30 December 1995 (Family and children, Wolf and Gershwin, Italian repertoire and poems)

Dear Erik,

     Thanks for your heartening letter, and its wonderful news. Even for artists, family is first; dans le vrai, as even the unmarried and physically barren Flaubert and Maupassant defined it. Our two sons are 41 and 39 now; but they've been a boon and a blessing to us from babyhood. Don't forget to keep a careful note of development data (weighed this, said that, etc) and take copious photographs; this embarrasses them amusingly in later years. Also take good care of yourselves. That's very sound and serious advice; we discovered that babies are indestructible, whereas parents often feel frail. I don't wish to seem discouraging, but Richard bawled non‑stop for some time. All the local clinic could think of was to ask 'is the father Irish?'. Anyhow he's now very tall and broad, which is perhaps why he elected to live and work in Tokyo (stands out in a crowd, even more than here) and also quite brainy (came a good 3rd in the chess championship of Japan, did I tell you, and is a shogi master). Jeremy continues to prosper, and is generous with the proceeds. He and his partner Maria Friedman seem to have spent Christmas flying in and out of New York for conferences with Sondheim etc; some new production is being arranged with work for them both, as star and director. Maria's a singer, but more Gershwin etc than Wolf. But I think that's a logical and permissible stance (though I don't say progression); have you ever meditated on the deep indebtedness of The Man I Love to Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag erhoben?

      Of course I loved the tape, for which many thanks. Valentina's voice is pure and true throughout its range, and your playing provides the perfect‑ accompaniment. Both are of course grundmusikalisch, and an adornment to the works selected. I sometimes wished that the piano sound had been placed further forward, like Höll and Shirai (whom I met and heard at the last Gruner and much admired). Their marriage seems to have successfully survived that balance, which is a way of saying that the lied (if not all song) is historically a keyboard art‑form. But perhaps the trouble is my hearing (and sometimes the taping, which seemed to disappear altogether on Side B). These difficulties were exacerbated by my scandalous lack of familiarity with the chosen repertoire, so that I was sometimes unsure whether I was hearing Wolfmaninov or Rakh‑Ferrari. I must try to remember incidentally that Wolf‑Ferrari was an Italian composer, despite his influences. It's all very confusing at my age ‑ almost as difficult to grasp as the fact that Ferruccio Dante Michelangiolo Benvenuto Busoni was a German composer.

      I must brush up my Wolf‑Ferrari. I have some rispetti on a Schwarzkopf disc, and they sound entrancing. I fear though that they're among the many avenues I failed to follow up. I somehow disappeared into Shakespeare, like Poor Jim Jay in de la Mare's poem, who got stuck fast in/ yesterday ‑ a plain parallel. But I'm about to emerge into the 19th century again, with a big book on Brahms. Such beautiful songs, and alas so rarely heard; I think one is justified in speaking of a neglected master.

      I'll think about the question of added repertory, on which alas I feel rather less than authoritative, for the reason given. But next week I'm going to have a chat with dear Graham, who is determined to mastermind a new song‑competition to replace the Gruner (for which the funds ran out some time ago). There's some money available, I hear, from various sources, and I'm sure it would good to have a London‑based Wettbewerb. I think another family visit would be a great idea (most cordial regards to your father, a propos); but I'm well placed to know the difficulties. Again I don't wish to seem in the least discouraging; but the fact is that Enid and I moved out here to the (more or less) country in the belief that it would be the best place for children to grow up, only to discover that both our boys turned to hate the country and love the town even more than we do. I seem to remember too that we chose Croydon because we'd heard that there were excellent lunch‑time concerts. I think it was about fifteen years before we could manage to get away and attend one. But no doubt times have changed; there are admirable nannies, in the British tradition, for those who can afford them, and our grandson Toby seems regularly to descend from the clouds on to Sondheiai's knee, jetting about already like a real trouper.

      I recall liking a lot of Italian verse, in my time, and meditating on its singability; for example Giovanni Berchet's Il Trovatore has long been a favourite ‑ such a good verse‑form, a la Gautier, with such satisfyingly Heinesque self‑pity, and so quotable too. 'La voce del cantor/non è più quella' sums it all up, really. I also remember liking Giuseppe Giusti, e.g. La chiocciola. But the length of the lyric is important too. I fear I couldn't make much headway with Celan, though I tried. I seem to be stuck with Baudelaire, Rilke and Housman (two photographs of whom, in youth and old age, now adorn my mantelshelf). How grand to be about to be born, just so amazingly and marvellously new. Such potential; such joy.

      Love to you and all, and very best wishes for 1996,

        Yours as ever,