“Art is always and everywhere the secret confession, and at the same time the immortal movement of its time.”
A multitude of quotations websites will tell you that this remark was made by Karl Marx. I’m not so sure.
When I came across it, I was puzzled. I have read most of Marx’s writings on art, but didn’t remember this phrase. And then there was the unlikely language. The ‘secret confession’? The ‘immortal movement’? It didn’t really sound like Marx. Hardly any of these websites provide sources for their quotations, so they were no help.
The answer to the puzzle seems to lie in a book by one Adolph Bernhard Marx, called The Music of the Nineteenth Century, and its Culture, published in English translation in 1855 by Robert Cocks and Co. Or, to give it its German title: Die Musik des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts und ihre Pflege: Methode der Musik (Leipzig, 1855). Marx, a German music theorist, writes on page 63: “Art is always and everywhere the secret confession as well as the undying monuments [sic] of its time.”
It is not difficult to see how this might have been translated slightly differently to give us the version that circulates unchallenged around the cheap and cheerful websites dedicated to quotations, who haven’t troubled to check precisely which Marx they’re quoting.
It’s only a small matter, but if any readers can prove me wrong, I’d be happy to hear from you.