3. 3 May 1967 (Brown's scholarship; Schumann and Schubert; Schubert and Mozart)
Dear Mr. Brown,
It was very nice to hear from you. I had been meaning to write for some time; but instead we have been staggering. through a series of lamentable domestic crises - my wife's mother has been gravely ill – and it has all been very unSchubertian. However, things are better now. I'm delighted to hear that you are being asked for a number of articles on Schubert, and that you have attained the Heights of Abraham in writing a BBC music guide (which reminds me, for no reason, of that very exquisite nobleman – who was it, I wonder? – who on learning of his impending demise observed languidly “I trust Abraham's bosom has been freshly groomed”, or words to this effect).
I am always stupefied with admiration – indeed, with awe – whenever I reflect (which is not infrequently) on your scholarship and industry. I find such reflections salutary whenever I catch myself feeling complacent about the generality of writers on music, any music critics; about whom I made a year or two ago the same discovery which Walker announced in his spirited controversy with Prof. Aber about the original form of the Italian Serenade – the discovery, namely, that writers on music solemnly transcribe the view of others and believe the result to be not just scholarly but sacrosanct. One interesting consequence is, I discover, that one can gain something of a reputation as a scholar by the simple procedure of reading letters and biographies, with fair diligence, in more than one language, and also listening to, reading through, and performing, the music. I had supposed these were rather elementary tasks to set oneself; but I discover that (except for that very nice Andrew Porter and one or two others) no one does this, or dreams of doing so.
The fact is, I think, that they’re all too busy with music actually ever to do anything about it. In a way, there is an unfair advantage in being an amateur. As for being a retired amateur, well, I can hardly wait; but I can quite see that one will never have worked so hard in all one’s life as when no longer earning one’s living. Even so, I know perfectly well that not in several lifetimes could I or anyone attain your quality of detailed expertise. I wonder if I might venture to ask how it is done, simply at the organisational level – do you have a roomful of card indexes, or do you perhaps keep a computer which is also a keen Schubertian etc.? Pray forgive my curiosity. All the same, yes please, I’d love to have a sight of your Stargardt catalogue when you’re through with it; I haven’t seen it, or Sotheby’s, and wouldn’t normally reckon to. That’s mainly because I am by nature both idle and easily bewildered; but that doesn’t affect my very great interest in your Hüttenbrenner pursuits, and I much hope you make some further discoveries.
I wonder too whether I might venture to tap the reservoir of existing expertise? I have a correspondent in Yorkshire who (alone in the world, apart from another amiable eccentric in Gersweiler-Saar!) takes an interest in Schumann’s use of cipher. The pursuit of this is certainly rewarding in one way; it helps one to know one’s Schumann. (rather than Lafontaine’s father who told his sons that a treasure was hidden in their fields, you recall) Anyhow, my Yorkshire friend, questing for cryptic allusions, was looking through the Schumann Intermezzi, and found in the Alternative section of No. 3 in A minor this (on one stave for convenience)
Which, as he points out, must surely be a deliberate and rather obvious quotation from Schubert Op. 90 No. 4. (though I can’t trace that the point has ever been mentioned before). Alas, I’ve never been able to secure a Deutsch catalogue (which, like Wilde’s cucumbers, is not to be had even for ready money); but a copy I consultedgave me the impression that Op. 90 No. 4 was inaccessible to Schumann. But that surely can’t be right, can it? The allusion seems to me much too clear (now it has been pointed out!) to be purely coincidental. My correspondent also points out that the melody of the E major assai vivo section in Schumann is an allusion, conscious or not, to the scherzo of Beethoven’s first; and I have no doubt that the D flat major passages are a reference to a Beethoven (or perhaps a Schubert?) piano work, though I am rather undecided to which.
I’m sorry about all this – I know you don’t approve of the Reminiszenzenjagd (the unspeakable in pursuit of the inaudible?) – but I think it’s a fairly healthy and harmless sport, can be good exercise and can on occasion enable one (for better or worse) to make a kill.
Of course you are right about the Schubert/Mozart thing; it’s the operas, not the songs, and I suppose it’s because the operas are pure musico-dramatico-lyric imagination (if I make myself clear) which is what Schubert had in the g-form. For example, I am much minded of that marvelous Lied des Orpheus by the passages in theMagic Flute after “Paminen retten ist mein Pflicht”; and if that really were a reminiscence on Schubert’s part it is not hard to catch the train of thought, express though it is. (sorry about that – I have to guard against that sort of thing, but it keeps on breaking in)
However, I must not add to your burdens at a time when yon are so busy. The Schumann book, about which you are kind enough to ask, goes agonisingly slowly; however, I am now finishing it off (or perhaps vice versa – the outcome is still not wholly clear). Andrew has kindly promised to read it through for me and let me have his views. You knew, no doubt, that he is leaving the Musical Times, to have more musical time; and that seems to me a very good way of using it, for a start. He should of course be writing books of his own.
I gather you’re in touch with my friend and colleague Julian (Armitage Smith); we have formed a secret plan to offer you lunch, if we may, when you are next in London.
PS I was most gratified to see us both in the same vol. of La Musica!