24 October 1991 (Computer writing, Pozzoli and Tosti, Celan, Religion, Eppstein, Lieder-teaching, young geniuses, Shaw)



      Now it’s back to the Amstrad, which is at least an improvement on the gottlose Handschrift I share with Schumann.

      As to Celan, I also enclose a note about our one-day conference at the Institute I belong to but alas don't often visit. My impression is that he's closer to you than to me, in time and therefore in style and Einfühlung. I read and (occasionally, in my cups) speak 19th‑century German, which my son Jeremy unkindly calls ‘Langenscheidt’. I have to be specially adjusted and attuned and calibrated to this new wavelength of language (Celanese?), and there’s bound to be some atmospheric (it not "erik) interference. But I can of course see and much appreciate the felicities of style and thought; and one passage in particular gave me special pleasure -

      Wer Kunst vor Augen und im Sinn hat, der ist... selbstvergessen. Kunst schafft Ich-Ferne.

      That was well said and well worth saying, as a constantly salutary corrective, even though Kunst can't be all that dispassionate and objective, so the Ich-Ferne is also eine geliebte, d. h. nicht ganz unpersönlich.

      I also liked the Housman translation; but, the missing foot in ‘sie standen und es steht die Welt' sounds just a little lame to me; was that omission deliberate?

      As to your splendid project, I'm also enclosing some essays by s Eppstein which have impressed me. I'd love to learn what you think of them. For me they're rather heavy going. One reason for that is that I think of Wolf electively in terms of acclamation and proclamation rather than declamation usw; so the way ahead is al ready steep and narrow enough without any closer focus. It's hard enough to persuade people to peruse and perform the songs, let alone the sketches. But no doubt Hans Eppstein is (like you, I believe) far more of a musico-analytical scholar and savant than I. He's over eighty now, but still encouragingly alert and indefatigable; he was in London recently, and we had an agreeable telephone chat. He’s gratifyingly keen on translating my Wolf book, a project he's had in mind for some years now – despite the difficulties and idiosyncrasies of style, and he's recently been discussing that possibility with Dietrich Berke of Bärenreiter, who usily seemed quite interested; he' s been sent a copy of the second edition. Aber ob er sich dafür erwärmen wird kommt mir als ziemlich zweifelhaft vor. In case you might like to be in touch with Hans over any point of mutual interest, I'm also enclosing his address.

      It will be lovely to see you in London. Whenever you're minded to come, you can count on a warm welcome here. Jeremy (as I may have mentioned) has translated Leonce und Lena for stage performance; I'll consult him about the kommode Religion, which I've always taken to mean (without overmuch reflection, in a quite kommode way) Catholicism in its easygoing aspects of dispensations, indulgences, pardons and so forth. Such a contrast with the constraints of ancient‑Roman religion, which must have imposed intolerable strains of multiple compliance with irrational regulations. It's quite difficult enough just being a God-fearing ­person; but the polytheist presumably has to be Gods‑fearing.

      I must look again at Hesse in the light of your comments. At the moment I'm busy teaching (lieder‑interpretation) at the Guildhall, where today I met up again with sweet talented Isa Lagarde. I've also been in touch with Nathan, Eugene and Alison (who was looking quite pale with apprehension because Graham is making her deputise for an indisposed Felicity Lott at one of his forthcoming concerts. The best way to relax her is to arrange tor her to be tickled by Eugene, noted for his Fingerfertigkeit, but I fear he won't be to hand on that occasion.

      For the test, things proceed here much as normal. I’m into my autumnal phase of reading works on philosophy, plus biographical studies of great scientists. I've enjoyed the book on Fermi, by his wife. It offers insights comparable to those offered about that great genius Alan Turing by his mother, who of course remembered some of his significant sayings as a small boy. One could construct an agreeable anthology of the great mind in its little-child phase. I' we always liked the story of the infant Betrand Russell who was put down in his cot after having

been cunningly told by his calculating nanny that if he was good, angels would come and watch over him, but that they would instantly fly away if he opened his eyes or made the least sound. A later visitor to the nursery was amused to see the baby philosopher lying very quiet with eyes tightly closed, but making occasional sudden grabs with both arms, to left and right.

      The historian Arnold Toynbee wasn't quite in the same league intellectually, but he too has a nice story told of his infancy. He'd been naughty, and his grandfather had rebuked him, saying 'we weren't brought into the world just to be happy'. The young historian clearly remembered thinking ‘I should not have been told this yet. I am only three’.

      Ihe coniparable Fermi anecdote is that he was put out to a foster‑nurse and did not return to the family home in Rome until he was two and a half years old. On his first appearance he started to fuss and cry. His mother told him to stop at once; in this home naughty boys were not tolerated. The infant physicist instantly dried his tears and was good as gold from that moment on. No doubt something in the tone had told him, young as he was, that there was no point in challenging that authority. Iy’s a sort of law of conservation of energy.

      We also learn that Isaac Newton was a late developer, who said almost nothing until he was seven or so, and then enunciated the first law of thermodynamics. That may be an exaggerated account, but there's a core of truth in it.

      And almost the only verses in the Bible with which I've ever felt the least affinity are those in which the child Jesus explains to his parents that he has to be about his father's business. That must have worried Joseph; but I feel I understand it.

      I've also been reading, as I do from time to time, Shaw's preface to Androcles and the Lion, together with a collection of his letters to newspapers over a long and productive lifetime. In many ways he wears well, especially perhaps as a model of English prose style.

      I wish I could say the same; but even my Amstrad is showing signs of fatigue, for example its increasing propensity to suddenly shout out ERROR. I think it could do with a rest.

      Farewell for now; affectionate regards to you, Elio and all,