I first started at the US office of Boydell & Brewer in May 2013 as editorial intern before transitioning over to marketing the following year. One of my tasks in editorial was to go through newly received University of Rochester Press and Camden House manuscripts and insert coding throughout as cues for the typesetter: indent a paragraph here or insert a callout there where an image would later be, and so forth. These “housekeeping” and light copyediting duties, though maybe tedious to some, were straightforward and satisfying. Naturally I was also able to become fairly familiar with sections of several of our forthcoming titles.
One of the earliest manuscripts I worked on was Dolores Pesce’s Liszt’s Final Decade (University of Rochester Press, 2014), which explores the composer’s self-image and artistic legacy during his final years, particularly in the context of his letters to close confidantes Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein and Olga von Meyendorff. The dynamic of his relationship with each woman aside, Liszt’s constant agony over correspondence (more broadly) is a thread that spans the book. Here are a few of the many groans:
“Don’t scold me if I write a little tardily. Fifteen or so letters that absolutely must be answered languish on my table, and my pen is unwell.” (Page 149)
“More than fifty letters and telegrams are on my table. How to manage to respond? To quit my earthly existence would be more expedient.” (Page 149)
“I receive more than a thousand letters per year; [. . .] correspondence is becoming my purgatory on earth . . . . and sometimes, after having stupidly passed the day with pen in hand, I feel all the same an absolute need to breathe a bit, to sleep, and to dream of my old companion,—Music.” (Page 163)
“Were it not for the letters which rain on me from everywhere, I could work more on music, my principal contentment, without any illusion about the value of what I write.” (Page 173)
“Well! I confess to being both guilty and almost a criminal because of my delays in writing.”
He could very well be describing today in a way, no? Constant letter-writing has morphed into email, being plugged in at all times, the daily barrage of social media alerts, the radio playing loudly in seemingly every public place—from supermarkets, to elevators, to even the mini television screens sans mute buttons at gas stations—and texting that chases a person all hours of the day. Too many notes! In these letter excerpts I hear not the famous performer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, and composer-Liszt, but instead a man so desperately in need of white space, of silence.
Yes, Liszt was a superstar, so an endless stream of mail arriving at his door would probably be expected. They still surprised me, these exhausted, weary words of so prolific and accomplished an artist. And it seems the moment you become famous, you suddenly belong to everybody but yourself. I wonder a lot about how people balance daily responsibilities with their own creative endeavors. Whether you are musician, artist, writer, teacher, mother, father, caretaker, office worker (or any other such “label”), what do you do? What the solution is, I am not sure, but it must begin somewhere with that “absolute need to breathe a bit.”
2019 is still quite young and so I hope this will be a special anniversary for my colleagues at Boydell & Brewer, our authors, and customers, and that the year that is punctuated by moments of such quietude as Liszt reaches for. Surely those moments are key in fueling the creative energy needed for whatever goals we set for ourselves to accomplish. A rejuvenated and happy 50th to all.
Do you have your very own “first book at Boydell”? Do you remember the first Boydell & Brewer book that you read, bought, borrowed, referenced or even wrote? We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories on the Boydell & Brewer books that have impacted you or stir up strong memories. You can email them to Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org