Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but often can be found in a research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer: Selections From His Writings

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer
Edited and Translated By: Charles R. Joy
Reviewed English Edition:  Adam and Charles Black, London 1953
Hardcover, 279 pages

No ISBN Shown


Table of Contents

Those of use who know Schweitzer for his humanitarian, philosophical, and theological works tend to think of his musical work as something separate and less important. But to Schweitzer organ playing was a huge part of his life, and perhaps the most rewarding part. He not only played music, but studied it intensely. Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer presents the written fruits of this study. It has excerpts from his well-known works on Bach, and also otherwise untranslated journal articles and pamphlets.

This book omits complex instructional music discussion, and is generally quite understandable even for someone who does not play, or even listen to, Bach and other past masters. The thing that struck me was how much time Schweitzer spent on organ design. He spent innumerable hours creating, distributing and compiling the results of a survey of organists throughout Europe, and led an eventually successful effort to recognize, preserve and incorporate the best aspects of older organs at a time when modern, pneumatically driven organs were all the rage. One wonders what Schweitzer would think of the current crop of electronic organs.

Quotes from Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer

[from The Choir in Paris] "But it is morale more than anything else that is lacking [in choirs in Paris]. The sense of unity produced by a common goal is essential in a genuine chorus. There is no sign of this in the Parisian choruses of professional singers. Moreover, the deep emotion and inspiration that spring from the long and devoted study of a work and give warmth and fire to it are supremely wanting. Of the joy and pride which so often enable mediocre choruses to rise to artistic heights in their performances there is no trace here. In art, as in all places where the realm of the spirit begins, there are things which only the free man is able to accomplish."

[from The Life and Character of Bach] "At heart Bach was neither pietistic nor orthodox: he was a mystic thinker. Mysticism was the living spring from which sprang his piety. There are certain chorales and certain cantatas which make us feel more than elsewhere that the master has poured into them his soul. These are precisely the mystical chorales and cantatas. Like all the mystics, Bach, one may say, was obsessed by religious pessimism. This robust and healthy man, who lived surrounded by the affection of a great family, this man who was embodied energy and activity, who even had a pronounced taste for the frankly burlesque, felt at the bottom of his soul an intense desire, a Sehnsucht, for eternal rest."

[from The Art of Organ Building and Organ Playing in Germany and France] "But there will surely come a time when we shall again think not of the number but of the tonal richness of the stops, when we shall prefer the true expensive organ of forty stops to the false one of fifty; when we shall look back on these instruments of ours, with their few, small brutal mixtures in unresolved conflict with the gigantic, formless body of our foundation stops, as on something we have overcome."

[from The Art of Organ Building and Organ Playing in Germany and France] "Good tuners should be paid like ministers, and should occupy such a place in the rank of artists that one artistic tuner should be considered equal to six average virtuosi, since a half-dozen of the latter are easier to find than one artistic tuner. Only the mistakes of ministers concern posterity; of the virtuosi it cherishes perhaps the names; the work of the tuners, however, just as it leaves their hand, edifies generation after generation."

[from Joy's editorial comments, starting with a quote by musician Alice Ehlers] "'Those hours with [Schweitzer] at the organ are unforgettable. I would sit with him on the organ bench listening and he would ask my opinion and we would discuss phrasing, tempo, dynamics. It was in those hours that I received my best musical education. The Doctor also loved these evenings for he was always in his happiest mood when playing the organ. All responsibilities, the whole world, disappeared for him; there was only music--the organ, nothing else. He loves music and needs it. Even in Africa, when working very hard, the day is not ended before he has his one hour of practice on his piano with organ pedals.'

Doctor J. S. Bixler, President of Colby College, recalls his visit at this time to Doctor Schweitzer's home in the Black Forest. He was very much puzzled when Doctor Schweitzer smilingly asked him if he would not like to hear a little 'Yotz'. This was a German word which Doctor Bixler did not understand until Doctor Schweitzer sat down at the piano to play in syncopated time; then he knew that the good Doctor was speaking not German but English--he was talking about jazz."

Table of Contents of Music in the Life of Albert Schweitzer

    Preface by Charles Munch
    Editor's Foreward
  1. First Beginnings
  2. Widor's Pupil
  3. Vocation and Avocation
  4. Bach: The Musician-Poet
  5. Organs and Organ Building
  6. Medicine, Theology and Music
  7. Africa
  8. The Revolution in Organ Building
  9. The Round Violin Bow
  10. Records for the World
  11. The Musician at Seventy-Eight
Appendix Index

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