Hans Keller 100: the view from Another Place

Hans Keller in the 1950s. Milein Cosman. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

Hans Keller and Haydn were sitting together in the Ambrosia Café in Another Place enjoying a cup of Viennese coffee and a gossip. “Happy Birthday old man”, said Haydn pushing a roughly-wrapped package across the table, “this is for you”. Hans opened the parcel to find the manuscript of a new string quartet “dedicated to my greatest fan, in bemused gratitude”. It was Haydn’s Op.2019 no.3 “The Keller” in – of course – D minor. “My dear FJ, I am overwhelmed, I’ve not been so emotional since Ben gave me his Third Quartet. When are we going to perform it?” “Well,” mused Haydn, “How about this evening – you and Wolfgang can fight it out over the viola part, but I’ll lead and I’m sure old Bocchi will oblige on the ‘cello, goodness knows he’s written thousands of works for the instrument”.

Just then, Beethoven shambled past, saw them, stopped and flumped down at the table. He looked as dishevelled as ever, his hat pushed to the back of his head. “Have you seen what’s going on down there Keller?” he asked “They’re busy celebrating your birthday! I’ve just hovered round the Wigmore Hall where they’ve been giving my op.130 – wish I could have let them have my Op.579, it’s a much better work from my 267th period.”

The first two pages of the manuscript of the unfinished and unpublished work on Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, op.130. CUL Hans Keller Archive

“Well, Ludo” said Haydn, smiling at his younger friend in a paternal way, “It’s nice that they understand what a splendid work it is. I was pretty chuffed last Monday by the way as the authors of that new biography of Hans…” “Pah” spluttered Hans, “Biography, what’s it for?” Haydn ignored the interruption and, sipping his coffee went on “…were wise enough at their launch at the Guildhall School of Music to focus on my quartets and how you understood them so well. They had a jolly good quartet there too, playing some extracts and all your old friends were there Hanserl, you’d have enjoyed it.” Beethoven harrumphed – but only because he was jealous. “Anyone want a drink? I need something stronger than this dishwater.” He came back a few minutes later with a carafe of cheap red and a glass. “That’s better,” he said, wiping his mouth on his cravat (which already displayed evidence of his breakfast).

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.

“Good morning, good morning!” Came a cheery voice from across the Another Place Piazza. It was Mozart, dapper as always in the latest frock coat (although they went out of fashion 200 years ago) and in a new, immaculately-powdered wig. “I saw you at the Wigmore last Saturday Ludo” he said, “and I’ve just seen a splendid account of the day devoted to Hanserl by someone called MJ – here, Hans, have a read. A whole day! You lucky fellow, they think a lot of you, you know”


11 March 2019.


From MJ, our guest Real World correspondent.

The roll-call of audience and presenters was impressive. Anyone who called themselves anyone was there. The Bechstein Room was packed to the ceiling for the first session ‘Remembering Hans Keller’. Alison Garnham, Christopher Wintle and Julian Hogg spoke with both deep knowledge and affection about this truly remarkable musician and broadcaster [Hans felt himself go Quite Pink] and his extraordinary legacy. After lunch we were treated to a virtuoso Christopher Wintle/Levon Chilingirian Classic – exploring Hans’s FA of K.421 with a very talented quartet from the Guildhall School of Music. [‘Ah yes, Christopher’, mused Hans, ‘we had some excellent discussion on analysis when I was down there. He knows his stuff, he does.’] Anton Weinberg’s deeply moving film “The Keller Instinct” followed which really was a “stopping at the traffic lights moment” as Hans would have said [“Indeed so”, agreed Hans as he read.] And the evening concluded with a concert by the Elias Quartet of Mozart, Britten and Beethoven’s op 130. A memorable occasion for all concerned and all of us hoped that Hans was, even from Another Place, able to enjoy the celebrations. On The Birthday itself, the Wigmore Hall marked the day with a BBC lunchtime concert of Haydn and Britten’s Third Quartet – dedicated to Keller. [At this point, Keller felt his eyes mist over, how he wished he could go down there and talk to everyone again. He put down the paper and reached for his coffee and yet another cigarette…]


“Goodness, what a lot of fuss” said Hans, but looking really rather pleased nonetheless. “Levon has come on a treat – I knew he’d be alright as soon as I heard his quartet at Dartington all those years ago. Jolly good of him to work with Christopher on my FA of your D minor Wolfgang, did you hear it?” “Yes, you clever socks” replied Mozart, unwrapping yet another Mozart Kugel “You got right inside my brain – in future, you can compose all my chamber music – it’ll give me more time for billiards. But,” he went on “I eavesdropped at the Austrian Embassy last Monday. Your birthday party, you know…all your old friends and relations were there physically and metaphysically – I bumped into BB and PP hovering on the stairs, Oskar too (where is he, by the way, he said he was coming along when I saw him just now) and Yehudi – they were arguing about portamento – and I think I spotted Arnold S. Quite the meta-gathering, eh? BB really rated the performance of four of his “Winter Words” and even PP was impressed. Jolly good canapés – if only I could have reached across time and space and tried one…”. “Bah humbug,” said Beethoven, reaching for his glass.

Austrian Embassy, Belgrave Square

Just then, a gaggle of HK’s friends came into view across the Piazza: Franz Schmidt, Oskar Adler, BB, PP, Schoenberg, Huberman, Ida Haendel, Susan Bradshaw, Robert Simpson, Donald Mitchell,  Geoffrey Sharp, Deryck Cooke and Buxton Orr, all singing (if you could call it that) ‘Happy Birthday’. “Bah humbug” said Keller, forgetting that was Beethoven’s line, “If you’re all so keen on ‘celebrating’ my birthday why don’t you transport off to Cambridge where they’re doing a whole day!” “Good idea Hans,” said Deryck, “I’ll take my newest book along – you know – ‘The language of the music of the spheres’ and see if they’ll sell it along with that rather splendid new biography of you – did you know about that Hans?” “Ridiculous fuss,” said Keller (but secretly feeling rather flattered). “Think I’ll go and stir it up at the discussion session at the Music School,” went on Cooke, “I just fancy a good old wrangle on analysis.” “Ha!” said Donald, “Geoff and I will come with you, then we can write it up in a controversial review for our rival celestial journals.” So off they went to eavesdrop at the Recital Room on the distinguished company gathered there.

Clare Hall, Cambridge

“Come on you folk,” said Adler to those left, “We’re all going to Clare Hall to Hans’s birthday bash there – free food and everything in D minor. It’d be a pity to miss out, I’m hungry. Ida, bring your fiddle and let’s show them what real violinists are made of.” “Oi,” said Huberman, “what about me? Aren’t I real?” “Sorry old thing, of course you are, and you know how old Hans really rates your fiddling. By the way, where’s Igor?” “Oh,” said Hans, “Milein’s drawing him – again – in his rehearsal for his new work. A ballet – ‘The water sprite’ I think, a kind of post-Firebird piece.” “Bah humbug,” said Beethoven, again, “Is there wine?”. “Tell you what,” Haydn said, getting quite excited, “Let’s take my new quartet along and play it for them all – we can take it in turns to play – that way,” he continued in anything but a paternal way, “there won’t be any arguments.” So off they went, and in a parallel universe at the back of Clare Hall could be heard the strains of Haydn’s op.2019 no.3 “The Keller”, in perfect harmony with the magnificent performance of Mozart’s own K.421 in the real hall. “Oh I say,” exclaimed Mozart, “they’re pretty awesome aren’t they?” “Bah humbug”, said Beethoven, but only because he couldn’t think of anything else to say (and he was jealous).

Final section of Keller’s FA No.1, Mozart’s String Quartet in D minor, K.421. [Add. MS 9371/12] © Cambridge University Library. Published with the kind permission of the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust.

It had been very touching really, Keller reflected to himself at the end of the Centenary celebrations. Everyone really had stopped at the traffic lights and thought about where they were going, why and what it meant to be there. He hoped very much it would help them all teach themselves and so make a lot of so-called teachers redundant. He felt an aphorism coming on, so reached for the back page of Haydn’s manuscript…Milein was busy drawing him – again. “Bah humbug.” whispered Keller to himself, but in a nice way. It had been a good birthday, in fact, one of the best birthdays he’d had in a century.

A typical Keller aphorism on a most unusual piece of writing material. © Cambridge University Library


With apologies to both Hans Keller and Bayan Northcott, but with sincere thanks for their inspiration for this little vignette.


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2 Responses to Hans Keller 100: the view from Another Place

  1. Anton Weinberg says:

    excellent indeed



    Yes, I enjoyed reading this – witty and sharp: thanks – ans don’t delete it!



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