Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs (Damascus)

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.


Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture:


July 10 2014


Toynbee names a

Pleiad of historians – Thucydides and Xenophon and Polybius; Josephus and Ibn Khaldūn; Machiavelli and Clarendon and Ollivier – who [...] started life as soldiers or statesmen and [...] made the transit from one field of action to another in their own life-histories by returning as historians to a world from which they [had] previously been expelled as prisoners-of-war or deportees or exiles.

Émile Ollivier (1825-1913) is, he admits, its dimmest member – but why, even in a second edition, is he writing about a Pleiad? He even mentions “eight lives”. Somervell omits the section in his abridgement.

Ollivier started as a republican opposed to Napoléon III, but pushed the Emperor toward liberal reforms. He entered the cabinet and was prime minister when Napoléon fell.

His father had opposed the July Monarchy of Louis Philippe (1830-48) and was returned by Marseille to the Constituent Assembly which established the Second Republic (1848-51). He opposed the coup d’état of the head of state Louis-Napoléon, as he was then called, and was exiled for nearly a decade.

Émile Ollivier started to rise during the Republic. He re-entered politics, still a republican, but prepared to work with the Empire, in 1857 after a period in law.

He was one of the early Parisian champions of Wagner. His first wife, Blandine, was the daughter of Liszt and Marie d’Agoult (who wrote as Daniel Stern). She died in 1862. In 1869 he married Mlle Gravier.

Early in 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen revived his candidature for the Spanish throne. The French government instructed its ambassador to Prussia, Vincent, Count Benedetti, to demand from the king, Wilhelm I, that he withdraw it.

Ollivier was won over by the war party. On July 15 he declared in the Chamber that the Prussian government had issued a note, the Ems Telegram, announcing that his envoy had been rebuffed. He accepted the responsibility of the war, the Second War of the Spanish Succession, “with a light heart”, since it had been forced on France. But on August 9, with the news of its first disasters, his cabinet was driven from office. He sought refuge from the general rage in Italy.

He returned to France in 1873, but his political power was gone. During his retirement he employed himself in writing an apologia in the form of a history of L’Empire libéral in seventeen volumes (1895-1915). (Toynbee counts as far as the sixteenth, which appeared in 1912.)

Josephus, in his latter-day literary work, is in some sense pursuing his previous “practical” activities in a new medium. And this fault is still more conspicuously apparent in the literary work of the French member of our Pleiad: Émile Ollivier.

Ollivier is not without excuse for his frailty, for his personal identification with the disaster that overtook his country in his day was much more intimate, and much more serious, than Thucydides’ identification with the fall of Athens or Josephus’s with the fall of Jewry. Ollivier was a Frenchman who lived through the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. For France, this war, which brought to an end a French political and military hegemony of two centuries’ standing on the European Continent, was not only a supreme national catastrophe; it was also a supreme national humiliation, since the war was lost by no honourable defeat but by a lamentable débâcle. And for Ollivier this tragic experience of France was a personal tragedy of equal magnitude; for, at the moment when the disaster occurred, Ollivier occupied in France the principal position of political responsibility next to the Emperor Napoleon III himself. While the Emperor was saved from the fury of the French people by falling into the enemy’s hands, his minister had to fly the country. Ollivier took refuge in Italy, and when he ventured to return to France in 1873 his life was in ruins. Born in 1825, engaged in politics from 1848 to 1870, and virtually Prime Minister in the Imperial Government during the fatal days between the end of 1869 and the 9th August, 1870, Ollivier now found himself, at the age of forty-eight, a scapegoat in the wilderness, with all the transgressions of the Second Empire heaped upon his devoted head. [Footnote: Ollivier applies the simile of the scapegoat to himself in L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, p. 30.]

Ollivier’s retort to the outrageous Fortune which had felled his country and himself by the same terrific blow was to write, on the grand scale, a history of the whole unhappy chapter in French history in which he had played his own unhappy part. The prologue to the drama, as he presents it in L’Empire Libéral, [footnote: L’Empire Libéral: Études, Récits, Souvenirs, par Émile Ollivier (Paris 1895-1912, Garnier Frères, 16 volumes] begins with the morrow of the peace-settlement of 1815; the curtain descends upon the débâcle of 1870 after Ollivier’s fall from office on the 9th August of that year and his subsequent abortive private mission to Italy. The first volume was published in 1895, a quarter of a century after the catastrophe, when the author himself was already seventy years old; [footnote] and thereafter volume followed volume year by year until the sixteenth and last volume was published in 1912, when the author was eighty-seven and when the greater war of 1914-18, which was to reverse the result of the war of 1870-1, was only two years ahead in the future. [Footnote: The writer of this Study, who was an undergraduate at Oxford at the time when the last volumes of L’Empire Libéral were appearing, can well remember the interest which their publication aroused.] In thus transferring to historiography the energies that had been expelled from the field of politics twenty-five years earlier, Ollivier was not achieving a spiritual catharsis and was not pursuing the path of “etherialization”. To parody a notorious maxim of his Prussian enemies, [footnote: “War is only a continuation of State policy by other means” (Clausewitz, General Karl von: On War. Translated by Colonel J. J. Graham from the third German edition (London 1893, Trübner), p. vii).] he was rather taking up the historian’s pen in order to pursue the politician’s aims by the best alternative means that still remained at his disposal. The driving force that impels him to write and write from his seventy-first to his eighty-eighth year is a burning desire to vindicate France and to vindicate Ollivier.

Second footnote in that paragraph:

The final and effective decision to write seems to have been taken by Ollivier as a consequence of Bismarck’s outright avowal that he [Bismarck] had deliberately precipitated the war by tampering with the text of the famous “Ems Telegram”. This outright avowal was not made until 1892, after Bismarck’s dismissal from the Chancellorship of the German Reich by the Emperor William II. Ollivier appears to have been stirred by this revelation in two ways. He was elated to see the responsibility for the outbreak of the war transferred from the shoulders of France to the shoulders of Germany by so conclusive an authority as Bismarck himself; and he was outraged to find that Bismarck’s confession was not being taken by public opinion as an exoneration of Ollivier for his own part in those transactions. L’Empire Libéral seems to have been committed to writing under this twofold stimulus. The context in which Ollivier gives his account of Bismarck’s avowal is illuminating. (See L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 24-31.)

The dispatch was an internal message from the Prussian King’s holiday site to Bismarck in Berlin, reporting demands made by Benedetti; it was Bismarck’s released statement to the press that became known as Ems Telegram.

Back to main text:

The first of these two motives is proclaimed at the beginning of the book:

“À la veille de disparaître de ce monde, je veux donner une dernière preuve de dévouement à la patrie bien aimée à laquelle j’ai consacré toutes mes pensées. Je veux la laver devant la posterité de la tache d’avoir déchaîné parmi les hommes la misère, la défiance, la haine, la barbaric Je veux démontrer qu’en 1870 elle n’a pas été plus agressive qu’elle ne l’avait été en 1792 et en 1806; qu’alors comme autrefois elle a défendu son indépendance, non attenté à celle d’autrui. Laissant aux contempteurs de son droit les gémissements dont depuis tant d’années ils affaiblissent son courage, je lui tends la coupe où l’on boit le cordial qui rend la foi, la force, l’espérance. Si elle l’accepte, tant mieux pour elle!” [Footnote: Ollivier, E. O.: L’Empire Libéral, vol. i, pp. 32-3.]

The patriotic motive, here confessed, is plain to read; but the personal motive, which Ollivier is at pains to deny, is equally unmistakable. It is revealed in the author’s chagrin that Bismarck’s avowal of his responsibility for precipitating the war has not served to vindicate his own – Ollivier’s – reputation. [Footnote: Ollivier, op. cit., vol. i, p. 30.] It is revealed in the ostentation with which he abstains from vindicating himself (for “on s’excuse même en renonçant aux excuses”). Above all, it is revealed in his grand finale, which is not the débâcle at Sedan and is not the fall of Metz and is not the fall of Paris and is not the signature of the Peace of Frankfurt, but is – at the end of sixteen volumes – the fall of the Ministère Ollivier!

Bad Ems

Benedetti and Wilhelm I at Ems; Ernst Engelberg, Bismarck, Akademie-Verlag Berlin, 1985 via Wikimedia Commons, no more information given

A second-rate practitioner of a dangerous trade (old post).

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Absit omen

April 27 2014

Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind [...] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948


April 12 2014

Why do Scandinavians use the Christian name Magnus?

Because Charlemagne conquered and christianised the Saxons and brought a sort of civilisation to the pagan Scandinavians’ border. Whether that was or was not connected with the start, immediately afterwards, of the Scandinavians’ raids and conquests to their east, south and west is another matter.

Grünewald to Borromini

March 20 2014

After-comment to a recent post on Peter Maxwell Davies:

“When Max dramatises Borromini in his symphony with a baritone setting of his last testament, one thinks of operatic dramatisations of Renaissance, Reformation, Counter-Reformation minds and consciences: Pfitzner’s Palestrina, Krenek’s Karl V, Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler about Grünewald and his Die Harmonie der Welt about Kepler, Max’s own Taverner.

I don’t particularly want to add Philip Glass’s Galileo here, but perhaps I should.

And of Britten’s and Shostakovich’s Italian settings of Michelangelo and Henze’s of Bruno in Novae de infinito laudes.

There’s no opera about Luther, but he is a protagonist in Karl V.

Could Sessions’s Montezuma be brought in, via the mind of Cortés?

Birth dates:

Grünewald 1470

Michelangelo 1475

Luther 1483

Cortés 1485

Taverner 1490

Charles V 1500

Palestrina 1525

Bruno 1548

Galileo 1564

Kepler 1571

Borromini 1599”

Venice votes on splitting from Rome

March 16 2014

BBC, and on the day of the Crimean referendum.


“Once did she hold the gorgeous east in fee;
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And, when she took unto herself a Mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great, is passed away.”

Wordsworth, On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic.

Return of the beard

March 16 2014

The Victorian beard has returned at last. It started to die out c 1890 as a cleaner-cut military look came in.

Then, it was often adopted with a certain maturity. Now it’s worn by young men. Last autumn I reckoned that a quarter of young Greeks, who seemed neither especially fashion-conscious nor religious, had real beards. Was that simply traditionally Greek? Is this an unconscious echo among non-Muslims of the Muslim beard?

The Elizabethans and their Stuart successors had worn goatees.

Mahler in his beard phase; first photo looks earlier than second, which was taken in Kassel, where he worked for two years from summer 1883, aged 23-5, when he might have been expected to be clean-shaven:

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler 2

Harold Acton

February 27 2014

Sir Harold Acton died twenty years ago today.

Tribute by Luca Vidmaker. L’ultimo grande inglese sull’Arno. Music Schumann, Piano Quartet.

I visited the great aesthete at La Pietra, above Florence, the villa in which he was born and died, twice in the ’70s: a story for another time.

A bibliography:

I  History

The Last of the Medici, Florence, G Orioli, 1930 (translation of a lubricious eighteenth-century memoir, by whom?, of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany, introduction by Norman Douglas)

The Last Medici, Faber and Faber, 1932 (a study of the later Medici Grand Dukes and the first of his own historical works)

The Bourbons of Naples (1734-1825), Methuen, 1956

Ferdinando Galiani, in Art and Ideas in Eighteenth-Century Italy, Rome, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1960 (lectures by various people given in English at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Londra in Rome, 1957-58)

The Last Bourbons of Naples (1825-1861), Methuen, 1961

The Pazzi Conspiracy, Thames and Hudson, 1979

Three Extraordinary Ambassadors, 1983 Walter Neurath Memorial Lecture, Thames and Hudson, 1984 (Sir Henry Wotton in Venice, Sir Horace Mann in Florence, Sir William Hamilton in Naples)

II  Florence and Tuscany

Florence, Thames and Hudson, 1960 (photographs by Martin Hürlimann)

Tuscan Villas, Thames and Hudson, 1973 (photographs by Alexander Zielcke)

Edward Chaney, editor, Florence: A Travellers’ Companion, Constable, 1986 (Introduction to anthology)

III  Translations from the Chinese; Acton lived in China from 1932 to 1939

With Ch’en Shih-Hsiang, Modern Chinese Poetry, Duckworth, 1936 (young poets)

With LC Arlington, Famous Chinese Plays, illustrated with a drawing by Thomas Handforth and with photographs, Peiping, Henri Vetch, 1937 (thirty-three plays, ancient and modern)

With Lee Yi-Hsieh, preface by Arthur WaleyGlue and Lacquer: Four Cautionary Tales, illustrated with drawings by Eric Gill interpreted on copper by Denis Tegetmeier, The Golden Cockerel Press, 1941 (selections from the seventeenth-century writer Feng Menglong’s Tales to Rouse the World)

With Ch’en Shih-Hsiang and Cyril Birch, The Peach Blossom Fan, illustrated [detail tba], Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976, apparently not earlier (K’ung Shang-jen’s play)

IV  Poetry

Aquarium, Duckworth, 1923

An Indian Ass, Duckworth, 1925

Five Saints and an Appendix, Holden, 1927

This Chaos, Paris, Hours Press, 1930

V  Fiction

Cornelian, The Westminster Press, 1928 (prose fable)

Humdrum, The Westminster Press, 1928 (novel)

Peonies and Ponies, Chatto and Windus, 1941 (novel about expatriate life in China)

Prince Isidore, Methuen, 1950 (novel)

Old Lamps for New, Methuen, 1965 (novel)

Tit for Tat, Hamish Hamilton, 1972 (stories)

The Gift Horse
A Modern Vestal
The Operation
“A Sketch, Lent by Miss Temple”
“O Thou I”
A Monopolist
Resting on His Laurels
An Old School Pal
Tit for Tat
Palladian Pizzicato
The Machine Is Broken Down
His Serene Highness

The Soul’s Gymnasium, Hamish Hamilton, 1982 (stories)

The Marchesa Carrie
Leo’s Ivory Tower
St Gabriel
Fin de race
Flora’s Lame Duck
The Soul’s Gymnasium
Codicil Coda
A Phantom Botticelli
A Morning at Upshott’s
The Narcissus Elegy

VI  Autobiography

Memoirs of an Aesthete, Methuen, 1948

More Memoirs of an Aesthete, Methuen, 1970

VII  Biography

Nancy Mitford: A Memoir, Hamish Hamilton, 1975


Edward Chaney and Neil Ritchie, editors, Oxford, China and Italy: Writings in Honour of Sir Harold Acton on His Eightieth Birthday, Thames and Hudson, 1984 (contributions by John A Wood, David Rundle, John Betjeman, Iris Origo, Sacheverell Sitwell, Anthony Powell, Joan Haslip, John Lehmann, Antony Lambton, Cyril Birch, Charles Wilson, Peter Quennell, Christopher Sykes, AL Rowse, Laurence Sickman, Amanda Lillie, Nicolai Rubinstein, Anna Maria Crinò, Maurice Cranston, Peter Gunn, Edward Chaney, Michael Grant, John Fleming, Francis Haskell, Carlo Knight, Hugh Honour, Denys Sutton, John Pope-Hennessy and Neil Ritchie)

The faultless painter

February 26 2014

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

[Footnote: Browning, R.: Andrea del Sarto, ll. 97-98.]

Andrea del Sarto was regarded highly by his contemporaries. Michelangelo introduced Vasari to him. Vasari, however, was critical of his teacher, alleging that he had the skill of a great artist, but lacked the divine fire which animated the work of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Browning’s poem is a dramatic monologue in which Andrea addresses his unfaithful wife Lucrezia.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954


February 22 2014

By A.D. 1871 War was not “the sport of kings” any longer. It had become the serious business of peoples who were inspired with all the enthusiasm that Democracy could excite and were armed with all the weapons that Industrialism could forge; and in these circumstances there was a choice between taking active steps to put an end to War altogether, or else seeing it rankle into an enormity without precedent in our Western history.

If the experience of the wars of 1861-71 had evoked an anti-war movement of anything like the same intensity and persistence as the anti-slavery movement which had been set on foot before the end of the eighteenth century, then our position to-day might perhaps have been more favourable than it actually is. It happened, however, that the crop of wars in the seventh decade of the nineteenth century was followed, like the General War of 1792-1815, by half a century of general peace, which was only broken by a few local wars of a semi-colonial character: the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8; the Spanish-American War of 1898; the South African War of 1899-1902; the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. These latter wars at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did not afford much new insight into the general tendency of warfare in the Western World in this age, because they were fought between not more than two belligerents in each case, and not in any instance in regions lying near the heart of the Western World.

1871-1914 was called the belle époque. Who, after the First World War, invented that phrase?

Hence the terrible transformation in the character of War which had been brought about by the introduction of the new driving-power of Industrialism and Democracy took our generation by surprise in 1914. This time the shock has been so profound that an eager and active movement for the abolition of War has followed the Armistice of 1918. But this movement is gravely handicapped by its belated birth on the morrow of the World War, when it should have been born in 1871 or, better still, in 1815.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

The labyrinth

February 18 2014

The civilisation in which we lived was like a labyrinth, so huge and intricate that none of the dwellers in it could altogether grasp its structure, while most of them were barely conscious that it had any structural design at all. But now that the War has caught it and it is all aflame, the unity and symmetry of the building are revealed to the common eye. As the glare lights it up from end to end, it stands out in its glory, in matchless outline and perspective; for the first time (and possibly for the last) we see its parts simultaneously and in proper relation, and realise for one moment the marvel and mystery of this civilisation that is perishing – the subtle, immemorial, unrelaxing effort that raised it up and maintained it, and the impossibility of improvising any equivalent structure in its place. Then the fire masters its prey; the various parts of the labyrinth fall in one by one, the light goes out of them, and nothing is left but smoke and ashes.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here

Private lives

February 15 2014

The Times, August 5 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany.

Private life still came first. Public news did not get onto the front page until one revolutionary day (though not one of any special headline) in 1966. But there are clues here to what was under way.

There are offers to help people who have been stranded, abroad or in England. All Norddeutscher Lloyd bookings have been cancelled. A couple of young gentlemen are offering themselves as secret agents. Large file: will zoom.

August 5 1914

Taormina antica

February 11 2014

YouTube blurb by Thomas Andrenyi (my links):

“1  Taormina – Ricordo

2  Gustav Klimt – Theater in Taormina, 1886-88, 750 x 400 cm, Burgtheater, Vienna, Austria

3  Taormina – Mappa

4  Taormina – Baedecker 1912

5  Teatro Greco – Wilhelm v Gloeden

6  Entrata di Villa Gloeden

7  Entrata di Villa Gloeden 1904 – Charles King Wood

8  Villa Falconara Duca di Bronte – F Galifi Crupi

9  Taormina – Vista dell’Etna – F Galifi Crupi

10  Grand Hotel Timeo – Giovanni Crupi

11  Vista dell’Etna

12  Taormina – 1920s

Arturo Toscanini conducts the Cantabile from the Overture to I vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi, NBC Symphony Orchestra, 1942

Starting from the 19th century Taormina became a popular tourist resort in the whole Europe: people who spent vacation in Taormina include Oscar Wilde, Nicholas I of Russia, Goethe, Nietzsche, Richard Wagner and many others.

In the late 19th century Taormina gained further prominence as the place where Wilhelm von Gloeden worked most of his life as a photographer. Also credited for making Taormina popular was Otto Geleng, best known for his fine paintings, which he composed and painted in Italy but exhibited in Paris.

During the early 20th century the town became a colony of expatriate artists, writers, and intellectuals. DH Lawrence stayed here at the Fontana Vecchia from 1920 to 1922, and wrote a number of his poems, novels, short stories, and essays, and a travel book, Sea and Sardinia.

Thirty years later, from April 1950 through September 1951, the same villa was home to Truman Capote, who wrote of his stay in the essay Fontana Vecchia.

By this time Taormina had become ‘a polite synonym for Sodom’ as Harold Acton described it. Later, however, after the Second World War Acton was visiting Taormina with Evelyn Waugh and, coming upon a board advertising ‘Ye Olde English Teas’, he sighed and commented that Taormina was ‘now quite as boring as Bournemouth’.”

Atlas and Antaeus

February 7 2014

Atlas performs the strenuous task of holding up the heavens. Antaeus renews his lightness when he touches the earth.

A blogger called Caryl has some posts about Toynbee in 2007 in From the Catacombs. She describes the use of this pair of allusions very well.

“He makes much of Atlas and Anteaus – the ‘Atlantean stance and the Antaean rebound’. Atlas has to hold up the weight of the Heavens upon his shoulders; Antaeus could not be defeated so long as he was able to evade his enemy’s grasp and touch the earth once again with his feet. Toynbee’s finds in these two contrary movements great meaning for the historical fate of civilizations responding to challenge. The danger of the Atlantean stance is to rigidify into ‘mimesis’ and obsession. The Antaean rebound enables new beginnings, the reappropriation of culture from the depths.”

Atlas’s crime had been an attempt to scale high Heaven; the punishment inflicted on him was to hold high Heaven up; and this was the stance in which the melancholy giant was eventually found by his visitor Hêrakles. In order to grasp the relation between an Atlantean stance and an Antaean rebound, we have to recognize that the Earth, off whose fostering breast a buoyant Antaeus was perpetually bouncing up like an india-rubber ball, and the Firmament whose dead weight was constantly pressing down upon the head and hands of an immobilized Atlas, are merely two different aspects of one and the same psychic continent as seen from opposite quarters of the spiritual compass. This depressing Firmament and refreshing Earth are, in psychic reality, identical. “The choice” between falling into an Atlantean stance and making an Antaean rebound is in truth “fundamentally a question of attitude”.

No footnote to the last phrase, but it is from

Baynes, H. G.: Mythology of the Soul (London 1940, Baillière, Tindall & Cox; 1949, Methuen) [...].

Toynbee, as we know, mistrusts renaissances, using words such as “mimesis”, “necromancy”, “archaism”, and is sometimes reluctant to see them as themselves Antaean.

The Hapsburg stance was Atlantaean:

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy had been called into existence after the collapse of the Kingdom of Hungary in A.D. 1526 to serve as a carapace for protecting the south-eastern land-frontier of the Western World against Ottoman aggression [...]; a union of the remnant of Hungary with the lands of the Bohemian Crown and with the hereditary dominions of the House of Hapsburg proved to be a sufficient mobilization of Western strength to prevent the ʿOsmanlis from making further continental conquests at Western expense; and the rest of the Western World therefore left it to the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy to perform this public service for the Western common weal, without acknowledging its obligation to the Monarchy by submitting to the hegemony of a Caesarea Maiestas whose suzerainty, even within the limits of the Holy Roman Empire, had never been more than nominal, outside the frontiers of the hereditary dominions of the imperial house of the day, since “the Great Interregnum” (vacabat A.D. 1254-73).

The role of unprofitable servants, who had done that which it was their duty to do, without having earned thereby any claim to recognition or reward (Luke xvii. 7-10), was naturally resented by the Hapsburgs of the Danubian line when it was imposed upon them by their Western beneficiaries, and they expressed this resentment by making their weight felt in the interior of the Western World whenever any slackening of the pressure from their Ottoman adversaries gave them an opportunity to neglect their task of serving as wardens of the West’s anti-Ottoman marches. Such opportunities for occasional intervention in the domestic politics of the Western World were expended by the Danubian Hapsburg Power, with remarkable consistency, on Atlantean efforts to uphold lost causes. The ninety-years-long eclipse of the Ottoman Power from the death of Sultan Suleymān I in A.D. 1566 to the appointment of Mehmed Köprülü to be Grand Vezīr in A.D. 1656 – an eclipse that was only momentarily relieved by the meteoric career of Sultan Murād IV (imperabat A.D. 1623-40) – was spent by a Viennese Caesarea Maiestas in Counter-Reformational activities culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (gerebatur A.D. 1618-48). The temporary exhaustion of the Ottoman Power after the Great War of A.D. 1682-99 was taken by the Danubian Hapsburg Power as an opportunity for joining forces with the Netherlands and Great Britain in order to repress King Louis XIV of France for the benefit of British interests. The relief from Ottoman pressure after the collapse of the Ottoman Power in the Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 tempted the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy into committing itself to the forlorn hope of repressing the hydra-headed “Ideas of Seventeen Eighty-Nine”, which had no sooner been crushed in their first avatar in the form of a Napoleonic imperialism than they reasserted themselves in the form of a nineteenth-century Romantic Nationalism which the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy was so far from being able to repress that it was first encircled and finally disrupted by it.

It is true that these Atlantean reactions to the raising of a ghost of a Roman Caesarea Maiestas at Vienna were not entirely unaccompanied by Antaean symptoms. The most lively of these was the role which Vienna came to play as a melting-pot for transforming Orthodox Christians or ex-Orthodox Christian Uniates into Westerners. An eloquent memorial of this Antaean activity was the Vienna telephone directory [...]; yet, when the history of the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy from A.D. 1526 to A.D. 1918 is viewed as a whole in perspective, this Antaean twitch does not perceptibly relax the rigidity of the Monarchy’s Atlantean stance.

If one is speaking about immigration, the UK recently has been Antaean, Japan Atlantaean.

The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

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

Gabriel Prokofiev

January 28 2014

Gabriel Prokofiev, London-dwelling garage and classical composer, DJ, record producer, grandson of Sergei, slight Nigel Kennedy accent, has a good basic programme on BBC Radio 4 for a few more days about what happened to classical music in the twentieth century and why it became difficult and alienated people.

Contributions from Arnold Whittall, Stephen Johnson, Alexander Goehr, David Matthews, Ivan Hewett, Tansy Davies.

Johnson is good on Darmstadt orthodoxy and total serialism, on the audience as the class enemy, on serialism as a reaction to fascism, and on the USSR, where composers may, paradoxically, have had more freedom and at least retained their publics.

Hewett and Prokofiev make a connection between Paganini and Hendrix.

Goehr says that Darmstadt was particularly misguided in rejecting Dallapiccola and Britten. Why is Goehr not better known by now and not a grand old man? Is it his music?

Prokofiev’s conclusion: we now have so many possibilities, since we are free from the socio-political hangups of the post-1945 generation, that we can all look forward to a bright future. Or are too many possibilities the problem?

Henze would have said: stop worrying. This prolific composer who, nevertheless, could not think of writing a violin concerto without thinking about the entire tradition of violin concerti, every violin concerto ever written, and what it meant to be a German writing one now, told young composers to shake all that off and, still loving and studying the past, go ahead.

He trusted the globalised world to forge its own disciplines.

Does Scandinavia want Scotland?

January 28 2014

Allan Little, BBC Radio 4, until February 3. Could it join the Nordic Council if it becomes independent?

Scotland, like the Baltic states, is within Scandinavia’s gravitational field.

Scandinavian unions (old post).

Abbado again

January 27 2014

Last post.

I find that I wrote to some friends on September 7 2006 an email headed The facelessness of Abbado and continuing

“… is a myth. There’s an immediately recognisable Abbado sound: a spray or zest which flies out of the pit.

It isn’t like Karajan’s smooth sound, and Rattle doesn’t have a sound with them, only an over-careful attention to dynamics.

There is nostalgia in Berlin for Abbado and a suspicion that Rattle is somehow empty. Or is it Rattle criticism that’s empty? Vide current articles by the Lebrechts, even in Germany, which share the tone, if they can’t rival the triviality, of restive talk about our prime minister.

The Phil was on pretty good form under Sir (as the Germans invariably call him) Simon with their Bruckner 7. You could have mistaken his performance for Furtwängler. Even the patina of an old recording seemed to be there. It was the same ensemble. (Furtwängler, whom Rattle’s only rival in Germany, Thielemann in Munich, more consciously imitates.) Only the light and shade told you it was Rattle.

Up with Abbado. Karajan was Karajan and at his best in London, not Berlin. F was unsurpassable except when classical values were called for, which is why I have issues even with his sometimes hysterical Brahms. And Rattle’s crisis in music making is part of a more general one which doesn’t really exist, but is mainly a crisis of the auditor. So two and a half cheers for Sir Simon.”

Menuhin at Davos

January 25 2014

I ran into Menuhin at Davos in 1997 and ’98. I’m sure he was there from ’93 to ’96. Why did I never meet him then?

In 1997 he presided over one of the small dinners which required one to sign up. Sixteen or eighteen people, including me, waited for him around a square table in a wood-panelled room on the ground floor of the dowdy Kongress Hotel, next to the Congress Centre. The session was called “Economics, the sacred and social wellbeing”.

He came in from the snow with his wife, gave his hat and coat to the porter, glanced at us and muttered, quietly but audibly, “I thought I was meeting people who could influence world opinion”. The pomposity seemed unMenuhinlike. But he settled down, sitting opposite me, and led a conversation at the table over the meal. He had just been in Poland with the Sinfonia Varsovia to record the complete Schubert symphonies and said what a pleasure that had been. A look of intense concentration would cross his face occasionally, but unaffectedly, and reminded one of the nobility, transcendence and force of his playing.

It was hard to do the math with Menuhin. He had known George Enescu and Adolf Busch. He had played under Elgar in London and in Paris and had seemed to rejuvenate the old composer. Had commissioned a solo sonata from Bartók. His early recordings of Sarasate, Bazzini, Kreisler, Rimsky-Korsakov, Wieniawski, Moszkowski seemed to come from old Europe, not from an American born in 1916.

With Britten, he had performed for the surviving inmates of Bergen-Belsen. Later that year he had paid his first visit to Russia, at the invitation of the Soviet government before the Iron Curtain had fully fallen, and begun his friendship with David Oistrakh. It was a life almost impossibly full of memories and memorabilia and he was conscious of its extraordinariness. And here he was, only eighty years old.

The next morning, on the Davos Promenade, someone trotted up behind me and said: “Mr Derrick! You saved the evening.” It was Menuhin’s amanuensis. I can’t remember his name. I must have looked surprised. I can’t now, and could hardly then, remember anything I had said. “You certainly broke the ice. Lady Menuhin would like to send you her book and I am sure they would like to see you in London.”

She had probably said to him: “Really, Yehudi, you weren’t exactly charming when you came in.” I said I’d be delighted to meet her. She had been wonderful at the dinner: funny and outspoken, so outspoken at times as to be a bit embarrassing, like Pauline Strauss or Susana Walton.

“She is not well today, and is in bed.” But I took their London number and later that day an inscribed copy of Diana Gould’s, Lady Menuhin’s, A Glimpse of Olympus arrived at my hotel.

It was difficult to grasp that I was living in the same city as them and within walking distance. Diana Gould, four years older than Yehudi, had been a dancer. She had studied with Lubov Egorova in Paris and Marie Rambert in London. Diaghilev spotted her and invited her to join his Ballets Russes (in Paris), but he died before it could happen. She was then engaged to dance with Anna Pavlova’s troupe in London, but she also died. I presume the company was dissolved. She continued to dance at Rambert’s Ballet Club and created roles there with Frederick Ashton.

She danced in Max Reinhardt’s production of The Miracle at the Lyceum in 1932 and with George Balanchine’s Les ballets 1933 in London and Paris. She declined Balanchine’s offer to join his school in the US, which became the New York City Ballet. “Longing to say yes, but young and frightened at such a great leap into what might be the dark, this idiotic English virgin [...] said no.” (A Glimpse of Olympus.)

Léonide Massine then invited her to join Colonel de Basil’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a successor of Diaghilev’s company.

She also worked for a time with the Alicia Markova- Anton Dolin company in London. She acted in theatre. During the war she was the leading dancer of the Arts Theatre Ballet and prima ballerina of Jay Pomeroy’s Russian Opera and Ballet Company at the Cambridge Theatre. From 1944 to ’46 she acted, danced and sang the role of Frou Frou in The Merry Widow in London and on an ENSA tour in Egypt and Italy. She married Menuhin in 1947, after he had divorced his Australian wife Nola.

She was described by Anna Pavlova as the only English dancer she had seen who “had a soul”, by Arnold Haskell as “the most musical young dancer the English dance has produced”, and by herself as “the awfully frank and frankly awful Diana”. (Wikipedia, first and last; Guardian.)

A Glimpse of Olympus appeared in 1996 and was about her own life. There had been an earlier memoir, in 1984, Fiddler’s Moll.

She threw herself into Menuhin’s life, but sometimes felt an “agonising nostalgia” for her years in the ballet. “He cannot fight for himself.” His memoirs speak of her “grace, intelligence, ardour, vitality and depth of feeling”. “It is a joy, a comfort and an inspiration to know beauty in many different forms: the sound of a violin, the objects around one, above all the beauty of one’s wife.” (Telegraph, first two and last; Guardian.)

Unsympathetic ears can find the Menuhin sound harsh on occasion, like Callas’s voice. As his technique declined, there were no doubt some scratchy performances. His commanding playing of the Chaconne from the second Bach Partita might be too emotional and subjective for some Bach tastes (not for mine).

Michael Kennedy, DNB: “His technique was often suspect mainly because of a weakness of his bowing arm, causing the bow to ‘stutter’ on the strings. He traced the fault to his studies with Adolf Busch: ‘If you look at the old photographs, the position of the bow arm is absolutely atrocious – the high elbow with a pressure exerted through the first finger and hence the lack of a proper balance in the bow. The trouble is I played too well. I never studied with a pedagogue like Carl Flesch.’ [...] Whatever imperfections there may have been in his technique on occasions, [...] at its best his playing had a seraphic spiritual quality which seemed to come from some supernatural source.”

Enesco and Dinu Lipatti were for him manifestations of a “spiritual realm, impregnable in its resistance to [...] pain and suffering”. (Foreword to Dragos Tanaescu, Grigore Bargauanu, Lipatti, English edition, London, Kahn and Averill, 1988.)

I called 65 Chester Square on returning to London. Menuhin picked up the phone. “Oh yes, yes …” The call wasn’t awkward, but, of course, it led to nothing. I had thanked his wife at Davos with a note, but why didn’t I ask to speak to her?

Menuhin had a feeling for England and he became a British citizen. His relationship with English music – Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Tippett, Britten – is a subject by itself. He was a fine Elgar conductor as well as player. Delius must have heard of Menuhin, because when Elgar flew to Paris in the early summer of 1933 to conduct Menuhin in his concerto in the Salle Pleyel, he also took a taxi to Grez to spend an afternoon with the blind composer. Eric Fenby was away, but decades later, Menuhin recorded the three Delius sonatas with Fenby accompanying. He also recorded Delius’s concerto, and, with Paul Tortelier, the double concerto. Menuhin discography. Covers him as performer, not conductor.

He took up conducting as director of the Bath Festival (1958-68). In the ’80s, he began to withdraw as a soloist and to conduct more. His last appearance as a violinist was at the Gstaad Festival in 1996. His style as conductor was swift, intuitive, poetic, the results notably unportentous. He recorded a Beethoven cycle with the Sinfonia Varsovia. I found myself missing something weightier and more ernst in the fifth.

Menuhin was indiscriminately generous in his views on many people and liberal in his views on social matters. Hard as he worked, he was fond of saying that one did not always need to be doing something: he knew the benefits of idleness. For all his new-age diet and his yoga, he knew the value of comfort and safety. In the last part of his life he had houses in Belgravia and Gstaad and on Mykonos. He could be vain.

Michael Kennedy in DNB: “In New Zealand [in 1951] Menuhin read a book about yoga, which he practised for the rest of his life. He learned more about it when he toured India in March 1952. After discussing it with the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was challenged to stand on his head in full evening dress at a state reception. He did so, whereupon Nehru followed suit. He also formed a firm friendship with the great sitar player Ravi Shankar. Thereafter he was an enthusiast for Indian music and played in partnership with Shankar, just as some years later he played violin duos with the jazz virtuoso Stéphane Grappelli.”

The Nehru challenge would have made a good Davos moment. Menuhin was often or always at Davos with Shankar.

“The performing artist continually reviews the hours, days and weeks preceding a performance, charting the many elements that will release his potential – or put a brake upon it. He knows that when his body is exercised, his blood circulating, his stomach light, his mind clear, the music ringing in his heart, his violin clean and polished, its strings in good order, the bow hair full and evenly spread, then – but then only – he is in command. But neglect of the least of these elements must gnaw his conscience. The audience, even the critic, may not suspect his troubled conscience, or may ascribe a blemish to an irrelevant cause, all unaware of the player’s silent admission of insufficiency, his self-disgust, his begging to be given another chance. Even if no fault is noted, the audience’s plaudits, their stamping and standing, are of no comfort to him then.

“So a violinist (like any other artist) lives in training. He makes his body his vocation. His stance must be erect yet supple so that, like a graceful reed, he may wave with the breeze and yet remain perfectly aligned from head through spine to feet. He is a living structure stretched between the magnets of sun and earth.” (Unfinished Journey.)

Menuhin’s first Davos was in ’89. I believe that he influenced the WEF policy on artists who were invited. People such as Rodion Shchedrin, Vladimir Spivakov, Jeffrey TateJulian Lloyd-Webber.

Some of these may have come back, but after Menuhin died, the WEF became more celebrity-conscious than it had been before (Bono, Hollywood). The celebs jumped on the bandwagon. This year, Gergiev was there, but, one feels, partly as a brand and star.

There was another dinner in 1998. His wife, increasingly bedridden, wasn’t in Davos. Somebody said after it that his relation to the discussion was that of a soloist with an ensemble, coming forward, picking up the argument, withdrawing. He said at one stage: “Of course this [life] isn’t everything.”

No dinner in ’99, or none that I got to, but he conducted a closing concert in the Sanada room, the first Menuhin Davos concert I’d been aware of. I think a Rossini overture, a Mozart violin concerto and Mendelssohn’s Italian symphony. I don’t have programmes for ’98/’99 and can’t remember who the players were. He came to the back of the room between bows at the end, arms swinging in fatigue. (I remember swinging arms the last time I saw another immigrant Jew married to an English Diana: Fred Uhlman.)

It was one of the last concerts of a performing career that had begun in San Francisco seventy-six years earlier. Six weeks later he died in a Berlin hospital, having written from his bed a letter on some social matter to a policy-maker and world opinion-influencer, Gordon Brown. His wife died four years later.

I was riveted by at least one Menuhin recording before I could read, a ten-inch EP of Bach and Handel: the double concerto with Gioconda de Vito and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Anthony Bernard, and the second trio sonata in Handel’s opus 5, in D, with Menuhin, John Shinebourne and George Malcolm. It’s considered a rare record. I’m told that I listened to it “very quietly and intently” at the age of three. The performance style is old-fashioned. Are there really only three players in the Handel? YouTube has the first movement of each piece:

Elgar, Menuhin, Albert Hall, November 20 1932; Menuhin is glancing towards Beecham, who conducted him before the interval in Bach and Mozart; Elgar took over in the second half in the second of his three Menuhin collaborations:

NPG x20671; Yehudi Menuhin and Sir Edward Elgar, Bt by Aram Alban

Tchaikovsky en route to Davos

January 19 2014

We have met Tchaikovsky in Davos in November 1884, a visit which left its mark on his Manfred symphony.

We have heard a piece of choral music which he composed there.

On the way to Davos, in Berlin in the same month, he composed this:

Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, Misha Rachlevsky, Rachmaninov Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, September 2008

Tchaikovsky left Saint Petersburg for Davos on 1/13 November. He stopped in Berlin for four days. There, on 6/18 November, the piece was completed (according to the date on the manuscript).

He called it A Grateful Greeting. It had been commissioned by the Moscow Society of Artists as part of a tribute to an actor and director, Ivan Samarin.

On 7/19 November 1884, he wrote from Munich to his brother Modest: “I stayed so long in Berlin, because I needed to be able to compose quickly [...] an entr’acte for the Samarin production. The latter has been done and dispatched.”

He saw Weber’s Oberon there which, to his surprise, he enjoyed. has details of all Tchaikovsky’s travels. One could write an essay called Tchaikovsky’s hotels

A little of the ethos of those hotels lingered in 2006, when I was last there, at the Schatzalp in Davos, with its soup at mealtimes, its Tauchnitz library, its regular hours, its airy and austere rooms. I think they were still keeping your napkin for you from meal to meal. The few WEF participants who stayed there dimly suggested the international society which gathered in Swiss hotels in the belle époque.

Foreboding at Vevey (old post).

The Schatzalp was not the unnamed Davos hotel which Tchaikovsky visited. Nor, though it started as a sanatorium, was it the one where Yosif Kotek, his tubercular friend, whom he was visiting, was staying.

The first performance of the Samarin piece was conducted by Ippolit Altani at Samarin’s jubilee concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 16/28 December, under its original title, A Grateful Greeting.

Samarin died in the following year. Tchaikovsky published the piece in 1890 with the title Elegy and dedication In Memory of I.V. Samarin and used it as the entr’acte preceding Act IV in his music for a production of Hamlet at the Mariinskii Theatre in 1891.

There are other versions on YouTube, with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Svetlanov, with the Academia de Muzică, Teatru și Arte Plastice of Chișinău and Patrick Strub, and with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and Thomas Sanderling. There is also the complete Hamlet music with the Russian National Orchestra and Pletnev. (Or nearly compete. Didn’t it have a soprano song?)

Elegies belong to strings. Fauré’s and Elgar’s were for strings. Grieg wrote Two Elegiac Melodies for Strings. Stravinsky wrote one for solo viola. Tchaikovsky’s other elegy for strings is the third movement of the 1880 Serenade.

There are really two Tchaikovsky winter symphonies: the first, which I posted recently, and Manfred. The marking lugubre occurs in both. The finale of the first begins with an andante lugubre. Manfred begins with a lento lugubre. For me, Manfred is, on the evidence of Svetlanov’s reading, Tchaikovsky’s greatest orchestral composition. That is a controversial view. He wrote it at the same time as Brahms was writing his greatest, the fourth symphony.

Poulenc composed much of the Dialogues des carmélites at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes in the ’50s and talks on film somewhere about a cycle of working in his room and going down to the bar and going back to work.

From Davos Tchaikovsky travelled to Paris and thence, in December, back to Russia.

Sex and the French

January 19 2014

Adam Gopnik. Transcript. Another essay in the A Point of View series: BBC Radio 4, January 14. There’s also a podcast.

I suppose the French attitude on this is the equivalent of their secularism. Gopnik is worth reading. Avoid any in the series by that dreary faux-intellectual Will Self, unless you want to be depressed.

Rodin in 1915

December 29 2013

From Sacha Guitry’s film Ceux de chez nous, Those of Our Land.

Music from Chopin’s second piano concerto, performers not stated.

Was he working in 1915? Like Balzac (post here), Rodin married in the year he died.

“The footage was taken in 1915, two years before Rodin’s death. There are several sequences. The first shows the artist at the columned entrance to an unidentified structure, followed by a brief shot of him posing in a garden somewhere. The rest of the film [...] was clearly shot at the palatial, but dilapidated, Hôtel Biron, which Rodin was using as a studio and second home.

“The mansion was built as a private residence in the early 18th century, and served as a Catholic school for girls from 1820 until about 1904, when it became illegal for public money to be used for religious education. When the last of the nuns cleared out, the rooms of the Hôtel Biron were rented out to a diverse group of people that included some notable artists: Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Henri Matisse and Rainer Maria Rilke, who served for a time as Rodin’s secretary. It was Rilke’s wife, the sculptor Clara Westhoff Rilke, who first told Rodin about the place in 1909.

“Rodin first rented four rooms on the main floor, but was alarmed when he learned of plans to sell the property off in pieces to developers. So he made a deal with the government: In exchange for bequeathing all his works to the French state, the sculptor was allowed to occupy the mansion for the rest of his life, and after he died, the estate would become the Musée Rodin.

“By the time actor Sacha Guitry and his cameraman arrived [...], Rodin was the sole occupant of the Hôtel Biron. The film shows the 74-year-old artist walking down the weed-covered steps of the mansion and working inside, chipping away at a marble statue with a hammer and chisel. When Rodin was asked once about how he created his statues, he said, ‘I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.’”

Rodin, Aubry

Rodin photographed by Charles Hippolyte Aubry circa 1862

The Fallacies of Hope

December 29 2013

From Beethoven to Rodin and from the baleful opening of Francesca da Rimini to the swagger of Till Eugenspiegel: Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, episode 12, BBC2, 1969.

Old posts:

The Light of Experience

The Smile of Reason.

Impression of a Balzac list

December 28 2013


Avant-propos, 1842 (Furne)

I  Études de mœurs au XIXe siècle

i  Scènes de la vie privée

La maison du chat-qui-pelote, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée as Gloire et malheur), 1839 (Charpentier as Gloire et malheur), 1842 (Furne with final title)

Le bal de Sceaux, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1842 (Furne)

Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées, 1842 (Furne)

La bourse, 1832 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1835 (Charles-Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Modeste Mignon, 1844 (Chlenowski), 1845 (Furne)

Un début dans la vie, 1844 (Dumont), 1845 (Furne)

Albert Savarus, 1842 (Furne)

La vendetta, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1835 (Charles-Bechet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Une double famille, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée as La femme vertueuse), 1842 (Furne with final title)

La paix du ménage, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1842 (Furne)

Madame Firmiani, 1832 (Gosselin), 1835 (Charles-Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Étude de femme, 1831 (Gosselin), 1842 (Furne)

La fausse maîtresse, 1842 (Furne)

Une fille d’Ève, 1839 (Souverain), 1842 (Furne)

Le message, 1833 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1842 (Furne)

La Grande Bretèche, 1831 (Gosselin), 1845 (Furne)

La grenadière, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1842 (Furne)

La femme abandonnée, 1833 (Charles Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Honorine, 1844 (Potter), 1845 (Furne)

Béatrix, 1839 (Souverain), 1842-45 (Furne)

Gobseck, 1830 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée as Les dangers de l’inconduite), 1835 (Charles-Béchet as Papa Gobseck), 1842 (Furne)

La femme de trente ans, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1837 (Werdet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Le père Goriot, 1835 (Werdet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1843 (Furne)

Le Colonel Chabert, 1835 (Charles-Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1844 (Furne)

La messe de l’athée, 1837 (Delloye et Lecou), 1844 (Furne)

L’interdiction, 1839 (Charpentier), 1844 (Furne)

Le contrat de mariage, 1835 (Charles-Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1842 (Furne)

Autre étude de femme, 1842 (Furne)

ii  Scènes de la vie de province

Ursule Mirouët, 1842 (Furne)

Eugénie Grandet, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1843 (Furne)

Les célibataires:

Pierrette, 1840 (Souverain), 1843 (Furne)

Le curé de Tours, 1832 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée as Les célibataires), 1834 (Charles-Béchet as Les célibataires), 1839 (Charpentier as Les célibataires), 1843 (Furne with final title)

La rabouilleuse, 1843 (Furne)

Les parisiens en province:

L’illustre Gaudissart, 1833 (Gosselin), 1842 (Furne)

La muse du département, 1837 (Werdet), 1842 (Furne)

Les rivalités:

La vieille fille, 1837 (Werdet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1844 (Furne)

Le cabinet des antiques, 1839 (Souverain), 1844 (Furne)

Illusions perdues:

Les deux poètes, 1837 (Werdet), 1843 (Furne)

Un grand homme de province à Paris, 1839 (Souverain), 1843 (Furne)

Ève et David1843 (Furne)

iii  Scènes de la vie parisienne

Histoire des Treize:

Ferragus, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1843 (Furne)

La duchesse de Langeais, 1839 (Charpentier), 1843 (Furne)

La fille aux yeux d’or, 1835 (Charles-Béchet), 1843 (Furne)

César Birotteau, 1837 (Charles-Béchet), 1844 (Furne)

La maison Nucingen, 1838 (Werdet), 1842 (Furne)

Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, 1842-46 (Furne):

Comment aiment les filles ou Esther heureuse, 1838 (Werdet)

À combien l’amour revient aux vieillards, 1843 (Werdet)

Où mènent les mauvais chemins, 1846 (Werdet)

La dernière incarnation de Vautrin, 1847 (Werdet)

Les secrets de la princesse de Cadignan, 1842 (Furne)

Facino Cane, 1837 (Delloye et Lecou), 1844 (Furne)

Sarrasine, 1831 (Gosselin), 1844 (Furne)

Pierre Grassou, 1839 (Charles-Béchet), 1842 (Furne)

Les parents pauvres:

La cousine Bette, 1846 (Boniface)

Le cousin Pons, 1847 (Calmann-Lévy)

Un homme d’affaires, 1844 (Hetzel), 1846 (Furne)

Un prince de la bohème, 1844 (Potter), 1846 (Furne)

Gaudissart II, 1844 (Hetzel), 1846 (Furne)

Les employés, 1838 (Werdet as La femme supérieure), 1844 (Furne as Les employés ou La femme supérieure)

Les comédiens sans le savoir, 1846 (Furne)

Les petits bourgeois (completed by Charles Rabou), 1855 (Kiessling, Brussels), 1856 (Potter)

L’envers de l’histoire contemporaine:

Madame de la Chanterie, 1848 (Calmann-Lévy)

L’initié, 1848 (Calmann-Lévy)

iv  Scènes de la vie politique

Un épisode sous la Terreur, 1845 (Chlendowski), 1846 (Furne)

Une ténébreuse affaire, 1843 (Souverain et Lecou), 1846 (Furne)

Le député d’Arcis:

L’élection (completed by Charles Rabou), 1854 (Potter)

Le comte de Sallenauve (completed by Charles Rabou), 1856 (Potter)

La famille Beauvisage (completed by Charles Rabou), 1855 (Potter)

Z. Marcas, 1841 (Dessessart as La mort d’un ambitieux), 1846 (Furne)

v  Scènes de la vie militaire

Les Chouans, 1829 (Urbain Canal as Le dernier Chouan ou la Bretagne en 1800), 1834 (Vimont as Les Chouans ou la Bretagne en 1799), 1845 (Furne with final title)

Une passion dans le désert, 1837 (Delloye et Lecou), 1845 (Furne)

vi  Scènes de la vie de campagne

Les paysans (unfinished), 1854 (Houssiaux)

Le médecin de campagne, 1833 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1845 (Furne)

Le curé de village, 1841 (Souverain), 1845 (Furne)

Le lys dans la vallée, 1836 (Werdet), 1844 (Furne)


II  Études philosophiques

La peau de chagrin, 1831 (Gosselin with Canel), 1846 (Furne)

Jésus-Christ en Flandre, 1831 (Gosselin), 1846 (Furne)

Melmoth réconcilié (sequel to Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer), 1835 (Lequien), 1846 (Furne)

Le chef-d’œuvre inconnu, 1831 (Charles-Béchet), 1837 (Delloye et Lecou), 1846 (Furne)

Gambara, 1837 (Souverain), 1846 (Furne)

Massimilla Doni, 1837 (Souverain), 1846 (Furne)

La recherche de l’absolu, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1839 (Charpentier), 1846 (Furne)

L’enfant maudit, 1831 (Gosselin), 1836 (Werdet), 1845 (Furne)

Adieu, 1832 (Mame et Delaunay-Vallée), 1836 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

Les Marana, 1834 (Charles-Béchet), 1846 (Furne)

Le réquisitionnaire, 1831 (Gosselin), 1835 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

El Verdugo, 1831 (Gosselin), 1846 (Furne)

Un drame au bord de la mer, 1835 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

Maître Cornélius, 1832 (Gosselin), 1836 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

L’auberge rouge, 1831 (Gosselin), 1846 (Furne)

Sur Catherine de Médicis:

Introduction, 1842 (Souverain), 1846 (Furne)

Le martyr calviniste, 1842 (Souverain), 1846 (Furne)

La confidence des Ruggieri, 1837 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

Les deux rêves, 1831 (Gosselin), 1837 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

L’élixir de longue vie, 1831 (Gosselin), 1834 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

Les proscrits, 1831 (Gosselin), 1846 (Furne)

Louis Lambert, 1832 (Gosselin), 1836 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)

Séraphîta, 1835 (Werdet), 1846 (Furne)


III  Études analytiques

Physiologie du mariage, 1829 (Levasseur with Canel), 1846 (Furne)

Petites misères de la vie conjugale, 1846 (Chlenowski)

Pathologie de la vie sociale, 1839 (Charpentier):

Traité de la vie élégante

Théorie de la démarche

Traité des excitants modernes


This is not even the beginning of a complete or accurate list of early Balzac editions, but it mentions some important ones and includes all the novels and stories in The Human Comedy.

I couldn’t find a simple summary, so I referred to the English and French Wikipedia articles on each and checked some things elsewhere. Wikipedia is internally consistent neither in what data it presents for each title nor in the data themselves.

My list doesn’t show how stories evolved between editions nor when they were placed into groups. It doesn’t give dates of writing or mention serialisations. The overarching title The Human Comedy came with the Furne edition, from 1842.

I believe that the order of stories is the one given in Balzac’s final plan. He had ideas for many more which were not written or exist only in sketches.

More on all titles here. I have used this occasionally. Go to Classement alphabétique and to the “Notice” under each.

The Human Comedy does not include eight or nine pseudonymous novels (written or published 1822-26); a collection of stories, Les cent contes drôlatiques (1832-37); plays (a very early verse drama, Cromwell, and five mature prose plays: Vautrin, Les ressources de Quinola, Pamela Giraud, La marâtreMercadet); or two imaginary journeys, Voyage de Paris à Java (serialised 1832) and La Chine et les chinois (serialised 1842).

Delphi Classics sells the entire œuvre in English, including the plays, for Kindle for £1.59. French costs £1.97. Delphi, though not perfect, is almost the only publisher of out of copyright (or any) electronic texts to give a damn and correct and update its content. Reading now: Le contrat de mariage.

Balzac was born Tours 1799. Family. Oratorian grammar school in Vendôme. 1814: family moved to Paris. 1816: entered Sorbonne. Law office. Early writings. Dabbled in business ventures. 1836: took helm of Chronique de Paris, weekly magazine of society and politics. It failed. Started another publication, Revue Parisienne, which lasted for three issues.

February 1832: received letter from Odessa which lacked return address and was signed L’Étrangère, expressing sadness at the cynicism and atheism in La peau de chagrin and its portrayal of women.

Traced sender via advertisement in Gazette de France, and a long correspondence with Ewelina Hańska began (which would remind one of Tchaikovsky and Meck if Balzac and Hańska had not met soon afterwards in Neuchâtel). She was married to a Polish landowner living near Kiev. 1841: he died. 1843: Balzac visited her in St Petersburg, competing with Liszt.

March 14 1850: they drove from her estate to a church in Berdyczów (Berdychiv) and were married. The long journey to and from the ceremony took its toll on both. Her feet were so swollen she could hardly walk. He endured heart trouble.

May 20, his fifty-first birthday: they arrived in Paris. August 18: Balzac died. He was buried at the Cimetière du Père Lachaise.

Steichen, Balzac Monument

Rodin, Monument to Balzac, photographed by Edward Steichen, 1911

Kenneth Clark’s remarks on this statue, “the greatest piece of sculpture of the nineteenth century”, and from “the last great Romantic artist”, start at 44:20 here.

The dreamy student of Wittenberg

December 21 2013

In Shakespeare’s tragedy of Hamlet, the dreamy student of Wittenberg is suddenly confronted, by the revelation of his mother’s guilt, with the prospect of having to do the deed of Orestes. In face of this dreadful challenge, which finds him unfitted by temperament and unprepared by experience for making the response that his conscience demands, Hamlet does not resort to a physical withdrawal from the tragic scene in the fashion of his Hellenic counterpart. Orestes is conveyed away secretly, as a child, from the clutches of his mother and her lover and is brought up in distant Phocis in order to return to Argos in his manhood as his father’s avenger. Since his earliest memory, Orestes has grown up with the knowledge that this is the deed which it has been laid upon him to do. Hamlet learns his fate by a sudden intimation at an age when he has already passed the threshold of maturity; and the manner in which he withdraws in order to return is characteristically different. Understanding, from the first, that his spiritual agony cannot be escaped by physical flight, he deliberately assents to his mother’s request that he stay in Denmark instead of returning to Wittenberg; and thereupon he withdraws – on a far longer spiritual voyage – into the innermost depths of the Microcosm, in order to return to the Macrocosm, in the fullness of time, transformed, for the Orestian deed, into a demonic “man of action”.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

History of Western music in five minutes

December 13 2013

From Bernstein’s 1973 Norton Lectures at Harvard.

South Africa and the Balkans

December 11 2013

The desperate remedy of cutting the Gordian Knot with the sword, to which Austrian statesmanship, in its dealings with Serbia and Montenegro, resorted with such fatal results in 1914, had been resorted to with impunity by British statesmanship only fifteen years before, in its dealings with the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State.

In an age when the political creed of Nationalism was gaining ascendancy throughout the Western World, an identical problem of unusual difficulty presented itself to British imperialism in South Africa and to Austrian imperialism in South-Eastern Europe. In both regions the awakening of the local populations to national consciousness – and to consequent political aspirations towards national unity and independence – found one local nationality partitioned between a great multi-national empire and two small and fragmentary and backward but at the same time independent national states; and in both cases these states came to regard it as their mission to achieve the unity and independence of the whole of their own nation under their own flag, without being deterred by the consideration that the fulfilment of this national ambition on these lines would involve the disruption of the great multinational empire which now held half their nationals as its more or less unwilling subjects. In both cases the threatened empire made a series of clumsy, but on the whole well-meaning, efforts to safeguard its own integrity against its puny neighbours’ preposterous designs without a breach of the peace or a change in the territorial status quo but in both cases the imperial statesmen rather reluctantly came to the conclusion, after a time, that the existing partition of the recalcitrant nationality was not, after all, a possible basis for a permanent settlement, and that therefore their only practical prospect of obtaining a solution that would be satisfactory to themselves lay in taking advantage of their overwhelming superiority in military strength in order to unite the recalcitrant nationality under the imperial flag by putting a forcible end to their puny but aggressive neighbours’ independence.

When the Hapsburg Government acted on this policy in 1914 it brought about the exact opposite of the result at which it was aiming; for the ultimatum which it addressed to Serbia precipitated a general war which did not come to an end until the Hapsburg Monarchy itself had been broken in pieces. On the other hand, when the British Government applied the self-same policy in dealing with the Transvaal Republic in 1899, it did successfully achieve its aim by making war. The threat of an anti-British coalition of Continental European Powers never materialized; there was no intervention; the South African War was not enlarged, like the American Revolutionary War of 1775-83 or the Austro-Serbian War of 1914-18, to the dimensions of a general engagement; and so there was no question of its ending disastrously for Great Britain. The two Dutch Republics in South Africa were duly conquered by British arms and annexed by the British Crown; and the problem with which the British Empire had been faced by the rise of the Afrikander Dutch national movement was eventually solved by the creation [in 1910], within a British political framework, of a Union of South Africa in which the whole of the Afrikander Dutch nation was enabled to enjoy its national self-government in a partnership with the English settlers in its midst. This result of cutting the Gordian Knot in the loosely woven social fabric of South Africa stands out in extreme contrast to the result in South-Eastern Europe, where the indurated texture of historic memories turned the edge of the Austrian sword with such disastrous consequences for the Power that had ventured to draw it. While Dutch nationalism in South Africa has eventually been given satisfaction, at the cost of a minor local war, through a moderate and constructive process of political consolidation, Jugoslav nationalism in South-Eastern Europe has only been satisfied at the cost of a world war which has brought in its train the violent disruption of the whole previous political régime in that quarter of Europe.

The settlement of 1910 ended on May 31 1961, when South Africa became an independent republic and left the Commonwealth, beginning its thirty-three years in disgraced isolation.

In the same year, Mandela, not yet jailed, went underground and helped to found the ANC’s military wing. He also gave his first television interview (television hadn’t arrived yet in South Africa), to the UK’s Independent Television News:

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Industrial epigoni

December 9 2013

There are certain alarming indications [...] that England in our day is paying her penalty for the perilous honour of having been the first country to achieve the Industrial Revolution.

In our day the country that gave birth to the Industrial System of production is a by-word for its technological conservatism; and its arch-conservatives are not the surviving representatives of the pre-industrial dispensation in those rare patches of the English country-side that have contrived to resist the penetrating and pervasive influence of a latter-day English world of mines and mills. On the contrary, they are the colliers and the textile-manufacturers whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers were the pioneers in the discovery of our modern industrial technique. These pioneers led the way in the Industrial Revolution not only for England but for the World; and it is evidently just for this reason that the epigoni are now making themselves notorious for an êthos which is the exact antithesis of the adventurous, experimental, adaptable, creative spirit that made the pioneers’ fortune. The epigoni cannot believe that all is not “for the best” in a technique which gave its inventors a virtual monopoly of the world market for industrial products for the greater part of a century; and even the belief that they are still living “in the best of all possible worlds” for British manufacturers dies singularly hard in the face of a growing array of increasingly successful foreign competitors. It is now more than half a century since Germany and the United States – relieved, by the outcome of the wars of 1861-71, from their former handicaps of geographical disunity and political preoccupation – first entered the lists of the industrial tournament and threw down the gauntlet to Great Britain; and since the war of 1914-18 the ranks of Great Britain’s industrial competitors have been joined by Japan, who was an alter orbis, unacquainted with any form of Western technique, until “the eighteen-sixties”, and even by France, who missed her opportunity, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of making the inventions which Great Britain then invented, and winning the rewards which Great Britain duly won, because she then allowed Napoleon to recall her from a new industrial adventure to the old enterprise – already proved barren by a series of abortive essays – of establishing a political hegemony over Europe by military force. Yet even this formidable and ubiquitous competition with which the ci-devant “Workshop of the World” is now confronted has not led the British manufacturer to overhaul the technique by which his ancestors once made an easy conquest of a virgin world market; and a fortiori it has not led him to adopt the technique through which his ancestors’ English monopoly has been successfully disputed by his own foreign competitors.

These German, American, and Japanese poachers upon old English industrial preserves have had to face the problem of forcing an entry into a field already occupied by the English pioneers; and they have solved it by working out new kinds of technique which the Englishman had never thought of – or needed to think of – before their intrusion upon the scene: for instance, the technique of co-ordinating under a single management all the successive economic processes from the production of the raw materials to the marketing of the manufactured product, and the technique of procuring an unprecedentedly intimate and effective co-operation between the producer and the financier and between a nationally organized industry and the national Government. Like the English pioneers in their heyday, the present foreign competitors of the English epigoni have been free from the handicap of inheriting an older technique with a record of past efficacity which invites its present possessors to continue to bow down and worship it; and so, like the English pioneers, they have been free to make creative inventions. It is the English epigoni – in contrast to both their English predecessors and their foreign contemporaries – who are captivated by the idolization of an ephemeral technique; and the seriousness of the handicap can be gauged by the plight in which our English industry finds itself to-day.

In this light we can see that Great Britain is suffering doubly from her success, since 1914, in avoiding both the two calamities of invasion and inflation which have overtaken France and Germany respectively. It is not only that these two industrial competitors of hers have been positively strengthened by the stimulus of blows to which they have effectively responded. From the English point of view it is perhaps even more serious that Great Britain herself, in escaping these blows, has lost a golden opportunity of relieving herself from the incubus of her own industrial past. She might have faced an industrially rejuvenated France and Germany with less cause for apprehension if only the same stroke of Fortune which has reinvigorated them had at the same time shattered the British idol of an obsolete pioneer technique.

In other words, she failed to develop a coherent industrial policy. Her later industrialists were amateurs who did not fully understand or respect the craftsman and engineer. They were ignorant of science. The class system widened the gulf between them and their workforces.

The complacent “idolization of an ephemeral technique” is one of many forms of idolatry that Toynbee considers.

Correlli Barnett is a historian of, inter alia, Britain’s industrial decline. Pride and Fall sequence (the last paragraph but one is not a summary of its arguments):

The Collapse of British Power, Methuen, 1972

The Audit of War: The Illusion and Reality of Britain as a Great Nation, Macmillan, 1986

The Lost Victory: British Dreams, British Realities, 1945-50, Macmillan, 1995

The Verdict of Peace: Britain Between Her Yesterday and the Future, Macmillan, 2001

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939


December 8 2013

Fritz Kreisler (last post) interviewed by Abraham Chasens, musical manager of WQXR radio station, for his 80th birthday, February 2 1955. Before the interview, recorded messages from Mischa Elman, Yehudi Menuhin, Nathan Milstein, Erica Morini, Joseph Szigeti, Ruggiero Ricci, Isaac Stern. (The second clip ends abruptly, but this is all there is.) The two stills show him with Casals.

We learn the reason why he published his Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen as a set by Lanner (nobody knew they were by Kreisler until he was sixty). He published other pieces with false attributions.

He says how much he admires Barbirolli. His recording of the Brahms concerto with him and the LPO is here. Kreisler had owned the manuscript of that work until, as he tells us, his wife made him give it to “the public library”.

Elgar received three great compliments from Germans (or Austrians): from Richard Strauss, from Hans Richter and from Fritz Kreisler. Kreisler said to the Hereford Times, published October 7 1905:

“If you want to know whom I consider to be the greatest living composer, I say without hesitation Elgar. … I say this to please no one; it is my own conviction. … I place him on an equal footing with my idols, Beethoven and Brahms. He is of the same aristocratic family. His invention, his orchestration, his harmony, his grandeur, it is wonderful. And it is all pure, unaffected music. I wish Elgar would write something for the violin.” (Wikipedia)

He did. His violin concerto is dedicated to Kreisler, who gave the first performance with the LSO under Elgar on November 10 1910. What a pity that Kreisler never recorded it. Somebody needs to write the definitive story of Elgar’s rise and fall in Germany. Kreisler’s comment is fairly sensational coming out of that world, as was Richter’s.

One might be tempted to call him the Richard Tauber of the violin if it didn’t sound patronising. No proper track explanations on YouTube and I’m not adding them.

Old world

December 7 2013

Fritz Kreisler, Liebesfreud, Fritz Kreisler, Franz Rupp, 1938. In 1938 Kreisler, who was Austrian Jewish, moved from Germany to France. In the following year to the US, where he died in 1962 (he had already lived there from 1914 to ’24). This is the first of the Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen. They were published in 1905 and deliberately misattributed (why?) to Joseph Lanner. The other two are Liebesleid (sic) and Schön Rosmarin.

Antonín Dvořák, Humoresque. Twice: first arrangement by Mischa Elman played by Elman and Percy Kahn, then (3:36) arrangement by Fritz Kreisler played by Kreisler and George Falkenstein. Both recordings 1910. The piece is the seventh of a set of eight Humoresques Dvořák composed for piano in 1894.

Edward Elgar, Salut d’amour, Yehudi Menuhin, Adolph Baller, December 28 1944. Salut d’amour was written for violin and piano in 1888.

Locations of recordings not known (to me).

Flying 2

December 6 2013

If you ever take the BA flight from Cairo to London, get a window seat on the left (as you face forward) with a full view. On a clear day, as we had yesterday, you get impressive morning views of the city after take-off.

Cairo had seemed scruffier than before the revolution. People are poorer, or more people are poor. More are selling things on pavements. Traffic and parking are worse: the police are busy elsewhere. There seemed to be more animals (donkeys) on the streets in downtown. The hotels near Tahrir Square after nearly three years are at ten per cent occupancy and less. Shepheard’s has closed its bar, not as a nod to religion, but because there is no one there. They suggest you go over the road to the Semiramis.

Delta: mud-coloured villages, rice fields (Egyptian rice is delicious), blue strips of water.

Venice sparkling in the sun: the S of the Grand Canal. Arsenal, station, causeway. Other islands: San Giorgio Maggiore, Giudecca, Lido, San Michele, Murano, Burano, Torcello.

Mestre: the dark side of the Venetian moon, which nobody dreams of entering except a few misguided tourists who are told that it is cheaper. In fact, it seems a pleasant city.

The most sensational view of the Alps I have ever had. Half an hour of them, from horizon to horizon, dusted by fresh snow. We must have flown close to Davos. Was that the Finsteraarhorn, or the Matterhorn?

The fields of Kent looked beautiful too, although it was midday and bright. Late afternoon and patches of sunlight and shade are usually best for England.

Most flights offer nothing to the eye. This one has its rewards, but I was too lazy to get my camera. (I won’t fly Egypt Air. In June 2006 the oxygen masks came down when my evening flight was just over the Mediterranean en route to London. We flew back to Cairo at a low altitude. The whole experience, oddly enough, wasn’t particularly frightening. There seemed to be nothing obviously wrong with the cabin air, so we stopped using the masks. Still, an unpleasant experience. And it’s a dry airline.)

Old posts:


The barbarian hinterland.

Bavaria and Austria

November 30 2013

While the transfigured eastern march of Bavaria [or cluster of marches: Upper Austria, Lower Austria, Styria] has been playing her great part in the life of our Western Society and in the life of the World, the Bavarian interior has remained one of those small countries which are “happy in having no history” – as is signified in the fact that it has retained the original Bavarian name which Austria has discarded. During the ten or twelve centuries that have elapsed since Bavaria and Austria first parted company and began to go their different ways, the Bavarian êthos has remained parochial and exuberant and sanguine, whereas the Austrian êthos has become oecumenical and fastidious and sceptical. The contrast between the temperaments respectively prevalent in these two South German Catholic countries to-day cannot fail to strike the traveller who passes from one into the other at almost any point on their long common frontier [...].

A Bavarian in Peking (recent post).

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

Twin assaults

November 27 2013

The Mongols invaded Japan in 1274, and again in 1281, after the completion of their conquest of the Sung Empire in 1279. On both occasions Japanese valour was assisted by storms that made havoc of the invaders’ ships. In 1274 the Mongols’ expeditionary force was small, and it broke off its attack after only one day’s fighting. In 1281 the invading force was on a large scale, and the attack was kept up for two months. The repulse of these two Mongol assaults on Japan had as momentous an effect on mankind’s history as the repulse of the two Persian assaults on European Greece in the fifth century B.C. [492-90 and 480-79] and as the failure of the two Muslim Arab sieges of Constantinople [674-78 and 717-18].

He could have added: “and as the failure of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna” (1529 and 1682-83).

The Persians never set foot on mainland Greek soil again, nor the Mongols on Japanese. The Arabs never returned to the walls of Constantinople, nor the Turks to the walls of Vienna.

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

A war of amateurs

November 25 2013

One reason why the American Civil War was so perversely fruitful in the improvement of military technique was because it was mainly a war of amateurs, who were fairly representative of all the talent that the community could muster, and who were not inhibited from applying their wits to military affairs by the cramping effect of a hide-bound military tradition. The majority of our great Western wars in the Modern Age have been fought under the command of professional officers; and some instinct of self-preservation has inspired our modern Western Society to recruit its military officers from among its less able members, and then to cripple the abilities which they possess by a rigid routine. The exception which proves this rule is the school of professional officers in Prussia who won the European wars of 1864-71 .

Lions led by donkeys” (Wikipedia).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Furor Assyriacus

November 19 2013

The mad-dog militarism of a National-Socialist Germany [...] could only be compared with the last phase of the furor Assyriacus, after its temperature had been raised to the third degree by Tiglath-Pileser III (regnabat 746-727 B.C.).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954


November 18 2013

[A] discouraging symptom in Modern Western history had been the emergence there, first in Prussia and latterly in Germany at large, of a militarism that had been deadly in the histories of other civilizations. Militarism was a portentous moral evil because it was an abnormal one. The millions of human beings who had sacrificed wealth, happiness, and life itself in fighting the battles of some parochial state, whose subjects they had happened to be, had mostly gone to war, not because they had delighted in War for its own sake, but because they had more or less ruefully resigned themselves to war-making as an evil necessary for the preservation of another evil – Parochial Sovereignty – to which they had perversely said “Be thou my good”. [Footnote: Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 110.] In contrast to this normal negative human attitude towards the evil of War, militarism was a state of mind in which War had ceased to be looked upon merely as a means of serving an idolized state and had become an idol and an end in itself; and this cult of War was manifestly something contrary to Human Nature.

On this showing, it was disquieting for a Western historian to recall in A.D. 1952 that a Modern Western militarism in its pristine Prussian form had made its first appearance – regnantibus Frederico Gulielmo I et Frederico II, A.D. 1713-86 – in an age in which, of all ages of latter-day Western history, the evil of War had been at its minimum. Yet this Western militarism, as it had been practised in Prussia in the days of Frederick the Great and even in the darker days of Bismarck, had been, like the Hellenic militarism practised at Sparta in the days of Cleomenes I, a vice that had still been kept within bounds by a surviving respect for at least some of a civilization’s traditional conventions. The more devastating militarism of a post-Bismarckian Prussia-Germany which had brought upon the Western World the catastrophe of A.D. 1914-18 had been a Western counterpart of a Spartan spirit, exacerbated by the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War of 431-404 B.C., which had found its nemesis in 371 B.C. at Leuctra, or of a Babylonic militarism practised in Assyria in the days of Asshurnazirpal II and Shalmaneser III (regnabant 883-824 B.C.). As for the mad-dog militarism of a National-Socialist Germany, this could only be compared with the last phase of the furor Assyriacus, after its temperature had been raised to the third degree by Tiglath-Pileser III (regnabat 746-727 B.C.). It was true that, in A.D. 1952, it might look as if the fires of Western militarism had at least temporarily burnt themselves out, even in Germany, and at the same date it seemed improbable that even the virus of Russophobia would prove sufficiently inflammatory to kindle the same flame in the traditionally unpropitious atmosphere of the United States. Nevertheless, the fact that, no farther than seven years back, one of the principal nations of the Western World had been still waging an unprovoked war for war’s sake, and this with all its might, was a fact of bad augury for the Western Civilization’s prospects.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire

November 9 2013

In the commercial centres in the heart of their dominions – Constantinople, Smyrna, Salonica, Sarayevo – the ʿOsmanlis settled civilian communities of refugee Sephardī Jews from Spain and Portugal.

Above all in Salonica. With the Alhambra decree in 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain who did not accept Christianity.

Like their compatriots and contemporaries who settled at Leghorn, these modern Hispanic Jewish settlers in the Levant stepped into the shoes of medieval Italian men of business.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)


November 9 2013

Assassinations in Davos and Paris (old post).

Wikipedia’s featured article today is about Tippett’s A Child of Our Time. I prefer it to Britten’s no less deeply felt, but rather kitschy, War Requiem. Performance tomorrow in Arnhem:

The Smile of Reason

October 1 2013

Kenneth Clark, Civilisation, episode 10, BBC2, 1969.

Old post: The Light of Experience.

Crossing the Alps

September 28 2013

In A.D. 960 Pope John XII called in Otto the Saxon from beyond the Alps, as Stephen II had called in Pepin the Frank; [footnote] and in A.D. 962 Otto was crowned Emperor in Rome by John, as Charles had been crowned in 800 by Leo.


Otto’s passage of the Alps in A.D. 961, in response to the call of Pope John XII, was not, of course, his first appearance in Italy, any more than Pepin’s passage of the Alps in A.D. 755, in response to the call of Pope Stephen II, was the first occasion on which the Franks had shown themselves on Italian ground. As early as A.D. 951 Otto had already visited Italy on his own initiative in order to establish his suzerainty over the North Italian “successor-state” of the Carolingian Empire. This was ten years before he himself assumed the Italian Crown at Pavia in A.D. 961, and eleven years before he was crowned Emperor at Rome in 962.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Night musics

September 27 2013

The second and fourth movements of Mahler 7 are called Nachtmusik. Not classic Mahler playing, perhaps, but Leningrad Philharmonic, Kirill Kondrashin, 1975.

The other twentieth-century composer of night musics was Britten.

Old post: O Mensch! Gib acht!

Hymn to the Night

September 26 2013

Francesco d’Avalos. He is still living and comes from an Aragonese Neapolitan family. This is a Mediterranean night, with its ruddy and much-travelled moon, not the Persian night of Szymanowski and Rumi. I find Szymanowski oppressive. D’Avalos’s Hymn could be performed alongside Henze’s Nachtstücke und Arien, which was perhaps an influence. Henze, a thread here, is conducting the Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks (Radio Francoforte), I suppose at Darmstadt, in 1958.

D’Avalos site.

Ruy and Roy

September 24 2013

Random 1830s, one of my favourite decades. Mendelssohn’s 1839 Ruy Blas, overture after the play by Hugo which had inaugurated the Théâtre de la Renaissance on November 8 1838. Beecham used to conduct it. It isn’t often played now. Madrid, 1699. Ruy Blas, a commoner, falls in love with Maria de Neubourg, consort of the decrepit young Charles II, the last Spanish Hapsburg (the first Bourbon is Philip V).

San Francisco Symphony, Monteux, War Memorial Opera, March 27 1949.


Berlioz’s 1831 Rob Roy, overture after the novel by Scott, 1817, about an English boy who gets mixed up in the 1715 Jacobite uprising and meets the real-life hero Rob Roy MacGregor. Some of the music would be reused in Harold in Italy, his symphony after Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. His opus 1 in 1828, Waverley, had been another Scott overture.

Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Dutoit, 1987.