11. 22 January 1973 (Nachtgesang; song-preludes; Schubert cycles; Shakespeare and Bacon)

My dear Maurice,

     nice, as ever to hear from you. This is to ask you whether you would mind my undertaking to write a modest (or more likely immodest) 250 words about you for Grove 6? If that seems all right to you en principe, then I should like to ask a favour; namely that you would be so good as to indicate to me any areas of your expertise which my ignorance might have led me to omit.

     I know that you'll have completed a form which lists what you feel are your major articles; but I suspect that your modesty might dispose you to omit the fact that you know a lot about (for example) Loewe, which ought to be on the record and might just conceivably escape critical attention, including your own. If you will forgive my saying so, if you do have a failing it is modesty. That's the kind of thing one can't say about oneself, of course; “If I have a failing, it's modesty” sounds rather unconvincing; but it's the kind of observation that kind friends are, I trust, allowed to make.

     I'm sure you're right about the American thesis. I was stupefied the other day to discover that University Microfilms Inc. were offering to me, for £5, a copy of a dissertation which consisted in large measure of an expansion of some ideas of my own, including great chunks of verbatim quotation. I expect that must happen to you a great deal; people need only read you to feel that they're instantly to a doctorate on the strength of that alone. Which reminds me (if you will forgive the comparison) of the man in Jerome K. Jerome who was such a hypochondriac that he felt that medical students need only walk twice round him and then take a diploma.

     Much obliged for the information about the prelude to Nachtgesang. But why must a song have a prelude? Suppose the singer has absolute pitch? Or what about an unaccompanied song? I think you may have proved, that there can't be such a thing. I think it's usually possible in practice (meaning performance) for the pianist to give a note so inaudibly from the audience viewpoint (or rather hearing-point) that it is tantamount to silence. Unheard preludes are sweeter. And while I'm in my cheeky dissenting vein (which perhaps you'll forgive or at least overlook on the ground of periodic instability – though it's not quite so bad in my case as in that of a chap I heard of who, whenever he felt unusually cheerful and high-spirited, knew it was time to report as a voluntary out-patient.) as I was saying, while I'm in this mood I might as well go the whole hog and report a certain amount of dissent about Shakespeare (though the whole hog might have led you to expect Bacon) as it happens my other correspondent about the sonnets is a rather dotty psychiatrist who dubious about their authorship, though he has no qualms at all about announcing that whoever wrote them had pronounced homoerotic tendencies. I quite see that there were certain precedents    and parallels for the sonnet-sequence. But were notthey, for the most part, manifestly autobiographical? How about Astrophel and Stella, for example (great stuff, I trust you agree); isn't that as personal and intimate as anyone could wish for? Anyone, I mean, who was capable of wishing for intimacy when he should be getting on with the poetry; I shall go along with your thesis so far as to concede that Die Schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise  are in a sense impersonal. However, as I shall have the nerve to contend in a review of the latest Fischer-Dieskau box, they are also in a sense personal; it seems to me that this might be an approach to the music which though (I agree) not the high road to appreciation might nevertheless offer an alternative route. Nicht wahr?

     For no reason at all, just that it might amuse you, I thought I'd retail some exchanges I've been having with John Warrack. I cant think why, but we a started recalling, with examples, how amusing the Dutch language is - to us, that is; it’s no doubt taken entirely seriously in Holland. From there we proceeded to Afrikaans; as to which I claimed to have read somewhere that the translation of Hamlet in that tongue reads in part something like “Omlet! Ik bin de spuk van yulle Pa”. This John trumped with the information (heaven knows from where) that the order “Mount” as given in Afrikaans to South African cavalry units is “Klomber op de beestjes”. It sounds absolutely convincing to me!

yours ever