Passion: Music – An Intellectual Autobiography

Tanslated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch

by Constantin Floros (Author)
©2018 Monographs 224 Pages


The present autobiography sets out from the contrast between "establishment" and "outsiders" in science and scholarship. It portrays a number of prominent composers, conductors and musicologists and seeks to illuminate the nature of the phenomenon of music from diverse vantage points, centering on cultural, biographic, psychological, philosophic, critical, aesthetic and axiological questions.

Lutz Lesle (Das Orchester, 2018): At the price of being deemed an outsider, Floros has devoted a major part of his life's work to the semantic dimension of music, from the Viennese Classics to Postmodernism. His endeavor has been to preserve for music the dignity of manifold meaning that the school of bean counters were stripping from it by reducing musical scores to structure-analytical databases. "To simply ignore the spiritual depth dimension of important musical art works," the author bluntly proclaims, "and to limit oneself to the investigation of the 'tonal body': to me there is no greater aberration."

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Establishment and Outsiders: A Preface
  • My Parents
  • Saloniki, my Hometown
  • Vienna, Metropolis of Music
  • My Mentor, Heinrich Husmann
  • The Road to Interdisciplinarity
  • Humane Music
  • Reflections about Music’s Depth Dimension
  • “Music should not embellish, it should be true” – On the Aesthetics of the Second Viennese School
  • Alban Berg, Anton Webern and the New Music
  • The Second Viennese School in the ‘Twenties
  • Personal Friendships with Composers and Conductors
  • György Ligeti
  • Leonard Bernstein
  • Hans Werner Henze
  • Luigi Nono
  • Eulogy for Wolfgang Rihm
  • Hans Swarowsky
  • Günter Wand
  • Karl Anton Rickenbacher
  • Composers Compared: Wagner and Verdi
  • Music and Politics: Richard Wagner and Pacifism
  • European Institutions and Personal Encounters
  • Controversies
  • Axiology I: Peter Tchaikovsky – “The absolute low of music”?
  • Axiology II: Rachmaninoff – Art or Kitsch?
  • Musical Semantics
  • Why is Mahler’s Music so Popular Today?
  • A Dehumanized World?
  • Afterword
  • Writings of Constantin Floros
  • Notes
  • Index

← 6 | 7 →

Establishment and Outsiders: A Preface

Not only in nearly all reaches of society, but also in the world of science and scholarship, we speak of the established and the outsiders – a problem interesting to many. For an answer, we might, to begin with, turn to the assessment of the sociologist Norbert Elias, who, as an Austrian Jew, emigrated to Great Britain in time and taught sociology at Leicester University. He resided in a suburb of the growing industrial city and vividly described, in an empirical investigation he carried out together with his pupil John L. Scotson, the conflict situation between the old, established inhabitants of the place and those newly arrived. The former typically distanced themselves from their new fellow residents, would not enter into any private contacts with them, and stigmatized them en masse. Since the new residents were perceived by the old as something alien and threatening, they were often thrust into an opposition, “without quite realizing what was happening and certainly through no fault of their own.”1 Not without reason, the two authors of this case study transferred the dynamics observed in one English town to the social condition as a whole.

The subject was viewed from a different perspective by the literary critic Hans Mayer in his foundational study entitled simply Außenseiter (Outsiders).2 Starting from the observation that the civil order had failed, Mayer made a fundamental distinction between “intentional” and “existential” outsiders, among which latter he counted above all women, homosexuals and Jews. In a subsequent essay, he ventured on the thesis “that in our history there has hardly been a single group that, given particular social constellations, has not been pushed into the position of outsiders and been treated accordingly, frequently amounting to annihilation.”3

Interesting recent reflections on this problem appear in a book by the Austrian theoretician of science Franz M. Wuketits. According to his main thesis, the evolution of scientific thought occurs not as a straight, linear process but as a “zig-zag path” that admits of many aberrations. The dynamics of scientific discovery depends largely on the diversity of its agents, different temperaments, who create knowledge in their own particular way – an insight stemming from Albert Einstein. According to Wuketits, outsiders ← 7 | 8 → are indispensable as pioneers, guides and reformers. Many of them have been basically dilettantes, others were fully established in scientific institutions “but were sidelined by their guild.” Not a few met with suspicion and rejection from their contemporaries, were ignored or opposed and found due recognition only after their death.4

Wuketits’s book portrays 35 scientists from the last 200 to 300 years, who worked as outsiders but in the end rendered an undeniable service to science. One is astonished to learn that men like Johannes Kepler, Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin are reckoned among them.

As a musicologist, I have the honor of belonging among the outsiders. The meritorious British publicist Norman Lebrecht, wrote in an article about the Mahler research of Kurt Blaukopf and my own: “Best among them were Kurt Blaukopf and the Greek-born Constantin Floros, whose outsider perspective was frequently insightful; both, notably, were better received in English translation than in the [original] German.”5 The crucial question for me is: what is the official doctrine of the established colleagues, and why am I an outsider?

This book attempts to give an answer to this question. It portrays a number of prominent composers, conductors and musicologists and tries to illuminate the nature of the phenomenon of music from diverse angles. Its principal focus is on cultural, biographic, psychological, philosophic, critical, aesthetic and axiological questions.

← 8 | 9 →

My Parents

It was my good fortune to come from a musical family. My father was a conductor, my mother a pianist. Both were natives of Asia Minor. My father lived in Constantinople, now Istanbul, my mother in Smyrna, today’s Izmir. Until 1453, Constantinople had been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Smyrna a flourishing commercial town on the Mediterranean. After the failed attempt of the Greek prime minister Elephtherios Venizelos to incorporate the formerly Greek cities in his state, and the lost Greco-Turkish war, the Turks confiscated the assets of the Greek citizens and forced them to emigrate to Greece, in line with the terms of the treaty of Lausanne of 1923. As yet unknown to each other and without the least inkling that they would one day meet, my father and my mother moved with their families to Saloniki.

My father Epameinondas (1886–1966) had attended the renowned American secondary school Robert College and was a passionate violinist. His parents therefore sent him to Berlin, where he had the good fortune of being taught by prominent professors: Engelbert Humperdinck in composition and Arno Kleffel in conducting. After the successful completion of his studies at the end of a six-year stay in Berlin, he returned with a diploma to Istanbul.

In 1920, he founded a philharmonic orchestra there, which he directed until 1922. Repeatedly he also performed as a soloist and as first violinist of a notable string quartet.

After his emigration to Saloniki in 1924, he developed a lively artistic and pedagogical activity. In 1927, he founded the “Macedonian Conservatory,” which still exists today, and which has trained prominent musicians. Ten years later he was appointed as professor for conducting at the newly established State Conservatory. He subsequently conducted symphonic works predominantly of the German repertoire, both in Saloniki and in other Greek cities. In addition, he led the first performances in Greece of choral works like Mozart’s Requiem, Haendel’s Messiah, and Mendelssohn’s Antigone and Athalia. Since state subsidies were not matters of course, he ← 9 | 10 → frequently covered deficits resulting from the concerts he organized from his own pocket.

He was a universally educated musician, who liked to give lectures and write introductions to musical works like Beethoven’s symphonies, admired by his pupils and feared by opponents because of the high artistic demands he made. He left numerous arrangements of Greek folk songs for chorus, which are still sung today.

My mother, Antigone, née Sarandidou (1907–1998), studied piano at the Macedonian Conservatory and there met and fell in love with my father; they married in 1929. After her final examination, my mother gave piano lessons for many years. A close bond with her has accompanied me all my life, and even today, many years after her death, I often think of her. Time and again I recall her rich emotional inner life, her sharp intelligence and her pronounced sense of justice.

I was born on January 4, 1930, in Saloniki.

← 10 | 11 →

Saloniki, my Hometown

In a sense, I grew up in two cultures: Greek and German. My parents spoke Greek at home, but my father was also fluent in German, so that I acquired an early familiarity with the German language, especially also since I attended the German school, until it was closed at the end of the War. In 1947, I graduated – with a major Graecum and major Latinum – from the Greek classical high school.

As a child, I was traumatized by the horrors of war. Italy had declared war on Greece in 1940, and Italian airplanes indiscriminately bombarded my hometown. The cellars in which we sought refuge, mostly at night, were by no means secure. To this day, the sound of exploding bombs rings in my ears. During the subsequent German occupation, we at times literally starved. Time and again, corpses covered with linen sheets were lying in the streets, an uncanny sight to me.

Add to that the bewilderment about the daily disappearance of Jewish citizens, Sephardic Jews, originating from Spain and mostly well-to-do. No one asked where they went, but everyone knew why they were gone.

As in other European countries, there was organized resistance to the German occupation in Greece, especially in the province.1 The political situation worsened noticeably after the war. Communists and right-wing radicals warred on each other to the knife. Thanks to intensive British intervention, the Communist influence could be stemmed.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Humanities Musikwissenschaft Autobiographie Kulturgeschichte und Kulturkunde
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 224 S., 17 s/w Abb.

Biographical notes

Constantin Floros (Author)

Constantin Floros is professor emeritus of Musicology at the Universty of Hamburg. Among his works are volumes on the origin of Gregorian neumes, about Semantics and Listening, about Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven. Alban Berg and György Ligeti. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch is professor emeritus of Englisch and Compative Literature at Indiana University. He has translated several books by Constantin Floros.


Title: Passion: Music – An Intellectual Autobiography