cover image The Philosopher’s Touch: 
Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes 
at the Piano

The Philosopher’s Touch: Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano

François Noudelmann, trans. from the French by Brian Reilly. Columbia Univ, $26.50 (160p) ISBN 978-0-231-15394-2

In this revealing look at an unexamined commonality in three major philosophers’ lives, Noudelmann, French philosopher and critic, examines amateur piano players Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Roland Barthes in light of their brief writings on the subject, which are curiously and frequently at odds with their interests and putative tastes. Sartre, for example, a fierce proponent of most cutting-edge art forms and revolutionary social movements, preferred to play Chopin’s sentimental, conventional pieces in private. (And in spite of his many political engagements, he made time each day to play the piano.) Nietzsche, stentorian Wagner enthusiast, also had a surprisingly soft spot for Chopin, finding in the Polish composer’s subtlety a different dimension of romanticism than what Wagner represented. Barthes, another daily piano player and renowned musicologist, disliked academic discussions on music, preferring instead to speak about the subject “from his own emotions and his own playing.” Instead of working toward technical mastery, Barthes pursued “privileged wandering, fragmentation, and sensible caprice,” enjoying exploring his vast collection of scores rather than perfecting one particular piece. An elegant ode to the emotional and intellectual importance of music and solitude. (Jan.)