But did you like the passage with Hanno and the improvisation? I thought it was one of the best in the book. It was particularly poignant as a prefix to his departure from the story. I loved how Mann handled Hanno's death - the curious distance, following a scene of such passion and imagination.
But the improvisation itself was quite fascinating - the theme that returned and returned. No flights of imagination escaping the underlying current, the thread of reality. Hanno's death was most probably a blessing.
But I agree with you about Hanno. He had talent, but no spark. To me, the Buddenbrook men were part of a stock that was continually being watered down. Each generation becoming weaker until you get to Hanno, who couldn't even muster enough energy to care about his talent. Christian was probably a forewarning of Hanno.
I wonder if there was a statement in general being made about what follows ascendancy - those who rise to the top through enterprise as opposed to those who inherit the wealth. Mann might have been showing us how each subsequent generation becomes more and more distant from the original pioneer; that ongoing success is more incidental or inertial, rather than earned. So that when faced with a real challenge - the changes in Germany in this case, the weaker links break and the structure collapses.