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Woodrow Wilson

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

The ideal of European unity is an old one, but its development into the League of Nations is very recent. The development of improved means of communication – railways, steamships, telegraphs, wireless – all helped by knitting the world more closely together.

Innumerable international meetings have been held – in a single year as many as 160 – to consider special aspects of world problems; and since the organization of the International Postal Union, in 1874, an increasing number of permanent official international bureaus were organized with administrative and other powers. The Hague Tribunal, organized in 1899, was a long step toward an international organization, providing, as it did, the nucleus for a world court of justice.

To President Woodrow Wilson belongs the chief credit for making the formation of a League of Nations a reality. In his famous “Fourteen Points” he named this as part of the peace programme, subsequently accepted by the Allies and by Germany in the armistice negotiations. His insistence at the Peace Conference made the League a part of the Versailles treaty. Many offered suggestions as to plan, the one most closely followed in the covenant that of General Jan C. Smuts of South Africa.

The machinery of the League consists of one Assembly, an Executive Council, and an international Secretariat. The Assembly meets at stated intervals, is composed of not more than three representatives from each of the member countries, and each state has only one vote. The Executive Council consists of representatives from Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, the United States (should it enter the League) and four other states chosen by the Assembly.

The purposes of the League are to prevent wars by insisting upon arbitration and judicial decision of disputes, to secure a reduction of national armaments, and prevent international traffic in arms, drugs, women, and children; to obtain fair and humane conditions for labour, etc.

Owing to widespread differences of opinion in the United States regarding the treaty of Versailles and the advisability of joining the League of Nations, the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the League became an issue in the political campaign of 1920. The result of the election was an overwhelming reverse for the Democrat party and a victory for those who opposed the League.

President Wilson’s Fourteen Points

That war between nations be made illegal and its practice punishable by fine.

That the lands of Turkey and the former Ottoman Empire be given to the Great State of Texas.

That international policy be free, open, and no longer a secret procedure, and that it involve America and Great Britain only, to the exclusion of all other nations.

That the economy of Italy be channelled into the development of sporting automobiles, stylish women’s footwear, and men’s suits.

That Russia be evacuated and its population housed in a spacious country to be designated later.

That Serbo-Croatia and all lands surrounding the city of Sarajevo shall be the future vessel of all conflict, strife, horror, and insanity in Europe.

That the European nations admit in writing that, but for America, they would now be speaking German.

That all nations be unified in their love of and commitment to peace, and to the hatred of the French.

To that end, that France be severely punished for its role as host of this horrific conflict, and made to pay reparations to Germany.

That Austria be open, in the summer months, to tourists.

That combat against Switzerland continue until the last Swiss lies dead.

That Luxembourg be maintained as a nation, against common logic, to serve as an interesting political curio.

That the King of Belgium be set as watchman over Germany, to ensure that no suspicious or warlike activities transpire in that nation.

That all civilized nations unite in the noble purpose of exploiting the browner peoples of the Earth.

Great play, ludicrous movie.

Where to start … it distorts Mozart’s character, he was not this continually asinine schoolboy, despite what one may infer from his letters. I don’t think there is evidence that his father became a source for fear, although he probably thought his father a prick stuck in Salzburg. It makes his composing look too casual and easy. The film makes the point that he works hard, but it undermines the concept.

There is no evidence that Salieri ever tied to seduce Constanze, a pure invention.

There is no evidence that Salieri had any even marginal involvement with him in his final weeks. His wife was not as portrayed, the idea they call one another “Wolfie” and “Stanzie” in inane voices generates a tone that also undermines the character of them both. She was bright, a gifted singer and hardworking. The children are pretty much kept out of the way.

I think that will do for now.

No, no, no …

Of course, the film gives a distorted view of the composer; Peter Shaffer was not trying to create a biographical play but only used events from Mozart’s life to create a model in which he could explore the nature of artistic genius as compared to artistic mediocrity.

Mozart’s life and experiences in Vienna were a convenient framework in which to set up this examination. This means that whenever Mozart’s life’s events fit the model, they were used or adapted; those events which did not fit the model were discarded or altered. Where events did not exist, and were needed to advance the thesis of the play, they were invented (e.g. Salieri commissioning the Requiem, and in the end helping him to compose it, the most ludicrous part of the movie). In the play, Salieri must destroy Mozart because Shaffer wanted to demonstrate that mediocrity is the mortal enemy of genius. The work is one of fiction and bears as much resemblance to Mozart’s life as any novel about a historic figure resembles that figure’s life. It is a great play, but Mozart’s life is the scenery and background; it was never about Mozart. The movie is a stupid movie, one of the worst screen adaptions of a stage play, but the music is really an exquisite frame for the ideas which are independent of Mozart as an historic personage.

BTW, I saw Amadeus at the National Theatre in 1979, aged 17, with Paul Scofield as Salieri, Simon Callow as Mozart, and Felicity Kendal as Constanze, directed by Peter Hall, music arranged by Harrison Birtwistle, so FUCK YOU!

An Italian conductor, a Swedish contralto and a Siberian soprano.

Here is Mahler’s programme note for the last movement of his Symphony No. 2, included in Gustav Mahler: Erinnerungen und Briefe by Alma Mahler (trans. Basil Creighton):

We are confronted once more by terrifying questions.

A voice is heard crying aloud:

“The end of all living beings is come – the Last Judgment is at hand and the horror of the days of days has come.”

The earth quakes, the graves burst open, the dead arise and stream on in endless procession. The great and the little ones of the earth – kings and beggars, righteous and godless – all press on – the cry for mercy and forgiveness strikes fearfully on our ears. The wailing rises higher – our senses desert us, consciouness dies at the approach of the eternal spirit. The Last Trump is heard – the trumpets of the Apocalypse ring out; in the eerie silence that follows we can just catch the distant, barely audible song of a nightingale, a last tremulous echo of earthly life! A chorus of saints and heavenly beings softly breaks forth:

“Thou shalt arise, surely thou shalt arise.”

Then appears the glory of God! A wondrous, soft light penetrates us to the heart – all is holy calm!

And behold – it is no judgment – there are no sinners, no just. None is great, none is small. There is no punishment and no reward.

An overwhelming love lightens our being. We know and are.

(Mahler had converted to Catholicism because, as a Jew, he was barred from becoming Music Director of the Vienna Opera.)

Alma Mahler records that Debussy walked out during the second movement of this symphony at its first Paris performance. He said later that it was too much like Schubert.

Fuck Debussy.

(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F. B. Wheeler)

Bounded on three sides by the caravan routes of the Sahara Desert, Tripoli, the Italian colony in North Africa, receives from the north the moisture of the Mediterranean, which washes its one thousand miles of shore line.

For centuries Tripoli owed its prosperity to the caravan routes, which converged here from the Sahara Desert. The most important of these were the routes to Timbuktu in the south-west, to Lake Chad in the south, and to the Darfur region of the Egyptian Sudan. Today the trade in ivory, gold, ostrich feathers, rubber, etc., which formerly flowed across these routes, has mostly been diverted to Egypt on the east and Algeria and Tunis on the west.

After a war with Turkey in 1911-12, Italy gained possession of this great territory and gave it the ancient Greek name of Libya. During the World War of 1914-18 it was overrun by Arabs, Turks, and Germans, and, after the Turks and Germans gave way, the fierce wanderers of the desert continued to defy the Italian government until the armistice of April 1919, preventing Italy from organizing the civilization and development of her newly acquired “empire of sand”.

Before the dawn of history this region was the seat of a flourishing culture. All that is left of this early civilization is a number of great stone monuments – cells cut from the living rock, circles of rough columns, altars, pyramid mounds, etc.

The earliest rulers of western Tripoli in historical times seem to have been the Carthaginians, whose capital was situated towards the west, on the coast of what is today the French colony of Tunis. In the 7th century B.C. the Greeks founded the city of Cyrene on the north-eastern coast of Libya, and the region called Cyrenaica became one of the great centres of Greek culture. Here the sage Aristippus founded the great Cyrenaic school of philosophy, which held that pleasure, tempered by prudence, was the chief goal of life.

Cyrenaica passed under Egyptian rule in the 4th century B.C., and later became part of Roman Africa. It was for a time a flourishing seat of the early Christian religion. The name today is retained for the eastern province of Tripoli, and the village of Grenna stands on the old site of Cyrene.

In the 5th century A.D. Tripoli and Cyrenaica were conquered by the Vandals, and two centuries later the whole country was overrun by the Arabs. In 1510 the city of Tripoli, in the north-west, was captured by Ferdinand the Catholic, and from 1530 to 1551 it was occupied by the Knights of St. John. Then the Turks took possession.

Tripoli soon became the stronghold of pirates, and many were the expeditions organized by European nations against these lawless shores. In 1835 Turkey took a firmer grip on the country, but revolts continued until the clash with Italy put an end to the Sultan’s rule.

Tripoli, or Tripolitania, as the whole region is sometimes called, has four zones. The first, along the coast, is covered with palm, olive, lemon, and other fruit trees. The second, formed by the highlands of Gebel and Tarhuna, produces cereals, dates, and figs. The Tarhuna district is particularly rich in esparto grass, used in making fine quality paper. The third zone consists chiefly of oases and is rich in palms. The fourth zone consists of the Fezzan and the western Libyan desert. In the whole colony there is not a single large river.

The richer areas of Tripoli are inhabited chiefly by Arabs, who have driven the descendants of the original Berber tribes into the mountainous districts, where they tend their flocks and herds in comparative independence. Along the coast are many Jews, in whose hands is a large part of the country’s trade. The fierce Tuaregs, the pirates of the desert, control the barren reaches of the Fezzan. In the larger seaport towns, Tripoli, Bengazi, etc., are colonies of Greeks, Turks, Maltese, largely engaged in the sponge fisheries.

Tripoli, or Libya, is often described as a shithole, but the people are good-natured, if lazy, and hemp, or cannabis, is freely available, as are young boys uncontaminated by HIV.

Quite recently I heard Callas singing some Mozart and was shocked – I expected something dreadfully exaggerated but what I got was really lovely and very much ahead of its time – no fireworks, a very plain, modest way of singing, it really showed how thoughtful a singer she was and how much style she had.

Norma is a good example of what she did. She sang it more than she sang any other role. It is often referred to as a killer role; it is simply very hard on the voice. It is difficult to explain properly without you listening to her. Also, if you don’t know the music at all, then hearing her sing Norma you may well feel, well, so what!

With that piece she moved it from being usually done as almost an oratorio, severely classical in feel, to a red in tooth and claw drama. However, in doing this she really used the music rather than damaged it and her phrasing is extremely intelligent and above all musical. She had the skill of making you think it was all coming fresh out of her mouth, rather than learned by rote and coloured here and there.

She inhabited such roles rather than taking them on. Of course there were great singers before her and if you were to hear Claudia Muzio you would be surprised to hear so much of the Callas colouring … but pre-Callas. Her career was short and that was possibly in part because of the risks she took in pushing her voice, but then, if she had played safe, she would be forgotten now.

It has often been stated that Callas’s fame rested on her undoubted stage presence and dramatic gifts, and though this is no doubt partly true, it doesn’t explain her continuing popularity, or why her recordings should sell in such huge numbers. There have been plenty of other great singers/actors, whose recorded legacy is relatively slight. I can think of Teresa Stratas and Josephine Barstow, both of whom are tremendous on stage, but whose voices convey very little of that presence on record. This is where Callas is different. Her presence and personality fairly burst through the speakers. She creates drama for the mind’s theatre, as surely as if she were standing there before us. With Callas, I no longer listen to the singer, but to the story and character she is unfolding. An example of the differences would be to listen to her performance of, say, O patria mia, from Aïda, alongside Montserrat Caballé’s. Now this is an aria which never worked well for Callas. Caballé here is divine, the top C spun out in a pure pianissimo, which is literally breathtaking. I am astonished and captivated, but I am no longer listening to the opera, I am listening to Montserrat Caballé. In the Callas version, the note is somewhat earthbound and effortful to say the least, but it becomes as nothing, so wistfully has she longed for her homeland in the previous music. Indeed I can’t hear the words O cieli azzurri, without hearing Callas’s peculiarly yearning tone. Someone once said of Callas to John Steane, “Of course you had to see her”, to which he replied “Ah, but I can, and I do!”

In a Medea performance that didn’t go too well, there were murmurs and even catcalls. At one crucial plot line, where she is supposed to address Giasone, she turned to the audience and uttered Medea’s desperate plea “Ho datto tutto a te” (I gave you everything I have).

In a performance of Bellini’s Il Pirata, at the time where the Meneghinis were constantly clashing with La Scala’s superintendent Ghiringelli, Callas-Imogene ostentatiously pointed at the superintendent’s theatre box and sang “La! Vedete, il palco funesto” (“There – look: the dreadful scaffold”). In the opera, the word palco refers to the scaffold where her lover will be hanged. But this Italian word can also be used to designate a theatre box. Although Ghiringelli was not in his box that night, the anecdote was widely circulated across Italy. She made news as no other opera star has ever done before or since.

Another such incident that has passed into operatic folk lore now, is Callas’s first performance in Italy after the scandal of her walking out half way through a performance of Norma, before the President of Italy, due to illness. It was at a revival of Anna Bolena at La Scala. Such was the bad feeling that the Italian press had whipped up against her, that La Scala, fearing an incident, had positioned plain clothed police all over the theatre, and riot police surrounded the theatre outside. Visconti re-directed some of the scenes so as to give Callas a certain amount of protection on stage in case of flying missiles from the audience. Throughout the first act the audience had reacted to her with icy coldness, loudly applauding her colleagues. By the finale of the first act, Callas had had just about as much as she could stomach. This is the scene where Henry VIII finds her in compromising circumstances and tells the guards to take her to prison. Anna, utterly outraged, launches the exciting stretta to the finale with the words Giudice! Ad Anna! Giudice! (Judges! for Anna!). At this point, Callas pushed aside the guards, marched down to the footlights, and hurled the words into the audience, as much as to say “how dare you judge me”, singing the rest of the scene with a scorching brilliance, incredible even for her. The audience was completely won over and from then to the end of the opera, she had them in the palm of her hands. Word of her success apparently reached the crowds of people waiting outside the theatre, and when she appeared at the stage door after the performance, the police found themselves having to restrain not an angry mob, but hordes of fans trying to besiege her with floral tributes. Unfortunately when she returned home that night, exhausted from her triumph, it was to find the gates of the Meneghini villa daubed with dog shit and the walls covered in insulting graffiti. And we wonder why her career was so short!

As an adjunct, it should be noted that Callas actually sued the Rome Opera for not having an understudy available on the night of that walk out, and for not fulfilling their subsequent contractual obligations. The case dragged on for years, and eventually was settled totally in her favour. But it was too late. By then she was no longer singing, though the damage done to her personally and her career was immense and irrevocable.

I suppose the reason for the multifarious theories as to why her voice declined so rapidly, is testament to the fact that nobody really knows and nobody ever will. Both Renée Fleming and Deborah Voight (sopranos themselves) touch on similar theories, which is interesting. Personally, I have always felt that it was not the actual weight loss, but the diet that might have been the problem. Singers need an enormous amount of stamina to support their voices throughout an opera, and you only get stamina with proper nutrition, that is eating the right foods to give you energy, without piling on the pounds. In those days less was known about nutrition and it is quite possible that Callas’s diet deprived her of some of the necessary nutrients. That, and the punishing schedule she found herself following. A typical example is the summer of 1957. On 4 July, she embarked on two performances of La Sonnambula, in which she is in admirably secure voice, as can be heard on the recording preserved from the performances, and now available on EMI. Five days later she is in Milan to record Turandot, a role that was no longer in her repertoire and which she really ought not to have been singing. That she acquits herself as well as she does, is cause for surprise, though she does show elements of strain. However three days after the Turandot sessions are over, she is back to record Manon Lescaut, and it is here that the effects of the previous days can be heard. She sounds utterly exhausted. Indeed some of the climactic high notes are as bad as they were to become in the mid-1960s, and this is probably why its release was delayed until 1959.

The first thing of any substance I ever heard by Berio was his Concerto for 2 Pianos, on an RCA record that has never been released on CD. It remains a favourite, regardless. Sinfonia is very fine, likewise Coro. I haven’t heard enough of the Chemins or Sequenza series to make an overall call, but what I have heard was of high quality. A piece called Points on the Curve to Find, a sort of mini piano concerto, seems to bring a Reichian element into Berio’s style, and it works, too.

I’m not sure I’d call myself a fan. Some works I really love; others leave me cold. I’ve been listening to Berio for about 30 years. I don’t know which grabbed me first, the Folk Songs or the Sinfonia. I do know the LP pictured was one of my first Berio purchases, circa 1978. It’s a two LP box. I may not be a confirmed Berio fan but I’m definitely a confirmed Berberian fan. Being a Mahlerite my favourite Berio work is, of course, Sinfonia. I own Boulez and Chailly’s recordings.

A bit of Grateful Dead trivia. Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead’s amazing bass player, was a student of Berio’s at Mills College in the mid-60s. Berio was so impressed with Lesh’s skill as a composer, he invited him to be his apprentice in Italy. Lesh met Jerry Garcia shortly thereafter and he chose a different musical course … to the profound gratitude of Grateful Dead fans all over the world.

We’ll never know what the classical world lost but perhaps we hear a taste of what might have been during the Lesh-inspired second set Space segments during those interminable Grateful Dead shows.

Berio


Berberian

Revolting Pasta

One does not usually associate Italy in the last century with the symphony as a musical form. Ottorino Respighi wrote an early, derivative (although sumptuous) Sinfonia Drammatica but towering figures of Italian music like Goffredo Petrassi and Luigi Dallapiccola did not write symphonies. (Petrassi did compose a very fine – if increasingly unbearable to listen to, I find – series of eight concertos for orchestra). Obviously a guy with a lot of time on his hands.

I invested some years ago in the Marco Polo set of Gian Francesco Malipiero’s eleven numbered symphonies and five other named sinfonias played by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by the late Antonio de Almeida. These are fascinating compositions, rightly acclaimed by the leading Malipiero expert John Waterhouse. Whilst applauding Marco Polo and de Almeida’s enterprise however, I cannot but feel that the performances are not much better than “run-throughs” by the Moscow players. These works need much better performances to reveal their real depth. I would though certainly encourage others to give these symphonies a try! Anyone else know the recordings?

I am also intrigued to hear the single symphony composed by Ildebrando Pizzetti which, I have read, is a fine work. Alfredo Casella wrote two early symphonies (apparently influenced by Mahler) and a third symphony at the beginning of World War II but none of these is currently available – Casella’s music is only slowly beginning to be played much again after his very high pre-war reputation was damaged by his association with Mussolini’s Fascist regime.

CPO did record a couple of symphonies by Franco Alfano – primarily another composer of dull Italian operas – but I would certainly not rate these as masterpieces.

Many do tend to think of Italy – at least before the Berio, Nono, Maderna era – as a country of opera. It is worth taking some time perhaps to explore those composers who also wrote symphonic music.

Some people will do anything to be on Italian TV.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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