Between 1854 (aged ten) and 1872, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a substantial number of musical compositions, including fragmentary pieces for solo piano, several songs, an uncompleted mass, and even a sketched opera. His activity as a composer remains essentially unknown, and his music pieces are rarely performed. A great admirer of Richard Wagner and profoundly influenced by the thought of Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche-the-composer (a very young Nietzsche) understood music as an oceanic field of uncontrolled feelings and emotions, of which the composer was the “medium”, an agent passively dominated by transcendent powers of inspiration and creation. In this sense, Nietzsche’s musical compositions disclose a character and a personality substantially different from the far better-known Nietzsche-the-philosopher. Whereas Nietzsche-the-philosopher was a destabilising constructor, the inventor of new images of thought, the active operator of a fundamental redefinition of values, Nietzsche-the-composer appears deeply rooted in, and submitted to pre-existing, gregarious values. For Nietzsche, music had the problematic potential of carrying an “oppressive weight”—an expression he openly used to refer to one of his compositions, and, later on, to Wagner’s music in general. A weight he increasingly associated with the idea of “swimming”, to which he proactively opposed the notion of “dancing”.
In the artistic research project NietzscheN, the ME21 Collective presents musical compositions by Nietzsche in dialogue with fragments of his texts, with pieces by other composers related to his life, and with reflections on artistic research today.