The chair of Kichwa

February 24 2014

The Roman Catholic Christian missionaries [in the Americas and in the Philippines] disregarded the Spanish secular authorities’ injunction to impose the Castilian language on the Indians as the medium of religious instruction. In their single-minded concern to preach the Gospel, the missionaries refused to be diverted by raison d’état from taking the shortest way to reach the Indians’ hearts. Even in the Philippines, where there was no pre-Castilian lingua franca, they learnt, and preached in, the local languages; and they went much farther in the Viceroyalty of Peru, where a native lingua franca had already been put into currency by the Spanish conquerors’ Inca predecessors. The missionaries in Peru reduced this Quichua lingua franca to writing in the Latin Alphabet; in A.D. 1576 a chair of Quichua was founded at the University of Lima, where it was maintained until A.D. 1770; and in 1680 a knowledge of Quichua was made an obligatory qualification for any candidate for ordination in Peru to the Roman Catholic Christian priesthood.

The Inca, unlike the Aztecs, had not had a writing system.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

San Juan Chamula

February 24 2014

In Mexico [...] the Indians, though they had been converted to Christianity by force and had never been given freedom to reject it, displayed their voluntary attachment to it, 300 years later, in their resistance to the militant anti-clericalism which was in the ascendant during one stage of the long revolution that started in Mexico in A.D. 1910. In A.D. 1953 the Indian peasants were once more free to show their pride in their village churches and their zest for the Roman Catholic Christian liturgy. In the same year, however, the writer found a different spirit prevailing among the Chamulas – a highland people on the remote Las Casas plateau, in the south-western corner of the Mexican Republic [in the state of Chiapas], where Spanish military and political power had been so near to the end of their tether that the local tribesmen had been able to hold their own.

Even in 1953 the city of Las Casas, inhabited by Ladino descendants of sixteenth-century Spanish and Tlascalec colonists, felt like an island of Western Civilization set in an alien sea; and the short drive from this insulated Western city to the village capital of the unassimilated Chamula tribe carried the visitor into another world.

The Tlaxcaltec were indigenous allies of the Spanish against the Aztecs. Their home was in the area of the present state of Tlaxcala.

Among the buildings round the village green, the most prominent was a fine Baroque church; but there was no tabernacle on the altar; the priest from Las Casas ventured to come to officiate there on sufferance not more than once or twice a year, so it was said; and the church was in the hands of shamans who, for decency’s sake, were called “sacristans”. The effigies of the Christian saints on their litters had been transfigured into representations of pre-Christian gods in the eyes of their Chamula worshippers, who, squatting on the rush-covered floor, were making weird music on outlandish-looking instruments. The crosses planted in the open had turned into living presences that were aniconic embodiments of the rain-god. In short, in Chamula the West’s sixteenth-century assault in the form of a Roman Catholic Christian mission had been successfully repelled, and it remained to be seen what would be the outcome of the West’s twentieth-century return to the charge. This post-Christian Western assault upon the Chamula had been mounted in the brand-new co-operative store and brand-new clinic by which the de-Christianized church was now flanked. Would Western medicine and Western business organization prove more effective than Western religion as engines for capturing this obstinately pagan fastness?

The answer to that question seems to be “not much”. Wikipedia (edited):

“San Juan Chamula is a municipio (municipality) and township in the Mexican state of Chiapas, with over 50,000 inhabitants. It is situated some 10 km (6.2 mi) from San Cristóbal de las Casas.

“Chamula is located in the Chiapas highlands, at an altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet), inhabited by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people, whose Tzotzil language is one of the Mayan languages.

“The town enjoys a unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village. Chamulas have their own police force.

“The church of San Juan, in the municipal cabecera (headtown), is filled with colourful candles and smoke from burning copal resin incense, commonly used throughout southern Mexico. Along the walls of the church, as in many Catholic churches, are dressed-up wooden statues of saints in large wooden cases, many wearing mirrors to deflect evil. The local form of Catholicism is a blend of pre-conquest Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions, and subsequent innovations.

“There are no pews in the church, and the floor area is completely covered in a carpet of green pine boughs dotted with soda bottles (mostly Coca-Cola). Curanderos (medicine men) diagnose medical, psychological or ‘evil-eye’ afflictions and prescribe remedies such as candles of specific colours and sizes, specific flower petals or feathers, or – in a dire situation – a live chicken. The specified remedies are brought to a healing ceremony. Chamula families kneel on the floor of the church with sacrificial items, stick candles to the floor with melted wax, drink ceremonial cups of Posh, artisanal sugar-cane-based liquor, Coca-Cola or Pepsi, and chant prayers in an archaic dialect of Tzotzil.

“Photography in the town is very difficult as parents will hide their children or they themselves will turn away as soon as they spot a camera. Photography within the church is strictly prohibited, as is photographing the Christmas procession to the church. They can throw you out of town if you attempt to violate this rule.

“The main agricultural products are corn, beans, potatoes, and cabbage.

“Women often make traditional clothing, blankets, and souvenirs that include Zapatista-related items, such as pens with a clay figure on top in the figure of Subcomandante Marcos or Comandante Tacho.”

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Westminster Hall

February 23 2014

The enthusiastic Sir Robert RogersClerk and Chief Executive of the House of Commons. BBC Radio 4, The Westminster Hour, February 9. Podcast at iTunes or the last eleven minutes, starting at 23:40, here.

Wikipedia. 2015 will be the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta and 750th of Simon de Montfort’s parliament. Is an inspired modern reassertion, rejuvenation, reinvention of Westminster democracy too much to hope for?

Spirit of Teotihuacan

February 23 2014

In Mexico the spirit of a benignant vein in Meso-American visual art that had always been subordinate and had latterly been almost entirely submerged under the savagery of an Aztec ascendancy was reproduced, and given predominance, in a cheerfully extravagant version of the Early Modern Western baroque style. In the ultra-Baroque village churches of the Puebla district the writer found himself in the presence of the aesthetic and emotional equivalent of a pre-Columbian fresco, depicting the merry paradise of the usually grim Mexican rain-god Tlaloc, which he had seen a few days before at Teotihuacán; and the sixteenth-century missionaries’ success in divining and meeting their Indian peasant converts’ spiritual needs was attested in A.D. 1953 by the loving care that the converts’ descendants were still lavishing on these magnificent works of an exotic architecture and art that had been bequeathed to them by the Spanish friars who had arrived in the wake of the conquistadores.

In 1942, Alfonso Caso had identified the central figures in the murals in the Tepantitla apartment complex at Teotihuacan, which are from roughly 400-700 CE, as a Teotihuacan equivalent of Tlaloc (the name Tlaloc is Aztec, but the idea of a rain god identified with mountaintop shrines is as old as Teotihuacan).

This was the consensus when Toynbee was writing, but in 1974 Peter Furst suggested that the figures showed a feminine deity. Esther Pasztory concluded that they represented a vegetation and fertility goddess who was a predecessor of the much later Aztec goddess Xochiquetzal. She is now known as the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan and sometimes as the Teotihuacan Spider Woman.

Great Goddess of Teotihuacan

Reproduction of one of the Teotihuacan murals depicting the Great Goddess, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

The Indian boy (old post).

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Scottish separation

February 23 2014

Transcript of Roger Scruton, BBC Radio 4, A Point of View. Worth reading in full.

“Suppose then we English were finally allowed a say in the matter, which way would I vote? I have no doubt about it. I would vote for English independence, as a step towards strengthening the friendship between our countries. It was thanks to independence that the Americans were able at last to confess to their attachment to the old country, and to come to our aid in two world wars. Independence is what real friendship requires. And the same is true for those, like the Scots and the English, who live side by side.”


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

Survival of the Hinayana

February 21 2014

In A.D. 1956 the Hinayanian [Theravadan] Buddhist philosophy was the dominant way of life in Ceylon, Burma, Siam, and Cambodia; and in that year a Hinayanian Buddhist oecumenical council was in session at Rangoon, sitting placidly within a stone’s throw of the tense borderline between a Communist-dominated and a Western-dominated hemisphere. This serenity was an heroic example of a spirit that was also in evidence in ordinary life in the Hinayanian Buddhist countries. Many Western observers, including Westerners who were still Christians, were impressed by the strength, pervasiveness, and beneficence of the Hīnayāna’s influence on the êthos of the people at large, beyond the small circle of professed philosopher-monks. If philosophers, as well as prophets, are to be known by their fruits, [footnote: Matt, vii. 16 and 20.] the Hinayanian Buddhist philosophers need not fear comparison with their Mahayanian critics. Yet the local survival of the Hīnayāna in South-Eastern Asia was no more than a modest practical success by comparison with the tenacity of Confucianism; and elsewhere the Hīnayāna, like the Hellenic philosophies, had been superseded by other faiths. In its Indian homeland it had been evicted by a post-Buddhaic Hinduism; and, on the threshold of a vast mission-field in China, Korea, and Japan, the adherents of an advancing Buddhism had fallen away from a Hinayanian philosophy to a Mahayanian religion, in which the social demands of Love and Pity had been given patent precedence over the pursuit of self-sufficiency through self-extinction.

Old posts:

The survival of the Brahmans

Survival of the Confucians.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956


February 20 2014

Nigerians should be getting onto the streets this evening.

High Baedeker and other matters

February 20 2014

“Singapore is the meeting place of many races. The Malays, though natives of the soil, dwell uneasily in towns, and are few; and it is the Chinese, supple, alert and industrious, who throng the streets; the dark-skinned Tamils walk on their silent, naked feet, as though they were but brief sojourners in a strange land, but the Bengalis, sleek and prosperous, are easy in their surroundings, and self-assured; the sly and obsequious Japanese seem busy with pressing and secret affairs; and the English in their topees and white ducks, speeding past in motor-cars or at leisure in their rickshaws, wear a nonchalant and careless air.”

W Somerset Maugham, P&O, story in The Casuarina Tree, William Heinemann, 1926.

The first sentence there is in what could be called High Baedeker.

EM Forster (who brings Baedekers into A Room with a View) uses it in the first sentence of A Passage to India, Edward Arnold, 1924:

“Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.”


Another story, The Letter, in the same Maugham collection, has a similar passage to the one in P&O:

“Outside on the quay the sun beat fiercely. A stream of motors, lorries and buses, private cars and hirelings, sped up and down the crowded thoroughfare, and every chauffeur blew his horn; rickshaws threaded their nimble path amid the throng, and the panting coolies found breath to yell at one another; coolies, carrying heavy bales, sidled along with their quick jog-trot and shouted to the passer-by to make way; itinerant vendors proclaimed their wares. Singapore is the meeting-place of a hundred peoples; and men of all colours, black Tamils, yellow Chinks, brown Malays, Armenians, Jews and Bengalis, called to one another in raucous tones.”

He is enjoying the mixture of black, yellow, brown and white. That isn’t racist.

“Chinks” is still used sometimes in India. It is one of a dwindling number of verbal survivals from the Raj. “Peg”, as in “a peg of whisky”, is another. An Indian man in Delhi – who is married to a Tibetan (Tibetans are a significant minority there) – referred to “chinkies” when talking to me in 2010 and did not in the least mean to be offensive. I am not sure whether he meant to include Tibetans.

Mussoorie, a mere 170 miles away, has the training centre for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

In 1984, when I first visited Singapore, people would still ask where one was “putting up”, to mean where was one staying.

Singaporeans like the phrase “cock and bull story”.

Jews? They were and are an important, though small, minority, mainly Iraqi Jews, whose modern diaspora got under way in the nineteenth century. They settled in Bombay and moved east. I knew one very well in Singapore. See Wikipedia articles on David Sassoon of Bombay and Edward Isaac Ezra of Shanghai, especially. There are Sassoons in Singapore. David Marshall, one of Singapore’s modern founding fathers, was an Iraqi, or Baghdadi, Jew.

Armenians? They were a parallel movement. The Raffles Hotel was founded by Armenians, the Sarkies Brothers. The Straits Times was co-founded by an Armenian, Catchick Moses. Was he also Jewish? I suppose both groups were attracted by a growing trade between South Asia and the West and found little room for their energy in a declining Ottoman Empire.


Raffles, despite its sugar-coating and fakifying, is a fine building, especially from the side. Its architect was Regent Alfred John Bidwell (1869-1918) of a local firm, Swan and Maclaren. He also designed the Victoria Memorial Hall and deserves to be remembered.

You immediately feel that Raffles has taken something from Malay architecture. But what? Compare the Wikipedia picture of Raffles with the main Wikipedia image of the Rumah Melayu, the traditional Malay house. Here are both.

Rumah Kedah

Raffles Hotel

It is hard to pinpoint the architectural feature which defines a hybrid style, but the windows are similar. The Rumah Melayu tradition is indigenous. In its origin, it owes nothing to colonial influences. But does that house in Kedah owe nothing or is it itself done in a local hybrid style which in turn influenced the design of Raffles?

The Singapore shophouse style was a hybrid of Chinese and Portuguese vernaculars, with Malay decorative elements. The Baker-Lutyens style in New Delhi is a hybrid of European and Mughal.

Baker’s and Lutyens’s buildings did not come out of a local hybrid vernacular, but were products of individual genius. That is why New Delhi feels unreal to some people. Not to me. Its architects were too talented. If you want unreal stage sets, go to Putrajaya in Malaysia.

The great indigenous vernacular architectures of East Asia are Japanese and Malay. Some primitive Chinese vernacular is also moving.

Old posts:

Loggia, arcade and shophouse (Singapore architecture)

Anglo-India (P&Os)

Baedeker, Britannica and others


Confrontations in Singapore

February 19 2014

Why is the history of Singapore so fascinating? It has a strong atmosphere, though the city nowadays is called sterile. The modern founding fathers seem, in the ’50s and ’60s, magnetic, but nobody is attracted to their successors.

A rough guide to British Malaya (old post). Singapore became self-governing in 1959, joined the new Federation of Malaysia in 1963, seceded from it on August 9 1965.

Five 45-minute episodes of Days of Rage, documentary series on Channel NewsAsia, are online now. Historical order:

  1. Nadra. December 11 1950. An argument over the custody of Maria Hertogh between her Malay-Muslim foster mother and her Dutch-Catholic real parents led to rioting by Muslims. Nadra was her Muslim name.
  2. Hock Lee Bus Riots. May 12 1955. A communist-instigated strike in a bus company.
  3. Race Riots. July 21 1964. The beginning of the end for Singapore in the new Federation of Malaysia. Thirteen months later, the two nations would separate.
  4. Konfrontasi. March 10 1965. MacDonald House on Orchard Road was bombed while Malaysia was in an undeclared war with Indonesia.
  5. Laju Hijack. January 31 1974. Two members of the Japanese Red Army and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine set off bombs in an oil refinery on Pulau Bukom, an offshore island, and seized the ferryboat Laju.

The films are partly acted (chubbier modern actors in place of slimmer originals, as always; the most absurd example of this I ever saw was a film about the Egyptian pyramids in which pampered, pudgy modern bodies hauled stones), but there are talking heads and old footage. For some surviving witnesses, we are told, “this is the first time they have shared their [...] stories”.

There were riots in Little India last December. There were Anti-National Service Riots in 1954 and riots by pro-communist Chinese school students in 1956. Further race riots in 1969 were a spillover from Malaysia.

Producer and directors: first episode (broadcast order), Joan Chee; second, third, fifth, Tom St John Gray; fourth, Janice Young. Channel NewsAsia is part of MediaCorp, which is owned by Temasek, which is the Lee family. Thanks to Adrian Murdoch for the link. Adrian’s edition of three early lives of Raffles is here.

Singapore pre-1975 (Flickr group).

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

Cotton pickers

February 17 2014


Similar to image yesterday and to others by George Clausen here.

Cotton, not swedes. Mississippi, perhaps, not Hertfordshire. I know nothing about this picture, but am guessing early or mid-1880s. Clausen used photography in preparing his outdoor paintings circa 1882 to ’84.

Winter Work 2

February 16 2014

Brahms, String Quintet 2 in G. Quartet with extra viola. Performers not stated. Clausen painting. Better image. Music 1890, painting 1883-84.

Winter Work (old post).

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

Rosalind Murray bibliography

February 14 2014

Toynbee’s first wife, from 1913 to 1946. Cv (page here).


The Leading Note, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1910

Moonseed, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1911

Unstable Ways, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1914

The Happy Tree, Chatto and Windus, 1926

Hard Liberty, Chatto and Windus, 1929


On the Greeks

The Greeks, Preface by Gilbert Murray, A&C Black, 1931


Religious tracts after conversion to Catholicism

The Good Pagan’s Failure, Longmans, Green & Co, 1939

Time and the Timeless, Centenary Press, 1942

The Life of Faith, Centenary Press, 1943

The Forsaken Fountain, Hollis and Carter, 1948

The Further Journey: In My End Is My Beginning, Harvill Press, 1953


She had a small reputation as a novelist before 1920.

EM Forster to Malcolm Darling, July 29 1911: “The best novels I have come across in the past year are Rosalind Murray’s The Leading Note [...] and Wedgwoods Shadow of a Titan [...].”

Virginia Woolf, diary, November 12 1917: “I went to Mudies, & got The Leading Note, in order examine into R.T. more closely [...]. I came home with my book, which does not seem a very masterly performance after Turgenev, I suppose [The Leading Note is about a Russian refugee]; but if you dont get your touches in the right place the method is apt to be sketchy & empty.” Both from html sources.

McNeill: “Her career as an apologist resembled her career as a novelist in the sense that The Good Pagan’s Failure attracted much more attention than what followed.” But he regards The Happy Tree as her best novel.

UK publishing dates.

Spanish cities in the Americas

February 13 2014

[The] practice of diffusing Hellenism in the Roman Empire by means of the foundation of city-states was reproduced in the Spanish Empire of the Indies; and the Medieval Spanish institution which was thus propagated in the Americas in an Early Modern Age of Western history was in truth a renaissance of the Hellenic institution that had originally been propagated in Spain by Roman conquistadores from Italy. [Footnote: See Haring, C. H.: The Spanish Empire in America (New York 1947, Oxford University Press), p. 159.] Like the Hellenic cities planted in the post-Alexandrine Age by Macedonian empire-builders in South-West Asia and Egypt and by Roman empire-builders round all the shores of the Mediterranean, these Spanish cities in the Americas had individual founders; [footnote: See ibid., p. 160.] they were laid out on the rectangular plan that, in the history of Hellenic town-planning, had been inaugurated in the fifth century B.C. [footnote: See ibid., p. 161.] by Hippodamus’s layout of the Peiraeus; and each civitas had a rural territorium attributed to it, to use the Roman technical term. [Footnote reference to an earlier part of the Study.] In the more settled regions of the Spanish Empire these municipal territoria were conterminous; and, in the undeveloped regions on the fringes, some of them were of vast extent. [Footnote: See Haring, op. cit., pp. 161-2.] By A.D. 1574 about a hundred Spanish city-states had already been founded within the area of the Incaic Empire’s former domain. [Footnote: See ibid., p. 160, n. 4.]

So is all this about the Viceroyalty of Peru rather than of New Spain?

“The Spanish American provinces, therefore, were in many instances a collection of municipalities, the latter … being the bricks of which the whole political structure was compacted.” [Footnote: Ibid., p. 162.]

If these Spanish colonial city-states thus resembled the post-Alexandrine Hellenic colonial city-states in serving as the cells of an intrusive alien régime’s administrative and judicial organization, they likewise resembled them in enjoying little more than a simulacrum of local self-government; for they had no sooner been founded than the Crown took into its own hands the appointment of the municipal officers. [Footnote: See ibid., pp. 164-5.] Above all, they resembled their Hellenic prototypes in being parasitic.

“In the Anglo-American colonies the towns grew up to meet the needs of the inhabitants of the country: in the Spanish colonies the population of the country grew to meet the needs of the towns. The primary object of the English colonist was generally to live on the land and derive his support from its cultivation; the primary plan of the Spaniard was to live in town and derive his support from the Indians or Negroes at work on plantations or in the mines. … Owing to the presence of aboriginal labour to exploit in fields and mines, the rural population remained almost entirely Indian.” [Footnote: Haring, op. cit., pp. 160 and 159.]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

On an Overgrown Path

February 12 2014

Vintage Bob Shingleton.

One part of BBC music that is still up to par most of the time is Building a Library (Radio 3). Jonathan Swain last Saturday on Vaughan Williams’s ninth symphony (a kind of continuation of his sixth, also in e minor) proved that. But they need to do some living or recent composers: composers if not specific works. What to buy by Ligeti, Xenakis?

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’.”

Living in the sight of God

February 10 2014

The worth of a blind and paralyzed painter who has never dipped a brush in paint would be no less than if he were articulate. I do believe that there is an absolute value in the human spirit quite apart from its material effects on society. There are many such people in the world. They would probably say – if they were religious – that their emotional and spiritual life was between them and God, that living and working in the sight of God was sufficient for them; they didn’t need their fellow men. Would this impoverish the spiritual estate of man? Yes, I think it would, not only because the estate of man is poorer for not having these people being articulate, but also because they had some unique and priceless quality to give which they have, in fact, not given.

Toynbee on Toynbee, A Conversation between Arnold J Toynbee and GR Urban, New York, OUP, 1974

Maxwell Davies and the string quartet

February 9 2014

Quartet movement: Allegro vivace 1952

String Quartet 1961 To Alexander Goehr

Little Quartets

  1. 1982 To Oriel Glock (In Memoriam)
  2. 1987 Reconstructed from 1977 sketches

Naxos Quartets 2002-07

  1. To Ian Kellam
  2. To Eric Guest
  3. Children’s Games To Giuseppe Rebecchini
  4. Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland To Thomas Daniel Schlee
  5. To Alexander Goehr
  6. Metafore sul Borromini To Archie Bevan on his eightieth birthday
  7. To Her Majesty The Queen on her eightieth birthday
  8. To Kathleen Ollerenshaw
  9. To the memory of Fausto Moroni

Blake Dreaming String quartet and baritone 2010 Commissioned by Nicholas and Judith Goodison

Concerto Accademico String orchestra and string quartet 2012 Commissioned by Regia Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna and Stuttgarter Kammerorchester


Why this? I’m trying to get to know them.

I am starting with the seventh because of its affinity, via Borromini, with the tenth symphony, whose premiere I attended the other day.

Am also trying to get to know the third symphony (1984), which was inspired in part by the churches of Brunelleschi.

The seventh has been criticised for being all slow movements, seven of them. That is its virtue. It is not overly Beethovenian, nor agitated and expressionist, nor minimalist, nor monotonous, nor funereal.

A big Roman work to parallel the seventh quartet and tenth symphony is the tone poem Roma Amor (1998), which I heard at the Proms several years ago.

This is all a way into Max that does not go via the Orkneys.

Differences between Oxford and Cambridge

February 8 2014

I have corrected and added to yesterday’s post on Atlas and Antaeus.

Alan Macfarlane on Oxford and Cambridge; beware his dates; he is at the back of King’s College and Clare:

Toynbee’s paternal ancestors were east of England farmers, but he was an Oxford man who spent most of his working life outside a university. He was, however, invited in 1947 to become Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in succession to GN Clark. See McNeill, pages 208-10 on his reasons for declining. The chair was taken by JRM Butler instead.

Silly repartee:

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 (footnote)

The cohesion of the Hindu world

February 6 2014

There seemed to be little sign [in A.D. 1952] of any tendency for a polyglot Hindu Society’s sense of oecumenical solidarity to disrupt itself into parochial national movements animated by the perverse ideal of manufacturing so many political fatherlands out of the areas in which the divers living vernacular languages of the Hindu World happened respectively to be current. If it were indeed true that the Hindus had not reacted in this unfortunate Western way to the literary cultivation of local living vernaculars under the stimulus of a classical language and literature derived from an antecedent civilization, the Hindus’ happier record in this respect was perhaps the consequence of external pressure rather than the fruit of innate virtue. Whereas the Modern Western World had been virtually free from external pressure from A.D. 1683, when the ʿOsmanlis had met with their second, and decisive, reverse before the walls of Vienna, down to A.D. 1917, when the Bolsheviks had entered into the heritage of a Petrine Russian Empire, the Hindu World had been under Muslim pressure since the tenth century of the Christian Era, and under Western pressure since the eighteenth.

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

Emperors of Rome

February 5 2014

Emperors of Rome final cover


February 4 2014

A hinge year:

Elgar dies Worcester February 23

Britten, Simple Symphony premiered Norwich March 6

Holst dies London May 25

Delius dies Grez June 10

Birtwistle born Accrington July 15

Maxwell Davies born Salford September 8

Walton 1 in b flat minor, first three movements, premiered London December 3

Vaughan Williams 4 in f minor completed

Tippett, String Quartet 1, first mature work, begun

(Coward, I’ll follow my secret heart premiered in Conversation Piece London February 16

Glyndebourne Festival Opera inaugurated May 28)

Vaughan Williams 4, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Vernon Handley

Hoping for the best (image in old post).

Winter Work

February 3 2014

Brahms, String Quintet 1 in F. Quartet with extra viola. Performers not stated. Clausen painting, so this gets in. Would anyway. Better image. Music 1882, painting 1883-84.

Trevor-Roper’s letters

February 2 2014

Since Trevor-Roper’s death, we have had a life of the physician Théodore de Mayerne; a study of Scottish history; a new volume of masterly essaysletters to Berenson; and his wartime journals (many pages of which are about hunting). And the Sisman biography and a volume of letters from Richard Cobb to him and others.

Now we have a hundred of his letters to various people (not Berenson) edited by Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman and published by OUP. Like the Berenson volume, this one has a few more withering lines on Toynbee, but nothing new.

John Banville, Guardian.


Taki on Davos

February 1 2014

“Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum’s founder, is a serious man who means well and tries to keep the bling and glitz out of his forum, but with people like Sean Parker throwing non-stop parties in order to self-promote, his is a Sisyphean task. [...] Still, the WEF is a good thing and many good people attend it and the world’s economy is better off for it.”

Taki, Spectator, February 1. The rest of the article is not interesting, but I agree with those words.

The world’s pin codes

January 31 2014

Hans Rosling, professor of global health, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, via David Pilling, FT. Article.

The “pincode of the world” is 1114. 1 bn people live in Europe, 1 bn in the Americas, 1 bn in Africa, 4 bn in Asia.

By 2050 it will be 1125. Europe and the Americas will stay the same, Africa will have doubled, Asia will peak at 5 bn.

By 2100 it will be 1145. The global population will peak at 11 bn, with 4 bn in Africa and 5 bn in Asia. The main maritime thoroughfare will be the Indian Ocean, not the Pacific. The Indian Ocean will link 9 bn of the world’s 11 bn inhabitants.

Numbers may not mean much, but the world will be blacker.

Sarasota 1965

January 30 2014

Part of David of Sarasota, a silly undated film sponsored by the Sarasota County Chamber of Commerce, produced by LeRoy Crooks. Via Florida Memory, an initiative of State Archives of Florida. The 14-minute version has a clip of Toynbee, a charter faculty member of New College and in residence from December 20 (probably) 1964 until April 8 1965.

The College, an initiative of local citizens led by the Chamber of Commerce, had been founded in 1960. Toynbee’s appointment was announced October 5 1963 (St Petersburg Times, October 6, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, October 6). The College opened its doors to students in the fall of 1964.

The trustees had bought the former Charles Edward Ringling estate on Sarasota Bay and an area of airport land for the campus and were bequeathed the former home of Ellen and Ralph Caples.

Charles Ringling (1863-1926) of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was the older brother of John Nicholas Ringling (1866-1936). The Ringling Brothers Circus acquired Barnum and Bailey in 1907.

Near the campus is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, John Ringling’s gift to Florida, “the museum the circus built”, with its bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David; on its property are the Museum of the Circus and the Asolo Repertory Theater, whose late eighteenth-century interior was shipped from Asolo, near Venice, in 1949.

We are shown the Ringling complex, and the Players Community Theater, Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra, Sarasota Concert Band, Sarasota High School and its Sailor Circus, Emmett Kelly, Ben Stahl, Thornton Outes, Syd SolomonAl BuellJohn D McDonaldIrving Vendig, beach life and sport, Florida Ballet Art School and Hilton Leech Gallery.

Material from Toynbee’s New College lectures found its way into Change and Habit. From 1955 to 1967, Toynbee exploited the possibilities of the American lecture circuit. “Each time he used his host institutions as a base from which to travel far and wide in pursuit of additional lecture fees.” (McNeill) 

Tempting as it would be to call this post Bread from circuses, New College was not a Ringling foundation (though the Ringling School of Art was).

The lectures – one was on Food and Population – are likely to have been in the usual mould. Did these recycled talks justify the fees? And as McNeill asks, were his side-trips fair on his hosts, who were paying to have him on their campus?

Florida Memory is wrong in dating the film to “ca. 1950s”. It is 1965, though, admittedly, most of the time Sarasota looks as if it is stuck in a more than ordinarily complete southern time-warp.

Toynbee to Columba Cary-Elwes, February 24:

The students here (all 100 of them, all straight of out high school) are of a very high level, and are very much worth trying to help, but we don’t like this part of Florida. After Denver, where we were very happy, it seems un-genuine.

He had taught at the University of Denver in the last quarter of 1964. April 5:

Though the students at New College are good, in every sense, we shall not be sorry to leave Sarasota: you have here the worst side of American life: frivolity combined with militant conservatism.

Sunday April 11 1965 New College news release to Bradenton Herald (extracts):

“His three months here included:

“Seven major lectures to New College students and guests.

“Appearances on campuses in South Carolina, Tennessee, Gainesville and Miami, Florida [on March 4 he had spoken on The Role of the Generalist in the University Stadium, University of Florida, Gainesville].

“Weekly seminars with students.

“‘Bull Sessions’ with students after each of his formal lectures.

“Appearance with other world figures at the ‘Pacem in Terris’ conference in New York to discuss ways to achieve world peace.

“Broadcasts and telecasts on every major television and radio network at the time of the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

“Special appearance on the Today Show on the NBC network.

“Selected guest appearances, numerous dinners and social occasions.

“Completion of the manuscript for a new book [Hannibal’s Legacy].

“Aside from his public appearances and rigorous class and work schedule, Dr. Toynbee lived quietly with his wife in a home in the Uplands. They were often seen walking in the neighbourhood and the sight of the historian crossing the campus from his home to College Hall was a familiar one.

“Student recollections of Dr. Toynbee will always be of a man of great gentleness, unfailing kindness, simplicity in his approach to even great matters, and directness in his reply to even the most complex questions.”

He had been honest enough to share something of the feeling about Florida that he had expressed to Columba:

“Interesting was his comment that life in Florida somehow seems to be ‘unreal’. He explained that so many people now in Florida had formed their lives in different communities, had lived their working days elsewhere, and had then moved here attempting to begin another life, often a different way of living.”

It was becoming a state of migrants. Low taxes, air conditioning and the Interstate highway system had brought retirees from the Northeast, Midwest and Canada. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 produced a wave of Cuban immigration. There were Haitian and other Caribbean and Central and South American migrants. Since the early twentieth century much of the old African American population had been migrating to the north.

The black population of Florida had been 44 percent at the beginning of the century. It was still 16.5 percent, and Sarasota was presumably not a statistical exception, but you don’t see a single black face in the fourteen minutes of David of Sarasota. De facto apartheid will have added to the feeling of unreality. (Stanley K Smith, Florida Population Growth: Past, Present and Future, Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida, Gainesville, June 2005)

We have met Toynbee at that first, 1965 Pacem in Terris conference already: New York 1965: Ideology and Intervention (old post). If the audio links there and in Santa Barbara 1967, and the age of planning aren’t working, I hope to restore them.

To Columba, February 24:

I got back late last night from the Pacem in Terris Convocation (I was one of the speakers yesterday morning, [footnote: A.J.T.’s speech was the basis of “Change – Minus Bloodshed,” published in Rotarian 106, no. 6 (June 1965): 40-41.] with Senator Fulbright in the chair). The best of the chairmen was Barbara Ward.

According to the Online Archive of California, the event had ended on February 20. Fulbright opposed the Vietnam policy of the Johnson administration.

My main impression was that Pope John’s love and concern for his fellow human beings has broken through all barriers. Communists, Asians, Africans all spoke about him with affection and gratitude, and I am sure they were being sincere. This is one of those timely acts that cannot be undone. Pope John has “made history”, I should say, in the deepest sense.

He is referring to Pacem in Terris, the encyclical John issued on April 11 1963, a few weeks before he died. It made history because it was explicitly addressed not only to Catholics, but to “all men of good will”.

My second impression is that the American people are committing, pretty heavily, the sin of pride, and are thereby drawing on themselves the moral disapproval of the rest of the world. They are refusing to admit that they may have made a mistake [in Vietnam], that mistakes have to be paid for, and that America cannot be – and ought not to be – always 100 per cent victorious. The choice before them, and this in the near future, is either a compromise over Vietnam or MacNamara’s 1 to 7 million American casualties [where does he get that from?], but they do not seem to be facing the choice. Certainly they are not in our “blood and tears” mood of June, 1940. This is very disturbing in a nation which has mankind’s fate in its hands.

News release, op cit:

“Thursday the college officially bade the Toynbees farewell at a tea in their honor in College Hall. Students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Music Room and many of the College family found it difficult to move away from the historian after they had shaken his hand, reluctant to say goodby [sic] to this British couple who had been such a part of their lives.”

Reminiscences of his time there are in Sarasota Herald-Tribune, October 23 1975. He had a high opinion of the Florida students. He believed that the “bull sessions” and seminars were of more value to them than the lectures.

Christian B Peper, editor, An Historian’s Conscience, The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, with a Foreword by Lawrence L Toynbee, OUP, by arrangement with Beacon Press, Boston, 1986, posthumous

Hardly fiction

January 29 2014

Certain works of literature [...] are concerned with public affairs in the histories of civilizations and for this reason can only be classified as historical, although the technique of “fiction” is employed throughout, so that [they] are indistinguishable in form from other dramas and novels. Such works are Aeschylus’s Persae, Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts, Feuchtwanger’s Jew Süss, and Benet’s John Brown’s Body.

Solzhenitsyn’s The Red Wheel would be another. Will the first part, August 1914, which is about the Battle of Tannenberg, be rediscovered this year? It made a big impression when it came out in England in 1972 and seems to have sunk without trace.

[Footnote: Tolstoy’s War and Peace does not, on the whole, come under this category. It does, of course, contain elements of historiography – for example the thesis, on which the author harps, that military commanders are passive instruments who register events without determining them, and again the rather wearisomely repeated comparison of the Grande Armée in retreat to a wounded beast. In essence, however, War and Peace is a true novel in the popular sense inasmuch as it is primarily concerned with the personal relations of human beings.]

Persae is about the defeat of Xerxes’ navy at Salamis. The Dynasts is a verse drama about the Napoleonic wars, allegedly the longest English drama in existence, and never staged. Jew Süss is a novel about the life of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, a Court Jew or financial aide to Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg in Stuttgart (reigned 1733-37). John Brown’s Body is an epic poem about the white American abolitionist John Brown (1800-59).

August 1914

Bodley Head, 1972

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

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).

African languages

January 28 2014

“To the south of a zigzag boundary which stretches from Fernando Pó on the west to Mombasa on the east, lies the sphere of the Bantu speech. … There is but one indigenous language-family over the whole of Central and South Africa, the only exceptions to this universality of type being a few patches of Sudanian tongues on the Northern Congo, Nilotic dialects in East Africa, a click language south of the Victoria Nyanza, and the nearly extinct Hottentot and Bushman languages of South-West Africa” (Johnston, Sir H. H.: The Opening Up of Africa (London, no date, Williams & Norgate), pp. 131-2).

Swahili is a Bantu language and, of course, is spoken in Kenya north of Mombasa. Afro-Asiatic, once called Hamito-Semitic, must be a rather loose group. The Hottentot and Bushman languages are also Khoisan or click languages.


Map: Wikipedia.

Parts of West Africa and the Sudan are extremely linguistically diverse. Nigeria has 522 living languages (Ethnologue, 358 classed as “vigorous”), one of the greatest concentrations of languages in the world. Bantu languages are themselves diverse.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

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.”

The Hindu forest

January 27 2014

“Hinduism has often and justly been compared to a jungle. As in the jungle every particle of soil seems to put forth its spirit in vegetable life and plants grow on plants, creepers and parasites on their more stalwart brethren, so in India art, commerce, warfare, and crime, every human interest and aspiration seek for a manifestation in religion, and since men and women of all classes and occupations, all stages of education and civilization, have contributed to Hinduism, much of it seems low, foolish and even immoral. The jungle is not a park or garden. Whatever can grow in it, does grow. The Brahmans are not gardeners but forest officers. To attempt a history or description of Indian creeds seems an enterprise as vast, hopeless and pathless as a general account of European politics. As for many centuries the life of Europe has expressed itself in politics, so for even longer ages the life of India, which has more inhabitants than Western Europe, [footnote: The population of India (about 315 millions) is larger than that of Europe without Russia.] [This would now be true even if you included all of Russia.] has found expression in religion, speculation, and philosophy, and has left of all this thought a voluminous record, mighty in bulk if wanting in dates and events. And why should it chronicle them? The truly religious mind does not care for the history of religion, just as among us the scientific mind does not dwell on the history of science.” [Footnote: Eliot, Sir Charles: op. cit. [...].] [Referring to Eliot, Sir Charles: Hinduism and Buddhism (London 1921, Arnold, 3 vols.) [...].]

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

A freak of nature

January 26 2014

By a freakish stroke of Fortune, there was born into the purple of the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state at Moscow, on the 30th May, 1672, a genius endowed with a completely Western êthos – and this not even the êthos of his own Western contemporaries, but the êthos of their descendants in the sixth or seventh generation, whose time was not to come till some two centuries had gone by! Peter the Great was an incomprehensible and therefore disagreeable lusus Naturae in the eyes of an English Bishop Burnet or a Dutch King William III, as well as in the eyes of a Russian Arch-Priest Avvakum [leader of the Old Believers]. When Burnet met Peter in A.D. 1698, he pronounced him sordid-minded, and saw nothing more in him than a young Barbarian potentate who happened to be a good ship’s carpenter. When William met him, he complained that he had no aesthetic sense, and no knowledge of the Dutch language apart from a jargon of nautical technicalities. These worthy representatives of the modern culture of the West did not, and could not, guess that, in their encounter with this repulsive mechanically-minded barbarian, they were being given a glimpse into their own society’s future and were being shown a prototype of the typical Homo Occidentalis who was to adorn an age two centuries beyond their own! For us, their descendants, who have the fortune to live in these latter days, the figure of Peter has ceased to be enigmatic. We have no hesitation in placing Peter the Great in the same portrait-gallery as Edison and Ford and Rhodes and Northcliffe and Mark Twain’s Yankee at the Court of King Arthur and Mr. Shaw’s Straker in Man and Superman.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

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, Julian 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

LGBT issues and Davos

January 24 2014

Felix Salmon. The WEF has registered same-sex partners, and probably spouses, as participants for a decade or longer, but doesn’t bring LGBT matters into the programme. Nigeria, never mind Russia, has a high profile at Davos now, with Jonathan present and Aliko Dangote co-chair.

Urbs in montibus

January 23 2014

This had to happen. Even in the 1880s, Davos presented “a row of first class hotels”.

But till recently the charm of the WEF Annual Meeting was that it was a retreat for most participants into fairly simple conditions. That simplicity gave the week its flavour.

Now an InterContinental brings the big city into town. (It actually opened at the end of 2012.) Farewell rusticity. Marble replaces local wood. The Belvedere, which was the leading hotel, and was at least somewhat local (German arches in the restaurant) has been upstaged.

Klaus Schwab might not be happy. “People know that I am very much against caviar and champagne and expensive wines, which are out of character with the atmosphere of a mountain village.” (As told to Nick Paumgarten the other year in The New Yorker.) That atmosphere is fast disappearing.

The newcomer isn’t necessarily a bad building, and it only has 216 rooms. At least a plan to build a skyscraper next to the Schatzalp – a skyscraper on top of a mountain seeming an offence against nature – has been shelved, and the inaccessible (in winter, except by funicular) former sanatorium continues in its old-fashioned Swiss isolation.

White radiance

January 22 2014

“Dr Toynbee gives expression to an assemblage of points of view (praejudicia or ‘advance judgements’) which are peculiar to a sensitive mind, and the fruit of its personal experiences, rather than the outcome of a ‘time-spirit’ shared by his age. He is anti-State and (so far as organized religions are concerned) anti-Church: he is for a world-order and a universal religion of all who are earnest ‘seekers’ for truth. True, he is not alone in these feelings: there are other votaries of a political world-order, and others who sigh for a single oecumenical religion: but he is unique in the intensity of his feelings. He combines a passion for impartiality (which leads him, in reaction against Western bias, to exalt the East) with a passion for universalism which makes him the enemy of nationalism and its ‘parochial’ States, and turns him into the apostle of a ‘Catholicism’ transcending not only Catholicism, but also the whole of Christianity, and issuing in an amalgam of all ‘the higher religions’. His desire is for the whole: he is like Shelley: he wants one ‘white radiance’, rather than ‘the many-coloured dome’ which is the actual home of man.”


Ernest BarkerDr Toynbee’s Study of History: A ReviewInternational Affairs, Vol 31, No 1, January 1955.

“Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity”

Shelley, Adonaïs.

Divided loves

January 22 2014

“Dr Toynbee is, in a sense, ambidextrous. He carries and wields both the history of the past (studied and taught in his Oxford days, and never forgotten since) and also the history of the present (which has been his subject during the thirty years of his connexion with Chatham House): with one hand he elucidates the history of the Greco-Roman past, with the other he describes the present of the twentieth century, and with both he draws the two (the Past and the Present) into contact, analogy, and connexion under common laws. He has something of ambivalence as well as ambidexterity. He is enamoured of the present, but he denounces it (it is a home of parochial States and petrified churches); he loves the past and he hates it (for if you seek to exhume it, by the magic of ‘necromancy’, it turns upon you and rends you). For myself, I could wish that he loved the past with a more undivided love – especially the English past. I could wish that he had mastered English history (including the history of parliament and that of the common law) as he has mastered Hellenistic and Oriental history. He would think more highly of the State and its institutions if he had studied the genesis and growth of English parliamentary institutions and the English common law, and had come to see the service they have rendered to freedom of choice and liberty of thought. As it is, he is content to regard all this as ‘merely a local exception to the general course of political development in Western Christendom’. In the index the entry ‘England’ occupies only half a column, and ‘Great Britain’ only two columns: ‘Egypt’ has six.”


Ernest BarkerDr Toynbee’s Study of History: A ReviewInternational Affairs, Vol 31, No 1, January 1955.