13 October 1993 (Shakespeare's Handwriting, Brahms, Wagner, Wittgenstein as aphorist, Knaben Wunderhorn, fake folksong, to Austria and Germany)


Dear Erik,

   it's the bus (I think) not motor neurone-disease that makes my handwriting so wayward. But perhaps that's partly inbuilt anyhow: wild characters write wild characters, and by their loops shall ye know them, especially below the line. 

   I've settled down now in the Guildhall Library, in quest of a Shakespeare signature: I'm supposed to be doing a piece on the handwriting for the Times Literary Supplement: so I shall soon be able to settle down and get on the right lines.

   It was good to hear from you, though I was alarmed to hear of all those hairbreadth 'scapes (Shakespeare: I can't shake myself off that spear; it's still much the same martyrdom ever though I've taken my book in to Yale U.P. they're rather ominously referring to it as a draft). I think you need a chauffeur.

    Yes, we heard from Elio, with great pleasure as always. His tiredness though twice yours is totally eclipsed by mine, which is a sort of black hole of exhaustion, into which all plans and projects instantly disappear. I can't even enthuse about Brahms. I fear that most people have never heard of him - indeed, don't even know what a Brahm is, whereas Brahma has millions of worshippers. It was well (if unhappily) said that high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation.

   I trust your French songs of Wagner don't include Les Deux Grenadiers, which must be surely be counted among the worst works ever written. Thanks though for the essays, which impress and delight me. I'll send copies on to my Italian speaking friend Hayat Matthews, who lives in Arezzo and has written a book on Bacon.

   My and her dear friend Christopher Nupen once did a Wittgenstein TV film, but he has recently relented and tamed to Schubert's last months.

   I've just seen the rough-end, which is ever visually beautiful and visuomusically insightful; I had to be helped out of the auditorium by usherettes in a terrible state of sobbing and howling.

   I see what you mean about Wittgenstein: but he ought as an aphorist (in the Schopenhauer-Nietzsche tradition) to be compressible. He seems to me to suffer from a depressive tendency to announce, as truisms, things that are obviously untrue, such as Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber (davon?) muss man schweigen (but after all one could make gestures, or drop hints, or play music).

   It was very kind of you, and much appreciated, to mention my name. I once wrote a Musical Times piece on Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Notes on a Magic Horn) with a thought or two about Mahler, who had a knack of writing as well as setting such verses (perhaps those shining trumpets and the house of green turf are in Arnim and Brentano somewhere, but I could never find them). In general I fear I'mo not much impressed by folksong, partly because I find it hard to believe that any folk ever wrote any song. At the moment we're trying to revamp the Gruner competition, because the original funds are now exhausted and it's getting increasingly hard to secure sponsorship: so the aim is a more broadly based competition including songs in English and French as well as German for 1995 and adding or substituting other languages in later years. So we're going round, cap in hand, asking for £ 100.000. My dear friends Ben Luxon, Graham Johnson and Edward Greenfield are the working party, meeting under my chairmanship, and I'm currently trying to dissuade Ben from insisting that unaccompanied folksong (in the candidate own language) should be a compulsory component of each programme after the preliminary round. In vain do I protest that folksong is commonly defined in English as a song collected by Cecil Sharp (an Edwardian enthusiast for the genre) and sung by nobody. I fear that we have no such tradition as the rispetto.

    It is possible incidentally that I failed to send you a copy of my Wolf and Schumann books in their third edition? The Wolf isn't much changed, and the Schumann differs essentially only in having keys and compass added. I fear that my preoccupation with Shakespeare may have driven all else out of my poor old head.

   I was impressed by your learning and freshness of communication, as ever, in words as at the keyboard. It's a great pleasure (and something of a consolation) to me to know that the Lied and the mélodie are in such safe hands as yours and Graham's.

    He has incidentally kindly suggested that I should go to Vienna with him this November to see the Stätte and mss - my first visit ever to any German speaking land. I thought that while I was about I might as well go further in every sense and come back by train through Austria and Germany.

   Next weekend I'm in Cambridge for Robin Holloway's 50th birthday, which makes me feel even older and more exhausted than ever. And then I'll take a rest from the Gruner admin committee chairmanship and to Schubert Institute vice chairmanship and relapse for a time at least into invalid chairmanship not to say sickbedmanship but with the intention (at least) of rising phoenix like from my own ashes (cf Adelaide) and getting back to Brahms.

   Best as ever yours Eric