August 1967. I was 13 years old. One evening I turned on the radio in my sister’s bedroom. I listened to music I had never heard before. It was lengthy. I had no idea what it was and I was completely enthralled. When it finished the announcer said it was the Mahler 8th Symphony.
Thursday, October 19, 1967. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot. I was 13 years old. A friend and I took the day off from school. I was in the 9th grade at Central High School. We went downtown. I purchased a recording of the Mahler 8th Symphony. I learned that the final movement is based on Goethe’s Faust.
September 1972. I was 18 years old and about to enter my second year of college. I purchased a copy of Character and Culture, a collection of essays by Freud. The book contained an essay by Freud about Goethe. “A Childhood Recollection from ‘Dichtung und Wahrheit'” — In this essay from 1917 Freud compares a childhood recollection contained in Goethe’s autobiography (Dichtung und Wahrheit) (the details of which relate to the issue of sibling rivalry) to similar childhood recollections reported to Freud by his own patients.
Wednesday, July 13, 1977. I was 23 years old. I see a broadcast of Franz Liszt’s A Faust Symphony on PBS, Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony. I remember the exact date because it is the evening of the 1977 blackout in New York City.
September 1982. I was 28 years old. I go to two performances of Liszt’s A Faust Symphony at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Ricardo Muti conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Saturday, August 9, 1986. I was 32 years old. I purchase a paperback edition of Goethe’s Faust.
Friday, April 15, 1988. I was 34 years old. I had started working at the Strauss firm in early March, about six weeks earlier. On the way home from work, I stopped off at a nearby store and purchased a cassette recording of the Mahler 8th Symphony, Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony.
Early May 1994. I am 40 years old. I purchase a VHS cassette of Mahler’s 8th Symphony, Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. When I watched the video I was stunned. Days later I had a psychotherapy session. The psychiatrist said: “You seem to be distant and distracted today. What are you thinking about?” Even days later, the therapist could notice that I was not in my normal state. I still had the Mahler 8th Symphony on my mind and it was apparent.
2004-2005. I write Letters to Brian, a parody of Goether’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe’s novel is presented as a collection of letters written by Werther, a young artist of a sensitive and passionate temperament, to his friend Wilhelm. These give an intimate account of his stay in the fictional village of Wahlheim, whose peasants have enchanted him with their simple ways.
2019-2020 — I am 65-66 years old. I see a German-born therapist who calls herself a Kleinian analyst. From time to time I quote Goethe’s Faust from memory in the original German. On one occasion, she smirked when I garbled my German. It was as if she were thinking: “You’re trying to impress me, but you’re not doing a very good job.”
It takes a special audacity for an American who doesn’t really speak German to quote Goethe in German to a native German speaker!