zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » We should start with Lenin musing on Beethoven

We should start with Lenin musing on Beethoven

[ by Charles Cameron — music, mildness and massacres — do we have a scalpel that can peel the mildness back to explain where the massacres come from? ]

Lenin listens, muses:

From the Russian film, Appassionate, Here’s Lenin listening and, towards the end, musing, to the music:

Vladimir Lenin asks Rudolf Kehrer to play Beethoven’s Appassionata, Piano Sonata no. 23, op. 57, and at the end says, ‘Nothing I know is better than the Appassionata’. … The footage comes from this rare film entitled Appassionata:


Here’s the full Lenin quote:

I know of nothing better than the Appassionata and could listen to it every day. What astonishing, superhuman music! It always makes me proud, perhaps with a childish naiveté, to think that people can work such miracles! … But I can’t listen to music very often, it affects my nerves. I want to say sweet, silly things, and pat the little heads of people who, living in a filthy hell, can create such beauty. These days, one can’t pat anyone on the head nowadays, they might bite your hand off. Hence, you have to beat people’s little heads, beat mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people. Hm — what a devilishly difficult job!

Some people already know this quote, some don’t.


Here, Lang Lang plays Beethoven’s Appassionata in its colossal entirety:


Mildness and massacres.

Hitler, who began as an art student, liked Wagner; Lenin liked Beethoven. Shall we blame classical music for the Shoah and Gulags?

Somehow, if we could peel back the mildness, we might find the massacres. Does anyone have a suitable psychiatric or spiritual scalpel?

6 Responses to “We should start with Lenin musing on Beethoven”

  1. Richard Landes Says:

    what’s the date on this?

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    According to Christopher Read’s Lenin A Revolutionary Life p.36, it comes from Gorky’s obituary of Lenin, 1924. Lukacs mentions the same quote in a 1924 essay, “Lenin –- Theoretician of Practice”, also apparently written in 1924 — but see bibliographic detail here

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    [continuing that line of thought]
    It was table talk, as far as I can tell, and thus not something noted on a specific date. The obit by Gorky seems to be the first published notice.
    It’s a remarkable quote, isn’t it?

  4. Karlie Says:

    Charles, this was lovely – thanks for posting! And it seems Lenin was more three-dimensional than I thought!

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Mildness and mass murder are so much in opposition to one another that I suspect if you push mildness too far — if you’re way too mild — some kind fo killer instinct emerges to counterpoise your mildness — in what Jung would call enantiodromia.
    But the mildness-trait or enantiodromia-trigger must obviously be pretty extreme, because we don’t have tens of thousands of Lenins and Hitlers, thank God. Thank God. They’re at the far end of the long tail of the bell curve, — but that same extremity gives their viciousness once released, vast and devastating potency.
    But that’s Jung’s scalpel, not mine though I resonate with it. And I wonder what other mechanisms might be invoked to account for such people.
    Charisma, the madness of crowds and an Anabaptist apocalyptic strain go a long way towards explaining the extremity of dictatorships, and of both Hitler and Lenin in particularr — but not the (admittedly, already strongly paternal) “patting heads” side of things. The way mildness (brought on by Beethoven) can shift to the other end of the spectrum is what my curiosity finds so curious.
    And then there’s the Appassionata itself, which itself runs a similar gamut — Groves notes:

    the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata (1804–5) is an even more imaginative work, a work of the greatest extremes – as witness the fortissimo chord handfuls that shatter the brooding quiet of the very first page.

    It it the music that takes Lenin from mildness to massacre?

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    My friend Guillermo suggests the Lenbbin quote was a joke.
    I responded:

    Entirely possible, but since the first reference to it is Gorky’s obit, hard to tell without other evidence.. Lots of ppl seem to have taken it seriously.. including that filmmaker, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
    but also Lukacs, no?

    This whole business gets curiouser and curiouser, to quote Alice..

Switch to our mobile site