29 August 1987 (dark and bright, Wordsworth, Jeremy, Gerald Moore's death, Nieves Hayat, military service, atheism, Edward III)

My dear Erik,

      thank you for your letter. How familiar that pattern of dark and bright sounds to me. Himmelhochjauchzend, zum Tode betrübt. No wonder we both like Wolf. And of course the switchback effect is especially relevant for you as a creative artist; it means that you will have intense knowledge, through personal experience, of the heights and the depths; which you can then express and communicate accordingly, after the feelings are duly moulded and mediated through your art. I seem to be recalling Wordwworth, not my most‑loved mentor save in occasional moments of inspired intuition; but his aesthetic, in which art is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, taking its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility, seems to me (as an ageing but still practising Romantic) to be persuasive enough in its account of the creative process, though he doesn't help much with values and criteria.

      Well, you seem to be everywhere simultneously, making dazzling appearance in Salt Lake City and Buenos Aires, and generally being seen and wondered at, like a comet. Of course it would be delightful if you could manage to include London in your itinerary. We could all see some shows and meet some people. My son Jeremy moves more on the musical scene than I do, nowadays, as a quite established and even sought‑after theatre composer. At the moment he's translating Zauberflöte into English and writing a score for Hamlet among other preoccupations. The snag is that my mother has been giving us all a lot of concern lately; she's 86 now, and lives alone, very gamely, but is perceptibly fading and failing, and in need of frequent visits and arrangements for taxis, doctors and so forth. I have to be in quite close attendence or at least available for the foreseeable future.

      Yes, it was sad about Gerald. I hadn't seen much of him for some considerable time; he retired to rural Buckinghamshire some years ago, and I really met him only at concerts, and occasionally at cricket matches, where he was a devoted spectator. We got rather well, and I was grateful to him for writing forewords to my books. Alas too late for him to introduce Brahms and Schubert now; and probably too late, alas, for me to write the actual books, dearly though I should have loved to. But I seem to be into Shakespeare where there's a lot to do. I now have a correspondent in Italy, a charming lady who has written a book on Francis Bacon (just his own works and no one else's) and is kind enough to approve of the stand I've been taking and the points I've been making. She's the daughter of Salvador de Madariaga, and lives, for reasons not entirely clear to me, except that I'm sure its a delectable part of the world, in Tecognano, Montanare di Cortona.

      Congratulations on having your essays printed. I read your thoughts on Reimann with interest, but (I fear) little real grasp. I seem to stop at the death of Wolf which I still mourn. One or two good things have happened since then, of course; but music isn't really the same.

      Well, you also remind me of myself when young in your transition to some form of state service. Hugo Wolf was mobilised too, and spent some time in a barracks, despite his lack of inches. No doubt the authorities felt that auch kleine Dinge, etc. I joined the army at 18, having volunteered for military intelligence, because of a great interest in and some modest gift for various forms of code and cipher. I went to the War Office for an interview and asked in effect, how long they could manage without me (I had a Cambridge scholarship) and they said, rather to my chagrin, ‑ practically for ever. The tide of war had turned, it appeared, and my intervention though welcome might not of itself prove decisive. But they relented, seeing my obvious disappointment, and asked a few questions. Did I like crosswords? could I play chess? could I read a musical score? I replied, quite truthfully, that those three things were in fact among my main preoccupations, not to say obsessions. So they are still. A rather melancholy fact is that we tend to stay in the same channels and conduits as those of our adolesence, especially those of us who are pubertal rather than infant progidies, more Schubert than Mozart; and the only real prospect is the potential for digging those same perhaps preordained channels wider, and with any luck deeper, and get more going through them, hopefully in some fertilising direction. Preordained only by genes, of course, rather than by genies, still less (in my case) by genius. I'm an unbatised atheist too. But I've discovered that it's important to be clear about which God one doesn't believe in. I'm an Anglo‑Saxon Protestant atheist. But no doubt we share much of the same disbelief.

      The Lieder‑Requiem sounds a grand design. Your modes of thought and art impress me; always large‑scale or in some way demanding, but never merely grandiose or showy. I knew when we first met that you were already a true artist. I look forward to hearing more of, and more about, your music and other writing.

      Now I must get back to Edward III , the Shakespeare play I'm currently editing. I duly saw it performed in Cambridge. It's clearly by the same author as Edmund Ironside! My publisher, to whom I gave an expensive lunch (he has an insatiable thirst for grappa) has agreed to carry on with the sequel, always provided that I can prove the case beyond doubt and make a lot of money for him. Well, I reckon I can meet the first of those conditions, at least. And I’ve just finished a 40‑page essay on the text‑genesis of Hamlet so I must be in a state of euphoric upswing. Die Mühle kappert lustig weiter, as Wolf put it.

      Best wishes, my dear Erik; take care of yourself.

            yours as ever,