6. 8 January 1968 (Book on Schumann; Wandrers Nachtlied; op. 57; Clara-themes; Ur-Forelle)
Dear Mr. Brown,
Well; thank you kindly for your nice letter. I've also had a very affable foreword contributed by Gerald Moore. There’s nothing like getting the approval of two world champions in the same week for putting a chap in a relaxed frame of mind.
Clearly I mustn't overdo it, though; I must have been pretty relaxed to make that confidently wrong observation about Wanderers Nachtlied. I expect I got the wrong one; it’s enough to make one go hot with shame. Many thanks for rescuing me. The Op. 96 coincidence is interesting; I can't hear any real musical resemblance, though, - but that wouldn’t gave surprised me, considering that I heard what seemed to be clear affinity between the Appassionata and Belsatzar before noticing that each was an Op 57. I dare say this might have been deliberate, like holding the number 6 so that his Op. could have the same number as the Clara piece it quotes as motto-theme. And then there’s the Clara Y theme linking Opp. 6, 12, 24 & 48. It’s rather a pity he stopped short at op. 96, but I expect he was growing out of it by then; or else reserving the magic numbers for the really spellbinding ideas, such as Clara X in the D minor, Op. 120. I expect you're right about Loewe too (again I can blame Schumann's mind for some at least of my aberrations, for I’m sure it was one of his splendidly innocent puns in a review which put that form into my head); and this shall duly be altered also. (How should. I acknowledge the Schubert point? I'm afraid I've already sent back the foreword, preface etc, to enable a start to be made.) Among other encouraging things is your point that you like the idea of someone else having some acquaintance with the songs one loves; I know that feeling – one seems less lonely.
It's for that reason among many others that I’m looking forward so eagerly to your own writing about Schubert songs, etc, and particularly his motivic writing, which is becoming something of an obsession with me. There are exciting flashes about this in your Essays and BBC monograph, but not really enough to satisfy the devotee. I expect I'll be tackling Schubert one day, if I'm spared, but the task seems no dauntingly mountainous - didn't you once say to me, rather memorably, that you felt that even compiling a list of the songs one had the feeling it would never end? I think. I'd better have a go at Brahms and perhaps Fauré first. But I don’t seem to find (yet) many motifs in either - do you? The ideal chap from both points of view would be Duparc - perhaps a quick dash at him would be the appropriate neat step, as we bureaucrats say. On Schubert, I've been meaning to tell you that I'm supposed to be doing a script for the interpretation series on Die Schöne Müllerin - my own suggestion, which I'm now rather regretting, because everyone seems to sing them in the same way, which will mean a programme rather barren of comparisons. I'm trying to think, though, whether this is right; I mean that although Sonnleitner was no doubt right in suggesting that the dramatic approach was in general undesirable, yet in D.S.M there is all the time an indefinable sort of Mühlbach-undercurrent of drama, almost of opera - after all, it has vivid and believable characters, motives and plot, which is (some say) more than can be asserted with any confidence of the actual Schubert operas themselves. And I'm sure from the form that Müller imagined his verses quasi-dramatically; and I have a vague impression that Schubert did too, and that the style is what Empson would call a Version of Pastoral. After all, he didn't have to write like that, did he, in 1823? It was perhaps a deliberate hoice of (?reversion to) the pastoral-diatonic style? This sometimes leads people to believe that the cycle isn't really at the level of Winterreise, whereas sometimes I sometimes wonder whether the two can't after all be mentioned in the same breath. And were any of the D.S.M songs really written in striped pyjamas? (a detail borrowed from the television triptych - which I found rather disappointing, though still better of course than almost any other programmes).
A propos, I seem to he meditating on Beethoven’s syphilis, because of Ernest Newman’s The Unconscious Beethoven which I'm reviewing for the MT (which reminds me that I was pleased with your piece on Loewe — as you say, it's nice to know that one's tastes are shared, and I'm very fond of some of those songs – with perhaps a special penchant lately for Des Glockentürmers Töchterlein, which no one seems to know or care about greatly). I must say that Newman' mind strikes me as hopelessly muddled; and he seems to have no idea of the kind of intellectual performance expected from someone intent en proving a thesis. Having made a few vague assertions he suddenly begins the next chapter with “The fact of Beethoven's malady seems then to be beyond dispute”. “With one bound, Jack was free”, as they used to say in Boy's Own Paper. He’d surely never have got away nowadays with such undemanding stuff as that?
I trust your own work on Beethoven is going well and enjoyably. If I can be of any service to you (hot that I know much about the songs, but I’ve pickled up a bit here and there in the course of Schumann pursuits etc) you have only to let me know.
And if you had a moment to spare to tell me how much Wagner one can hear in Wolf, and conversely, and with what significance, I shall be very greatly obliged! This has come up because Faber are reprinting a book of mine on Wolf, and I'm casting about for some new material; and I'm conscious of having said nothing on Wagner (because, I claim, it wasn't relevant to the purpose at the time, but no doubt the real reason was just ignorance, and not solely in the Johnsonian sense either). The odd thing is that I can't find any Wolf to speak of in Wagner at all until I play the piano scores and then I seem to hear a Wolfian inflection or two. Perhaps one should put down Klindworth as among Wolf's influences?
I was very interested in the Schubert theme X. For some terrible months I could hear music only in relation to whether it contained that theme or not! I found that Schubert doesn't use it thematically as much as Mozart or Haydn; Beethoven hardly at all. Of course, I can hear nothing else in Schumann; but I shall have to try to cure myself of that. But I was able to persuade Roger Fiske of the reality of Clara theme Y — partly admittedly because he'd already identified it for himself, and for some curious reason it's always much easier to believe in one's own discoveries than in other people's — but partly just by directing his attention to the opening bars of the Fantaisiestücke Op. 12 beginning with Nos. 3 & 4, preceding, with those in mind, to No. 5, and thence to No. 7; and then contemplating, Buddhist-fashion, the middle sections of the others; and eventually a pattern begins to emerge.
I didn’t know the Lawrencian pronouncement on Du bist wie eine Blume. I agree with you that es ist wie eine bloomer. I think I agree with you too about Ophelia's pregnancy; I doubt if one ought to make too much play with the long purples. But dare I differ from both you and Bob in venturing to compare the question of how many children Lady Macbeth had with how many Ophelia didn't? I rather tend to doubt whether verbal constructions can be pregnant in any other than a very metaphorical sense. How can a literary matter be a literal mater?
Yes, I confess I recall that cheeky piece about your line on Trouts (I expect I tried to work in your angle too, Lord help me) What I meant was that it like Ophelia is in my mind an abstraction, like the Platonic ideal of Trout, let us say the Ur-Forelle or Rainbow Trout, who swam ere rivers were begun; and some mystic compulsion impels me to chant despite Hoorickx, - nevertheless not six trouts, but One Trout.
Sorry to have rattled on so; it's the euphoria.
with renewed thanks