Without Music, Life Would Be A Mistake

Piano by Tobias Rehm

Musicians everywhere love this quotation to applaud the laurels of their craft. And it is difficult to argue against the power and influence that music has on the lives of people around the world. But where did the phrase originate?

Friedrich Nietzsche was German philosopher, scholar, and writer that is frequently associated with nihilism, although he is often mistakenly assumed to be a nihilist himself. While he did write extensively about nihilism and existentialism, his writings covered many more topics, such as social commentary, the will to power, and individual creative power.

The quotation “Without Music, Life Would Be A Mistake” is an English translation from his book Twilight of the Idols, which Nietzsche wrote in a little more than a week while he was on a holiday in Segl Maria, a village in Switzerland. The title is a play on the title of Richard Wagner’s opera, “Twilight of the Gods.” Nietzsche enjoyed writing poetry, aphorisms, and had a penchant for irony and satire in his works; Twilight of the Idols is no exception, as it opens with a list of 44 sayings, titled “Maxims and Arrows.” Number 33 is the source of this famous quotation.

33. Wie wenig gehört zum Glücke! Der Ton eines Dudelsacks. — Ohne Musik wäre das Leben ein Irrthum. Der Deutsche denkt sich selbst Gott liedersingend.

Götzen-Dämmerung, by Friedrich Nietzsche

Common English translation:

How little is required for pleasure! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music, life would be
an error. The German imagines that even God sings songs.

Twilight of the Idols, by Friedrich Nietzsche

The German word “Irrthurm” can be translated as “error” or “mistake” in English. Nietzsche was capturing in a phrase the joy that comes from the enjoyment of music, and thanks to him, we we have a saying that is used by musicians everywhere.

However, this was not the only famous quotation from Twilight of The Idols, as number 8 could be considered just as famous, “What Does Not Destroy Me, Make Me Stronger.”