A Bridge too Far, 2

A Blue Plaque for David Oluwale

A Bridge too Far, 2

by Bill Hartley

To enter Leeds city centre from the south it is necessary to cross the River Aire and for many years two bridges provided access. Victoria Bridge, opened in the late 1830s, is a grade II listed construction. The other is Leeds Bridge, also grade II listed, which opened in 1870. It is the place where in 1888 the pioneer cinematographer Louis le Prince filmed what was probably the world’s first successful moving pictures. The two bridges are only few minutes walk from each other along a footpath. Despite this and with much fanfare, a pedestrian footbridge has recently been installed between the two. Leeds City Council talks in the usual vague, local government language, about how this will ‘open up’ land on the south side of the river and ‘improve’ cycling/pedestrian access to the street on the opposite bank. Soon it will be possible to cross the river without having to make the gruelling two minute trek to either of the road bridges.

Naturally the question arose of what to call the new bridge. In theory at least, there was no shortage of deserving candidates. For example, several holders of the Victoria Cross were born in the city.  Another possibility might have been footballer Jack Charlton OBE (1935-2020) who spent his entire career as a player with Leeds United. Charlton was briefly a miner and a lifelong socialist. He also held a World Cup winner’s medal. They think a great deal of him in the Irish Republic, due to his success in managing their national team. Of course there was his regrettable participation in field sports, which might in some eyes have overshadowed his footballing achievements.

If a VC winner or a white, working class, former coal miner are seen as hopelessly outdated, then a more progressive choice might have been Nichola Adams OBE, who apart from being a double Olympic boxing champion is also black and gay. Unfortunately Nichola didn’t make it either, although there is a somewhat crude mural of her on a wall a short distance down river. She shares this dubious accolade with playwright Alan Bennett, another Leeds native, who was also overlooked. Actually no public consultation seems to have taken place, perhaps because for the decision makers on the council, the choice seems to have been so self evident that none was necessary. The name which is to go on the bridge isn’t that of some war hero, sports personality or writer. Rather, it is to be that of David Oluwale (1930-1969).

Mr Oluwale arrived in this country in 1949 as a stowaway on a merchant ship from Nigeria. No complete biography of the man exists, though the BBC overlooks the illegal method of entry and calls him a migrant. The BBC also imagines him working in local industries ‘to help rebuild the post war city’.

Life wasn’t kind to Mr Oluwale. He developed mental health problems and served short periods in prison. He was also a patient at the local mental hospital, before he ended up living on the streets. In 1969 he was found drowned in the River Aire. Witnesses reported seeing him being chased by police. In 1970, a whistle blower in Leeds City Police reported the behaviour of two senior officers. A Scotland Yard investigation followed and whilst a charge of manslaughter was thrown out by the trial judge, the officers received three years and twenty seven months imprisonment respectively, having been found guilty of serious mistreatment of Mr Oluwale during his time in police custody.

Clearly this was an awful case. However, it is worth noting the positive aspects. A junior officer was prepared to report what he had seen and heard. Senior management took the matter sufficiently seriously to bring in Scotland Yard to carry out an investigation and two officers received custodial sentences. The system may have worked imperfectly but even more than half a century ago it operated well enough to bring two men to justice.

For some people though, this was far from sufficient. There are those who seek to promote Mr Oluwale’s death as a form of martyrdom on the altar of racial injustice, even though how he ended up in the river was never established. Predictably those in officialdom have lined up to show their allegiance to this view.

The American author and academic Steve Salerno, writing recently, describes a conversation he had with a young Nigerian student who expressed his relief that the annual Black History Month was over. The student complained about what he described as ‘the litany of shared suffering’ and ‘the overarching message that people with brown skin require sympathy, understanding and constant reinforcement to survive let alone thrive’. He went on memorably to call this ‘an extended pat on the butt for the losing team’.

The student probably wouldn’t be at all surprised about how the Oluwale case is being commemorated. Certainly it is impressive the way that the ‘Remember Oluwale’ charity has kept up the pressure on Leeds City Council, ensuring they publicly express their contrition for events which took place over half a century ago; though they probably didn’t have to push too hard at that particular door. The bridge according to the charities’ secretary represents ‘real progress’, though how a piece of superfluous urban architecture constitutes this is unclear. Others too have been queuing up to abase themselves. Leeds City Council, in a classic example of local government waffle, see the bridge as a ‘symbol of its commitment to inclusively and equality in Leeds’. Not to be outdone, West Yorkshire’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime said: ‘the case of David Oluwale will continue to reverberate and is why it is so important that inclusion sits at the heart of the Mayor’s first police and crime plan for West Yorkshire’. Just in case you thought the priorities might be the prevention and detection of crime.

It seems all residents must share the burden of guilt. Again, to quote the secretary of the charity, the purpose is to ‘remind Leeds of its tragic past’. The bridge is a physical manifestation of ongoing, officially endorsed hand wringing, paid for out of public funds. If you live in Leeds, then you will now be reminded of this every day.

William Hartley is a former Deputy Governor in HM Prison Service 

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ENDNOTES, May 2022

Berlin 1945
Blick über den Pariser Platz auf das Brandenburger Tor Anfang Juni 1945

Endnotes, May 2022

In this edition: Wagner and Brahms from Kent,  Bach Piano Concertos from the Piccadilly Sinfonietta, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Ralph Vaughan Williams memorably described Britain’s musical life as a pyramid. At its apex, stand the performers of international renown – and beneath them, the great mass of serious amateurs who sing in choirs and play instruments for their own spiritual joy and recreation. The latter description certainly applies to one ambitious body of men and women – the East Malling Singers – an organisation with some 50 years of concert-giving to its name: memorable evenings, devoted to Handel’s Messiah, Britten’s St. Nicolas, many of the great choral works by Bach, and most recently, Ein deutsches Requiem (Op. 45) by Johannes Brahms.

Fielding a sixty-strong chorus in the resonant acoustic of the mediaeval Church of St. James the Great, supported by an ensemble of young, professional instrumentalists – the ad hoc East Malling Orchestra – the management of the Singers was, no doubt, extremely proud of the intense, well-crafted and well-sung Brahms which resulted. Not an easy work to sing for a professional choir, the Kent performers truly showed how eight weeks of disciplined rehearsal, under the baton of conductor Ciara Considine, can produce remarkable results – not least in those fugue-like, Bach-like sections of Brahms’s overwhelmingly dark writing, which call for a torrent of voices, each spurring the other onward.

The German Requiem, though, begins in a twilight state: a mournful opening in which violas are to the fore; and the first movement – ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted’ – fades away with a woodwind-like phrase which could almost have come from the composer’s First Symphony. The famous fourth movement – ‘How lovely are thy dwelling places’ – brings a warm glow of sunlit sweetness to the work; again, a sense that one is in the slow movement of Symphony No. 1 or in the forest-glade opening of the Second Piano Concerto. To close one’s eyes at this moment in the work during the rendition given by the East Malling Singers and Orchestra – to feel the atmosphere of the church, too – was to imbibe the full potency of Brahms. It would not be wide of the mark to say the experience was just as great as hearing, for example, the recording (on Deutsche Grammophon) by the Czech Philharmonic under Giuseppe Sinopoli – this reviewer’s favourite version of the Requiem.

Two professional soloists had been engaged for the Brahms, Nicola Corbishley, soprano, and Simon Thorpe, baritone – and both added to the overall impression of solidity and emotion which radiated throughout the evening. And in Part One, Mr. Thorpe (with credits at Welsh National Opera, Cork Opera, Opera Australia etc) set the stage in emphatic Teutonic style, with a “bleeding chunk” of Wagner. From the opening of The Ring cycle – Das Rheingold – came an earth-shaking vision of the god, Wotan; Simon Thorpe capturing a moment from this lengthy operatic saga brilliantly.

Followers of English music will undoubtedly be inspired by the East Malling Singers’ July Jubilee concert. Training and rehearsals are already underway for John Rutter’s Gloria, Vaughan Williams’s O, Clap Your Hands, the Stanford Magnificat and Benjamin Britten’s motet-like arrangement of God Save The Queen – to name but four items from their summer season. I wonder how many of our professional choruses across the Kingdom are preparing such a feast?

From the enterprising Sleeveless Record Label, comes a new, baroque CD – devoted to Bach’s Piano Concertos: No. 1 in D minor (BWV 1052); No. 4 in A major (BWV 1055) and No. 3 in D major (BWV 1054). And what a joyous recording this is: mint-fresh, clean-cut – but not cold or in any way astringent – the splendid period-tone of the Piccadilly Sinfonietta accompanies soloist Warren Mailley-Smith in works that offer a synthesis of the intricacies of the Goldberg Variations and the concise, tuneful Brandenburg Concertos.

Bach was a great recycler of his own music, and so listeners may well pick out snatches of other works as they enjoy the piano concertos – especially the album’s most obvious example: ‘Piano Concerto’ No. 3, for example, is actually a transcription of the E major Violin Concerto, so this could be disconcerting to some! The soloist, Warren Mailly-Smith, has carved out an international career, appearing at Wigmore Hall, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and at venues in China, Australia and the United States – with a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Frances Wilson provides clear, to-the-point programme notes in the CD booklet – singling out the fourth concerto as offering “filigree details for the soloist”. And a lively, sparkling style comes through in Mr. Mailley-Smith’s performances, and yet he changes gear so effortlessly for the Adagio or Larghetto movements. We await further recordings from these artists with great anticipation.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

CD details: Bach, Piano Concertos, Piccadilly Sinfonietta, Warren Mailly-Smith, Sleeveless Records, SLV 1033.

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No Ordinary Scholar

Karl Barth

No Ordinary Scholar

Christiane Tietz (Transl. by Victoria J. Barnett), Karl Barth, A Life in Conflict, Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. I-XVII, 1-448. $32.95. Reviewed by Darrell Sutton

The names of those who have made noteworthy contributions to systematic theology are few indeed. Due to the publication of his four massive treatises, titled Kirchliche Dogmatik/Church Dogmatics – (divided into twelve half-volumes – with an unfinished 13th), Karl Barth  (1886-1968) now towers above twentieth century professors of theology in nearly every way. Published between 1932 and 1967, and at more than 9000 pages consisting of close to six million words, Church Dogmatics (CD) is a theological reference work whose value continues to appreciate in select circles.

Only a small group of  professional theologians may lay claim to grand reputations. Of them all, none exhibited the same encyclopedic genius that Karl Barth displayed, except perhaps for B.B. Warfield (1851-1921). So prodigious, so fecund was Barth that only Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), thanks to his comprehensive Summa Theologica, can be compared to him. No one should deny the imprint of originality that Barth imposed upon his scholarly works. Aspects of his aptitude in historical theology, ethics, philosophy, church history and exegesis are underscored in this biography.

The Biography of Karl Barth

For authorities, and newcomers to the field of Barth studies, Dr. Tietz has written a delightful book, one whose virtues are everywhere in evidence. An immense amount of research went into this undertaking. It is informative from beginning to end. She was inspired to read Barth’s writings by Eberhard Jüngel (1934-2021) when she was his student. She acknowledges her work also ‘owes much’ to Eberhard Busch’s Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts. There are fourteen chapters in Karl Barth A Life in Conflict (KBLC) followed by an Epilogue, Chronology, Bibliography, and Index. As expected, Barth is quoted profusely. There are numerous illustrations and hundreds of end-of-chapter notes. In fact, reviewing the notes and sources is more than tedious. But Victoria Barnett’s translation is clear.

KBLC follows a chronological path. As noted in each chapter heading, specific years are treated: e.g. 1 “I Belong to Basel” Ancestors and Childhood, 1886-1904. Born in Basel Switzerland, there were a few illustrious clerics and divines amongst his forbears. He was a distant relative of Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), the cultural historian of the Renaissance (p.7). Born in the wake of Germany’s Kulturkamf, Barth, in time, would also oppose what he perceived to be a-historical features of Roman Catholic dogma. By the year 1850, theological study was  rooted deeply in the philology of early nineteenth century Germany. And although German critical scholarship was heralded for its conscientious rigor in Europe,  it was regarded as a curiosity on the continent and in America. Eminent men adorned the lecture halls of Erlangen, Leipzig, Göttingen, Tübingen, Halle and Berlin etc., and by their teachings drew pupils from far and wide.

Augustinianism Lutheranism held sway in Church pulpits. In the classrooms it was different. Therein a liberal theology was born (cf. Karl Bornhausen, ‘The Present Status of Liberal Theology in Germany’, American Journal of Theology, 1914, Vol.18, No.2). Initially Barth learned the scientific methods of biblical-critical scholarship in his home under his father’s tutelage and from his writings. His father died in 1912 as a result of blood poisoning at the early age of 55; but not before Karl had been able to attend some of his father’s classes. The two of them could not agree on where Karl should study theology. In the end, Karl chose Berlin. There he grappled with Adolf Harnack’s (1851-1930) liberal views on scripture. In 1908-1909, he was an editorial assistant on Die Christlich Welt (The Christian World), under Martin Rade (1857-1940), through which articles from eminent theologians required Barth’s examination. By this time, Barth, who never studied for a doctorate, was audacious, even if he was quite modernistic in his religious views. However, parish work and a world war have a way of directing activist-minds toward other trends of thought.

For a time, he occupied the pulpit of Temple de l’Auditoire, one which had been filled in the sixteenth century by the Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564). Barth’s influence upon the congregation was minimal. Few attended. After he lamented the lax level of Sunday attendance, several more presented themselves for worship. In KBLC, Dr. Tietz’s coverage of this period is thorough, revealing that Barth ‘absorbed himself in Calvin’s main work The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ (p.48). And he busied himself writing short articles for the parish newsletter. From 1911 to 1921, Barth was pastor in Safenwil, in the canton of Aaragua. In 1913, he married Nelly Hoffman and they would have five children.

Karl Barth’s 1919 commentary on the Epistle to the Romans has been described as ‘a bomb that landed in the playground of theologians’ (p.90). The metaphor mixes fact with fiction. If there was an explosion, no theological constructs were thrown to the ground. Barth’s commentary generated extensive discussions, but it never altered the beliefs of any forceful scholar in the various theological camps. His remarks on Romans, though pithy, were inexact (p.124); nonetheless his arguments were adopted by philosophers of religion more so than by theologians who pursued narrower, logical lines of hermeneutics.

In 1921, Barth was asked by Johan Heilmann to take up a new honorary Professorship for Reformed Systematic Theology in Göttingen. His knowledge of Reformed theology was then thin. In his own words,

‘Calvin is a waterfall, a jungle, something demonic, something coming directly down from the Himalayas, absolutely Chinese, wonderful, mythological. I am utterly lacking in the organs, the suction cups, to only imbibe this phenomenon, let alone correctly portray it. I take in only a thin stream of water, and I can only convey in turn a thin extract of this thin stream of water. I would well and gladly sit and spend the rest of my only with Calvin’ (p.106).

But Barth soon became proficient in Reformed studies.  In 1923, his lectures on the Theology of the Reformed Confessions became available. Alongside his colleagues, he pioneered dialectic theology, an academic form of exegesis that, neither positively nor negatively, affirms or denies absolutes regarding the incomprehensibility of God (p.135). The fullest expression of this method can be found in the newly founded journal of 1922 Zwischen den Zeiten (Between the Times) with contributions supplied by Barth, Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1967), Eduard Thurneysen (1888-1974) and under the editorship of Georg Merz (1892-1959). His years in Bonn eventually led him to depart from his friends’ interpretations (p.226f.).

Barth did not always get on well with colleagues: he admitted he did not grow close to any of them (p.269). He taught principles (ethics) that he did not apply to his personal life. The genius that he exhibited in his scholarship made it difficult for him to see peers as equals. At Münster, his relations seemingly were better with his fellow scholars. Yet they fell apart in the end over a dispute concerning who his successor should be (p.158). A similar quandary occurred once more when he retired from his professorship at Bonn (p.351). Despite his enormous popularity, few intellectuals found him congenial.

Barth’s ménage à trois was an embarrassment to all parties involved and to those connected to them. His mistress’ name was Charlotte von Kirschbaum (1899-1975). In chapter nine, Tietz publicizes material that Karl Barth did not want to be a part of his literary estate, since it could be subsequently made available for public consumption. This part of his life he definitely wanted to keep secret, given how selfish and inconsiderate he was. The picture that emerges of Charlotte moving into the residence with Nelly and the kids is agonizing to read (see also pp.214-219). Surprisingly, Nelly, albeit grief-stricken, came to terms with it and began to see the three-way union as an arrangement that was favored by God (p.216).

Barth opposed National Socialism. Indeed, he refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler in which the confessor must say ‘I swear that I will be loyal and obedient to the leader of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, obey the laws and fulfil my official duties conscientiously, so help me God.’  Barth, accordingly, was dismissed from his professorship at Bonn, was banned from speaking throughout the country, and so he went to Basel. There were Lutheran pastors who opposed him on this issue. He refused to budge. When the war ended, he supposed that some intellectuals needed to face up to their culpability, even their guilt, in order to make genuine forgiveness a reality. Several chapters cover the politics of the period.

An entire chapter in KBLC is assigned to describing  the Church Dogmatics (CD). Tietz’ familiarity with Barth’s theology is evenly displayed. CD Volumes were composed over a three-decade period. An able writer, Barth was capable of saying many things at once in one sentence. This skill was also a defect for a theological tradition that prided itself on literary precision. There were to be five parts: Part I: The Doctrine of the Word of God; Part II: The Doctrine of God; Part III: The Doctrine of Creation; Part IV The Doctrine of Reconciliation, and Part V: The Doctrine of Redemption. Part IV was not finished, and Part V was never begun. It was nicknamed ‘The White Whale’ or ‘Moby Dick’ (p.362).

Though often accused of Catholic leanings, Barth acknowledged being Protestant in his orientation. His proprieties and convictions in scholarship situated him far from the center of, even outside of, mainstream orthodoxy. By instituting new categories for theological reflection, his originality converted multitudes and intensified his followers’ faith in this new system of divinity.

The CD volumes that did appear were thick, written in small  print with much of it in smaller Brevier. When his phrases are scanned closely it becomes obvious why he was repeatedly accused of equivocation. What he gives the reader in one sentence is taken back in the sentences that follow. He sees no dilemma in choosing opposing views and siding with each. Even still, to be unequally yoked to irreconcilable views was a painful way to pull a massive but theological agenda like his. Expressions of his about man’s depravity are weak and slanted toward tendencies of the goodness of man. He was accused of being a universalist because of his broadmindedness on the issue of the guilt of Adam and the extent of the atonement. His prevarications on the word of God can be noted down as propositions.

Tietz (p.364f) writes,

(1) ‘Barth made it clear that ultimately ONLY God could speak properly about God’. However, he affirmed the necessity of (2) ‘the preached Word of God proclaimed in the sermon’. Further on he says that the Bible (3) ‘witnesses to God’s revelation, but that does NOT mean that God’s revelation is now before us in any kind of divine revealedness’ [Caps mine].

According to Barth, only God can define his attributes or express  his perfections correctly. Human vessels who strive to proclaim the word are inept or too deficient to do so; still he wants readers to assume he believes there is a ‘written Word of God in the Bible’ and that ‘Jesus is the revealed Word of God’. Barth is not quite sure though which inscribed words are inspired or what the term inspiration means. Therefore careful dialectal investigations are required to make informed decisions or advances in our knowledge. Besides, seeing that he declared the biblical words now in the hands of men lack divine authority and are not a divine revelation, one can see clearly that cynicism controlled the construction of his thoughts. Holding this point of view he stood in total contradiction of how figures in scripture, like Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, envisioned their callings and functions as ‘inspired’ witnesses of God that were sent to Israel and to the nations.

Barth’s final years were spent in travel abroad, and regularly in hospitals because of his various illnesses. Because of her infirmity, too, Charlotte moved out of the family home and into a psychiatric clinic (p.391). He wrote shorter articles, cultivated friendships. He died in the night on December 10, 1968. And on December 14, 1968, an overfilled Basel Munster Church hosted Barth’s memorial service, which was broadcast live on the radio (p.401).

Criticism of Barth

A large index appends the CD.  It forms a chain to roughly 15,000  scriptural references. It is a helpful work. Barth’s way of argument, however, rarely drew attention to core meanings of Greek or Hebrew lexemes in their original texts and contexts. For all the proficiencies he exhibited, he failed to deploy tools of philology with exactitude. His manner of debate was philosophical. Essentially, his assertions were carefully crafted non-sense statements that appeared to bridge the gap between conservatism and modernism but were often bridges to no-where in particular. Many of his  ruminations were incredulous and fostered no comfortable assurances for those who zealously preserved liturgical traditions, while at the same time disavowing orthodox faith in any personal God that was typified by religious symbols used in their liturgy.

Of the mixture of theological approaches extant in the Germany of the 1930s, Barth’s was in the ascendant. Protestant and Roman Catholic alike sought to sit at his feet. Was Karl really an ecumenical figure? Maybe. More than one institution presently is devoted to the study of literature by and about Barth. However, hardly any of the scholars working in these ‘Centres’, or presenting at various Barth conferences, can agree on what Barth’s idiom originally meant in German, much less on the best way to express that meaning in other languages. It is an interesting legacy for enthusiasts to perpetuate.

Karl Barth’s creative interpretations in Church Dogmatics revealed his [mis]understanding of exegetical traditions of the Reformation. Through his efforts, however, he ploughed up old, hidebound Calvinistic traditions and planted new seeds whose growth sprouted up as a Neo-Reformed[i] movement of sorts, all founded upon his systematic theology. Friend and foe now stand on either side of the field loudly voicing to one another their agreements, praises, opinions, and complaints.

Criticism of the KBLC

Disagreement often surfaces when Barth’s name is brought up. Mystification persists wherever he is the topic of scholarly investigation or whenever an attempt is made to explicate his reasonings. This book does not conceal the tensions and conflicts of Barth’s life or his occasionally belligerent moods. But with the hindsight of half a century, the author should have done more for twenty-first century readers. As an adept Barth scholar, Tietz should have interspersed objective valuations of him or composed a final chapter of critical appraisals of Barth, the man and scholar. A set of brief appendices addressing his peculiar modes of thought and his scholarly pursuits would have increased the value of KBLC. More than 200 pages treat of 1921-1944. Disproportionately, less than 90 pages cover his life from 1945 to 1968.

The volume lacks the kind of engagement with Barth’s scholarship that one finds in Konrad Hamman, Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography (2013). Solid impressions about Barth’s political attitudes are given. Measured scholarly analyses of his system of divinity go unchecked in Tietz’ contribution to Barthian research. I was left with many questions about his verbal techniques in the classroom exegesis of biblical books and wanted much more comprehensive data  on the origins of many of his historical books. Honors piled up on him. In the end the feeling one gets from reading this book is that Barth’s theology was the truest of his era and was omnipresently lauded, that voices in opposition to him were of a minor character.

KBLC stands as a first-rate piece of research and is a great supplement to Busch’s work. But despite all the recently released material now gathered in this new volume, and cited with the myriads of footnotes, it in no way supersedes Busch. Tietz is narrative biography at is best, tilted toward a commemorative form; but it is in no wise critical, if by ‘critical’ one is referring to the kind of studies done in classical and ancient near eastern disciplines.

The three-page Epilogue is disappointing. Tietz tells us that ‘in the German-speaking world there has been an extensive turning away from Barth’s theology’ (p.410). She does not give reasons for this present-day snub. Yet, being thoroughly unacquainted with the American church scene, she argues that in America [also in Great Britain and Asia] ‘Barth remains one of the most frequently read theologians’. Actually, vis-à-vis the USA, this assertion is dubious.

On the other hand, even today Barth has professional and amateur readers studying him. The small clique of specialized scholars who still investigate his books, articles and letters  for nuances that ring true in modern ears have little or no influence on any growing denominations or evangelistic fellowships with large congregations. Indeed publications on him in colleges, universities and seminaries routinely are composed by erudite men and women who write for a readership that consists of the same handfuls of souls who conduct research on some aspect of his work or attended an annual Barth conference. Afterwards, those attendees plead incessantly that the speaker’s lecture notes (ones which they heard), be revised, edited, and advertised. All in all, awareness of the subject has been raised, but the evolvement is circular all the way through.

Publications in the Bibliography highlight Tietz’ progressive framework. Barth himself gave little attention to English language theological works. As a result, the critical evaluations of Barth’s scholarship appearing in KBLC misrepresent the Reformed views acknowledged within greater academia from 1919-1968. This fact is true especially since Tietz does not contrast Barth’s views with the traditional theological norms propagated by Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Calvinistic scholars, which he sought to overturn.

KBLC is well bound. Pictures throughout are clear. Pages are a bright, white but the texture is of low quality. The slightest moisture has an undesirable effect on the pages.

[i] Neo-Orthodoxy is the theological movement in contemporary Protestantism which seeks to correct both liberalism and the orthodoxy against which liberalism rightly protested, by a return to, and contemporary re-interpretation of the fundamental and formative significance of the Bible in the sixteenth century Reformers, chiefly of Luther and Calvin, in Theology Today, Vol. XIII, No.3 (1956), 336. For Barth’s 70th birthday, the Theological Seminary of Princeton held a colloquium regarding Barth’s work and his influence on various scholars. Aside from G.S. Hendry’s submission, ‘The Dogmatic Form of Barth’s Theology’, the published results of the seminar was an exercise in hagiography.

Pastor Darrell Sutton is a regular contributor to QR

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Rehabilitation of Colonel Mathieu

 The Battle of Algiers, screenshot, credit Wikipedia

Rehabilitation of Colonel Mathieu 

by Bill Hartley

Since its release in 1966, director Gillo Pontecorvo’s film The Battle of Algiers has drawn widespread praise. Both critics and fellow film directors celebrate its vivid neo realist style. This approach was so effective that when first shown in cinemas, the film was preceded by a notice denying that any newsreel footage had been used. Due to its controversial subject it was banned in France for five years after release. Even when it eventually appeared, there were demonstrations outside some cinemas.

The encomiums heaped on the picture are understandable and the grainy black and white photography makes it at times indistinguishable from an old Pathé newsreel. The café bombing scenes, for example, are so realistic that they resemble actual atrocities of the kind with which we have since become all too familiar. Remarkably, the film was made with an amateur cast, some of whom had been involved in the Algerian war. Only one professional actor was used in the picture.

Essentially the film depicts the struggle by the FLN to free Algeria from French rule. Whilst there was guerrilla warfare in the mountains and other locations, the picture focuses specifically on an urban insurrection in the capital and is told mostly in flash back. Central Algiers looks very much like any other French city of the era, with its wide boulevards and patrolling gendarmes. There are plenty of Europeans about, reflecting the notion of Algeria as part of Metropolitan France: as if the sea separating the two countries didn’t exist. The native Algerians mostly inhabit the Arab quarter, known as the Kasbah.

In true revolutionary style, the FLN adopt a two pronged approach. One is to create a parallel administration. For example, we see a young couple choose to avoid the official registrar and instead are married by an FLN official. The other element, of course, is the armed struggle. In Algiers, the FLN begin to attack gendarmes on the streets and the film shows how an assassin carries out a shooting before disposing of his weapon and disappearing into the crowd. Contrasted with this is French justice, where in Algiers jail, medieval style hooded executioners use the guillotine to despatch a prisoner.

Inevitably the violence escalates. Elements in the French police launch a counter terror, bombing a café in the Kasbah. Retaliation soon follows. A café frequented by the French is bombed and we see how the carrier, a woman dressed in fashionable European clothing, is able to plant the device without attracting attention, for this is a society with no clear dividing line between Algerians and colonials. The crossover allows the FLN to gain access to its targets. Predictably, the official response is to create checkpoints. Searches are carried out in and around the Kasbah but this does nothing to reduce the violence. The bored French conscript soldiers are reluctant to stop and search Muslim women in traditional costume but will happily flirt with those dressed in European fashions. With the situation running out of control, the governor general summons the 10th Parachute Division, fresh from the Indo China war. This is a unit of the French Army which has lost once and doesn’t intend to do so again.

The man charged by the divisional commander with running the counter insurgency operation is Colonel Mathieu, played by Jean Martin (1922-2009), the only professional actor in the cast. According to his biography, Martin’s politics were the complete opposite of the role he played.

In addition to its cinematic reputation, the film has reportedly been required viewing for members of various ‘liberation’ movements, ranging from the PLO to the IRA. As a morale booster for such organisations it may have had its place but it falls short as a training aid, though the early scenes give a flavour of the revolutionary zeal required to take on an occupying power.

Colonel Mathieu gets down to business quickly. We see him in a conference with his officers. Mathieu explains that the FLN have created a cellular structure. Capture a member of one cell and others will quickly seal themselves off from the breach. Speed is essential. The colonel is an intellectual soldier; detached and professional, speaking in a language of intimate ambiguity. Referring perhaps to the despair of defeat and the concomitant loss of national prestige, he warns his men that as far as their mission is concerned, ‘humane considerations lead to despair’. Yet Mathieu is no fanatic. Throughout the film he shows a respect for his adversary. With a nice Gallic touch he names the mission ‘Operation Champagne’. ‘We must’, he tells his officers, ‘create the occasion for a free hand’.

The colonel’s men are paratroopers, quite different to the conscript soldiers encountered earlier in the film. Whereas the latter avoided searching women, when the FLN exploit this to move men out of the Kasbah disguised as females, the  more focussed paratroopers soon spot the subterfuge and open fire. With no time for the slow grind of interrogation, torture is used. Penetrating the cell structure is the justification for such methods and this is done with cold professionalism. After it is over the broken victims are treated gently. Mathieu rationalises this by saying, ‘we are soldiers, our duty is to win’.

During a press conference Mathieu’s pragmatic approach is further emphasised. He challenges the reporters: ‘Do you believe France should be in Algeria?’ and wonders, ‘why are the Satre’s always on the other side?’ He is a shrewd manipulator of the press, denying that his men are employing torture, pointing out that like him some are veterans of the Resistance and concentration camps. If, however, the government chooses to use him, then ‘people will have to accept the consequences’.

Not surprisingly, down the years, some divergent opinions have been expressed about the colonel. In a 2005 essay entitled The Dark Soul of Colonel Mathieu, the American writer Robert Farley accuses him of being an ‘evil man’ who is on the ‘wrong side of history’. He goes on to suggest that Mathieu is a cynic with no belief in French nationalism. This is to ignore Mathieu’s professional detachment and his awareness of the broader picture, which is evidenced by what he has to say at the press conference. Farley also suggests that ‘he could certainly have refused the assignment’. This is absurd. Soldiers in any army are in no position to do so.

The Battle of Algiers was said have been shown at the Pentagon before the occupation of Iraq. If so, then they didn’t learn much from it, as the subsequent counterinsurgency operation was considered a failure by the Rand Corporation, due to its haphazard application. In its report, it noted that the locals tended to be suspicious of troops, seeing them as neo-colonialist. In contrast, Mathieu explains to his officers that most of the locals aren’t against them. His methods target only those who are. There is nothing haphazard about his approach; at one stage he uses the ‘tapeworm’ analogy to explain how progress could prove to be illusory. ‘One can destroy sections of the organism but unless the head is cut off then it will reform’. Ultimately this is what the colonel succeeds in doing. At the end of the film we are taken back to where we began: the destruction of the FLN leadership. Afterwards, the general commanding the division congratulates Mathieu. He informs him that his men can now go to the mountains where the fighting will be ‘easier’, implying perhaps that having won the dirty war, the paras can now resume what they do best.

Early in the picture the colonel expresses confidence in his methods but wonders if the political will to remain in Algeria can be sustained. As we know, it wasn’t. The colonel wins his battle but the war is lost. There may be something of a romantic attachment to the film among those who see the story simply as one of the first insurrections against a colonial power. But arguably the real message of the film is what Naomi Klein distilled in a 2005 article in Los Angeles Times. Commentators of all political persuasions agree that the film continues to carry a valid message.

Klein concluded that ‘there is no nice humanitarian way to occupy a nation against the will of its people’ and added that ‘those who support such an occupation don’t have the right to morally separate themselves from the brutality it requires’. Klein was writing at the time of the Iraq war. She wondered if some brave official might learn a lesson from Colonel Mathieu and ask the question; ‘should the US stay in Iraq?’ To stay where you’re not wanted requires a man like Colonel Mathieu and his methods. Governments should be honest about this.

William Hartley is a former Deputy Governor in HM Prison Service 

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ENDNOTES, April 2022

Prague Bridges, credit Wikipedia

Endnotes, April 2022

In this edition, Mahler’s Symphony no 4, performed by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (1899-1900) bears comparison with Beethoven’s Sixth. This is the late-romantic Austrian’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ for the early-20th century. In this work, his shortest symphony at just over 55 minutes, the composer evokes an innocent vision of heaven, seen through the gentle haze of a spring or summer day. In the distance, woodwind instruments – or the sound of a fiddle-player on a Bohemian or Austrian village green – serenade local folk. And yet, in this Middle-European Eden, the sinister sometimes intrudes, the feeling of a Grimm fairy tale unfolding and creating a disturbance in the landscape. Or could it be the earth-shattering presence of the great pagan god, Pan, imported from the mountains and forests of Mahler’s Third Symphony, and suddenly appearing – in a burst of effulgent sunlight – in the slow movement of the Fourth?

The Symphony No. 4 in G major is one of the most radiant of Mahler’s symphonies, and in this new recording by the Czech Philharmonic, under Semyon Bychkov (on the Pentatone label) it is elevated to a new level of transcendental intensity. Previous versions of the Fourth have certainly lodged themselves into the record-buyer’s catalogue of masterpieces: the 1972 version – again with the Czech Philharmonic – conducted by Hans Swarowsky, in that unique Supraphon Records sound (atmosphere and light, yet close-up microphones capturing rasping brass), followed a decade later by Klaus Tennstedt on EMI, with a sumptuous London Philharmonic. Yet Pentatone’s sound-engineers have achieved a phenomenal balance between individual instrumental and section detail, and an overall richness and orchestral timbre, seldom heard today. An older, vintage analogue sound of vinyl records – that weight of orchestral richness which we used to savour so much – has been coupled with the modern digital wash of colour, sinew and sparkle – and all beautifully captured in the pleasing reverberation of Prague’s Rudolfinum Dvorak Hall. Continue reading

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Fissures of Men

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

Fissures of Men

Royal Opera, 20th March 2022, Peter Grimes, opera in a prologue and three acts, music by Benjamin Britten, libretto by Montagu Slater, after the poem The Borough by George Crabbe, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, directed by Deborah Warner, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In an interview with opera critic Rupert Christiansen in 2019, Deborah Warner, director of this new production of Peter Grimes, observed that all of the Britten operas she has worked on are ‘deeply complex’ and ‘deeply spiritual too’ (‘Staging Britten’, Official Programme for Royal Opera’s 2019 production of Billy Budd). She considers the latter a Christian parable about ‘the power of love’ (caritas). Peter Grimes was premiered at Sadler’s Wells in June 1945, with tenor Peter Pears in the leading role. Montagu Slater’s libretto is eloquent, at times poetic, as in the beautifully orchestrated aria commencing “Now the Great Bear and Pleiades…”, and the equally moving passage, “What harbour shelters peace, away from tidal waves, away from storms?”

A concomitant theme of the libretto is the hypocrisy of both organised religion and of the bourgeoisie. Mrs Sedley (Rosie Aldridge), rentier widow of an East India company factor and a laudanum addict, orchestrates the witch hunt against Grimes, and embodies both. As a homosexual and a pacifist, Britten would have been keenly aware of the intolerance of the mob. Only Ellen Orford, the Borough school mistress, played by Maria Bengtsson, really accepts Grimes, proclaiming “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. But their relationship founders when Grimes insists that his boy apprentice is ‘mine’ and as such can be subject to ‘unrelenting work’ and physical chastisement. According to Grimes, people only respect those with money. Continue reading

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Vladimir Putin, Impaler or Impaled?

Operation Upshot, credit Wikipedia

Vladimir Putin, Impaler or Impaled?

The Barbican, 16th March 2022, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Semyon Bychkov, Yuja Wang, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In this long overdue return of an international symphony orchestra to the Barbican, politics overshadowed music. Semyon Bychkov, Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, has condemned Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. He was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in 1952. When he won the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition at the Leningrad Conservatoire, the KGB cancelled his engagement to conduct the Leningrad Philharmonic as he had applied for an exit visa. Bychkov’s family were Jewish, although predominantly non-observant. State anti-Semitism was a pivotal factor in turning him against the Soviet regime. In a recent statement to the press, alluding to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Bychkov (now an American citizen) called the Soviet Union the “co-author of …World War Two” and accused it of “…the kidnapping of many nations”. Indicatively, the Ukrainian national anthem preceded the concert proper.

Flamboyant Czech Philharmonic Artist-in-Residence Yuja Wang, born in Beijing, is unquestionably a technically gifted pianist. Witness her accomplished rendition of Rachmaninov’s youthful First Piano Concerto which opened this concert, not to mention an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. Her performance, however, was somewhat abrasive and bombastic for such an intimate space. Continue reading

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Wharf Factor

Sculpture, Clarence Dock Leeds, credit Wikipedia

Wharf Factor

 By Bill Hartley, back on the waterfront

For those of a certain age, the term ‘worker’s cooperative’ summons up memories of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, where the late Tony Benn attempted to resuscitate failing industries. Such organisations also exist at a more modest level. Close to the Leeds riverfront, amongst the warehouse conversions, restaurants and offices, lies Wharf Chambers. An undistinguished piece of Victorian architecture, its original business was probably connected to the wool trade. Now it is a worker’s cooperative; though the term is far removed from Scottish shipbuilders or Midlands motorcycle makers. Working class it isn’t. The aim of the co-operative is to provide space for music, art, film and politics. Upcoming events include an evening with Lavender Gray and My Nose is Pierced.

Most of the activity at Wharf Chambers takes place in an unprepossessing ground floor bar that resembles a 1970s student’s union. Presumably, it is here that the cooperative makes most of its money. However, the simple act of selling beer is fraught with complications as their website explains. There are two overarching concerns reflected in their policy documents. First, they are trying to become a ‘safe space’. Ask the average pub patron for a definition of safe space and the answer will be based on how effectively the security staff sort out trouble. It’s highly unlikely though that people whose idea of fun is creating an unsafe space would be seen dead in Wharf Chambers. On the website that old cliché ‘zero tolerance’ is brought out in support of this. Here it is described as any form of ‘oppressive, marginalising or aggressive behaviour’. The vagueness of this definition makes it inhibiting; as its evidently all too easy to breach the etiquette. Dig deeper and it gets more complicated. ‘Barriers’, so the website tells us, ‘may also be interpersonal and we try to be friendly towards our guests’. It’s extraordinary how a statement about basic good manners and courtesy can be so distorted by this tautology. The indications are that this was a committee effort. Incidentally, the toilets at Wharf Chambers are gender neutral so here they may be testing good manners to the limit. Continue reading

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Fair is Fowl

The Golden Cockerel, Ivan Bilibin, credit Wikipedia

Fair is Fowl

Rimsky-Korsakov, The Golden Cockerel, English Touring Opera, the Lighthouse, Poole: Saturday 12th March 2022, reviewed by David Truslove

Given the current tragic events in eastern Europe, an evening of slapstick depicting an inept Tsar overseeing a disastrous foreign policy was somewhat untimely. Had he been able to predict the future, director James Conway might have considered re-locating the action to Spain, taking his cue from Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra (an adaption of Arabian tales) on which Alexander Pushkin based his 1834 fairy tale “Tale of the Golden Cockerel”. Inspired by an Astrologer, the Tsar (aka King Dodon) goes off to war and returns with a princess, only to be pecked to death by a supernatural cockerel. If the rhyming couplets of Vladimir Belsky’s libretto take the edge off Pushkin’s satirical poem, subsequent English translations have further softened the political bite and turned this rooster into a turkey. This version by James Gibson (formerly head of music staff at the Royal Opera) and Antal Dorati is little better than Edward Agate’s trite translation for Drury Lane’s production in 1919, and both detract from the work’s inner darkness.

Not only does the text weaken Pushkin’s politicising, but the delivery from English Touring Opera creates farce. Russian music authority Gerald Abraham aptly refers to Rimsky’s Cockerel as a “death-bed joke”. Neil Irish’s sets provided vivid colours, but the rocking horse and teddy bears for Grant Doyle’s childlike King Dodon reduced everything to panto. As for the phallic canon – enough is enough. Never have I been so relieved to see the final curtain descend. Continue reading

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Welsh National Opera’s Jenůfa

Gabriela Horvátová, Praga Její pastorkyňa 1916, credit Wikipedia

Welsh National Opera’s Jenůfa

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Saturday 5th March 2022, reviewed by David Truslove

Secrets, shame and small communities make for an inflammatory cocktail. In this latest revival by Eloise Lally of Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Jenůfa, the tensions within Leoš Janáček’s first opera were given powerful expression through strong, well-defined performances and a staging that artfully mirrors the moral constraints of village life. Turbulent emotions were underpinned with gripping intensity by the WNO orchestra under its director Tomáš Hanus who, in a pre-performance speech referencing the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine, reminded us of the work’s fundamental humanity.

At the heart of this psychological drama is Jenůfa’s corrosive shame set in motion by her pregnancy at the hands of the feckless Števa. He rejects his bride-to-be after his resentful half-brother Laca disfigures her in a crazed knife attack. Determined to hide the truth from a local community with rigid mores, her stepmother, the fatally proud Kostelnička, murders the child in the belief that her maternal love is protecting Jenufa from pious condemnation. Only towards the end does the Kostelnička confess she loved herself more than her stepdaughter. But from lives irrevocably blighted, physically and emotionally, hope is born through the redemptive power of love, its message transfigured in Jenůfa’s acts of forgiveness accompanied by uplifting music proclaiming the greatness of her soul.

While this production takes time to find its feet, Vicky Mortimer’s claustrophobic interiors underline the confining attitudes of this tight-knit Moravian community. In the third act, when  the villagers gather in front of the table in preparation for the wedding ceremony of Jenůfa and Laca, the scene, intentionally or not, evokes Christ’s last supper, its impending sacrifice implicit. If the child’s murder is a sacrificial act, then its brutality is redeemed by its mother’s humanity. A brief garden scene in which a child greets Jenůfa’s stepmother occupies an optimistic epilogue.

Making her debut in the title role soprano, Elizabeth Llewellyn traverses wilful passion to numbed grief, finally emerging with dignity and heart-warming compassion. Vocally poised, if somewhat taut, her phrases glow with conviction despite some unclear diction.  Her prayer to the Virgin Mary after discovering her missing baby was intensely moving. More at ease with the original Czech was Eliška Weissová, a graduate of the Conservatory in Brno where Jenufa was originally staged in 1904 at the National Theatre. She made for a fanatical Kostelnička, an authoritarian presence yet not lacking in pity when she strokes Jenůfa’s hair after announcing her baby’s sudden death. Weissová drew on a rich vocal palette making Kostelnička’s complex emotions all the more credible. Of all Janacek’s characters, hers is the most rounded and it is no surprise that Gabriela Preissová’s play, on which the libretto is based, was called Her Stepdaughter.

Amongst the other performers, Peter Berger drew our sympathy as Laca, belligerence yielding to benevolence in both character and voice, while Rhodri Prys Jones made for a spirited if disagreeable Števa. Sian Meinir as the Grandmother, Aaron O’Hare the Mill foreman and Sion Goronwy the Mayor provided solid support. The WNO chorus acquitted themselves with aplomb and the orchestra, under Tomáš Hanus, brought out the febrile energy and gritty lyricism of Janáček’s score with wonderful refinement.

David Truslove

Continues at Cardiff on 12th & 18th March and then on tour until 10th May

[Editorial note; see QR’s review of this masterpiece, June 28th, 2016]

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