Music Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life

Pablo Picasso? Berthold Auerbach? Playboy? Aline Saarinen? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator:The following adage has been attributed to the famous painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso. Here are two versions:

1) Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
2) The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

I was surprised to discover a similar remark about music ascribed to a prominent German writer named Berthold Auerbach. Here are two versions:

1) Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
2) Music cleanses the soul from the dust and dross of everyday life.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In 1864 Berthold Auerbach published the novel “Auf der Höhe” (“On the Heights”) which included the following statement in German about the cleansing nature of music: 1

. . . die Musik wäscht ihnen den Alltagsstaub von der Seele . . .

In 1867 a translation of the book by Fanny Elizabeth Bunnett was released. One of Auerbach’s characters was appointed to the position of general superintendent of the Royal Theatricals, and he sought advice from another character. He was told that music was essential to dramatic works, and it should be included before the beginning and between the acts of a play. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

I know every art wishes now to isolate itself and be independent, and not to be subject to others. A drama without music is a repast without wine. When men see a great drama without having passed before hand through the initiatory undulations of music, they appear to me as if unconsecrated, unpurified; music washes away from the soul, the dust of every day life, and says to each one; ‘thou art now no longer in thine office, or in the barracks, or in thy workshop’.

The analogous saying about art was attributed to Pablo Picasso in 1964, but the artist was not being quoted directly, and this linkage might be spurious. A detailed citation is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Music Washes Away from the Soul the Dust of Everyday Life


  1. 1866, Auf der Höhe: Roman in acht Büchern von Berthold Auerbach, Volume 2, Quote Page 70, Cotta’schen Buchh., Stuttgart, Germany. (Original publication was in 1864 according to several bibliographies) (HathiTrust Full View) link link
  2. 1867, On the Heights by Berthold Auerbach, Volume 2 of 3, Third Book: Seventh Chapter, Quote Page 64, Translated by F. E. Bunnett (Fanny Elizabeth Bunnett), Published by Bernhard Tauhnitz, Leipzig, Germany. (Google Books Full View) link