In letters: Franz Liszt to Robert Schumann

"[...] As to the Kinderscenen, I owe to them one of the greatest pleasures of my life. You know, or you don’t know, that I have a little girl of three years old, whom everybody agrees in considering angelic (did you ever hear such a commonplace?). Her name is Blandine-Rachel, and her surname Moucheron. It goes without saying that she has a complexion of roses and milk, and that her fair golden hair reaches to her feet just like a savage. She is, however, the most silent child, the most sweetly grave, the most philosophically gay in the world. I have every reason to hope also that she will not be a musician, from which may Heaven preserve her! "Well, my dear Monsieur Schumann, two or three times a week (on fine and good days!) I play your Kinderscenen to her in the evening; this enchants her, and me still more, as you may imagine, so that often I go over the first repeat twenty times without going any further. Really I think you would be satisfied with this success if you could be a witness of it!"

— Wednesday June 5th, 1839.

"I have never rested well. I am only happy when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

Leonard Bernstein to Aaron Copland (July 1967): Dear A:

Can't sleep (haven't for weeks) and thinking very much of you, of music, of impasses. Haven't found a work to write (after almost a month of dolce-far-niente in this beautiful house): not a note on paper, not a score studied, a very few books read: no thoughts to speak of, no nuthin. Much pleasure in children. Hebrew lessons (!) to Alexander (we adore them and laugh a good deal; in the sun-air-sky-water-boat department, diving from my new rubber boat (singing all the while "All we've got is a rubber boat we can't blow up and a single flashlight" and nearly weeping with nostalgia) and enjoying all my diving gear -- black spaceman type wet-suit, flippers, helmet, knife, watch, depthometer, oxygen tanks on back; enjoying driving my new silver-gray Maserati -- my first (and last) sheer playboy acquisition. Sailing, snorkeling, seeing a very few people, not even going to see Etruscan ruins nearby, logey, paralyzed with sea and sun. And no sleep. Somewhere in all this I must be restoring my soul, recharging my transistors, "resting." I never have rested well; I'm happy only when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

"I soon saw that it was simply not in me to be a mandarin."

Saul Bellow interviewed in the Paris Review -- "My first two books are well made. I wrote the first quickly but took great pains with it. I labored with the second and tried to make it letter-perfect. In writing The Victim I accepted a Flaubertian standard. Not a bad standard, to be sure, but one which, in the end, I found repressive—repressive because of the circumstances of my life and because of my upbringing in Chicago as the son of immigrants. I could not, with such an instrument as I developed in the first two books, express a variety of things I knew intimately. Those books, though useful, did not give me a form in which I felt comfortable. A writer should be able to express himself easily, naturally, copiously in a form that frees his mind, his energies. Why should he hobble himself with formalities? With a borrowed sensibility? With the desire to be “correct”? Why should I force myself to write like an Englishman or a contributor to The New Yorker? I soon saw that it was simply not in me to be a mandarin. I should add that for a young man in my position there were social inhibitions, too. I had good reason to fear that I would be put down as a foreigner, an interloper. It was made clear to me when I studied literature in the university that as a Jew and the son of Russian Jews I would probably never have the right feeling for Anglo-Saxon traditions, for English words. I realized even in college that the people who told me this were not necessarily disinterested friends. But they had an effect on me, nevertheless. This was something from which I had to free myself. I fought free because I had to."

In letters: Franz Liszt on Schubert

[To Sigmund Lebert, December 1868.] Dear friend,

The annotations to Schubert's Sonatas demanded more time than I had anticipated. For some weeks past I have been working industriously at them—now they are finished ad unguem.

Our pianists scarcely realise what a glorious treasure they have in Schubert's pianoforte compositions. Most pianists play them over en passant, notice here and there repetitions, lengthinesses, apparent carelessnesses, and then lay them aside. It is true that Schubert himself is somewhat to blame for the very unsatisfactory manner in which his admirable pianoforte pieces are treated. He was too immoderately productive, wrote incessantly, mixing insignificant with important things, grand things with mediocre work, paid no heed to criticism, and always soared on his wings. Like a bird in the air, he lived in music and sang in angelic fashion.

O never-resting, ever-welling genius, full of tenderness! O my cherished Hero of the Heaven of Youth! Harmony, freshness, power, grace, dreamings, passion, soothings, tears and flames pour forth from the depths and heights of thy soul, and thou makest us almost forget the greatness of thine excellence in the fascination of thy spirit!——

Let us limit our edition of Schubert's pianoforte compositions to 2 Sonatas, the G major Fantasia (a Virgilian poem!), the splendid "Wanderer"-dithyramb (C major Fantasia), 2 books of Impromptus, Moments Musicals and all his Valses (among which there are gems of the first water). All this will be sent to you forthwith; and in addition Weber's Polonaises.

In the Sonatas you will find some various readings, which appear to me tolerably appropriate. Several passages, and the whole of the conclusion of the C major Fantasia, I have re-written in modern pianoforte form, and I flatter myself that Schubert would not be displeased with it.

The pianoforte Duets of Schubert (Holle's edition) please address to Weimar, as I have no time left for revisings in Rome. Send me also a copy of the "Aufforderung zum Tanz" ["Invitation to the Dance"] that is so drummed at everywhere. You forgot to let me have this piece of salon-fireworks with the other music, and I too did not remember it at the time; years ago I had to play this "Invitation" over and over again, times innumerable—without the smallest "invitation" on my part—and it became a detestable nuisance to me. However, such a show-piece must not be omitted in Cotta's edition of Weber.

Your visit to Weimar, dear friend, will be very welcome and agreeable to me. When there we shall be able to discuss, weigh and settle a number of things very conveniently.

With sincere thanks, I remain

Yours in all friendship,

F. Liszt

Villa d'Este, December 2nd, 1868

P.S. — I have not received the French translation of your Method.

A marriage of minds

John Stuart Mill on his wife Harriet Taylor, as quoted in the New York Review of Books — "In general spiritual characteristics, as well as in temperament and organization, I have often compared her, as she was at this time, to Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley, so far as his powers were developed in his short life, was but a child compared with what she ultimately became. Alike in the highest regions of speculation and in the smaller practical concerns of daily life, her mind was the same perfect instrument, piercing to the very heart and marrow of the matter; always seizing the essential idea or principle.

"The same exactness and rapidity of operation, pervading as it did her sensitive as [well as] her mental faculties, would with her gifts of feeling and imagination have fitted her to be a consummate artist, as her fiery and tender soul and her vigourous eloquence would certainly have made her a great orator, and her profound knowledge of human nature and discernment and sagacity in practical life, would in [the] times when such a carrière was open to women, have made her eminent among the rulers of mankind.


"Were I [but] capable of interpreting to the world one half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom."

" least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction."

"Don't be too harsh to these poems until they're typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction; in ordinary mss. they look as if they might be altered at any moment." (Dylan Thomas, in a 1938 letter to John Davenport.)

Vladimir Nabokov's love letters

Vladimir begins interjecting “I love you” into the middle of paragraphs, occasionally into the midst of another thought or a sentence. This is a practice he will continue throughout the correspondence. The effect is both touching and disquieting: every thought is suffused with Vladimir’s concern but also beset by the possibility that an incantation is necessary to keep love and Véra afloat. This mixture of devotion and anxiety would later be used to conjure up images of their son, Dmitri, and his activities, in what should be seen as fleeting caresses, sent from afar: “Boings, boings, boings against the highchair footstep in the kitchen each morning”; “I dreamt that my little boy was sick and stepped out of the dream as if out of hot salted water. I love you”.

From Alan Walker's open letter to Franz Liszt

Dear and highly esteemed Master! I have long cherished the notion of writing to you, and I am grateful beyond measure that I now have an opportunity to do so. To many people it may seem strange that I would want to communicate with you at all, you who have been dead for more than a century. If so, that can only be because they lack imaignation and are incapable of understanding how important your life and work have become to me. Suffice it to say that during the twenty-five years I worked on your biography, which surely gives me some claim to your attention, there were times when I longed to set aside my work in order to consult you directly about the problems before me.


What better place to start than at the beginning? Your early education was neglected, a situation you strove to overcome in later years. I recall reading somewhere that you attended school in your natal village of Raiding from your sixth year and received some basic tuition in reading and writing from the village schoolmaster Johann Rohrer. The most telling image I retained when considering your rustic education was that the schoolroom in which you and your fellow pupils were prepared for the outside world by Rohrer was a mere twenty feet in length and fourteen feet in width. From this early construction, you widened your boundaries to a point where you were able to embrace the whole world.

Writing advice from D.H. Lawrence at twenty-one

"I do not like the introductory paragraph, it is like an extract from a Catalogue of Pictures for sale at some auctioneers … Like most girl writers you are wordy. I have read nearly all your letters to J, so I do not judge only from this composition. Again and again you put in interesting adjectives and little phrases which make the whole piece loose, and sap its vigour. Do be careful of your adjectives—do try and be terse, there is so much more force in a rapid style that will not be hampered by superfluous details. Just look at your piece and see how many three lined sentences could be comfortably expressed in one line."

The Seth Benardete papers

From Opus Publicum — Words like “cryptic,” “obscure,” “challenging,” and “eccentric” fail to do justice to the labyrinthine complexity of Benardete’s thought as expressed through his formal written works. Now for the first time researchers and continuing students of Benardete’s work can begin accessing online a treasure trove of Benardete’s reading notes, written lectures, jottings, early essay drafts, and so forth through the New School’s Digital Archive. While not everything is available online (yet) and some categories of the Benardete papers remain restricted (e.g., correspondence with persons still living), you can get a full account of the archive, including links to the digital material, in the “Benardete Papers: Collection Guide” file. I will admit that his handwriting and note-taking style presents some challenges, but there are some fascinating finds among the collection, including Benardete’s notes on the New Testament.