8 August 1985 (Vita activa and contemplativa, Wolf's Italian Serenade, Hesse, Bierbaum, Gruner competition)


My dear Erik,

   thank you for two letters: en route for Munich, and from Vienna. You're already becoming the complete cosmopolitan. The modern composer-musician: truly eclectic and international. I feel quite exhausted just to think about it. At (nearly) 60 I've become the prototypical cardigan-and-slippers stick-in-the-mud stay-at-home. I was kindly asked o go and pontificate about Schumann in the States, and about Shakespeare in Germany: but nowadays I just quote 'Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait an beau voyage etc' and settle down again into my armchair. Even there life has become amazingly mouvementé. I'm correcting proofs of my latest book - a Tudor MS c. 1588 ascribed to Shakespeare, no less. Then it's back to Brahms (songs).

    Meanwhile I've had the pleasure to renewing my acquaintance with your father. I asked specially whether you had any particular rapport with the Italian Serenade - a work which has always somehow spoken to me: it's a strange feeling when one hears music talking. What it says becomes even clearer after a reading of Eichendorff's Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts.

    I also have for you a copy of Frank Walker's excellent book on Wolf, in its German edition, if you'd like that and don't own it already. It's a good idea, I think, to begin very early to build up one's own collection of books, scores and so on.

    I liked the beginning of the opera: it sounds poignantly evocative, like Hesse's poetry (as so superbly in the Strauss Four Last Songs). I've just inherited a large library of 19th-20th century German books, including Hesse's Gedichte, which I confess I don't know too well. I'll get round to them: at the moment I'm catching up on the early verse of Hugo von Hoffmansthal.

    And also, on a lighter level, the Überbrettl lyrics of Otto Julius Bierbaum. I trink I must be the only person in the world who still relishes that special lilt of e.g. Fräulein Gigerlette. Unless zou do?

    [...] Speaking of singers perhaps I may mention that Hans Hotter rang me up the other evening to say that he'd enjoyed reading my Wolf book. Like being congratulated by Wotan.

    The Walther Gruner competition went reasonably well. Your father's pupil had a fine voice, but I think owed some (most?) of his artistry to his tuition. I wonder what came of his Glyndebourne audition?

    This year's winner, Thomas Mohr (you may perhaps remember him for his special prize in 1983) is not so sensitively artistic nor so sweet-voiced as Olaf Bär: but he does some things very well. It was good to see yìthe young Olaf again, as an invited guest this time, and to hear something of his news and career. His Harlekin in Ariadne (my favourite moments of my favourite Strauss opera) was well received here, at Covent Garden.

    Back to proof-reading and indexing. Farewell for now.

    Yours as ever, eric