Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Self-portrait in a straw hat, 1782, normally in the National Gallery, now in the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Academy (which is only 25% Rubens); she died in Paris in 1842; here are her memoirs
John Singer Sargent, Dr Pozzi at home, 1881, normally at the Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, now in the Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery; Dr Pozzi was considered the father of French gynaecology; he was shot dead in Paris by a male patient in 1918; see doctorpozzi.com
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The end of Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète. Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Yevgeny Mravinsky.
Back February 14.
Back February 6.
Back January 10.
Michael Kennedy is a great loss.
Interview by Ivan Hewett of the Telegraph in early 2014.
If you took any interest in Barbirolli, Boult, Britten, Elgar, the Hallé, Mahler, Manchester, Strauss, Vaughan Williams or Walton, Michael Kennedy was part of your life.
“I could never understand,” Henderson quotes him as saying on Elgar, “how people could not hear the unhappiness that was always there for me in his music. I never read about that Elgar, so I thought I’d better write a book myself.” Kennedy’s marvellous Portrait of Elgar was an advance on everything previously written. He needed to write the book. I needed to read it.
I recognise what the Telegraph tells us about, including even his waspishness. But the sting was mild. What does it take to be an artist’s friend? Whatever it is, Kennedy had it. He was a close friend of Vaughan Williams during VW’s last years. He knew Barbirolli equally well. He had the measure of them and was the appointed biographer of both. He was not only a critic, he was a full journalist, editor of the Manchester edition of the Daily Telegraph from 1960 until it closed in 1986. His strength as a friend may have been a weakness as a critic. “My biggest failing as a critic is that I like music too much.”
I seem to remember that he stopped reviewing for Gramophone circa 1990 because at the height of the CD era he was given one perfectly acceptable recording of Don Juan after another, about which there was nothing much more to say.
There was a steeliness and stature in Kennedy, despite the unassumingness. It wasn’t reflected glory. I don’t think people felt it because he had known great men.
I had the privilege of meeting him and his wife, Joyce, at a semi-private commemoration of Susana Walton in 2011. He made a point of introducing her. She was from Hull. He married her after his invalid first wife Eslyn died, just as RVW had married Ursula after his invalid wife Adeline died.
He expressed some doubts, in our short conversation, about Tippett’s music, and, to my surprise, hadn’t been aware that there was a CD of Karajan playing Walton’s first symphony live with the Orchestra della radiotelevisione Italiana, Rome (it isn’t a revelatory performance). He must have known from Richard Osborne’s Conversations with Karajan that Karajan had a certain regard for Walton. I bought another copy of the CD afterwards, intending to send it to him, but I never did. I have it still as a spare.
Telegraph obituary: “He would rail against critics of musical elitism, accusing them of failing to aspire to high standards. ‘I want things to be elitist,’ he told Michael Henderson in 2001. ‘These days it seems that people don’t want to put any effort into understanding something.’”
I have delivered a more waspish version of that occasionally. All people who love music want to share it, but to those who say “You mustn’t be intimidated”, I have snapped “But you should be intimidated. You should be scared out of your wits.”
I will quote Michael Kennedy in future posts. He died on the last day of the Strauss anniversary.
Telegraph, op cit: “He heard [the Hallé] for the last time in November, at a concert conducted by Elder. He was frail, effectively lame, but music always restored his spirits. A programme of Butterworth, Bax and (of course) Elgar was capped by a marvellous performance of Sibelius’s fifth symphony. ‘What a work!’ he said as he was helped to his feet afterwards. And with that simple expression of gratitude, a lifetime’s dedication to music reached its end.”
Bronze by Cecile Elstein
A reminder of how lucid he was. Antony (sic) Hopkins (obiit May 6 2014), one of the great educators, was a writer and broadcaster about Western classical music, and a composer of operas, at least one ballet, and film scores. What most people remember him for was the radio programme Talking about Music, on the BBC Third Programme and later Radio 3 and later Radio 4, from 1954 to ’92. It was syndicated, apparently, to 44 countries. There is somebody in Iran today who remembers him.
Beulah have released six talks as downloads at Beulah and iTunes: on Franck’s Symphonic Variations, Beethoven’s 5th, Elgar’s Enigma, Mozart’s Jupiter, Beethoven’s violin concerto, Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. Here’s the Rachmaninov (whose middle movement was used in Brief Encounter):
On Beethoven’s 5th, from an old LP:
On Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, via Radio 5, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation:
Date of the Beethoven symphony 1959, of other two not stated.
Back December 27.
Elgar, 1892, from Seven Lieder, published 1907. Poem by Francis Quarles (1592-1644) called Hos ego versiculos; also attributed to Simon Wastell (1560-1635) with the name The flesh profiteth nothing. August 4 2013, Dutch Music Barn, (dutchmusicbarn.com), Jacobine van Laar soprano, Marisa Thornton-Wood piano.
The piano clangs rather at the start (David Owen Norris is also manic here), but nicely enough sung.
Tchaikovsky, from The Nutcracker. 1892. Performers not stated.
Back November 27.
An idolization of Man by Man himself, which is patently ridiculous when the idol is some individual mannikin, may be more specious when the blasphemous worship is paid to some collective Leviathan. Yet the state-worship that a post-Christian Western Society commended as “patriotism” and the church-worship that it denigrated as “fanaticism” both turn as bitter on the palate as the hero-worship of an Alexander, Hitler, Caesar, or Napoleon.
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
Muqaddamāt, de Slane’s translation (Paris 1863-8, Imprimerie Impériale, 3 vols.), vol ii, pp. 366-7; chapter headed: “He who possesses the capacity for practising some particular art very rarely manages to acquire another art perfectly […]”:
“A tailor, for instance, who possesses a capacity for sewing, who uses it with the greatest skill, who is really a master of his art, and who has made it part and parcel of himself, will be unable afterwards to acquire, to perfection, the art of being a cabinet-maker or a mason. If he did achieve this, that would mean that he did not yet possess, to perfection, the former capacity; it would mean that the dye of that capacity in him had not yet taken fast. Here is the explanation: it is that the capacities – being attributes of the Soul or colours which the Soul is apt to take – cannot overlay one another on the Soul and can only settle on the Soul one at a time. In order to acquire a capacity easily, and to be in a favourable condition for the reception of it, the Soul must be in the primitive state of its nature. Afterwards, when it takes the colour of this or that capacity, it departs from its primitive state; and, since the tincture which has now just been imparted to it is bound to have weakened in the Soul its aptitude for receiving another tincture, the Soul no longer has as much strength as before for acquiring a second faculty.”
A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939 (footnote)
Giovanni Battista Moroni painted his noble tailor c 1565-70 in his native Albino. He worked only there and in Trent and Bergamo. An Ingres three centuries earlier.
Some have suggested that the tailor really was a nobleman. The greenish tinge to the face is in the original. He is wearing the very full, loose breeches known in English as galligaskins, which must have been ribbed or stuffed, and an undyed jacket.
National Gallery, London. Moroni at the RA, to January 25.
Vasari doesn’t mention Moroni in his Lives. Nor does Reynolds in his RA lectures. My great-grandfather, George Clausen, a Victorian who, like Reynolds, never mentioned Caravaggio, does mention him in his RA lectures. Moroni (like Velasquez, Lorenzo Lotto, Veronese, Frans Hals) followed the fine middle course which he himself tried to follow, between “the realism of externals” (bad painting in Clausen’s time) and “the realism of expression or character” (brought to a high level in their late works by Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt).
Below, Clausen’s portrait of Thomas Okey, Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1914, where one can perhaps see what he is aiming at. As in most of Moroni’s portraits, the background is grey. It has a fine sobriety. Clausen painted good portraits of craftsmen and family members (and, earlier, of rural workers) and a few dull ones of officials. Okey was from the East End and was helped by Toynbee Hall. He worked for thirty years not as a tailor, but as a basket-maker in Spitalfields, and rose to become, in 1919, when there was more social mobility than now, the first Professor of Italian at Cambridge.
Excuse cropping: best image I have.
Back October 31.
Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.
Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.
And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.
We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.
Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)
Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)
George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88
The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).
Top three: teacher, architect, doctor.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes,
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Keats, of course. From On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. A Petrarchan sonnet written in iambic pentameters.
The planet was Uranus, identified by Hershel in 1781, the year of the Iron Bridge, before Keats was born, and the first to be added to the list since antiquity. It is visible to the naked eye, but had been thought to be a star.
The discovery of four moons of Jupiter by Galileo, and of five of Saturn, one by Huygens, four by Cassini, preceded Hershel’s discovery. Jupiter’s Ganymede and Callisto may just be visible with the naked eye.
Herschel went on, after a few years, to discover two Uranian moons, followed by two more of Saturn.
The first four asteroids were discovered during Keats’s boyhood. Three of them are at the extreme margin of visibility with the naked eye. The first was observed on the first day of the nineteenth century.
The first Europeans to see the east coast of the Pacific were members of Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s expedition. Wikipedia: “Keats had been reading William Robertson’s History of America and […] conflated two scenes there described: Balboa’s finding of the Pacific  and Cortés’s first view of the Valley of Mexico . The Balboa passage: ‘At length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they should discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes. When, with infinite toil, they had climbed up the greater part of the steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and advanced alone to the summit, that he might be the first who should enjoy a spectacle which he had so long desired. As soon as he beheld the South Sea [Mar del Sur] stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, returned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His followers, observing his transports of joy, rushed forward to join in his wonder, exultation, and gratitude’ (Vol. III).”
“Keats’ generation was familiar enough with the polished literary translations of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, which gave Homer an urbane gloss similar to Virgil, but expressed in blank verse or heroic couplets. Chapman’s vigorous and earthy paraphrase (1616) was put before Keats by Charles Cowden Clarke, a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school in Enfield Town. They sat up together till daylight to read it: ‘Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten o’clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table.’” No source given for the quotation.
The earlier lines:
“Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:”
Landscapes (old post).
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
Architectural style: a kind of postmodern neoclassical, esp one characterised by broken pediments, split gables and brightly coloured faux-balconies with X railings. Used in corporate headquarters from the London suburbs to Bangalore.
Andrew Cover, a friend of mine, coined this c 2000.
Back September 22.
Horn Trio, second movement. 2:58-3:32. Barenboim, Perlman, Clevenger.
Back September 6.
Since I mentioned Hammersmith and Gustav Holst in the last post (including comments), here is Holst’s enigmatic Hammersmith (1930): a prelude and a scherzo. Eastman Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell. I wonder what Miss Strudwick thought of it.
Back August 17.
Back August 9.
Odd, in a way, to write a C major symphony in 1940. Having juxtaposed Stravinsky and one arch-conservative, Rabaud, let’s put him next to Hans Pfitzner now. Pfitzner, born 1869, returns to his romantic roots, defying the twentieth century, as he had not quite done, for example, in his C sharp minor symphony of 1932, in a 1940 symphony in C.
Allegro moderato, Adagio, Presto. Premiere October 11 1940, I presume in Berlin. Performers here not stated. Pfitzner recorded it with the Berlin Philharmonic, as did Furtwängler with the Vienna Philharmonic, but this isn’t either of those:
Here’s the Stravinsky Symphony in C (he began it in 1938). Moderato alla breve, Larghetto concertante, Allegretto, Largo – Tempo giusto, alla breve. Premiere November 7 1940, Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Stravinsky. This is Solti with the same orchestra:
Back July 20.
Back July 5.
Extended absence merely pressure of work.
I’ll continue this little 1914 music sequence on May 9.
Ravel began composing it in March 1914. During the summer of 1914, he worked in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. He had been born across the bay in the Basque town of Ciboure. His mother was Basque.
At the same time he was working on a piano concerto based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (The Seven are One, referring to the seven traditional Basque provinces). Although abandoned, it left its mark on the trio.
The outbreak of war in August 1914 spurred him on to finish the trio so that he could enlist. He finished it in September. He was accepted as a nurse’s aide by the Army in October. In March 1916 he became an ambulance driver at the Verdun front (Vaughan Williams did the same job with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and in Salonika). He fell ill at the end of that year and was demobilised in March 1917.
Movements are marked Modéré, Pantoum (Assez vif), Passacaille (Très large) and Final (Animé).
Yehudi Menuhin, violin, Gaspar Cassadó, cello, Louis Kentner, piano, 1960:
Not an ideal recording technically, but nor is the equally musical Jeanne Gautier, André Lévy, Vlado Perlemuter, 1954, also on YouTube.
A good student performance is by Iason Keramidis, Felix Drake and Lidija Pavlovic, Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, July 13 2012:
At the beginning of this work, aren’t we close to the world of On Wenlock Edge? Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. In February 1912, he attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Isn’t it possible that the influence went both ways?
In music in the German-speaking world there was jitteriness in these years, but not the stillness and vulnerability which one hears in some French and English music on the eve of 1914.
Ravel, Ciboure, 1914
… or, The last season
It is impossible to imagine two composers more different than Stravinsky and Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), who was known for his tirades against modernism.
The phrase “Stravinsky and Rabaud”, and the other way round, does not appear on the internet.
Yet the two notable operatic premieres in Paris in the last season before the outbreak of the Great War were oriental fairy-tales by them. Rabaud’s five-act Mârouf, savetier du Caire was performed at the Opéra-Comique on May 15. Stravinsky’s Debussyan three-scene Le rossignol at the Palais Garnier on May 26.
The Rabaud, which was revived at the Opéra-Comique last year, was based on The Arabian Nights, with a libretto by Lucien Nepoty. The Stravinsky, which is set in ancient China, on Hans Christian Andersen, with a libretto by the composer and Stepan Mitussov. Stravinsky had begun working on it in 1908, but put it aside to work on the three Diaghilev ballets.
The premiere of The Rite of Spring (surely the most overrated work of the twentieth century) had taken place at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29 1913.
The two operas do not inhabit entirely different worlds. Music has become marooned in a kind of static orientalism. Charles Friant, tenor, Dans le jardin fleuri, from Mârouf, a beautiful example of a style of French singing, now lost, which gives meaning to an opera like this:
Le rossignol, scene 1, performers not stated:
Géori Boué (still living), soprano, 1948, Pourquoi ces mots inattendus, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):
André Gaudin, tenor, 1930, A travers le désert, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):
Darius Milhaud’s third string quartet, opus 32 (1916) is subtitled En souvenir du printemps 1914 and has two movements, both marked Très lent.
The second movement contains a setting of words from the journal of his Catholic friend Léo Latil, also from Aix-en-Provence, who was killed at Souain in the Marne on September 27 1915. I’ll quote them in a comment when I find them. The first quotes from his own earlier setting of Latil’s poem Le rossignol.
“My adolescence was lit by the glow of two wonderful friendships.” One was with Latil. The other was with Armand Lunel, a Juif du Pape and the last known speaker of the Judeo-Provençal Shuadit language, a now-extinct Occitan.
From Notes without Music, quoted at The Eastside View (my links):
“Leo … attended the Catholic school […]. We became firm friends. He worshipped music and admired my early efforts with passionate conviction; he made me share his admiration for Maurice de Guérin, and we loved to discover contemporary poets together. I think Leo would probably have become a country priest. The infinite tenderness in his gaze betrayed a tendency to melancholy and a tormented sense of anxiety. He kept a diary that was one long lamentation in which spiritual weariness and painfully intense religious feeling, dominated ever by a deep spirit of sacrifice and absolute resignation, were interwoven with a passionate love of nature, of flowers, and of the exquisite blue lines of the horizon at Aix. He was a dreamer, in love with solitary brooding, but he accepted my presence. We often went for walks together; he would always take the same direction, toward the Étang de Berre, west of the town, where the softly curving hills merge into the immensity of the plain, on the edge of which stood Cézanne’s property, Jas de Bouffan, with its famous row of poplars gently suffused with the colours of the setting sun. [Milhaud himself is often called a musical Cézanne.] We never wearied of walking along between the fields of wheat, blue-green in spring, bordered with almond trees in bloom, dwarf oaks, and pines, through exquisite landscapes, some of which, like the Château de l’Horloge, evoked historical memories: according to Chateaubriand, it was in this solid, roomy farmhouse that Napoleon spent the night on his return from Elba. Sometimes we went as far as Malvalat, the Latils’ estate near Granettes, a village that took its name from the painter Granet, who lived there […].”
Same source (I have the book, but not to hand):
“Léo was stationed at Briançon in the Chasseurs Alpins. He looked on the war as a mission, a solution to his personal problems, and got himself sent to the front as soon as he could.”
“On September 27, 1915, as I was going across the Place de Villiers [in Paris, where he was studying], I felt an exceedingly acute physical pang, which lasted several seconds. I immediately thought of Leo and feared that some disaster had befallen him. Later I was to learn that I had felt this pain at the very moment of his death. It was at the height of an offensive in Champagne; he had been wounded, but though no longer able to handle a rifle, he refused to be evacuated, so that he might take part in the attack with his comrades. He was mown down by the German machine guns at the head of his company while encouraging his men. His family sent me a copy of his will; he had left me his diary. He had deposited it, together with my letters, in an old wooden chest, an eighteenth-century sailor’s trunk; I added the letters I had received from him. Subsequently Dr. Latil [Léo’s father, a doctor; George Butterworth’s was a solicitor] had a selection of his letters and extracts from his diary published by Plon. This supreme testimony of his pure Christian faith and spirit of self-sacrifice was singled out for mention by Barres on account of the nobility of its thought. While I was in Brazil I had a hundred copies of Leo’s poems privately printed. A few months after his death, I wrote my Third String Quartet, dedicated to his memory. This consists of two very slow movements, in the second of which I introduced a soprano voice singing a page from Leo’s diary, ending: ‘What is this longing for death, and which death does it mean?’ This sentence had haunted my imagination ever since I had read it.”
Milhaud also composed:
Trois poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 2 (1910-16, Prière à mon poète [Jammes] et à la petite Bernadette, sa fille; Clair de lune; Il pleut doucement)
Quatre poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 20 (1914, L’abandon; Ma douleur et sa compagne; Le rossignol; La tourterelle) and
Poème du journal intime de Léo Latil, pour baryton et piano, opus 73 (1921).
He wrote other works with printemps in the title, including one for violin and piano probably in the spring of 1914. He set texts by Lunel, Jammes and Claudel in many more works, in each case up to the ’60s.
The death of Latil was the end of Milhaud’s youth. A rheumatic illness exempted him from fighting. It would confine him to a wheelchair for the second half of his life. But he did a different war work. Brazil entered the war in April 1917. A few weeks before that, he arrived in Rio to take the post of secretary to Claudel, who had been appointed France’s ambassador (ministre plénipotentiaire) to Brazil in the previous year.
He dedicated his second string quartet, opus 16 (not 12 as stated on YouTube, 1914-15) to Latil, perhaps on hearing the news of his death. The movements are marked Modérément animé, très animé; Très lent; Très vif; Souple et sans hâte – assez animé et gracieux; Très animé. Here it is, played, like the third, by the Quatuor Parisii:
Both paintings by Henri Le Sidaner.
A remarkable, little-known, bittersweet early piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sonata-fantaisie for violin and piano no 1, Désespérance (Rio de Janeiro, 1912). Much disturbance under an at times Brahmsian (at the beginning even Bach-through-Brahmsian) surface.
A good performance of this not very despairing work, but the magical violin harmonics after 3:47 should be more delicate and the piano should have introduced that moment better.
Emmanuele Baldini (Italian living in São Paulo), violin, Pablo Rossi (Brazilian), piano, Sala Palestrina, Brazilian Embassy in Rome
Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy in 1942 and sent 25,000 troops to Italy.
There is a CD with Jue Yao, violin, and Alfred Heller.
Back April 22.
At the Canadian lunch in London in 1933 at which Kipling proposed the toast (last post), the seconder was Chesterton. No film (or none that I am aware of), but here is a complete sound recording.
Is there a complete recording of Kipling? The YouTube poster and commenters wrongly assume that Chesterton is speaking in Canada. Also, he is not “introducing” Kipling.
He refers to the President of the Royal Society of Literature, Lord Crewe.
I like his phrase “our more fatigued society” about Britain compared with North America.
When he reads poetry, Chesterton’s voice sounds almost classless, but there is an occasional lower middle-class twang here. Kipling’s accent is that of the broad English educated class, of which the Oxford accent and the BBC accent were distinct offshoots.
Who even knew that there was film of Kipling, and with sound?
Full text here (the Kipling Society has the year wrong and contradicts itself as to the day), with a link to notes. It’s a subtle set of remarks and a fine tribute to Canada. Chesterton was present.
“Although the summer sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.”
Yeats, from Vacillation, not in the collection called Responsibilities, but a later one, The Winding Stair.
Back April 3.