Dear diary: two days in the life of Hans Keller

Hans Keller diary fragments: beginning of the entry for 15th January 1952, Cambridge University Library

Hans Keller diary fragments: beginning of the entry for 15th January 1952,
© Cambridge University Library.

For this post, gentle readers, I am delighted to hand my pen over to another far more accomplished than I in the written word: Hans Keller. What follows is taken from the only extant pages of a diary for 1952, recently re-emerged in the Hans Keller Archive here at the University Library. In the space of two packed days, we gain an extraordinary insight not only into the breathless amount of ground Keller covers in 48 hours, but a sense of his deep engagement with the musical world at the time. Over to you, Hans.

Morning: Wrote cards to Bubtschi [a schoolfriend ] Stein [Erwin Stein, then at Boosey & Hawkes, friend of Britten] (warning him not to let Mewton-Wood do Schoenberg’s George songs [‘Hanging Gardens’, op.15 MRS.21.408] and pointing out to him the English Opera Group’s idiocy in performing a Mozart piano c’to with string quintet), Harewood (inviting him to apply for membership of the Critics’ Circle), Dallapiccola (telling him that I can’t arrange a recital for him over here and that Seiber is going to have a Dallapiccola song done in his Third Programme lecture – in the Schoenberg series – on 12-tone music) [broadcast on 17th January 1952].

Press flyer for "Outcast of the Islands" Cambridge Univerisity Library.

Press flyer for “Outcast of the Islands” from the Hans Keller Archive.
© Cambridge University Library.

Saw Press Show of Carol Reed’s self-consciously ‘good’ “Outcast of the Islands” with music needless to say (see Black Narcissus) by Brian Easdale. Alas, since I know the first 10 mins of his opera “The Sleeping Children” (into which Paul Hamburger’s creative mind read value: that’s what I call creative criticism!), his deficiencies irritate me even in the cinema, where they always pose as, and sometimes are, virtues: his lack of melodic invention, development, breath – his inability to conceive on any mentionable scale. But he is not pretentious – a fact which shows from his concentric tonalities (D major in this instance) up- and sidewards.

[A large part of Keller’s working life until he joined the BBC in 1959 was concerned with film music criticism and a selection of his many excellent articles is brought together in Film music & beyond: writing on music and the screen, edited by Christopher Wintle. M735.b.200.3 SW]

Afternoon: Press Show of “Royal Journey” (Elizabeth and Philip in Canada), with cheap (unnamed) music & inane commentary. (National Film Board of Canada, “photographed in breath-taking Ekta Colour”.) Psychologically convinced monarchist as one is, one’s patience is stretched to the utmost by a commentary which treats these exalted parent figures as ordinary, oh so beautifully ordinary tourists. How can one suppress one’s disgust if the naivest spectator is thus asked to lie to himself, to take the as-such-known illusion in front of reality more seriously than that of a novel? To regress beyond the point of sanity by really replacing conscious reality by phantasy?

Flyer for the film "Royal Journey" from the Hans Keller Archive. Cambridge University LIbrary.

Flyer for the film “Royal Journey” from the Hans Keller Archive.
© Cambridge University Library.

I lost my gloves and edited part of Hamburger’s chapter on the Chamber Music for our Britten Symposium. What a job, with his graphs, his Germanisms, his private style. Yet, what a chapter! [Keller is referring to “Benjamin Britten: a commentary on his works  from a group of specialists”, edited by Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller. Rockliff, 1952. M501.c.95.11]

Mutti phone call: – It turned out that I did not lose my leather gloves after all, but that Mitchell took them by mistake!

Bought Suschitzky [Wolfgang Suschitsky, the photographer and cinematographer] tickets for 3rd Wozzeck performance when I was at CG in the morning; since they cost 30s each, I wrote him a card in the evening offering to dispose of them elsewhere if he liked.

Reflected that: (1) to waste time on nothing is better than to waste time on something; (2) many people are anxious about their development when they ought to be busy trying to stay where they get to; (3) I am so un-natural that I am shy about my appreciation of bleakly sunny Hyde Park.

5 o’clock: lesson to Stephen [full name as yet unknown]: he is ill with tonsillitis, & I gave him new home-work and took his dictionary a stage further; then left. Quickly back to Milein [his partner, the artist Milein Cosman], who had had a wisdom tooth out (one hour; Penicillin injection), developed an enormous cheek and felt rotten.

16.1.51 [This is actually 1952 – a slip of the pen on Keller’s part, so easily done at the beginning of a new year. The first performances of Wozzeck at Covent Garden took place in January 1952 under Kleiber and it is the rehearsals for these which Keller attended and documents here. SW]

diary 16 Jan

Hans Keller diary fragments: end of the entry for 16th January 1952
© Cambridge University Library.

Lost another glove in tube! Something going on in the way of guilt, what with a burnt finger and the boil on my back. – Wozzeck rehearsal, last act. Promises to be better than the Salzburg production – which, true, isn’t saying much. Kleiber lost his temper for the first time because Mr. Mitchell [repetiteur Eric Mitchell, a former Royal Marine] substituted in the second run-through for Mr. John Gardener [sic. John Gardner, the composer] at the stage piano and ran away at impossible speed (not having rehearsed the section with Kleiber before). ‘Absolutely impossible’ sweating Kleiber shouted to Reginald Goodall who apparently is responsible for the musical sub-management. I was sitting with Goodall and had a good view at full score and stage. The tonal scheme – for such there is – is becoming clear to me: a lot is related to the D minor of the Epilogue. But that final bitonal effect, supported no doubt by the instrumentation (strings for the eventual, surprising G major chord) must be further gone into. Why such pacifying liberation at the turn from implied E major (or is it also implied A major) to the overpowering (outweighing) G major? Was there perhaps E minor feeling in spite of that C# in the wood, so that G major is felt as resolving relative major?

[Keller’s thinking on Wozzeck is set out in two seminal articles for Music Review: The Eclecticism of Wozzeck I and II; published in November 1951 (after the first Salzburg performance of the opera) and May 1952, following the Covent Garden première. Do read them, but fortify yourself with a coffee beforehand. SW]

Walked 2 hours in Hyde Park which did me a lot of good. Apparently I’m not used to so much fresh air, for I felt like after a holiday.

[and, after such an intense morning, who would not benefit from a walk to clear the head? SW]

HK, with occasional interjections from SW

Enquiries concerning the Hans Keller archive may be made via

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dear diary: two days in the life of Hans Keller

  1. The erudition of the explicatory notes is at least as memorable as the amazing stamina of the original author!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.