Home Page with Flash

Home Page without Flash

Orchestral Music

Band Music Catalog

Instrumental Music Catalog

Vocal Music Catalog (including Opera)

Choral Music Catalog

General Catalog


Contact Noteworthy

New Submissions

Links of Interest

Articles of Interest

Latest Publications

Website Search Engine.

1844 - 1900

link to biography of Friederich Neitzsche

1861 - 1937

link to biography of Lou Andreas Salomé

Hymnus aus das Leben [Hymn to Life]
for mixed chorus (SATB) and symphony orchestra (1884)

music composed by Friedrich Nietzsche
German text by Lou Salomé ,
orchestrated by Mark Starr
new English singing translation by Mark Starr

A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  If you do not wish listen to it, please click on the STOP button (or the PAUSE button) on the media player, below. You may wish to adjust the volume on your computer to a more comfortable level.


Many readers of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical writings may be unaware that in his youth, Nietzsche composed a considerable number of musical works. If it were not for several dramatic events in his personal life that led him in another direction, Nietzsche might well have followed his ambition to become a composer. Judging from this inspiring and emotionally-overwhelming work - Hymnus as das Leben - Nietzsche had the musical imagination, and a sufficiently solid (though self-taught) musical training, to make his mark in the world of music.

However, the brilliance of his university studies led him first to philology, and then to philosophy. At the age of 24, even before obtaining his doctorate, he was appointed Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel. He is still one of the youngest tenured university professors in recorded history. And, of course, to this day he continues to be one of the world's most-widely read and revered authors.

Nietzsche composed music into his thirties, but he ran into a stone wall with some major musical figures, who condescendingly treated his musical creations as the dabblings of a dilletant. He may not have been a professional composer, but neither was he a dilletant. He sent the score of the Hymnus as das Leben to the conductor Hans von Bulow - who didn't bother to acknowledge receiving it, much less respond to Nietzsche about its musical qualities. Later, Nietzsche wrote to von Bulow that history would record he had insultingly ignored the greatest mind of the century.

Nietzsche also sent the score of Hymnus to the conductor Felix Mottl (who also declined to perform it.) In a letter to Mottl, Nietzsche made a revealing statement - that after his death, the Hymnus as das Leben would serve as his testament.

In the early 1870s, Nietzsche had cordial relations with Wagner.  Nietzsche conducted a private performance of the first version of the Hymnus for Wagner at Triebschen, the villa of Wagner and Cosima in Lucerne. Wagner patronizingly told him that he was delighted to hear musical ideas that he recognized as his own. Nietzsche was infuriated by Wagner's observation. Later, Cosima observed that this incident was the beginning of the estrangement between the two men. Eventually, Nietzsche begame one of Wagner's most hostile opponents.

Wagner was fooling himself. There is no Wagner in this music. On the contrary, the major influences are Schumann and Brahms - specifically the Brahms of the little-known but monumental work Triumpflied.

Nietzsche's sister wrote that her brother longed for music full of happiness, pride, high spirits, power "yet held within bounds by the highest laws of style." His bitter experience with Wagner's art of "glorified unrestraint," had robbed him of all joy in his passionate interest in music. He considered Wagner's music morbid and depressing.

The composer with whom Nietzsche draws the closest comparison here is the young Gustav Mahler. The main problem with such a comparison, however, is chronology. In 1874, when Nietzsche composed the first version of the Hymnus, Mahler was then 14 years old, yet to enter the Vienna Conservatory. In 1884, when Nietzsche completed the revised version (which served as the source for Mark Starr's orchestration), Mahler had just finished his first major composition, Das Klagende Lied; however, this work would not be performed until years later.

In other words, there is no possibility that Nietzsche was influenced by Mahler. Nevertheless, there are many striking similarities between Nietzsche and the young Mahler, in addition to a common harmonic language and the high-minded philosophical concepts expressed in their music. Mahler, like Nietzsche studied philosophy and history at university. Later, Mahler used texts drawn from Nietzsche in his Eighth Symphony.

Surprisingly, the text for the Hymnus is not by Nietzsche, but rather by a remarkable woman, the poetess, psycho-analyst and novelist Lou Andreas-Salomé. At the time of composition, she was a student of Nietzsche.  He fell passionately in love with her - but his passion was left unrequited.  He proposed a menage à trois with her and his friend Paul Rée, but she declined.

Lou Salome, Paul Rée and Friederich Neitzsche in 1888

Later, Salomé authored a major study on Nietzsche and 15 novels.  She was closely involved (professionally and personally) with many major 19th Century and early 20th Century literary and psychoanalytic figures (including Sigmund Freud and the poet Ranier Maria Rilke.)

Salomé's text is an exhuberant affirmation and celebration of life, with both its joys and its pain. It is also an in-your-face challenge to the morbid obsession with death found in the major philosophical currents of the time: i.e., Wagner's operas, Schopenhauer and the Christian religion.

In his orchestration of the Hymnus, Mark Starr made a new English singing translation of Salomé's poem. Moreover, he has indicated that one phrase of the work should also be sung by the audience -- as was done with hymns in Bach cantatas, and later in a cantata by Paul Hindemith, The Canticle of Peace.  It was Nietzsche's expressed hope that the philosphy expressed in this work would eventually replace religion. Moreover, he wrote that he composed this work to "lure" the public into an acceptance of his philosophical affirmation to life. Perhaps, he would have been pleased by an audience singing this one phrase.

Mark Starr's orchestration of the work is intended to replace the turgid, tepid and frankly incompetent orchestration made by Nietzsche's amenuensis, Peter Gast -- which was the nickname that Nietzsche gave to his secretary, the failed composer Heinrich Köselitz.  Its weakness may well have been the deciding factor in Nietzsche's failure to get the work performed by leading conductors of his time.

There is no doubt what sort of orchestration Nietzsche envisioned for this work. His direction at the head of the score is: "with heroic feeling."

The full score is available for perusal, audition and purchase, downloading and printing on www.sibeliusmusic.com.  Here is the link to the score.


The instrumental and choral parts are available on rental only for specific performances/recordings, from Noteworthy Musical Editions, 132 Loucks Avenue, Los Altos, CA 94022-1045 USA. Tel.
650-948-2060. Email: noteworthy@zasu.us.


2 flutes
2 oboes
English horn
2 clarinets
bass clarinet
2 bassoons
4 horns
3 trumpets
3 trombones
percussion: bass druim and 2 piatti

duration: 5 minutes