Articles by Frederick Engels in The Rheinische Zeitung

Rhenish Festivals [136]

Written: on May 6, 1842
First published: in the Rheinische Zeitung No. 134, May 14, 1842
Marked with the sign ‘x’;
Source: MECW, Volume 2;
Transcribed: in 2000 for by Andy Blunden.

Berlin, May 6. There are certain times of the year when the Rhinelander gadding about abroad is seized by a very special longing for his beautiful homeland. This longing comes particularly in spring, around Whitsun, the time of the Rhenish music festival, and is a really dreadful feeling. Now, he knows it only too well, everything on the Rhine is in bud; the transparent waves of the river ripple in the spring breeze, nature puts on its Sunday best, and at home they are getting ready for the song outing, tomorrow they will set off, and you are not there!

Oh, it is a fine festival, the Rhenish music festival! The visitors come pouring in from all sides, on crowded steamers decorated with greenery and flags flying, to the accompaniment of horn and song, in long railway trains and lines of stage-coaches, with flourishing of hats and waving of kerchiefs, cheerful men, young and old, beautiful women with even more beautiful voices, all Sunday people with laughing Sunday faces. There’s pleasure for you! All cares, all business are forgotten; not a single serious face is to be seen in the dense crowd of arrivals. Old acquaintances are renewed, new ones made; the young folk laugh and flirt and chatter incessantly, and even the old, forcibly persuaded by their dear daughters to take part in the festival, despite gout and podagra, cold and hypochondria, are infected by the general merriment and have to be cheerful since they have come along. Everybody is preparing for the Whitsun holiday, and a festival that derives from the general emanation of the Holy Spirit cannot be more worthily celebrated than by surrendering to the divine spirit of bliss and enjoyment of life, the innermost kernel of which is enjoyment of art. And of all the arts none is so well suited as music to form the centre of such a convivial provincial parliament where all the educated people of the area come together for the mutual renewal of the joy of living and youthful gaiety. If with the ancients it was the presentation of comedy and the contest of tragic poets that attracted the people to the Panathenaean festivals [137] and bacchanalia, in our climatic and social conditions music alone can play the same role. For just as music which is merely printed and does not speak to the ear can give us no enjoyment, so tragedy remained dead and strange to the ancients unless it spoke from the thymele [Raised section of the orchestra in the ancient Greek theatre] and orchestra [Space for the chorus in the ancient Greek theatre] through the living mouths of the actors. Today every town has its theatre where plays are performed daily, while for the Hellenes the stage came alive only at great festivals; today printing spreads every new play throughout Germany, while among the ancients only a few could read the written tragedy. Hence, drama can no longer serve as the centre for great assemblies, a different art must help, and only music can do that; for it alone admits of the participation of a great multitude and even gains considerably thereby in power of expression; it is the only art where enjoyment coincides with live performance and where the range of effect is as wide as that of ancient drama. And well may the German celebrate and foster music, in which he is king above all nations, for just as he alone succeeded in bringing the highest and holiest, the innermost secret of the human heart, to light out of its hidden depth and in expressing it in sound, so it is given to him alone to respond fully to the power of music, to understand the language of instruments and song through and through.

But here music is not the main thing. What is then? The music festival. just as the centre cannot form a circle without a periphery, so music is nothing without the gay, convivial life which forms the periphery to this musical centre. The Rhinelander is thoroughly sanguine by nature; his blood flows as freely through his veins as newly fermented Rhine wine, and his eyes always look cheerfully and merrily upon the world. Among the Germans he is Sunday’s child to whom the world always looks more beautiful and life more cheerful than to others. He sits laughing and chattering among the vines and over his goblet has long forgotten all his cares while others argue for hours whether they should go and do the same, losing the best time. One thing is certain, no Rhinelander has ever let slip an opportunity to enjoy life, or he is thought the biggest fool. This sprightly blood keeps the Rhinelander young years after the real North German has passed into a sedate and prosaic philistinism. All his life long the Rhinelander loves gay, high-spirited pranks, youthful larks, or, as wise, sedate people say, mad tomfooleries and all sorts of crazy things; the gayest and liveliest universities have always been Bonn and Heidelberg. And even the old philistine, soured by worry and work, and the dreariness of everyday life, may give his boys a good hiding for their mischievous pranks in the early morning, yet tell them gleefully in the evening over a pint about the old tricks he himself played in his youth.

With the Rhinelander’s eternally cheerful nature, with such an open, unaffected, carefree temperament, it is no wonder that almost everybody at the music festival wants something more than to hear and be heard. There is a gaiety, a freedom and movement of life, a freshness of enjoyment which one would search for long elsewhere. Gay, good-tempered faces, friendship and cordiality for all who take part in the general enjoyment; the three days of the festival slip by like hours in drinking, singing and jesting. And on the morning of the fourth day, when all the pleasure has been enjoyed and the time has come to part, everybody is already looking happily forward to next year, arranging to meet then and, still gay and filled with new life, going on their way and about their everyday work.