Written By: Albert Schweitzer and Alice Ehlers
Translated and Edited By: Kurt Bergel and Alice R. Bergel
Reviewed Edition: University Press of America, 1991
Hardcover, 114 pages
Table of Contents
Alice Ehlers was a famous harpsichordist who met Schweitzer in 1928 and then exchanged letters with him many times up until his death in 1965. Both were well-known concert performers, and based on their letters shared many musical interests and tastes. Ehlers was born in Vienna and apparently lived in Germany until her Jewish heritage prompted her to emigrate to America in 1937. She then taught music for many years at the University of Southern California. Subsequently, Schweitzer and Ehlers only met in person two more times, in 1947 and 1959 at his home in Gunsbach. Ehlers greatly admired Schweitzer's work in Lambarane, and helped raise funds for his hospital. This was particularly important during and just after World War II, when donations were difficult to obtain outside America.
This volume contains translated letters exchanged between Ehlers and Schweitzer, as well as a few from Helene Schweitzer to Ehlers. Most of the content concerns either their musical interests--particularly Ehlers updating Schweitzer on her recent concerts and teaching developments--or their respective schedules and health concerns (with Schweitzer frequently indicating that he was very busy and very fatigued). With the prominent exception of a letter written in 1964 (excerpted below), they do not discuss Schweitzer's theological or philosophical works. These collected letters therefore may be of limited interest to the many people who are primarily interested in Reverence for Life, but would be of interest to people researching Schweitzer's (or Ehlers') musical life.
[From the Introduction] "When a group of studens in Berlin-Neukolln decided in 1954 to give their school the name of Albert Schweitzer, they received from him a letter of admonitions. He wrote: 'I hope that you will value friendship. It is a precious treasure.'" [italics in original]
[Taken from notes Ehlers wrote after hearing a Schweitzer sermon in Gunsbach, August 5, 1934] "Today my beloved Doctor preached in the church about the passage 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.' He spoke with great simplicity about forgiving with the right insight into the human soul and its weaknesses and its failures. He spoke about the actor in us, who, as he says, lives within each of us, and who forgives only when it is done with the great gesture of forgiving and with many words. If he cannot act with words and gesture he remains helplessly stranded by the roadside and cannot forgive.>
But for forgiving, as he says, no words are needed; it can be done unnoticed by the other person. There is need of humility, love and patience. I was moved by the sermon because in his life he has practiced everything about which he spoke."
[Taken from notes Ehlers wrote after attending a meeting with Schweitzer and Arthur Wauchope, the High Commissioner for Palestine, on October 28, 1935.] "Sir Arthur asks questions, the Doctor answers in his patient, concentrated way. 'Has humankind developed in the spirit of religion?'
'Yes, for we have tried to translate the ethical core of religion more fully into the real world. It is not sufficient to teach ethics; one must live ethics. The ethics of all great thinkers is the same. Love is the best reason."
[From a letter written by Schweitzer in Lambarene to Ehlers, July 7, 1945] "My wife sends you her regards. In spite of my age and my great fatigue I'm still holding up rather well. Every night I practice the organ, and I am looking forward to playing my whole new repertory for you sometime. In my hospital, an enormous amount of work. ... My life is so filled with work that I rarely manage to go to bed before midnight. Most of the time I write my letters between midnight and two o'clock in the morning. My grandfather and my father had an easier life when they had reached the age of 70!"
[From a letter Schweitzer wrote to Ehlers on January 12, 1964] "Dear Cembalinchen, A thousand thanks for your dear letter. I am glad that you are well and in good spirits. You regret that you cannot read my philosophical works because you are not talented in philosophy. That is not at all important for the reading of my works. Educated or not educated, whoever is willing to think a little understands my philosophical works. For my philosophy is simple. It has only one subject, that we should become simpler and better human beings, that we should become more human humans than we are. We should have compassion not only for human beings, but for all creatures. This is the idea that I advocate. And people are beginning to understand it. This new ethic is now being taught in the schools in many countries. "
Preface Introduction The Letters The Notes Index
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