2. 23 May 1967
Dear Alan Walker,
Thank you for your letters of 4th and 21st May; that very interesting correspondence is returned herewith. I liked best what Geoffrey Bush had to say. I have the impression that he is no mean Schubertian, among other things, and hence sound on the String Quintet. I seem to recall by a broadcast review he did of Maurice Brown's latest book, about which I remember mainly he beautifully how ( I suppose it was he) played a few examples. Your own contributions ("in a tremendous forensic style", as he puts it) remind me rather of my own letters to poor Roger Fiske and Joan Chissell about Schumann cipher – except that you seem to be an even more daunting controversialist than I am, if such a thing can be imagined. I can just picture how all our correspondents must quail and blench at the postman's knock.
I think I could guess just from your literary style that you are a born musician. I like particularly the flourishes and contrasts (not to mention the thematic unity). But will this quite do, I wonder, in the discursive mode and the ordinary use of language?
Of course Freud put forward a theory of art, which can be, and has been, countered. I quite agree with you that it is speculative, tentative, hardly respectable, non-verifiable, and extremely restrictive; and that he was, as you suggest, hopelessly unqualified to advance it. Still, there it is: not only in the words you quote (or rather misquote), but in earlier versions in journals etc of 1909 & 1911, and elsewhere as late as 1925. He seems to have got it from Otto Rank's Der Künstler, as he sometimes acknowledges; according to Ernest Jones he derived the idea not from psycho-analysis but from a personal justification of his jealousy of a musician and a painter (cf letters written to his fiancée in the early days). I quite see that ends are not means, and conversely; no doubt, too, Freud never confused art with neurotic symptom. There are limits.
But he certainly associated the two and placed them in the clearest possible relationship. The artist, he says, is introverted and near-neurotic; and he produces art by elaborating his daydreams. For all I know, Freud may be right. But right or wrong, it seems eccentric to deny that he said it, or that is constitutes a theory of art. It doesn't seem very reasonable either to blame Freud's successors for the sterility of his extramural speculations about art or anything else.
The obvious explanation for that seems to be, prima facie, that the speculations themselves were false, or silly. Either way, if you don't want to be taken for a neo-Freudian, you have chosen an extravagantly odd way of going about it. You quote Freud's view, which plainly relates art with neurosis. You suggest that the "official view" developed from it, under its influence, in a quite logical any reasonable way (as no doubt it did).* You mention the "official view" with no suggestion than you do anything but applaud it. (I was stupefied to see that you thought it put back aesthetics for fifty years – if you thought that, why in the world didn't you say so?). And you give no reason of any kind for supposing Freud's view to be true or relevant; nor make any mention of the many reasons (with which your serious readers will all be as wearily familiar as I am) for supposing it to be irrelevant or false. I see now that you think it a grave mistake to use the tools of psycho-analysis in an attempt to explain artistic phenomena, and I would respectfully agree with that. But don't you think there is some slight risk of your being suspected of that very thing, by the time it comes to your composer/listener theory of an automaton and a zombie communicating id-to-id by sleepwalkie-talkie, busily cathecting with each others' libidos the while?
At any rate I have ventured to suggest that in any further work you might define, argue and defend your hypotheses; not only the Freudian one, but also: that music is a communication; that great music is created in what Freud calls the unconscious; that music is autonomous; and so on.
I think all these are extremely shaky; again the arguments against (Collinwood, Croce, Langer etc etc) are well-known and on the whole accepted by the laity, though some of the scholars (like John Casey in Cambridge) demur about art-theories of expression.
I quite see that your argument flows fairly logically from the premises of your creative principles (I imagine that would be the tight way round) but I think that it does soon the overriding assumption that those principles are universal propositions; whereas they are, I think, particular propositions.
These, however, I find, as you know, very compelling. As a theorist of music I rate you with Schenker, Reti and Keller (in other words, world class, let's face it, though I spare your blushes by not saying so. Besides, there is a sense in which you all owe your eminence to the flatness of the surrounding country.)
My review (which I have already finished, since I had some spare time over the weekend) says more or less what I have said in this letter, and much the same as I said when we met for lunch the other day; namely that I dispute your aesthetics rather vigorously, but claim your musicianship. The result sounds rather mare disputatious than acclamatory, because of the allocation of space to each topic; but of course it's a most stimulating and absorbing book, and I haven't been able to deny or conceal the fact. Quite the contrary; - the review turned out to be (a good example of unconscious creation) about 3,000 words long after having been considerably condensed from a first draft. So what the luckless Stanley Sadie will find to do with it I can't imagine . In any event I am grateful to you for the interest and enlightenment (on some things) it has brought me. There's still plenty in it for me for discussion so if after having looked at the review you would like to pursue any topics by letter or talk I am entirely at your disposal.
In preparation for that it seems a pity not to end on a more contentious note. It's often your use of language (a musician's use, as I say) that baffles me. Here are two propositions which I have extracted from your latest letter:
1. The principles of musical criticism must be musical principles. 2. The most important problem for a theory of criticism to consider is the nature of the creative process. I can make sense of these propositions (and net very much even then) only by substituting "critical" for the underlined "Musical" in the first, and "least" for "most" in the second. A similar feeling overtakes me when I consider the proposition "music is autonomous", which I itch to amend to "non-autonomous" and conversely with "music is non-conceptual" which I am convinced must mean "conceptual". Is it that you have taken your taste for paradox, or I mine for contrariness, too far?
Yours Eric Sams
* Do you mean people like Baudouin, Stekel, Alexander, Ernest Jones, etc. What’s wrong with them?