17 March 1990 (Wolf-Beethoven, various books, Moore and Barenboim, mother's death, Shakespeare)


Dear Erik,

    Thanks for your latest letter. I hear quite a lot of Wolf-Beethoven, especially perhaps in the D-minore quartet. I think Wolf believed that Beethoven too was syphilitic, and felt that they were thus both rather splendid heroic figures. But it seems that Beethoven's various afflictions were not thus caused. I've been reading Neumayr's Musik und Medizin on which my opinion was sought by Oxford University Press, who had it recommended to them as a book suitable for translation under their imprint. But I didn't think so; it's too medically-technically and badly musical at all. I've been taking rather a negative view lately: I didn't recommend the Fischer-Dieskau book either. The latest autobiography strikes me as rather awful.

    It's good to hear about your Moore translation project, a typically original and important idea of the kind you seem to have in such engaging profusion. He's never really had his due as a great artist. I'm particularly impressed by the special feelings he imparts (the vivacity and élan of his Glücksritter for example) and the sheer dazzling virtuosity of his Geister am Mummelsee and Feuerreiter. I agree that Barenboim is a good choice as the best known name among Wolf pianists, of whom there should be more, as I've twice complained to Brendel at parties - he seemed suitably abashed.

    I hope March 13th went well. I thought of you. It was the day of my mother's funeral. She was 89 and had never really recovered from a fall, hip fracture and operation. I'm glad she was able to enjoy her last year in the comfort and dignity of a residential home. I feel that I'm too old to be an orphan (as Noel Coward unkindly said of the even older Clifton Webb) but I'm bearing up. I'm still experiencing a feeling of vague worry even though I haven't anything more to worry about as far as my mother is concerned; but I've grown so accustomed to the feeling that it's hard to relinquish.

    Shakespeare is OK, thanks; I've just published a long polemical piece in the Jan-Feb Encounter and have even attained something like respectability in the current Shakespeare Survey, where I'm described as the proponant of a new orthodoxy. Plainly the tide is turning: and it will leave many a reputation washed up on the shore.

   Meanwhile I'm kept fairly busy, latterly with some teaching and adjudicating assignments at the Guildhall School of Music; and before long I'll get back to Brahms songs. Any thoughts on that or any subject will be gratefully received. As ever, yours Eric