London Office 10a Soho Square

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Telegrams Parmaxto. Rath. London



No. 147



After many years 'of writing I have learnt most of the provocative statements of opinion, and one of the most provocative of all is to say anything derogatory about Parsifal. So I was not surprised when our esteemed Madrid correspondent, Senor Nueda y Santiago, wrote to rebuke my slighting allusion to it. To Senor Nueda Parsifal is not only "the most beautiful, superb and astonishing masterpiece of music ever written, but the most beautiful, superb and amazing masterpiece ever prod uced in any art." Now, Senor Nueda has written an extremely interesting book on the ~sthetics of music, De Musica, with roost of which I should agree, and he on h~s side cordially approves of my choice of music for that imaginary desert island. Equally we should agree absolutely with one another in our admiration of the Ring, and yet Parsifal affects us both quite differently. Senor Nueda does not mind whether Parsifal be "Christian, heathen, Buddhist, or theosophist." In the dedication to Richard Wagner with which he prefaces his book he writes: "My mother taught me to pray and to believe. In materialiem I learnt to doubt . You restore my faith, because when I enjoy your' divine music I am aware of my soul and I believe in i t ."

My trouble with Pa.rsifal is that I am incapable of accepting Wagner's sincerity of belief. He takes a great Christian legend and theatricalises i t . It is not a dogmatic necessity for a Christian to believe in the Holy Grail, but if a Christian believes in the dogma which inspired the legend he finds i t impossible to forgive the distortion of I t in Wagner's treatment. Nietzsche's attack upon Parsifal gave Parsifal a kind of religious kudos, but an orthodox Christian ought to agree with much of what Nietzsche said about it. It is impossible to imagine Nietzsche's attacking the music of Palestrina any more effectively than a clothes'-moth could attack a granite monolith. Nevertheless, although I shall never myself derive any emotional, intellectual, or even purely musical pleasure from Parsifal, the very reasons for which I condemn i t compel me to recognise the right of its admirers to claim a magic for i ts influence.

Senor Nueda has many other interesting observations to make in a letter he has written to me not the , .

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least interesting of which is his appreciation as a Spaniard of Strauss's Don Quixote. "No one has ever been able to translate into musical language the nobility and fairness of Cervantes' Don Quixote as well as Richard Strauss. All other music written round Don Quixote is poor and vulgar, and Falla's Retablo de Maese Pedro is an absolute caricature. The Don Quixote of Strauss is so human and so beautiful and so worthy of Cervantes' knight-errant that every t ime I listen to i t-with ear and soul (in Beecham's superb performance on that Columbia recording)-I regret the shortness of the score and wish that Strauss had transcribed into music the whole immortaJ book and composed fifty variations instead of ten."

Don Quixote may belong to the whole \vorld, but that does not exempt us from listening with particular respect to the testimony of one of his fellow-countrymen. Strauss is still suffering from the reaction against excessive laudation and i t is probably too early to estimate his final place in music. It may well be higher than contemporary opinion as a whole supposes.

The Choral Symphony

The new H.M.V. album of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in D minor played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski with American singers and chorus is on the whole the best version of this great work we have had so far for the gramophone. I t is far from being an ideal version, but i t has one great advantage, which is that i t improves as i t goes along, the interpretation of the first movement being the least satisfactory. The second movement seems to lack some of the glorious elan which i t ought to have, but the adagio cantabile of the third movement is good, after which there is a set-back during that strange and dramatic piece of musical dialogue which leads up to the fInal tune. The choral finale, however, is admirable.

This great symphony had a most protracted gestation. As early as 1793, when Beethoven was twentytwo, Schiller's sister, Charlotte, was being told in a letter of a young man from Bonn who was intending to set Schiller's Ode to Joy to music. In 1812 there is a note among the sketches for the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies in the composer's notebook about a symphony in D minor. The beginning of the theme