Sunday, July 24, 2016

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky






Robert Schumann's beautiful Piano Sonata No.  21 in B-flat D. 960 with its delicately exquisite third movement (wait for it, as they say on facebook videos).  Alfred Brendel, one of my favorite performers, is the pianist (at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, the man recorded EVERY SINGLE composition for piano by Beethoven). You can listen along as you read by clicking on this link.

How does one review Crime and Punishment?  I've chickened out trying to review other Dostoyevsky novels, like The Possessed (also translated as "Demons") because it was too great in scope.  Therefore, I am not going to try to retell the story or attempt some in depth analysis- you can take a Russian literature class at your local college for that.

Instead, I am going to tell you what stood out to me and hopefully take only a couple of paragraphs in doing so.

Alert:  There are major spoilers in this review!

Last week I wrote a review that concerned a real life ax-murderer.  This week's review will center around a fictitious one.  Yet for all that, Dostoyevsky reveals eternal truths about the human psyche that cannot always be gleaned from actual events (unless one philosophizes about them, like Dostoyevsky).

Our protagonist (or antagonist?) is Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov.  Try saying that three times really fast.  Also, Dostoyevsky, like Tolstoy, delights in having the different characters address each other with different names.  So to some people he's Rodion, others he's Romanovitch and yet others Raskolnikov or some affectionate or formal variant of any of those names.  It's a little hard to keep track at times.

Rodion, as I shall call him hence , is a penniless student, or former student, who lives I don't know how.  I don't know how anyone in a Dostoyevsky novel doesn't starve to death and that is fiercely true for Rodion.  I'm not sure he eats an entire meal anywhere in the story.  He has a tormented mind.  He wrestles with greatness and morals.

It is rather the same problem Frank Lloyd Wright dealt with:  Is someone who is Great subject to the same morals as everyone else?  Was Napoleon a murderer, Rodion ponders, or did he have the right to take the lives of so many through war because he belonged to an elite class of Greatness? 

Unlike Rodion, Wright didn't wrestle with the problem or even toy with it.  He had no qualms about what his Greatness entitled him to. I wonder what Wright's views were on murder:  Was the man Carlton, who murdered Wright's lover guilty of murder because he was merely a servant, and would Wright be guilty if he (hypothetically) murdered Carlton?  

You'll need to read my last review and Wright's comments on morals to appreciate what I mean (Wright felt moral laws were for the common masses, not geniuses like himself.)

Rodion decides that a hateful, spiteful shrew such as the old woman, Alyona Ivanovna,who he pawned his possessions to was not worthy of life and if Napoleon could kill (in war) millions, why couldn't someone else, just as superior, kill just one worthless old woman who cheated people and physically abused her sister?

So Rodion goes about staging the murder.  He believes that he receives supernatural signs (he passes a couple mentioning that Alyona's sister, Lizaveta, will be out of the apartment on a certain evening). He acquires an ax from the gardener of his apartment, hides it up his sleeve, walks to Alyona's apartment, enters it and brutally bludgeons the old woman.

But things do not go as planned.  When he finishes his dastardly deed, he finds Lizaveta has come into the apartment, so he feels compelled to finish her off as well.  

Now arrives a philosophical problem.  Did Lizaveta deserve to die?  Was she just as worthless as her sister?  She was kind and well-loved, always helping others.  Rodion discovers that playing God with other people's lives does not make one a god-certainly not if gods are omniscient.  He obviously did not foresee everything.

Narrowly escaping being caught by some workers, Rodion manages to leave the apartment and building unseen, return the ax, and return to his own apartment.

Like his counterpart, Ivan, in the Brothers Karamazov, Rodion finds his "Intelligent Rationalizing" makes him seriously ill (plus, as I mentioned, he won't eat; but at least he's not harassed by a demon as poor Ivan was).  He is surrounded by people who love him.  His sister, Dounia (I'm sticking to first names with everyone else) and mother Pulcheria come to St. Petersburg to see him (and to meet with Dounia's fiancee).  His best friend, Dmitry, also stands by him.  None of them know why he is so ill, but rally around him.

Aside from this primary plot device, there are the usual assortment of desperate characters that populate every Dostoyevsky novel.  

A man, Marmeledov, once a successful public official, has drunk away all his money and himself out of a job.  His drunkeness eventually kills him when he walks in front of a horse.  He leaves a consumptive wife and four starving children who get beaten regularly by the wife who is beside herself in desperation.  The oldest child, Mermeledov's daughter from a previous marriage, is thrust into prostitution by her step mother and through this profession is able to keep the family barely afloat.

This oldest daughter, Sonya, is an interesting study.  Her circumstances are horrible, yet she is the one who has faith in humanity and in God.  Because of her steadfast belief in right and wrong, Rodion finally turns himself in.  She follows him to Siberia and lives near the prison as he serves his time.  She becomes a consolation to not only him but to all the prisoners who come to regard her with great affection.

There are no boring characters in this book (or any book written by Dostoyevsky) and I could write pages about each one.

As in The Possessed, Dostoyevsky brings into view characters that forshadow the Socialists that eventually take over Russia, turning it and the surrounding countries into the Soviet Union.  If the reader wonders how Communism rose up, read this novel and The Possessed.

Another character is a young idealist named Andrei who expounds on his ideas of nihilism and the equal sharing of property.  He believes utopian bliss can only be achieved if private property does not exist.  Andrei comes across as slightly ridiculous but possessing a basic sense of right and wrong which he shows when his room mate, a self-absorbed clod by the name of Luzhin, tries to humiliate Sonya to avenge himself against Rodion who persuades his sister, Dounia, not to marry him.  Andrei rescues Sonya because he is an eyewitness to Luzhin's scheme.

Luzhin is wealthy but stingy and arrogant.  He wants to marry Dounia because he perceives her as poor and helpless and therefore someone who would willingly marry and worship him out of gratitude for raising her up out of her dismal poverty.  He likes the idea of lording over a woman who can only be his slave because of her desperate plight.

The reason Luzhin attacks Sonya is because he perceives that she and Rodion have come to care for each other.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this story again (I read it once in my twenties) was because I had read that the detective who investigates the murder was one of the inspirations for the creator of Columbo, the detective on the 70s television show.

And the verbal exchanges between Rodion and Detective Porfiry Petrovich are worth reading by themselves.  The battle of the wits that ensues over several pages are quite suspenseful.  The set up is the same as in Columbo.  We already know Rodion did it and we breathlessly read as he darts and dodges every question Porfiry directs at him.  Like a fisherman reeling in a particularly elusive fish, Porfiy deftly hypnotizes Rodion with psychological gymnastics that slowly ensnare him.  Or almost snares him.  There's a few twists and turns before it's all over.

As with all of his novels, Dostoyevsky thrusts the human dilemma before the readers' eyes: all men are desperately wicked. Yet he never leaves us without hope.  There is no evil committed so great that is beyond redemption.
 

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky 1821-1881

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan

George Gershwin is on the radio playing a medley of all of his compositions.  If you like his jazzy/ classical compositions you can listen here.
http://pica.taliesinpreservation.org/catalog/product/cache/2/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/d/e/deathinaprairiehouse.jpg


Last week I was in Denver visiting my sister, Debbie.  She is an Architect and also teaches at the College School of the Mines.  While driving through the mountains, she related a story about Frank Lloyd Wright that I did not know.  When I returned home to Texas, I checked a book about the incident from my local library.  

It was an e book.  Don't you love checking e books out of the library?  You just go online  to Amazon through your library account, download the book for free, read it, and in two weeks it disappears all by itself.  I don't even have to leave my house.

The book I downloaded was Death in a Prairie House:  Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders.

I'm sure most of us know who Frank Lloyd Wright is:  one of the greatest American Architects of the Twentieth Century.  This book does not touch upon Wright's professional accomplishments but is a biography of his life and particularly the gruesome events surrounding one of the most mysterious mass murder cases in U.S. history.

Drennan is an engaging writer and at 232 pages (or in my case, 1214 KB), I read the book in one day.  

The first half of the book is devoted to Wright's biography.  Wright's parents were a strange combination to say the least.  His father, William Carey Wright,  was an itinerant Baptist preacher who never stayed anywhere very long and kept money hardly at all.  His mother Anne, apparently hated her husband, hated his children by a previous marriage- especially his young daughter whom she physically abused- and, really the whole wide world, except little Frank.

I've read that people develop Narcissistic Personality disorders when someone, usually a parent, usually a mother, dotes on a child to the point that the child is persuaded he is above everyone else, including laws and social mores.  This appears to be what happened to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank's father ran off while he was young.  Or run off, as it was believed that his abandonment of the family was a calculated move on Anne's part.  What Frank thought of it, no one knows, but he didn't attend his father's funeral. But then again he didn't attend his mother's either.

While "greatness makes you above the law" is debated by some, it is true that Wright developed a genius for designing houses and buildings.  His Prairie School  and Arts and Crafts designs are well known to anyone with a penchant for American Architecture. He became an apprentice and then a partner with a famous Chicago Architect, Louis Sullivan, and helped him create skyscrapers gracing downtown Chicago, including my Alma Mater Roosevelt University which was once a hotel and still houses the Auditorium Theater.

The World's Fair and its ushering in of Grecian and Roman revival apparently crushed both Sullivan's career and his spirit.  He died a alcoholic, heartbroken man.

Not so, Wright, who easily discarded the man who helped him step up into the professional world of architecture, establishing his own firm.  Wright thrived and moved on, developing his unique Americana houses and homes.  His signature house is the Prairie Home which expressed his philosophy that homes should be organic and produce a "harmony between man and nature".  Made to conform to the local landscape, his homes only used local materials, were single stories, unstained and unpainted and built with low ceilings and long rows of windows.  

After twenty years of marriage, Wright abandoned his wife and six children and left for Europe with Mamah (pronounced "may muh") Cheney, the wife of one of his clients.  In Europe Mamah translated the works of the Swedish feminist, Ellen Key.  Both Wright and Cheney advocated Key's principals that "true love isn't illegal and a marriage that is not based on true love is illegal." 

I suppose it occurred to neither of them that true love is based on the will and not on feelings or selfish desire, but let me move on.

In 1911, this caused quite a stir in rural Wisconsin, but Wright nevertheless returned with Mamah and built Taliesin, a Praire design house on family property.  Wright refused to budge, writing a public letter to the local newspaper that rules and laws were made for "little" people and truly great people were above the laws.  Such a proclamation didn't endear him to his neighbors.

All of this is merely the prelude to the actual plot of the book.  Two years after Wright and Cheney (now Borthwick as she returned to her maiden name) moved into Taliesin, in 1914, the unthinkable happened.  

Wright was in Chicago on business and Mamah was at home with her two children who were visiting for the summer (her ex-husband had custody). While at the table for lunch, a servant, Julian Carlton, bludgeoned Mamah and her son, John, to death with an ax, chased her daughter Martha, killed her, then set all of them on fire.  He also set fire to where workmen were eating in another room when they realized gasoline was pouring in from under the door.  The men tried to escape but only one survived in the end.

It is largely speculation as to what motivated Carlton to murder his employers.  Carlton was found in a boiler room where he drank acid to kill himself before getting arrested.

Putting the fragments together, it seems Carlton was emotionally disturbed, perhaps a paranoid schizophrenic.  Due to erratic behavior, Mamah and Wright had given Carlton and his wife notice, but according to Carlton, he was getting even with Emil Brodelle, one of the workers for his racist and violent attitude toward him.

Carlton starved to death before he was brought to trial.

Wright built another Taliesin on the original site to "wipe away the scars", but it burnt down too.  He finally built Taliesin III and created the Taliesin Fellowship which was a congregation of artists, architects and other creative people to live and inspire each other.

According to some sources they did a lot more than that, but that doesn't come into this story.

Wright married again, a Miriam Noel, but her morphine addiction soon doomed the marriage.  However, they stayed together for 15 years and Noel held firm sway over the older architect, keeping him from attending his mother's funeral.  He finally divorced her and married Olga Hinzenburg, another bohemian that influenced Wright, bringing in a guru and adding to the overall colorful, if not entirely upright environment at Taliesin.  (There's a book about the Taliesin Fellowship, but I decided against reading it after one review wrote the book made him feel "unclean".)

Wright finally died in 1959.  He was born two years after the Civil War; his grandparents were contemporary with Jefferson and Washington; and he died as John F. Kennedy's star was rising.

The Taliesin tragedy was a turning point in Wright's career.  His buildings were no longer to be merely organic but endurable and, more importantly, fireproof.

Given, the subject, Drennan's book could have easily become salacious, but he keeps the narration filled with energy and professionalism.  He makes the story enthralling without resorting to cheap gossip.

One thing that stands out to me is Wright's belief that he was above moral law.  According to the Bible the wages of sin is death.  The fact that he died as all mortals do indicate that he was no more above any law than the "little people" he held in contempt.

Nevertheless, pushing Wright's personal life aside, I have now ordered two books that catalogue every edifice Wright built.  I eagerly await them. 



Monday, July 11, 2016

Short Breaks into Mordor: Dawns and Departures of a Scribblers Life by Peter Hitchens

Listening to Public Radio.  Liszt's Totentanz, a piano and orchestra theme and variations of the ancient Gregorian chant Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is playing.  Here is a link for the interested. 

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Many people know who the late Christopher Hitchens is, but not many, at least in the U.S., know he had a brother who is also a writer.  Peter Hitchens is a writer for The Mail, a British newspaper that can be read online.

He complied a number of his essays, written both for The Mail as well as an American magazine and put them together to comprise a Kindle book called Short Breaks into Mordor:  Dawns and Departures of a Scribbler's Life.

Each essay is about a country he visited over the past ten or so years and the impressions he received there.  Most of the countries are under oppressive regimes, such as North Korea, Eastern Europe, different African countries and China.  He offers much thought-provoking insight to each country.

Even Japan, which, we don't consider to be repressive, is in its own way.  Once a manufacturing powerhouse in the late seventies and eighties, Japan has fallen under anxious times.  College students prolong graduation, taking class after class, sometimes doubling the college career life-span due to the lack of jobs in the work place.  For every job there are hundreds of new graduates applying.

Hitchens notes that racism and ethnic purity is a strong motivating force to the Japanese culture and as entrenched as cement.  Even Japanese who migrated back from South America (at the encouragement of the Japanese government in an attempt to increase their dwindling population) are treated differently and lead poor, unemployed lives, thus adding to the problem rather than helping it.

I have observed that this has become an unforeseen problem globally in first world countries and some third.  Remember all the panic-inducing stories by Paul R. Ehrlich, Kirk Vonnegut and other dystopian writers of the fifties and sixties?  Remember Solyent Green?  A world overpopulation explosion was going to cause mass starvation and chaos.  Now what do we find?  Countries with zero population growth, are suffering from an elderly-heavy population that is becoming increasingly hard to sustain by the ever-shrinking youth population.

This leads us to another essay by Hitchens:  China.  China is suffering not only from an growing elderly population but also an acute female shortage due to their one-child policy and their citizens' propensity to kill baby girl fetuses in order to try again.  China now has 130 boys to every 100 girls.  This has also led to unexpected consequences.

One of them is kidnapping of young girls and selling them as brides to rich families for their sons.  In some villages, according to Hitchens, this has become so dangerous that girls cannot leave the house unaccompanied and, even worse, are kept in bolted cages during the day when both parents have to work.

China, however, is the leading employer of Africa.  Do they exploit and pay slave wages?  Yes.  Are there not reparations for frequent injuries and Africans of all ages, including very young children who work in extremely dangerous mines and other hard labor?  No.  (Lewis Hine must be rolling in his grave). 

Why?  Beats starving.  I am old enough to remember when Mandela was supposed to change South Africa and allow all races equal opportunity.  Mandela is dead, but the government of South Africa, as well as every other African country is run by Tribal Africans, but poverty has not been much alleviated.  Where are all the sanctions- rights activists of the eighties and nineties now?  Have they lost interest because they no longer perceive the politics in Africa as a Civil Rights issue?

Let's move on to Eastern Europe, Hitchens describes the aftermath of the fallen Soviet Empire as leaving such a moral vacuum that the current corruption in former Soviet governments make the Old regime ever more appealing to its citizens. 

And finally, North Korea.  Surely the mother of all repressive regimes.  Look at a global map made by a satellite at night.  South Korea is lit up but North Korea is all darkness.  I think that is a fit description of the way of life conducted there.
You can see a photo here.



Peter Hitchens said it was hard to see anything authentic because their visit was so scripted, down to their hotel lights, which went off as soon as they left and came on when they returned.  Once he caught a glimpse of a man lying on the ground.  Was he drunk?  Was he dead?  He never got to find out because immediately a group of men and women circled around the prostrate man, cutting him off from view.

On a lighter note, he witnesses a daily ritual between India and Pakistan.  A highly elaborate border closing ceremony where soldiers of both sides take down their respective flags, shake hands at a gate that stands between the two countries before slamming said gate shut on each other, before opening it again the next morning.  Hitchens  wryly compares it to the navies of France and England meeting in the middle of the English channel and mooning each other.  You can watch this highly interesting- and not a little amusing- ritual here.

I do not agree one hundred percent with all of Hitchens' views.  He is, after all, British and is not necessarily  pro-American policies ( he was as adamantly against the Iraqi war as his brother Christopher was in favor of it).  But his writing is highly engaging, witty and extremely interesting.  

I'm rather jealous of someone who has been afforded the opportunity to travel as he has and get paid for it besides.

There are many other countries.  I haven't touched upon South America or North America.  I'm not sure which continent Hitchens hasn't visited, perhaps Antarctica.  But he has literally seen hundreds of countries and with an adept pen ( or computer) describes them all in vivid terms.

For those of you interested in further information here are a couple of links to Hitchens.  One is a debate with his brother and the other is an interview with Eric Metaxas, the author of Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Peter Hitchens and Eric Metaxas 

Peter Hitchens vs Christopher Hitchens debate

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mozart: A Cultural Biography by Robert W. Gutman

The Symphonic Poem by Cesar Franck is playing as I write my latest book review. I guess I should be playing something by Mozart since I'm reviewing a biography of him, but I randomly turned on the Classical station and this is what is playing.



Mozart:  A Cultural Biography is the third biographical work I've read on the composer, including the letters which are probably the most revealing.

So far this is the best.  It is a scholarly work and quite exhaustive.  Not only does Gutman provide the chronology of Mozart's life but he fills in the back drop:  what was going on politically in Austria and Europe, who were the leaders, what philosophical movements were growing such as the enlightenment, and how that ran up against a population that was still devoutly Catholic.  Not much is spoken of the Reformation but perhaps that didn't come into play in Mozart's life.

What this book provides is a much more thorough picture of the life of one of the greatest composers known to the world.  Gutman accomplishes this on a external as well as internal level.

We see how the political landscape and leadership affected Mozart's thinking as well as his career.  The Enlightenment with it's vocal supporters such as Voltaire, Spinoza, Kant, Descartes etc..were gaining ground and influence, culminating in the French Revolution, had an impact on his career since the Esterhazy house of Austria became panic-stricken over the assassination of the Prince's cousin, Marie Atoinette. Prince Esterhazy as well as the Royal leaders of all Europe suddenly became preoccupied with any possible threat to their positions.

Mozart and his father and sister toured Paris prior to that and Mozart, later as a young adult, toured again with his mother.  Neither tours provided any success and perhaps the clouds of discontent  that were gathering were responsible as well as Mozart's inability to defer to nobility.

In Mozart's native country, Austria, we see the different leaders, those that appreciated music, those that didn't, their influence and tenuous relationship with Mozart. 


In the biography by Marcia Davenport, in addition to being a sentimental dramatization of his life, portrayed the composer as largely unappreciated and unrecognized until after his death.  Gutman shows a different picture.

According to Gutman, Mozart and his father couldn't comprehend aristocratic politics.  Instead of simply bowing and smiling to people undoubtedly less musically knowledgeable, they would take on airs to the point of being insufferably arrogant.  Needless to say, they didn't win many friends with people in positions of power.

Most of this was due to Leopold.  Leopold needs to go down in history as the worst stage parent ever.  He  relentlessly exploited both his children, forcing them all over Europe to tour, compromising their health.  It's a wonder Mozart lived as long as he did.

Leopold also had delusions of grandeur.  His letters show someone who is not above exaggerating and even lying about Nannerl and Amadeus' success and connections to different Royal governing officials.  If Mozart hadn't eventually cut himself off from his father, he possibly would  have been a social pariah for the rest of his life.

Fortunately for Mozart and mankind, he did.  He left his father's home in Salzberg and took up residence in Vienna.  Away from the influence of his father, Mozart was able to temper some of his more flamboyant tendencies and carve out a career for himself.

In point of fact, contrary to the impression Davenport gives in her book, Mozart was slowly but surely gaining a reputation. The last six to nine years of his life showed, if not monetary success (and he would have had that, if he had been a better manager of his money), a steady path to fame and finally legend.

Even there Leopold's tentacles tried to reach out.  Declaring himself to be on the edge of poverty, a good chunk of Amadeus' money went straight to his father and the support of his sister (his mother died while they were traveling in Paris).  He constantly orders through his letters, which were largely ignored by his son.

I will say, however, that as I read the letters between father and  son, I assumed that Leopold was being the sensible one while Mozart was the dreamer.  This may have been true, but Gutman paints a larger picture that shows just how domineering Leopold was and how inadequately he prepared his son for adult life.  Maybe he wanted him to be forever a child, dependent on him.

My book of letters are not complete.  Gutman quotes many letters that show a man who took a very long time to grow up.  His sense of humor is shockingly gross, akin to a twelve year old boy, even though Amadeus was in his twenties.  He seemed fixated on anal humor.

However, Gutman prints a letter of Mozart's mother and it is similarly coarse and vulgar.  Maybe it was a family trait, or even a natural part of Salzberg culture. Gutman makes several comparisons to the "peasant" class of Salzberg compared to the more sophisticated Viennese.  Since Mozart spent the remainder of his life in Vienna, perhaps it tempered his "lower" instincts.

A few things that Gutman revealed that I did not realize was his devoted and loving relationship with his wife Constanze.  When Mozart wrote to his father about his engagement to Constanze Weber, he predictably exploded.  He threatened his son with severance of the family and every dire outcome that would result in this uneven match.  Loyal to her father, Nannerl joined in league with him and both remained cold and aloof to both Amadeus and Constanze, even refusing them visitation in their home when they were in town.

Constanze has had a negative reputation as a flaky airhead of a wife who couldn't begin to comprehend her husband's genius.   We now know the source of that information came largely from Nannerl who determined to stay true to her father's position even after his death, a mere four years before his son's. 

In reality, Constanze was quite musical herself, coming from a musical family.  Her oldest sister, Aloysia, was a highly successful opera singer.  Constance, at first, was as impractical in money matters as her husband, but she grew to become quite competent in finances and was able to pay off all her husband's debts.

A side story is that initially, Amadeus was obsessed with Aloysia, and believed she was the love of his life.  She, however, took up with an actor so Mozart, being practical, turned his attention to the third daughter, Contanze.  Later in life, when her star had faded and she was old, unknown and poor while Mozart had achieved world renown, one has to wonder if Aloysia ever had second thoughts.  According to Gutman, she never tired of telling her sister, Constanze, that she was his "first and true love" and he never stopped loving her.  What a witch.

And it wasn't true.  Mozart's letters show an intense passion and tender care for Constanze.  He couldn't bear to be apart from her, felt incomplete without her.  And, without going into too much detail, was quite randy.  Mozart had a healthy sexual appetite and kept his wife in a state of almost constant pregnancy for the nine years of their marriage.

Which brings me to another surprising trait of the Mozart's and probably their contemporary culture. Maybe it was because children died so easily (Amadeus and Constanze had six children but only two survived to adulthood), but there seemed to be a callous disregard to children.

Children were shuffled off to a wet nurse while the parents went on their business.  Child-rearing seemed to be largely delegated to the servants.  Once Amadeus and Constanze went off on tour, leaving the newborn with a wet nurse and came back to find out the poor child had died three weeks previously.

In addition to cultural and personal facts, Gutman interlaces compositional analysis into his biography.  He uses quite a bit of subjective visual imagery when describing Mozart's writing techniques, especially his operas.  I suppose his objective is to provide the reader with insight into the deeper philosophical meanings and political messages Mozart was attempting but I found it all to be rather a bit of hand waving.

Mozart, it seemed, was never in robust health, but nevertheless kept up a frenetic schedule of composing and performing. This finally compromised his health and he became bedridden.  The doctors with their usual routine of emetics, enemas, and bloodletting did the rest. He died at the age of thirty-five.

Contrary to popular belief, he was not buried in a pauper's grave.  While it is true, the funeral was simple and no one accompanied the coffin (due to spread of disease), he was buried in a public grave with a small plaque.  Unfortunately, every ten years these graves were plowed  up to accommodate new inmates.  By the time anyone thought to preserve his body (something extremely expensive to do) it was too late.

Following her husband's demise, Constanze showed her true mettle and shrewd business acumen.  She toured with a company, performing and selling her husbands works, paid off all his debts, remarried a Danish Civil Servant, who, with Constanze wrote one of the first biographies of Mozart.

Ironically, Constanze and George Nikolaus von Nissen, her second husband's graves are located in St. Sebastian Church in Salzburg.  There is even a disputed photograph of her.  She was alive at the time of the photo in 1840, but not everyone is in agreement that the photograph actually shows Constanze.  Here's a link, if you're interested:
Constanze Weber 

This book is thirty-five chapters long and each chapter is about twenty pages.  It is, in my opinion, quite a scholarly work, probably containing more information than the average person wants to know about Mozart.  I however, thoroughly enjoyed it and even looking forward to reading what is considered to be the definitive biography of Wolfgang Amadeus:  the three volume work by Otto Jahn.
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1757-1791













Other links:

http://www.wolfgang-amadeus.at/en/biography_of_Mozart.php 

http://www.biography.com/people/wolfgang-mozart-9417115 

http://www.ipl.org/div/mushist/clas/mozart.html 




Monday, June 27, 2016

Midnight in Siberia by David Greene; Michelangelo by Yvonne Paris, The Colosseum by Peter Quennell





It is 10:46 pm and Pour la Piano no. 3 by Claude Debussy is rippling in the background and I am going to attempt to write three book reviews in half an hour.

 https://www.penguin.com.au/jpg-large/9781922182043.jpg

David Greene is host of NPR's Morning Edition.  He spent over two years in Russia as NPR's Moscow Bureau chief.  While there he traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway in order to interview people from all walks of life in big towns and small.

This is exactly my sort of book.  It is simply about normal people, what is going on in their lives and what they think.  He met young and old, yet there were definite things they all had in common.

Outside in public, they were all impersonal in a Bradbury-esque dystopian way. No one smiles or makes eye contact.  The author saw two girls get hit by a car, but no one stopped hurrying by.

Yet, the author found that inside their houses they were the epitome of hospitality, welcoming you like a family member, loading food on you, drinking lots of alcohol (that the author felt obligated to join) and talking hours into the night.

He also encountered horrible bureaucracy for the simplest of things. Getting a train ticket or checking into a hotel  required mountains of paperwork.  He also noticed that he was followed everywhere.

Life is very, very hard in Russia.  There is grinding poverty, although some people have huge wealth.  Almost every woman Greene met was a single mom because she either kicked out her drunken husband or she was widowed because he drank himself to death.  Depressing.

Also depressing is how corrupt the police force is and even more depressing is how every Russian he talked to decided that democracy didn't work and they needed another Stalin.

"The government took care of us under Soviet times," they said.  "We had enough to eat and a place to live.  Now it's different."

It's like listening to the Israelites long for Egypt.  They seem to forget they were slaves.

This book allowed me a taste of present day Russia. Greene writes very well and obviously cares about the people he lived with for a few years.  If you like hearing people tell their life stories, especially from a country as fascinating as Russia, you will enjoy this book.




I have been submitting stories to magazines and have noticed that there are quite a few that want travel stories.  Therefore I am writing up my own experiences when I traveled overseas and plan to submit them when I get the essays in finished form.  While writing, I had to hearken back to books about the art and places I saw to get details correct.  Consequently I ended up reading two coffee table books about Italy and Rome.

Michelangelo by Yvonne Paris has plenty of big, glossy pictures of all the Master's works.  Paris works meticulously over the history of Michelangelo's life and when and where he created each work.  She quotes many other biographers which offers a compilation of different scholars' research and analysis of one of the greatest artists known to us.




The final book is The Colosseum.  This is a wonderful book, not only for it's history of Flavian's Amphitheater, as it was known, but also for the information it provides about the Caesars and writers of ancient Roman history.  It follows the rise of the Holy Roman Empire and the various European leaders across the years who impacted Roman history. The last part lists writers from Goethe to Lord Byron to Charles Dickens and even Longfellow who came and wrote of the Colosseum.

For me particular interest was the fall of ancient Rome, the barbaric invasions, as little as 500 hundred people populating the ruins, and how Rome slowly grew again to be a city of influence.

The games are described, not in excruciating detail, but cannot but be gruesome because of the total waste of life.  By the sixth century:

...many noble species of wild animals had vanished from the Roman Empire:  North Africa had lost its elephants; Nubia, its hippopotami; Mesopotamia, the powerful lions...Hyrcani, its famous Caspian tigers..All had been chased out of their natural habitat or slaughtered for the delectation of a Roman audience. (pg.51)

And that's not including the carnage of human life.

Both books are filled with photos and give good overviews of Italian history, with many references for someone, such as myself, who would want to read more literature on the subject.  Before I had finished either book I had ordered the Life of Michelangelo by Vasari (a contemporary of the artist) and Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars.

You'll be reading reviews of those books in the future.


My son and Moses

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W. Tuchman


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I am a big fan of harpsichord music, although I understand not everyone is.  As a wedding present, a friend of mine bought me the complete works of William Byrd on keyboard.  This includes not only performances on the harpsichord but also the smaller clavier and organ.  Anyway, this is what I'm listening to.  Here's a link if you'd like to listen along. 

The Zimmermann Telegram was written in 1958 by Barbara W. Tuchman.  It is about the pivotal point that finally propelled a reluctant President Wilson along with a largely pacifist U.S. population that elected him twice to join a war effort barely before it was too late.

If no one has made a movie out of this they should, Tuchman's writing is superb.  A Tom Cruise action-packed movie couldn't move at a faster pace.  I also learned a lot that did not come up in my high school history class.

In high school we were taught that WWI came about unintentionally due to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, as allies and axis lined up against each other due to agreements that if this country went to war we would go to war with it etc.. so what should have been a local tragedy turned into a World War.

According to Tuchman's book, that is not quite what happened.  She lays the blame fully on the shoulders of the German Kaiser Wilhem.

The Kaiser invented the concept of "The Yellow Peril" to invoke paranoia and racism in Europeans and Americans in order to manipulate them against the Japanese, but, as it later turned out, he was also willing to negotiate with the Japanese as well as Mexicans to divert American interests from Europe and keep them out of WWI.

In short, WWI could have been avoided if the Kaiser was not power hungry for world dominion.  Yet he had the support of the Germans.  The seeds of Aryan superiority existed years before Hitler came to power.  Hitler simply knew how to fan the flame.

I learned more about Woodrow Wilson than I ever knew, at least as far as his attitude toward war and world war with Europe.  

He was the only president with a PhD and taught at several colleges, including Cornell and Princeton.  He was an intellectual and approached issues from a progressive, cerebral point of view.

Which goes to show that things can look academically good on paper and have little correlation to reality.  This includes his pacifist philosophy.  He tried to the very end to work for world peace, ignoring the real threat of Mexican dictatorships and  war hungry Germans.  He was fairly obtuse on this point, waiting until U Boats bombed American ships with heavy loss of life.  And then the Zimmermann Telegram.

British Intelligence, through a set of fortuitous circumstances as outlined in the book, received a code book the Germans used and were able to consequently intercept German communications to  the German Ambassadors in America and Mexico.  One of these was the Zimmermann Telegram.  Arthur Zimmermann was the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire.  His telegram was a communication to Eckhart, the German Ambassador in Mexico.  In it he anticipates unrestricted submarine warfare against the United States and a proposed alliance with Mexico.

The Kaiser had already been stirring things up with the Mexican dictators as well as the Japanese in order to occupy the Americans stateside so they would not have the resources to enter into the war and assist Britain and France.   He anticipated taking over these countries as well as carving up the States (with his little helpers, Mexico and Japan) after America could no longer defend herself.

Much of this was known or suspected by many of the Cabinet members in the U.S. House and Senate.  Wilson's personal advisors pleaded with him to realize how dangerous the situation was becoming.  Theodore Roosevelt stormed, fumed and threatened to "skin Wilson alive".  

But all to no avail.  Wilson held his pacifist philosophies too dear.  In this he reminds me of President Carter.  

When the Zimmermann Telegram first came to light, Wilson's supporters, American pacifists and even the Hearst newspapers laughed it off as a hoax, probably invented by the British to manipulate Americans into the war.

All that was put to rest when Zimmermann himself admitted to authoring the telegram.  No one knows why he admitted it, when he could have easily denied it. 

But for whatever reason, no one could any longer deny that Germany was planning on attacking the U.S. and Wilson, after years of dilly dallying, believing he could created world peace, jumped on board and WWI began.

I couldn't help comparing the events in this book with current events and human nature.  

For one, I observe the  groundless belief some people and unfortunately people in key positions of power hold that power hungry people don't exist.  They refuse to believe that evil exists and that there are powerful people in the world that passionately devote their lives to destroying whole civilizations for personal gain, profit and lust for dominion.  I have personal friends and family members that believe with all their heart that every war and act of terrorism is just a big misunderstanding and if we would lay down our weapons, so would they and...and...then we could all join hands and sing, "Let There Be Peace on Earth".

History has shown us again and again that this isn't true and our present day course doesn't look much different but there is a stubborn persistence in clinging to the ideology that "everyone wants peace."

That is what I find so disheartening about our present situation: our current leaders' refusal to be realistic about terrorism.  To call people paranoid when attack after attack transpires.  When our leaders' only reaction is to tell us to stop being "phobic" and "irrational" instead of telling us what they are going to do to keep their citizens safe, I feel that people are one day going to look at this time period the way history looks at President Wilson.

I suppose I got a little editorial there but those are the thoughts this book provoked.

But, to return to the book, I highly recommend this book for the insight it provides into one of the most important historical epochs of the last century. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rome: Day 3 The Roman Coliseum, Palatine Hill, Ancient Ruins and the Roman Forum

The Coliseum
Yesterday we spent the day walking around the Roman Coliseum, Palatine and the Roman Forum.  Lots and lots of walking in the heat but absolutely worth it.  I took a lot of pictures of the amphitheater.  The floor no longer exists so the lower level where the prisoners, gladiators and animals were kept was exposed. 
You could get your photo with a Roman Soldier.  This one was taking a break.

Underground where the animals, gladiators and prisoners stayed while waiting their fate.
  
  

 

Derek is sitting outside a small shop where we had lunch and the best gelato in Rome.


Palatine Hill

From there we walked around the Palatine which is on a hill next to the Coliseum.  It was once a palatial garden with a mansions where the emperor entertained.  The magnitude is incredible.  It's amazing what slave labor can accomplish. There are also a lot of Roman remains where excavators are still digging and uncovering artifacts.  The columns are incredible.




Head of colossal statue of the Emperor Constantine




Little Car. Wonder how many mpg it gets.




There must be as many motorcycles in Italy as there are cars.




















The above and following photos are of the Palatine Gardens
and Roman Ruins being excavated.









The Roman Forum where the politicians of the ancient Roman Republic used to debate and give speeches.
   
 This was our last day in Rome.  From there we traveled to Florence.  Next week photos of our travels through Tuscany and the things we saw in the city that was the birthplace of the Renaissance.