Go North, Young Man

Paul von Joukowsky, design for a set of Parsifal, 1882

Go North, Young Man

Parsifal, Stage Consecration Festival Play in three acts, music and libretto by Richard Wagner, based on the poem Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Opera North Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Richard Farnes, directed by Sam Brown, concert performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall, 26th June 2022, reviewed by Leslie Jones

When Richard Wagner presented his wife Cosima with the second prose draft of Parsifal, she wrote in her diary, on 28th February 1877, “This is bliss, this is sublimity and devotion!…The redeemer unbound!”. Numerous other critics have endorsed this judgment. According to Frankfurt School social theorist Theodor Adorno, “Wagner’s criticism of the opera carries great weight”. Wagner, he contended, considered opera as “childish” and that music should “finally come  of age” (see ‘Wagner’s Relevance for Today’, an essay based on a lecture delivered in 1963). Adorno discerned both “progressive” and “negative [nationalistic] traits” in the composer’s oeuvre. He agreed that the familiar showy forms of Italianate opera, notably the aria, the recitative, the ensemble, were superannuated. Stephen Moss, in similar vein, recalls that Wagner envisaged opera as a “gesamtkunstwerk”’ or “total art work”. He thereby ushered in a much needed revolution in opera (‘A to Z of Wagner; G is for Gesamtkunstwerk’, the Guardian, April 18, 2013).

Parsifal lends itself to diverse interpretations. Adorno’s original view of Wagner, elaborated in his 1952 book In Search of Wagner, was entirely negative but was challenged by the late Roger Scruton, who noted that Wagner once stated “I do not believe in God but I believe in godliness [Göttlichkeit)”. By accepting the need for redemption through sacrifice, a recurrent theme in Wagner’s music dramas, “…we begin to live under divine jurisdiction”, according to Scruton. The Slovenian philosopher and psycho-analyst Slavoj Žižek, like Scruton, detects a “truer meaning” in Wagner’s oeuvre. He considers Tristan and Parsifal “the two…greatest works of art in the history of mankind”. For Žižek, Amfortas’ wound represents “the Hegelian spirit”, which opened up a gap in nature, once a unity. A more conventional Freudian interpretation of Parsifal was presented by Tom Artin at the Freud Museum London in 2016, in a paper entitled ‘Primal Scene/Primal Wound, the Psychoanalytic Arc of Parsifal’. Karl Abraham, Artin reminds us, regarded the female genitalia as a wound. For Artin, Wagner “anticipated Freud in his depiction of the unconscious processes of the mind”.

What would Wagner have made of Opera North’s Parsifal at the Royal Festival Hall? Since this was a concert performance, it hardly constituted “the total integration of music and drama” proposed by the composer. Admittedly, Brindley Sherratt as Gurnemanz, Toby Spence as Parsifal and Robert Hayward as Amfortas, amongst others, put in powerful vocal performances. The score, as always, was hypnotic and the acoustic at Festival Hall was cleverly exploited by the conductor. But acting as such, plus costumes, scenery etc  – all were dispensed with and the leading singers performed from a set of identical chairs lined up at the front of the stage. And sadly, what Opera North called “the ultimate Parsifal experience”, with its “atmospheric sets, creative costumes etc” (previously semi-staged in Leeds) has now “… melted as breath into the wind”. “Would they had stayed!”

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of QR

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Cattle and Copper

 

Sedona Arizona, hiking above Oak Creek

Cattle and Copper, by “Wild” Bill Hartley

The owner of Rancho Mirago advised us against parking on the grass. This was nothing to do with a gardener’s pride, since the grass was brown and withered by the high temperatures and lack of rainfall. He was making a point about wildfires and explained that anything outside the firebreak, which surrounded his ranch house, was likely to be incinerated. There have been four such fires already this year, the last of which consumed 10,000 acres of Southern Arizona.

Rancho Mirago is in Cochise County: miles of harsh but beautiful prairie, desert and mountains, much of it open range. Once off the tarmac and onto the dirt roads, then cattle take precedence. The Southern Arizona Cattle Growers Association likes to remind visitors of its role in the food chain. A sign outside the entrance to one ranch read, ‘this ranch feeds 1600 American families’.

Cattle ranching is a tough business. The University of Arizona cites drought as one of the major problems and believes that small family run operations are the most vulnerable. Some of these small ranchers need other jobs to augment their income. Rancho Mirago provides accommodation. Perhaps the most eccentric example was Winn Bundy (1930-2020). Several miles up an isolated dirt road, she ran a bookshop at the Singing Wind Ranch.

Apart from the climate and wildfires, another problem is rustling. A 2021 report in the Arizona Independent suggested that around 3000 head have gone missing in the past few years. There are claims of links between cattle rustling and money laundering by drug traffickers.

Leaving the open range and heading south towards the border with Mexico, there are signs of what was once the other main economic activity. Some of the hills are a red ochre colour, which hints at the presence of copper ore. The road south crosses a high plateau where the best known town, Tombstone, stands at 4,500 feet above sea level. Driving through the Mule Mountains towards Bisbee, the county seat, the road actually descends on the approach to a place which advertises itself as a ‘mile high city’.

Bisbee is different to other small towns in the state. Elsewhere in Arizona the American flag is ubiquitous. But in Bisbee, the most prominent flag is that of CND. Close to the town, the hills have the characteristic red soil and it was here in 1880 that the Phelps-Dodge Mining Company established its operations, giving Bisbee a huge economic boost. Mining at the Copper Queen continued up to 1920. The economic rise and decline of Bisbee is reflected in its buildings. Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries this small town acquired a sense of permanence and prosperity, reflected in the grand architecture of its banks and other public buildings. Bisbee even had its own stock exchange. When deep mining went so did the town’s main source of income and the fine commercial buildings now either stand empty, or have found other uses. The onetime stock exchange building is a bar.

Mining of a sort continued up to the 1970s due to the efforts of Harrison M Lavender (1890-1952), vice president of Phelps-Dodge, who in 1950 conceived the idea of digging out the previously unprofitable low grade ore. His memorial is the 900 feet deep Lavender Pit which closed in 1974: a massive hole in the ground which has become a tourist attraction. Millions of tons of waste from the pit were dumped near the town.

There is also a mining museum but a more obvious example of Bisbee’s history can be found in the town centre, where there is an abandoned mine portal, with a sign warning people not to enter. Given its location at a road junction and the steep gradients of the bare eroded hills above, it probably functions as a drain during periods of heavy rain.

With the decline in mining activity, Bisbee, as the flag evidence suggests, has acquired a different population. Some describe it as a hippie mountain town. Bisbee became an offshoot of the counter culture as artists and hippies were priced out of locations in California due to gentrification. Down the years, the newcomers have literally changed the face of the town. This is a place well covered by murals; good, bad and incomprehensible. Any abandoned building or wall space has become a canvas. Given the gradients, buildings are intersected with steep stairways to reach upper levels of the town and these also provide a canvas.

Whilst Main Street is given over to antique shops and restaurants, alternative Bisbee is best discovered by walking up nearby Brewery Gulch. Here, the first shop is quite conventional. It sells fresh pressed olive oil. Next door, however, they are offering séances and beyond that a magic show, followed by an establishment dedicated to axe throwing. The first bar on Brewery Gulch resembles a 1970s student union. Overlooking this eclectic mix of premises is the most bizarre building in town; the Pythian Castle, surmounted by a huge clock tower which seems to press down on the building below. It was opened in 1904 by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organisation or secret society, depending upon which source is chosen. There are period photographs of portly middle aged men dressed up in medieval style costumes. The Knights left the building long ago and although there are said to be plans for a new use, it currently stands empty and forlorn.

Beyond the old town, Bisbee’s dwellings rise precariously up the sides of Tombstone Canyon. These were the original miner’s houses, since augmented by newer homes. They range from the abandoned and collapsing to some well kept and attractive properties. Overall, there is a sense of a Swiss mountain village transplanted to Southern Arizona.

Unfortunately, despite its quirky charm and mountain location, Bisbee’s population is dwindling. When the Copper Queen was in operation, 35000 people lived here. The last census revealed that there are now fewer than 5000. In Bisbee, there are few good jobs to be had. The town depends on tourism and much of this is of the day tripper variety, since the place is easily reached from Tucson. Tourism keeps the place going but to survive and prosper, it requires more than quirky charm.

Bisbee, Arizona

William Hartley is a Social Historian

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Matches, made in Hell

Enrique Ponce, in his traje de luces (suit of lights)

Matches, made in Hell

Carmen, an opera in four acts, music composed by Georges Bizet, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, new production by Opera Holland Park, directed by Cecilia Stinton, City of London Sinfonia and Opera Holland Park Chorus conducted by Lee Reynolds, 14th June 2022, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Carmen is an example of opéra comique, a musical genre in which numbers were inserted into a spoken libretto. Sections of the text, drawn from Prosper Mérimée’s novella Carmen (1845), accordingly, are recited not sung. Acting, as well as singing, was at a premium in opéra comique. The question “can you dance” was as important as “can you sing and act” (See Carmen Review – Dance of Death, Quarterly Review, November 2018).

In Mérimée’s novella Carmen, the story is told from the perspective of besotted soldier Don José. He recalls that Carmen “walked, swaying her hips like a filly from a Cordoba stud farm”. But in Bizet’s opera, it is told from that of Carmen herself. Carmen (Kezia Bienek) considers herself a free spirit, confiding that she has “suitors by the dozen”. Love, she observes in the Habanera, Act I, is “un oiseau rebelle” (“a rebellious bird that no one can tame”), an “enfant de bohème il n’a jamais connu de loi” (“a gypsy child that has never heard of law”). The premiere of Carmen on 3 March 1875 was consequently received as “a gross assault on the senses and sensibilities of an audience accustomed to submissive heroines…” (Official Programme, ‘Introducing Carmen’). When librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy presented their plans to the directors of the Opéra-Comique, one of the latter, Adolphe de Leuven, pointedly interjected,

Carmen? Mérimées Carmen? Isn’t it her who’s killed by her lover? And among thieves, gypsies and cigar-girls? At the Opéra-Comique, the family opera, the theatre for marriage interviews!…You’ll drive the public away…it’s impossible!

Don José (tenor Oliver Johnson), in contrast to Carmen, is a weak willed individual, torn between his passion for her and a code of honour which entails loyalty to regiment and to family, in particular to his ailing mother. After a faltering start in the first act, Johnson was genuinely moving in the second, when telling Carmen how the flower that she threw him outside the tobacco factory “sustained his love during the long weeks in prison” (Official Programme, ‘Synopsis’). If you can move the audience as he did, all else is forgiveable.

Mezzo-soprano Kezia Bienek makes some dubious, “me-too” comments about femicide and feminism in the Official Programme. Feminism, she avers, “is intersectional…Gender, race and class are all at play in this piece”. “Carmen”, she opines, “needs to be told by a woman”. She looks forward to working with a female director “on any project”. So to summarise, misandry, unlike racism and misogyny, is currently acceptable.

Carmen, needless to say, is brilliantly orchestrated, as befits the creator of the scintillating Symphony in C, composed when Bizet was 17 and still regularly performed today. The orchestral interlude prior to Act III is particularly beautiful. And the chorus is compelling, as in the soldier’s refrain “drôles de gens que ces gens-la!”  

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of Quarterly Review

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Janáček, The Excursions of Mr Brouček

Peter Hoare as Brouček

Janáček, The Excursions of Mr Brouček

Thursday 9th June, 2022, Grange Park Opera, The Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place Surrey, directed by David Pountney, reviewed by David Truslove

With certain exceptions, Janáček’s operas are not often chosen for country house presentation. In the twenty-five years of Grange Park Opera’s endeavours, only two of the Czech composer’s stage works, namely Jenufa and The Cunning Little Vixen, have been staged. This year, festival director Wasfi Kani opened her season with the satirical and eccentric romp that is The Excursions of Mr. Brouček – a Cinderella amongst Janáček’s operas. First heard in the UK at Edinburgh in 1970 and later presented by English National Opera in the 1980s and 90s, its madcap invention makes ideal summer entertainment, even if its absurd lunacies defy comprehension and fail to make a satisfying narrative sequence. If you’re not a fan of its surreal, Pythonesque fantasy, you may be won over by strong performances and not least by Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costumes and Leslie Travers’s super-size toytown sets (superbly lit by Tim Mitchell) which will surely engage your inner child.

Inspired by the novels of Svatopluk Čech, this up-to-date English translation by director David Pountney contains sardonic attacks on artistic philanthropy, lockdown parties and the latest “Boris balls-up”. Even music critics get a derisory mention. Brouček (its central character taken by the excellent Peter Hoare) is Janáček’s most uneven work. Conceived over nearly 10 years and completed in 1918, no fewer than eight writers were involved in the libretto which the composer fashions into two, hour-long single acts linked only by the presence of the time-travelling Mr Brouček.

This Czech Falstaff is a pub landlord with a fondness for beer, sausages and womanising, as well as an overripe imagination. His drunken dreams take him first to a colony of flower-sniffing aesthetes on the Moon, then back in time to 15th century Prague, via an episode in a toilet (all very Benny Hill), to get caught up in the Hussite rebellion of 1420. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the historical overlay, there’s a universality in the work’s jibes at artistic pretension and moral decline. Cultural philistinism and nationhood aside, the work lampoons the Czech national psyche, all riotously conveyed in Pountney’s production and Janáček’s vintage music.

But the opera only really takes wing in its more cohesive second half, where assertive brass, soaring string lines and rousing patriotic choruses denote a more mature musical voice, in which Janáček’s musical thumbprint is indelible. Despite longueurs in Act One, there are some intensely lyrical passages. Mazal, Brouček’s painter tenant (Marc le Brocq) profits from these moments and the act closes in an ecstatic love duet with his girlfriend Malinka (Fflur Wyn).

Pountney’s tireless imagination bamboozles you The set contains a plethora of detail. Roofed by a vast delft dinner plate, there are silver-suited space travellers, a pair of transvestites, a girl band, a giant chrome saveloy and scenes reminding us of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the jailed writer Vaclav Havel. No opportunity is missed to point up Brouček’s permanently sozzled state. Amongst all the souvenirs evoking imperial Prague, beer features prominently with a foaming tankard the size of Brouček, who himself flies to the moon on a supersized beer can. In Act Two he’s immersed in a barrel and Hussite leaders are wheeled onto the stage on raised platforms of beer crates.

Tenor Peter Hoare brings Brouček to life, his declamatory lines sung with a bravura to match his “blotto” role. Supporting him are persuasive performances from Marc Le Brocq and Adrian Thompson. Baritones Clive Bayley (sacristan) and Andrew Shore (the tavern keeper who morphs into a patron of the lunar arts) impress, as does the well-projected soprano of Fflur Wyn, whose Lord’s Prayer was beautifully shaped. Praise too for Anne-Marie Owens, in her cameo role as Kedruta. Other characters, including the humorously named Postdatedček, Spotček and Farty, are well performed, and both chorus and orchestra rise to the challenge of Janáček’s richly veined score and George Jackson’s direction from the pit. If the whole is musically lop-sided, it’s worth seeing for its boisterous entertainment. This is something of an operatic collector’s item –  it ends on 7th July.

David Truslove is an opera critic

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Belles Lettres

 

Nicholas of Russia and Elizabeth of Hesse, as Eugene and Tatyana, credit Wikipedia

 Belles Lettres

Eugene Onegin, composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, based on Eugene Onegin (1823-31) by Alexander Pushkin, libretto by Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky, Opera Holland Park, 11th June 2022, a new production directed by Julia Burbach, City of London Sinfonia and Opera Holland Park Chorus conducted by Lada Valešová, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Tatyana, played by British-Armenian soprano Anush Hovhannisyan, is something of a sentimentalist, one of those avid female readers of novels unable, according to Denis Diderot, to distinguish between fiction and reality (see Belinda Jack, ‘Tatyana’s Bookishness’, Official Programme). She confides that she saw Onegin before she saw him, i.e. that he was a fantasy or projection. Tatyana’s mother, Madame Larina (Amanda Roocroft) confirms that she too was once intoxicated by Samuel Richardson’s A History of Sir Charles Grandison and was ‘dreaming of another’ who ‘pleased her more in heart and mind’ than her eventual husband. But habit, as Madame Larina and the nurse Filippyevna (Kathleen Wilkinson) aver, is ‘heaven’s gift to us, sent as a replacement for happiness’. Contrary to romantic fiction, ‘there are no heroes in real life’. Tatyana, in due course, will draw similar conclusions.

Feminists and neo-Freudians have had a field day interpreting Tatyana’s personality. One widely held opinion is that she is a sexually frustrated victim of a repressive patriarchal social order. Upper class Russian women had no option but to prepare for marriage and motherhood. And given that the plot partly focuses on two men, the influence on the opera of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality is hard to avoid. Indeed, it transpires that when he was composing it, he received a fateful letter from Antonina Milyukova, declaring her love for him. Bizarrely, the composer’s disdain for Onegin’s offhand treatment of Tatyana led him to encourage Antonina, since “to behave like Onegin would be heartless and quite impermissible on my part”. The upshot was his disastrous marriage, in July 1877 (see ‘Looking for Lensky’, Philip Ross Bullock, Official Programme).

Like The Queen of Spades, Eugene Onegin is “beautifully orchestrated and replete with moving arias and grand choruses” (see Quarterly Review, January 17, 2019 ‘When the Fun Stops, Stop’). The folk songs performed by the chorus are compelling, notably the risqué peasant’s song ‘Vayinu, vayinu’, with its distinct echoes of the composer’s ‘Little Russian’ Symphony no 2.

After a pedestrian start, the performance took off during the famous letter scene. Much of what we then see and hear on stage is evidently not real but imagined by Tatyana. Throughout, older and more mature characters are counterposed to the younger and the more innocent. Thus, Onegin employs the “I am older and more experienced than you” put down and advises Tatyana to control herself. Aging and death as a merciful release are also salient themes. ‘Where did you go to my golden youth’, wonders Onegin. Lensky, likewise, considers the ‘coming darkness’ blessed.

Part of the charm of Opera Holland Park is the unexpected intrusion of noises off. On this occasion, a barking dog provided some welcome, comic relief.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Ars Poetica, Remembering A.E. Housman, 1

View from Wenlock Edge

Ars Poetica – Remembering A.E. Housman, 1

By Darrell Sutton

The history of classical Greek and Roman philology is replete with names of distinction. The list extends over 2300 years. It is an intellectual tradition containing poets, prose writers, their interpreters, grammarians, and textual critics. In the last seven decades, the issuance of private letters, extracts from diaries, and reminiscences by friends and family members, has bolstered the fame or infamy of a select group of men and women who made their living studying Greco-Roman literature. Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987) firmly established the history of historiography by conducting extensive biographical studies of ancient and modern figures of importance in classical scholarship. He asked the right questions and he provided insightful answers that were founded on new interpretations of extant evidence.

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), arguably a better Hellenist than anyone before or since, was once known in English classrooms only by pupils who had studied under him. Through the herculean efforts of William Calder III, Wilamowitz’ name, if not his specific publications, is known today within wider fields of classical studies. Deploying philological gifts that are better suited in translation for paraphrase than exactness, students owe much to Anthony Grafton for his broad studies of the history of ideas, Renaissance classical traditions, and analyses of Joseph J. Scaliger (1540-1609). Likewise, Christopher Stray’s interests have reshaped how one views the educational contexts of British classical studies in the last two hundred years. Disclosures  regarding the careers and temperaments of Richard Jebb (1841-1905) and Eduard Fraenkel (1888-1970) have been enlightening. Granted, the subjects Stray treats did not require him to engage in philological criticism, yet his literary frameworks help separate fact from fiction apropos some notable figures and institutions.

British classical scholarship, in  a ‘specialist’ sense, began with Richard Bentley (1662-1742), who possessed a unique aptitude for critical studies of Greek and Latin texts. During the century and half following his death, Bentley’s legacy endured. Of English classicists at work one hundred years ago, few rivaled Mr. Housman in scholarly precision or in scholarly contempt for one’s peers. Aggressive and audacious, his emendations of texts were prodigious, he poured forth vitriol in abundance on German classicists; and he was hailed by a few of them as the best Latinist of the day, the best Bentleian textual critic since Bentley.

A.E. Housman was born on March 26 1859. The grandson of evangelical ministers on both sides of his family, he was raised in Fockbury on the outskirts of Bromsgrove, a town whose fame now is partly tied to his memory. His parents were well off. The surrounding villages of his youth would later became useful toponyms in his poems. Sarah, Housman’s mother, shared her son’s poetic aspirations.

The earliest years of Housman’s youth remain obscure. As regards religion, he was not particularly devout. Indeed, the death of his mother when he was twelve may have inclined him towards atheism. By the age of fifteen, he was committed to poetry. Early fame came with the poem ‘The Death of Socrates’. It won him an award. His love for the verse of Horace is apparent in his verse translation of Hor. Od. I 2 29. And his early acquaintance and application of scripture for literary purposes is shown in the 1875 poem, ‘St. Paul on Mars Hill.’ After his mother’s decease in 1871, Housman’s father Edward, a solicitor, but not the best steward of funds, married a cousin on June 26 1873 whose name was Lucy. The relationship between Alfred and his stepmother seems to have been solid. In a letter to her in 1873 he calls her “dearest momma”.’[i]

Housman attributed his turn towards Greek and Latin at the age of seventeen to a gift volume of translated verse entitled Sabrinae Corolla in Hortulis Regiae Scholae Salopiensis (1850). Housman first visited London in 1875: he took in Trafalgar square, the Bank & Exchange, and Joseph Hadyn’s musical By Thee with Bliss. In a detailed letter to his stepmother he describes his adventures in the city. He mentions spending a significant amount of time in the Greek and Roman section of the British Museum. In the next decade he would find this building to be invaluable for research, spending many evenings there studying the texts of ancient dramatists and poets.

Alfred went up to St. John’s College in the fall of 1877. He was a brilliant pupil possessed of insatiable curiosity. The rigor of classical scholarship excited him to such degree that he decided his German language studies should be postponed .[ii] He relished the minutiae of Greek and Latin studies. The profession to which he was bred took in textual criticism, which entails inter alia a move away from a subjective dependence upon MSS, in order to discern true and false readings, and where necessary, to emend them. By now, Housman was investigating the transmission of the texts of Propertius, and according to a letter to a publisher, he had “formed the design of producing an edition and commentary which should meet the requirements of modern critical science…”.[iii]

Housman believed Emil Baehrens’ (1848-1888) edition, Sex. Propertii: Elegiarum Libri IV (1880) was not sufficiently scientific, given the material available. He also began writing some “nonsense” verses for Ye Rounde Table.[iv] Each one, thanks to their literary wit and satirical manner, found favour.[v] As far as the classics curriculum went, there were other colleges of repute but St. John’s proved to be an excellent choice. Housman’s tutor T.H. Warren provided him with a list of suggested readings. The list included c. 300 epigrams of Martial and several sections of Propertius’s poetry (Paley), and Madvig’s Cicero De Finibus book II. But of more significance was the assigning of Wilhelm Wagner’s (1843-1880) 1876 volume: T. MACCI PLAVTI AVLVLARIA: with Notes Critical and Exegetical and an Introduction. Throughout the volume, Wagner engaged with the theories of textual critics, especially F. Ritchl. Housman would not have agreed with Wagner’s conclusion on 69: “…we gain and learn more and arrive at more stable results by means of a critical and conservative observation of single facts than by specious but unsound emendations of seeming irregularities.”

In the summer of 1881 Housman, failed ‘Greats.’ He subsequently returned to Oxford and in the Fall received a pass degree from the university. He then scored a passing grade in the Civil Service Exam and obtained a position as a clerk in the Royal Patent Office in London. When he began his employment there, he already had been teaching the sixth form at Bromsgrove School. In London, while working there alongside his friend Moses Jackson,[vi] his evenings were spent mainly at the British Museum. He studied the texts of Propertius, Horace and a few Greek tragedians. His earliest academic output (c.1882) affirms this. The dual roles of clerk and independent scholar both involved the examination of documents and original ideas. He never obtain a doctorate, nor was it deemed necessary for philological research at this time. The methods he employed originated with textual critics of previous generations. The influence of any of his professors on his outlook are negligible.

Over the next decade he published twenty-five papers of exceptional quality (including two reviews).[vii] Each of these contained the kind of invective usually associated with a youthful mind and zealous attitude. But the publications brought him to the attention of scholars. During the years 1884-1886 he published little in journals. Undoubtedly, he was hard at work developing his textual theories about the manuscripts of Propertius.[viii] In March of 1885 he wrote to Lucy Housman, lauding her literary talents. Illustrating a literary appreciation for scripture, he opined on March 29 1885 that, “with the possible exception of the second of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians,” it was the best letter he had read.[ix] By the summer of the same year he was writing of his brief time sitting on a coroner’s jury and of the suspected dangers attached to his job at the Patent Office.

In 1887, there are only two pieces of extant correspondence in Burnett’s Letters (pp. 60-61). Housman addressed R.Y. Tyrrell and W. Aldis Wright regarding ancient Greek language and orthography. On March 7 and March 22 1891, he sent two brief notes to the editor of The Academy.[x] In the first, he expressed dismay concerning W.G. Rutherford and Lewis Campbell’s misreading of a Greek sentence, which Housman alleges “is neither verse nor Greek.” Therefore, in order to make sense of the text, Housman emends it. He claimed that Campbell and some fellow editors have misconstrued a term. Housman was concerned that a word which does not exist might obtain a place in “our fragment of Euripides.”

On February 7 1892, Alfred Goodwin died and the chairs of Greek and Latin became vacant at University College, London. On March 19, Housman duly applied for either of the academic appointments. His letter of application was written as follows:

To the Council of University College, London

H.M. Patent Office London

19 April 1892

I have the honour to present myself as a candidate for the vacant Professorship of Latin in University College. If however the Latin Chair should be conferred upon another, I would ask to be considered as an applicant in that event for the Professorship of Greek.

I am thirty-three years of age. I entered the University of Oxford as a scholar of St. John’s College in 1877; in 1879 I was placed in the first class in the Honour School of Classical Moderations. In 1881 I failed to obtain honours in the Final School of Litterae Humaniores. I have since passed the finals for the degree of B.A., and am of standing to take the degree of M.A. in the event of my appointment to a Professorship. In 1881 and 1882 I was for some time engaged in teaching the sixth form at Bromsgrove School, and in the latter year I obtained by open competition a Higher Division Clerkship in Her Majesty’s Patent Office, which I now hold.

During the last ten years the study of the Classics has been the chief occupation of my leisure, and I have contributed to the learned journals many papers on ancient literature and critical science, of which the following are more important…

If I am honoured by your choice I shall give my best endeavors to the fulfillment of my duties and to the maintenance of accurate learning in University College. I have the honour to be,

My Lords and Gentlemen,

Your obedient servant

A.E. Housman

To this letter was appended a pamphlet of testimonials. In 1892, Housman obtained the Chair of Latin. His election over the other eighteen applicants was announced in the month of June, and so began his distinguished career as a Professor in London and later in Cambridge, stretching well over four decades. He departed the patent office. In this new position he had a singular focus, disseminating his well thought-out ideas. Previously prepared material quickly appeared. Two articles, one on the texts of Sophocles, another on a paper concerning the Vatican Glossary, were published.

In Housman’s inaugural lecture, his comments about Herbert Spencer on the supposed utility of science and the influence that astronomy has had on the masses, were less than flattering. But the homage that Housman paid to the study of the classics still echoes 130 years after the event. Speaking of the uses of Greek and Latin classical literature, Housman says,

“The special benefit which those studies are supposed, and in some cases justly supposed, to confer, is to quicken our appreciation of what is excellent and what is not. And since literature is the instrument by which this education is imparted, it is in the domain of literature that this quickened appreciation and sharpened discrimination ought first to display themselves.

If anyone wants convincing of the inestimable value of a classical education to those who are naturally qualified to profit from it, let him compare our two greatest poets, Shakespeare and Milton, and see what the classics did for one and what the lack of the classics did for the other. Milton was steeped through and through with classical literature; and he is the one English poet from whom an Englishman ignorant of Greek and Latin can learn what the great classics were like. Mark: the classics cannot be said to have succeeded altogether in transforming and beautifying Milton’s inner nature. They did not sweeten his naturally disagreeable temper; they did not enable him to conduct controversy with urbanity or even with decency.

But in the province of literature, where their influence is soonest and more powerfully exerted, they conferred on him all the benefits which their encomiasts ascribe to them. The dignity, the sanity, the unfaltering elevation of style, the just subordination of detail, the due adaptation of means to ends, the high respect of the craftsman for his craft and for himself, which ennoble Virgil and the great Greeks, are all to be found in Milton, and nowhere else in English literature are they to be found: certainly not in Shakespeare. In richness of natural endowment Shakespeare was the superior even of Milton; but he had small Latin and less Greek, and the result…”.

Housman continued to write poetry in the 1890s. The notebooks left behind at his death are annotated with a variety of dates, signifying the time of a poem’s composition. The dated poems are listed by Housman’s brother Laurence in the back of the posthumously published volume, More Poems (1936). Over twenty poems are dated 1890-1895.[xi]  The bulk of them are in A Shropshire Lad or Last Poems. A Shropshire Lad (ASL) was published in 1896. It was originally entitled ‘Poems of Terence Hearsay’. The Terence series had attractive aspects to it. Thematic ideas, when written well, captivate audiences. But the military overtones of some of the poems engendered a request to Housman to modify the whole. He declined to do so. Upon its release the book was favorably reviewed, at times pseudonymously. Eventually, the book of poems became a success in the “classic” sense of the word and remains in print today.

In 1899, astronomy and the discovery of the Oxford lines of Juvenal in 1899 caught his attention. Astute editors had studied Manilius before. Even so, Housman saw an avenue that he believed other scholars were incapable, or fearful, of traversing. Speaking of Cambridge classicists, he remarked, “The Latinists here are very well disposed towards me but terribly afraid of Manilius.”

On the other hand, like Horos, at Prop. IV I, Housman presumed that ancient astrology was the superior to all forms of divination practiced among Greeks and Romans.[xii] Astronomy or astrology is the science that is artfully treated in Manilius’ treatise, Astronomica. For thirty years he analyzed these texts: he deleted, transposed, amended and conjectured wherever he felt it was necessary. The first volume of a projected five-volume series appeared in 1903. The whole series set new benchmarks for text-critical studies. Two years later he issued the 1905 edition of Juvenal, which Housman sent off to J.P. Postgate to be the second volume of the Corpus Poetarum Latinorum (CPL). He labored profusely over the MSS. It was/is thought by some persons that this piece of scholarship was performed in a hasty manner. Housman seems to have confirmed the charge.

He considered editing Martial’s epigrams. A year or so prior to this, there was some correspondence between Housman and W.M. Lindsay (1858-1937): see Burnett, Letters I, 141. Housman and Lindsay led the way as distinguished Latinists. Although they rather admired each other, they attacked each other in print. In a letter to J.D. Duff, on August 26 1905, he wrote unfavorably of some lines he had crossed out in Lindsay’s edition. He then remarked “I suppose I shall be driven to edit Martial myself, much against my will, in order that it may come to its rights”.

Under Postgate’s editorship, the CPL supplied critical texts for competent scholars. A firm basis was necessary for those authors whose manuscripts were in disarray. Professor and pupil needed new texts with a moderately abbreviated apparatus. These wants could be met only by persons with a special grammatical aptitude or editorial fitness for such tasks. Housman’s expert hand was needed, and he did not disappoint. His text-critical skills won him lasting fame and prestige at home and abroad. By the spring season of 1905, on two occasions at least, a senate of academics had voted to confer the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws upon him. He declined to accept.

University College, London was a place of instruction but it was also a business. Hard at work on Latin texts, Housman shunned unnecessary administrative obligations, seeking to devote his time to pure scholarship. Yet in May 1907, he informed Walter Ashburner, “I have not been doing much in the way of writing” although two years later, on May 12 1909, he notified Grant Richards that “Manilius Book II may perhaps be ready next year.”

His publisher Grant Richards regularly sent him books. Friends and colleagues sent him queries and selections of poetry, requesting his opinion. In March 1906, Housman replied to Elisabeth Gibson, who had forwarded her poems to him to read; and on May 18 of the same year he is found supplying critical notes to Henry Jackson concerning readings in Martial’s texts, in which he commented that Grenfell and Hunt’s investigations have uncovered the Phaedrus and Symposium among papyri in Egypt and he confesses that the “Symposium is the one dialogue of Plato that I have properly read…”. He did not complain of receiving a second copy of Woodberry’s Swinburne, and happily noted his pleasure at the American reception of Lowes Dickinson’s Greek View of Life.

On May 1 1907 Robinson Ellis received a letter from Housman informing him that a MS of Manilius had arrived from Göttingen, and that he was willing to provide information on the document if Ellis so desired. In the same month, Richards sent him The Triumph of Mammon. It was the first of a trilogy on God and Mammon by J. Davidson. Housman said of certain passages that they were “like the doctrine of the Trinity: probably false and quite unimportant if true.” In the  summer of 1907, he was reading Bynner’s An Ode to Harvard and Other Poems (1907). During February 1908 to he critiqued his brother Laurence’s selections of poetry. Beleaguered by reading material, J.P. Postgate hears that Housman has completed reading W.G. Headlam’s 1908 booklet ‘Restorations of Menander.’ Housman claimed that Headlam “keeps a sharper eye on the metre than Wilomowitz.”[xiii]

Fulfilling a request for Friedrich Vollmer in the fall of 1908, Housman was once again ensconced in the British Museum, researching cod. Harl. 2745. His findings were then communicated to Vollmer in a letter on November 30. Vollmer responded to Housman’s aid by sending him a copy of his well-researched 1909 publication Appendix Vergiliana. Richards sent him yet another volume. It was Royal Tyler’s Spain: A Study of Her Life and Arts (1909). This tome Housman enjoyed far more than the volume sent by Lily Thicknesse on The Rights and Wrongs of Women: A Digest with Practical Illustrations and Notes on the Law in France (1909) by Ralph Thicknesse. Of the degrading of women outlined therein Housman wrote “My blood boils.”[xiv]

In late 1909, he perused the poetry of Rachel Taylor. Her new volume, artfully designated Rose and Vine, generally received lukewarm praise. Housman thought she possessed “technical skill” but that her compositions exhibited a “curious indistinctness”. On November 26, he read a paper on ancient Latin poets to The Oxford Philological Society, entitled ‘Greek Nouns in Latin Poetry’. He stayed over night with Oxford Professor Gilbert Murray.

From 1906 until the outbreak of World War One, he published upwards of thirty papers.[xv] A close eye on zodiacal issues printed in a German volume, Sphaera, permitted him to write to D’Arcy Thompson in July 1910 that “cancer appears in Egyptian zodiacs sometimes as a beetle.” On December 1, 1910, J.E.B. Mayor (b.1825), Cambridge’s Kennedy Professor of Latin, died. Housman was elected to the post in his place and simultaneously became a Fellow of Trinity. On May 9th 1911, A.E. Housman delivered his inaugural lecture for this professorship. His lecture, titled, The Confines of Criticism, was a forceful and focused oration. His views, though not accepted by all, were reasonably presented. He emphasised his veneration for one of his predecessors, Munro, [xvi] as follows: “…but the history of scholarship in England must be forgotten before English Latinists can cease to remember him with gratitude and reverence,  for we are also his offspring…”[xvii] In addition, he denounced the conflation of literary criticism with the business of scholarship. He declared: [The scholar] “…has no right to presume that his own aesthetic perceptions are superior to those of anyone whom he addresses…” and that “The aim of science is the discovery of truth, while the aim of literature is the production of pleasure; and the two aims are not merely distinct but often incompatible, so that large departments of literature are also departments of lying.” The latter part of 1911 and early 1912 were devoted to seeing the next installment of Manilius through the press. Its publication provoked some strong reviews. They almost all emphasised its originality but also Housman’s habitual discourteousness.

ENDNOTES

[i] Archie Burnett, The Letters of A.E. Housman: Volume I: 1872-1928 and Volume II: 1929-1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). Henceforth cited as Burnett, Letters I, or II. Quotation is taken from Burnett, Letters I, 4.

[ii] Burnett, Letters I, 30. One letter to Elizabeth Wise, July 8 1877, and written wholly in French, shows his facility by this time with at least one of the major Romance languages of Europe.

[iii] Burnett, Letters I, 58.

[iv] T.B. Haber, ‘A.E. Housman and “Ye Rounde Table”’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology (October 1962), Vol. 61, No. 4, 797-809.

[v] P.G. Naiditch, ‘A.E. Housman’s Prose Contributions to Ye Rounde Table’, The Housman Society Journal (2011), Vol. 37, 21-46.

[vi] Their relationship is dealt with by the writer in “Polemicizing Housman”, The Quarterly Review (Oct. 16 2015)  and more fully by the writer in the appendix:  “The Polemics of ‘Sexual Criticism’: Interpretative Thoughts on Alfred’s Private Life, in Introducing A.E. Housman (1859-1936): Preliminary Studies (2018).

[vii] E.g. ‘Horatiana [I]’, (1882); ‘Horatiana [II]’, (1888); ‘Horatiana [III]’, (1890); ‘On Certain Corruptions in the Persae of Aeschylus’, (1888); ‘Emendationes Propertianae’, (1888); ‘Emendationes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses’, (1890); ‘Conjectural Emendations in the Medea’, (1890); ‘The New Fragment of Euripides’, (1891); ‘Adversaria Orthographica’, (1891) and ‘Remarks on the Vatican Glossary 3321’, (1892).

[viii] In a letter to Macmillan and Company, Housman requested that they consider publishing his recension of the text of Propertius. they declined to publish that one and other volumes also proposed to them by Housman. See Burnett, Letters I, 58-59.

[ix] Burnett, Letters I, 55.

[x] Republished in J. Diggle and F.R.D. Goodyear The Classical Papers of A. E. Housman  (Cambridge: 1972), cited henceforth as HCP I, II, III.

[xi] Sept. 1890: ‘Once in the Wind of Morning’; Jul. 1891: ‘In Summertime on Bredon’; 1891-1892: ‘Far in A Western Brookland’; Feb. 1893: ‘Tis Time, I think, by Wenlock Town’ and ‘The Weeping Pleiads Wester’; Aug. 1894: ‘Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree’; Dec. 1894: ‘The Lad Came to the Door at Night’; Jan. 1895: ‘When I was one and Twenty’; ‘Wake the Silver Dusk Returning’; ‘Leave your Home Behind, Lad’; ‘High the Vanes of Shrewsbury Gleam’; (Feb.): ‘On Moonlit Heath and Lonesome Bank’; (Mar.): ‘Far I Hear The Bugle Blow’; (Apr.): ‘Tis Spring: Come out to Ramble’; (May): ‘Oh, When I was in Love with You’; (?Jun.): ‘Along the Field As We Came By’; (Jul.): ‘When I Came Last to Ludlow’; (Aug.): ‘Here the Hangman Stops his Cart’; (Sept.): ‘Morning Up The Eastern Stair’; (Nov.): ‘In My Own Shire If I Were Sad’; (Dec.): ‘Yonder See The Morning Blink.’

[xii] HCP I, 146.

[xiii] Related by blood to Richard Bentley through his mother’s lineage, Walter G. Headlam (1866-1908) was a classicist who authored some superb papers, but one whose acute intellect surpassed any energetic drive to publish his research.

[xiv] Burnett, Letters I, 238.

[xv] Numbered 74-107 in HCP II, the papers are predominantly Latin in sequence, The multiplicity of authors he treated is noteworthy: Statius, Lucilian, Pindar, Manilius, Martial, Lucretius, Cicero, Calimachus et cetera.

[xvi] Munro held the Kennedy Chair from 1869-1872. Housman believed that he, Munro, though not the best teacher, had reinstated a historically philological bent to classical British scholarship.

[xvii] John Carter, A.E. Housman: The Confines of Criticism, The Cambridge Inaugural, 1911 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 21. Housman stated Munro’s edition of Lucretius was “more compact of excellence than any edition of any classic which has ever been produced in England,” ibid., 21. Housman also expressed, generally appreciative remarks about his lately deceased predecessor J.E.B. Mayor and of his scholarship, saying, he was “a scholar who in learning, if that word is taken to mean range and thoroughness of reading, had no equal in England and no superior in Europe.” Carter, op. cit., 23.

Darrell Sutton is a regular contributor to Quarterly Review

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Man of War

Man of War

The Mind in Exile; Thomas Mann in Princeton, Stanley Corngold, Princeton University Press, 2022, reviewed by Leslie Jones 

Between September 1938 and March 1941, the novelist Thomas Mann, in exile from Nazi Germany, was a Lecturer in the Humanities at Princeton University. This prestigious appointment was made possible by Agnes E. Mayer, wife of Eugene Meyer, publisher of the Washington Post. It provided him with a generous income and also with a platform of which he took full advantage at this critical period when “Fascism was rampant both outside and inside America”.

Stanley Corngold is Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton. His focus in this book is on Mann’s “humanist resistance to populist totalitarianism”. But, as he acknowledges, some critics (including Manfred Görtemaker, author of Thomas Mann und die Politik, 2005) consider Mann a political lightweight and never a sincere supporter of democracy. Indeed, another recent commentator referred to the “irremovable glaze of irony” that permeated Mann’s writings on democracy at this juncture. Corngold manfully contests these criticisms but this reviewer was not convinced.

In his 1938 essay ‘A Brother’, the brother in question (although never named) is Hitler. According to Mann, the latter was “possessed of a bottomless resentment and a festering desire for revenge”. Neil Ascherson, likewise, refers to the “shattering blow to his [Hitler’s] self-esteem when the Vienna Academy turned down his application to study art…” Mann even suggested that the Anschluss was motivated by Hitler’s detestation of Freud. But Morten Høi Jensen, in ‘The Unbearable Pathos of Thomas Mann’ (2016), makes some telling observations about ‘A Brother’. It is informed, in his view, by Mann’s guilt about his support for German imperialism and militarism during the Great War. Thomas A Baggs, for one, reminded readers of Mann’s ‘To the Civilised World, a Manifesto’ (1938) that  in 1915, in Frederick und die Grösse Koalition, Mann had supported German Kultur in opposition to the supposedly civilised values of “democracy, politics, newspapers”, espoused by the Entente. Back then, he deemed the German soul “too deep to accept civilisation as the motivating force”. And, in his Reflections of an Unpolitical Man (1918), he once again opposed democracy in the name of true freedom and culture.

So was Mann a sincere or credible champion of democracy in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s? Corngold considers Mann’s mea culpa, entitled ‘Culture and Politics’ (published in the Survey Graphic, February 1939) compelling in this context. Mann conceded therein that his values, both before and during the Great war, were “intellectual, bourgeois, German and unpolitical”. He cited Arthur Schopenhauer, an earlier influence, as an exponent of the prevalent bourgeois misconception that “a man of culture could [even should] remain unpolitical”. Mann notes that Schopenhauer regarded the state as a necessary evil which protected property rights. In the 1848 revolution, he called the common people “souveräine canaille” and lent a soldier his opera glasses so he could direct fire on the barricades. The passivity and alienation from politics of the German bourgeoisie facilitated the rise of Nazism, in Mann’s opinion. In this stratum, Hitler’s claim to be “a breakwater…to hold back the forces of socialism” carried weight.

Not without reason, Mann explained the failure of France and Britain to resist the occupation of the Rhineland, the annexation of Austria and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in terms of Hitler’s strident opposition to communism. But some of Mann’s political statements at this time make uncomfortable reading and bespeak a lack of judgement. He made fatuous comments about Marx’s struggle “for the sake of a new truth and justice”. He said that Russia and the Anglo-Saxon peoples were together fighting “the enemies of freedom”. He averred that the British had exercised imperial power “in the gentlest and most unobtrusive manner”. Despite the temporary success of fascism, he maintained that progress “has led mankind to pacifism”. And that the power of nationalism “to bind and enforce” was declining and that the sovereignty of nation states was passé. He characterised Communism as morally superior to Fascism, while simultaneously claiming, correctly, that Fascist barbarism was indebted to Bolshevism. Baggs, accordingly, had little for Mann’s “windy suspiration of forced breath”, to wit, his portentous defence of humanity’s “inborn obligations to decency before God, to reason, truth and right”. And Trotskyist James T Farrell thought that Mann’s critique of fascism lacked substance and was replete with empty rhetoric.

Mann’s concerns “speak to us today”, suggests Corngold, referring to the slogan America First, prevalent in the 1930’s. He is clearly alarmed by the recent rise of populism. In another implicit swipe at Donald Trump, he welcomes the failure of certain “vicious types in office here and now around the world…” to crush ‘humanist thought’. Like many other academics, such as Professor Sarah Churchwell, he evidently despises ordinary people and believes that the intellectual elite should supervise democracy (see ‘Behold, Fake History’, QR, October 2018).

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of Quarterly Review

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ENDNOTES, June 2022

 

Whaling, Zwischen, 1856

Endnotes, June 2022

In this edition: Vaughan Williams at the Barbican, Lennox Berkeley in Paris, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Many musical events, festivals and programmes this year are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great English symphonist, Ralph Vaughan Williams – or RVW as he was known. The composer was one of the inspirational forces behind the cultural phenomenon known as the English Musical Renaissance: the period from the late-19th to early-20th century, when a distinctive national style of music was evolving in these islands. Elgar and Parry already dominated the musical landscape – their work often compared to the sound-world of Brahms – but with Vaughan Williams, a new course for English music was plotted: a journey along the coast and countryside of England, in which folk-songs were collected; and a scholarly immersion in the history of our church music, which led to such masterpieces as the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Elements of all sides of Vaughan Williams’s style came together on Tuesday 3rd May at the Barbican Concert Hall, London, as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and City of London Choir took to the stage, with conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, for a performance of the anniversary composer’s A Sea Symphony. This was his first symphony and completed in 1909 – a substantial work about mankind’s place within the universe which had occupied RVW’s mind for some years. Setting the inspirational words of American 19th-century transcendental poet Walt Whitman, in the first movement the composer depicts a scene in which the ships and “ship-signals of all nations” can be seen: a sunlit moment, beginning with an exhortation, supported by brass, by the full choir – “Behold, the sea itself…”

Yet the piece also works at a much deeper level, and by the second movement, we are beginning to ponder eternity in a slow, processional nocturne: On the Beach at Night Alone. The baritone soloist has an important role to play in this section – and for this performance, the well-known and much-admired Roderick Williams (an advocate of English music) sang the words with an intimate, chamber-like intensity. Although a large hall, somehow the Barbican seems to offer a much “closer” experience for concertgoers; closer to the music and performers: the platform design being such that an orchestra seems to be almost within arm’s reach, or extending into the heart of the front stalls, with ample seating at angles on either extremity of the stage.

Such proximity allowed the Barbican audience that night to savour the soft, silvery string sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; the darting detail of woodwind in the shanty-like passages and RVW’s noble writing for horns, which the ensemble’s players clearly relished. Hilary Davan Wetton has been a presence on the conducting podium for many years – and he first came to my attention in a radio broadcast in the early-1990s, in which he conducted Holst’s Marching Song with the Ulster Orchestra – Holst being a friend of Vaughan Williams a fellow folk-enthusiast. More substantial Holst pieces were Davan Wetton specialities on a Hyperion CD with the Philharmonia Orchestra, including a rousing rendition of the old English choral folk-balled, King Estmere. And with many appearances at the English Music Festival to his name, this conductor was certainly right for the great distances, moods and English visionary romanticism of A Sea Symphony. 

The maestro inspired some fine singing from the excellent City of London Choir, a formation of choral artists who provided some spine-tingling, hushed moments in the great final movement, The Explorers – and in the work’s extraordinary scherzo movement – The Waves – in which, on the edge of our seat (or deck) we experience tricky, treacherous tides and stormy waves splashing against the sides of our vessel, only for the ship to triumphantly steer through the wind and water. Mention must also be made of the evening’s soprano soloist – Sophie Bevan – whose clear enunciation and strong voice projected above the symphony’s choppy waters and ever-rich, larger-than-life orchestral sound.

Vaughan Williams and Walt Whitman “steer for the deep waters only” in this most majestic of works – the natural successor to Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and The Kingdom, but more than that: the creation of a choral symphony, recognisably 20th-century in its style and emotions – with wider tonalities, and writing that seems to draw authentic life and energy from the very shores and seascapes of our our island home. Yet the music slowly raises us into a world beyond the physical and real, as if we are seeing through a telescope our own planet and our little lives, “… O vast Rondure, swimming in space” – that beautiful Whitman line. And in the Barbican concert hall, with its razor-edged sound-clarity, the audience emerged exhilarated as if they had been walking along a coastal path – the “ceaseflow flow” of the ocean and the blown spume, just a few precarious footsteps away.

*                            *                          *

More English music, this time on a new release from Willowhayne Records, exploring the work of Lennox Berkeley (1903-89) – that delicate, Gallic-like figure – during his fruitful Parisian period. In the inter-war years, Berkeley, who is known primarily as a miniaturist (chamber works, rather than symphonies) studied in Paris with Ravel and Nadia Boulanger, and his music is suffused with the fragrance of that city’s tree-lined boulevards and parks – although there seems to be no actual programme to his music, or a particular representation of a place. Even in the quicker movements, the listener never feels hurried along, or pushed in any particular direction by Berkeley: instead, a gentleness and a lyricism that occasionally puts you in mind of John Ireland – another writer of tender tunes – comes to mind.

The artists engaged for this CD are the young violinist, Emmanuel Bach – a player with many credits to his name already, not least at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Wigmore Hall; and the highly-experienced South African pianist, soloist and teacher, Jenny Stern – who has performed many great concertos with the major orchestras of her country. They seem to blend perfectly in their well-recorded performances and have a clear feeling for and joy in this 1930s’-era French and French-inspired music.

The longest work by Berkeley on the disc (and his music is framed by pieces by Poulenc and Lili Boulanger) is the Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano from the beginning of the 1930s, but somehow it is the opening item – the thirteen-minute Sonatina for Violin and Piano, written after the Parisian sojourn and dating from the early years of the Second World War, that strikes (at least, for this reviewer) the deepest emotions. Again, it is never heavy-handed or intense, but there is a melancholy feeling within the three movements, all of which have craftsmanship and structure, and lead the listener on a thoughtful journey –a recollection of memories of France, but on a grey afternoon in England.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

CD details: Lennox in Paris, Berkeley/Poulenc/Boulanger. Catalogue number: WHR070.

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Sick Art

Sickert, Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom

Sick Art

Walter Sickert, Tate Britain, 28 April 2022 – 18 September 2022, an exhibition in collaboration with the Petit Palais, Paris, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Walter Sickert eschewed the “idealised nude”. He painted street vendors, as in Two Coster Girls (1906) but also sex workers, in La Hollandaise (c 1906), Cocotte de Soho (1905), Two Women on a Sofa (1903-1904), Fille Vénetian Allongée (1903-4) and The Prussians in Belgium (1912). In Le Lit de Cuivre (1906), according to one Parisian reviewer, Sickert depicted “whores with withered bodies”. The Star, in 1912, referred disdainfully to an “ordinary street corner loafer”, seated on a bed alongside a half-naked prostitute in Dawn Camden Town (c 1909).

The language changes but the song remains the same. The curators of this exhibition, an Anglo-French collaboration, dissociate themselves from artwork that might ‘objectify women’, likewise from Sickert’s supposedly voyeuristic, ‘keyhole view’, as in Woman Washing her Hair (1906), which brings to mind Degas’ Après le bain femme nue couchée (1885). They draw attention to what they call “the more threatening juxtaposition of male and female figures”, as in the drawing Persuasion (1907). “Some people”, they opine, “are critical of the potential for violence that they see” in works like The Camden Town Murder (c 1907-1908).

Jonathan Jones notes that Sickert called his flat in Camden Town Jack the Ripper’s bedroom (The Guardian, 26 April, Walter Sickert review – serial killer, fantasist or self-hater?). He records that the paper of three letters written by Sickert in 1888 matched that of three of the Ripper’s missives. But it was the crime novelist Patricia Cornwell who first made this contentious claim, in Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed (2002), a somewhat presumptuous title. She evidently failed to  convince artist Mark Walter, for one. He considers Cornwell’s book worthless (personal information; and see www.markwalterartist.com)

The inclusion in this exhibition of works by artists that influenced Sickert, at different stages of his career, is effective. His Théatre de Montmartre (1906) was one of a series of his depictions of French theatre and music hall, with distinct echoes of Degas’ The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer’s opera Robert le Diable (1906). For a time, Sickert was a pupil and etching assistant in James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s studio. Compare the former’s A Shop in Dieppe (c. 1886) to the latter’s very similar Shop Front: Dieppe (1897-9). Sickert also emulated Whistler’s seascapes. Pierre Bonnard, in turn, was a key influence on his depictions of the female nude, a genre in which he arguably found his métier. Consider, for example, Bonnard’s Femme assoupie sur un lit (1899).

Drinking, gambling, bare knuckle fighting, boredom, concupiscence, exhaustion – all are amply on display herein. Francis Bacon, indicatively, owned Sickert’s Granby Street (1909), which he displayed in his studio. British painting has come a long way from Messrs Millais, Alma-Tadema and Ruskin, although the latter’s painterly evocations of Venetian architecture are superior to those by Whistler (see Chiaroscuro – Ruskin, in darkness and in light, QR, Spring 2012).

Sickert, Ennui, second version

Dr Leslie Jones is the Editor of Quarterly Review

 

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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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