Unlikely music critic of the day

Also this year you talked of Elgar, and the newspapers said that he was ill.

If you see him will you present my constant pleasure in his music, whether human rendered or from my box? Nobody who makes sounds gets so inside my defences as he does, with his 2nd Symphony and Violin Concerto. Say that if the 3rd Symphony has gone forward from those, it will be a thrill to ever so many of us. He was inclined to grumble that the rewards of making music were not big, in the bank-book sense; but by now he should be seeing that bank-books will not interest him much longer. I feel more and more, as I grow older, the inclination to throw everything away and live on air. We all allow ourselves to need too much.

—T.E. Lawrence to Mrs Charlotte Shaw, August 23, 1933

I read your [Beethoven’s] 9th Symphony score very often, trying to keep pace with the records. Music, alas, is very difficult. So are all the decencies of life.

—T.E. Lawrence to H.A. Ford, April 18, 1929

Lawrence carved the lintel above the door of his Clouds Hill cottage to read οὐ φροντὶς (“does not care”), referring to the story of Hippocleides as told by Herodotus. Elgar did not live to complete his 3rd Symphony, the commission of which had been partially arranged by Bernard Shaw. “We were too late for that Third Symphony after all,” Lawrence wrote Charlotte Shaw.


  1. Lawrence’s memoir, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” is one of the great, strange books ever written and more historically indispensable every day. (Britain basically created the mess of a Middle East we’re living with today.) The book starts with a homoerotic, philosopical description of the desert, and then it turns into an adventure tale while Lawrence simultaneously drowns in guilt over the next 600 pages because he’s betrayed his Bedouin brothers to British realpolitik. It’s an incredibly informative and moving tale, straight from the camel’s mouth, so to speak.

  2. 1. Shaw himself was hugely impressed with “Seven Pillars” and the Dan Lawrence four-volume set of his letters has — I think it’s in the third volume — some good stuff on this; there’s also a goodish biography called “Mrs. GBS” that goes into their friendship.2. Speaking of strange critics: we opened “The Cherry Orchard” yesterday (in Central Square: http://www.thenora.org/ for more info) and one of the critics, for a Russian newspaper, had a seeing-eye dog. (I’m not sure that symbolism can be adduced thereby.)

Leave a Reply