Of Human Bondage

A hurrier and two thrusters, from The White Slaves of England (1853),  J. Cobden, credit Wikipedia

                     Of Human Bondage

                                By Bill Hartley          

In 2020, a group of students demanded that the David Hume tower at Edinburgh University be renamed. People will be wearily familiar with what comes next. Hume the philosopher and giant of the Enlightenment had allegedly committed the crime, in a footnote to an essay of his, of describing black Africans as inferior to white people. It has been argued that this was a misrepresentation of his work but even so the tower was duly renamed by the university authorities. Also in Edinburgh, the council has a ‘Slavery and Colonialism Review Group’. Good to know this is among the priorities of local government. North of the border they are considering changes to the school curriculum to focus on issues of slavery (Hume incidentally was against the idea of a British Empire). The Review Group reports that Scotland had one of the highest proportions of people benefiting from the ownership of slaves. Does this include Scots holding their own people in slavery? The Review Group might be surprised to learn that slavery was alive and well rather closer to home and arguably in conditions comparable to those caught up in the African trade.

Consideration is also being given to the creation of a National Museum for Slavery. This might provide an excellent opportunity for the Scots to learn what was going on in their own country, though it probably won’t happen, given the narrow definition of the term.

Hume himself called ‘Avarice the spur of industry’, and certainly in the Scottish coal industry during the 17th and 18th centuries there is much to support his view. The victims were of course white and this might prove inconvenient, since for some the term seems to be restricted to those of African descent. Even so, it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that life in the Scottish coal mining industry up to the end of the 18th century fitted the definition of slavery, both physically and legally. Should those considering the creation of a museum trouble to look, then there is plenty of source material available. For a contemporary perspective they could try ‘View of the Coal Trade in Scotland’ (1808)  by Robert Baird, in which he wrote about the ‘severity of the toil performed by female coal bearers’ and used adjectives such as ‘revolting’ and ‘demoralising’. He noted that children began their pit lives at between six and eight years of age. Such conditions were of course to be found elsewhere in the British Isles, though only in Scotland was there the practise of taking infants underground. A sort of day care centre in darkness. Unlike the southern coalfields of Britain, north of the border it wasn’t just an unequal contest between the colliery owners and labour; political forces were the reason why miners, their wives and children were held in servitude.

The most scholarly study of the coal industry in Great Britain up to the end of the 18th century was undertaken by the American economic historian Professor J.U. Nef.  His book ‘The Rise of the British Coal Industry’ (1932) remains the most exhaustive study of the coal trade covering that era. This is a monumental work of scholarship in two volumes, so it is perhaps surprising there appears to be such ignorance of slavery in Scotland, even in academia. But maybe those who look zealously for any evidence of support for slavery, no matter how tenuous, prefer to ignore what was going on in their home country, since the white variety doesn’t fit the narrative.

Nef noted that in the 17th century Englishmen called Durham and Northumberland the ‘Black Indies’ and adds that the term might have been applied with almost equal force to that part of Scotland bordering on the Firth of Forth. He writes of what he calls the ‘cleavage between capital and labour’ in England, where an association of miners might contract to operate a colliery. In Scotland a different arrangement evolved. Perhaps being an American and given when he was born, Nef may well have been better positioned than a British economic historian to make a comparison with plantation slavery.

By the 17th century, according to Nef, colliers were ‘set off sharply from the rest of the population’. This was how Scottish colliers (and salt workers) lived until the close of the 18th century. He cites sources such as ‘Slavery in Modern Scotland’ Edinburgh Review (1899) and ‘Slavery in the Coal Mines of Scotland’ Trans. of the Fed. Inst. of Mining Engineers (1897-98). The titles of both articles seem unambiguous.

By the end of the 17th century the miners and workers at salt pans (which generally belonged to the colliery owners) were the slaves of their employers. For example, he had the right to apprehend miners and inflict bodily punishment if they escaped from his works. He could sell them along with the works ‘as part of the gearing’ and this included wives and children who frequently worked with him.

The system was created by the Scottish coal owners to deal with a labour shortage. Originally, as in England, it was usually the case that a man was bound to serve for a year. However, many of the great landowners who of course owned the mineral rights, were members of the Scottish Privy Council and took steps to check the free movement of labour. The process began as early as 1606 when the Scottish Parliament passed a statute which declared that neither miners nor salt workers could change masters without a testimonial. In effect they served notice of an intention to retain their workmen in permanent captivity. By the reign of Charles II they were bound for life. A contemporary description seems to be a good definition of slavery:

‘Who are by severall Acts of Parliament astricted and bownd to serve and work in there coal and salt works during all the days of their lifetime’.

Significantly Nef adds that ‘their servitude cannot be regarded as a survival of agrarian serfdom’ and he makes a direct comparison with the United States. His view was that actual slavery of the type developed in the Scottish coal mines like that in the cotton plantations of the US, appears to be the product of a rapidly developing industry in the hands of landowner proprietors. The colliers are his servants: he provides them with a hovel in which to live and with meals to keep them from starving. Landowner proprietorship helps to explain why slavery developed in connection with the coal industry in Scotland but not in the North of England, where the mines were generally partnerships. Just as the political influence of the cotton planter was dominant in the southern states before the Civil War, so was that of the great landowners in 17th century Scotland.

There is a case for saying that if public funds are to be used for promoting an awareness of slavery, then the definition needs to be broadened. Scots people should be able to learn the inconvenient truth; that some of their forebears were as much victims of slavery as Africans.

William Hartley is a Social Historian

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Letter to the Editor, 2nd December 2022

 

Letter to the Editor, 2nd December 2022

Sir,

It was reported recently that the Queen Consort (Camilla) intends to dispense with ladies in waiting. Presumably this is part of the project to create a thoroughly modern monarchy – slimmed down, non-racist, forward looking.

The much publicised contretemps (or storm in a tea cup), featuring lady in waiting Susan Hussey and Ngozi Fulani, was therefore timely. Or was it fabricated? Our supine, sycophantic media, as ever, remain silent.

Yours sincerely, Ritortus

 

Posted in QR Home | 2 Comments

Endnotes, December 2022

Dora Pejačević, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, December 2022

In this edition: a piano concerto and a symphony by Dora Pejacevic; Rachmaninov from the Sinfonia of London; spiritual intensity from American composer, Randall Svane, reviewed by Stuart Millson

A commitment to new and overlooked music has always been at the heart of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s artistic outlook. During the 1970s and ‘80s, the ensemble tended to perform works strongly connected with either the Second Viennese School, Stravinsky and Bartok, or the avant-garde experimentation of Boulez. Today, the repertoire has softened somewhat: contemporary composers have retuned themselves (at least, in part) to the recognisable outlines of tonality, and programmers have mined a rich reserve of late-romantic/early 20th century figures, such as the Richard Strauss-influenced Croatian, Dora Pejacevic (1885-1923).

Under the baton of Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo, the BBC SO appears on the Chandos label in glorious depth, in Pejacevic’s Piano Concerto, written just before World War One in which Pejacevic served as a volunteer nurse and premiered in Zagreb in 1916. Despite emerging in the gloom of the European maelstrom, this Great War concerto has significant optimism in many of its great statements; a flourish in its style, and a lyricism that showed how not all art had become doom-laden. Peter Donohoe, renowned for his intense Rachmaninov cycles, is the soloist in this performance, bringing all of his knowledge and authority to bear on an unknown concerto that demands a spirited interpretation, to place it alongside the classic concertos so often heard in the concert halls of Europe.

The symphony, likewise, comes from the war years, although Pejacevic had to wait until two years after the conflict’s end to hear a complete performance. The work is difficult to pin down in its nationality: the Austro-German tradition of Strauss and Mahler is recognisable, and the great sweep of Tchaikovsky is there, too, but suffused with an uplift and glow that seems to pre-date the angst and loss of war. But the slow movement Andante speaks of an artistic soul who has maintained her integrity through distressing times: a point reiterated by biographer, Koraljka Kos (quoted in the informative and well-edited CD booklet) who observed how Pejacevic composed in a wave of self-generated vigour and determination, as a means of rising above the sorrow and bloodshed of 1914-18.

The Chandos catalogue, once again, provides the classical CD-buying public with yet another heavyweight recording masterpiece, a Rachmaninov orchestral collection whose main piece is the rarely-heard Third Symphony, a work of the composer’s exile years of the 1930s, with its Allegro vivace finale and sighs of homesickness. The United States provided Rachmaninov with his safe haven from a Russia torn to pieces and oppressed by Communist commissars, but for the composer, the true soul, poetry and intense religious belief of Russia lived on in his music.

But it is a 1909 composition that really stands out (at least, for this reviewer) – The Isle of the Dead, a 20-minute symphonic realisation of an unsettling painting by Arnold Bocklin, which depicts the ferryman of ancient myth rowing a supernatural figure to a mysterious island; thought, in fact, to be based upon a real landscape and seascape near Corfu. The ripples of dark water, the sense of being propelled to the after-life, all appealed to the brooding Russian romantic composer.

Here, on the newly-minted Chandos CD, the slow (but inexorable) course toward the dead island is plotted by the Sinfonia of London, conductor John Wilson’s handpicked recording and gala-concert super-orchestra. What appears to be (from the expansive sound of the instruments) a very large or well-spaced-out body of strings, sets a spine-tingling stage for this unnerving journey. Hypnotic and quietly relentless, Rachmaninov’s unearthly long introduction is given an authenticity of sound, probably not heard since the days of the old Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski and Ormandy, the very artists with which the composer collaborated in his last years.

Finally, to The Quarterly Review’s latest discovery: the contemporary United States composer, Randall Svane. A CD label is yet to champion this astonishing new voice in American music, so we have to rely upon digital files and YouTube. But the music does not disappoint: an understated Violin Concerto, like a newly-unearthed score by Sibelius, dwelling and mulling over numerous meditative ideas (giving the soloist some intricate cadenza work) and breaking into a Prokofiev-like mini-march; and a seven-movement symphony (as ritualistic and full of elation as Hindemith’s Nobilissima Visione, or Mathis der Maler) which brings the life of St. Francis before us in a blaze of belief.

Yet Randall Svane also writes on a more intimate scale, as can be seen in his equally heavenly Emily Dickinson setting for chamber ensemble and voices, Because I could not stop for Death; music that seems more in the sound-world of Vaughan Williams and Britten, than that of Philip Glass and John Adams. Recently premiered by the Theodor Schutz Ensemble and Quartet Berlin-Tokyo, conducted by Philipp Amelung, the piece deserves a mainstream recording.

CD details: Pejacevic, Symphony Op. 41; Piano Concerto Op. 33. BBC SO/Sakari Oramo, conductor, Peter Donohoe, piano. Chandos, CHSA 5299.

Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 3, Vocalise, The Isle of the Dead. Sinfonia of London, John Wilson, conductor. Chandos, CHSA 5297.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Lives of Latin Texts

The Lives of Latin Texts

Terence, Hécyre, Paris, credit Wikipédia

Lauren Curtis, Irene P. Garrison, eds., The Lives of Latin Texts: Papers Presented to Richard J. TarrantHarvard University Press, Loeb Classical Monograph, 2020, pp. i-xxvii; 1-336, reviewed by Darrell Sutton

Distinguished as a textual critic, RJ Tarrant’s literary insights are combined with a knowledge of Latin syntax. To mark his retirement from the Pope Professorship of Latin Language and Literature, the department of Classics at Harvard organized a conference in 2018. The collectanea now published evidence the admiration in which he is held by students and colleagues. Select comments are due.

Kathleen Coleman remarks on his publications and contributions to classical studies in a paper entitled ‘Richard Tarrant: Scholar, Teacher, Colleague’, after which a 5-page bibliography is appended. The book includes three sections: Part I: Editing; Part II: Seneca, Ovid, and Other Incursions in Latin Literature; Part III: Music. Fourteen papers are included, all astute; some more, some less interesting [see Table of Contents below].

Rebecca Benefiel’s paper ‘Editing Ancient Graffiti’ illustrates her approach to editing ancient handwriting. Providing plenty of figures and illustrations, readers are given opportunities to grapple with expressions that are unclear, with inscriptions that defy dogmatic interpretation. On p.16 she argues that many words should not be “frequently dismissed as misspellings or mistakes”. We beg to differ. Even if we grant the omnipresence of colloquialism, Latin idiom among Romans definitely could be conveyed correctly or incorrectly. These things essentially are matters of judgement. As scholarship advances, it seems likely that rigid assertions about the character of language will go the same way as pronouncements hitherto made on the distinct characteristics of different people.

G.B. Conte’s paper ‘Christian Gottlob Heyne as a Virgilian Textual Critic’ gives a sketch  of Heyne’s work on Virgil. Past scholars ranked his exegetical skill above his textual editing (p.36). Conte redresses the balance. Overlooked and disregarded, Conte proves that the dismissal of Heyne’s text-criticism by subsequent Virgil scholars was hasty. The article illustrates, with numerous examples, that Heyne’s commentary was successful because his text-critical efforts were sound.

In the book’s longest paper, C. Damon writes of ‘… Parentheses in Caesar’s Commentari’. She addresses Quintilian’s notion that a ‘parenthesis’ is ‘some intervening idea that interrupts the continuity of an utterance’ (pp.67-8). Damon is well aware of how punctuation is able to bring to readers attention parenthetical statements that are Latin. In ‘Interpolation Hunting in Senecan Tragedy…’ , SJ Heyworth identifies misplaced phrases and locates a trove of texts needing discussion. He agrees with Tarrant that earlier interpolators should not be wholly linked to ‘forgery and fraudulence’; but they were ‘readers interacting with the text and trying to improve the experience of reading by correcting, annotating, or collaborating with the perceived aims of the author’. That kind of optimism will not be shared by all philologists. Texts examined by Heyworth in Seneca, Ovid and Horace are dealt with in excellent ways. And along with Gareth William’s paper below, Heyworth’s explanatory footnotes does more than indicate sources, and are a better assortment than those in other papers.

Who would imagine that a paper on an ancient sculpture could hold one’s attention beyond 4 paragraphs? M. Reeve, however, produced a study titled ‘IVPPITER IMPERATOR?, which surely will stimulate debate about whether the reading ‘imperator’ should be replaced by ‘impetrator’.  Beginning with Cicero’s fourth Verrine [2.4.128-130], Reeve makes the case that manuscript ‘evidence of the three witnesses speaks louder for impetr– than for imper’ (pp.117-118). The journey that brought him to that conclusion involved considerable detective work.

Part II consists of 140 pages in which various and sundry subjects are treated. There are two papers on Seneca, one on Ovid, Martial, Terence and Statius. An expert on The Vulgate Commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, F.T. Coulson’s paper on how the Ceyx and Alcyone episode was read in medieval traditions is of interest. He believed Ovid’s Fasti was a model for Seneca’s Consolatio ad Marciam. Maybe. At any rate, J. Ker explicates Cremutius’ words of consolation to Marcia whose son Metilius has died. Ker is compelling on Cremutius’ stoic doctrines of the afterlife and on Seneca’s use of the word animae. Ker’s search for intertextual parallels leads him through Augustan poetry looking for clues. P.A. Brunt’s Studies in Stoicism (2013) would have bolstered several hypotheses of his. In the only other paper of considerable length, A. Keith explores Epicurean themes in Martial’s poetry (Epigr. 10). Images in Martial’s epigrams come to life in this paper.

The goal of helping students to view the characters in a play critically is hardly new. J. Neumann is evidently reluctant to introduce Terence to students because of his references to rape, prostitution, and overtly demeaning depictions of women. In a paper sub-titled ‘Terence and his Contemporary Adulescentes’, she posits active correspondences with modern adolescents. As she observes, sexual violence is ubiquitous on campuses. And doubtless there will always be people who find depictions of sexual misconduct off-putting, whether in print or in film.

Seeking to fill a scholarly gap, G. Rosati’s piece, ‘Pauca Meo Stellae’ puts Statius in competition with one of Virgil’s eclogues. The paper is a firm product of literary criticism and provokes three questions among many: (1) does Statius Silvae 1.2 teach us ‘that when a poet addresses a work to another poet, we should expect it to contain some musings and a debate on the two colleagues’ literary predilections’? (p.228); (2) is eros really a universal energy? (p.232); (3) if ‘Latin erotic elegy’ in fact ‘is a place of ethical and literary tensions and conflicts’, whose fault is it that such conflict is perceptible? Contemporary scholars superimpose frames of thought around clauses and phrases which any number of ancient authors did not consider problematic. G.D. Williams’ paper, ‘Ax of Love’ honors Tarrant by studying three aspects of Seneca’s Agamemnon, in which Tarrant’s ‘celebrated 1976 commentary sheds important light and takes up strong positions.’ Williams’ writing is lucid and free of the intentional ambiguities one finds in literary pieces in general. In truth, his paper is a rigorous piece of scholarship. Some of his interpretations are superior to Tarrant’s. Thanks to Williams’ elucidation, Clytemnestra’s motivation for murder  is now explicable.

Comments on the three pieces in Part III: Music are omitted. The translations given throughout the book are reliable. In most places the authors translate their own selections.

TABLE OF CONTENTS;

  1. Editing

Editing Ancient Handwriting [R. Benefiel]; Christian Gottlob Heyne as a Virgilian Textual Critic [G. B. Conte]; On (Authorial and Other) Parentheses in Caesar’s Commentarii [Cynthia Damon]; Interpolation Hunting in Senecan Tragedy, Ovid, and Horace [S. J. Heyworth]; IVPPITER IMPERATOR? [Michael Reeve]

  1. Seneca, Ovid, and Other Incursions in Latin Literature

Reading Ceyx and Alcyone in the Medieval School Tradition on Ovid [Frank T. Coulson]; It’s the Animae, Stupid: Seneca’s Ovidian Afterlives [James Ker]; Martial’s Retirement and Other Epicurean Postures in Book 10 [Alison Keith]; Est Enim Difficilis Curarum Rerum Alienarum: Terence and his Contemporary Adulescentes [J. Neumann]; Pauca meo Stellae: Life Choice and Genre in Statius Silvae 1.2 [G. Rosati]; Ax of Love: Clytemnestra’s Motivation for Murder in Seneca’s Agamemnon [G. D. Williams]

III. Music

Augustan Poetry and the Age of Rust: Music and Metaphor in Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown [Thomas E. Jenkins]; Roman Civil War in Verdi’s Trovatore [Michèle Lowrie]; Bob Dylan and the Art of the Citharode [Richard F. Thomas]

Darrell Sutton writes on poetic, classical and biblical topics for QR

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Devil Spares Pravda

General Heinz Guderian & Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein, Sept 1939, credit Wikipedia

The Devil Spares Pravda

The Devils’ Alliance; Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941, Roger Moorhouse, Basic books, New York, 2014, hb, 382pp, $29.99 US, reviewed by Leslie Jones

As Roger Moorhouse observes in this compelling account, the Nazi-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of August 1939 was “one of the salient events of World War II”. It isolated Poland and thereby led directly to war. In line with the secret protocol of the treaty, Poland was then divided up by “its two malevolent neighbours”. The Soviet annexation of the Baltic states and of the Romanian province of Bessarabia was another direct result of the treaty. Hitler’s occupation of Western Poland subjected the Poles and the Jews to “a horrific regime of exploitation and persecution”. In the aforementioned territories annexed by the USSR, likewise, “class enemies” were killed, persecuted or deported. As the author remarks, Hitler ethnically cleansed Western Poland while the eastern portion was politically cleansed by the Soviets.

Some commentators considered the USSR a “worker’s paradise”, which Stalin was only trying to protect. By means of the pact, they maintained, Stalin enlisted Nazi aggression to accelerate the eventual fall of capitalism. Hitler had been turned West and become an “unwitting tool of the Soviets”. Beatrice Webb, initially appalled, took comfort from the prospect of the Western capitalist democracies being destroyed. Stalin’s policy was “a miracle of successful statesmanship”, she averred. The distinguished future Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, then a Cambridge graduate, had “no reservations” about the new party line. “Stalin never errs”, according to some Communists and fellow travellers. Douglas Hyde, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, thought that to protect communism, Stalin should, if necessary, “make an alliance with the devil himself”. But Professor Moorhouse dismisses the notion that Stalin’s motive for engineering the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was to buy precious time to prepare for an inevitable war with Nazi Germany. He notes that Kingsley Amis, editor of the New Statesman, suspected that the pact’s twin signatories shared something sinister in their DNA. In Le passé d’une illusion; essai sur l’idée communiste au XXe siècle (1995), François Furet subsequently explored this persuasive idea in depth.

The naïve notion that the Nazis were uniquely evil bespeaks a woeful ignorance of this era, according to the author. After the German invasion of Soviet Russia in 1941, Winston Churchill, for one, downplayed his anti-Bolshevism. If Hitler invaded hell, he quipped, he would make a favourable reference to the devil. Germany, for the time being, could no longer invade Britain. Keep the Russians fighting was therefore the order of the day, notwithstanding the disturbing disappearance of thousands of Polish officers in Soviet occupied Poland.

When Brest Litovsk was amicably ceded to the Soviets in September 1939, Heinz Guderian was the local German commander. His Soviet opposite number was Brigadier General Semyon Krivoshein. During “an earlier blossoming of German-Soviet collaboration” in the 1920’s, they had worked together at the Kama tank school in Kazan. Ideology apart, there was a longstanding perception that the USSR and Germany were perfect economic and military partners. This perspective was assiduously promoted by “Easterners” in the German Foreign Office. The Soviets needed technology and precision tools etc and the Germans required raw materials, with which to withstand another possible wartime blockade. Between 1939 and 1941, accordingly, the Nazis and the Soviets “traded secrets, blueprints and raw materials”.

The author always has an eye for the telling detail. He tells us that Heinrich Hoffmann, who photographed the ceremonial signing of the pact, was known as the “Reich Drunkard”; that on Hoffmann’s return to Berlin, Hitler asked him whether Stalin’s earlobes were “ingrown and Jewish, or separate and Aryan”; that Hitler instructed Hoffmann to doctor his photographs, which originally showed Stalin chain smoking; and that Stalin told Ribbentrop that Beria “is our Himmler, [adding that] he’s also very good”.

“Propaganda, all is phony”. According to Machiavelli, “politics is a morally neutral activity concerned with manipulating power…”. There is no ethical or divine order that indicates the ideal state or the highest good for man (quotation from Conflict, War and Revolution, 2022, by Professor Paul Kelly). Viewed from this perspective, British support for Russia, after the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941  (like the by then defunct Nazi-Soviet pact) was “an exercise in realpolitik, a strategic necessity, an uneasy marriage of convenience” (Moorhouse).

Molotov & Ribbentrop, credit Wikipedia

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

City in the Sands

City in the Sands

By Bill Hartley

Western Sahara, or, depending upon your point of view, the Southern Provinces of Morocco, is a disputed territory consisting of 103,000 square miles of desert. Spain seized control following the Berlin conference of 1884, which decided spheres of interest in Africa among the European nations. During the latter years of the Franco era, Spain resisted calls from the UN to decolonise. Then, following his death, the Spanish government announced its intention to hold a referendum on independence. However, in 1975 King Hassan of Morocco, in pursuit of a dubious claim to sovereignty, initiated the ‘Green March’ whereby thousands of his people crossed the border to occupy the territory; a fait accompli which has been in place ever since.

The only significant settlement in Western Sahara is Laayoune the capital, which lies near the coast. It is strange to discover that in what was once a Spanish colony, the language is seldom heard. The only Spanish speakers are likely to be elderly residents, since Morocco has effectively imposed the French language in second place behind Arabic. Or to put it another way, Morocco, a former French possession, has successfully imposed the language of its onetime colonial master on a former Spanish colony. Even the menus in the local McDonald’s are in French and on the wall they tactfully display a picture of King Mohammed VI.

Morocco has endeavoured to upgrade and gentrify the city centre, with wide boulevards flanked by avenues of palm trees. The homes of the more prosperous citizens lie here, as do outposts of various government ministries. But beneath this modern urban veneer it’s not hard to discern why Laayoune is known as the ‘City in the Sands’.

Since most of Western Sahara is desert, unsurprisingly water is in short supply. Even in the heart of Laayoune this is evident. Silhouetted against the sky on the roof of a six storey apartment block, a man uses a rope to haul up a hose. He is standing on a large water tank which is to be refilled from a bowser parked below. This is mounted on the back of a 1960s Bedford truck: the local workhorse for water distribution and a common sight on the streets of the city. Even the most modern buildings get their water this way.

Out in the desert, far to the east, there is a conflict going on, hence the presence of UN troops. A few of these are Russian, which, given the alternative posting, is a good place to be right now. Western Sahara has a government in exile, which calls itself the Sahwari Democratic Republic and is based in Tindouf, Algeria. Their guerrilla arm is the Polisario Front which comes complete with a logo sporting the inevitable Kalashnikov. They occupy 20% of the territory; not so good as it sounds since this consists of uninhabitable desert, around which the Moroccans have built a sand berm and laid minefields. The Polisario is able to operate because relations between Morocco and Algeria aren’t good. One of the reasons is the former’s occupation of Western Sahara.

Beyond the well manicured centre of town, the place to mix with the locals is the Ski Kina market, a dense collection of shops, stalls and workshops. The latter are open to the street with metal bashing, vehicle repairs and furniture manufacture under way. Elsewhere ironmongery, haberdashery, cosmetics and foodstuffs are to be found. The butcher’s is easily identifiable from a distance, since there is a severed cow’s head in the window. This low level retailing without a supermarket in sight, is a place to both shop and socialise. Since Laayoune is largely tourist free, the visitor can wander at will and be treated little differently to the locals. Given the high daytime temperatures most of the activity in the market takes place during the evenings. Here, men gather to drink coffee and watch European football in the cafes. Street food includes the local speciality, barbequed camel. For those who need a ride to reach the market there are taxis available, though the etiquette is somewhat unusual. It’s quite likely that a passenger will be sharing a cab with the driver’s mother or brother, who has come along for the ride. Should the driver need directions then one solution is to pick up another fare who may know the way; sharing the journey and appropriating the taxi once the destination is reached.

Even in this isolated city the Moroccans leave little to chance. Apart from a military presence there is also a Gendarmerie, the Surete National. It’s not unusual to see their vehicles equipped with water cannon rolling past. Although the city is a long way from the conflict zone, the Moroccans take internal security seriously and like to let the locals know they are equipped to deal with disorder.

The main economic reason why the Moroccans are here is the Bou Craa phosphate mine. This site helps make Morocco the world’s third largest producer of the mineral with 2.4 million tons extracted annually. It comes from an open caste mine so huge that it is visible from the International Space Station. The UN objects to the exploitation of resources in a disputed territory but to no avail. There are also thought to be gas and oil reserves but as yet their viability has not been proven.

In this year’s report to the Security Council on the activities of MINURSO, the UN mission to Western Sahara, the secretary general describes low intensity hostilities. The report refers to what it euphemistically describes as ‘firing incidents’. In response, the Moroccan army has begun using drones and there have been civilian casualties on the Algerian side. Happily, on a diversity related note, the secretary general also reports that one third of their personnel in Western Sahara are now female.

The UN mandate only extends to October 2022 but is expected to be renewed. It seems unlikely that there will be any resolution to the Western Sahara question in the foreseeable future. Even so, Laayoune, the City in the Sands, remains an hospitable outpost in the far reaches of the Arab world.

William Hartley is a Social Historian

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Endnotes, November 2022

‘Dance of Apollo and the Muses’, Baldassare Peruzzi

Endnotes, November 2022

In this edition: Haydn from Kent: a fanfare from America, reviewed by Stuart Millson

The East Malling Singers, conductor, Ciara Considine, performed Haydn’s Nelson Mass to warm applause last month, in the fine acoustic of their village church, St. James the Great. Accompanied by a an exceptionally fine line-up of soloists – Gillian Ramm (soprano), Rachael Lloyd (mezzo-soprano), Tom Robson (tenor) and Luke Gasper (bass) – the Singers successfully scaled the heights of the work’s imposing opening, the great Kyrie, which rises in martial mood with timpani and brass to the fore.

Cohesion of voices and a ‘tightness’ in the delivery of many of the more ornate sections of the work carried this Nelson Mass along, as if sailing on a strong tide. The emphatic delivery of the opening section seemed to spur the choir to even greater things in Gloria in excelsis deo; a jubilant release from the brooding introduction. Like Mozart, Haydn possessed that seemingly inexhaustible capacity and inspiration to compose masses (and Masses) of music, in practically every form; from oratorio (the magnificent, The Creation, has also been performed here in East Malling) to chamber works, solo piano pieces and concertos.

Born in 1732, Joseph Haydn was a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and for a great part of his musical life was engaged by the powerful Esterhazy family, for which he composed celebratory pieces, such as a mass for the name day of Princess Marie Hermenegild. The latter work was composed in 1798, not long after Haydn had completed The Creation. Yet he registered the work (completed, incidentally, in the record time of just over 50 days) as: Mass in Straitened Times. Let us not forget that the end of the 18th-century/beginning of the 19th, was a period of extreme political turbulence for Europe; the continent dominated by Napoleon, the sea-lanes by the resisting Royal Navy, hence Haydn’s choice of title.

The first performance took place in Eisenstadt, and it was on a visit to that town in 1800 that Admiral Nelson heard the work; his celebrity conferring a new title on the piece: Nelson Mass. At the time, people sought to find echoes of Nelson’s career and achievements in this forty-minute-long piece. Had not Nelson defeated the French at the Battle of Aboukir Bay in the very same year in which Haydn had composed the mass? That was indeed true, but there is no evidence to suggest that Haydn, in his Austro-Hungarian fastness, would have had any idea of the sea-battle taking place between Nelson and Napoleon’s Mediterranean fleet. Here we truly find a work named because of a happy accident: Nelson simply attending a Haydn concert.

For the East Malling Singers, the great tenderness, generosity and often just simple melodies – such as in the Agnus Dei, or even the gently-rolling, optimistic ending – Dona nobis pacem – provided some heart warming highlights to the evening, but it is surely in the opening of the Credo that Haydn gives us an arc of light: a movement of breathtaking baroque majesty, more than competently taken up by this ‘amateur’ band of voices.

Haydn lived to see the defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805, but not the final demise of that audacious son of Corsica who became Emperor of France. The composer died in 1809, but became forever enthroned as one of the great classical-era composers; establishing that famous canonical trinity which, after J.S. Bach, set the gold-standard for music: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven.

In the first half of the concert, the choir performed Bruckner’s motet, Locus iste, and Josef Rheinberger’s Abendlied – both works creating an immediate atmosphere of Middle-Europe: dimly-lit churches in Upper Austria, twilight forests in Bohemia; with the tenor, soprano, mezzo and bass soloists also contributing a medley of operatic arias and English song. Offenbach and Bizet sparkled (accompanied by pianists Nick Bland and John Hayden), but for this observer, the piece that truly stood out was Vaughan Williams’s Vagabond, from Songs of Travel. In bass, Luke Gasper’s hands (and in this, the Vaughan Williams 150th anniversary year), we truly found ourselves on the moonlit, open road through rural shires and candlelit villages.

Finally, in complete contrast, a discovery: the music of contemporary United States composer, Randall Svane – his majestic fanfare (a live recording sent to The QR on an mp3 file) also manages brief moments of introspection, as if we are floating above the Appalachian mountains, just pondering the grandeur of the scene. Spans of brass writing bring a Copland-like horizon into view, and at the end, with Randall Svane unleashing his full force, it as if we were leaving the orbit of the Earth altogether on a NASA mission!

We are looking forward to hearing more from this composer, and it looks as though the Three Choirs Festival here in England have recognised his talents: a new work for orchestra, Quantum Flight, is destined to dazzle them soon, at Gloucester Cathedral.

Stuart Millson is Classical Music Editor of QR

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Craftwork

Jacques Bertaux, Prise du Palais des Tuileries, credit Wikipedia

Craftwork

Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion and Politics, Sylvana Tomaselli, Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford, 2021, 230pp, pb, reviewed by Leslie Jones

The first riposte to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) was Vindications of the Rights of Men (1790), by one Mary Wollstonecraft. Sylvana Tomaselli, a Lecturer in History at St John’s College Cambridge, notes that Wollstonecraft’s thought was profoundly “shaped” by both Burke and Rousseau. [i] She reviewed several of Rousseau’s works and had studied Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) and his Vindication of Natural Society (1757). Although hardly an original thinker, she was an eloquent writer and a powerful polemicist. Women in contemporary society, she averred, “learn to lisp, to totter in their walk, and nick-name God’s creatures”.

In his Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité (1750), Rousseau maintained that the only inequality in the state of nature was the natural inequality between men, some being stronger and more adroit than others. But, with the establishment of private property and the development of agriculture and industry, the effects of natural inequality were magnified and compounded. Enter inequality of wealth, of social standing and power and all their attendant abuses – to wit, idleness, luxury, poverty, the mutual dependence of the rich and the poor and the selfish wish of the individual to benefit at the expense of others. The upshot was that “Man was born free but is everywhere in chains” (Rousseau, Du Contrat social, 1762). Continue reading

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Defense of Classical Literature

Vaishali, Pillar of Ashoka, credit wikipedia

A Defense of Classical Literature

By Darrell Sutton

Past centuries saw the creation of various literary treasures whose worth cannot be gauged by modern standards because what has been handed down possesses unique qualities. Forms of spelling, stylistic idiosyncrasies and provenance all contribute to a text’s general reception. Accordingly, titular divisions developed and became important to writers and readers. Those distinctions are still important for historians today. It is for this reason we encounter such contrived divisions like Golden Age Latin, Silver Age Latin etc. Prehistorians whose expertise concerns pre-written material have been unable to provide exact dates for any number of events because the resources available for determining their place in time can provide only unconfirmable dates that fall within the specific limits prescribed by them.

Literary sources offer some things that are concrete and supply literate persons with more realia than one’s imagination can supply. Ancient books are access points into antiquity, which are unique gateways established for learning about heroic men and women, exotic customs, and esoteric characters whose habits may have been either prudish, licentious, or somewhere in between. So the benefits of acquiring a rudimentary knowledge of historical texts and their translations are many. There is an undeniable truth: orally transmitted tales from times of yore were invaluable to collectors of legends in any age. Religious convictions pervaded ancient societies. They were absurd to some; obscure to others. The thesis that ‘Rome had no myths’ was itself a myth. But it was one popularized by the noted scholar, Kurt Latte (1891-1964), who in writing about a peculiarity of the Italian conception of God, stated ‘für diese unspekulativen phantasielosen menschen… keine mythilbildende phantasie schlingt ihre ranken um die götter’/for these unspeculative people lacking imagination no mythical fantasy coils its tendrils around the gods [Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 24 (1926), 244-58]. Studies in the histories of religion, and the unearthing of thousands of inscriptions, have proved him and several of his peers to have been in error. Therefore, scholars of classical texts, although sometimes misjudging the extant facts and data, find that philological reinterpretation of those same literary sources, in time, will bring readers nearer to the truth. Continue reading

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Endnotes, October 2022

Alma Mahler in 1909, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, October 2022

In this edition: Mahler’s Fifth Symphony from the Czech Philharmonic, Elgar, choral music from Severnside, reviewed by Stuart  Millson

Sometimes described as a “journey from darkness to brilliant light”, the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler (1901-02) is one of the composer’s most closely-argued works. A portentous, but nervous trumpet fanfare opens the first movement, leading the listener into an expansive orchestral landscape, yet along clear, direct lines throughout. No significant diversions, no meandering, just taut – sometimes perilous, sometimes radiant – spans of writing that carry you to a glorious, perhaps Brucknerian as much as Mahlerian, finale.

In this new CD from the Pentatone label, the Czech Philharmonic under Mahler expert Semyon Bychkov, provide a remarkable view of the “Middle-European” orchestral sound: a sharp, rasping edge to trumpets and brass, and a precise sound to strings, never the deep richness to be found in some orchestras, but nevertheless with a brightness and depth that is needed for the moods of Mahler. For those who know their Mahler recordings, the new CD puts one immediately in mind of a Deutsche Grammophon version of some considerable vintage; the reading by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the great Rafael Kubelik (which can still be obtained via the following catalogue number, 429 519-2). Kubelik’s Bavarians give, what to this reviewer, is the near-definitive interpretation of the Fifth – at least in terms of tempo and “outlook”, not to mention the thrilling playing of Munich’s and southern Germany’s outstanding radio orchestra. Now, we have a perfect match, in the form of Bychkov’s realisation of the score – where the Czech Philharmonic achieves a truly satisfying blend of forward-motion, but never sacrificing Mahler’s shattering ability to dwell on profound emotions.

The enormous funeral march that is the first movement keeps its dignity, but does not stall or wallow. The next movement is one of supreme agitation, and early violence, yet Bychkov brilliantly conjures at the end glimpses of radiance and heaven; keeping a thrilling tension to the orchestral sound. The Austrian country-dance atmosphere of the landler-dominated scherzo has a pleasing sense of sunshine gleaming through trees and over Alpine peaks (Mahler composed the Fifth during productive summer months); and the famous Adagietto (Editorial notesupposedly a portrait of Alma Mahlerfloats and sighs through moonlit glades and dreams. The last movement – an affirmation of the composer’s ability to build musical power, through sequences that all seem to be climaxes of sound in their own right – take us to the overwhelming final minutes; the Czech Philharmonic sound captured in all its volume and detail. The “inner sounds” of the score – the sinews and strains, the details of woodwind, the hues of the immense string ensemble – this is Mahler’s Fifth at its finest.

In complete contrast, on the ever-questing Somm label, comes choral music from Elgar’s beloved world of Worcestershire and the Severn. Entitled ‘The Reeds by Severnside” (Elgar, as a boy, could often be found by the river, trying to translate into music the sound of the reeds), Somm has assembled a rare sequence of church music by a composer who always remembered his roots – as a local organist, a wanderer, walker and bicycle-rider through the lanes of his home county. Performed by the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, under William Vann (with Joshua Ryan, organ), the new CD offers such gems as the Angelus, O hearken Thou (Op. 64), the Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode. The better-known, Give unto the Lord, (Op. 74) – Elgar at his most typically Victorian, ‘Sunday best’ and earnest – also appears, but most eye- or ear-catching is a Credo on themes from Beethoven’s symphonies; choral variations on passages from the Eroica and the Fifth, in which the music of Bonn’s great master manages to sound completely English. A strange feeling, and a fine recording, William Vann keeping a sense of Elgar’s provincial church tradition: noble, yet intimate – a thought that after the recital, one could emerge from listening or worship into the fresh English air.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

Recording details: Mahler, Symphony No. 5, Czech Philharmonic/Bychkov, Pentatone – PTC5187021.

The Reeds by Severnside, choral works by Elgar, Somm label, SOMMCD278.

 

Posted in QR Home | Tagged , , | Leave a comment