Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring 2013
Normativity and Freedom
Friedrich Nietzsche’s Musical Aesthetics
It is well known that Friedrich Nietzsche loved to refer to himself as the “last disciple of Dionysus.” On the basis of this famous self-characterization, it would seem warranted to describe Nietzsche’s ideal as Dionysian—as Tracy Strong, Bruce Detwiler, and Daniel Conway have done. This paper seeks to reassess the extent of Nietzsche’s Dionysianism via an examination of what the philosopher had to say about music—in particular, Richard Wagner’s music. What the paper argues is that Nietzsche’s musical aesthetics is remarkably Apollonian (or classical), and that elements of this aesthetics can be detected in every period of Nietzsche’s intellectual life. While some scholars have acknowledged the classicism in Nietzsche’s middle-period, I go further and argue that Nietzsche’s early
works already indicate that the philosopher was not an entirely loyal disciple of Dionysus.