24 September 1986 (Begegnung tempo, Words and Music, Brahms-Chopin, Baudelaire, Schubert topics, Ironside)


Dear Erik,

    Thanks for your letter and postcard. I'm sure the 8 May concert was a great successs. The programme looked delightful. I wonder what your Begegnung tempo was. Even in my palmiest days, that accompaniment was about at the outer edge of my pianistic attainments. Very taxing.

   Well, I'm keenly appreciative of the intellectual difficulties inherent in the putative assimilation of words with music. I once specialised in Hanslick, who had the same trouble. Yet there has to be some common ground, with deep tap-roots feeling on springs from same hidden source of semantic symbolism: the existence of lieder proves that, and so does the independent testimony even of absolute musicians and composers, who all acknowledge a basic quasi-linguistic though not verbal expressiveness. There are some quite useful catchphrases "music is a tonal analogue of emotive life", "music sounds like feelings feel" and so forth. But I agree that the interrelation of genres (string quartet and Novelle for example as in the Wolf-Eichendorff example) is very problematical. Some operas etc do seem though to effect a symbiosis comparable to the lied, on a larger scale. L'Enfant et les Sortileges in French, Ariadne auf Naxos in German, Acis and Galathea in English. In Italian, who knows? perhaps the Opera that you will write one day. I seem to recall that Thomas Mann has some quite interesting things to say about the congruence of literary and musical genre in Dr Faustus and elsewhere.

    I was glad to hear something of your news and views. The Brahms-Chopin affinity is interesting: it's Fingerfertigkeit plus melody. I'm sure you know that Brahms owned some Chopin MSS and also collaborated on to Chopin Gesamtausgabe. There are evident stylistic affinities in the op 76 Klavierstücke; and you'll know (perhaps play?) the Bearbeitung of the Etude op 25 n° 2.

    I see what you mean about Gauguin, but I confess to something of a blind (or at least myopic) spot about visual art in general. You seem to have immensely wide horizons, as in the Leopardi poem. That's right: you should certainly absorb as much intellectual and asethetic nourishment and sustenance as you possibly can. It will sustain you in any later arid patches and desert place in life, which none of us can really escape. Then you can live on the camel-hump of stored imagination. Cf

de tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire

de mes pensées brulantes une tiède atmosphère

if I remember my Baudelaire aright, which I dare say I don't, these days. I've recently been regaling and refreshing myself with the Petis Poèmes en Prose.

    The question for you is perhaps where you would find the most fruitful infliuences. Cambridge or somewhere like that might have something to offer you. I'll be going back there quite soon. Last time was 1978 for a 150th Todesjahr talk on Schubert (Winterreise: how right you are about that sublime masterpiece). Now I have to discourse on social history, in effect: where Schubert found his Wilhelm Müller and other texts, in periodical publications für die gebildeten Stände: and what the prevailing social attitudes assumptions an trendes where, and the part played by the renaissance of German lyric verse. Rewarding but difficult topics, suggested by my friend the composer Robin Holloway (perhaps you know some of his work?) who was kind enough, as you have been, to inscribe some music to me. I shall twinkle down the 21st century with reflected lights.

    Meanwhile there's some renewed interest in Edmund Ironside, which reappears in paperback tomorrow. I'll send you a copy. An American handwriting and document expert, one Charles Hamilton of New York, has just published a book on Shakespeare's graphology and penmanship; and since then has seen a photocopy of the Ironside MS and soundly vows and declares in public as well as private, that it's beyond doubt in Shakespeare's own hand!

    I saw more clearly than before what our Oscar meant when he said that whenever other people agreed with him he felt he must be wrong. But I'm prepared to make an exception in this particular case!

    Well, you kindly ask me how the book on Brahms is coming along: and I have to say, hardly at all, and with titanic struggles, like wading uphill through treacle and glue. Or like the Soldier in Baudelaire again

au bord d'un lac de sang, sous un grand tas de morts. Et qui meurt, sans bouger, dans d'immenses efforts.

    And, while I'm on the more depressing news, which has been the rule lately, and inhibited my writing, I've been down in the month with tooth trouble. But I'm better now, able to snap and bite back at all my critics in a new preface and hoping (vainly, alas) that my new ally Ch. Hamilton with his handwriting testimony will turn the scales fully in favour of Ironside. And then it may be another new Shakespeare play from the selection I still have in my sleeve (Edward the Third, Troublesome Reign of King John, etc, etc) before Brahms.

    Farewell for now, love as aver, Eric