Music Begins Where Language Ends

Heinrich Heine? Claude Debussy? Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky? Richard Wagner? Leonora Schmitz? Henry R. Cleveland? Jean Sibelius? John S. Dwight? Ludwig van Beethoven? Anton Rubinstein? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The expressiveness of words is paltry in the domain of deeply felt emotions and sensations. Yet, music can resonate with these profound feelings. Here are two versions of this sentiment:

  • Music begins where language ends
  • Where all words end, music begins

Numerous famous people have been credited with this adage including Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, French composer Claude Debussy, German composer Richard Wagner, and German poet Heinrich Heine. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This article is intended to provide an overview of this large and complex topic. Research is difficult because the phrasing of the adage is highly variable. In addition, the saying has appeared in multiple languages, e.g., English, German, French, and Russian. The native language of QI is English; therefore, this article is inevitably skewed toward English, but QI has attempted to locate instances in other languages.

Here is a set of dates and phrases summarizing the occurrences of this adage during a few early decades:

  • 1835: Music begins where language ends
  • 1841: Where the speech of man stops short there music’s reign begins (translation from French)
  • 1845: (Music) begins where speech leaves off
  • 1849: When words lose their power, it is then that the true office of music begins
  • 1853: Music begins where words leave off
  • 1855: Music begins where words cease
  • 1857: The province of music begins where language fails
  • 1865: Where the power of the words ceases, there that of the music begins
  • 1866: Where all words end, music begins

Currently, the earliest match located by QI appeared in a July 1835 essay by Henry Russell Cleveland titled “The Origin and Progress of Music” in “The New-England Magazine”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Music begins where language ends; it expresses thoughts and emotions, to which speech can give no utterance; it clothes words with a power which language cannot impart. Our favorite songs are set to music, because we are not satisfied with hearing them recited; we want to express more vividly the emotions which these words excite within us; and music alone will do it. Hence it is, that after hearing them sung, the words appear powerless if read in the common tone of voice.

This adage has remained popular during the ensuing 185 years, and the remainder of this article discusses several variants with citations.

If you are interested in a specific prominent individual who has employed this saying you may wish to veer off and consult one of QI’s specialized articles.

Composer Richard Wagner employed the saying in 1841, and an article focused on that ascription is here.

Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky credited Heinrich Heine with the saying in 1878, and an article focused on that attribution is here.

Composer Claude Debussy received credit for the saying in 1889, and an article focused on that attribution is here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Music Begins Where Language Ends

Notes:

  1. 1835 July, The New-England Magazine, Article: The Origin and Progress of Music: No. 1, Author not listed, (1844 book claims author is Henry Russell Cleveland), Start Page 58, Quote Page 59 and 60, Eastburn’s Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Where Words Leave Off, Music Begins

Heinrich Heine? Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular adage comments on the comparative expressiveness of words versus music. Here are two versions:

  • Where words leave off, music begins
  • Music begins where the spoken word ends

Many people have been credited with this saying including the famous German poet and critic Heinrich Heine. Would you please explore the attribution to Heine?

Quote Investigator: This is a large topic, and this article will focus on the connection to Heinrich Heine. A separate article located here provides an overview. Available evidence suggests that Heine did not coin this adage.

Currently, the earliest match located by QI appeared in a July 1835 essay by Henry Russell Cleveland titled “The Origin and Progress of Music” in “The New-England Magazine”. Heine was not mentioned. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Music begins where language ends; it expresses thoughts and emotions, to which speech can give no utterance; it clothes words with a power which language cannot impart.

Heinrich Heine died in 1856, The earliest attribution of the saying to Heine located by QI appeared in “The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky”. The famous Russian composer sent a letter in 1878 to his patron Nadezhda von Meck about the symphony he was creating: 2

I can tell you no more, dear friend, about the symphony. Naturally my description is not very clear or satisfactory. But there lies the peculiarity of instrumental music; we cannot analyse it. ‘Where words leave off, music begins,’ as Heine has said.

This letter was sent more than two decades after the death of Heine; hence, its probative value is reduced. The lack of an earlier citation means that the attribution to Heine is currently weak. Yet, the discovery of earlier evidence, perhaps in German, could strengthen the linkage in the future.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Where Words Leave Off, Music Begins

Notes:

  1. 1835 July, The New-England Magazine, Article: The Origin and Progress of Music: No. 1, Author not listed, (1844 book claims author is Henry Russell Cleveland), Start Page 58, Quote Page 59 and 60, Eastburn’s Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1906, The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Edited by Modeste Tchaikovsky, Letters Translated from Russian to English by Rosa Newmarch, Letter From: Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, To: N. F. von Meck (Nadejda Filaretovna von Meck), Location: Florence, Date: February 17th (March 1st) 1878, Start Page 274, Quote Page 277 and 278, John Lane: The Bodley Head, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Only One Man Ever Understood Me, and He Did Not Understand Me Either

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel? Heinrich Heine? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had a major influence on later schools of thought including Marxism and existentialism. Yet, critics have complained of his unintelligibility. One colorful anecdote claims that Hegel made the following pronouncement on his deathbed:

Only one man ever understood me, and even he didn’t understand me.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: Hegel died in 1831, and in 1834 the prominent poet and essayist Heinrich Heine included the anecdote in “Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland” (“On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany”): 1

Als Hegel auf dem Todtbette lag, sagte er: „nur Einer hat mich verstanden,” aber gleich darauf fügte er verdrießlich hinzu: „und der hat mich auch nicht verstanden.”

Here is one possible rendering in English:

When Hegel lay on his death-bed he said: ‘only one man has understood me;’ but immediately afterwards he added with chagrin: ‘nor did he understand me neither.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Only One Man Ever Understood Me, and He Did Not Understand Me Either

Notes:

  1. 1834, Der Salon von H. Heine by Heinrich Heine, Volume: Zweiter Band (Volume 2), Section: Zur Geschichte der Religion und Philosophie in Deutschland (On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany), Quote Page 221, Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg, Germany. (HathiTrust Full View) link

When the End of the World Comes, I Want To Be in Cincinnati. It Is Always Ten Years Behind the Times

Mark Twain? Heinrich Heine? Otto von Bismarck? George Bernard Shaw? James Boswell? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: As a one-time resident of Cincinnati I knew that Mark Twain once worked in the city, and I always enjoyed the comment he reportedly made about it:

When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it’s always 20 years behind the times.

But this quip is also attributed to the popular humorist Will Rogers. Can you determine who created this joke?

Quote Investigator: The early evidence located by QI points to a different part of the globe. In 1886 The Atlantic Monthly printed an article about King Ludwig II of Bavaria that contained a version of the jape; however, the length of the time lag and the location were distinct [BVAM]:

It is a common saying in Germany that Bavaria will be the best place to emigrate to at the approaching end of the world, since that event, like everything else, will be sure to come off there fifty years later than in any other country. The Bavarians will be behind the times even as to the point when time shall be no more, and will enter as laggards upon the eternal life.

This citation suggests that a version of this gag expressed in the German language probably predates 1886.  Over a period of many decades multiple variants appeared. The remark was modified to target other locales, e.g., Dresden, Netherlands, Mecklenburg, Cincinnati and Ireland. The humor was credited to a variety of people including: Heinrich Heine, Otto von Bismarck, Mark Twain, and George Bernard Shaw.

The earliest Cincinnati-based citation found by QI was dated 1978, and the words were attributed to Mark Twain. Details are given further below. Note that Twain died in 1910, so this is a very late piece of evidence.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When the End of the World Comes, I Want To Be in Cincinnati. It Is Always Ten Years Behind the Times