16 April 1991 (Olaf Bär, [S]Amstrad, least Liszt, Housman, Negative Capability)

My dear Erik,

      Thanks for your lovely long letter; diese himmlische Länge, like a novel in four volumes by Jean‑Paul, as Schumann described the Great C Major. Well, perhaps not quite on the same epic scale; but full of youthful exuberance and Schwung. I'm sorry the Gruner wasn't possible after all. Ben Luxon and I looked and listened out for you most assiduously, but finally fell back disappointed. Another time, perhaps? I think there's enough money left in the kitty, and enough support from the city (I must check this tendency to rhyme and other rhetorical device, which I shall shortly explain) to extend the competition indefinitely. And that's a splendid outcome, because of its socio­historical as well as musical significance. I'm working on a theory that the importation of Olaf Bär into the western world so enraged the East Germans that they rose en masse, thus shaking off the fetters of communism throughout Europe. I heard him the other day on CD as Jesus (which is very far from type‑casting) in the Matthew Passion (is that work really the transcendent masterpiece that everyone claims?) and as soloist in the Fauré Requiem singing most beautifully. But I fear the voice may have lost a little of its bloom lately.

      As you'll have noticed, I have this Amstrad word‑processor, which seems to have taken over. For a start, it keeps on making silly jokes, such as enquiring whether there is any previous SAmstradition of computing in my family. Next, it's really surprisingly slow, sometimes, to learn what I want it to do for me. But that may just be general reluctance or mulishness. It gives occasional signs of going on strike for shorter hours and more sensible copy. Even at its best, in full flow, it's withholding from me, as we both know, at least 99% of its capacity; and it's not very impressed by my grasp of the 1% that I'm trying to master. Even so, I feel deprived without it; on railway journeys for example I'm rather at a loss, like a dummy with no ventriloquist. I note with interest your own resolve to buy a portable computer. One needs to have it in one's lap all the time. The whole relationship reminds me of that intimate passion so earnestly celebrated in the Edwardian music‑hall ditty "My fiddle is my sweetheart/ and I'm her only beau; /I take her to my bosom/ because I love her so". I fear the feeling is far from reciprocated. But I'm not troubled by that; it seems so unreasonable to ask to be loved in return, like the rather shameless demands that Christians make of God, ‑ although a pantheist or nature­-lover for example who wanted nature to love him in return would be universally rated as some kind of incurable madman.

      Well, I was very impressed by the Hamburg recital (though I did wonder whether the birthplace might not have had just one Brahms song, perhaps as an encore). Starting with the Michelangelo‑Lieder was quite daring and original, though, wasn't it? Whose idea was that, I wonder? Alas, of all considerable song‑writers it's Liszt who makes least (N.B. that word‑play may be merely word‑processor‑play) appeal to me; apart from his masterpiece in the song‑form Es muss ein Wunderbares sein. And the reason for that preference may merely be the satisfaction engendered by the ironical reflection that this sublime celebation of lifelong fidelity was written by the undisputed leader of the Schule der Geläufigkeit - nach Frauen. He must have made a quite unusual Abbé, notable chiefly for the sincerity of his prayer, in the words of (was it?) St. Augustine.' to be given, O Lord, thy priceless gift of continence, but not, O Lord, just yet'. Especially impressive was the review in which both you and Lucio Gallo are praised by a German in German for your interpretation of German song. You must both have been very good. I was proud to notice that you've changed your name to Eric. It' perhaps a pity in some ways that the life of the reisender Virtuos doesn't suit you either psych‑ or physi‑ologically. But that's the lot of the serious artist throughout the ages; Schumann for example said exactly the same. Yes, I quite agree about Schoeck, and much admire. Das holde Bescheiden for example. What do you think of the (to me, rather charming) Mörike settings of Hugo Distler?

      Good luck with Ricordi and the publishing project. I don't know (and can't find) the Dylan Thomas poem. But I've had the Housman by heart, of course, for the last fifty years, along with his complete poetry, including the light verse. If ever I have an identity crisis I reassure myself by remembering or reciting a Housinan lyric; it's like pinching oneself to confirm that one's awake.

      I could quite see you as a translator as well as (why instead of?) a pianist and composer. My son Jeremy is still active in all three fields, and also as a writer and broadcaster on musical matters. It reminds me of Shakespeare: 'As a decrepit father takes delight/ to see his active child do deeds of youth'. I always knew that my name would be well‑known as a composer one day; my only mistake was supposing that it would be me. Your father may well have the same sort of feelings. His name came up the other day, incidentally, at a delightful luncheon party given by Susanna (Lady) Walton. Graham explained to the assembly why your father was pre‑eminent in lieder circles, and indeed had practically introduced the lied into Italy single‑handed (thus creating a new genre called the Lido, this tiresomely jocular word‑processor cannot be restrained from adding). Anyhow, my dear multi‑talented Wunderkind, I'm sure you can do whatever you apply your mind to and set your heart on. Your alternatives aren't mutually exclusive. Why not be both Pavarotti and Fischer‑Dieskau? Every highbrow includes a lowbrow. And I think you have a great chance to achieve something that I never managed for most of my professional life, namely to be paid really well for something you can do really well. Jeremy is quite a happy boy; and quite well off, too. Make yourself known in as many ways and for as many gifts as possible, and the chances are sure to come. Dulde, gedulde dich fein;/ Über ein Stündlein! ist deine Kammer voll Sonne. A grand thing to have at your age, if I may temporarily take that tiresomely tendentious tone (this machine also enjoys ample alliteration's artful aid) is what Keats called Negative Capability, that is , when one is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without fretting about it. At my time of life (65 on our next birthday) I'm unhappy unless I'm explaining things to anyone within earshot, which doesn't always make for peace of mind. But it has its moments, e.g. in the current Notes and Queries. The enclosure looks rather fun too. As it happens, my elder son Richard lives and works in Tokyo; he'll be over here soon for a holiday, and I'll try to persuade him to set up a book‑stall at the conference, for the sale of Edmund Ironside.

      Warmest regards and good wishes,

            Yours as ever,