132. 27 July 1998 [ES] (More on Vendler; late style (Sams, Fauré, Beethoven); Ockam's Razor; singers)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs. Mathew’s letters)

Dear Hayat,

   Thanks for yours, Yes, I quite agree that Shakespeare lost his boyhood faith – like a sensible person, I'd say. Vendler notices this, just by the punctilious attention she pays to the poetry. Despite being an avowedly anti-biographical authority, she makes a bushelful of biographical discoveries.

   Yes, Yale have now accepted (subject of course to their usual tiresome and tortuous conditions) my Brahms song book and my Shakespeare sequel. Their Brahms referee, whom I recognise from her respectful references to her own work, is one Virginia Hancock, whom I met at Maestro Dorati's 1980 Brahms congress in Detroit. There aren't too many Brahmsians of any stripe, so I'm sure that specialists in the vocal music are likely to be on nodding terms (including nodding off, at the prospect of having to read each other's books and articles).

   I'm sure you're right, alas, about my increasingly laconic and obscure style. It's a feature of old age – much valued and admired in late Beethoven, and even in late Fauré, but rightly complained of in my own would-be didactic discursive prose. The latter reminds me of how our next-door neighbour's cat became daily more comically maladroit at catching birds and mice, which must have seemed to be getting bafflingly quicker and more agile. Ditto ideas; they keep on escaping me. I'd rather hoped, like eats, to wither into truth. Instead, I just wither, period.

   So I have to try harder than ever to strop and sharpen Ockham's Razor, a principle which everyone seems not only to resent but actively to reject; indeed, to jump up and down on until its edge is unusably jagged. Unfortunately, so did Ockham himself; among the notions he thought necessary to invoke was the observance of what he called the truths of scripture. I can see I shall have to gird my loins to review Harold Bloom's latest book, on Shakespeare, for the Los Angeles Times (at its editor's kind invitation). The blurb calls Bloom the world's best critic; I'm tempted to call him the world's worst scholar. But I can see I shall have my work cut out. At least the prospect of girding one's loins while brandishing Ockham's Razor seems decidedly daunting and dangerous.

   For the rest, I've been hearing from great singers, as usual, but this time in person. Janet Baker, whom I met at my dear friend Edward Greenfield's 70th birthday party, was very kind and gracious. So was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, when she wrote recently to confess, quite contritely, that she'd done an awful thing. Her late husband Walter Legge kindly bequeathed to me Wolf's Handexemplare (with the master's marginalia) of the Geibel and/or Heyse Spanisches or Italienisches Liederbuch – both of which she had in a mad fit of generosity inadvertently given away to Fischer-Dieskau! However, they're such great Wolfians (though not quite in dear Walter's class) that I couldn't very well complain; so I didn't. But I was like Gutweib, who sagte sich selber viel, doch keine Silbe laut.

   Take care; best, as ever,

   Yours Eric