and Mozart

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Feb 7, 2010, 11:57:23 PM2/7/10
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The last two issues of TLS has a review by Peter Hacker of Galen Strawson's new
book on the self, and a response by Strawson.

Apparently, Strawson quotes a letter putatively by Mozart in which the composer
was supposed to have claimed that he could see whole musical compositions in
his head all at once. Hacker disputed this, saying that the letter was a
notorious forgery.

Strawson writes in his response the following:

I had no idea, until I read Peter Hacker's review of my book Selves: An essay in
revisionary metaphysics (January 22), that the letter in which Mozart supposedly
claimed he could hear "as it were, all at once" the whole of a piece of music
that he was composing in his mind was a "notorious forgery". I found the letter
quoted (in all innocence) by William James in his Principles of Psychology
(1890); it turns out that it was invented by the critic Friedrich Rochlitz
(1769-1842). How could anyone do such a thing? The fact that Goethe was duped
(and very moved) by the letter doesn't make it any better. The fact that
Rochlitz knew Mozart, and presumably wouldn't have wanted entirely to
misrepresent his views, doesn't make it much better. Rochlitz's mock-Mozart
describes a point in the process of composition when the piece "is actually
almost finished in my mind, so that even if it is a long piece I can see it as
a whole in my mind in a glance, as if it were a beautiful painting. .. . In my
imagination I do not hear the parts successively, as they must come out, but,
as it were, all at once". In his review Hacker protests, understandably enough,
that this can't be true, and suggests, in a Rylean phrase, that it is at best "a
misleading description of the sudden dawning of an ability, not a description of
its amazing high-speed exercise". I think there's more to it than that. James's
translation of "�berh�ren" as "the hearing of it all at once" is perhaps too
temporally specific, but the word is being used to describe an experience of
somehow grasping the work as a whole (it is formed by analogy with "�bersehen",
a word which was fashionable among the critics of the time). I stand by the view
that this corresponds to something experientially real, especially in a musical
genius. Something similar can happen with a complicated idea. There's a sense
in which it is experienced - cognitively experienced - in a flash. One doesn't
just know that one's got it; one is in some manner acquainted with its content.
GALEN STRAWSON Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139. Sir, - Peter Hacker's refutation
of Galen Strawson's arguments for the material existence of the self gains an
extra layer when one considers that Strawson himself is the editor of your
philosophy pages. In his readiness to bite the hand that feeds him, was Hacker
being selfless, or merely selfassured? GUY DAMMANN 11 Point Pleasant, Flat 6,
London SW18.

I thought this might be of interest to some of you.

Chris Green
York U.

Hendrika Vande Kemp

Feb 8, 2010, 9:13:19 AM2/8/10
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Lots of interesting issues here. Certainly the forgery had been exposed long
before James cited the letter, which reminds us all how impossible it is to
verify the authenticity of every single source. The Cornell University
Archives have a discussion of the forgery at

One still has to deal with Mozart's amazing memory, for example, in the
transcription of the Allegri Miseri, but even that is trivialized by some
critics (if the Wiki piece on Mozart can be trusted).

I always found it interesting that the theologican Karl Barth, in his book
on Mozart, interpreted Mozart's genius as almost a unique kind of knowledge,
as if a direct connection with the mind of God. In fact, I used to give my
history of psychology students an epistemology essay question related to

MOZART'S MUSICAL INSPIRATION: Karl Barth, in the volume on Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart (Eerdmans), says of Mozart: "How then did he know all things so
clearly, as his music reveals? He knew them at least as vividly as Goethe,
whose eye for nature, history, and art Mozart seemed not at all to
possess--and unquestionably more clearly than hundreds of thousands of
better read, better 'educated,' more interested connoisseurs of the world
and of man in all ages. I do not know the answer. He must have had organs
which, as if to belie that extraordinary seclusion from the external world,
made it in fact possible for him to apprehend universally what he was able
to state universally" (pp. 36-37). Barth obviously was not talking about
Mozart having Extra-Sensory Perception. What does this statement reveal
about Barth's position on ontological and epistemological issues? [You can
take the statement by itself, or spend an hour reading the rest of this
book, which it is about 80 pages long]. Do you think that the creative
artist is actually in touch with another reality? If not, from where do the
new ideas/images come? How well do the theories we have studied address the
issue of creativity?

Hendrika Vande Kemp PhD
Clinical Psychology and Family Therapy
7815 Rebel Drive
Annandale VA 22003

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