8. 31 October 1969 (Unknown Schubert; nightingales; motivic writing)
I had to check that October really had 31 days - it seemed so implausible. The alleged hebetude of your mind (really, it is the only point on which you are arguably unreliable) is as nothing compared to the total stupor of mine. I can't even work out the days of the current month without beginning "Thirty days hath October", and even that is wrong.
But I must say my gloom was somewhat relieved by your nice letter, in which I basked a bit; feeling rather like Soames Forsyte in an Indian summer, I dare say, all passion spent. It's particularly nice to be commended by person in the category of Those Whose Favourable Opinions One Would Most Wish To Have; and between ourselves you're high on my list. Equal first with Andrew Porter, in fact. For that kind of reason I was very indignant with, and crossly switched off, a television programme which claimed that nothing ever happened in Marlborough (did you see it?). Little reck they of the life of the spirit.
And then of course there's the great excitement of the unknown Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall. I'm keeping this news from our friend Julian in case he gets over-excited - he's conducting a Jupiter with his orchestra this month, and needs all his strength and concentration for that, I feel. How right you are about Schubert's nightingales.Which do you think of first, I wonder? I begin with Nachtigall, ach, sing mir den Amor nicht wach; and when I've got over the pleasure of that (it takes a little time) proceed to Ganymed and liebend nach mir aus dem Nebeltal; and reflect that the comparable aviaries of Wolf Brahms and Schumann are rather nicely stocked. How about an anthology of Nightingales in Garman Song (actually it sounds quite a reasonable title for, say, Faber's list – we must certainly mention it to John Thomson). I can see it might lead certain critics impolitely to suggest that Philomel might have stopped her pipe sooner with advantage. But it might catch on – and then we could follow it up with Swans in the Lied, alias Schwanengesang. Or perhaps just Leda?
Sorry about that; it's that typewriter again. I haven't read the Paul Jennigs article, but I like his style; and he's also a good musician, I believe. A propos, may I mention your name in a harangue I propose to deliver to the Royal Musical Association, poor souls, next year. I want to say that if one knows certain music (esp. nineteenth century German song) very well, one can hear it meaning things, in what is admittedly a rather puzzling but nevertheless objective way – I mean that it's there to be heard, and not just a chimaera or phantasm (that's because I thought I would learn some Greek, which I somehow missed as a lad, but since I started my lessons with the EUP Teach Yourself everything has been Greek to me. I fear I must be a rather bad teacher). But as I was saying afore that anacoluthon, it would seem some kind of confirmation, and lend artistic verisimilitude etc, if two people hear in Schubert the same kind of meaning for the same kind of musical image. I've been trying very hard also to think how, if this kind of motivic writing exists in the Lied, it differs in logical or semantic status from the Leitmotiv; and really I can't define any difference except that the former isn't used structurally in quite the same way. I can see now more clearly than I did what you mean about Schubert and Wagner. Anyhow, these are deep waters; and they seem to have closed over my head before I had stopped talking. But I very much hope that if I am to attach any credence at all to your complaint of staleness it doesn't apply in any way to the work you are doing (I trust) on motifs in Schubert. I've just started on Brahms, incidentally; and I find much of interest which I shall if I may communicate to you in due course. Meanwhile on the Schumann thing it would be nice, I thought, if I could say to the RMA that you find in Schubert what I find in Schumann etc. Of course I'd rely on published sources - there are some in the Essays and about twenty in the BBC Music Guide (which Is what I'm doing my Brahms for); but I wouldn't really have time to go in for any detail. The main idea would be the argumentum ad verecundiam (I haven't got as far as the Greek for that yet).
I hope you are well, and planning a trip to London (to which you seem to be on the direct road) shortly. Meanwhile I enclose some catalogue pages in case you haven't seen them.