Order of professions

September 30 2014

Top three: teacher, architect, doctor.


Antitypes of cosmic dawns

September 29 2014

The joy of dawn is the emotional charge in some of the most famous scenes in Western history – the Latin Christian warriors’ shout of “Deus le volt” in response to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the First Crusade, the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi seen through Giotto’s and through Saint Thomas of Celano’s eyes, the landfalls of the Pinta [footnote: Though the first member of Columbus’s first expedition to sight land was a sailor on board the Pinta, this vessel’s name had not won equal renown with the Santa Maria, which was the Admiral’s flagship.] and the Mayflower, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the taking of the Tennis Court Oath – and the poetry in some, at least, of these historic events has been uttered in lines that speak more eloquently than volumes. The poetry in the American Revolutionary War has been distilled by Emerson into one quatrain:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the World.

[Footnote: Emerson: Concord Hymn, stanza 1.]

The poetry in the French Revolution has been distilled by Wordsworth into two lines:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.

[Footnote: Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book XI, ll. 108-9, incorporating The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.]

It is no wonder that, in these rejoicings at a dawn, the historians should have had to let the poets be their spokesmen; for the joy awakened by the dawn of a new era of History is the Soul’s response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawns that awaken such joy as this are irruptions into Time out of Eternity. What has happened on these historic occasions likewise happens at the birth of every child:

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but, as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the World.”

[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]

In a mother’s joy the Soul hails an incarnation; and, since “alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, [footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 12104-5.] the dawns of mundane eras that have this poetry in them are antitypes of cosmic dawns in which a Divine Light breaks into This World. A radiance which shines in upon us through Botticelli’s picture, in the National Gallery in London, of the birth in the stable at Bethlehem is likewise manifest in the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, in the descent of the Dove at the baptism in Jordan, in the transfiguration on the mountain, in the vision on the road to Damascus, and in the imprinting of the stigmata in the wilderness; and, as Milton’s voice strikes up in a Franciscan ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, Gibbon’s voice dies away.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Revelation

September 28 2014

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes,
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Keats, of course. From On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. A Petrarchan sonnet written in iambic pentameters.

The planet was Uranus, identified by Hershel in 1781, the year of the Iron Bridge, before Keats was born, and the first to be added to the list since antiquity. It is visible to the naked eye, but had been thought to be a star.

The discovery of four moons of Jupiter by Galileo, and of five of Saturn, one by Huygens, four by Cassini, preceded Hershel’s discovery. Jupiter’s Ganymede and Callisto may just be visible with the naked eye.

Herschel went on, after a few years, to discover two Uranian moons, followed by two more of Saturn.

The first four asteroids were discovered during Keats’s boyhood. Three of them are at the extreme margin of visibility with the naked eye. The first was observed on the first day of the nineteenth century.

The first Europeans to see the east coast of the Pacific were members of Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s expedition. Wikipedia: “Keats had been reading William Robertson’s History of America and [...] conflated two scenes there described: Balboa’s finding of the Pacific [1513] and Cortés’s first view of the Valley of Mexico [1519]. The Balboa passage: ‘At length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they should discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes. When, with infinite toil, they had climbed up the greater part of the steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and advanced alone to the summit, that he might be the first who should enjoy a spectacle which he had so long desired. As soon as he beheld the South Sea [Mar del Sur] stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, returned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His followers, observing his transports of joy, rushed forward to join in his wonder, exultation, and gratitude’ (Vol. III).”

Wikipedia:

“Keats’ generation was familiar enough with the polished literary translations of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, which gave Homer an urbane gloss similar to Virgil, but expressed in blank verse or heroic couplets. Chapman’s vigorous and earthy paraphrase (1616) was put before Keats by Charles Cowden Clarke, a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school in Enfield Town. They sat up together till daylight to read it: ‘Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten o’clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table.’” No source given for the quotation.

The earlier lines:

“Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:”

Landscapes (old post).

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Insatiability

September 27 2014

[The] Faustian insatiability of inquiring Western minds [...]. The impetus of a curiosity that had pressed on from an exploration of a physical ocean in the fifteenth century of the Christian Era to the sounding of the psychic abyss of the Subconscious in the twentieth century [...].

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


The good things about Gregory

September 26 2014

Gibbon’s treatment of Gregory the Great is a monument of the historian’s virtuosity in the unamiable art of bestowing praise in terms that are more devastating than a candid censure:

“The pontificate of Gregory the Great … is one of the most edifying periods of the history of the Church. His virtues, and even his faults, a singular mixture of simplicity and cunning, of pride and humility, of sense and superstition, were happily suited to his station and to the temper of the times. …

“Experience had shown him the efficacy of these pompous rites … and he readily forgave their tendency to promote the reign of priesthood and superstition. …

“The most abject ideas must be entertained of their [the sixth-century Italians’] [bracket in original] taste and learning, since the epistles of Gregory, his sermons, and his dialogues are the work of a man who was second in erudition to none of his contemporaries.”

These are three fair samples of the laudatory arrows with which Gibbon has nailed his mighty victim to his sarcastic page in the forty-fifth chapter of his work.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954 (footnote)


Not a wisp of Islamic glory

September 25 2014

Dubai.

Original post.


Faust

September 24 2014

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie!
Durchaus studiert, mit heissem Bemühn.
Da steh’ ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor …
Und sehe dass wir nichts wissen können!
Das will mir schier das Herz verbrennen.

[Footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 354-9 and 364-5.]

Tor means fool.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Marcus

September 23 2014

Recluse in the palace and hermit in the camp [...].

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954


Roman Internet

September 22 2014

Architectural style: a kind of postmodern neoclassical, esp one characterised by broken pediments, split gables and brightly coloured faux-balconies with X railings. Used in corporate headquarters from the London suburbs to Bangalore.

Andrew Cover, a friend of mine, coined this c 2000.


~~~

September 15 2014

Back September 22.


Abandoned virtuosity 2

September 14 2014

First post.

Primitive African art (it was called primitive), therefore, was the second non-European subverter of Europe’s academic tradition. It dealt the death blow. The first subversive influence, starting half a century earlier, had been the more widely-, sometimes unconsciously-assimilated art of Japan. Toynbee constantly writes about the impact of the West on Japan in the nineteenth century, but he never once mentions the profound influence out of Japan, which operated at a high-cultural, not a political, economic or religious level.

He never mentions Ife, nor shows any taste for the primitive. On the contrary, in 1939 he sees European engagement with barbarous African art only as a sign of a loss of vitality in Europe’s own art.

He cannot see modern art as a revitalised art. I don’t think his visual or musical sensibilities were highly developed; they were in any case Victorian. Victorians of his background and education were not known for visual or musical sophistication. He can think only of a breakdown.

One could make a fascinating anthology of reactionary writing about modern art, and especially about jazz. High learning, high culture were opposed to popular culture and to barbarous art. The mish-mash of high and low that almost all educated people embrace today was outside his and his generation’s experience. There are Economist pieces about modern mish-mash here and here.

In a late dialogue, Toynbee says:

“Recreation” in the present-day Western sense has always seemed to me to be an unhealthy regression to childishness. I have therefore despised it, and I believe I have been right.

European art wasn’t moribund in 1900. It was vital because it was changing. Artists, even relatively conservative ones, were caught up in a great movement. Academic establishments were becoming trivial or dull. (Even Brahms could seem dull, and when Britten said that he played Brahms once a year to remind himself how bad he was, and a friend of mine spoke to me about “eine verdammt tote Musik” without naming a composer, they perhaps had at the back of their minds some of his late piano pieces. I suspect Britten of thinking of opus 117, no 1. Re-enter rhythm with the Rite of Spring and jazz.)

In Vol IV “Benin” meant barbarism in art. But he had modified his views slightly by the time he got to Vol IX.

The Kingdom of Benin, including the site of the modern Benin City, was in modern Nigeria, east of Ife, and further east of the country called Benin. It was destroyed by the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 (last post). The only reason the new country called Benin has that name is that Dahomey was not considered neutral for all ethnic groups; and Benin referred to the Bight or Bay, not to the Edo kingdom.

I am sure he would have gone on to study African history had he lived longer. A travel book called Between Niger and Nile, published in 1965, does not count, and he does not seem to have noticed Ife, though he warmed to Nigeria. He spoke loudly and consistently against white settlement in Kenya and apartheid in South Africa and in the US, and was quoted approvingly by Malcolm X in his autobiography for having referred, in the New York Times on September 29 1963, to the white race as the “bleached” race. Perhaps he would even have come to see something in African art worth absorbing, but before post-colonialism it was thought reasonable to place cultural attitudes in a different compartment from racial and colonial ones.

Experiences, OUP, 1969


The Benin massacres

September 13 2014

I mentioned Benin City in Nigeria in the post before last. This is from from David Attenborough’s seven-part BBC series The Tribal Eye (1975). The Benin Empire lasted from 1440 to 1897. The ruler was called the Oba.

Southern Nigeria (old post).


Dread of birth

September 12 2014

Among people who have believed in the reality of rebirth, the dread of it has always been stronger than the dread of death.

Surviving the Future, OUP, 1971


Abandoned virtuosity

September 11 2014

We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.

From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.

See an old post on dated pessimism.

Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.

Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.

For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.

In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.

Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.

Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).

We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?

The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely

the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.

Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.

The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.

So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theory. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.

[...]

The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.

Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.

The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). [...]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.

Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?

Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.

It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.

Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.

This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.

So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?

More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.

Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.

Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.

A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:

In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.

He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.

In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:

Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.

They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?

Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.

And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:

The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [pablopicasso.org says 1907].

Picasso, Woman with a Fan,1907

Archaism in art (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972


The Brahms of Brahms

September 10 2014

Horn Trio. Barenboim, Perlman, Clevenger. Second movement, 2:58-3:32.


The screen

September 9 2014

When it rises to [an] active response, the Soul finds that the effacement of the characteristic form of the disintegrating civilization has brought it face to face, not with a Chaos void of any form at all, but with a Cosmos whose circumambient form and divine architecture are now at last coming into view through the rents in the screen of lath-and-plaster work with which Man has sought to shut out an overwhelming vision of Eternity and Infinity.

A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939


Shades of the prison-house

September 9 2014

When it rises to [an] active response, the Soul finds that the effacement of the characteristic form of the disintegrating civilization has brought it face to face, not with a Chaos void of any form at all, but with a Cosmos whose circumambient form and divine architecture are now at last coming into view through the rents in the screen of lath-and-plaster work with which Man has sought to shut out an overwhelming vision of Eternity and Infinity.

[Footnote: An almost naïvely self-complacent boast of juvenile proficiency in this art of self-protective spiritual jerry-building is made in the following passages from Mr. H. G. Wells’ Experiment in Autobiography, vol i (London 1934, Gollancz), pp 78-9, 96, and 144:

“I was glad to think that between the continental land masses of the World, which would have afforded an unbroken land passage for wolves from Russia and tigers from India, and this safe island on which I took my daily walks, stretched the impassable moat of the English Channel. I read, too, in another book, about the distances of the stars, and that seemed to push the All Seeing Eye very agreeably away from me. …

“I felt it must be rather empty and cheerless beyond the stars [Victorian “beyond”], but I did not let my mind dwell on that. My God, who by this time had become entirely disembodied, had been diffused through this space since the beginning of things. He was already quite abstracted from the furious old hell-and-heaven Thunder God of my childish years. His personality had faded . …

“It must be hard for intelligent people nowadays to realize all that a shabby boy of fifteen could feel as the last rack of a peevish son-crucifying Deity dissolved away into blue sky, and as the implacable social barriers, as they had seemed, set to keep him in that path unto which it had pleased God to call him, weakened down to temporary fences he could see over and presently hope to climb over or or push aside.”

The unconscious irony of these passages is heightened by the very expressiveness of the author’s literary genius. Mr. Wells here reveals himself building up defensive screens and fancying all the time that he is pulling down constricting barriers; contracting the spiritual bounds of his microcosm and imagining that he is enlarging the span of the Universe because he is pushing the physical frontiers of his macrocosm out to a mathematical infinity. To all appearance he is unaware of the truth that, as God dissolves into blue sky, the shades of the prison-house are closing around the growing boy [Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality].]

On the other hand, Wells in his teens sees God as having been “diffused“ through the Universe “since the beginning of things”.

Wells was an atheist in most of his later life, but went though a quasi-religious phase in the 1910s.

Surely God’s disembodiment was merely an instance of the human tendency to etherialise.

A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939


Music of the forest

September 8 2014

The story of Colin Turnbull. BBC Radio 4, with Kwame Anthony Appiah, Steven Feld, Roy Richard Grinker, Terese Hart. Producer Martin Williams. Broadcast August 26 and September 7.

Mbuti pygmy music, Congo, possibly a Turnbull recording; the point of this post is the radio documentary above, not this:

Cf Colin McPhee and, I suppose, Bruce Chatwin. And Wilfred Thesiger.

Appiah’s review, NYRB, November 16 2000, of Roy Richard Grinker, In the Arms of Africa: The Life of Colin M Turnbull, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2000.


Guarantee 2

September 7 2014

It is useless to fortify our new European organism by guarantees of the old order, because we cannot fortify such guarantees themselves against the sovereign national state. Whenever it chooses, the sovereign unit can shatter the international mechanism by war. [...]

“You ask,” the Germans say, “why we broke our contract towards Belgium? It would be more pertinent to ask how we were ever committed to such a contract at all.

“The heart of modern Germany is the industrial world of the Rhineland and Westphalia. The Belgian frontier and the Belgian tariff-wall rob this region of its natural outlet at Antwerp, yet the contract expressly forbids us to right this economic and geographical wrong by uniting the sea-port to its hinterland.

“The chief need of modern Germany is a source of raw produce and a market for her finished products in the tropical zone. Belgium has staked out for herself the one important region in Africa which was not already occupied by France or Great Britain. She can do nothing with it, while we –– but this contract expressly forbids us to kick the Belgian dog out of the manger.

“Because of this Belgian guarantee we must go in want of almost everything we need, yet meanwhile our great neighbours on either flank have conspired to take from us even the little we possess already. The struggle with France and Russia on which we are now engaged has been impending for years, and on our part it is a struggle for existence, but even here the same remorseless contract operates to paralyse our efforts. On the scale of modern warfare the Western battlefront must extend from Switzerland to the North Sea, yet the greater part of this immense zone is neutralised by natural and artificial obstacles on either side. From Switzerland to the Ardennes there will be stalemate: the decision will be reached in the open country between the Ardennes and the coast. Here, as soon as war broke out, France and our own fatherland had to concentrate the terrific energy of their armaments, yet we had contracted away our initiative in this vital area, for it lies within the frontiers of the Belgian state. The government we had guaranteed might prepare the ground for France and ruin it for ourselves, yet because of the guarantee we must look on passively at the digging of our grave.

“Why, then, had we suffered ourselves to be bound hand and foot? We had not: our grandfathers had entailed the bonds upon us. When they signed the contract in 1839, they knew not what they did. At that time Germany had no industry, Belgium had no colonies, and the Franco-German frontier between the Ardennes and the Jura was not closed to field operations by two continuous lines of opposing fortifications. Had their signature been demanded in 1914, they would have refused it as indignantly as we should have refused it ourselves. To us no choice was offered, and if we have asserted for ourselves the right to choose, who dares in his heart to condemn us? Who will impose a changeless law upon a changing world?”

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915


Guarantee

September 6 2014

Guarantee! The formula coined in 1814 rings ironical to-day. Belgium was guaranteed [Treaty of London, 1839] in order to secure the stability of Europe, yet on account of that guarantee Great Britain and Germany, two of the greatest sovereign units in the European complexus, are at this moment engaged in a life-and-death struggle. Germany violated the Belgian guarantee deliberately in her attempt to destroy the European system by war. The effect of the guarantee may still prove momentous: it has drawn us into the war, and our intervention may turn the scale. Yet even if the Allies are victorious, and the new Europe is fashioned by them after their own hearts and not by Germany after hers, this will not save the credit of the guarantee itself. Germany may be punished for her work, but the work cannot be undone. Europe must drink the cup of war to the dregs – the pain, the hate, the waste, the pure evil that is not diminished one drop by cause or consequence. The guarantee was invented to avert that catastrophe from Europe. The catastrophe has happened and the invention is bankrupt.

See The question of a general guarantee in Mark Jarrett, The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy, IB Tauris, 2013.

Ukrainian sovereignty would be guaranteed by NATO if Ukraine were a member of NATO, but see 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915


~~~

August 29 2014

Back September 6.


Straight

August 29 2014

Who wrote: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made”?

Kant in Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, or rather, it is Isaiah Berlin’s translation of Kant’s ungainly

Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.


Bailecito

August 29 2014

Carlos GuastavinoBailecito, Valentina Diaz-Frenot, time and place of recording not stated:

Bailecito: traditional Argentinian dance. There’s a duet version with Freire and Argerich here (better played, of course).


Jewish legion

August 28 2014

Epstein at war, 1917. Silent Pathé clip. He served briefly in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, aka the Jewish Legion. Did he fight in Palestine? Where is his reputation now? It seems uncertain.


Jacob Epstein

August 28 2014

Short film from the BBC television programme Monitor, broadcast in 1958, the year before Epstein’s death. Huw Wheldon introduces it. The music is Sibelius 7.


Epstein in the Strand

August 27 2014

Re the last post but oneJacob Epstein’s sculptures were not really like the ill-defined “pre-Romanesque” sculpture to which Toynbee alludes, but Toynbee’s phrase “clumsy stiffness” is likely to refer to his work.

Through Epstein’s 1908 figures for the façade of the new British Medical Association building in the Strand, now Zimbabwe House, the British public had its first and formative encounter with a version of Modernism.

The encounter was unsettling because it took place in a street. It was known that strange things had been happening in painting, but paintings were in galleries. Sickert painted some of his Camden Town nudes in the same year.

The Epstein sculptures epitomised the modern. Their stripping away of an academic veil, not the subject-matter, made the reaction to them prudish. They might have been at the back of Toynbee’s and Strudwick’s minds a quarter of a century later. The BMA resisted the campaign for their removal.

The Evening Standard warned that Epstein had erected “a form of statuary which no careful father would wish his daughter, or no discriminating young man his fiancée, to see”. Half a century later Mervyn Griffith-Jones would ask during the Lady Chatterley trial: “When you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

The building became Rhodesia House (or the High Commission of Southern Rhodesia) in 1923.

Wikipedia: “London was not ready for Epstein’s first major commission – 18 large nude sculptures made in 1908 for the façade of Charles Holden’s building for the British Medical Association on The Strand (now Zimbabwe House) were initially considered shocking to Edwardian sensibilities, [...] mainly due to the perception that they were over-explicit sexually. In art-historical terms, however, the Strand sculptures were controversial for quite a different reason: they represented Epstein’s first thoroughgoing attempt to break away from traditional European iconography in favour of elements derived from an alternative sculptural milieu – that of classical India. The female figures in particular may be seen deliberately to incorporate the posture and hand gestures of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art from the subcontinent in no uncertain terms. The current, mutilated condition of many of the sculptures is also not entirely connected with prudish censorship; the damage was caused in the 1930s when possibly dangerous projecting features were hacked off after pieces fell from one of the statues.” Not entirely?

If Toynbee and Strudwick had forgotten about the Ages of Man, they were thinking of the likes of Epstein’s Tomb of Oscar Wilde (1912) in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and the reliefs of Epstein, Henry Moore, Eric Gill and others (1928) for the London Electric Railway headquarters (Moore’s first public commission)

figure06figures07-09figures10-11

BMA figures post-mutilation (first two images), photographs of original plaster casts (last four); credit: Nick Maroudas, Spike Magazine

Epstein BMA

Partial photo collage, Flickr credit: Dr Chester Chu

More shots at Flickr. I can’t find good images of the female figures.


Hammersmith

August 26 2014

Since I mentioned Hammersmith and Gustav Holst in the last post (including comments), here is Holst’s enigmatic Hammersmith (1930): a prelude and a scherzo. Eastman Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell. I wonder what Miss Strudwick thought of it.


Miss Strudwick

August 26 2014

“Over against the ever more amazing inventions of Science we see a kind of childishness creeping over our thoughts, our modes of expression, our art, our music, our morals. We talk in words from a very limited vocabulary, we produce pictures and statues of a more than ungainly ‘neo-primitiveness’, we croon nigger songs while we push one another round a room in dances that need no brain, no zest, and no vitality for their successful performance. Many of our buildings have as their chief merits the fact that they can be rushed up quickly and finished within a few weeks. We tear over the Earth’s surface along roads of brick-box straightness, past rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness, in order to get somewhere, it does not much matter where, in record time. Finally, the novels we read, apparently with pleasure, for there are many of them, show men and women as ill-conducted children whose one concern is that which they share with the animal world.

“There is to me something grim and horrible in an essentially mature civilisation playing at savage immaturity when it knows better. We cannot go back to the beginning of things any more than a mature mind can change into that of a child.”

[Footnote: Miss E. Strudwick, the Headmistress of St. Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, London, England, in a presidential address delivered on the 17th June, 1933, at Liverpool, at a Conference of the British Association of Head Mistresses. The text quoted here has been taken from the report in The Manchester Guardian of the 19th June, 1933.]

He must have kept the cutting. Quoting this was not, perhaps, Toynbee’s finest moment. He was consistently and passionately anti-racist and did not constantly complain about the modern world, but in 1954 his views on culture were still uncompromising. The N word could be introduced, in a quotation, in that context. No doubt those views were modified. His granddaughter Polly must have told him about pop music. Those were the conversations that happened in the ’60s. The older generation wasn’t entirely unaffected by the Zeitgeist.

“Roads of brick-box straightness [and] rows of houses of brick-box exactitude and hideousness” reminds one of dystopian cartoons of the time and of passages in novels such as Orwell’s Coming Up for Air.

As for neo-primitiveness, I wrote in an earlier post: “Englishmen of Toynbee’s generation and education probably thought, c 1935, of the sculptures of Jacob Epstein, with their ‘lines [...] cunningly reduced to the clumsy stiffness of the pre-Romanesque Dark Ages’, before they thought of buildings in the clean, anti-archaising International Style when Modernism was mentioned.”

See John CareyThe Intellectuals and the Masses, Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939, Faber, 1992 and Richard Overy, The Morbid Age, Britain between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009 (subsequently renamed).

Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954) was the daughter of a Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Melhuish Strudwick. She read Classics at Bedford College, London and taught at City of London School for Girls from 1913. She was High Mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School from 1927 to ’48. She has a DNB entry and apparently had a sense of humour.

Ethel Strudwick

Image at spgs.org, artist not stated

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


Descensus Averni

August 25 2014

Frederick’s unprincipled attack on the dominions of Maria Theresa in A.D. 1740, within Gibbon’s [...] lifetime, was the first step in a German descensus Averni which was to reach the bottom of the infernal pit in A.D. 1933-45.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


The burning of Washington

August 24 2014

Britain burned down the White House two hundred years ago today. Madison was President. Here’s Peter Snow’s book.

Post about the White House.


The Berlin Airlift 2

August 24 2014

From an unidentified British documentary.


The Berlin Airlift

August 23 2014

In the series The Reunion, BBC Radio 4. Sue MacGregor reunites British personnel involved in the operation. Listen here.

The same page has a link to the back series, going back to 2006. Most programmes are accessible, including one on the Hitler diaries.

Wikipedia page on the blockade.

Berlin airlift

Berliners watching a C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948; US Air Force Historical Research Agency, Wikimedia Commons, Cees Steijger, A History of USAFE, Voyageur, 1991


History Revealed

August 23 2014

New popular history monthly (since March) to compete with BBC History Magazine (May 2000-) and History Today (January 1951-). Immediate Media Company, Bristol. Subscribe.

Not a war series or other special, just a magazine. The most downmarket of the three, but not a disaster, and good bathroom reading.

History Today (old post).

History Revealed


The Christmas Story of the 50th Regiment

August 22 2014

Reading in German of Walter Flex’s story Das Weihnachtsmärchen des 50. Regiments, a fantasy about a war widow and a tribute to the dead of the war. The reading is preceded by a short documentary in German about Flex.

This was presumably a CD-Rom. Credits at 4:45. The music at the beginning is Götterdämmerung. I can’t identify the still.

Pdf of an early edition.

On Flex, see posts since August 18.


The death of Walter Flex

August 21 2014

The Wanderer between the Two Worlds (recent post).

German mini-docudrama about Walter Flex and the Europeana Collections 1914-1918 project, which has included digitising material about Flex held in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin; full credits in film, English subtitles:

British Museum virtual exhibition of some of the Berlin Flex material.

Wikipedia page on Europeana.

Europeana Newspapers.

Walter Flex


Soldiers bathing

August 20 2014

The scene of joyous bathing in The Wanderer between the Two Worlds (post before last) reminds one of WhitmanForster, Eakins, Tuke.

For a vast photographic archive of soldiers and sailors doing everything except fighting, go to this ipernity collection. Camp captions present the images as soft porn, although these people were fighting in real wars and some must still be alive.

FT Prince’s poem Soldiers Bathing was published in a collection in 1954. Here is Prince reading it in 1993. Obituaries: Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, The New York Times. The Independent calls Soldiers Bathing “one of the two best-known [English] poems of the Second World War”, the other being Henry Reed’s Naming of PartsGuardian review (2012) of his collected poems.

German soldiers at a swim hole on the Russian Front - World War I

German soldiers, Russian Front, First World War

German soldierss in Russian Poland – World War I

German soldiers, Russian Poland, First World War

Postcard – World War I

Postcard, First World War

German soldiers enjoying a swim in a river - World War II

Eakins-like: German soldiers, location not stated, Second World War

Images via ipernity.


Pastoral

August 19 2014

Since I mentioned it in the last post, here is VW’s A Pastoral Symphony conducted by Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra, October 12 1972. Offstage soprano Benita Valente.

Molto moderato

Lento moderato – Moderato maestoso

Moderato pesante

Lento

Roger Norrington on the symphony when playing it with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin.


The Wanderer between the Two Worlds

August 18 2014

“A literary event of the first importance” used to be the publisher’s phrase. The first publication in English translation of Walter Flex’s First World War novella (the best-selling German novel of the whole war) Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten is of some importance.

It was published in Germany in 1916. Flex had been born in Thuringia. He died on the Eastern front. This wasn’t his only work (Wikipedia has a bibliography on its English and German pages). Its subtitle is Ein Kriegserlebnis, or An Experience of War. It is partly autobiographical and is narrated in the first person.

It was published in English on August 4 by Rott Publishing (with which I have an involvement). You can buy it here. The fine translation is by Brian Murdoch, who published the modern English translation of All Quiet on the Western Front with Random House. We are proud to have him with Rott.

“By 1917,” says Wikipedia, “over 700,000 copies had been printed in Germany – a testament to his extreme popularity with the wartime public. His reputation grew in the post-war years and his romantic idealism was exploited by the Nazi party, which found his evocative and romantic lyricism especially appealing and considered it an expression of Aryan ideals.” It was popular with the Nazis because of its glorification of the soldier’s struggle in war.

Murdoch’s source is a soft-cover edition with the imprint Oskar Beck (C. H. Beck), Munich, 1922 (210-215th thousand)”, a reprint of “the most familiar edition, that published in Munich by Beck in 1918 and in very many later editions, and which sold in their thousands in hard covers and paperback”. Statements which, I suppose, are not necessarily incompatible with Wikipedia’s.

Without the hint of a spoiler, or links to one, I can say that it is about a friendship between two German soldiers who meet in Lorraine in 1915. In the same year, having expected to go to an Italian front, they are transferred to the Eastern front. Places in the Baltic States, Poland, Belarus are mentioned. The action ends in 1916 in Lithuania.

It isn’t repulsive, but is full of the sentiments of its time and of what one might call that terrible German purity of heart. The Japanese had something similar. Strip away the culture and all you have is young people in a war and ordinary purity of heart.

Murdoch translates Der Wanderer zwischen beiden Welten as The Wanderer between the Two Worlds, not as The Wanderer between Two Worlds, because beiden implies that the two worlds have been identified. (We are speaking of both worlds, not any two worlds.) But it might, by that very reasoning, have been more natural to drop the article.

So what are the two worlds? That would be a spoiler. Nor is it entirely clear. Anyone who has heard a rumour that this is a gay novella will assume that the wanderer between them is a Uranian. He isn’t. We aren’t in the world of Magnus Hirschfeld.

The book has many references to the Wandervogel (singular). Wanderer is a potent word. Young Romantic Germans wandered in the forests with a book held open in front of them. There’s a Hölderlin elegy called Der Wanderer. A German car made from 1911 to ’45 was called the Wanderer. An Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, sounds ripe for Schubert as you read it.

Flex quotes Goethe (who wrote two poems called Wandrers Nachtlied) and his own verses. The main Flex poem is Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht, Wild geese rush through the night. The geese are a leitmotif in the novella.

In 1916 Robert Götz set this poem to music as a march. Here it is on YouTube. I suppose this is repulsive. (The words were later changed to remove a reference to the Kaiser.) After writing this, I tested the song on someone who had grown up in the Nazizeit. She recognised it, but didn’t want to hear more than the first few seconds.

Remarque alluded to Flex’s novel in a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. Murdoch:

“Of the Weimar anti-war novelists, Remarque alluded, I think quite deliberately, in his far less familiar sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel called Der Weg zurück (The Road Back, 1931), to Flex’s motif of the wild geese and to the Wandervogel youth movement. In fact Remarque concludes his second war-novel – written not too long before Hitler came to power – with some almost elegiac regrets on the part of some ex-soldiers that the more or less harmless pre-war movement of which Flex was such a great proponent, with its quasi-ecological brand of (fairly local) patriotism, had been replaced already in the immediate post-war years by the new and belligerent right-wing militaristic movements from the Freikorps down, eventually, to the Hitler Youth, and of course to another war.”

Murdoch: “Flex’s scenes of the actual fighting can be vivid, but there is always a feeling that they have been sanitised, and his heroes die too cleanly.”

The only reference to Jews is in relation to a wish for death for the nation rather than ignoble life: “Do you wish to drag with you a prolonged existence, like the Wandering Jew, unable to die, the whipping-boy of all the newly arisen nations, even though he had buried the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans?” But one wouldn’t necessarily expect Jewish references here.

We have the translation of the novella, then an Afterword about Walter and Walter’s death in action in Estonia in October 1917 written by his brother Martin, who signs his piece “On the battlefield, November 1917”. What battlefield, what was Martin Flex doing there, and what happened to him?

Walter’s younger (youngest?) brother Otto had been killed on the Marne at the start of the war.

After Martin’s statement comes a lucid essay by Brian Murdoch and his notes on the translation and on further reading. His essay places the novella in the context of other novels written during and after the war and of diaries and letters written during it.

Part of the rich literature produced by the citizen armies of the First World War was their letters and diaries. My own German grandfather wrote pious and patriotic letters, some of which I hope to publish here. Walter Flex’s novella partly reflects that informal literature.

The soldiers were conscious, as soldiers must always have been, of the nature around them as they fought, distracting them, perhaps subverting their will. The chaos of war nothing to the riot of Pan. There is something of this in War and Peace. Nature is omnipresent in this novella. There are many passages of lyrical beauty. The pastoral theme is present in English poetry of the war. Vaughan Williams’s quiet, tense A Pastoral Symphony is a musical memory of wartime France, not of peacetime England.

Our cover image varies a motif which appeared on the cover of the early Beck editions.

Rott cover


Eastern churches

August 17 2014

What are the differences between the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, Assyrian Church of the East, Greek Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and Jacobite Syrian Christian Church? What two churches are Chaldaean?

Recent posts: Christians and Yazidi and Indian churches.


Parallels, patterns, cycles

August 17 2014

To a friend today: “To be fair to AJT, he was interested in parallels first, patterns second, cycles third.”


~~~

August 13 2014

Back August 17.


Blue Monday

August 12 2014

“Réalisé à New York (Manhattan Center Studios) en octobre 1992, ce fut le premier enregistrement, par Marin Alsop dirigeant le Concordia Orchestra et cinq solistes vocaux, de l’intégralité du petit ‘opéra noir’ en un acte intitulé Blue Monday, rebaptisé plus tard 135th Street Blues, que George Gershwin composa en 1922 à l’aube de sa brillante carrière. Avec ses maladresses, ses lacunes et ses naïvetés, ce mini-opéra fait certes pâle figure comparé au chef-d’oeuvre que sera Porgy and Bess treize ans plus tard. Éric Lipmann, spécialiste de Gershwin, voit toutefois en Blue Monday ‘une tentative passionnante qui visait à donner au théâtre lyrique une oeuvre originale puisant ses sources dans l’expression populaire’, une sorte de ‘petite maquette’ de Porgy and Bess.

Les solistes sont: Amy Burton (Vi), soprano, Gregory Hopkins (Joe), ténor, William Sharp (Tom et Sweet Pea), baryton, Arthur Woodley (Sam), baryton, et Jamie J. Offenbach (Mike), baryton-basse. Se succèdent sans interruption:

[00:00] Overture and Prologue
[03:24] Blue Monday Blues
[07:04] Has one of you seen Joe?
[10:37] Blue Monday Blues (reprise)
[12:10] I’m Goin’ to see my Mother
[15:23] Dance
[18:30] Vi, I’m expecting a telegram”

Concordia, Marin Alsop.