Archive for April, 2009


April 30 2009

A friend sent me a speech given on September 1 2004 by Karl Paulnack, Director of Music at the Boston Conservatory, to parents and freshmen. Here via a blog.

An ice-cream seller in Basra

April 29 2009

My company’s (which doesn’t mean I own the company) Iraq (and Iraqi) distributor shared this clip of an ice-cream seller taken recently with his phone on a street in Basra.

I shouldn’t be posting it without the seller’s permission and am trusting that he wouldn’t mind. I could only upload it by posting on YouTube, so I’m now proud to announce that The Toynbee convector has a YouTube channel.

The song, and the verve and zest in the singing, seem Indian. The handsome vendor is ethnically Indian, but he is singing in Arabic. My colleague says it is a traditional ice-cream seller’s song. It repeatedly mentions “cold ice-cream”, but instead of attracting customers, it attracts a crowd of children, who don’t seem to be armed with very much pocket money. His box of ice-cream is on the pavement. At one point you see the sling which he uses to carry it.

It’s late in the world’s history to be finding and displaying street cries, or anything as unobserved as this. Partly that is because Iraq has been isolated, but what a relief to see it instead of occupying armies or shots of the aftermath of a bomb.

A Persian hiatus

April 28 2009

The shock administered to the Persian people by their sudden overthrow from their high estate through the prowess of their Macedonian conquerors was so severe that it broke the continuity of their folk-memory; and, after forgetting that these sepulchres had been hewn and occupied by the greatest potentates of their own race, they expressed their continuing sense of wonder at the mightiness of these ancient monuments by naming the locality [now called Naqsh-i-Rustam, where Darius and his successors hewed out their sepulchres] after a parvenu hero of an epic cycle which was perhaps of Saka [Persian-speaking Central Asian nomad] origin […]. Even the crushing experience of 334-330 B.C. could hardly have produced so extreme a lapse of memory as this if the association of the Persian people in their homeland with the universal state which Persian hands had built had not been rather tenuous.

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

The gardens of Hofuf

April 27 2009

Al-Hofuf (الهفوف‎) is a town in the vast Al-Ahsa oasis in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

July 16 1957.

It was the hottest hour of a July day, and, even on the short drive across the open desert from the east gate of the city of Hofuf to the nearest stand of date palms, the Sun’s rays had battered us till we felt as if we had been beaten with a flail. But here, under a triple tier of shade, it was as cool as it would have been at the same season in Northern Europe. The crowns of the date palms received the sunshine’s first assault, and any shafts that broke through the palms’ defences were stopped by the peach-trees and the trellised vines. As we stood eating the sweet purple grapes and the softly ripe peaches that our host was plucking for us, I wondered for a moment whether I was experiencing Adam’s and Eve’s primal state of felicity. But no; the Garden of Eden is fabled to have yielded its fruits without exacting any preliminary human labour, whereas this garden in Arabia, like the English one that delighted Andrew Marvell, was the work of “the skilful gardener’s” toil and art. It is true that God gave the water that is this Arabian gardens life; but Man led this precious liquid through a thousand channels, cunningly graded and aligned; Man planted the trees and set the rice in the paddies and the alfalfa in the fields. Without Man’s intervention, the welling water might have begotten a marsh or even a jungle but never a garden yielding “the luscious clusters of the vine” and “the nectarine and curious peach” [Marvell]. The gardens of Hofuf are what Man has made of the opportunity that God has given him.

Arabia is like a huge rough-hewn paving-stone which has been slightly tilted so as to dip towards the south-east. The geologists say that the water which bubbles up to make the oasis of Hofuf has been captured by the Earth somewhere in the distant north-western uplands of the Najd and has been conveyed, all this way, by gravity, underground – thus escaping evaporation and rising, at last, to the surface with its volume undiminished. The volume is large. In this L-shaped oasis which supports Hofuf and its twin city Mubarraz, there are thirty-six greater springs and about a hundred and twenty lesser ones. The runnels that watered my host’s garden took off from a stream that was one of three branches of a river fed from a single source. The three combined, my host declared, had as big a flow of cubic feet as the famous River Barada which makes the oasis of Damascus; and this mighty Arabian spring has thirty-five sisters of equal power. No wonder that the Hofuf oasis is – or was till the meteoric rise of Riyadh – the most populous area in all Sa‘udi Arabia, not excluding Mecca, Medina, and Jiddah.

Hofuf is forty or fifty miles from the nearest American oil-city, Abqaiq, so the pull of the oil-field is not as strong here as it is at Qatif [on the coast], which is caught in a vice between Dhahran and Ras Tanura. The pull is strong enough to have drawn the administration of the Eastern Province of Sa‘udi Arabia [in 1953] out of the palace at Hofuf into an air-conditioned office in Damman – the new business centre on the coast, next door to Dhahran, which has been conjured into existence by the purchasing-power of American housewives. [Damman, Dhahran and Khobar now form a conurbation; from Khobar, one can take the causeway to Bahrain.] So far, however, the attraction of alternative and more lucrative occupation on the oil-field has not led to any diminution of the care with which the gardens of Hofuf have been tended from time immemorial. In the gardens of Qatif, on the other hand, an increasing neglect is sadly apparent. The runnels are silting into stagnant pools; the dates are unharvested, the trees are dying. Why should one labour for small returns as a husbandman or a fisherman or a pearl-diver or a shepherd if one can earn more money in a new kind of job that also carries with it the prestige of being unquestionably “modern”?

Yet even in the thick of the American oil-cities, on the road from Damman to Ras Tanura, I found a Palestinian farmer who had made the desert blossom like the rose by bringing water to the surface and irrigating a soil that lacks none of the chemical requisites for fertility. This magician, who was transforming a once bare countryside, had been a prosperous landowner in Palestine till his citrus plantations had been taken from him by the Israelis. [It is usually the Israelis who are congratulated on making the “desert bloom”.] He had had the spirit to start again from the beginning in an unfamiliar climate and terrain. Probably he will die a richer man than he would ever have been if he had not been robbed of his Palestinian home and property. To be turned into a “displaced person” is one of the severest ordeals that can overtake a human being. The victims who rise to the occasion are heroes.

“A green thought in a green shade” [Marvell]: “such was that happy garden-state” in which I found myself in the oasis of Hofuf. But the angel with the flaming sword was on the watch for me. The hour at which I was billed to give a lecture in scorching Abqaiq drew nearer and nearer, till at last we had to uproot ourselves from our green felicity. As we left the last protective row of palm-trunks behind us, the shade turned into a glare in a blinding flash. The Sun’s flail-strokes came battering down again upon our heads and shoulders. Can five yards really make all the difference between Paradise and Purgatory? Ask Adam and Eve. They ought to know.


The Citadel at Hofuf in 1947, from The town may have looked more modern ten years later.


Flickr credit: Maoli


Map credit: Wikimedia Commons

East to West, A Journey Round the World, OUP, 1958


April 26 2009

I’ve suddenly realised that my rather harsh comments last year on a series of BBC films by Michael Wood about India were a sublimation or transference of contempt for New Labour.

Maghrebian nihilism

April 25 2009

You often hear people in the Maghreb say: “There is nothing for me here. Nothing.” They mean there is no work here. Nothing. They may or may not try to migrate illegally.

There is also a cultural unease. Some uneducated young people have absorbed into their bones the feeling that life is better in Europe, so they can no longer be happy, even for a moment, at home. A few of those will have their minds molested by “religious” leaders.

The unemployment problem is worse with graduates, because they are less likely to find work which is acceptable to them. I knew some when I first visited Tunisia in 1977. Whether or not they had studied in France, they were very well-educated, but sometimes with a chip on their shoulder. They were too good for their own country and Europe wasn’t good enough for them.

One of them was a woman called Dalenda. Her name is common locally and comes from Cato’s Carthago delenda est.

But the restiveness and unease hadn’t affected less educated people. Only occasionally did one feel a tang of bitterness.

Tourists think Tunisia is bland. It may have become so in response to them. Tunis, which is less exposed to tourism than some places, had a prosperous air. It seemed a kind of Nice on the Sahara. I was enchanted by it. The ancient TGM railway followed the line of the suburbs – Carthage was one, each had its own character – on the coast to the north of the city. They were as seductive as they must have been under the Romans.

Direct contact with outside influences made those graduates resentful, but on the whole, the more direct, the better such contact is. What robs less educated people of peace of mind is the vague sense that things are better elsewhere, combined with economic hardship. They start living between two worlds, one of them imaginary.

Most cultures are better than the Maghreb at protecting people from that sense and are further away from what is still called the developed world. North Africa is very close to Europe.

From a BBC story about graduate unemployment in Morocco:

“‘I’m 35, I have a PhD in physics, and I can’t get a job,’ complains Ali.

‘I’m very old, I’m not married, I don’t have my own house, I don’t have anything.

‘I’m thinking of leaving this country, because here I am nothing.’” Not “I have nothing”. “I am nothing.”

Nothing. It is, literally, nihilism.

“‘I’m a pessimist now,’ says Ali.

‘Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light.’”

Here is some film from a 2007 ITN news source showing blind unemployed Moroccan graduates chaining themselves to the railings of the Parliament building in Rabat to demand more public sector jobs. The following is abbreviated.

“Abdelhak Harmouch, a member of Morocco’s National Committee of Blind Unemployed Graduates, said the protesters had resorted to the drastic measure after more peaceful protest means proved ineffectual. Morocco suffers from mass unemployment with around one million of Morocco’s 30-million population officially unemployed. [That is only the same rate as in the UK.] Joblessness is especially high among graduates after state payroll cuts led to a dearth of public sector jobs. A university degree provides no guarantee for a job and many well-educated Moroccans can remain jobless for years after they finish university. In desperation, some of them try illegal immigration, mainly to Europe, where they hope job prospects will be better. Local human rights organisations and trade unions are fully behind the various organisations representing the unemployed graduates. They believe that with good governance, the state could create jobs for the graduates.”

More protests, Chomeurs de Maroc.

I was once in a taxi in Tunis and told the driver that I liked the city.

“But, of course, there are problems,” I added, just to give some light and shade. To show that I was serious. He turned round to me, startled. He hadn’t been infected by nihilism. “Problèmes, quels problèmes?

My view of Hassan II is reflected here.

Hittistes and clandestins


April 24 2009

Important artists:

Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-94)

Torii Kiyonobu I (c 1664-1729)

Suzuki Harunobu (1724-70)

Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1817)

Utamaro (c 1753-1806)

Hokusai (1760-1849)

Toyokuni (1769-1825)

Kunisada (1786-1865)

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848)

Sharaku (active 1794-95)

Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Kuniyoshi (1797-1861)

Kunichika (1835-1900)

Chikanobu (1838-1912)

Yoshitoshi (1839-92)

Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)


April 23 2009

The only point of this post is to recommend anyone who is in London before (or on) June 7 to see the Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) was a major master of the Ukiyo-e or floating world school of Japanese printmaking. His peers were Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).

He produced highly sensational illustrations for Heike Monogatari or The Tale of the Heike, the epic medieval account of the struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for control of Japan at the end of the twelfth century, and for its extension Genpei Jōsuiki, The Rise and Fall of the Minamoto and the Taira, and for the medieval Chinese novel (if the word medieval can be applied to China; somehow it can to Japan) Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn, The Water Margin.

His work included sensitive landscapes, nonsense prints (figures with penis-heads, sparrows impersonating a brothel-scene), actor portraits. (One series, not in the exhibition, is called Thirty-six Fashionable Restaurants of the Eastern Capital. The Eastern Capital is Edo or Tokyo. The “Old Capital” is Kyoto.)

Some prints look strikingly modern and must have appealed strongly to Wilhelmine German illustrators. Some of the landscapes, I thought, look forward to twentieth-century Shin hanga. Some of the later prints show foreigners. There’s never a dull moment.

The catalogue is well-written and -produced. I haven’t been able to refer to it here. If you like manga, you’ll like the adventure illustrations. In the illustration on the poster, Sakata Kaidō-maru wrestles with a giant carp, c 1837, the wrestler has manga eyes.


World Digital Library

April 22 2009

Launched in Paris yesterday. Wikipedia article. Site. There is not all that much there yet (1,338 items, some of it merely photographs).

This is a project of the American Library of Congress and UNESCO, with help from partners such as Google. (I have read entire books online, but haven’t much liked Google’s presentation of books so far.) The intention, as far as I can gather, is to present rare documents in any medium held by any institution. Wikipedia says that the Library “aims to expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet”, but most of the content so far is European or Europe-derivative.

The Independent (April 23): “[…] its creators have anticipated how little the texts alone will mean to an untrained observer, and accompanied each by explanations of its content and significance.”

Pius XI

April 21 2009

The Popes exercised no territorial sovereignty between 1870 and 1929. They were “prisoners in the Vatican”.

Pope Pius XI’s own point of view in regard to the reassertion of the Pope’s territorial sovereignty is set forth in an address which he delivered to the parish priests of Rome on the 11th February, 1929, at the moment when the Lateran agreements were being signed:

“A true and proper and real territorial sovereignty (there being no such thing in the World, at least down to the present, as a true and proper sovereignty which is not embodied in a definitely territorial form) [is] a status which is self-evidently necessary and due to One who, in virtue of the divine mandate and the divine representation with which He is invested, is unable to be the subject of any sovereignty on Earth. … We must have that quantum of territory that just suffices as a support for the attribute of sovereignty itself, that quantum of territory without which sovereignty could not exist because it would not have a place where to rest the sole of its foot.”

This view of the indispensability of territorial sovereignty for the Papacy seems to have been derived by Pope Pius XI from a passage in the memoirs of Talleyrand […].

Toynbee, of course, regrets the reassertion. First square brackets in original.

The Papal States

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


April 20 2009

If the Papacy had sincerely welcomed the Conciliar Movement and had loyally co-operated with it, then Western Christendom in the Modern Age might perhaps have succeeded in reconciling a traditional unity with a new parochial consciousness by transforming the Papal imperium, without any revolutionary break, into something like that historic “amphictyony” which succeeded in some degree in holding together the parochially minded city-states of Hellas by keeping alive their common feeling of attachment to the two oecumenical religious centres at Delphi and Thermopylae.

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

Refworld and UNHCR 2

April 19 2009

Refworld and UNHCR

Refworld A-Z index:



Refworld and UNHCR

April 18 2009


Darfur refugee camp, Chad, March 2005, Wikimedia Commons

How do you snapshot the world? Via yet another conventional economic report? Via an ecological report?

Or via an objective mapping of the world’s migrants and minorities? Refworld, a UNHCR site, is a vast resource. Everything is covered. There is historical information.

The present world map is also a line from which to proceed backwards historically.

Refugees, victims of state-directed population displacement, persecuted minorities, persecuted majorities, victims of human-traffickers, economic migrants, are obviously historically-exposed. If you lead a secure private life (though families can make the least public life insecure), or are a privileged migrant, you can pretend that you are living outside history. Refworld offers maps of those living in history.

Sample: the Ahmadis of Pakistan and elsewhere.

(Richard, if he reads this – a comment will tell – will rightly ask what “outside history” means. But we know what we mean, roughly. You are historically-exposed to the extent that, because of external factors, you are not, or do not feel, in control of your life. History as disturbance.

Toynbee on being “outside history”.)

The yokel in the aeroplane

April 17 2009

Or, Dual citizenship

Dual citizenship would be the better title for this post, with the other as the alternative, but let us go for something more arresting.

An […] image of the relation between the Civitas Dei and This World may be drawn from a recent enrichment of our archaeological knowledge which has been a surprising and exciting consequence of our acquisition of the art of flying.

The new technique of aerial photography has lately been revealing to us traces of the handiwork of our human predecessors which for ages past have been totally invisible to successive generations of human beings who have been living and working – ploughing and building – on the very sites on which these traces are imprinted. So long as we have had our feet on the ground, in immediate contact with these enduring marks which our predecessors’ labours have left on the face of the Earth, we have been totally blind to something that has been lying there under our noses. It is only in the air that our eyes have been opened; for it is not until we have parted company with the surface of the Earth, and have climbed in our aeroplane to an altitude at which we seem to have lost all contact with the ground for practical purposes, that we begin to enjoy this novel enhancement of our powers of visual observation. The fact is that the hitherto unobserved physical traces of past human activities consist of undulations or discolorations which are so slight in themselves that they are only visible in a field of vision of a vastly wider sweep than can be commanded by an eye that is approximately on their level. To be perceived they must be caught in a bird’s-eye view; and, now that we are able to emulate the vision of a hawk or kite by training upon the ground from an aeroplane a camera fitted with a telescopic lens, we can demonstrate to the astonished yokel, whom we have taken up with us on our survey-flight, that his native village lies within the circumvallation of a Roman camp of which he and his forebears have never suspected the existence – although they have in fact been sleeping every night within that historic rampart, and have been crossing it daily as they have plodded to and fro between their cottages and their fields, from generation to generation.

The relation of the English village to the Roman camp offers us an image of the relation between This World and the Civitas Dei that may give us some further insight into that mystery. […]

[…] the existence of the empire, and its effect on the villagers’ lives, are facts which are entirely independent of the beneficiaries’ awareness of them. The moment at which the yokel first descried the outline of the camp – as he leant over the side of the aeroplane with the archaeologist at his elbow to tell him where to look and what to look for – was not, of course, the moment at which he first began to draw benefit from the legacy of the oecumenical empire of which the camp was once a local point d’appui. As a matter of fact, he began to draw his profit in times before he was born or conceived; for the social heritage which he derives from the empire has been handed down to him by a long line of ancestors. And the fact of the empire’s existence has been having its effect just the same, even though the villagers may not have been aware till this moment that their village lay within the empire’s bounds and perhaps not even aware that there was any such thing as this empire within their horizon.

Even if they do now begin to perceive – as a consequence of a belated Pisgah-sight from the cock-pit of a newly invented flying-machine – some glimmer of what the empire has been doing all the time for them, as well as for their forefathers, their belated discovery of the empire is even now not likely to extend very far beyond the immediate neighbourhood of their own local habitat. Will the local clue that has just been given them enable them to infer that the empire that has swum into their ken has a vastly wider ambit than the field of vision which has been opened up to them by a single flight in an aeroplane circling just above their home parish? Have they the imagination to picture in their mind’s eye the long roads running from camp to camp, and through forum and municipium, till they lead to Rome and out of Rome again to the banks of the Danube and the Euphrates and to the fringes of the Syrian and the Libyan desert? Can they conceive of a Roman Peace which spreads its mantle over Dura and Durostorum and Timgad as well as over Verulam and Chester? And can they comprehend that the effect which the Roman Empire is having upon their own lives is also being exerted upon the lives of their contemporaries in distant countries under different climes? It hardly seems probable that a majority of the latter-day beneficiaries of the Roman Empire will have gained even an inkling of the full extent of the Roman domain, or of the full range of the Imperial Government’s operation, from their discovery of the presence of a Roman camp within the bounds of their English parish; and we can conceive of a state of affairs in which all knowledge of the Roman Empire has been irretrievably lost; for even those physical traces that are, as it happens, still visible from the air might easily have vanished completely in the course of the centuries that went by before aeroplanes were invented. If that had been the order of events, and if our air-survey had therefore after all brought no Roman camp into view on the site of our English village, would this defeat for Archaeology have wiped off the slate of History either the fact or the effect of the Roman Empire’s existence? The answer is, of course, in the negative; and the truth which we can grasp in its mundane application to the Roman Empire can be seen by analogy to be true of the Kingdom of God – and of that Kingdom’s King.

“That was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the World. He was in the World, and the World was made by Him, and the World knew Him not.” [Footnote: John i. 9-10.]

To know Him – and, through Him, the Kingdom over which He reigns – it is not enough for our yokel in his aeroplane to see the World with the eye of a hawk. The man must be given an eye which not only magnifies but also penetrates into other dimensions. What he needs is the eye of a poet,

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

[Footnote: Blake, William: Auguries of Innocence.]

And the poet who has this vision of the transfiguration of This World by the Kingdom of God must also be something of a prophet, for he must have an intuition of the Godhead which poetry alone cannot give him.

The passage in the middle which I omitted explores the idea of the co-existence of the two times and dimensions rather clumsily, spoiling an inspired passage.

It also has more showing the rather Victorian assumption that the heritage of sociality which was allowing the modern village to function economically and prosper came, in the first place, even if the modern villagers didn’t know it, from an advanced civilisation, ergo, in Britain, from Rome.

The English pioneer of aerial reconnaissance for archaeological purposes was OGS Crawford. In 1924, in collaboration with Alexander Keiller, he undertook flights over Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. The results were published in 1928 in Wessex from the Air.

Another footnote says:

Even on a bird’s-eye view the traces that are a matter of colour and not of contour are often invisible on the bare ground and only come to light in the springing corn; for the cause of the discoloration is a slight change in the chemical composition of the soil through a replacement of the natural strata by man-made deposits consisting in part of the debris of human artifacts; and, even in an aeroplane photograph, this local difference in the soil may not be apparent except when it is reproduced – and, in the process, exaggerated – in the colour and height and thickness of a crop that has been sown on the site.

From Aerial Archaeology in Northern France


A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Minxin Pei

April 16 2009

Dr Minxin Pei, Director of the China Programme, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, on European civilisation, in a BBC radio discussion broadcast in 2004 (full transcript here):

“Europe always appears to be that of an elitist image – exquisite taste, high cuisine, gourmet cuisine; it’s an image of a glorious but past culture, but not relevant to the daily aspirations, especially material aspirations of the man in the street. Only really elitist people would look up to Europe.


“My personal plans are that I will stay in the States for a long time, but I always want to retire to Tuscany, Italy, and become Italian. So that will, at that moment I do, will show that Europe has done its job.”

Robert Cornelius and Romantic hair

April 15 2009


The first photographic portrait of a human being. October or November 1839. A daguerreotype self-portrait by Robert Cornelius, an American son of Dutch immigrants, who worked in Philadelphia. Even one generation in, Americans look American.

His hair surely wasn’t tousled because he had just woken up. This was an important day, after all. It is deliberately unbrushed: the style derives from the more artfully windswept, unwigged heads that we see in paintings of the Napoleonic era and just afterwards. Their subjects would often press a spit curl against their foreheads, and there is even a derivative of that in this self-portrait.

Nineteenth-century group photographs

Boulevard du Temple.


April 14 2009

I can’t let Handel’s 250th death anniversary pass without something here. So, somewhat arbitrarily, Glenn Gould and the Prelude from the A major harpsichord suite, HWV 426.

Boulevard du Temple

April 14 2009


The first photograph of a human being. Taken by Louis Daguerre, late 1838 or early ’39.

Only one man stood still long enough (the exposure time was longer than ten minutes), presumably at Daguerre’s request, to remain corporeal. The polisher is less clear. The other pedestrians and the traffic on the road do not appear at all: the camera has etherialised them.

Here is the history of the Boulevard du Temple and a list of the theatres which were established in it in the second half of the eighteenth century.


April 11 2009

Back April 14.

The Arabian Passion

April 10 2009


The image is a link. More at On an Overgrown Path.

My last Good Friday post contained two images from the Middle East. Why was my explanation, in a Comment, of where I had found them so elaborate? Because many war photographs are fakes. I am tempted to say that all war photographs should be looked at sceptically, but that would give too much room to the conspiracy theorists. The Middle East has enough of them already.


April 7 2009

Back April 10.

4′ 33″

April 6 2009

Cage’s 4′ 33″, whose name looks forward to digital track timings, is on iTunes in two versions. One is a single free track. The other costs £2.37 because it observes the division into three movements.

Rome to Cologne

April 5 2009

In the heyday of the Pax Romana an observer who travelled from Rome to Cologne would have met with no troops on his road, between his last sight of the garrison of the capital and his first sight of the garrison of the frontier along the Rhine, save for a single cohors urbana which was stationed at Lyons; and this detachment was only 1,200 men strong (see Mommsen, Th.: The History of Rome: The Provinces from Caesar to Diocletian (London 1886, Bentley, 2 vols.), vol. i, p. 88, footnote 3).

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

Maurice Jarre

April 4 2009


Bob Shingleton, in On an Overgrown Path: “My parents’ 1962 LP of the Oscar-winning soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia was an integral part of my music education.”

It was of mine, too, except that, as a boy, after seeing the film, I insisted on being given the LP.

In a Comment, Bob adds: “I have to say I am astonished at the lack of coverage on the music blogs of the death of Maurice Jarre. He may not have been a musical genius – whatever that means. But his music, which was never less than wonderfully crafted, touched many, many more than that of, say, Schoenberg.” On an Overgrown Path is the best blog about so-called classical music on the web, and only a really musical person would have said what Bob said in such unpretentious terms or dared to put him in the same sentence as Schoenberg. The Toynbee convector isn’t a music blog, but Bob’s remark has given me the confidence to write an appreciation of Jarre here.

Jarre’s 1962 score for David Lean’s film was the last major work of French musical orientalism in the line that began with Félicien David’s Symphonic Ode Le désert (tenor, speaker, chorus, orchestra) in 1844.

Le désert at least is usually given as the start of the romantic vein of orientalism in French music. Possibly a couple of Berlioz’s Prix de Rome cantatas, from somewhat earlier (1827-30), should be put into the bracket. I had never heard of a recording of Le désert until just now, but Amazon is showing one as due for release later this month. Marco Polo have recorded other work by David, including piano cycles such as Les brises d’orient and Les minarets.

After that, we have music in the nineteenth century by Reyer, Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Bizet, Massenet et al, much of it not particularly highly-coloured. Franck and Fauré did not really go down the orientalist road, though Franck wrote Les djinns. Then, at another level, Debussy and Ravel, Debussy’s orientalism tending towards Indonesia, where Britten would follow him; and some of the music of Koechlin (who occupied both impressionist and modernist space), and Schmitt, and their contemporary Rabaud, an anti-modernist. I have a 3-CD box of Rabaud’s Mârouf, savetier du Caire, based on the Arabian Nights. Its premiere took place in the final season at the Opéra Comique before war broke out in 1914.

The Saint-Saëns includes, of course, his opera Samson et Dalila. Another, La princesse jaune (one act), is about (without being set in) Japan. Saint-Saëns’s orchestral orientalism was concerned with Egypt and perhaps with Algeria, though Maghreb means west, not east. On the Egyptian side, we have Africa for piano and orchestra, the fifth piano concerto, and Sur les bords du Nil, a piece for brass band. The orchestral Suite algérienne is a gentle celebration of the French in Algeria. There is a Marche dediée aux étudiants d’Alger, I suppose for orchestra or band.

Saint-Saëns often visited Algeria. He died there in 1921. He also visited Ceylon. Somebody once imputed homosexuality to him in public, perhaps thinking of these travels. The composer is said to have snapped back: “Je ne suis pas homosexuel, je suis pédéraste.” Would he have used a piece of jargon like “homosexual”? Did his interlocutor use it first? He married and had two sons, who both died young. His answer was probably accurate. Today he would be advised to state it the other way round.

Few books have been written about Saint-Saëns. The one I have, by Stephen Studd (2003), doesn’t tell this oft-repeated story.

Milhaud, reacting against not only against the later stages of orientalism and not only against French music: “When I first started to write music, I was immediately conscious of the dangers of following the paths of impressionist music: all that haziness, those balmy breezes, those pyrotechnics, those sparkling raiments, those veils of smoke, that languor marked the end of an era I found so affected it filled me with overwhelming disgust. The poets were my salvation. Francis Jammes’ stanzas led me out of the mists of symbolist poetry and introduced me to a completely new world all the easier to apprehend because I had only to open my eyes. Poetry was at last turning back to everyday life, to the appeal of simple people and familiar things.” I can no longer find the source for this quotation: it is probably given by Paul Collaer.

The reaction, shared by many composers, meant that fewer orientalist or orientally-inflected works were written or, if they were, the borrowings were of a different kind, as with Messiaen, whose more grown-up approach to eastern music had been anticipated by Debussy. The middle movement of Ibert’s Escales, published in 1924, called Tunis-Nefta, is in the older manner.

Jarre came very late to music. He was a Lyonnais, but studied engineering at the Sorbonne, before moving to the Conservatoire. He has said that music was nothing in his life before he reached the age of fifteen. He produced his first film score in 1951, but the most important part of his early career was in theatre, as musical director of the Théâtre National Populaire from 1951 to 1963, when it was run by Jean Vilar. There is a 3-CD box containing some of the music he wrote for productions there. Somewhere I have a CD of songs composed for the French post-war theatre, which contains one by Jarre.

The film of 1951 was Georges Franju’s Hôtel des Invalides. There is a CD of some of the film music between 1959 and 1964 called Ma période française. His international breakthrough came with Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. He composed for three more films by David Lean: Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984) and for about 150 films in all. He won Oscars for all the Lean scores except Ryan’s Daughter. His music for The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), about Indonesia in 1965-66, was his first purely electronic score, but he had used the ondes-martinot to fine effect in Lawrence. He lived in the US in his later life.

Lean had wanted Malcolm Arnold to compose the music for Lawrence, while the producer, Sam Spiegel, wanted William Walton. In Tony Palmer’s astonishing film about Arnold (2004), Toward the Unknown Region (“I think it must surely set the nation alight when broadcast”: Paul Driver; Palmer’s films about English music are the less flamboyant successors of Ken Russell’s), Arnold says that he was asked to provide the “dramatic” music and William Walton the “patriotic”. They watched the unscored film together. Both turned it down. I’ve read elsewhere that Walton fell asleep. Lean never spoke to Arnold again.

According to the Telegraph obituary of Jarre, Spiegel, who had heard some of Jarre’s music, then hoped that Jarre would write the “incidental dramatic sequences”, while two better-known composers, Khatchaturian and Britten, would handle the “theme music”. Neither Khatchaturian nor Britten turned out to be available, and can one imagine Britten having done this? Spiegel turned to a Broadway composer, Richard Rodgers, keeping Jarre in the background. Lean strongly disliked what Rodgers produced, so Spiegel asked Jarre if he had written anything. Jarre proceeded to play what became the main theme. Lean insisted that he should be given the whole job. Jarre was left with six weeks to compose, rehearse and record about two hours of music. Arnold could have done it in two.

Writing music for a film that has already been made or to an exact scenario is like the way some ballet music was written in the nineteenth century.

Tchaikovsky was expected to follow Marius Petipa’s scenario for the Nutcracker:

“No. 1. Soft music. Sixty-four bars.

No. 2. The tree is lit up. Sparkling music. Eight bars.

No. 3. Enter the children. Animated and joyous music. Twenty-four bars.

No. 4. A moment of surprise and admiration. A few bars of tremolo.

No. 5. A march. Sixty-four bars.

No. 6. Entrée des Incroyables. Sixteen bars, rococo (tempo menuet).”

And in a film, every bar had to be marked in seconds.

Jarre’s score was to be recorded by the London Philharmonic with a subsidy from the British government, which required the conductor to be British. Adrian Boult was duly brought in for a rehearsal, but when Jarre began to explain the technicalities of synchronising the music of the orchestra with film footage, Boult withdrew and Jarre himself conducted. Boult’s name remained on the film credits to safeguard the subsidy, but Jarre was credited on the LP.

There are two recorded versions of Jarre’s Lawrence music: his own soundtrack with the London Philharmonic and a more recent one conducted by Tony Bremner with the Philharmonia. Bremner’s sound is far better. There are some passages here which do not appear in Jarre’s version. The first appearance of the main theme is even more stomach-punching. But there is something soupy in the way the brass play under Bremner. This is the main defect of this version. And the ppppppppianissimo, if I can coin a word, at the beginning of the section called Miracle under Jarre, which must surely, in its LP impression, be the quietest sustained note in all of recorded orchestral music, is barely piano.

The theme of Born Free is not so different from, sounds like a variation of, the Lawrence theme, but is merely a vulgarly sentimental film tune.

The Overture in which the Lawrence theme first appears was played before the projector started turning, yet was part of the film. It begins with two bursts of timpani, separated by a rest which already suggests the desert.

With Lawrence, Jarre succeeded Malcolm Arnold as “master of the Lean’s music”. Arnold had written, and won an Oscar for, the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Here we come to a problem. Who wrote the Colonel Bogey march as we know it? Arnold often gets the credit. The Tony Palmer film I’ve referred to credits him. It sounds like Arnold. Others say it was by FJ Ricketts, aka Kenneth Alford. Or that Arnold wrote a counterpoint to the original march. I haven’t worked this out. But Spiegel and Lean used a fine march by Alford in Lawrence of Arabia, The Voice of the Guns, which took the place of what Walton might have written. It was the only music, in the end, not written by Jarre.

The film, of course, had little to do with the real TE Lawrence. Prince Feisal was played by an English actor, Alec Guinness. Lean’s A Passage to India must have been the last somewhat serious film in which a white actor (Alec Guinness again) had his face painted to look like an oriental. It appeared after Richard Attenborough’s hagiographic Gandhi, in which Ben Kingsley played the main role. (In this post, I wondered what the last case was of an Englishman dressing up in real life in Arab service as an Arab.) The march was a counterpoint to the scenes in Cairo and Damascus. Memorable acting by Claude Rains.

What does French orientalist music amount to? Some attractive pieces (the Debussy and Ravel more than that), but there is no descriptive masterpiece among them. Unless it is Jarre’s score.

There is no French tone poem of the Sahara. But some of Jarre’s material could have been used in one. Some passages in his score are as imaginatively detailed as passages in La mer.

That does not mean that you can simply lift this music into a concert hall. Jarre did this occasionally by performing a Lawrence of Arabia “Suite” at gala concerts. It doesn’t work and embarrasses anyone who wants to take Jarre more seriously. This is film music and needs images, or headphones. But some of the musical ideas, if you concentrate enough to hear them, are worthy of the great, unwritten, French tone poem.

According to the French Wikipedia article, “Jarre a aussi composé des œuvres de concert majeures et écrit cinq ballets dont Notre-Dame de Paris pour l’Opéra de Paris”. In the passage in Jarre’s recording called That is the Desert, we hear an embryonic symphonist. Bremner makes nothing of it. None of the other film music that I have heard is as good as Lawrence, even for films that you might have thought would bring out a similar style. But Lara’s theme in Dr Zhivago is his other claim to immortality. It took human beings this long to reach such a simple musical idea.

Jarre deserved the Oscars for Lawrence and Zhivago, but not, I think, the last one, for A Passage to India. The score is recycled Jarre (partly recycled from Ryan’s Daughter), less distinguished, and neither Jarre nor Lean appears to have had the slightest idea what the book was about.

The picture above and the first below show Jarre at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year, where he accepted a prize a few weeks before dying from cancer.

The Lure of the East

L’italiano in Turchia



War and succession

April 3 2009

Eighteenth-century statesmanship has at least this to be said in its favour, that, in finding its ways and means for changing the political map, it always preferred royal marriages to royal wars, if the matrimonial method could be managed. It considered, very rightly, that the matrimonial method was the cheaper and the more elegant way; and this point of view is summed up in a famous Latin epigram on the fortunes of the House of Austria, which built up and retained a great empire through a series of successful dynastic marriages, though it was notoriously apt to come out on the losing side in any wars in which it took part.

“Bella gerant alii; tu, felix Austria, nube.” [Footnote: The epigram is applicable to eighteenth-century Austria, though its authorship is attributed to a fifteenth-century king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus (regnabat A.D. 1458-90).] [“Others wage wars; you, happy Austria, marry.”] The very names of eighteenth-century wars tell the same tale: “the War of the Spanish Succession”; “the War of the Polish Succession”; “the War of the Austrian Succession”. The understanding was that, as a rule, these conveyances of royal estates would be peacefully arranged between the diplomatic match-makers, with due consideration for the interests of third parties. They only gave occasion for “the sport of kings” in exceptional cases, when the royal chafferers found themselves totally unable to agree.

This tendency, which was prevalent in the eighteenth century, to treat international politics as the private family affairs of dynasties, and not as the public business of peoples, undoubtedly turned international politics into something rather petty and rather sordid; but at least it performed one socially beneficial negative service. It “took the shine out of” patriotism; and, with “the shine”, it took the sting.

One could put a list of the important marriage alliances in Europe after, say, 1479 (beginning of the joint rule of Ferdinand and Isabella) on Wikipedia.

Were there any after 1815? Perhaps not, but a casus belli of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was the claim of a Hohenzollern to the vacant Spanish throne, following the deposition of Isabella II, a Bourbon, in 1868. (The Prussian Rhine Province bordered France.) A century earlier, it would have been called the Second War of the Spanish Succession.

For the clash of dynastic and national principles in Schleswig-Holstein between 1846 and 1866, see this post. Latin in Hungary is mentioned in this post and this.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

London c 1949

April 2 2009


Shaftesbury Avenue from Piccadilly Circus (first two pictures); Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, from Aldford Street. Click to enlarge.

Kodachrome images by Chalmers Butterfield. Wikimedia Commons.

A lost art

April 1 2009

The writer can remember an occasion in one of the museums in London when he was gazing, as a child, at a beautiful fragment of Medieval Western stained glass and was listening to his mother’s comment that this was the one Medieval Western art of which the Modern Western World had lost the secret. This remark made a lasting impression on his mind, because, for this mind at that age, an admission of the possibility of retrogression, even in one single art, had been as disquieting as it had been novel. In his subsequent musings over this recollection of early childhood, the writer gradually came to perceive that, while the loss of any technique was something portentous in a social milieu in which Technology was in excelsis, the Modern Western World’s loss of the Medieval Western technique of making stained glass was particularly significant. It was indeed no accident that this particular technique should have been the first to have slipped out of a Modern Western virtuoso’s hand; for, of all Medieval Western techniques, the making of stained glass had been the one in which Technology had been the most dependent for its success upon its marriage with Spirituality; and the repudiation of a Medieval Western spirituality had been the price of the sensational advance of a secularized Modern Western science.

Edith Toynbee may have been out of date: many medieval stained glass techniques were relearned in the nineteenth century.

Late medieval glass in Sainte-Chapelle, Paris; ceiling restoration by Viollet-le-Duc


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