Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend Additional Summary

Thomas Mann


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the outset, Serenus Zeitblom doubts his ability to narrate understandably the life story of his friend Adrian Leverkühn. His friend is a musical genius whose strange, doomed career shows many parallels with the course of German history in the twentieth century. A former professor of philology, living in retirement and out of sympathy with the Adolf Hitler regime and greatly concerned for the future of his country, Zeitblom hesitantly begins his task in May, 1943.

Adrian Leverkühn was born in 1885 on a farm near Kaiseraschern, in Thuringia. His family was of superior yeoman stock, and his father, a man interested in curious natural phenomena, did everything in his power to stimulate his son’s intellectual curiosity. Adrian’s boyhood friend, Zeitblom, was a frequent visitor in the Leverkühn household. Years later Zeitblom can remember his friend’s absorbed interest in a book filled with pictures of exotic lepidoptera. One in particular, Heroera Esmeralda, fascinated the boy because of its unusual beauty and protective coloring. Adrian was introduced to music by a hired girl who taught him old folk songs.

Because the farm was to go to an older brother, the family intended that Adrian, a boy of brilliant mind and arrogant disposition, would become a scholar. When he was ten years old, he entered the school in Kaiseraschern. Living in the house of his uncle, a dealer in musical instruments, he had the run of the shop and began to play chords on an old harmonium. When his uncle overheard his efforts, he decided that the boy ought to have piano lessons. Adrian began to study under Wendell Kretschmar, the organist at the cathedral. Adrian’s chief interest at that time, however, was theology, and he entered the University of Halle with the intention of preparing himself for the clergy. Zeitblom, certain that his friend’s choice was dictated by the arrogance of purity, went with Adrian to his theological lectures. One of the teachers was Ehrenfried Kumpf, a forthright theologian who enlivened his classes by insulting the devil with epithets that Martin Luther might have used. Another instructor was Eberhard Schleppfuss, whose lectures were filled with anecdotes and sly undertones of demonism and witchcraft.

Given the range of his talents, Adrian could have chosen a career in scholarship, theology, or music. At last, unable to reconcile his interest in philosophy and science with theological precepts, he turned to music and began, still under Kretschmar’s training, experiments in theory and technique that were to determine the highly original nature of his art. Before long, the pupil surpassed the instructor. When Zeitblom was drafted for a year of compulsory military duty, Adrian was exempted because of his frail constitution and went to Leipzig for further study. With Kretschmar’s encouragement, he began to compose. A new friend of his, Rüdiger Schildknapp, was an...

(The entire section is 1194 words.)