90. 6 May 1996 [ES] (Birthday concert: Chandos portrait)

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams and beatrice cazac (Mrs.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

Dear Hayat,

   I'm still recovering from my concert, which I thought was quite successful – thanks of course to the generosity and organisational skills as well as the musical prowess of dear Graham Johnson. Diana and Roy kindly sent me a birthday card and told me they would attend together with Diana's excellent accompanist Clara Taylor of the Academy; but alas I missed them afterwards. I was grabbed in the greenroom (which isn't half as much fun as it may sound) and made to sign things, as if I'd scored 100 instead of just 70.

   All the songs of my choice were beautifully performed, including three of my own surprise contributions from composers Robin Holloway and son Jeremy (who had however, it must be admitted, been going around with that bland innocent expression that always means he's up to something, so I was in a way forewarned). Graham divertingly inserted 'Happy birthday to you' into the postlude of a Wolf song – and I swear I was the only person who noticed. A more general, and favourable, impression was made by his story about how he and I first met (when he advised me to read Eric Sams's book on Hugo Wolf). This went down well. So, it seems, did my equally true story about when I was made a patron of the Songmakers' Almanac (like Gerald Moore and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau). Several of my civil service colleagues were among that troupe's keenest supporters, and would gladly have enjoyed the same distinction. But all they ever got were knighthoods. As one of them said to me later, 'Eric - where did we go wrong?'.

   I liked your phrase 'running with the Muses'; pure Schubert, as in Der Musensohn.

  [...] And I've just had a card from another nutter [...] who believes that Marlowe wasn't murdered in 1594 but was seen running away down the other side of Deptford High Street, and survived to write all Shakespeare's plays as well as his own. There must be some evolutional Darwinian advantage in belief - but why? I'm having my usual trouble on such scores, having recently read Spinoza and approvingly noted his apparently impressive proof that nothing can exist outside God. I was meditating on that topic after the concert (music seems to attune my mind to higher things, or at least higher than usual) when I spotted my old chum Celia Fremlin, who has devoted her amazingly sharp mind to the writing of detective stories and thrillers, recently rediscovered in Germany (where they like the thought of cunning ladies in pearls and twinsets, like Agatha Christie). Celia read philosophy at Oxford, so I was sure she'd be the right person to consult. She immediately dealt with my problem, namely that many places and people could not conceivably be integral components of any creator, by saying that she had already decided that it was not she but Spinoza who was mad.   So is John Michell, I fear.

   As to the Chandos portrait, I think it's quite well dealt with in Sam Schoenbaum's Records and Images. I'll send you the pages, if you like. I was quite sorry to hear that Sam had died, though I was entirely unimpressed by his terrible tendency to jeer at his intellectual superiors, such as E. B. Everitt, W. Nicholas Knight, and (yes) A. L. Rowse. My objections to such tactics were attributed (so Stanley Wells once told me) to my innate English anti-Semitism; I didn't much care for that reaction either. But now that Schoenbaum has died, the watchword should I suppose be the usual de mortuis nil nisi bunkum; and I've actually softened a few of the asperities in Edward III. A propos, I thought I'd reactivate another quatercentenary, as in the enclosed draft; all comments, as ever, gratefully received.

   Enid's much better, I'm happy to say, though still not really well. But she perked up amazingly at the news that son Jeremy has received a BAFTA (British Association of Film and Television Artists) award for his music for the TV film Persuasion. Son Richard tells me that he for his part has been the subject of a Tokyo magazine article as the only Westerner to become a shogi (=Japanese chess) champion. Candida and Robert also came to the concert and were kind and affable; Edward III should be out this autumn. So all goes well; and it will set the seal on the month to see you and your book together on 23 May.

   All best meanwhile,

   Yours Eric