Cad’s Cadenzas

Christopher Driver

  • William Walton: Behind the Façade by Susana Walton
    Oxford, 255 pp, £12.95, February 1988, ISBN 0 19 315156 1
  • Façade: Edith Sitwell Interpreted by Pamela Hunter
    Duckworth, 106 pp, £10.95, September 1987, ISBN 0 7156 2184 X

Composers are supposed to die young, preferably of consumption. Their women, if their tastes lie in this direction, may be called to matrimony and motherhood: but they are seldom given to authorship, and they are not encouraged to own independent musical personalities. These preconditions leave a clear field for the imagination of Hollywood scriptwriters or the industry of Berkeley musicologists. But it is better so. Beethoven’s reputation has survived his sharp practices with publishers, his intermittent problems with servants, and his ‘Battle’ Symphony: but he could hardly have recovered from ‘Life, Laundry and Ludwig: The Diaries of Frau van Beethoven’. At the same time, the composer myth is woefully inaccurate. Haydn, Telemann, Verdi reached their eighties. Anna Magdalena Bach, Constanze Mozart, Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler did more for their husbands’ posthumous fame than a gaggle of critics and sycophants. As for musical cipherdom, the unmistakable rages and affections of Frau Strauss are preserved in the concertante solo violin part of Heldenleben, just as Benjamin Britten’s dependence upon Peter Pears, the sharer of his bed, shines through most of his later music.

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