5. 11 March 1968 (Humour in German - German humour; "Schumann as Critic"; Schubert Impromptus)
Dear Mr. Brown,
Thank you for your letter of 29th Jan. I dutifully allowed a decent interval to elapse before replying, both to allow you to get on with your work (how is it going? does it bring you to London those days?) and to see whether Schneider or Baron et al. had any more offers that might interest you. But the markets seem rather dull at the moment.
I don't know Alan Tyson, not though I met him briefly in the BM one evening and thought that he would be nice to have more acquaintance with. He knows things; and would receive a favourable report in answer to the Schubertian question Kann er was? Andrew Porter rates him very high.
On the other hand I do know Wilhelm Busch (it s interesting to reflect perhaps on the use of "know" in each of the two contexts) and think he has one or two good gnomic couplets. e.g.
Es ist ein Brauch von alters her,
Wer Sorgen hat, hat auch Likör.
But for humour in German (as distinct from German humour) I have Karl Kraus in prose, Christian Morgenstern in verse.
I have at the moment some leisure to catch up with my neglected reading, being C.B. with influenza, of that exceptionally tedious variety which gets worse instead of better. I've already had one certificate for last week, and when I saw my doctor again this morning he gave me quite a new typo of certificate with a black line round the border. I quite thought it must be a death certificate. On the other hand that can't really be right, because I could have sworn I distinctly heard myself groaning quite recently – I remember thinking what an encouraging sign it was. And yet it was quite possibly my poor wife groaning; she has good reason to, poor dear, with my elder son Richard (12 - beats me at chess) at home as well, also with 'flu. She has plans for painting a big red cross on the door and helding the whole problem over to the public health authorities.
As a first step. I'm to be looked at again later this week to see if the temperature's finally down - to zero, I expect that means.
But I must stop this; it sounds like Lazarus without the euphony.
I think you 're right, that chap I quoted to you who said your dismissal of Schumann was peremptory (on the question of whether the second set of Impromptus was intended as a sonata) perhaps hadn't looked at your Variations on the subject (on the theme, I should have said).
Is that his fault ? Does your Critical Biography (which alas I don't possess and to which I have no access at the moment) refer him to that source of further enlightenment? You may be interested in the complete passage (“Schumann as Critic, Leon B. Plantinga, Yale University Press 1967, p. 223-224). After quoting from the Schumann review he says:
“In the autograph these pieces are entitled 'Impromptus'; Schubert intended them as a continuation (nor 5 -6) of the Impromptus Op. 90. But, significantly, it was the publisher Haslinger, not Schubert, who gave this name to the first set. So while there is no external evidence that Schubert thought of Op. 142 as a sonata, neither was it his idea in the first place to call these pieces 'impromptus'. And it must be remembered that at this time (December 1827) Schubert as his agonizing correspondence with Schott and Probst shows, was desperate to publish his music. Anything called "sonata" would be virtually hopeless; even under the title 'impromptus' this set of pieces was first accepted, and then rejected by Schott an ‘too difficult for trifles’ I do not think Maurice Brown's peremptory dismissal of Schumann's supposition (unhesitatingly supported by Alfred Einstein) that Schubert meant Op. 142 as a sonata is justified."
I must say I am wholly persuaded by what you say in the Variations (the point that the first movement is not in sonata form seems particularly telling, compared with Schumann’s “the first is obvious the first movement of a sonata; so thoroughly developed and rounded out that there can scarcely be any doubt of it” – throwing one interesting light on Schumann's concept of sonata form or form in general). In the absence of your analysis I should have been tempted to go to Einstein’s reaction, on the ground that anything which he unhesitatingly supports has a very high probability of being wrong!