Speeches from the launch of
Music and Psychology: From Vienna to London 1939-52

Given at the Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3 5SX, on Wednesday 4 June, 2003,
7.30pm, in the presence of Dr. Alexander Christiani, Austrian Ambassador.

  1.  Introduction (Christopher Wintle)
  2.  The Austrian Ambassador (Dr. Alexander Christiani)
  3.  Hugh Wood
  4.  Notes to the speeches
  5.  Pictures from the launch


1.  Introduction (Christopher Wintle)

Christopher Wintle

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen –

My name is Christopher Wintle, I am editor of this volume, and also, ‘as it happens’, the director of Plumbago Books: so a double welcome to you all!

Music and Psychology is, obviously, a specialist work; it is hardly commercial; and it could not have appeared in Hans’s lifetime. Indeed, I suspect that Hans would have been ambivalent about publishing material written between the ages of just 19 and 33. The book began in 1986 when Milein Cosman phoned up one day to say that among the hoard of Hans’s papers, she had found a psychoanalytic study of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. I was pinned to my seat: before anything else, I wanted to read this and anything like it. But it took the next 17 years to bring the papers into print. In 1996 they were moved from Hampstead to the Cambridge University Library at the initiative of Alexander Goehr, Hugh Wood and Richard Andrewes; there they were painstakingly catalogued by Alison Garnham; I myself tried to make sense of them in the mid to late 1990s; and finally, when the Jewish Music Institute, headed by Geraldine Auerbach, offered us a Millennium Award funded by the National Lottery, we assembled and printed the book in exactly one year flat. To all these people, to colleagues, family, friends and helpers, and to my technical assistant, Julian Littlewood, my warm thanks; and warm thanks, too, to Milein Cosman for her marvellous drawings and unflagging support.

We are meeting in the house of Sigmund Freud. Like Hans, Freud left Vienna for England in the late 1930s. He did not care much for music. Indeed, Hans put him ‘top of the list of musical ignoramuses’.1 His daughter Anna said ‘he never went to concerts’; according to his biographer, Peter Gay, he couldn’t hum a tune to save his life; and in his writings he mentioned just 5 operas – by Mozart, Bizet and Wagner.2 But this is not quite the whole picture. In a pithy, but profound, essay from 1905, ‘Psychopathic Characters on the Stage’,3 he described the obligations dramatists faced if they were to retain the involvement of the audience when unfolding the inner conflicts of their characters. Here he referred to both theatre and opera, on the basis of a manifestly wide experience. It is this approach, I believe, that Hans developed in the Britten studies printed here, when he talks of characterological expositions and developments that cut right across the normal divisions of opera. Freud may have been ‘tone deaf’, but he would, I think, still have been Hans’s best reader.

Freud died in 1939. Had he lived through even the first two years of the war, he would have witnessed the fragmentation of our society into small social and military groups. It is these groups that Hans’s colleague, the sociologist Margaret Phillips, set out to study, and it is her findings that Hans interpreted psychoanalytically. Their work was something new. It dealt with communities and associations, group self-contempt and self-love, all seen through the model of the family. To this Hans added a ‘Viennese’ fascination with sexuality, especially in his fieldwork (!) on why ‘Prostitutes Wear Marriage Rings’. This early social experience made Hans an especially sympathetic critic of Britten’s operas, which more than any others focus on closed communities. It also made him alert to the workings of the small groups that make up English music and society: his unforgettable view of music critics and their ‘phoney profession’ gets under way just as the book closes.

Hans thought of himself as a lifelong outsider; yet professionally he always positioned himself right on the inside. To explore this paradox I invited two speakers here this evening: Dr. Christiani, the Austrian ambassador, and Hugh Wood, the British composer and friend of Hans’s. Hugh Wood, alas, is unwell today, and Bayan Northcott has kindly agreed to read his speech for him at very short notice. Between them all, I hope, they will unravel our subtitle. This is meant to stand for, and celebrate, the broad cultural migration that has benefited England so richly in the last 60 years: from Vienna to London.

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2.  The Austrian Ambassador (Dr. Alexander Christiani)

Dr Alexander Christiani, the Austrian Ambassador

Mr. Wintle, Ladies and Gentlemen –

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today on the occasion of the launch of a book which, I am sure, will occupy a very special place both in the minds and the libraries of the intellectual elite of this country. I wish to thank Christopher Wintle very much for having invited me.

Now ‘let me say a few words before I make a speech’. Seriously, I will only indulge in the former.

Hans Keller shared the fate of a great number of Hitler émigrés from Austria. As ambassador of a country many of whose citizens unfortunately had to share in the blame for the atrocities committed, I can still comprehend the terrible (sense of) loss and drain which the intellectual establishment in my country and indeed the whole country itself suffered from the persecution by this criminal regime.

On the other hand, the cultural impact on Britain of refugees from Nazism, especially from Austria, cannot be overestimated and creates in me a feeling of pride, being aware at the same time that our loss was your gain.

The cultural life of this country was enormously enriched but it went much beyond Britain and also transcended into much wider spheres devoid of any petty nationalism which so often in history had dealt the death blow to culture and humanity. Hans Keller was part of it.

After the war Keller rapidly built a reputation as a brilliant, quirky musicologist, a man of forceful views and unshakeable prejudices who had such power of language and personality – not to say love and knowledge of his subject – that he was difficult to gainsay. Behind the bombast and the bravado lay a personality of great seriousness, the mind of a teacher, a moralist, a missionary. Keller was profoundly influenced by the Freudian school of psychoanalysis and not averse to using what he regarded as psychological insights in his writings about music.

While Keller was injecting sparkle and controversy into the BBC’s music division, something similar was happening over the way in the drama department, headed by another Viennese émigré, Martin Esslin. Radio 3 discussions on the subtler depths of British culture would regularly be led [with] awesome fluency and familiarity by the formidable trio of Viennese émigrés, Stephen Hearst, Martin Esslin and Hans Keller.

Hans Keller died in 1985, but Stephen Hearst and Martin Esslin continued to be active cultural entrepreneurs into old age.

There was no better place imaginable than England with its unparalleled intellectual wealth in places like Cambridge, Oxford, King’s College London and others to serve as a particularly fertile ground for the émigrés who quite often were ill prepared – both in knowledge of the country and mastery of its language.
That they – at the end of the day – were able to make such a lasting contribution to the human spirit is in no small measure due to the fact that this country received them with an open mind and with open arms.

May the book on Hans Keller, edited so painstakingly by Christopher Wintle, also bear witness to the triumph of the human mind and spirit over tyranny, persecution and destruction.

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3.  Hugh Wood

Bayan Northcott, standing in for Hugh Wood

Reading this book from cover to cover has been like discovering that somebody you thought you knew quite well has in fact been leading a double – no, a multiple – life. It’s like being a member of a large family who discovers the parent to have been a triple or quadruple bigamist and has been attached to several other families that you knew not of. Of course, rumours had reached one – one mustn’t be unrealistic. Nevertheless, this, in Star Wars language, is a massive pre-quel to the Hans I knew and loved many years later. I first met Hans in about 1957 or 8, at Dartington. In 1952 I was 20 years old. But 1952 was the date that Christopher Wintle suggests as marking the beginning of his whole-time concentration upon writing about music. Of course there are writings on music before this, and writing on purely psychological subjects after it. But the synthesis of both, which is what this book celebrates, dates from that time. And he had a complete other career before then.

It was all quite a long time ago. The comment has already been made – and I’m sure it’s something that may have taken even Alison Garnham by surprise when she first started working through the Archive when it was transferred to Cambridge University Library – about how small a proportion of the earliest material is about music: no more than you would expect of somebody with a German background and education. Amongst the earliest aphorisms one stands out for this reason:

Without Mozart we would never have known what an opera is.
Without Wagner we would never have known what a Mozart opera is.

(This has the usual double-take effect of an aphorism of making one wonder whether it is actually saying anything, whether it’s true, and whether it means the opposite to what you originally thought.)

As for the rest of these earliest documents, I hope you will forgive me if I spend quite a lot of time simply describing what they’re about, in order to give you some idea of their range and scope. After all, the German language ones were accessible until recently only to a very small group of people indeed – maybe just to Alison and Milein herself, and to Irene Auerbach who translated them.

Many of you will have read Hans’s article in 1975 (1984 minus 9) called simply ‘Vienna 1938’.4 Nothing for me will ever overlay the experience of listening to its original form as a radio talk: it was one of the most moving of all wireless experiences. It is in the light of the dramatic circumstances in which he arrived in this country that one must read all these early essays. Nevertheless, even if his arrival had been quite other, they would have been a remarkable achievement for someone who was 20 or 21 and in a strange country.

And it was a strange country. (Indeed, one of the incidental charms of this volume is its occasional period flavour, particularly, I’m tempted to say, in the psychological bits, but more generally in its evocation of an England I knew and which has gone.) The first three items bear the title, ‘England’, ‘Amusements’ (meaning ‘Amusement Arcades’), then – ‘Lyons Corner House, Pissoir’. The ‘England’ essay has some really profound reflections on the English as opposed to the German national character (which is subjected to some hard criticism). This sort of subject matter usually results in cliché: not so with Hans at 20. It is all so serious (the wit will come later), and it derives, it would seem, from wide and long and deep reading in both country’s [literature] and from both culture’s philosophers. Then you remember the story from ‘Vienna 1938’ about his Nazi teacher having to admit that his was the best German essay, even though it was written by a Jew. It is immediately obvious that Hans was exceptional from the very beginning.

The range of writing is very wide. There are serious political disquisitions (‘National Socialism is pseudo “being German”’), comments on Zionism, a fascinating, rather practical address to a Jewish youth club; and there are endless aphorisms, as there were throughout the whole of his life. Aphorisms were really Hans’s lyric poetry.

Psychology is strongly linked at the beginning with sociology. The great parental figures for Hans were J. C. Flugel and Margaret Phillips. It’s so entirely typical that the very first project Hans took on (in answer to one of Margaret Phillips’s questionnaires) was ‘Group Functioning of a String Quartet’. Indeed, as it dates from 1942, you could say it’s the earliest substantial work that links music and psychology. I must say that I would dread the disorder that would occur inside any professional string quartet if you showed them this document. Now one good questionnaire deserves another, and Hans was quick to fire a fusillade back at Margaret Phillips, the subject being ‘modesty and shame’. I quote section 4, question 8:

Imagine: if circumstances forced you to be, for a short period, naked in the presence of somebody who would especially stimulate your bodily sense of shame, and you were put before the alternative either to remain perfectly quiet during this period, or to move about continually, which of the two would you prefer? Give reasons.

But Miss Phillips, faced with this potential disarray (a well-chosen word on my part) chose to bat back splendidly:

What a question! However did you think it up? I have no idea. I should try to emulate Lady Godiva if possible.5

Hans Keller was 23; Margaret Phillips was 50-ish (as they say in Private Eye).

After studying string quartets (and one must remember that Hans had plenty of personal experience of playing in one) he went on to study other groups. They cover quite a range: the internment camp, a senior girls school, St. Anne’s Youth Club (I assume this is St. Anne’s, Soho), a British tank crew. For examples of ‘group self-contempt’ Hans managed to interview (on the whole it would seem successfully) large numbers of prostitutes, asking why they were or were not wearing a wedding ring: this was in the summer of 1945. Then there are endless notes on ‘Self-knowledge’, ‘Sexual Hesitancies’, ‘The Need for Pets’, ‘Religion’, ‘War’, ‘Peace and Pessimism’. The closing item, ‘Human’s Lib’, is an amusing [later] piece about the difficulties the Reform Club had got itself into over the admission of ladies.

The chief piece in the whole of this section is a paper called ‘Individual Psychology and Its Relation to Group Psychology’. The editor suggests that this was written c. 1946. In that case it was written just before ‘Three Psychoanalytic Notes on Peter Grimes’. So this date, 1946, provides the moment when the balance was going to turn towards writing concerned with music and psychology. I should say at once that I’m not going to comment on any of the psychological papers, because I’m incompetent to do so. Psychologists would doubtless be able to find some curious reason for my suspicion and hostility. All I will say is that, as soon as Hans finds cracks in the psychological establishment edifice (as in his ‘Psychoanalytic Congress 1975’)6 then his prose style enormously improves, becomes easy and relaxed and almost free from the jargon that disfigures his early writing on the subject.

Which never seemed to disfigure his earlier writing on music. I was amazed to read an address given to the British Psychological Society on ‘Musical Self-contempt [in Britain]’ as early as 1950. It’s vivid and penetrating about how things were then – but not in terms that any conventional 1950s contemporary would have been able to accept. But some of the things he has to say are just as true 53 years later. (I am still left wondering who Messrs. White and Brown, who make pseudonymous appearances throughout the paper, actually were.)

From 1950 also comes an article (never published, curiously, in Tempo) about Let’s Make an Opera, and attached to it is a glossary – which turns out to be a welcome parody of all other glossaries. There’s only time for a few items:

DIATONIC – singable even by tenors

MUSICAL HISTORY – durable substitute for musical understanding

PERFECT PITCH – the ability to know that the people you’re with haven’t got it, so that you can safely say “E flat major” whenever you feel like it.

And of course I rediscovered two of my favourite musical aphorisms:

A piece can be played better than it is.

Intellectual music is emotional music we do not understand.

This has been an attempt to introduce you to a fascinating book that stands as the latest contribution to a posthumous series of publications that, book by book, is building up a complete picture of a very remarkable man whom I’m proud to have known. All of our thanks are due to Alison Garnham for her many hours – years now – in the archives, and to Christopher Wintle for setting the whole thing going and editing so brilliantly the final results.

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Notes to the speeches

1   Hans Keller, Music and Psychology. From Vienna to London 1939-52, London, Plumbago, 2003, p. 211.
2   Peter Gay, Freud. A Life for our Times, London, Dent, 1988, p. 168.
3   Sigmund Freud, S.E., 7, pp. 305-10.
4   Hans Keller, 1975, 1984 minus 9, London, Dobson, 1977, pp. 28-48.
5   Keller 2003, p. 47.
6   Keller 1975, pp. 83-132.

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Pictures from the launch

Freud Museum Freud Museum Freud Museum

Freud Museum - desk Freud Museum - study Freud Museum - artefacts

Hans Kelelr, by Milein Cosman Plumbago Stall

launch guests Bayan Northcott, Dr Alexander Christiani, Christopher Wintle Milein Cosman

launch guests Bayan Northcott, Dr Alexander Christiani, Christopher Wintle Milein Cosman

launch crowds launch crowds Freud looks on launch crowds

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