For a long time, Rilke enjoyed music somewhat but at the same time tended to be suspicious of it because of the emotions it arouses. He questioned emotions which weren’t directed to some specific phenomenon, natural or human. But then, having just turned the age of 38, he had an intense love affair with a young professional classical pianist, Magda von Hattingberg, who had written him a fan letter. Once the epistolary courtship morphed into a face to face relationship, she played in person Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, on the piano for him almost daily. Rilke gradually began to appreciate music on a new level. He told Benvenuta, as he called her (he liked to give names to his lovers), that she had enabled him to understand music at last.
And he did for the rest of his life, after their brief romance ended. He even wrote several remarkable poems about music, some of the best verbal articulations of what music is & does that I know of. Here’s one of them, entitled simply “To Music”:—
Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps: stillness of paintings. You language where languages end. You time, placed erect on the course of vanishing hearts. Feelings for whom? O you transformation of feelings into what?—into audible landscape. You stranger: music. You heartspace grown up from us. Innermost ours, which, exceeding us, crowds out,—- sacred farewell: when the inner surrounds us as the most practiced distance, as the other side of air: pure, gigantic, no longer lived in. [My revision of Edward Snow’s 1996 revision of J. B. Leishman’s 1960 translation.]
This may look difficult, but really is not. Just read it as a series of metaphors &/or images of what music is. They are stimulating individually & build magnificently. And notice the references to emotions (feelings).
I translated 2 more of Rilke’s poems on music in my Rilke on Love & Other Difficulties: “Gong” & “Music.” Read them the same way as I suggest doing with this one.