At the event: Hans Keller at the 1954 Salzburg Festival

Some of Hans Keller's programmes for the 1954 Salzburg Festival. c Cambridge University Library

Some of Hans Keller’s programmes for the 1954 Salzburg Festival.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust
© Cambridge University Library

When we last explored this most extraordinary of musicians, I was, if you remember, sorting the unsorted materials in his Archive here at the University Library. Well, now I know what’s in the boxes (mostly) and have moved on to documenting the simply gargantuan collection of articles/programme notes/radio scripts/reviews…you name it, he wrote it. This time, I thought we might take a look at what lies behind the finished article, as it were. A couple of weeks ago, buried at the bottom of box XX13 in the ubiquitous brown envelope (yes, really, they do exist) I found a cache of materials for the 1954 Salzburg Festival which, I think, provides an excellent example. So why not make a cup of coffee and help me unpack the contents…

First, a little background. During the late 1940’s and 1950’s especially, Keller, then making his living as a music critic, reported regularly from the major European music festivals including Holland, Edinburgh, Aldeburgh and Salzburg. His incisive summaries would appear in all the major music journals of the time (his and Donald Mitchell’s Music Survey, Music Review and Musical Times) and newspapers in both English and German, for example Sunday Times and Basler Nachrichten.

The programme for the Barylli Quartet concert showing Hans Keller's notes. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art ansd Music Trust. c Cambridge University Library

The programme for the Barylli Quartet concert showing Hans Keller’s notes.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust. ©Cambridge University Library

So, what about this envelope? It contained: the brochure for the Festival, a couple of dozen concert programmes, countless pieces of carefully-corrected carbon-paper typescripts (in no order at all), a bundle of pages torn from a notebook containing scribbles ranging from the draft of reports to gnomic comments and outline analyses of works and, yes really, several cigarette packets (he was, as were so many of his generation, an inveterate smoker) on which he had jotted passing thoughts. Taking a very deep breath, and resigning myself to black fingers yet again, I began to sort the typescripts into some coherent order so that I could see what they were. Gradually the mist cleared as I reassembled reports and translations and could then sift slowly through the handwritten notes matching them with their final products.

Hans Keller's notes of Mozart K.515 taken during the Barylli Quartet concert. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust. c Cambridge University Library.

Hans Keller’s notes of Mozart K.515 taken during the Barylli Quartet concert.
Reproduced with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust. © Cambridge University Library.

What did I find? Not content with reporting his thoughts on the performances he attended, Keller was also often asked to provide material for the brochures that accompanied festivals as well. Salzburg 1954 was no exception as he was responsible for the English translations of biographical information on the major artists, opera synopses, articles about the music to be performed and even the welcoming messages from the Chair of the Festival and the Mayor of Salzburg in the Festival brochure. Alongside all these sat his reviews and the notes taken during performances – often scrawled all over the programme. I was looking at a demonstration of his working methods. Notes all over the Barylli Quartet concert programme together with his trademark semi-shorthand summaries are a typical example. From these, he could produce a review of a single sentence such as this in the Sunday Times for 22 August 1954: “The Barylli Quartet…flew across Mozart’s K.458 at record speed and height without noticing the music beneath” or his more extended, considered accounts for Musical Opinion (September and October 1954) and Music Review (November 1954).

One of the major building blocks of the 1954 Festival was the première of Rolf Liebermann’s opera semi-seria Penelope. Keller provided a (not very enthusiastic) review of this for Sunday Times on 22 August and a shorter one for Music Review that November in which he promised in the next issue to: “do the work to death”. But did he? Intrigued I chased up the February issue to find that whilst there was no in-depth assessment, it had been included in his regular “Half-year’s new music” table thus:

Composer and reasons for inclusion: Cultural politics and festival policies, modern symptomatology.

Analytical features: Serial Puccini presiding over an abridged and falsifying history of music…the law of artistic parsimony has been applied at the wrong end of the creative process, which makes the work thoroughly contemporary.

Press: A considerable press success

Comments: Compared with this slick filth Troilus and Cressida moved one to tears. Festival audiences on the other hand, were moved by the fact that if handled by a kind composer, modern music could be almost as enjoyable as real Kitsch which, in musical fact, is the sole source of the work’s inspiration.“ [Music Review Feb 1955, pp.58-59]

That’ll be a thumbs down then?

It’s not all disappointment though, you will be glad to hear. He enthuses about Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s portrayal of Donna Anna in Furtwängler’s Don Giovanni, about Gerald Moore’s accompaniments in her recital, and praises Imgard Seefried’s Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne under Karl Böhm as an “overpowering success, musical, vocal and histrionic”.

Oh dear – you see how easy it is to get side-tracked. But that’s the nature of the man – you want to know what he thinks.


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