The musician Spike Hughes (1908-1987) was an all-rounder. He was a composer, writer, critic and broadcaster. Hughes is best remembered (where remembered at all) for his jazz recordings. However, his ‘serious’ music was influenced more by the Second Viennese School and Egon Wellesz rather than the ‘pastoral ruminations’ of the English Musical Renaissance.
One of his books is the charming Out of Season, published in 1956. Hughes set out on a winter journey from London to Sicily and back, taking in a number of European towns and centres of music: Vienna, Venice, Milan, Parma, Florence, Naples, Palermo. Catania, Genoa, Turin and Dieppe. Some of the text does indeed discuss music, however much of it is concerned with eating, drinking and travelling by train and boat. It is a fine travelogue from over sixty years ago.
In the chapter on ‘Milan' he tells a little anecdote that mentions Elgar in the same breath as the Mona Lisa. It needs no commentary.
“In Paris, on the other hand, where one would expect to see women beautifully dressed, the two opera houses are filled with audiences so drably dressed that it is easier to imagine oneself in the miserable and poverty-stricken Vienna of the early 1920's than in the so-called Ville Lumière. I sympathised heartily with the American woman behind us at the Opéra-Comique who felt cheated by the dowdiness of the Paris audience. What was the point, she argued, in having all those lovely things in the shops if nobody bothers to wear them? She was a forthright lady from Texas, who was as disappointed by being disillusioned as she was determined to have no illusions at all. Thus, in an admirably rational manner (which I wish the English, for example, would adopt and so stop their perennial fussing about who is what in the Enigma Variations) she decided once and for all about the Mona Lisa's smile: "What does it mean? If you ask me, it don't mean a damn thing!"