Archive for the 'Europe' Category

Boulez at 90

March 26 2015

BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, which aired last Saturday, on Pierre Boulez, who is ninety today, is here and here for another twenty-odd days at least. It’s hosted by Petroc Trelawney, despised as a broadcaster by a giant of musical blogging, Bob Shingleton, but not, perhaps, quite as bad as all that all the time. With him are Paul Driver, music critic of the Sunday Times, and Morag Grant, a Fellow of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg in Bonn, who are another matter.

This is discussion, and a mining of the warm and inscrutable Boulez’s words on the BBC over five decades. Why is the z pronounced in Boulez? Doesn’t it suggest something Spanish?

I wish Paul Driver wrote more outside Murdoch-land. He has only published one book, an unclassifiable assemblage of his own meditations on Manchester called Manchester Pieces. He’s a Mancunian, like the late Michael Kennedy.

Boulez’s list, aired in early 2000 on a New York radio station, of the ten most important pieces of music in the twentieth century is engaging.

I used to assume that Boulez’s works were all short, like Webern’s. They aren’t. I thought that they were drily intellectual. They aren’t that either.

Le marteau sans maître, directed by Bruno Maderna in 1961:

Pierre Boulez

___

I was taken in by the hoax in 2006 about Boulez’s recording of Vaughan Williams 4 and 6 on DG. For days, before I realised, the word “wow” was floating around in my head. There was even a review, which made it sound rather like Karajan’s recordings of English music. I can’t remember where the joke started. Driver, at least, can be as engaged with the Britten whom Boulez so much despises as with Boulez.

Boulez, VW

Christian brigands

March 20 2015

The Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, at the end of the Balkan Wars, divided the Macedonian region between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, with Greece getting the lion’s share; a small section went to Albania. The Serbian part ended (from 1946) as a separate constituent republic of Yugoslavia and is now an independent country.

In Macedonia, where the social peripeteia accompanying a transfer of sovereignty from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece had taken place ninety-one years later than in Laconia [with which he has just been concerned], the writer once had the good fortune to obtain a vivid sidelight on it from a living beneficiary. Waiting for an omnibus at Sorovich on the 4th September, 1921, he fell into conversation with a bystander who turned out to be a Slovene, born in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, who had emigrated as a boy to the United States, had come to Macedonia as a chauffeur for the American Red Cross, and was now driving a tractor in the service of three Greek brothers who were joint owners of a large estate in the neighbourhood of Sorovich, besides owning a whole block of houses just across the road from the railway station. Like the property itself, the present owners’ up-to-date Western method of farming was a legacy from their father, who had died only four months since. In answer to a question about his enterprising deceased employer’s antecedents, the Slovene mechanic volunteered: “Well, he hadn’t owned this property for very long. Before ‘the war’ [meaning the Balkan Wars of A.D. 1912-13] [Toynbee’s bracket], when the Turks owned the land, he was just one of those ‘Christians’ – what is the English word for them? … O, now I remember it: ‘brigands’ – up in the mountains. But, when the Greek Army marched in, the Turks cleared out and the brigands came down from the mountains and seized the land. So that is how my employer got his property, and how I got my job.”

There was a tradition in ancient anti-Christian polemic of referring to Christ himself as a brigand.

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

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.

Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.

They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)

Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.

The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.

The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.

So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.

Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.

In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.

Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.

IMG_9663

1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Picture source: Lee Kuan Yew, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going via mustsharenews.com

Mirabeau’s warning

March 18 2015

In A.D. 1790 the French National Assembly was warned by the prophetic voice of Mirabeau that a representative parliamentary body was likely to prove more bellicose than a monarch.

[Footnote: “Je vous demande à vous-mêmes: sera-t-on mieux assuré de n’avoir que des guerres justes, équitables, si l’on délègue exclusivement à une assemblée de 700 personnes l’exercice du droit de faire la guerre? Avez-vous prévu jusqu’où les mouvemens [sic] passionnés, jusqu’où l’exaltation du courage et d’une fausse dignité pourroient porter et justifier l’imprudence …? Pendant qu’un des membres proposera de délibérer, on demandera la guerre à grands cris; vous verrez autour de vous une armée de citoyens. Vous ne serez pas trompés par des ministres; ne le serez-vous jamais par vous-mêmes? … Voyez les peuples libres, c’est par des guerres plus ambitieuses, plus barbares qu’ils se sont toujours distingués. Voyez les assemblées politiques; c’est toujours sous le charme de la passion qu’elles ont décrété la guerre” (Mirabeau in the French National Assembly on the 20th May, 1790).

In this matter the statesman Mirabeau showed a clearer vision than the philosopher Volney, whose eighteenth-century complacency on the subject of War was apparently still unshaken in 1791 [he woke up later], to judge by the following passage of Les Ruines, which was published in that year:

“Si les guerres sont devenues plus vastes dans leurs masses, elles ont été moins meurtrières dans leurs details; si les peuples y ont porté moins de personnalité, moins d’énergie, leur lutte a été moins sanguinaire, moins acharnée. Ils ont été moins libres, mais moins turbulents, plus amollis, mais plus pacifiques.” […]]

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Azov and Baltic

March 13 2015

Having realized Russia’s need to acquire a seaboard, Peter began, in A.D. 1695-6, with the relatively easy conquest of Azov from the Turks. It is significant that, after his return from the Western tour of A.D. 1697-8, he addressed himself to the far more formidable task of conquering the Baltic Provinces from the Swedes, and persevered in this arduous enterprise for twenty years (A.D. 1700-21) until he finally achieved his aim. He had come to the conclusion that a seaboard on the Baltic was worth acquiring at any price because it would open the door for direct intercourse between Russia and the West. […] On the other hand, the conquest of Azov was not worth following up, because the further passage from this port to the open sea was blocked by the Ottoman Government’s control of the Straits of Kertch and of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles. And even if the Russian ships had been able to run the gauntlet of these three successive “Symplegades”, they would have merely found themselves at large in the Eastern Mediterranean – a sea which, in Peter’s day, before the opening of the short-cut from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, was a sluggish backwater, remote from the principal ocean-highways of the World.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Moscow (Ivan III) overcame the Golden Horde, and the Crimean khans (1449-1783), minor successors of the Horde, came under Ottoman protection. Russia did not conquer the Crimean Khanate (“Little Tartary”) until the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

Toynbee and Indiana Jones at Versailles

March 12 2015

The image links to the full Indiana Jones episode of which I showed a clip here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 02.08.05

Background and context are in the old post. Toynbee’s big scene starts at 5:00. His other main appearances are at 26:00 and 33:00. Later the scene shifts to Princeton.

Mistakes and unconvincing portrayals aside (Lawrence is the worst, Gertrude Bell a close second), it doesn’t do such a bad job of bringing history to life. Vignettes of Arabs, Vietnamese, Germans. Woodrow Wilson is shown as comically out of his depth. Indiana is touching, trying to be nice to the Germans.

Toynbee is rather convincing. He never said that those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it, but he had a sharper political mind when he was young than when he was old.

The unchanging West

February 27 2015

… or, A boy from Baghdad

Let us […] construct the intellectual history of a fictitious Baghdadi boy, who has been born since the arrival of the British at Baghdad in 1917 and whose father has determined to give him a thoroughly Western scientific education in order to fit him for making his way in the Westernized East of to-morrow. The father begins by giving the boy some direct insight into Western scientific methods by showing him Western scientists at work in his own country. He takes him to see the archaeological excavations at Ur. Let us assume that the boy is as intelligent as his father, and that this visit arouses in him a general interest in modern Western Archaeology, ranging over the whole field as far as it has been explored by Western scholars. Among other things, the life of the lake-dwellers in the Alps in the “Eneolithic Age” [which we would now call Early Bronze Age] is sure to appeal to the Baghdadi boy for the same reasons which invest the conditions of life on the North Arabian Steppe with a special interest for Western readers of the Book of Genesis. The boy’s interest in the lake-dwellers will broaden out into a study of all aspects of their life, including the manner in which they adapted themselves to the imperious conditions of the local terrain and climate in keeping their cattle. He will follow the ancient lacustrine herdsmen as they drive their cattle up from the lake-side to ever higher upland pastures with the advance of spring and then gradually down again from alp to alp to the water’s edge with the retreat of summer. This study will become his hobby; and when the time comes for him to visit Europe, he will make a bee-line first for Switzerland. There, herded by some tourist agency into Alpine hotels, he will observe, with astonishment and delight, that the pastoral life with which he is familiar from the books about the ancient lake-dwellers which his father gave him to read at home is being lived, apparently unchanged, by the Swiss herdsmen of to-day. With what extraordinary persistence social phenomena perpetuate themselves in this strange and romantic Western World! How different from ʿIraq, where the disinterred vestiges of Ur and Babylon and Nineveh proclaim to any Baghdadi who sets eyes on them that, in his country, Life is a flux and history a synonym for change. And now this Baghdadi has discovered “the Unchanging West”. What a tale to tell to his countrymen when he goes home again!

Of course our intelligent young man from Baghdad would not have rushed into this ludicrously erroneous generalization if the romance of the Alpine pastures had not absorbed his attention to the extent of preventing him from studying with equal thoroughness the histories of those sites on Western soil that are now occupied by the cities of Zurich and Lausanne – not to speak of Paris and London and Berlin and New York and Chicago. If he had studied these likewise, he could not conceivably have imagined that the West was “unchanging” by comparison with Iraq (immense though the changes in ʿIraq have been, on every plane of social life, over the span of five or six thousand years within which we happen to know something about the country’s history). He has been misled by a failure to realize that he has been making a generalization about half the World on the strength of local conditions in a small area with a peculiar character of its own. While the Alps impose upon all human beings in all ages who have the hardihood to be their inhabitants as rigid and as unvarying a way of life as is imposed by the North Arabian Steppe, it is likewise true that the Alps are as small a fraction of the Western World as the North Arabian Steppe is of the East. An extravaganza? Yet quid rides? For mutato nomine de te fabula narratur, [footnote: Horace: Satires, i (i), ll. 69-70.] you Western traveller, whoever you may have been, who first brought home to us the catchword of “the Unchanging East”.

Toynbee was saying this kind of thing before Edward Said, who presumably mocked the phrase. Was its inventor a Scottish Canadian writer named Robert Barr (founder of The Idler) in a book with that name published in 1900?

[Footnote: It may be objected that even an ingenuous and unobservant Oriental traveller who visited the Alps to-day with a picture in his mind of the local conditions of life in the “Eneolithic Age” could not really fail to notice, side by side with many points of correspondence, at least as many and as remarkable evidences of change. It can only be replied that Western travellers have contrived to ignore similar evidences on the North Arabian Steppe, where the conditions portrayed in the Book of Genesis have been changed profoundly, since that portrait was drawn, by at least two far-reaching innovations: the introduction of the horse and the introduction of fire-arms (not to speak of dry farming and motor-cars, which are both still too recent introductions to have had time to produce their full effects).]

The unchanging East (last post but one).

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

Peter’s war

February 26 2015

Peter’s declaration of war upon the Byzantine social tradition was delivered in his celebrated gesture of shaving, with his own hand, the beards of the grandees who came to congratulate him on his return from the West in A.D. 1698. A ukase of the 4th January, 1700, made the wearing of Western dress compulsory by a certain date “for the glory and beauty of the State and the improvement of the Army”. This was confirmed in a second ukase of the 20th March, and detailed instructions were issued in 1701. Compare Mehmed ʿAli’s imposition of Western uniforms upon his troops, and Mustafā Kemāl’s imposition of Western dress upon the entire male civil population. [Entire?] (The compulsory change of dress which was carried through by Peter in Russia was confined to the upper class, and the obligation to shave might be bought off by the payment of a beard-tax.) Peter, however, was not content with imposing Western dress. He arranged for the compilation of elaborate manuals of Western fine manners; and in the houses of the nobility in the new capital, Petersburg, “receptions” à la française were organized by the Police.

Were bourgeois manners and behaviour in Tsarist Russia harder than in western Europe to distinguish from aristocratic?

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

Vesuvius ’44

February 25 2015

I’m not big on disaster movies, but this Pathé newsreel, complete with Finlandia, is quite something; the movie shown after it must have seemed dull. Thanks to Adrian Murdoch for the link.

The ’44 eruption is described by Norman Lewis in Naples ’44.

Wikipedia, edited:

“Mount Vesuvius has erupted many times. The famous eruption in AD 79 was preceded by numerous others in prehistory, including at least three significantly larger ones, the best known being the Avellino eruption around 1800 BC which engulfed several Bronze Age settlements. Since AD 79, the volcano has also erupted repeatedly, in 172, 203, 222, possibly 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500. The volcano erupted again in 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century (notably in 1872), and in 1906, 1929, and 1944. There has been no eruption since 1944, and none of the post-79 eruptions was as large or destructive as the Pompeian one.

“The eruptions vary greatly in severity but are characterized by explosive outbursts of the kind dubbed Plinian after Pliny the Younger, a Roman writer who published a detailed description of the AD 79 eruption, in which his uncle, Pliny the Elder, died. On occasion, eruptions from Vesuvius have been so large that the whole of southern Europe has been blanketed by ash; in 472 and 1631, Vesuvian ash fell on Constantinople, over 1,200 kilometres away. A few times since 1944, landslides in the crater have raised clouds of ash dust, raising false alarms of an eruption.”

There is no Malta

February 23 2015

Geography was […] a science of which the statesmen and admirals of the Ottoman Empire remained abysmally ignorant. There is a legend of an Ottoman admiral who was sent out with orders to capture Malta and who returned to Constantinople, after cruising round the Mediterranean for many weeks, to report “Malta yoq” […].

In contrast, one supposes, with the Arab statesmen and admirals who had preceded them. Interpolation in a footnote: no source stated.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

The national idea

February 22 2015

It was a symbolic incident when, in 1798, the armada of the French Republic One and Indivisible, on its way to the conquest and conciliation of an enfeebled Egypt, extinguished the rule of the Hospitallers’ Order in its final refuge, the island of Malta.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg

February 20 2015

The order of Second World War bombing raids by the number of immediate fatalities is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg?

… A discovery and a question from the post before last.

Church of the Cross

February 19 2015

Not even firebombing obliterates a city. Tokyo is still Tokyo. A European city can’t be rebuilt so easily, but Dresden is impressive, with something momentous about it, seen from the Elbe. Bells of the Church of the Cross:

Old town:

There are no bells in Islam, but church bells are part of western music.

Cage and Stockhausen must have known that. Unsurprisingly, some of the most beautiful are in Germany. Is allowing the sound of church bells but not the call to prayer in a European city discrimination against Islam? If something affects (is heard by) a whole population, don’t the preferences of the majority rule, when in other cases minority rights would rule? Sounds are all-pervasive, sights are not.

Bombing Dresden

February 18 2015

Was the firebombing of Dresden by the British and Americans the worst thing done before Hiroshima? The British had the larger role.

RAF Bomber Command (1936-68) was led by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris from February 22 1942 to September 15 1945. Churchill wrote, after the main raids on Dresden: 

“It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of the so called ‘area-bombing’ of German cities should be reviewed from the point of view of our own interests. If we come into control of an entirely ruined land, there will be a great shortage of accommodation for ourselves and our allies. … We must see to it that our attacks do no more harm to ourselves in the long run than they do to the enemy’s war effort.”

He seems to have had moral doubts as well, but did not press his intervention.

In 1963, the holocaust-denier David Irving published The Destruction of DresdenThe Queen Mother, on the other hand, who lived for the rest of her days on a reputation gained by a visit to the blitzed East End, admired “Bomber Harris”.

According to onlinemilitaryeducation.org, the ten most destructive campaigns were as follows. The periods in question are of different lengths. In one case, the raids were conducted by Germans. In the other cases by the Americans and/or British. In descending order of total deaths by city (not by raid):

1.  Tokyo, November 1944-August 1945, 100,000 plus killed

USAAF. (Minor raid in April 1942.) Raid of March 9-10 1945 is considered the single most destructive conventional bombing raid in history. 

2.  Hamburg, September 1939-April 1945, 42,600 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most severe raid ever on a European city came from a combined force during the last week of July 1943. The British conducted the night raids, the Americans the day raids.

3.  Dresden, October 1944-April 1945, 25,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Most destructive raid came from a combined force (RAF majority) February 13-15 1945.

4.  Berlin, 1940-45, 20,000-50,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. 363 raids.

5.  London, September 1940-May 1941, 20,000 killed

The Blitz.

6.  Swinoujscie, March 12 1945, 5,000-23,000 killed

USAAF. Raid on Polish city and port.

7.  Pforzheim, April 1944-March 1945, 21,200 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF February 23 1945.

8.  Darmstadt, September 1943-February 1945, 12,300 killed

RAF. Main raid September 11-12 1944.

9.  Kassel, February 1942-March 1945, 10,000 killed

RAF and USAAF. Main raid RAF October 22-23 1943.

10.  Osaka, March-August 1945, 10,000 killed

USAAF. Main raid March 13-14 1945.

So the order is Hiroshima, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hamburg. More people were killed in the March 1945 Tokyo raid than by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki.

And why is Dresden discussed more often than Hamburg? Because Irving wrote a book?

The Germans area-bombed or firebombed parts of London and Coventry in 1940. Bomber Command was authorised before the Blitz, on May 15 1940, to attack German targets east of the Rhine. It began area-bombing Germany in early 1942. This was supposed to undermine the morale of the civilian population and in particular of industrial workers. Factories were no longer the main targets.

The Americans had a policy of precision bombing in Europe and yet firebombed Japan. But on a few occasions, particularly towards the end of the war, they firebombed cities in Germany such as Dresden and Berlin in support of the British. That caused disquiet in the American ranks and was never the general policy as it was in Japan. The double standard was surely racist.

Victor Gregg was born in London in 1919, joined the army in 1937 and served with the Rifle Brigade in India and Palestine and in the Western Desert. He was taken prisoner at the Arnhem and was awaiting execution in Dresden when the raids happened. He is alive and outspoken on the bombing:

Old posts:

Aerial bombing

Bombing Japan

Lie in the dark and listen.

Semitic outliers

February 17 2015

Which Semitic language is written now in Latin script?

Answer: Maltese.

Which Semitic language is written now in a script that is not Hebrew, not Arabic and not Latin?

Answer: Amharic (Ethiopian). Main example.

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

Adam Curtis’s extraordinary documentary is here on the BBC website. It was produced for iPlayer because of the “rigid formats and schedules of network television”. In other words, it was deemed too long or demanding. Here on YouTube.

The jury is out for me on this: I need to watch it more carefully. An introduction on Curtis’s blog is here. Extract (edited):

“Journalism – that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative – now […] just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information. Events come and go like waves of a fever. We […] live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog – and then disappear again, unexplained. And the formats – in news and documentaries – have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them. In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other. I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy – because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.

“I have made a film that tries to respond to this in two ways. It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense. But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving […].

“The film is called Bitter Lake. […] It tells a big historical narrative that interweaves America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It shows how politicians in the west lost confidence – and began to simplify the stories they told. It explains why this happened – because they increasingly gave their power away to other forces, above all global finance.

“But there is one other country at the centre of the film. Afghanistan. This is because Afghanistan is the place that has repeatedly confronted politicians, as their power declines, with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer. Let alone control it. The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds. They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer. And this blindness led to a terrible disaster – support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths. A horrific scandal that we, […] here in Britain, seem hardly aware of. And even if we are – it is dismissed as being just too complex to understand.

“I have got hold of the unedited rushes of almost everything the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan. It is thousands of hours – some of it is very dull, but large parts of it are extraordinary. Shots that record amazing moments, but also others that are touching, funny and sometimes very odd. These complicated, fragmentary and emotional images evoke the chaos of real experience. And out of them I have tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan.”

His statements about politicians may explain why they all (certainly in Britain, except for Farage) wear such puzzled expressions on their faces now. They are no longer sure what to say to us.

The Bitter Lake is a saltwater lake through which the Suez Canal flows. On Valentine’s Day 1945, after Yalta, President Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on board a warship there. A remarkable photograph was taken, which I saw consciously for the first time last year in the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall in Riyad. The kneeling figure is the ambassador to the Kingdom, William Eddy. It’s hardly less historically important than the Yalta photograph.

Charlie Beckett presented a programme on our bad news diet (Good News Is No News) on BBC Radio 4 recently (producer Simon Hollis), asking, intelligently, what sort of reality modern journalism is presenting. It plays into Curtis’s points. Listen here. (BBC iPlayer Radio must be the worst-designed site on the web.)

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com

Magna Carta

February 16 2015

Melvyn Bragg’s radio specials are usually better than In Our Time, his regular slot. He recently did a series on Magna Carta (BBC Radio 4, producer Thomas Morris).

JC Holt, the modern historian of Magna Carta, the charter of rights obtained from King John by his barons on a meadow by the Thames in Surrey eight hundred years ago this June 15, died last year, and is not in the programme. Telegraph obituary. He also wrote about Robin Hood.

Magna Carta was, in its time, neither unique nor successful. But it had an afterlife.

“Among other things, [Holt] highlighted the fact that many of the broad concepts, such as judgment by peers and protection against arbitrary disseisin (seizure of property) were hot topics all over Europe in the 13th century. Similar charters were issued in Germany, Sicily and France in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Only one thing set England’s Magna Carta apart from the rest: its survival.”

I went to a talk by Holt early in my first term at Oxford. He was then teaching at the University of Reading and would go on to the Professorship of Medieval History at Cambridge. It was a moment of disillusionment. I don’t know what, in my naïveté, I had expected. Did I think dons would be giants? Did I expect some kind of Jowett? He seemed like a civil servant. Which was no way to think of Holt.

Bragg’s episodes:

1. The Road to Magna Carta

With David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Cressida Williams, Cathedral and City Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral; Louise Wilkinson, Professor of Medieval History, Canterbury Christ Church University.

2. Runnymede, 1215

With David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Claire Breay, Curator, British Library Magna Carta exhibition; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia.

“Melvyn Bragg visits Canterbury, seat of Archbishop Stephen Langton, one of the key figures in the peace negotiations.”

3. The Aftermath of Runnymede

With Louise Wilkinson, Professor of Medieval History, Canterbury Christ Church University; Cressida Williams, Cathedral and City Archivist, Canterbury Cathedral; David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History, King’s College London; Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Claire Breay, Curator, British Library Magna Carta exhibition.

“Within a few weeks the agreement had failed, and both sides disavowed it. How did a failed peace treaty turn into the best known legal document in the English-speaking world? Melvyn Bragg looks at the complex politics of thirteenth-century England and discovers how John’s Great Charter was revived and reinvented over the course of the next hundred years.”

4. The Legacy of Magna Carta

With Nicholas Vincent, Professor of Medieval History, University of East Anglia; Daniel Hannan, writer and MEP, South East England; Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas, Royal Holloway, University of London; Kathleen Burk, Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History, University College, London.

“How Magna Carta became a cause célèbre during the English Civil War and later exerted a crucial influence on American constitutional thought. 800 years after it was sealed, Magna Carta remains a document of global importance.”

Magna Carta

1969 edition of Holt, Magna Carta, CUP, 1965

Peter Partner

February 16 2015

Guardian obituary. “Historian of medieval Rome and the Middle East who attacked the simplistic contrasts drawn between the west and Islam.”

I haven’t read him, but enjoyed his opponent Walter Ullmann’s drily formidable The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power in my sixth form.

Le bon général ordinaire and le grand chef

January 31 2015

Montgomery of Alamein interviewed by Bernard Levin, January 24 1966, I suppose BBC. Levin has a piece about him in the first volume, Taking Sides, Jonathan Cape, 1979, of his collected journalism.

Monty must already have been working on A History of Warfare, Collins, 1968, where we’ll find examples, missing here – except that Caesar was ordinaire. And who is the inaudible grand chef? Marlborough, who never lost a battle? Even Monty lost at Arnhem. Eisenhower was presumably a grand chef with whom Montgomery disagreed, or was he a mere général ordinaire?

The head of the research team for that book, Alan Howarth, was my favourite history teacher at school. Which is the excuse for this post. He was directly responsible for the abridgement, A Concise History of Warfare, Collins, 1972.

Mongols of the sea

January 19 2015

Rambling piece by Paul Krugman on the “gunpowder empires” and the Atlantic seaboard. And what European sailors had in common with Asian nomads. The New York Times, January 18.

The Harmonious Blacksmith

January 17 2015

This sane if unpolitical Air and Variations, a favourite of the Victorians – like The Cuckoo and the Nightingale and Rage over a Lost Penny, not that these works are similar – is the final movement, in E major, of the fifth of the eight harpsichord suites Handel published in 1720. Wilhelm Kempff, piano.

The origin of the nickname is not clear. It is not recorded until the nineteenth century and does not come from Handel.

Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations gives his friend Pip the nickname Handel, because “We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith”.

Percy Grainger based his Handel in the Strand on the tune (piano and various arrangements, the name an allusion to Molly on the Shore).

Kempff takes it rather slowly. The faster it is played, the more Grainger-like it becomes.

Picture: Poussin, or attributed?, Hercule au jardin des Hespérides, Louvre?

Etherialization

January 16 2015

An etherialization of our modern Western Art which took place in the course of the eighteenth century, when the sceptre passed from the art of Architecture to the art of Music and when the élan of the Western artistic impulse was thus, as it were, translated from the grosser medium of stone into the subtler medium of sound, has been traced out by Oswald Spengler in one of the most interesting passages of his magnum opus.

“About the year 1740, when Euler was beginning to establish the definitive formulation of Functional Analysis, there arose the Sonata, which is the maturest and the highest form of the instrumental style … . Therewith begins the reign of Music over all the other arts. In the field of the plastic arts Music banishes statuary and tolerates nothing but the completely musical and finikinly un-Hellenic and counter-Renaissance Kleinkunst of porcelain, which was invented at a time when chamber music was winning its way to a position of decisive importance. Whereas the plastic art of the Gothic age is architectonic ornament – rows of human figures – through and through, the plastic art of the Rococo period is a significant example of an art which is only plastic superficially, while in reality it is under the domination of Music – which is its opposite in the circle of the arts – and is speaking in the language of musical form. This reveals the degree to which it is possible for the technique that governs the foreground of artistic life to be in contradiction with the spirit of the world of forms which this technique creates (pace the usual aesthetic theory which assumes that spirit and technique stand to each other in the relation of a cause and an effect). Compare the crouching Venus of Coyzevox (A.D. 1686) in the Louvre with her Hellenic forerunner in the Vatican, and you will see the difference between plastic art treated as music and plastic art working in its own right. In Coyzevox’s work, the sense of movement, the flow of the lines, and the fluidity that has been imparted to the very essence of the stone – which, like porcelain, has somehow lost its solidity and mass – can be described most aptly in musical terms: staccato, accelerando, andante, allegro. Hence the feeling that somehow the close-grained marble is here out of place. Hence, too, the altogether un-Hellenic reliance on effects of light and shade: a device which corresponds to what has been the leading principle of oil-painting since Titian. The quality which the Eighteenth Century called colour – whether in an engraving or in a drawing or in a group of statuary – really means music. This quality governs the painting of Watteau and Fragonard and the art of the Gobelins and pastels. Do we not talk, from that day to this, of ‘colour-tones’ and ‘tone-colours’? And is this not a recognition of an equivalence finally attained between two arts that are superficially so different? And are not all such designations meaningless in reference to all Hellenic Art? Music even succeeded in recasting, in its own spirit, the Baroque architecture of Bernini. It re-cast it into Rococo; and the transcendental Rococo ornamentation is ‘played’ over by lights which are virtually musical tones, and which perform the function of resolving roofs, walls, arches and everything that is constructive and concrete into polyphony and harmony: an architectural music whose trills, cadences and passaggios carry to the point of identity the assimilation of the architectural semantic of these halls and galleries to the music which was conceived for them. Dresden and Vienna are the homes of this late and shortlived wonderland of chamber music and billowy furniture and mirror-rooms and pastoral poetry and porcelain-groups. This is the last expression of the Western soul: an expression of autumnal ripeness with a touch of autumn sunshine. The Vienna of the Vienna Congress saw it die and disappear.” [Footnote: Spengler, Oswald: Der Untergang des Abendlandes, vol. i (Munich 1930, Beck), pp. 318-20. […] The same theme is developed by Heard, G., in The Ascent of Humanity (London 1938, Cape), pp. 226-8.]

Translation presumably by Toynbee. Charles Francis Atkinson’s translation of this passage is here. His closing sentences seem preferable. “It is the final brilliant autumn with which the Western soul completes the expression of its high style. And in the Vienna of the Congress-time it faded and died.” Spengler has: “Sie ist der letzte, herbsthaft sonnige, vollkommene Ausdruck großen Stils der abendländischen Seele. Im Wien der Kongreßzeit starb er dahin.”

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Paris

January 10 2015

Sarcelles

Sarcelles 2

Sarcelles. Via agingmodernism.wordpress.com.

Summer capitals, summer palaces

December 10 2014

The Sarawat mountains run down the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Sarat al-Hejaz, Sarat Asir, Sarat al-Yemen.

Taʿif is in the Hejaz section, 100 km southeast of Mecca. The ruling family and much of the government are said to go there during the summer to escape the heat of Riyad. Taʿif is cool. Coastal Jeddah, on nearly the same latitude, hot and humid. Inland Riyad is hot and dry.

Taʿif is known for grapes, pomegranates, figs, roses, honey. The family of Hani Hanjour, the 9/11 hijacker-pilot who crashed into the Pentagon, ran a lemon and date farm there.

There are more grapes at Hofuf in the Eastern Province.

Taʿif, like Mecca and like Al-Qullays, was a religious centre which attracted pilgrims before the Prophet: it housed the idol of Allat, the lady of Taʿif, who was also one of the trinity of goddesses worshipped in Mecca.

It was near the site of Muhammad’s victory at the battle of Hunayn in 630. The Sharif of Mecca capitulated to Selim I at Taʿif in 1517, a surrender undone by the British four hundred years later.

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Ecbatana. The Achaemenids had the old Median capital as their summer capital. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis. (Seleucia-on-Tigris was the first capital of the Seleucid Empire, though it was officially superseded by Antioch. Ctesiphon-on-Tigris, opposite Seleucia, and Susa were the joint capitals of Parthia. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital, and fell to the Arabs.)

Xanadu. The summer capital (1271-94) of Kublai Khan, the Mongol founder of the Yuan dynasty in China, after he moved his permanent capital from Xanadu (Shangdu) to Khanbaliq (Dadu), present Beijing. Destroyed by the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming, in 1369. Old posts: Xanadu and Jehol and Foreigners in Cathay.

Simla. The summer capital (1864-1939), in the Himalayan foothills, of the British in India. Over a thousand miles away from Calcutta. (Much nearer to Delhi.) Old post. Wikipedia says that before 1864 the summer capital was even further away, at Murree, a pleasant, often snowy, spot in the Margalla Hills, near Rawalpindi, and now in Pakistan. But wasn’t it the regional government of the Punjab province that moved there in the summer? A cool retreat much closer to Calcutta would have been Darjeeling. Was that too inaccessible?

In the middle of the 19th century, San Sebastián, near Biarritz, became a summer capital for the Spanish monarchy. Franco spent his summers there.

The hill station of Baguio in the northern mountains of Luzon was the summer capital of the Philippines during the American occupation (1898-1946).

Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley is still the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The winter capital is Jammu.

Sochi, on the Black Sea, is described as the summer capital of Russia. Before 1991, resorts in the Crimea could play that role. Now they can presumably play it again.

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Murree beer was made in Murree when the Murree Brewery was founded in 1860. In (I believe) 1910, the plant was moved to Rawalpindi. There is also one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), which I thought was too strict nowadays to allow this kind of thing. It was Bhutto, in 1977, not Zia, who made Pakistan dry. The Christian, Hindu, and Parsi communities were not large enough to support the Murree enterprise, and production had to be cut back.

But the laws are not very strictly enforced. The last few times I was in Pakistan (2004-06), I had to sign a declaration in hotels that I required the beer (or the local whisky, also made by Murree Brewery) for medicinal purposes. It was then handed over in a black bag. I don’t recall the form requiring me to state that I was a non-Muslim. The medical ruse, I suppose, allowed it to be sold to anyone, irrespective of religion.

Of course, part of the moneyed middle class, especially in Karachi, and of the military class and the “feudal” class, drinks quite a lot and gets its hands on foreign liquor. Musharraf’s two loves, it has been said, are dogs and whisky.

I am convinced that Murree is how beer used to taste. At least the Murree that I remember (there has been some product diversification). It’s the subaltern’s beer, still being made. But one bottle could (it must be said) taste and look disconcertingly different from another.

It isn’t exported, which doesn’t stop them from producing an Export Pils, but in 2013, Murree Brewery opened a franchise, run by a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, which allows its brewing, bottling and marketing in India.

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A family and a few courtiers might go to a summer palace. A large part of a civil service might migrate to a summer capital. This is what I understand happened with Simla and Baguio and happens with Srinagar. What about Sochi? Does it really still happen with Taʿif? Why migrate when there is air conditioning?

Roman and Byzantine emperors had summer palaces. The pope has Castel Gandolfo.

Peter the Great built one in St Petersburg, and Elizabeth of Russia another – and the Winter Palace.

There were two summer palaces at Tsarskoye Selo. Catherine I built the Catherine Palace, Catherine the Great the Alexander Palace.

Frederick the Great built Sanssouci in Potsdam. Maria Theresa was given Schönbrunn.

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Construction of the complex of gardens and palaces in Beijing known as the Old Summer Palace began in 1707 under the Kangxi Emperor (Qing). He intended it as a gift for his fourth son, the future Yongzheng Emperor, who would expand it in 1725. The Qianlong Emperor (same generation as Elizabeth and Frederick) did further work.

The Old Summer Palace, with its many ancient books and works of art, was destroyed by the British and French in the Second Opium War, causing the Imperial Court to relocate to the Forbidden City.

The vast nearby Summer Palace, also in Beijing, had its origin in a palace built by the Jurchen (Jin dynasty) emperor Wanyan Liang in the 12th century. It remained in use under the Yuan. (What did the Ming do with it?) The Qianlong Emperor built much of what we see now. The Old Summer Palace had been built by his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor (hence, I suppose, “Old”). The Summer Palace was badly damaged by the British and French, but not completely destroyed.

Both of these were outside the walls of the Inner City. Did Summer Palace connote “without the walls”? The Forbidden City was within the walls.

On the history of Peking, its walls, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, see posts here and here.

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Essences from damask roses grown in Taʿif can cost thousands of pounds a bottle. I was with a friend in a perfumery in Jeddah in summer 2009. I couldn’t understand the Arabic courtesies and chatter exchanged between him and the owner, his friend, and not since childhood have I felt so trapped in a conversation that I could neither follow, nor contribute to, nor end. The light turned rosy as the evening approached, and a few miles away my friend’s plane waited for us on the tarmac at the airport like a patient camel.

A perfect Taʿif rose (image).

Margaret Aston

December 9 2014

Telegraph obit.

Author of The Fifteenth Century: The Prospect of Europe in the distinguished Thames & Hudson series of the ’60s and ’70s (among several: I miss series), the Library of European Civilization.

And of much else.

Hunter’s Rulers of India.

Éllinas and Romyós

November 30 2014

… or, Promiscuous properties of our puppet-show

The differentiation of Near Eastern from Ancient Hellenic culture came about by a deliberate breach with the past, and not by a tearful parting. The Academy of Athens, founded by Plato, was not broken up by the Turks. It was closed, in the ninth century of its existence and just forty years before the first Turks visited Constantinople, [footnote: The Academy was closed in A.D. 529; the first ambassadors from the Khan of the earliest Turkish Empire in Central Asia arrived at Constantinople in A.D. 569.] by Justinian, the Near Eastern sovereign who built Aya Sofía and who figures as a worthy in the legend of Modern Greek nationalism. Seven philosophers who refused to embrace the Christian religion took refuge in the dominions of Justinian’s Middle Eastern rival Khosru, [footnote: It must be admitted that the Hellenic philosophers did not find themselves at home at the Middle Eastern court.] and the Persian Government stipulated for the repatriation and toleration of these last representatives of Hellenic culture in a treaty of peace with the East Roman Power. [Footnote: In A.D. 533.]

This is over a century after Theodosius’s edict.

Mani is the middle promontory of the three at the tip of the Peloponnese. Messenia is to the west, Epidaurus to the east. They mirror the three promontories of Thrace.

The cult of the Olympian gods survived three centuries longer in the Mani, the most inaccessible promontory of the Morea, which was cut off from the East Roman Empire by the Slavonic migrations at the close of the sixth century. But in the latter part of the ninth century, when the Moreot Slavs had been reduced to subjection, this scandalous survival of Ancient Hellenic usages attracted the attention of the Constantinople Government. The Olympian cults of the Maniots were suppressed and the last taint of Hellenism was purged out of the Near Eastern world. [Footnote: See Konstandínos Porphyroyénnitos (= “Constantine Porphyrogenitus”): On the Administration of the [East Roman] [bracket in original] Empire, ch. 1. (ed. by Bekker, I., Bonn, 1840, Weber).] The repudiation of the Hellenic tradition had already been symbolised by a change in the use of names. “Hellene” had come to mean a heathen outsider [a Maniot pagan], in contrast to the Christian subject of the East Roman Empire. The latter was the orthodox pattern of the primitive Modern Greek, and Romyós, or “East Roman,” […] became the national name in the vernacular. The Modern Greek merchants and peasantry of the Ottoman Empire only learnt to call themselves Hellenes from the children of the French Revolution in the West, who delighted to speak of Switzerland as the Helvetian Republic and to have their portraits painted in the costume of Roman Senators. This classical affectation was a Western fashion which the Modern Greeks borrowed with other promiscuous properties of our puppet-show, just as the classical scholarship of Koraís was a part of his enlightened advocacy of Western culture among his fellow-countrymen.

The bibliography of the book from which this is taken gives these references in a section called The names Éllinas and Romyós […]; all brackets hereafter are in the original:

BURY, J. B. : “History of the Later Roman Empire.” (2 vols., London, 1889, Macmillan.) [See vol. ii., bk. iv., pt. 2, ch. vii. : “The Language of the Romaioi in the Sixth Century.”]

POLÍTIS, N. G. : “Éllines i Romyí? <Hellenes or Rum?>.” (Athens, 1901, Sakellarios.) [This pamphlet originally appeared as a letter to the Press, in answer to one from the poet Kostìs Palamás, in which the latter had maintained that “Romyós,” and not “Éllinas” <or, in purist form, “Éllin”>, was the true national name of the Modern Greeks. Mr. Polítis sets out to prove not only that the name “Éllinas” was occasionally employed during the Middle Ages as a literary affectation by the learned, but that it had never dropped out of the popular consciousness – in fact, that its use during the War of Independence and thereafter was a survival rather than a revival. Without wishing to show disrespect to the memory of this distinguished scholar, I venture to state my opinion that in this controversy he has not proved his case.]

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Winston Churchill par Hugh Trevor-Roper

November 29 2014

Hugh Trevor-Roper broadcasting in French on France Culture radio on April 14 1967. It isn’t clear to me who the live audience is and whether invited or public, nor why he was asked, or chose, to speak about Churchill. He worked at MI6 during the war, but never met Churchill, though he came to know Randolph later. He admired Churchill’s life of Marlborough.

He was, at the time of this lecture, taking a strong stand against the proposed London staging of a play by Rolf Hochhuth which alleged that Churchill had been responsible for the death of the Polish prime minister, General Sikorski, in a plane crash in 1943. In April 1943 the Germans had announced the discovery of mass graves filled with the bodies of thousands of Polish prisoners of war murdered by the Soviets at Katyn Forest in 1940. Churchill, it was alleged, feared that Sikorski’s questions would damage Britain’s relations with Russia. The holocaust-denier David Irving was a friend of Hochhuth and in on the controversy.

Soon afterwards, Trevor-Roper would be on the editorial board, with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, AJP Taylor and others, of a magazine issued in 112 weekly parts by Purnell (1969-71) based on the text of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

He isn’t really speaking French, but Trevor-Roper lecturese. Lectures were not his best medium. That was the essay.

Another lecture:

Hugh Trevor-Roper on Walter Scott.

The martyrdom of the Moriscos

November 13 2014

Educated Osmanlis are aware that the Spanish-speaking Jews who are so prominent in the principal cities of the Levant, are descended from the Jews of Spain, who were expelled by the Spanish and given asylum by the Ottoman Government at the close of the fifteenth century. Following up this clue, they have studied the martyrdom of the “Moriscos,” the Moslem population of the Moorish states in the Peninsula reconquered by the Christians. They have read in Western histories how this civilised and industrious Middle Eastern people was forcibly converted, driven by oppression into desperate revolts, and then massacred, despoiled, and evicted by its Western conquerors, at the very time when in the Near East the Osmanlis were allowing conquered non-Moslems to retain their cultural autonomy and were organising Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish millets as official departments of a Moslem state. I have heard Turks express ironical regret that they did not Westernise in the fifteenth century after Christ. If they had followed our example then, they would have had no minorities to bother them to-day!

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Limewood and sandstone

November 11 2014

Wooden means stiff, unyielding. But “lime”, the wood in which Riemenschneider and other German Renaissance sculptors carved, comes from the Old English lind or linde and Proto-Germanic lendā, which are related to the Latin lentus, flexible, and the Sanskrit latā. “Lithe” and the German lind, lenient, yielding, are from the same root.

Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit.

Lime trees, tilia, are long-lived. In the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg, until 1934, stood a lime which, according to tradition, had been planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of the last Ottonian Emperor, Henry II.

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A better musical pendant to MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation than Strauss’s oboe concerto might be Hindemith’s 1962-63 organ concerto, a great piece of modern music from the country of Riemenschneider, the Holbeins, Grünewald, Dürer and Luther.

Martin Haselböck, organ of the Grossen Konzerthaussaal (what is the organ in the still?), Wiener Symphoniker, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos:

I. Crescendo, moderato maestoso
II. Allegro assai

III. Canzonetta in triads and two ritornelli, moderato

IV. Fantasy on Veni Creator Spiritus, ie I suppose on the Gregorian chant normally associated with it

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Adam Brust

Sandstone, the equivalent of limewood: from Riemenschneider’s carvings of Adam and Eve, Würzburger Marienkapelle, 1491-93, Mainfränkisches Museum Würzburg, photo credit: Ulrich Kneise, Eisenach

Memories of a nation

November 10 2014

It’s hard to see what MacGregor could have done better in that series and within its time constraints (last post). I’d have been sorry if he had not had programmes on Riemenschneider and Kollwitz. There isn’t much on music, but perhaps we all know about that; and his starting points were “objects, art, landmarks and literature”. The series is all the better for the omission. There perhaps could be more on the Thirty Years’ War.

Recent post here about the best-selling German novel of the First World War, The Wanderer between the Two Worlds.

November 2014: immigration and the German Willkommenskultur.

One day, I should write something personal about Germany.

To redress the balance on music, here is that astonishing musical document of the fin-de-guerre, the oboe concerto by the octogenarian Richard Strauss, 150 this year.

An American soldier, Lieutenant Milton Weiss, knocked on the door of his villa in Garmisch on April 30 1945. The man who descended the staircase announced: “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of Rosenkavalier and Salome.”

What a collision of worlds. Strauss invited the commanding officer, a Major Kramer, and seven of his officers to lunch. His cook, Anni, prepared a venison stew. Bottles of wine were brought up from the cellar. The requisitioning soldiers left, having mounted a sign at the front gate warning “Off limits”.

That afternoon, Hitler committed suicide. In the evening, German radio broadcast the news that “our Führer, Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism, fell for Germany this afternoon in his operational command post in the Reich Chancellery”. This was immediately followed by recordings, conducted by Furtwängler, of the Adagio from Bruckner’s seventh symphony and the funeral music from Götterdämmerung.

Strauss wrote in his diary:

“Germany: 1945: Thus is the body dead, but the spirit is life.

Luther.

“On 12 March the glorious Vienna Opera became one more victim of the bombs. But from 1 May onwards the most terrible period of human history came to an end, the twelve-year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2,000 years of cultural evolution met its doom and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal rabble of soldiers. Accursed be technology!”

Three days earlier, 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, had been forced to begin a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee, a little to the northeast of Garmisch, where the SS had built defences against American forces advancing from Bad Tölz.

One of the soldiers whom Strauss got to know in the coming days, John de Lancie, was an oboist. De Lancie asked the composer whether whether he had ever thought of writing an oboe concerto and got a simple “No”. But he had planted a seed.

“Memories of a nation”: the whole German musical past shines through these late works. Manfred Clement, Staatskapelle Dresden, Kempe:

With thanks to Matthew Boyden, Richard Strauss, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999.

Germany: Memories of a Nation

November 9 2014

Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation, which completed its BBC Radio 4 run on the eve of 25 years of “Germany”, was as good as his A History of the World in 100 Objects (old post). This time, thirty 15-minute episodes, not quite chronological, “using objects, art, landmarks and literature”.

The test with a series like this is: would the other side wince if they heard it? I hope not in this case, even in the tenth programme. BBC descriptions are slightly edited here. Links to podcasts:

  1. The View from the Gate. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, begins his series examining 600 years of German history through objects with a reflection on Germany’s floating frontiers. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Neil visits the Brandenburg Gate.
  2. Divided Heaven. Neil MacGregor examines the story of the two Germanys, East and West, created in 1949, through objects including a wet suit used in an escape attempt from the East in 1987, which was later used as a training device by the Stasi, the East German secret police.
  3. Kafka, Kant and Lost Capitals. Neil MacGregor visits Kaliningrad, now in Russia, but formerly the German city Königsberg, home of the philosopher Kant, and also visits Prague, birthplace of writer Franz Kafka.
  4. Strasbourg – Floating City. Neil MacGregor visits Strasbourg, now in France, but once also a key city in German history, culture and precision engineering, as revealed by model of the astonishing cathedral clock.
  5. Fragments of Power. Neil MacGregor discovers how coins reveal the range and diversity of the Holy Roman Empire, with around 200 different currencies struck in the various territories of Germany.
  6. Luther and a Language for All Germans. Neil MacGregor focuses on the things which bind Germans together. He begins with the story of how Luther created the modern German language, by translating the Bible.
  7. Fairy Tales and Forests. Neil MacGregor examines how the tales of the Grimms and the art of Caspar David Friedrich re-established an identity for the German-speaking people, after their defeat by Napoleon.
  8. One Nation under Goethe. Neil MacGregor focuses on Goethe, arguing that he is the greatest of all German poets, and a unifying force, so that the Germans are one nation under Goethe.
  9. The Walhalla: Hall of Heroes. Neil MacGregor visits the Walhalla, one of the most idiosyncratic expressions of national identity in 19th century Europe, a temple to German-ness, modelled on the Parthenon.
  10. One People, Many Sausages. Neil MacGregor focuses on two great emblems of Germany’s national diet: beer and sausages. He finds out how regional specialities represent centuries of regional history.
  11. The Battle for Charlemagne. Neil MacGregor visits Aachen cathedral to examine the legacy of Charlemagne (c 747-c 814) – was he a great French ruler, or was he Charles the Great, a German? And what is the significance of a very fine replica of the Imperial Crown?
  12. Riemenschneider: Sculpting the Spirit. Neil MacGregor focuses on the religious sculptures of Tilman Riemenschneider (c 1460-1531), whose reputation as an artist has steadily risen. He is seen as a supreme sculptor, working in a peculiarly German medium, limewood, but articulating the sensibilities of a continent. And Neil MacGregor reveals why, as the war came to an end in 1945, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann identified Riemenschneider as a moral and political hero.
  13. Holbein and the Hansa. Neil MacGregor charts the rise and fall of the Hansa, or Hanseatic League, a great trading alliance of 90 cities, and the role of the painter Hans Holbein the Younger.
  14. Iron Nation. Neil MacGregor charts the role of iron in 19th century Prussia, an everyday metal whose uses included patriotic jewellery and the Iron Cross, a military decoration to honour all ranks.
  15. 1848: The People’s Flag and Karl Marx. Neil MacGregor reflects on the events of 1848, when black, red and gold became the colours of the flag for a united Germany, and Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto.
  16. Gutenberg: In the Beginning was the Printer. Neil MacGregor examines how Johannes Gutenberg’s inventions led to the birth of the book as we know it. For many, it is the moment at which the modern world began.
  17. Dürer: An Artist for All Germans. Neil MacGregor focuses on the work of Dürer (1471-1528), arguing that he is the defining artist of Germany, his image – and his self-image – known to all Germans.
  18. Porcelain: The White Gold of Saxony. Neil MacGregor focuses on how 18th century German chemists discovered the secrets of Chinese porcelain, known then as “white gold” – translucent, fine-glazed, and much-coveted.
  19. From Clock to Car: Masters of Metal. Neil MacGregor focuses on the long tradition of German metalwork, from finely-engineered clocks and scientific instruments to the Volkswagen Beetle.
  20. Bauhaus: Cradle of the Modern. Neil MacGregor focuses on the Bauhaus school of art and design, founded in 1919. Its emphasis on functional elegance is visible in our houses, furniture and typography today.
  21. Bismarck the Blacksmith. Neil MacGregor charts the career of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), known as the Iron Chancellor: he argued that the great questions of the day should be decided by “iron and blood”.
  22. Käthe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness. Neil MacGregor focuses on the art of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), who expresses the loss and suffering of war, especially after the death of her younger son Peter at the front in 1914. Neil MacGregor argues that she is one of the greatest German artists. Like no other artist of the time, Kollwitz gave voice to the overwhelming sense of personal loss felt by ordinary Germans – the loss of a whole generation, the loss of political stability and of individual dignity.
  23. Notgeld. Neil MacGregor examines the emergency money – Notgeld – created during World War One and its aftermath. Small denomination coins began to disappear because their metal was worth more than their face value. People hoarded them or melted them down. Paper notes replaced coins, but as cities produced their own money, there was also currency made from porcelain, linen, silk, leather, wood, coal, cotton and playing cards. He also focuses on the crisis of hyperinflation in the early 1920s. At its peak, prices doubled every three and a half days, and in 1923 a 500 million mark note might buy a loaf of bread.
  24. Degenerate Art. Neil MacGregor examines how the Nazis attacked art they viewed as “entartet” – degenerate. He charts how Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, led a process designed to purify all German culture, including books, music, paintings and pottery. The programme focuses on a vase created by Grete Marks, with an evident debt to Chinese ceramics, and a loose brush-splashed glaze suggestive of modernist painting. Goebbels condemned this vase in his newspaper Der Angriff – The Attack. Grete Marks, who was Jewish and had trained at the Bauhaus, left Germany for England.
  25. Buchenwald. Neil MacGregor visits Buchenwald, one of the earliest and largest concentration camps.
  26. The Germans Expelled. Neil MacGregor focuses on a small hand-cart to tell the story of how more than 12 million Germans fled or were forced out of Central and Eastern Europe after 1945.
  27. Out of the Rubble. Neil MacGregor talks to a Trümmerfrau, a woman who cleared rubble from the Berlin streets in 1945, and focuses on a sculpture by Max Lachnit made from hundreds of pieces of rubble.
  28. The New German Jews. Germany today has the fastest-growing Jewish population in Western Europe. Neil MacGregor visits a synagogue in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, which was inaugurated in 1956.
  29. Barlach’s Angel. Neil MacGregor focuses on Ernst Barlach’s sculpture Hovering Angel, a unique war memorial, commissioned in 1926 to hang in the cathedral in Güstrow.
  30. Reichstag. Neil MacGregor ends his journey through 600 years of German history at the Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in der Campagna (1787), Wikipedia

The hubris of Innocent III

November 2 2014

This shepherd of souls who was unduly soft and credulous in accepting at their face value the specious protestations of princes, showed himself unduly cold and cautious when he had to appraise the sainthood that shone like the Sun through Francis’ countenance; and here it is difficult to draw the line between obtuseness and ὕβρις. Was Innocent unaware of Francis’ greatness or indifferent to it? Did his aloofness from the deepest spiritual movement of his age reflect the pre-occupation of a man of affairs or the superciliousness of an aristocrat? Even if we give Innocent the benefit of the doubt and acquit him, as Francis himself would have hastened to acquit him, of ὕβρις on Francis’ account, at any rate we must count it for righteousness to Innocent’s great-nephew Ugolino de’ Conti that the future Pope Gregory IX was more sensitive than his relative and predecessor to Francis’ sainthood, though he too was an aristocrat and a man of the world. And there is another count against Innocent III on which the charge of ὕβρις cannot be rebutted. A Pope whose predecessors had been content to style themselves “Vicar of Peter” assumed the style of “Vicar of Christ”. This was an ominous departure from the humility of a Gregory the Great, who had taken the title of Servus Servorum Dei when his colleague John the Faster at Constantinople had proclaimed himself “Oecumenical” Patriarch. In the year of Innocent’s death John’s “Oecumenical” successor was a refugee at Nicaea from a Patriarchal See that was under the heel of Innocent’s truant crusaders. The omen was unfavourable to the successors of the first Roman “Vicar of Christ”. “Woe unto when all men shall speak well of you” [footnote: Luke vi. 26.] is Innocent’s epitaph.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

II n’y a plus de Pyrénées

November 1 2014

1700-92 and 1814-30.

“II n’y a plus de Pyrénées” was Louis XIV’s [unjustified] comment on the accession of his grandson to the throne of Spain in A.D. 1700 according to Voltaire, Le Siècle de Louis Quatorze, chap. 28.

It’s actually in chapter 26.

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

Still lifes

October 1 2014

Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.

Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.

And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.

We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.

Joachim Beuckelaer, Kitchen scene with Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary

Joachim Beuckelaer (1533-75), Kitchen Scene with Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary (1566)

Jacopo da Empoli, Still Life

Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle

Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle

Odilon Redon, Flowers

Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)

George Clausen, Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug

George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88

The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).

Antitypes of cosmic dawns

September 29 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]

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

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Insatiability

September 27 2014

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

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Abandoned virtuosity 2

September 14 2014

First post.

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

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

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

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

In a late dialogue, Toynbee says:

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

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

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

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

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

Experiences, OUP, 1969

Abandoned virtuosity

September 11 2014

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

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

See an old post on dated pessimism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

Picasso, Woman with a Fan,1907

Archaism in art (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

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

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

Guarantee 2

September 7 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Guarantee

September 6 2014

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

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

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

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Straight

August 29 2014

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

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

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

Descensus Averni

August 25 2014

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

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954