5. 10 March 1966 (Clara did know; on Schumann cipher)

Dear Andrew,

   It's not a bit of us my deciding (let alone your appealing to me) not to write. I'm till off work, with time on my hands, and you have become (among other things, of course) an indispensable adjunct to my filing system.  Beside, in my present enfeebled state I can't help it; I'm just a hapless plaything of fate –

"Nous imitons, horreurr! la toupie et la boule"

Besides, you inadvertently ask me some questions.

   These seem to be rather easier than usual. Of course Clara was privy to the fact chat Schumann used cipher as a means of composition. Everyone knew about Abegg; she knew it went further than that; I doubt if she knew the detailed way it worked, but then nor did Schumann, from one piece to the next, and really to know how it worked one would have to be a greater composer than Clara was in those days. I think she knew that it could be used to give a Clara theme as defined, and that this is what is meant by her references, from 1833 on, to Doppelgänger in her music. I think too that Schumann did not move over to Clara cipher as a full scale compositional aid until 1834 (he wrote very little, of course, in 1832-3) and that the change is announced in the code-letter of July of that year, which Clara understood perfectly well, in so far as it was encoded by Heidel's method. We can tell she understood this from her own letter, so encoded, of 8 June 1834. (Her numerical postscript is of course from the cryptographic point of view much clearer and simpler, and hence better, than Schumann's own brilliantly over-complicated notion. Hers was the mind of a draughts-player, his of a chess-player. How charmingly old-fashioned of you, incidentally, to play that old 8 x 8 game, nowadays known as vieux jeu, not to say square. Most of us gave up using a board years ago — it is n any case quite unsuitable to the multidimensional game. I fancy you must be more of a draughts-man.) [...] Without the key, more time patience (and, let's face it, skill) are needed than I have or ever had before the encoded messages can be read straight off. What Clara's says is bits of gossip, Becker is in love again, and so on — she reproaches him for not having written, is in the clear text, but adds that she is so fond of him that she can't help forgiving him. This must have S. into paroxysms of manic glee; his reply of July is sizzling with crackpot euphoria. Pretty clearly, his letter announces the ritual union of names as a means henceforward of making all his marvelous music. He had, there is little doubt (v. Bötticher) been pining for Clara since she was twelve or so, and this Schumannian declaration is hardly unprepared or unexpected. The first point to note is hat its meaning was plain enough to Clara whether she understood the music cipher as such or not; it was a declaration of love, and a very flattering one. Remember too that this would the first last and only time that S. was using the cipher for purposes of communication, if that is what he was doing, and the ambiguities of it might well never have occurred to him. What he was doing was, after all, just the same as he had always done; he was tuning a phrase "Ich hasse dich" into music notes according to a defined system. If he had done this, then the result would have been exactly what he wrote in his letter. The fact that it may not clearly mean this to the recipient is really not of very great importance, as I see it. His concern, as ever, was to express rather than communicate; this is unquestionably the  purpose of his letters * as of his music, and indeed as I (and Collingwood) believe the function of all true art. The real difficulty here is the very perplexing circumstance that they didn't in fact fall into each others arms in an erotic frenzy, but on the contrary parted, and nearly for ever, only to be reunited (as the magazines say) six years and much sadness later. This needs a dramatic explanation; and. I suggest that it is that it was at about this time that Wieck pere first heard the disquieting rumour that Schumann had had syphilis while at Heidelberg (it seems likely that this was true, and that it was the cause of his organic disease of the brain) and began taking his brisk prophylactic counter-measures.

   How about an article called, say, "The Mercurial Element in Schumann"?


Maurice J. E. Brown


   No, you have him; I've had enough of him.

Thank you, by the way, for letting me see your report, with which I respectfully agree. But I had the additional reservation that he never seems to me wholly at ease as a musician. Music‑lover, yes, and a great lover, if you like; musicologist, certainly, and a marvellously devoted one; but musician?** There seems to be something very uneasy about, for example, Ex. 71 and the accompanying comment.

   With this in mind I eschewed the Shawe-Taylorian "he has himself discovered that ..." and preferred "it seems " ... I considered "according to Mr. Brown"; but really if chaps tell us all about inserted lines we have to believe them; it's not like a cipher theory, is it? Perhaps there's something one can't tell or deduce from a photograph, but it does look a little fishy, all the same. Much the same applies, I should have thought, to that Tovey quotation. The delete passage does, it seems to me, suggest the notion of fugato, assuming that it is properly quoted in the Schubert Symposium, which suggests what Tovey is getting at, and why the others follow his lead. I think I’d rather follow any one of the three than MJEB, if a choice had to be made, which again is why I say "it is fascinating to learn" meaning "to be told" rather than "to believe".

   But I'm the very last chap to want to make an issue of it; live and let live, I say – with great feeling.

   Did you hear Geoffrey Bush's review on the B.B.C? Very musicianly, I thought – played the piano illustrations, if it was he, with a rare Schubertian feeling, and very beautifully.


* and, mutatis mutandis, mine, as you may have noticed.

** thought: the critic nowadays has to be a Jack of all triads.