Hans Keller

Hans Keller was for many years a member of the BBC’s Music Department. A book entitled Criticism will be published later this year. The complete run of Music Survey, the journal edited by him and Donald Mitchell over the years 1949 to 1952, was published last September.

Words about Music

Hans Keller, 30 December 1982

My fairly extensive – and, analytically, intensive – writings about Stravinsky confine themselves to his music and the psychology of his creativity – to the products and the nature of his towering genius. About the human being I have never yet written a word: the greater the genius the less there is of a causal connection or correlation between his life and his art – whence Beethoven came to be the communicator of profound, unmixed joy:

Music and Beyond

Hans Keller, 21 October 1982

In decades of reviewing, I have never yet received three books which I would spontaneously turn into the subject of a single article. How Eisler and Henze hang together need hardly be explained: but ‘poles apart’ would be a misleading metaphor for them, on the one hand, and Cooke, on the other, for the North Pole and the South Pole have more in common. Amusingly enough, Eisler’s ambivalently beloved teacher Schoenberg lived in the world of Cooke, who, likewise ambivalently and at least theoretically, felt uneasy about the destroyer of tonality.

From the simple question of the quality of reportage through the central problem of footballing professionalism to the downright philosophical challenges which peaks of human endeavour (any peak, any endeavour) inevitably present, the latest World Cup proved both the most informative and the most insight-provoking ever – ever since, that is, television has enabled football-loving humanity to watch World Cups away from home. Television has, moreover, enabled the truth-loving sports fan to check, for the first time in the history of reportage, its reliability: the inevitable tautology of the televisual sports commentary – you hear what you see – enables us to see what we don’t hear and hear what we don’t see – quite a shock for those who tend to accept, unquestioningly, the facts of the expert reporter.

Football and Music

Hans Keller, 4 February 1982

Why this reviewer for Harewood’s autobiography? Despite extreme dissimilarities, the two of us share utterly unrelated, central preoccupations – music and football, with football, too, being drawn into our professional lives. The difference is that whereas I – a born musician with an infantile passion for football – insist on the lack of relation to the extent of avoiding musical metaphors in my writings on football and footballing metaphors in my musical writings and teaching, Harewood actually attempts to integrate his heterogeneous passions, at least theoretically.

National Institutions

Hans Keller, 15 October 1981

Its last chapter apart – an irrelevant ‘After-thought’ whose autobiographical explosion inextricably interweaves deep historical insights with a strong composer’s inevitable prejudices – Robert Simpson’s impersonal challenge is spotlessly objective, sternly factual and, at the same time, unashamedly ethical. His scrupulous analysis of the Proms’ past yields a practical proposal as well as what already seems to have proved an indisputable moral message – both substantiated by comprehensive, complex statistics, yet each glaringly simple in substance.

Untruthful Sex

Hans Keller, 6 August 1981

Otherwise identical with last year’s American edition, the English version has abandoned the original title, Sex by Prescription – in order, it appears, to gratify the author’s veritable passion for alliteration. He isn’t aware how lucky he is that his latest book has appeared at this particular stage in the history of our culture’s reflections on medicine – or rather, by now he is: I happen to know that recently he was shown Ian Kennedy’s Reith Lectures (which, highly indebted to Szasz without acknowledgment, criticise him for what he hasn’t said), and has decided to remain silent. For me, the relation between the two is particularly baffling: a few years ago I sat on a brains trust with both of them, and Kennedy was highly critical of those very elements in Szasz’s philosophy which he has meanwhile assimilated.

Two Cup Finals

Hans Keller, 4 June 1981

‘It was playing for pride; now it’s money, money, money. The game belongs to the people; money doesn’t come into it with me.’ Thus Bill Shankly, ultra-professional and ultra-amateur rolled into an apparent eccentric who, in reality, is the living proof of the profound unreality of our ideas, mutually exclusive, of professionalism and amateurism. Nor need we think that he is simply hitting out at a game he is no longer part of: Danny Blanchflower’s failure at, and resignation from, Chelsea, for instance, expressed the selfsame sentiment, which he himself articulated by saying that he was out of date, not in touch with his players, since he was unable to identify with their financial football philosophy – or, for that matter, with fellow managers who had no qualms about paying unreal prices for players they thought they needed.

Hitler and History

Hans Keller, 5 February 1981

My title is intended to be quadruply functional: the four books raise four interpenetrating problems – and not one problem per book either. That Hitler himself remains an incurable problem is proved by our civilisation’s continued, compulsive preoccupation with his personality – which a George Steiner even undertook to reinvent: his The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. has been reviewed in these pages, nor are Norman Stone, James J. Barnes and Patience P. Barnes always less fanciful. And if Hitler’s personality remains an unanswered question, so too, does the history of National Socialism – which a book like Robert Harbison’s recent Deliberate Regression: The disastrous history of Romantic individualism in thought and art, from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to 20th-century fascism (1980) interprets as dreamfully as Steiner recreates Hitler. The reason why I quote Harbison’s enormous subtitle in full is that it is symptomatic of one of our intellectual age’s grand delusions – of the belief that Hitler has a specific history in German Romanticism. It is a delusion which Peter Paret and especially William Vaughan are quite ready to take for reality, while Norman Stone’s own dreams about ‘the positive qualities of Hitler, his real achievements’ (thus Professor J.H. Plumb’s Introduction) aid and abet it: if Hitler was some sort of genius, he is part of the history of German, nationalistic genius. The whitewashing of Hitler goes together with the soiling of his past.

Music on Radio and Television

Hans Keller, 7 August 1980

There is no area of human endeavour on which we get a greater variety of opinions than on broadcasting, for the simple reason that everybody not only is but feels involved – as a listener and/or viewer, a broadcaster, or one who hates it all and makes a moral issue of it: I know more than one respectable mind who refuses to have a television set in the house – for his family’s sake and indeed his own. With a fair measure of boredom, then, the reader will expect yet another opinion from me – or rather, not another: by now, it is impossible for any opinion to be new.

Soccer Sociology

Hans Keller, 3 July 1980

Language, logic, style – these are usually thought to be aspects to wind up a review with, concerned as they are with the secondary ‘how’ rather than the primary ‘what’. Yet so much of your ‘what’ can depend on your ‘how’, so many of your reasons are rationalised motives, that your manner will easily yield a bird’s-eye view of your matter. And no ‘how’ is more enlightening than the basic one: how do you start your book, symphony, movements, chapters?

Vienna: Myth and Reality

Hans Keller, 5 June 1980

The well-nigh drug-like fascination which Vienna has exerted upon the Western world at all emotional and intellectual levels – Johann Strauss’s as well as Arnold Schoenberg’s, the Schnitzel’s as well as Arthur Schnitzler’s and Sigmund Freud’s – was bound to result in an attempt to explain it all, or most of it, or that part of it that has a hypnotic effect on the investigator himself. The question then naturally arises how far he has fallen victim to the myth whose reality he is trying to uncover – to the belief that what comes from Vienna is Viennese, has to be, couldn’t come from anywhere else. It is a question that will be answered in about 2,500 words’ time; hard fact will intervene.


Hans Keller, 1 May 1980

Whereas clarity does not always produce clarity in its recipient, confusion invariably inspires confusion. C.G. Jung, a mind of confused genius, was a hell-send for Michael Tippett, a veritable genius of confusion – who now, celebrating the 75th year of his consistently lively life, inspires sundry confusions in his commentators, and even in those who comment on his commentators: ‘Michael Tippett’s music resists close analysis,’ declares the distinguished Hugo Cole in the opening sentence of his review of the two books here under consideration. For one thing, ‘close analysis’ is a pleonasm, proving the writer at least momentarily incapable of analysing his own thought, and never mind Tippett’s.


Hans Keller, 21 February 1980

I don’t trust Mr Solomon Volkov an inch, and as for Miss Antonina Bouis, the question of trust hardly arises: Shostakovich is supposed to have said that ‘Hamlet was screwing her’ (i.e. Ophelia) in Nikolai Pavlovich Akimov’s (1901–1968) production of Hamlet which, at the time (1932), ‘was highly regarded in the American literary press’ – or so Mr Volkov informs us. On every page, the reader is confronted with this two-tiered question: did Shostakovich actually say anything of the sort? If so, what precisely did he say? Is there a Russian equivalent for ‘to screw’ in this sense, and if so, how ‘equi-’ is it? What, for that matter, is the Russian for the ‘Leningrad con man’ highlighted a page or two later? Moreover, why does Shostakovich talk about what didn’t happen, and not about what did? He goes on about not having written a Hamlet opera with Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold, and about having written the music for Akimov’s production of the play, but there’s not a word about his extensive music for the Hamlet film, which we in the West have seen and heard. Was it, in parts, derived from the incidental music? It can’t have been extracted from it, because, inevitably, it’s much longer.



30 December 1982

SIR: Philip Booth’s review of Stravinsky Seen and Heard (LRB, 30 December 1982) is demonstrably incompetent: he literally does not know what he is talking about, with the result that he dispenses factual misinformation throughout his piece. Thus he talks about my ‘functional analysis of the central section of Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas’. I hope none of your readers...

Hitler and History

5 February 1981

SIR: As distinct from Miss Kate Graham (Letters, 19 February), I only write about Wagner (or anybody else) if and when I know as much as I can about him. Had she read the two fat volumes of Cosima Wagner’s Diaries from which she quotes out of context, she would have discovered 1. Wagner’s downright prophetic anti-Nazi attitude (which I touched upon), 2. his Jewish friends (including the...

BBC Music

7 August 1980

SIR: I did not suggest ‘that there is no liaison between BBC radio and television music departments,’ and was explicitly aware of what is being achieved in the area of simultaneous broadcasting. While I greatly appreciate Mr Burton’s detailed information, his very letter (Letters, 16 October) is an amusing piece of central evidence for my complaint: that the co-ordination of television...

Soccer Sociology

3 July 1980

SIR: I have seen Tony Mason’s letter (Letters, 7 August), but I do not respond to an assault which refers to me as ‘Herr Keller’ and ‘Kulturgauleiter Keller’: my unfavourable review, which was factual and remains verifiable, has elicited a personal attack rooted in ignorance of, and delusions about, my life and my life’s work. I am happy for the reader to reach his...

Shostakovich’s Memoirs

21 February 1980

Hans Keller writes: If Mr Maconie will divest his question of its rhetorical element, I shall happily answer it: he is. Making ‘jolly sure that there would never be any such person as the BBC’s principal adviser on new music’ meant, amongst other things, that I made it impossible for my own negative judgment, or any other BBC staff member’s, to result in the rejection of a new...

Keller’s Causes

Robin Holloway, 3 August 1995

In his heyday, from the late Forties to around the start of William Glock’s regime at the Third Programme (afterwards Radio Three), Hans Keller’s vehement presence was a force for the...

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Philip Booth, 30 December 1982

The husband-and-wife team of Hans Keller and Milein Cosman looks at Stravinsky in his later years from two very different points of view: on the one hand, that of the rational music critic and...

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