Archive for the 'Russia' Category

The Ob

August 14 2015

Russian rivers

August 13 2015

… and river systems

I  White Sea

Northern Dvina (from confluence of Yug and Sukhona; the Western Dvina or Daugava flows into Latvia from the Valdai Hills)

II  Barents Sea

III  Kara Sea, between Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya

Ob (from confluence of Katun and Biya near Altai Mountains in Russia)

Yenisei (from Mongolia)

IV  Laptev Sea, between Severnaya Zemlya and New Siberian Islands

Lena (from near Lake Baikal)

V  East Siberian Sea, between New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island

Kolyma (from confluence of Kulu and Ayan Yuryakh)

VI  Chukchi Sea, between Wrangel Island and Bering Strait


VII  Baltic Sea

Neva (from Lake Ladoga)


VIII  Black Sea, Ukraine, west of Crimea

Dnieper (from Valdai Hills near Smolensk)

IX  Sea of Azov, Russia, east of Crimea

Don (from Novomoskovsk)

X  Caspian Sea, Russia

Volga (from Valdai Hills)

XI  Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan

Ural or Zhayyq (from southern Urals in Russia)


XII  Bering Sea, south of Bering Strait

XIII  Sea of Othotsk, south of Kamchatka Peninsula

XIV  Strait of Tartary, between Siberia and Sakhalin Island

Amur (from northwestern Manchuria on the Russia-China border at confluence of Shilka and Argun)

XV  Sea of Japan, south of Sakhalin Island

Tumen (from Mount Paektu, but in North Korea or China?)

Other rivers are less important or are parts of these systems


Economist map

Most of the Russia-China border is formed by the Argun and the Amur and in the south the Ussuri, a tributary of the Amur (low resolution map: Economist)

Smoke over the river Volga

Smoke over the Volga, Nizhny Novgorod

Tibetan rivers (old post)

Kiev, Novgorod and Moscow

August 9 2015

Rurik or Riurik (lived 830-c 879) was the Viking, or Varangian, chieftain who gained control of Ladoga in 862, built Holmgard or Novgorod on the Volkhov and founded the Rurik dynasty.

In 882 his successor Oleg moved the capital south to Kiev on the Dnieper.

In the late 980s, Vladimir the Great was baptised at Chersonesos on the Black Sea and proceeded to baptise his family and people.

The East Roman Empire had nearly half a millennium to run, but when it was dissolved, the idea took hold in some Russian quarters of Moscow as the third Rome.

Kievan Rus dissolved into a collection of principalities and fell to the Mongols circa 1240; but Novgorod, which had in 1136 become not a principality but a republic, was, unlike Moscow, spared a Mongol invasion.

The Grand Principality (or Grand Duchy) of Moscow, plain Muscovy to the English, was established in 1283 and evolved out of the Grand Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal. It extinguished the Novgorod Republic in 1478, ceased to be a tributary of the Golden Horde in 1480 and lasted until the Tsardom was proclaimed in 1547.

The Rurik dynasty, which dominated Kievan Rus, also supplied the Grand Princes of Vladimir and of Moscow – and the first two Tsars, Ivan the Terrible (reigned 1547-84) and Feodor I (reigned 1584-98).

St Vladimir’s Cathedral (1874-76), Chersonesos, Ukraine, near Sevastopol, statue of St Andrew in the foreground

The Russians believed that the apostle Andrew travelled up the Dnieper River and reached the future location of Kiev, where he erected a cross on the site where the St Andrew’s Church of Kiev now stands and where he prophesied the foundation of a great Christian city.

Since 2014, Chersonesus has been controlled by Russia. Russia uses Chersonesus’s history to justify its annexation of the Crimea.


August 7 2015

The New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts began in 1924. Bernstein ran the orchestra from 1958 to ’69, and the Young People’s Concerts from ’58 to ’72: he conducted and spoke at 53, all televised on CBS.

This came from Lincoln Center on February 19 1965, Friday, at the start of the Sibelius centenary year (2015 is Sibelius 150). It’s the first of four clips.

He introduces Sibelius and performs Finlandia “in honour of Sibelius and of the free people of Finland”.

He then introduces the violin concerto and the man who is about to perform it, Sergio Luca.

Clip 2: Concerto, first movement. Fiery, yes, but it is hard to say why this is so much less involving than, say, Oistrakh. Clip 3: introduces the second symphony. The kind of lesson a child might remember for the rest of his life. Sibelius is much more than a nationalist composer, but “to the people of Finland [the] ending will always mean only one thing: freedom”. Clip 4: last movement of the second symphony.

Finlandia (1899-1900) was nakedly, embarrassingly, political. So obvious was its meaning that the Russians forbade performances (at what date?). It had to masquerade under names such as Happy Feelings at the Awakening of the Finnish Spring and A Scandinavian Choral March.

Perhaps the Russians banned it not only because it would whip up national feeling, but because it might sap their own will to govern. The music is telling them that they will lose. Though, in the event, it was Russia’s collapse which gave the Finns their chance.

It was composed for a three-day money-raising event for the press pension fund which was also a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. It was the last of six pieces performed (on November 4 1899) as an accompaniment to tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history.

We have looked at one such set of tableaux in connection with his Karelia music. The Musiikkia sanomalehdistön päivien juhlanäytäntöön (Music for the Press Celebrations Days) had:


Tableau 1 – Väinämöinen Delights Nature with His Song (arranged in 1911 as no 1, All’overtura, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 2 – The Finns are Baptised

Tableau 3 – Duke Johan’s Court (arranged in 1911 as no 3, Festivo, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 4 – The Finns in the Thirty Years’ War (arranged in 1911 as no 2, Scena, in Scènes historiques No 1)

Tableau 5 – The Great Hostility

Tableau 6 – Finland Awakes (arranged and performed in 1900 as Finlandia)

There appears to be one or more performing versions of the whole work.

Tableau names may not be exactly as in 1899. Some of the history is in recent posts.

Väinämöinen is the magician-hero of the Kalevala.

Christianity had started to gain a foothold in Finland during the eleventh century. The church in Finland was still in its early development in the twelfth century.

The Finns are Baptised referred to the mission of Bishop Henrik, who became Finland’s patron saint. It seems that he was English (if he existed) and had come to Sweden in 1154 under the protection of the English papal legate in Scandinavia, Nicholas Breakspeare, the future Pope Adrian IV. He was sent from Uppsala to organise the church in Finland and was martyred there.

Finns had their own chiefs, but probably no central authority. Several secular powers wanted to bring the Finns under their rule: Sweden, Denmark, Novgorod, and probably the German crusading orders as well. Another Englishman, Bishop Thomas, became the first bishop of Finland (1234-45). From roughly 1249 until 1809 Finland was under the control of Sweden.

Duke Johan ruled Finland from 1556 to ’63 and was the future King John III of Sweden. He had Catholic leanings.

The Great Hostility refers to the Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden.

Finland Awakes was arranged in 1900 as Finlandia and performed on July 2 in Helsinki by the Helsinki Philharmonic Society conducted by Robert Kajanus.

(A second set of Scènes historiques appeared in 1912, but has nothing to do with the press celebrations and as far as I can see does not illustrate particular events. In 1898, he had produced a King Christian II Suite, a selection from his incidental music for the historical play King Christian II, written by his Swedish friend Adolf Paul, about the love of a king for a commoner. Cf Hugo’s Ruy Blas.)

On a spring morning in the Worcestershire countryside in 1901, at his house Craeg Lea in Malvern Wells, Edward Elgar, aged 44, seated at his piano, heard his friend Dora Penny arriving downstairs for a visit and called to her: “Child, come up here. I’ve got a tune that will knock ’em – knock ’em flat.” (Michael Kennedy) Elgar played her the tune that would become known as Land of Hope and Glory.

One wonders whether Sibelius, two years earlier, had said something similar when he came up with the tune which knocked the Finns flat. Two highly unlikely extremities of European music, Finland and England, came up with sensational tunes in the same years.

Finlandia owed nothing to folk music. It was an original tune. Sibelius claimed, or others have done, that his music in general owed nothing to folk tunes. Elgar positively disliked English folk music – which must have placed a barrier between him and Vaughan Williams.

Neither Elgar’s march nor Sibelius’s symphonic poem, if one can call it that (did he?), was written for words (I can’t think of a “symphonic poem” with words). Finlandia’s were written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi. Surprisingly late if that date is correct – and at the start of the Continuation War. The words of the tune which Elgar came to detest (I suppose mainly when sung) were added almost immediately, in 1902, at the suggestion of Edward VII, and were by AC Benson. At least two Christian hymns have adopted the tune of Finlandia. So did the anthem, Land of the Rising Sun, of the short-lived (1967-70) ex-Nigerian state of Biafra.

The Finlandia tune being sung by IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) in Mexico City:

Robert Conquest

August 6 2015

Historian of Stalin’s Terror.

The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (1968, revised 1990).




Opposite of EH Carr and Eric Hobsbawm, though a communist in early life.

The Finland station

August 5 2015

Финля́ндский вокза́л, Finlyandsky vokzal, was the station in Petrograd serving Helsinki and Vyborg to which Lenin returned to Russia via Finland from exile in Switzerland on April 3 1917 (Gregorian), after the February Revolution and ahead of the October Revolution.

It was owned and operated by Finnish railways until early 1918, when the last train, carrying station personnel and equipment, as well as some of the last Finns escaping revolutionary Russia, left for Finland.

Later, the Finns gave it to Russia and the Russians gave them property in Finland, including the Alexander Theatre in Helsinki.

It was the equivalent of Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran into which Khomeini flew from Paris in a chartered plane on February 1 1979.

During the July Days, Lenin had to flee to Finland for safety to avoid arrest. He returned again, disguised as a railway worker, on August 9.

Edmund Wilson’s book To the Finland Station (1940) was a study of revolutionary thought.

Leaving the station in St Petersburg, March 27 2011:

A fascist song by Sibelius

August 5 2015

This is a rather cheap headline, since I am not suggesting that we need to change our opinion of Sibelius.

In 1930 – four years into his “silence” if you take Tapiola as his last substantial work – Sibelius wrote a patriotic march for unison male choir and piano with words by Aleksi Nurminen called Karelia’s Fate. YouTube has a not very attractive rendition with a single tenor, and with a translation of the text. Arrangement by Hannu Jurmu, performers not stated.

Finland has not been judged harshly for its collaboration with Germany from 1941 to ’44 because it was a small nation which was defending itself against the USSR – which had invaded it in 1939. The history is in recent posts.

It had accumulated sympathy in ’39-40 not least because Russia had been an enemy of the West, which it had ceased to be in 1941. Finland stood alone against Russia and then got help from Germany.

Sibelius has suffered no political stigmas, but he did not take a stand against the Nazis. Karelia’s Fate was written in support of the fascist or near-fascist Lapua movement.

This was a nationalist, Lutheran, anti-communist political movement founded in 1929 and named after the town of Lapua in the southwest. Southern Ostrobothnia had been a stronghold of the White army in the Civil War.

On June 16 1930, 3,000 men arrived in Oulu in order to destroy the printing press and office of the Communist newspaper Pohjan Voima, whose last issue had appeared on June 14. On the same day, a Communist printing press in Vaasa was destroyed.

A Peasant March to Helsinki on July 7 was a show of power. Meetings held by leftist and labour groups were violently interrupted.

The song is an appeal to the “man of Karelia” to rise up against communism. It was first performed at Sortavala, Karelia, on the northern tip of Lake Ladoga, on September 7 1930.

What man of Karelia? The East Karelian who was living under communism? The West Karelian who was being infiltrated by it? Karelians in general? It depends on how you read it, but I think the phrase “western brothers” merely refers to non-Karelian Finns.

The creation of a Greater Finland by the annexation of East Karelia was an aim of Finnish nationalists.

The poem veers between the second and first person plural vocative, at least in the translation on YouTube.

The Lapua movement was banned after a failed coup d’état in 1932. Its successor was the Patriotic People’s Movement (1932-44).


Sibelius’s well-known Karelia music belongs to another world, that of late nineteenth-century romantic nationalism.

In 1893, when Finland was part of Russia, Sibelius was commissioned to write music for a historical tableau about Karelia at the Imperial Alexander University in Vyborg. This was in connection with a lottery being held to promote the education of the people of Vyborg Province. Raucous premiere November 13, Sibelius conducting.

The sections:


Tableau 1 – A Karelian Home – News of War (1293)

Tableau 2 – The Founding of Viipuri Castle

Tabelau 3 – Narimont, the Duke of Lithuania, Levying Taxes in the Province of Käkisalmi (1333)

Intermezzo I (no 1 in the Suite)

Tableau 4 – Ballade: Karl Knutsson in Viipuri Castle (1446) (no 2 in the Suite)

Tableau 5 – Pontus de la Gardie at the Gates of Käkisalmi (1580)

Intermezzo II (originally titled Tableau 5½) – Pontus de la Gardie’s March (no 3 in the Suite)

Tableau 6 – The Siege of Viipuri (1710)

Tableau 7 – The Reunion of Old Finland (Karelia) with the Rest of Finland (1811)

Tableau 8 – Our Land, the Finnish national anthem arranged by Sibelius

Tableau names may not be exactly as in 1893.

Narimont or Narimantas of Lithuania ruled the Russian part of Karelia on behalf of Novgorod.

Karl Knutsson is Charles VIII of Sweden.

Pontus de la Gardie was a French general in the service of Sweden. He captured Käkisalmi on the northwestern shore of Lake Ladoga from Ivan the Terrible. The Swedes held it for seventeen years. They took it again in 1611 and held it for a hundred years.

The words and music of the Finnish de facto national anthem are mid-nineteenth century. They predate independence. Sibelius’s Finlandia (1899-1900) has joined it as a second de facto anthem.

Sibelius published the three-movement suite and also, separately, the overture. There are performing versions of the rest.

Overture, London Symphony Orchestra, Loris Tjeknavorian; it quotes the march (for a second at 0:42, repeated at 6:08, he seems about to enter the world of Elgar):

Karelia’s story

August 4 2015

From the last post:

Karelia’s story involves the medieval contest between the Catholic Kingdom of Sweden and the Orthodox Novgorod Republic (old post), the rise of Protestant Sweden in the century from Gustavus Adolphus to Charles XII, the rise of Orthodox Russia in the two centuries from Peter the Great to the revolution, and Protestant Finland’s relations with Russia after 1917.

A rough guide to Karelia

August 3 2015

The Gulf of Finland (as Toynbee might have said) is a backwater of the Baltic, which is a backwater of the North Sea, which is a backwater of the North Atlantic; the White Sea is a backwater of the Barents Sea, which is a backwater of the Arctic Ocean.

Between the Gulf of Finland and the White Sea are Karelia and two large lakes, Ladoga and Onega. Between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga is the Karelian Isthmus (capital Vyborg or Viipuri, recent post) – but Karelia itself is, in a way, an isthmus between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

(The other Finnish Gulf is that of Bothnia, between it and Sweden.) Most of Karelia is now a Republic in Russia. North of Russian Karelia is Murmansk Oblast.

Karelia now:


The White Sea-Baltic Canal (Балти́йский кана́л, Byelomorsko-Baltiyskiy Kanal, BBK), or White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal), a ship canal built by forced labour from gulags under the first Five Year Plan, was opened on August 2 1933; it makes use of the Svir River, which flows from Onega to Ladoga, and the Neva, which flows from Ladoga to St Petersburg:

White Sea-Baltic Canal

Traditional divisions, with the current border:


Olonets Larelia and White Karelia are also called East Karelia. The rest is also called West Karelia. Ingria is the old name for the head of the Gulf of Finland between the Karelian Isthmus and Estonia, including the territory around St Petersburg.

Most of Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century to 1809, when the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire and became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Grand Dukes were the Russian Tsars. Finland broke away in 1917.

Karelia’s story involves the medieval contest between the Catholic Kingdom of Sweden and the Orthodox Novgorod Republic (old post), the rise of Protestant Sweden in the century from Gustavus Adolphus to Charles XII, the rise of Orthodox Russia in the two centuries from Peter the Great to the revolution, and Protestant Finland’s relations with Russia after 1917.

Karelia was bitterly fought over by the Swedes and the Novgorod Republic in the thirteenth-century Swedish-Novgorodian Wars. The Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323 regulated the Swedish-Novgorodian border and divided Karelia between the two powers. Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), founded by the Swedes in 1293, became the capital of the Swedish province. North Karelia, Ladoga Karelia and East Karelia were under Novgorod.

In the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617 Novgorod’s successor Russia ceded Ladoga Karelia and North Karelia to Sweden. East Karelia remained Orthodox and under Russian supremacy.

In the Treaty of Nystad in 1721 Sweden ceded Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to Russia. This ended Sweden’s four hundred-year supremacy in the Isthmus.

Russia won Finland, in turn, from Sweden in 1809. The new acquisition was known as New Finland. The territories won in 1721 (and in a subsequent war in 1741-43) were Old Finland. They were combined into the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). The Russians moved their capital from Turku, until that point the most important city in Finland, east to Helsinki in 1812.

In the nineteenth century an ideology of Karelianism took hold of Finnish artists and researchers, who believed that the Orthodox East Karelians had retained elements of an archaic, original Finnish language and culture, neither Swedish nor Slavic, which had disappeared from Finland.

In the sparsely populated East Karelian backwoods, especially in White Karelia, Elias Lönnrot collected the folk tales that he forged into Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala (earliest publication 1835; Kullervo is one of its characters). Scholars argue about how much of the Kalevala is genuine folk poetry and how much is Lönnrot’s own work, but don’t dismiss it as a mere Poems of Ossian.

The Karelian language is closely related to Finnish, though the variety spoken in East Karelia is usually seen as a distinct language.‪‬ ‬‬‬

Finland won its independence in 1917. Until Russia invaded in 1939-40, its territory included the Karelian Isthmus and Ladoga regions.

The idea of annexing East Karelia to Finland to make a Greater Finland was widely supported between the wars. Finnish partisans tried but failed to overthrow the bolsheviks in East Karelia in 1918-20.

With the end of the Russian Civil War and the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, East Karelia became (1923) the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Capital Petrozavodsk, on Lake Onega.

The Finnic peoples that made up most of the population of East Karelia were promised far-reaching cultural rights, but these rights were never realised. Stalin persecuted ethnic Finns and began an intensive Russification programme.

West Karelia was Finnish east of the brown line until the Winter War of 1939-40 and remains Finnish west of the line; although some of the ceded territories were incorporated into Leningrad Oblast, it is not clear why the pre-1940 area of Leningrad should be purple:

East and West Karelia

The war ended on March 13 1940. Russia joined Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to the territory of the ASSR to form a new Karelo-Finnish Soviet (Federative?) Socialist Republic, thus promoting Karelia to a union republic within the USSR (1940-56).

Areas ceded to Russia in 1940 and again in 1944; the northern areas are not part of Karelia, nor are four islands in the Gulf of Finland:

Ceded to Russia in WW2

The entire Karelian population of the areas ceded in the Winter War, over 400,000 people, mainly Lutheran, was evacuated to Finland, and the territories were settled by people from other parts of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Russia hoped after this to conquer the whole of Finland.

On June 22 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. Three days later the Continuation War (to give it the Finnish name; for the Russians it was a front of the Great Patriotic War) started.

With German assistance, the Finns hoped to recover the territories lost in 1940. Many of the evacuees returned home, only to be re-evacuated in 1944.

Finnish forces also occupied most of East Karelia. The occupation was accompanied by hardship for the local ethnic Russian civilians, including forced labour and internment in prison camps.

Finland lost the Continuation War. An armistice was signed on September 19 1944. The border of the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940 was recognised by Finland again in the Peace of Paris of 1947.

In 1956 the SSR was downgraded from a Union Republic to an ASSR, and retroceded to the Russian SFSR.

Finland was neutral during the Cold War and showed a degree of deference and self-censorship towards the USSR. The Germans called this effect of Russia, not only in Finland, Finnlandisierung.

The Finns ceased to dream of the annexation of East Karelia. Their demands for the return of the ceded territories were muted.

On November 13 1991, the Karelian ASSR became the Republic of Karelia, a subdivision of the Russian Federation.

Since the fall of communism, there has been a revival in Finnish culture in East Karelia. Some in Finland campaign for the return of the ceded territories, but the demand has never been part of government policy.

Finland joined the EU in 1995 and Eurozone in 2002. The old currency had been the markka. It is not a member of NATO.

Finnish soldier boiling coffee over a fire, wilderness of Karelia, 1941:

Karelia 1941


First four maps from Wikipedia and shown under GNU Free Documentation License; last online in various places; photo from

Recent Finnish posts:

Finland in London

Finland and Russia, 1809-1919

On Sweden:

Two Swedish heroes

Archangel, Riga, Odessa

July 24 2015

The Russian Empire will never become an industrial and commercial power; but like every other unit in the new international World she has need of a free outlet to the high seas, through which she may transmit to foreign markets the raw produce of her vast continental hinterland, and supply herself with the manufactured goods of industrial countries in return.

Such outlets she has never yet obtained. Till the eighteenth century her only port was Archangel on the White Sea, and this perhaps sufficed her during the era of stagnant isolation: at any rate the English Merchant Adventurers found it worth their while to trade there, though it is ice-bound two-thirds of the year. [Footnote: From about October to May.] In the year 1700, the Baltic was a Swedish lake, and the Black Sea a Turkish one. Peter and Catherine broke the maritime monopoly of these two powers, and gave Russia a sea-board on both waters. Odessa [now in Ukraine] and Riga [now in Latvia] have grown in a century and a half to be magnificent ports, and would suffice in themselves for the needs of a Russia much more highly developed than the present. But they are no more in direct communication with the Oceanic highways of international commerce than are the ports of Milwaukee and Chicago on the Great Lakes.

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Finland and Russia, 1809-1919

July 22 2015

with a note on Russian Baltic ports

Most of Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century to 1809, when the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire and became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Grand Dukes were the Russian Tsars.

Finland broke away in 1917. The passage below was published in 1915. My interjections are not summaries of omitted passages.

Finland, from its Swedish background, is Lutheran. Finnish nationalism emerged in the nineteenth century, based on Finnish cultural traditions and the Finnish language. The Fennoman movement met a Swedish cultural resistance in the Svecoman movement.

Finnish, like Estonian, Livonian, Hungarian and some northwest Siberian languages, is part of the Finno-Ugric family.

Between [Norway] and the Russian frontier a broad barrier was interposed by Finland, so long as she remained a Swedish province, but the settlement of 1814 endorsed an accomplished fact by bringing Finland within the Russian Empire as a self-governing national state under the Imperial crown, with much the same status as the constitutional kingdom of Poland. During the whole century that has elapsed, there has been a silent contest on Russia’s part to press her way over Finland’s carcase to a Norwegian port on the open Atlantic, and on the part of the Scandinavian powers, backed by Great Britain, to maintain the existing arrangement of constitutions and frontiers.

To fortify the Scandinavian peninsula against Russian encroachment, the Vienna Congress linked its two discordant nationalities [Sweden and Norway] together by a personal union [old post]. This experiment had a more successful history than the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which the same Congress welded together as a bulwark against France [and which split into Belgium and Holland]; but it collapsed finally, none the less, nine years ago, [footnote: In 1905.] while on the other side Russia has been levelling her path by a systematic attempt to crush Finnish nationality out of existence.

Two countries, whether in a union or not, lay between Russia and the Atlantic: Sweden and Norway. But the Norwegian ports to which Russia wanted access were, according to this passage, in the far north, where Norway bordered directly on Russian Finland.

Wikipedia (edited here) summarises the period of the Grand Duchy thus:

1809-62: fifty years of consolidation, during which the Finnish authorities succeeded in convincing the Russian court not only of their own loyalty, but of that of all Finns.

1863-98: thirty-five years of increased independence, including the re-establishment of the Diet of Finland and the elevation of Finnish from a language for the common people to a national language (1863) equal to Swedish (1883). The catastrophic Finnish famine of 1866-68 was followed by eased economic regulations and extensive emigration: yet another nineteenth-century diaspora.

1899-1917: twenty years of attempted russification, ultimately unsuccessful and detrimental for Finland’s relationship with the Russian Empire (and the Soviet Union that was formed shortly afterwards).

In their politics and social life the Finns are one of the most highly-civilised nations of Europe. The smallness of their population [footnote: The census taken in 1901 showed a total of 2,713,000, including 2,353,000 Finns, 350,000 Swedes, 10,000 others.] and the unindustrialised character of their economics have simplified the problems set them to solve, but within their modest dimensions they have solved them to perfection. The tradition of their culture, and their Lutheran religion, both come from Sweden, and the townspeople on the coast are still largely Swedish in race and language; but since the political connection with Sweden has been broken, the native Finnish speech, which belongs to a non-Indo-European family, though enriched with many primitive Teutonic loan words, has raised its head and proved itself to possess enough vitality to become the vehicle of national development.

With Russia Finland has no inward bonds of union whatsoever, neither of religion nor of language nor of tradition nor even of geography, for she lies away in a corner, and her sea-board, besides fronting merely upon the Baltic, is much less accessible from the Russian hinterland than are the outlets upon the Baltic, White Sea and Black Sea which Russia possesses elsewhere.

Finland has simply been the victim of Russia’s ambition for an open port on the Norwegian coast, because the eventual railway to that port must run through her territory. It is a precise repetition of the relations between the Magyars and Croatia. A small nationality has been inalienably endowed by Geography with the fatal function of standing between a powerful nation and a sea-board to which she ardently desires access: the stronger power has been so stupid and barbarous as to imagine no better means of satisfying her wants than the destruction of the little nation that stands in the way of their realisation; and the latter, fighting desperately for life, is looking round for some strong helper who will bring the oppressor to his knees, set her free from all connection with him, and shatter for ever his projects, for which she has suffered so terribly.

There would be poetical justice in such a consummation, for it would be the natural outcome of the bullying power’s behaviour; but it would not solve the problem at issue, but only bring forth evil from evil, reversing instead of eliminating the injustice and sowing the seeds of future war.

We have seen that if we win this war, and the Dual Monarchy collapses, Croatia will probably achieve complete political freedom from Magyar tyranny [she did, within a southern Slavic federation], but that she must not, in such an event, be allowed to use her advantage merely to take the offensive in the racial feud: she must give Hungary facilities for realising all her legitimate political desires by entering into economic co-operation with her. But the same issue of the war, for which we hope, will not effect the forcible liberation of Finland, and this imposes all the more urgently upon us the duty of securing that, when the settlement comes, Finland shall obtain as much and more from the justice, good sense and liberalism of our victorious ally Russia, as she would have obtained from her compulsory resignation in the event of defeat.


What was the Atlantic port to which Russia wanted access?

[We must include] in the European settlement some such terms as follows:

(i.) The perpetual integrity and independence of both Norway and Sweden shall be guaranteed by Europe.

(ii.) In return for this, Norway shall allow Russia to lead a railway of Russian gauge across Finland and up the left bank of the Tornea River to some perennially open port on her North-West coast, either Tromsö or Hammerfest or both, according to the lie of the land, without interposing a customs-barrier at any point along this route between the Russian frontier and the open sea.

In 1915, the need to use a port usually led to a desire to control the intervening land.

Russia has always been obsessed with gaining ports, in the Atlantic, Baltic, Sea of Azov, Black Sea, Aegean, Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk. I assume that the railway was never built. The discussions were presumably forgotten in the cataclysm of 1917.

But would Tromsø or Hammerfest have been any use to it?

The answer is that they were genuine warm-water ports, ice-free throughout the year, thanks to the Gulf Stream and despite Hammerfest being the most northerly full-scale town in the world. And they offered an Atlantic outlet, which made them seem important while Germany was threatening the Baltic. Ports much further south – some on the Baltic, for example, or Okhotsk, on the Sea of Othotsk – are not always ice-free. (Vladivostock, on the Sea of Japan, is.)


We must trust the future of Finland to Russia’s good faith and good sense. In opening to her a free railway across Finland to a free port on the Norwegian coast, we eliminate her chief motive for trampling the Finnish nation to death, and this is all that we can do. We have already convinced ourselves that the ultimate solution of the national questions of Europe, and therewith the establishment of European peace, depends not upon mechanical adjustments, but upon a change of heart in the nations themselves. If we cannot obtain a reversal of Russia’s attitude towards Finland by negotiating her Atlantic railway, we cannot artificially produce the desired result by forcing her to submit to a guarantee [with Europe as the guarantor].


So he wants European guarantees for Norway and Sweden, but feels that a European guarantee will not suffice to force it to change its policy towards Finland.

He imagines a critic saying that

“Russia, if she is compelled once and for all to resign to Germany the naval command of the Baltic, will not submit to the lack of any naval sally-port whatsoever upon the Western seas, but will attempt to repeat on her railway to the Norwegian coast the policy she devised at the beginning of the century in Manchuria. She will seek to turn her free port into a fortified naval base, and the danger of Tromsö or Hammerfest developing into an Atlantic Port Arthur may finally wreck the good understanding between Russia and Great Britain, and involve the latter power in a war for the stronghold’s destruction as costly as the sieges of Sebastopol and of Port Arthur itself. Such may be the consequences of indecision now. In the question of the Baltic the future peace of all the European powers is at stake.”

His answers are part of an argument about how to allow Russia what she needs in the Baltic without unduly humiliating Germany: a more important question, in his opinion, than that of her access to the Atlantic.

Russia had become a Baltic power when Peter the Great defeated Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War. By 1920 it had only St Petersburg.

In 1917, Finland declared independence: she did not have to wait for the peace settlement. A civil war between Finnish Red Guards (bolsheviks) and White Guards followed, with the Whites, supported by Germany (and some young Swedish, Estonian and Polish volunteers), gaining the upper hand during the spring of 1918.

On April 13 1918 German troops captured Helsinki (Helsingfors in Swedish). The plan was to erect a German monarchy (YouTube has its proposed anthem), with Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse as king. But Germany collapsed and on July 17 1919 Finland became a republic.


Russian Baltic ports

St Petersburg was Russian from its foundation in 1703

Reval (Tallinn) and Riga were Russian from 1710 (captured from Sweden), part of independent Estonia and Latvia (the territories north of Lithuania used to be called Livonia) from 1918, with Russia again from 1940, in independent states again from 1991

Lithuania’s largest port, Memel (Klaipėda), did not have a long Russian history; it was in the northernmost corner of East Prussia; it passed into Allied hands in 1919 and then, in 1923, to newly-independent Lithuania; was reclaimed by Germany in 1939 and was part of Soviet Lithuania from 1945 to 1991

Vyborg, in Karelia, a minor port, was Russian from 1710 (captured from Sweden), part of independent Finland from 1918 to 1940, was fought over during Finland’s war with Russia, and has been Russian since 1944

Kaliningrad, like Memel, was an East Prussian city (Königsberg), port area Baltiysk (Pillau); it was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and has been a Russian enclave, between Poland and Lithuania, ever since.


Helsingfors 1918

About 37,000 people died in the short Finnish Civil War, most of them Reds; this may be a White victory march

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

Finland in London

July 20 2015

What Elgarian, even, knew of this recording of the Finnish National Orchestra, under Georg Schnéevoigt, playing Cockaigne at the Queen’s Hall in 1934?

They play as if they mean it. Peroration at 2:37. They get the Edwardian grandeur. The work had been premiered at Queen’s Hall in 1901. Finnish National Orchestra seems to be an old name for the Helsinki Philharmonic. Robert Kajanus had founded the ensemble in Russian days, in 1882, and ran it until 1932. (That makes him more or less the longest-serving director of an orchestra ever, tying with Ansermet and Mravinsky.) Kajanus was Sibelius’s champion in Finland. Schnéevoigt was his successor with the orchestra, but has never had his reputation.

This was its first visit to London. There is something political in their playing. In 1917 Finland had freed itself, after 108 years, from Russia, and returned to the West. But it did not return to Sweden; it became a nation. In the same way, every recorded performance by Paderewski is political. Of course, Finland’s absorption into Russia had given it the cultural charge which was released in part in Sibelius’s music. You can even hear Tchaikovsky in early Sibelius.

The clip is May or June 1934. Elgar had died in February. (He had made his second recording of the work, with the BBC SO, at Abbey Road in April ’33. It was his last appearance there, a mere 29 years before the Beatles’ first.)

The last of Sibelius’s five visits to England, to conduct English orchestras, had been in 1921. During the ’30s England became the second home of his music. Hamilton Harty and Cecil Gray championed him. The Columbia Graphophone (sic) Company issued recordings of the first two symphonies with the LSO under Kajanus in 1930. The HMV Sibelius Society issued other recordings by subscription, starting with symphonies three and five and Tapiola, LSO and Kajanus again, in 1932.

During the 1934 visit, the Finns performed five of the symphonies and recorded (through the Society?) at least numbers four and six. In the same year, Constant Lambert published his Music Ho!, A Study of Music in Decline, which ends with a long defence of Sibelius. It was Sibelius who could show the way forward.

Henry Wood gave all seven symphonies in the 1937 Proms. Thomas Beecham mounted a festival of six Sibelius concerts in 1938. Barbirolli took him up.

It was different in Germany. As far as I know, Klemperer and Furtwängler never recorded a Sibelius symphony. His reputation was also set back by Theodor Adorno. It was rescued, a little later, by Karajan (cf Kajanus). But Abbado never did Sibelius in Berlin; Rattle has had to reintroduce him. (I’m not much of a Sibelian either, come to that.)

Russia invaded Finland in 1939. We and the French proposed to enter the Winter War in support of Finland during our own Phoney War, but did not, because of difficulties with Norway and Sweden. Two years later, when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been broken, we found ourselves on opposite sides in the so-called Continuation War, though the Finns said that they tolerated German troops on their soil only as a defence against Russia.

The Queen’s Hall opened in 1893 and was destroyed by a German bomb on the night of May 10 1941, hours after a performance by the London Philharmonic under Sargent of the Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius (Muriel Brunskill, Webster Booth, Ronald Stear, Royal Choral Society). Pathé:

We get the Finns again here in Cockaigne. Since at one stage we see London Bridge, I’ll add that 1934 was also the year of Eric Coates’s London Bridge march.

The Hall did not “rise again”. Its Langham Place site, next to the BBC, is now occupied by a cramped concrete hotel, the Saint George’s.

Are these the only two pieces of film showing the Queen’s Hall?

1934 as a musical hinge year.

First recording of Sibelius 6, the one nobody plays, Finnish National Orchestra, Schnéevoigt, London, presumably Queen’s Hall, 1934:

First picture is of Sibelius’s villa Ainola (named after his wife Aino), Järvenpää, winter 1917

Sibelius wrote in 1943 that “the sixth symphony always reminds me of the scent of the first snow”.

The romance of simple maps

June 3 2015

The less a map contains, the more it involves you. This is also true of PowerPoint presentations. (Above all, historical maps should not contain arrows.)

Looking at the Sea of Japan map (separate window), you think of the straits which Dutch, Russian and French sailors navigated; of the Jesuits whom the Japanese had confined to the mainland; of Peter the Great’s prospectors, Russian settlers, alarmed shoguns; wonder who, if anyone, ever travelled overland from the Strait of Tartary to Vladivostok; realise why North Korea is an unruly client of China, not Russia; ask yourself why such a small part of the Japanese population faces that sea; see what Japanese generals stared at in 1900: Korea, the colonial temptation; Manchuria, the sphere of influence (was that phrase already used?), separated from the sea only by a thin strip of Korea and Russia; Russia, the alien superpower whom they were about to defeat as they had already defeated their giant, enfeebled and estranged cultural parent China.

Dogs, hoops and running boys

May 31 2015

… gave life to the foreground in engravings from, say, 1750 to 1830 – and suggest a title for a book of light social history. They come into nursery rhyme illustrations as well.

The Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury in a print published in January 1753 or earlier:

Foundling Hospital, 1753

St James’s Square, 1752 (Chatham House, Duke of York Street and St James’s, Piccadilly in background; boy and hoop centre foreground; possibly clearer colour version here):

St James's Square, 1752

A painting of the 1825 Decembrist revolt in the Senate Square, St Petersburg by Vasily Timm has the running boy, but in these circumstances no dogs or hoops (he is similar to a running figure on a print of Bow Church and Cheapside in 1750, Getty images):

Timm, Decembist Revolt, 1825

This of the Tower of London, c 1810, has a hoop and ambling boy, but no dog.

One of the new lodges, Hyde Park, 1828, with hoop and dogs; dandies lounge at the rails:

New lodge, Hyde Park, 1828

St Giles-in-the-Fields, c 1820 (the figure may not be a boy, but we have seen him in the Foundling Hospital, Bow Church and Russian images):

St Giles-in-the-Fields, c 1820

There are several Thomas Bewick wood engravings of boys with hoops, and an oil painting by John Opie.

It seems that boys did no more than roll the hoop.

VE Day

May 9 2015

London and Paris. YouTube credits:

Courtesy Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18SFP9490, 9491

Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18 SFP 9261

Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 18 SFP 9155.

Beethoven added by whomever.

Churchill, Unconditional Surrender speech, May 8 1945 (in full here):


April 25 2015

The first victory of the Ottoman Empire was a defeat of the Byzantine army near Nicomedia, at Bapheus, in 1302. The defeat of British imperial and French forces on the Gallipoli peninsula, April 25 1915 to January 9 1916, was almost the last.

Gallipoli was also a landmark in the career of a Turkish general, Kustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was a dress rehearsal for the struggle to come.

It disgraced Churchill, who had ordered the naval attack.

During the Irish War of Independence balladeers sang “Twas better to die ’neath an Irish sky than in Suvla or Sedd el Bahr”.

Gallipoli helped to forge national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, both newly independent and fighting their first war. Today is Anzac Day and the centenary of the start of the campaign.

The first Jewish fighting force – with a Jewish emblem and flag – since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD 136 fought in Gallipoli. So, in a small way, this was a dress rehearsal for the wars of Zion.


The peninsula forms the northern or western bank of the Dardanelles, the strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire. Russia’s allies Britain and France launched a naval attack followed by a landing, intending to secure it and then capture Constantinople. The naval attack was repelled and after eight months’ fighting the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrawn to Egypt.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed in Egypt in 1915 and commanded by General William Birdwood. It was disbanded in 1916. Later formations.

What has been happening in Palestine during the War? Dr. Trietsch informs us that the Ottoman Government has been proceeding with the “naturalisation” of the Palestinian Jews, and that the “local execution of this measure has not been effected without disturbances […].” [My bracket, not AJT’s.] One significant consequence was the appearance in Egypt of Palestinian refugees, who raised a Zion mule corps there and fought through the Gallipoli campaign.

The Zion Mule Corps was formed in March 1915. It was the precursor of the Jewish Legion (1917-21), the unofficial name for the 38th to 42nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which fought against the Ottoman Empire. Jacob Epstein served in the 38th.

Casualties at Gallipoli:

Ottoman Empire (Turks, Arabs, others): 109,042 wounded and missing, 57,084 killed

Britain: 52,230 wounded, 21,255 killed

Australia: 19,441 wounded, 8,709 killed

France: 17,000 wounded, 10,000 killed (estimates), including an unknown number of Senegalese

New Zealand: 4,752 wounded, 2,721 killed

India: 3,421 wounded, 1,358 killed

Newfoundland: 93 wounded, 49 killed

Germans: a few fought with the Turks

The numbers vary greatly from one source to another. Allied numbers here are via, which gives its source as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australia. It doesn’t say whether wounded includes missing. Ottoman numbers via Most sources give only the Allies. Have the Ottoman totals ever been broken down?

Anzac parade, London, date not shown:

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The leper’s squint

April 20 2015

In 1920 the work of Peter the Great and his successors was almost undone. Reval [Tallinn] and Riga had ceased to be Russian ports, and the Russian coastline on the Baltic was as narrow as it had been in 1703, when the Russian apostle of Westernization had founded St. Petersburg. Through such a “leper’s squint” a great society could hardly communicate with its peers, and in 1920 Russia had abandoned the endeavour. Her Marxist Government had evacuated the depopulated capital of the Westernized Czardom and had retreated to the Kremlin of Byzantine Moscow.

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

Tchaikovsky and klezmer

April 13 2015

Can’t one hear it in the fast tutti passages of the Russian Dance in Swan Lake? Boston Symphony, Seiji Ozawa. Joseph Silverstein, solo.

The age of the pogrom

April 13 2015

Syrians and Armenians have been emigrating for the last quarter of a century, [but] during the same period the Jews, whose birthright in Western Asia is as ancient as theirs, have been returning to their native land – not because Ottoman dominion bore less hardly upon them than upon other gifted races, but because nothing could well be worse than the conditions they left behind. For these Jewish immigrants came almost entirely from the Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry. The movement really began after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, which threw back reform in Russia for thirty-six years. The Jews were the scapegoats of the reaction. New laws deprived them of their last civil rights, pogroms of life itself; they came to Palestine as refugees, and between 1881 and 1914 their numbers there increased from 25,000 to 120,000 souls.

Written between the two Russian revolutions and before the Balfour Declaration. Progroms continued during the Civil War of 1917-22.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

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.

At one level, Lee was a reluctant builder. He did not, at least as it appears, wish to leave the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, 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. Or de Valera? They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland.

But, then, so did the Czech nation, and I am counting Masaryk, even though the nation he founded was later divided into two. (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 builder.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century.

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 am including 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. [Postscript: I was wrong on that.] You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.


1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

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

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)

Soviet composers

March 10 2015

Onno van Rijen’s longstanding page on the composers of the USSR. The work lists are fascinating. Everyone is covered, from Gliere to the now fashionable Weinberg and from Khachaturian to Shchedrin.

Alexander Mosolov, Soldiers’ Songs, c 1958? Marching song – Song of the native land – The song of the young horseman. Conductor Vitaly Gnutov, orchestra not stated.

“I shall not alter a single note”

March 9 2015

Kirill Gerstein on Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto – what a masterpiece it is – first performed 140 years ago, whose “famous opening chords are not, in fact, what Tchaikovsky wrote at all”.

The balance between piano and orchestra at the opening is certainly problematic in many performances.

The New York Review of Books, March 9 (a few weeks before the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth), with four audio samples.

This summary is taken mainly from Gerstein’s piece and from Links are mine.

At the end of 1874, Tchaikovsky showed a final draft of the first version of the concerto to Nikolai Rubinstein. He wanted advice on the playability and effectiveness of the piano writing. Rubinstein was scathing about both. Tchaikovsky described this occasion in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck (date?). At the end of the meeting, Tchaikovsky wrote, Rubinstein said

that if within a limited time I reworked the concerto according to his demands, then he would do me the honour of playing my piece at his concert. “I shall not alter a single note,” I answered, “I shall publish the work exactly as it is!” This I did.

Tchaikovsky completed this version in February 1875 and dedicated the concerto to Hans von Bülow, who premiered it in Boston that October. “There is such unsurpassed originality, such nobility, such strength, and there are so many arresting moments throughout this unique conception; there is such a maturity of form, such style – its design and execution, with such consonant harmonies, that I could weary you by listing all the memorable moments which caused me to thank the author – not to mention the pleasure from performing it all. In a word, this true gem shall earn you the gratitude of all pianists.”

The nineteen-year old Sergey Taneyev gave the first performance in Moscow in December, with a now less doubtful Rubinstein on the podium.

Pyotr Jurgenson published an arrangement for two pianos in May 1875, the orchestral parts in October 1875, and the full score not until August 1879, when it included revisions by Tchaikovsky to the piano part in the first movement.

From then on, it was the 1879 version that Tchaikovsky conducted, up to and including a performance in St Petersburg on October 28 1893, days before his death.

A new edition “reviewed and corrected by the author” was published in late 1889 or early 1890 by Daniel Rahter in Leipzig. A further version was published in 1894 by Jurgenson in Moscow. I assume it was based on Rahter.

This is what we hear now. It is impossible to know for certain who is responsible for the changes in this posthumous version, but the name of Alexander Siloti, a student of Tchaikovsky’s, is often mentioned.

Buy Gerstein’s premiere recording of the 1879 version here. Is it possible now to play the 1875 version, ie the score before Tchaikovsky abandoned his decision not to alter a single note?

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)

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


BBC Russian adaptation, Radio 4

February 16 2015

Much muffled grunting and grumbling.

“Tatyana, my dear!


Upon my word, I do declare you’re the prettiest girl this side of the Volga!”

Considerably more grumbling.

“Fetch my horse! … Ivan Ivanovich! …”


In increasingly English tones:

“Where’s that servant of mine? …

Upon my word, I do declare he’s the laziest servant this side of the Urals!”

Continued page 94.

Manchus, Chinese and Mongols

January 26 2015

Chinese and Mongol battalions were brigaded with Manchu battalions in varying numbers and ratios in the Manchu Power’s army corps known as “banners”. Even when the Manchu Government’s domain was still confined to territories lying outside the Great Wall, the Chinese members of the community outnumbered the Manchus and Mongols; [footnote: See Michael, F.: The Origin of Manchu Rule in China (Baltimore 1942, Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 71.] and, after their passage of the Wall in A.D. 1644, it was the South Manchurian Chinese contingent in the banners that gave the invaders the man-power requisite for completing the conquest of Intramural China. While the Manchus thus succeeded in enlisting Chinese to help them win and hold [Ming] China for a Manchu régime, they were no less successful in dealing with the equally delicate problem presented by the Mongols, martial barbarians with memories of a great imperial past of their own and with a tincture of alien culture that made them no less difficult to assimilate than the intensely cultivated Chinese.

The Manchus attacked their Mongol problem from two directions. On the one hand, in the organization of the Mongol battalions of the banners they anticipated the policy of the British military authorities towards the Gurkhas and Pathans by recruiting their Mongol soldiers individually, and not in tribal blocs, and by placing them under the command of Manchu officers. On the other hand, they handled the Mongol tribes on the Steppe as the ʿOsmanlis had handled the Kurdish tribes in the Zagros Mountains. Without attempting to destroy their tribal organization, they contented themselves with dividing the tribes up into tribal atoms of a minimum size, and with imposing a strict delimitation of the boundaries between their respective pastoral ranges. The Mongol tribes, thus reduced in size and penned within fixed limits, were allowed to remain autonomous under the rule of their own tribal chiefs, while, to save appearances, these Mongol tribal chieftainships were nominally given the status of “banners”, as the Kurdish tribal chieftainships had been officially classified as Ottoman fiefs in the books of the Pādishāh. [Footnote: See Michael, op. cit., pp. 96-97. It will be seen that, in post-Diocletianic Roman terminology, these Mongol and Kurdish tribes were foederati of the Manchu and the Ottoman Empire respectively.] The political success of this Manchu military organization is attested by the fact that, when the Manchu régime in China was liquidated in A.D. 1911, the revolution was not the work of the Manchus’ comrades-in-arms in the Chinese and Mongol battalions of the banners.

The Manchus are descended from the Jurchen people who had earlier established the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) in northern China. Related Tungusic ethnicities: Sushen, Mogher.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The four khanates

December 13 2014

Four Mongol khanates

The four khanates into which the Mongol Empire split after the death of Genghis Khan. Karakorum is the original Mongol capital. Shangdu is Xanadu. Dadu or Khanbaliq is Beijing. The Khanate of Persia is the Ilkhanate.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).

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

Eisenstein filmography

October 4 2014

1923 Дневник Глумова (Glumov’s Diary) (short)

1925 Стачка (Strike), set in 1903

1925 Броненосец Потемкин (The Battleship Potemkin)

1927 Октябрь «Десять дней, которые потрясли мир» (October: Ten Days That Shook the World)

1929 Старое и новое «Генеральная линия» (The General Line, or Old And New)

1930 Romance sentimentale (France, with Grigori Aleksandrov)

1932 Да здравствует Мексика! (¡Que viva México!, released in 1979)

1937 Бежин луг (Bezhin Meadow)

1938 Александр Невский (Alexander Nevsky), score by Prokofiev

1944 Иван Грозный 1-я серия (Ivan The Terrible, Part I), score by Prokofiev

1945 Иван Грозный 2-я серия (Ivan The Terrible, Part II), score by Prokofiev

Not complete.


October 4 2014

Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, made in 1925, is about a mutiny that occurred during the 1905 revolution.

Fiftieth anniversary edition with a Shostakovich soundtrack, mainly the fifth symphony (which opens and closes the film), but there are also passages from 4, 8, 10 and 11 (analysis here):

In hi res here with a different soundtrack (not sure by whom, but here is information on all its soundtracks).

Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony, The Year 1905, was premiered October 30 1957, close to the fortieth anniversary of the October revolution, by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Natan Rakhlin.

Adagio (The Palace Square)Allegro (The 9th of January) (Julian calendar), Adagio (Eternal Memory)Allegro non troppo (Tocsin).

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Royal Albert Hall, August 16 2005:

1905 (other post).


October 3 2014

Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World, made in 1927, with the soundtrack composed by Shostakovich in 1966 for the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution:

Shostakovich made a tone poem, October, from the soundtrack in 1967; Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi:

Shostakovich’s second symphony, To October, was produced for the tenth anniversary of the revolution, like Eisenstein’s film. Shostakovich described the second of its four sections in a letter to Boleslav Yavorsky as the “death of a child” killed on the Nevsky Prospekt. It has a choral finale by Alexander Bezymensky praising Lenin and the revolution. London Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink:

Shostakovich’s purely orchestral twelfth symphony, composed in 1961 and not one of his best, is called The Year 1917, but doesn’t seem to cover both revolutions.

The first movement describes revolutionary Petrograd, the second Lenin’s headquarters at Razliv outside the city. The third movement is called Aurora, after the battleship that fired at the Winter Palace. The last, The Dawn of Humanity, describes Soviet life under the guidance of Lenin.

This is the premiere, October 1 1961 (YouTube says 1960), Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky:

The Julian or Old Style October 25 1917, the date of the armed insurrection in Petrograd, corresponds to November 7 in the Gregorian or New Style calendar. On January 24 1918 the Council of People’s Commissars decreed that Wednesday January 31 was to be followed by Thursday February 14.

The rather moving last October revolution parade on November 7 1990, two days before the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; the USSR was dissolved on December 26 1991; there had been no parade that year, the year of the attempted coup (the vodka coup):

On June 12 1991, before the attempted coup, Yeltsin was elected by popular vote to the newly-created post of President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the fifteen constituent republics of the USSR. He had previously been Chairman of the Presidium of its Supreme Soviet.

On the resignation of Gorbachev and the dissolution of the USSR, Yeltsin remained in office as the President of the Russian Federation, one of the USSR’s successor states. Putin succeeded him in 2000.

Carry on lying

July 20 2014


April 12 2014

Why do Scandinavians use the Christian name Magnus?

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

A freak of nature

January 26 2014

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

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Tchaikovsky en route to Davos

January 19 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreboding at Vevey (old post).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Daydreams

December 30 2013

Tchaikovsky, Symphony 1, performers not stated.

Dreams of a Winter Journey. Allegro tranquillo.

Land of Desolation, Land of Mists. Adagio cantabile ma non tanto.

Scherzo. Allegro scherzando giocoso.

Finale. Andante lugubre – Allegro maestoso.


The sick man of Europe

September 17 2013

[The] picture of the Turk as “the Sick Man” has had a curious history. It substituted itself in the imagination of the West for the older picture, in which the Westerner was the sinner and the Turk was the Scourge of God, divinely commissioned to chastise him, sometime between the raising of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the establishment of the Russians on the shores of the Black Sea through the Peace Treaty of 1774. The phrase in which the new concept of the Turk finally found its classical expression was coined by the Czar Nicholas I in 1853, during a conversation with the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg. “We have on our hands a sick man – a very sick man. … He may suddenly die upon our hands. …”  From that day to this, the imminent decease of the supposed invalid has perpetually been awaited by his neighbours – by some of them with pleasurable expectancy, by others with anxiety, but by all with a dogmatic faith which seems capable of surviving any number of disillusionments. It was awaited in 1876 and in 1912 and, most confidently of all, in 1914; and now, when the Turk has given incontrovertible evidence of outward health and vigour by imposing the peace-settlement of Lausanne upon the victorious Allied Powers, his imminent dissolution through some hidden internal disease is prophesied with all the old assurance. We are told that the ravages of siphylis [sic] will extinguish the population of Turkey in three generations, or that the Turk cannot mend his own boots or work his own locomotives and will therefore perish through sheer economic incapacity now that alien minorities have been driven out. This persistence of the “Sick Man” theory indicates how powerfully the Western attitude towards Turkey is governed by a priori notions and how little it is based upon objective facts; for, as it has turned out, “the man recovered from the bite, the dog it was that died.” [Goldsmith.] At the time of writing, seventy-three years after Czar Nicholas I pronounced his celebrated verdict, the Czardom has vanished not only from St. Petersburg but from the face of Russia, whereas the Turkish “Sick Man” has taken up his bed and walked from Constantinople to Angora, where, to all appearance, he is benefiting by the change of air.

The words “of Europe”, which are used in the paragraph preceding this, ceased to have much meaning after the autumn of 1912. In the 1970s, the UK was called “the sick man of Europe” because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other Common Market countries, culminating in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79. Nowadays, the phrase is applied to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.

Bernard Partridge

Bernard Partridge, Punch, April 7 1915; boor and sycophant

With Kenneth P Kirkwood, Turkey, in The Modern World series edited by HAL Fisher, Benn, 1926; it is unclear which passages are by which author, but this reads like Toynbee

Putin fact-checked

September 12 2013

By Max Fisher, Washington Post. There’s a kind of historical interest in all this.

The rise of Reza Pahlavi

September 7 2013

An account from 1926. Toynbee seems innocent of the idea that Britain had had a hand in the coup of 1921.

The Persian point of view (background in recent post).

Atatürk and Reza Shah

Atatürk and Reza Shah, Flickr credit: zenbuoyzenbuoy

On December 13, 1925, a Persian constituent assembly, sitting in Tehran, elected a King of Kings and made the crown of Persia hereditary in his family. The new shah was Reza Khan Pahlevi, a man of action who, starting from the rank of simple private soldier in a Persian force organized and officered by a foreign power, had risen during five years to be the real ruler of a genuinely independent Persia. The crown and the title that he received at the end of 1925 merely registered what was already the outstanding fact in the internal politics and the international relations of Persia, the personal ascendancy of Reza Pahlevi.

Meanwhile, on October 31, the ordinary Persian Madjless or Parliament had deposed the existing dynasty and its representative, Ahmed Shah, who for two years had been going the round of European watering-places in an indefinitely protracted foreign tour.

Thus Ahmed Shah gave place to Reza Shah, and the dynasty of the Kajars to the dynasty of the Pahlevis. In one sense this was a very old story; in another sense it was part of a new chapter in the history of the Islamic world.

The dramatic personal career of Reza Shah, though it naturally strikes the imagination of the Western public, is not a novelty in the Orient. The boy who mounts from the lowest rung of the social ladder to be a king in the literal sense of the word is as familiar a figure in the East as the self-made coal king, railway king, meat king, or oil king is in Europe or America. Men who have started as peasants or brigands, camel-drivers or coppersmiths, have repeatedly founded Oriental monarchies and handed them down to their heirs – or, rather, to a limited number of heirs, for in politics as in business, the work of the self-made man is likely to be undone by successors who reap where they have not sown.

The greatest of the Moslem political philosophers, Ibn Khaldun, lays down the general law that hereditary political power is invariably lost by the great-grandson of the founder. The deposed Ahmed Shah was the seventh sovereign of his line, but on the whole Ibn Khaldun’s law is as true for politics in Persia as the proverb, “It is three generations from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves,” is true for business in America.

At the same time, the rise of Reza Pahlevi is not altogether an old story, even from the Oriental point of view, for Reza Shah is one among a new group of leaders who have appeared simultaneously all over the Islamic world since the end of the World War. Reza Pahlevi in Persia is akin to Abd-el-Krim in Morocco, Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Turkey, and Amanullah (the present amir) in Afghanistan. They were all brought up under the shadow of foreign domination. They all, when they were still young and undistinguished, formed the resolve to save their country’s independence. And they all set about their task by deliberately learning from the foreigner in order to fight him with his own weapons. They have not fought Western civilization. They have realized that their countries have been suffering not so much from the immorality of the foreign aggressors as from the operation of a universal and inexorable social law, which decrees that the weak-kneed and incompetent must give place to the efficient and the strong.


Before reviewing Reza Shah’s career, it may be well to take a glance at the Persia in which he grew up and which formed his mental background. During Reza Shah’s childhood and youth (he was born about 1877) the outstanding institution in Persia was an irresponsible despotism. Before completing the cycle of its existence, the Kajar Dynasty had produced shahs of three out of the four recognized varieties: the vicious strong man, the amiable weak man, and the vicious weak man, who is the worst of all. This, though bad, could be borne, for it was a familiar evil; but during the last quarter of the nineteenth century the Kajar sovereigns of Persia discovered the West, a discovery which had always made Oriental despots intolerable to their subjects, sooner or later. The native traditions of Oriental life set a limit to the extortion and extravagance of Oriental rulers by circumscribing their possible self-indulgences, but as soon as they learn to use Western luxuries, and to pay for them by borrowing money in Western markets, there are no bounds to the ravages which they may commit, not only upon the wealth of their subjects but upon the political independence of their countries. An Oriental sovereign who is hopelessly in debt to private Western money-lenders soon finds himself in the political power of the government which claims these money-lenders as its nationals. If he cannot pay in cash, he must pay in concessions, tariff agreements, or leases of territory; and when his subjects become restive at the betrayal of the public interests, he is driven to commit himself still more deeply to the foreign power and to rely on foreign bayonets for protection against his own people. Reza Pahlevi learned his soldiering – and learned it most effectively – by enlisting in the Cossack Brigade which Russian officers were organizing for the reigning Kajar shah with the double object of keeping the shah on his throne by force and of bringing that throne under the shadow of the Russian Empire. The crisis began with the constitutional revolution of 1906, a Persian echo of the greater upheaval which had been convulsing Russia since the Japanese war. Losing their patience at last, the Persian people introduced a parliamentary régime and girded themselves for the task of placing their country on her feet.

The revolution of 1906, however, was only the first chapter. The Persian Cossack Brigade, under its Russian commander, soon found itself fighting to overthrow the Madjless and restore the absolute monarchy. The counter-revolution was foiled, and in 1909 the reactionary shah, Mohammad Ali, was forced to leave the country and find asylum in Russia; but this constitutional victory was bought at the price of a Russian military occupation of Tabriz, the second city of Persia and the citadel of the constitutional movement. Moreover in 1907 the prospects of Persian independence had received a blow through the reversal of British policy in the Middle East under the stress of the situation in Europe. Fear of Germany had induced the British government to go into partnership with Russia; and the price of Russian cooperation in Europe was that Russia should have things her own way in Persia. Under the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, in the negotiation of which the Persian government was not consulted, Persia was divided into a Russian and a British zone with a neutral zone between them. The spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was tested in 1911, when the Persian government engaged a private American citizen, Mr. W. Morgan Shuster, as its financial adviser, and the Russian government compelled the Persian government to dismiss Mr. Shuster as soon as it became apparent that he was making effective progress in putting Persian finances in order. Not content with Mr. Shuster’s dismissal, the Russian government sought to repress Persian nationalism by methods of barbarism in Tabriz and had the Cossack Brigade fall upon the Madjless at Tehran and disperse it by artillery-fire.

The climax of Persia’s humiliation was reached during the World War; for though Persia was not a belligerent, her territory was marched over and fought over by Russians, Turks, and British like a no-man’s-land. Meanwhile, in 1915, Great Britain had insisted that the neutral zone in Persia should be added to her zone in return for the acquisition of Constantinople by Russia; and Russia had consented on condition that in her own zone in Persia she should receive a free hand. Thus the partition of Persia between the Russian and the British empires was almost an accomplished fact when it was unexpectedly voided by the Russian Revolution. Yet this miraculous escape from one danger only exposed Persia to another. The temporary elimination of Russia left Great Britain in military and political control, not only of all Persia, but of the Russian border territories of Transcaspia and Transcaucasia; and the new situation was reflected in the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, which was negotiated by Lord Curzon – with a Persian government which was almost avowedly unrepresentative of the Persian people – while the Peace Conference was in session at Paris.

These were the sensational and distressing experiences in the midst of which Reza Pahlevi learned his trade. He showed that he had profited by them as soon as he found his opportunity to play an active part in his country’s affairs.

Reza’s opportunity presented itself because the various foreign aggressors successively canceled each other out, while the Persian nation’s power of passive endurance outstayed the active energy of her neighbors. The Russians and British turned the Turks out of western Persia; the Russian Revolution caused the Russians to withdraw; and the steady pressure of the British taxpayer combined with the sound strategic instinct of the British War Office (which desired, from the moment of the Armistice, to extricate itself from outlying military commitments), and with a well timed military stroke delivered by the Bolsheviki, to bring about the evacuation of Persia by the British forces in their turn. Once the British troops were withdrawn [late 1920?], the administrative, financial, and military advice which was to be furnished to the Persian government by British officials, under the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, was deprived of effective sanctions. Had the advisers got into the saddle at once, they might perhaps even so have held Persia under control; but here they were baffled by the Persian genius for passive resistance. The one point which was apparently overlooked by Lord Curzon and his Persian friends who signed the agreement of 1919 was that under Article 24 of the Persian Constitution of 1906 every public treaty, covenant, or concession negotiated by the Persian government had to be ratified by the Madjless; and the Madjless, like Humpty-Dumpty, proved easier to pull down than to set up again. Artillery can disperse a parliament in session by bringing down the roof about its ears, but it cannot conduct a general election and induce the deputies to assemble. The agreement hung fire while the Madjless omitted to reconstitute itself, and at this point the Bolsheviki gave Reza Pahlevi his opportunity by taking a hand in the game.

The departure of the British troops from Transcausasia [sic] in the summer of 1919, and the collapse of [the White Russian] General Denikin in the last months of the same year, reopened for the Red army the road to Persia. In the early summer of 1920 they landed in force on the Caspian coast, seized General Denikin’s fleet in the Persian port of Enzeli (since renamed Pahlevi in honor of the new shah), and pushed back the advanced detachments of the weak British army of occupation. The Persian government of the day, which was acting in the British interest, sent against the Red invaders the Persian Cossack Division, which was still officered by White Russians, though the force was now financed by a British subsidy. The Cossacks – among whom Reza Pahlevi had gradually risen to one of the highest positions open to a Persian member of the division – advanced against the Reds and gained some successes; but the attitude of the White Russian officers became so dubious that in the late autumn of 1920 the British military authorities in Persia removed them, and the Persian Cossack Division became a purely Persian force with British military instructors. Thus a trained and organized Persian corps, which had been created to serve Russian imperialist interests, passed in the end into Persian hands; and Reza Pahlevi, after serving his long apprenticeship under Russian teachers, found himself with an effective force at his back to be used for Persian national purposes.

The Cossacks now made common cause with the Constitutionalists, and in February, 1921, Reza Pahlevi marched from Kazvin, the Cossack headquarters, upon the capital. Tehran was occupied on February 21, the Anglophile government overthrown, and a nationalist government formed with Sayyid Zia ad Din as prime minister and Reza as commander-in-chief of the army. Zia ad Din’s term of office was signalized by the denunciation of the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 and by the signing of a treaty with the Soviet government on February 26.

From the moment when the Persian Cossacks escaped from both Russian and British control, it was evident that if they produced a strong man from among their Persian officers, he would have the government of Persia in his hands. The opportunity found Reza Pahlevi ready to seize it, and from February, 1921, he has gone from strength to strength. He was appointed minister of war as well as commander-in-chief a few weeks after Sayyid Zia ad Din became premier, and he held this post continuously until he chose to combine the premiership with it [1923]. Meanwhile successive premiers went and came at Reza Pahlevi’s dictation, the first to go (May, 1921) being the sayyid himself.

Reza assumed the premiership on October 28, 1923, and thereupon Shah Ahmed Kajar started on that foreign tour from which, as it has turned out, he has not returned. The day after Reza Pahlevi became prime minister of Persia, the National Assembly at Angora proclaimed Turkey a republic and elected Mustafa Kemal Pasha as her first president. Reza Pahlevi was naturally impressed by the career of a brilliant soldier who was the national hero of the leading country in the Islamic world, and it is almost certain that he intended to have himself elected first president of a Persian republic on the next Persian New Year’s day, which fell on March 21, 1924. In this regard he suffered the only serious rebuff he has encountered so far.

The first stages went well. The Madjless assembled on March 13; a meeting of forty ex-premiers, cabinet ministers, and other notables called upon Reza to declare in favor of a republic and to make arrangements with the Madjless for the election of a president; pro-republican demonstrations were made in Tehran; pro-republican telegrams poured in from the provinces. Meanwhile, however, there had been fresh developments in Turkey which again influenced the course of events in Persia, though this time in a contrary sense. On March 3 the Turkish National Assembly had not only abolished the caliphate but had secularized the Turkish state and had drastically disestablished the Islamic ecclesiastical organization. Persia and Turkey belong to different sects; but the Persian ecclesiastics argued nevertheless that the proclamation of a republic in Persia would involve them In the same fate as had overtaken their Turkish confrères. They therefore threw the whole weight of their influence into the anti-republican scales; anti-republican counter-demonstrations began; and before the Persian New Year’s day arrived, Reza felt it advisable to beat a retreat. He went off to confer with the leading religious jurisconsults in the holy city of Kum, and he proclaimed at the beginning of April that the establishment of a republic was contrary to religion and that all further mention of the subject was prohibited.

Superficially, at any rate, Reza’s position was weakened by this fiasco, and he had to demonstrate that he was indispensable by resigning office on April 7 and resuming it with some show of reluctance at the pressing entreaty of his countrymen. If Reza Pahlevi had failed to become the first president of a new Persian republic, he might still become the first shah of a new dynasty on the ancient throne of the Persian Empire.

The first step in this new move was taken on February 14, 1925, when the Madjless passed a bill appointing Reza generalissimo of all the armed forces of Persia and making him irremovable except by the same body. The next step was the deposition, by another vote of the Madjless on October 31, 1925, of the reigning Shah Ahmed and the whole Kajar Dynasty into the bargain. By the same resolution, the maintenance of a provisional government was intrusted to Reza Pahlevi, pending the election of a constituent assembly.

The final inevitable step occurred on December 12, when the constituent assembly, duly meeting, conferred the crown of Persia upon Reza Pahlevi and his heirs forever. The new shah took the oath on the fifteenth of the same month.


What is the secret of this meteoric career, and what has Reza Shah Pahlevi done to deserve so well of his fellow-countrymen? To these two questions there is a single answer. He has built up a national army which, though small in numbers (it probably does not exceed forty thousand men all told), has nevertheless proved itself an efficient fighting force and, almost for the first time in history, has established the effective authority of the central government over all the territories and populations within the Persian frontiers.

How has he achieved this? At first sight it seems miraculous, considering the poor reputation of the Persian as a fighting man. Yet this miracle, if it is a miracle, has been performed by the same simple means that have enabled a number of modern Western powers to acquire vast Oriental empires.

How did the English make themselves masters of India? Not by importing legions of Nordic supermen, but by turning a small select body of Indian troops into better soldiers than their fellow-countrymen. And how did they endow their Indian troops with this military superiority? Simply by making sure that they should be properly and regularly fed, clothed, and housed and properly and regularly paid; in other words, by the prosaic but fundamental Western virtues of business honesty and efficiency, by superiority in the arts of the caterer and the accountant rather than by superiority in physique and valor. From 1921 onward, Reza has systematically asserted the authority of the central government in one sector of the country after another, his crowning triumph being the unconditional surrender, at the end of 1924, of Sheikh Khaz’al, the Arab ruler of Mohammerah on the Persian bank of the Shat-el-Arab, who, since before the World War, had been virtually a sovereign prince with a private agreement of his own with the British government.

It must not be supposed, however, that, because his policy is simple, it is also crude. When Dr. Millspaugh arrived at Tehran in the autumn of 1922, he found that certain revenues had been deflected from the Ministry of Finance and were being paid direct into the coffers of the Ministry of War; but Reza’s vision was not bounded by this provisional solution of his financial problem. He realized that if the general public finance and administration of the country remained unsound, the exaction of his pound of flesh would only hasten the hour of death and dissolution, and that then, in the general ruin of Persia, the Persian new-model army would perish irretrievably.

Having grasped this simple but fundamental truth, Reza Pahlevi gave his hearty support to the policy of engaging private American citizens as financial experts. It is interesting to observe the difference in his attitudes toward the unfortunate British financial adviser who was attempting to establish control when Reza made the coup d’état of February, 1921, and toward the American advisers who arrived at Tehran the next year on the invitation of the Persian government with no political ax to grind. Reza kept the Englishman’s hands off the finances of the Persian army by that kind of stolid passive resistance at which Persians are adepts; but the sequel showed that he was pursuing a patriotic and legitimate aim in thus concentrating as much power as possible in his own hands. Less than two years later, when Dr. Millspaugh asked him to restore to the Ministry of Finance those revenues which he had diverted in the meanwhile to the Ministry of War as security for the army budget, he agreed without demur, because he understood that Dr. Millspaugh’s sole object was to restore Persian finance without any thought of simultaneously establishing an American political ascendancy, and because he perceived that if Dr. Millspaugh succeeded in his endeavor, this would enable Reza himself to increase the efficiency of the army proportionately. Evidently Dr. Millspaugh acted with great tact in this delicate negotiation; nevertheless the transaction, which has been the foundation of Persia’s remarkable recovery during the last few years, could hardly have been concluded satisfactorily if the Persian soldier of fortune had not shown the same breadth of view as the American financial expert.

Enough has now been said to demonstrate that Reza Shah Pahlevi is a remarkable man, but what about the Pahlevi Dynasty? How many generations, the skeptical reader will ask, is it to be this time from shirtsleeves to shirt-sleeves? Is Ibn Khaldun’s law of dynastic cycles destined to be repeated again? Certainly there is no reason to suppose that the descendants of Reza Shah Pahlevi will maintain his level of character and ability any better than the nephews and great-nephews of Agha Muhammad Khan Kajar; yet there is one fresh factor which must be taken into account. The new dynasty has been founded in a new Persia, a Persia with a national consciousness and a national parliament, and if Reza Shah’s heirs turn out to be lesser men than he, they are less likely to be overthrown as incompetent despots than to survive as harmless constitutional monarchs. It may be, therefore, that the old series of dynastic cycles has been broken and that Persia’s feet are now securely set upon a westward road. The new national consciousness is very much alive, and Reza Shah Pahlevi, the self-made man, is a true representative of his nation, for, in spite of the foreign quality of his Parthian surname, he comes from the province of Mazandaran, which in times of adversity has often been the citadel of Persian national independence. The only condition which the constituent assembly attached to the hereditary principle was that Reza Shah’s successors on the throne must be born of Persian mothers, and this was a deliberate reversal of the law of the Kajar Dynasty, which was that successors to the throne must be born of Kajar princesses. The strange fact was that the Kajars were not Persians at all but a Turkish clan, speaking a Turkish dialect as their household language. Thus, until last year, a necessary qualification for succeeding to the Persian throne was that the candidate should be of non-Persian descent on both sides! In this as in other respects the Kajar Dynasty stood for a dispensation under which Oriental peoples existed for the benefit of their rulers, whereas Reza Shah Pahlevi has been elected to the Persian throne by the chosen representatives of the Persian people because he has served the nation well in the past and is expected to serve it no less faithfully hereafter.

He writes in his usual tone of jaunty optimism about rulers emerging in a post- or neo-colonial age.

Reza Shah was anti-British, anti-Russian (despite the friendship treaty with Russia) and pro-German in his sympathies and was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of 1941. His son took over and reigned until deservedly overthrown by the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The Strong Man of Persia: Reza Shah Has a Firm Grip on the Reins, The Century Magazine, Vol 112, No 5, September 1926

The Persian point of view

September 5 2013

We may also reflect upon a conversation which took place between a British statesman and a Persian visitor some time after the peace-settlement which followed the General War of 1914-18. The Persian was saying that he could not understand how the British Government, which he acknowledged to be intrinsically honourable and liberal-minded, had brought itself to pursue in Persia, from A.D. 1907 onwards, a policy which he could only describe as a cynical sacrifice of the rights and welfare of an innocent, friendly, and defenceless country on the altar of the Anglo-Russian entente. The British statesman, who had been largely responsible for the policy and who was of a frank, straightforward disposition, admitted to his visitor that Persia had been deliberately sacrificed; “but”, he added, “the British policy which you criticize was not pursued by us in a cynical frame of mind. In matters of statesmanship, choices are usually limited; and in this case, with only two alternatives before us, we were simply choosing the lesser of two evils: the risk of allowing Russia to destroy the independence of Persia rather than the risk of seeing Russia remain neutral or even take the German side in the then imminent event of a European War. If, seven years later, Germany had started the Great War with Russia as an ally or indeed as a neutral, she would certainly have won the War; and that would not only have been the end of the British Empire. It would have been the end of Civilization. When Civilization was at stake, how could we act otherwise than we did? Put yourself in our place, and answer me with your hand on your heart.”

At this the Persian, who had at first been mildly puzzled and aggrieved, completely lost his temper. His heart burnt within him and a torrent of denunciation issued from his lips: “Your policy was infinitely more wicked than I had suspected! The cynicism of it is beyond imagination! You have the effrontery to look me in the face and tell me complacently that you have deliberately sacrificed the unique treasure which Persia preserves for Humanity – the priceless jewel of Civilization – on the off-chance of saving your worthless Western Society from the catastrophe which its own greed and pugnacity were inevitably bringing upon its head! Put myself in your place, indeed! What should I have cared, and what do I care now, if Europe perish so long as Persia lives!” Therewith, he indignantly took his leave; and the British statesman found himself unable to feel certain that his visitor’s indignation was unjustified or his point of view unreasonable. Was it Europe or Persia that held the seed from which the life of the future was to spring? Perhaps the answer to that question could not, after all, be taken for granted. Perhaps it could only be given by Time and only be read correctly by some historian looking back upon the year 1907 of the Christian Era from a distance of many centuries.

In the nineteenth century, Britain’s policy had been to prop up Turkey as a bulwark against Russia. Now it made plans for the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment. I’ll write about Greek and Russian relations with Turkey, and with Britain in relation to Turkey, from 1907 to ’23 in another post.

The Russian revolution gave the British a free hand in Persia for three years. Then, in 1920, the Red Army invaded. The British removed them and then withdrew their own forces.

Having beaten Germany and retreated from the Russian Civil War, they continued to interfere with Persia’s internal affairs, as they had done long before 1907. In the nineteenth century, Persia had been a pawn in the Great Game (main phase 1813-1907). Now, whatever its traditional concerns about Russia, Britain had oil interests to defend. Oil had been discovered in Masjed Soleiman in 1908, leading to the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the antecedent of BP.

Britain played a part in the coup of Reza Khan in 1921: he had helped to expel the Red Army. But as commander-in-chief, then prime minister, then Shah (from 1925, when the Qajar dynasty fell), he was anti-British before he was anti-Russian. It was anti-British, not pro-Russian, sentiment which had caused the Persian parliament to accept the 1921 Russo-Persian Treaty. In 1935 he renamed the country Iran.

Britain and Russia invaded Iran in 1941, again partly to forestall Germany.

Britain and the US jointly organised the coup against Mossadegh in 1953. The US had had advisers in Persia before the First World War, but was the Shah’s main prop from 1953 until the revolution of 1979.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

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