25 May 1992 (Tosti, Shakespeare quotations, chess, Pope)


Dear Erik,

      Thanks for the Tosti‑cd letter, which has only Just arrived. Even the wings of song feel the need of a rest from time to time. So do I, come to that. So I'm able to contemplate the cancellation of the lieder competition with fair equanimity. I've recently finished negotiating a contract with Yale University Press for a big book on Shakespeare, so I needn't be idle. Nor are you, I notice. I enjoyed your claim to pathological inertia, which assorts oddly with the ever‑lengthening list of your sayings, doings, activities and achievements, inflating me bull‑frog­like with vicarious avuncular pride. You remind me rather of Harry Hotspur who as Prince Hal reports in 1 Henry IV 'kills some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, "Fie upon this quiet life, I want work"'.

      A propos, your quotation is from the opening lines of Twelfth Night:

      If music be the food of love, play on,
      Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
      The appetite may sicken, and so die.
      That strain again! It had a dying fall.

And so forth. Duke Orsino seems to anticipate Leopardi, master of the dying fall.

      And 'Weil nicht alle Blütentrume reiften' is from Goethe's Prometheus especially well known to us from Wolf's setting.

      Translating Wolf's critiques is a grand idea. No doubt I've already mentioned that nice performed the same signal service for the English‑speaking world; the result, to which I made the occasional contribution, is well worth attention. Do you have a copy? It's probably out of print now.

      Also great news is your excursion into chess. In my teens, it never occurred to me that a day might come in my life in which I didn't play the piano, or chess, or write a song, or something of the sort. I had a dear friend who felt much the same. I feel Shakespeare coming on again:

      'Two lads who thought there was no more behind
      But such a day tomorrow as today
      And to be boy eternal.'

      But at least I still tickle the occasional ivory. When Jeremy was last here I persuaded him to attend to that sublime masterpiece L'Ultima Canzone and drew his attention, as a matter of national pride to the fact that (as my score confirms) it was composed in Folkestone (Kent). Did I know, asked Jeremy innocently, that Schumann too, in his day, had lived and worked there? I most definitely did not. How then did I account for the Fünf Stücke im Volkston I suppose I should have seen that coming, like a Scud missile, but my sensors are slowing up. At least I can still manage the Times crossword each day, even though I sometimes find myself wondering why the answers are right.

      Grand news too about the Schumann CD. The Marmorito‑Fund, mir leider unbekannt, sounds most memorably impressive. Is there really an unpublished piano piece unknown to me and hence to Grove's Dictionary? Shall I ever live it down?

      Thanks for your diverting postcard from Rome. I think we do well to resist the Papal injunction, or should that be inunction, of baptism. His predecessor's excommunication of our earlier sovereign and quasi‑namesake Elizabeth is not forgotten here. I

have however graciously consented, in my time, to have audience with His Holiness, who spoke in French (which I noted was very far from infallible) and handed me the second‑class pewter medallion appropriate to my bureaucratic rank as delegation secretary. Also present was an American with horn‑rimmed spectacles and an earnest expression who addressed the

Pontifex Maximus in (so to speak) English as 'Pope', tout court. This vocative seemed to lack finesse if not respect.

            best, as ever,