12 October 1984 (Vienna, Wolf's Kritiken, Michelangelo-Lieder orchestration)


Dear Erik,

    nice to hear from you, and in such good form too. I've been rather preoccupied lately with family cares and chores: illnesses of old friends, and so on. And then there are always appointments to keep, deadlines to meet, and the like. I've been very busy ever since I retired from the civil service - busier than before, in fact! It's very easy for a bureaucrat to confuse his salary with his pension.

    I enjoyed your enthusiastic account of Vienna. I've never been there and doubt whether I ever shall now. Perhaps if I live a good life I shall go there when I die (as Oscar Wilde said Americans believed about Paris), but I fear I've left even that ambition rather late. I have dear friends there, though: a Welsh soprano I know, with a decided flair for Wolf interpretation, married nice Wolfgang Gabriel (who is I'm sure know to Erik Werba). They came to see us here the other day with their delightful baby daughter already very petitely pert in soubrette style. I must look again at the Hermann Bahr Erinnerung you mention. The Kritiken I know, or used to, rather well, e.g. because I read through them all to give my friend Henry Pleasants a helping hand with translating them into English for his fairly recent book. Also I had to study them for my Wolf in The New Grove, as well as part of my general interest in music criticism and aesthetics (e.g. in the Grove Hanslick article). I think you have expressed their tone and timbre with compelling precision; the excitement, the intellectual grasp, and in particular das Anschauliche, the visual element that somehow becomes sonorous, quite suddenly sometimes in the songs so that the music sounds like looks, glimpses, gleams, chiaroscuro, pictures, visual impressions generally. As of course you already know, with remarkable insight. How old will you be on our next birthday? (my 59th) I very much liked the photograph of the old master and the young maestro. Glad too that you like Keats - are you setting the whole Nightingale Ode?

     Clarinets sound good at 'Menschen waren wir': but as you'll know from the Stravinsky Wolf orchestration, they make quite a strident sound: I hear those bars as somehow softer and sweeter (strings). That mention reminds me that I heard from Mme Schwarzkopf the other day (I don't know her well, but her late husband Walter Legge was a close friend). She was rather puzzled by the Italian words: why doesn't 'prole' mean 'ancestors'? But I'm rather sure that it means 'descendants'; and is reasonably well rendered by 'Enkel'.

    I've nearly finished my present book on Shakespeare, though there's plenty more to come, if I'm spared (but vita brevis, ars longa). I'm thinking of devoting most of next year to a book on Brahms's songs. I hope you enjoy those too. Thank you again for the letter, and the equally highly appreciated Perchtoldsdorf card; best and most cordial regards, yours Eric.