British suffragette movement history discovery


This video from Britain is called Women’s Suffrage (stock footage / archival footage).

By Peter Lazenby in Brtain:

Opening the page on Rochdale’s Suffragettes

Monday 28th July 2014

Minutes from 100 years ago shed light on the movement at its heyday, writes PETER LAZENBY

Researchers in north-west England are seeking the descendants of local pioneers of the “votes for women” Suffragette movement following the discovery of historic minutes dating back more than a century.

The minutes, dating from May 1907 to November 1915, record details of the Rochdale branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the organisation founded in 1903 in Manchester by the Pankhursts and other campaigners for women to get the vote.

The minutes have been handed to Salford’s Working Class Movement Library.

They include a list of almost 50 members and friends who attended a “monster demonstration” on June 21 1908, when between 200,000 and 300,000 women gathered in Hyde Park supporting their campaign for votes for women.

The minutes of June 12 1913, record that a special meeting was held to “consider the matter of sending delegates to represent Rochdale at the funeral of Miss Emily Wilding Davison who laid down her life in the cause of women.”

Ms Davison, who was 40 and was a teacher before devoting herself to full-time activism for the women’s movement, was trampled to death by the “King’s horse” after stepping in front of it at the Epsom Derby on June 4 1913.

She died of her injuries four days later.

As a campaigner she had been sent to jail nine times, and was brutally force-fed 49 times while on hunger strike in prison.

Her final sacrifice drew attention to the women’s cause in Britain and around the world, and Ms Davison’s name lives on as a martyr in the struggle for votes for women.

The Rochdale group decided to send three delegates and flowers to the funeral. It took place in London on June 14 1913. Thousands of Suffragettes walked with the coffin and tens of thousands more lined the streets as the cortege passed.

After a service in Bloomsbury her coffin was taken by train to the family grave in Morpeth in Northumberland.

The Rochdale minutes have been donated to the Working Class Movement Library by two supporters of its work in collecting, cataloguing and making accessible materials recording working-class history.

Library manager Lynette Cawthra said: “I don’t know where the donors originally got them from but I think they had had them for a long time.

“But there is no direct link between them and the movement. They have been friends of the library for a long time and knew that this was a place where these treasures would be looked after, and also be accessible which is, of course, a very important part of our work.”

Ms Cawthra said the minutes showed that the meetings were not all serious business.

“Members also had picnics, tea parties, dances and socials to raise much-needed funds,” she said.

“At one tea party, attended by about 50 people, the women were presented with a tea urn by a ‘gentleman sympathiser.’

“The library is extremely grateful to the donors of this minute book, which will be added to its collection of Suffragette material which includes photos, books, the journal Votes for Women and a badge which was presented to a woman who had been imprisoned for her Suffragette activities. Everyone is welcome to come and browse what’s here.”

The library is making public the list of names of Rochdale campaigners who attended the London rally in the hope that descendants will come forward.

Ms Cawthra said: “If you spot the name of your great-gran or another family member in the list, please do contact the Library on enquiries@wcml.org.uk or (0161) 736-3601 and tell us more about them.”

The Working Class Movement Library is based at Jubilee House, 61, The Crescent, Salford M5 4WX.

British World War I media censorship


This video abouyt United States armed forces is called Censored letters WWI.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

First world war: how state and press kept truth off the front page

Threatening journalists with arrest seems unthinkable now

Not that unthinkable, unfortunately, see, eg, here and here.

– but that was just one of the obstacles they faced at the start of WW1

Roy Greenslade

Sunday 27 July 2014 19.00 BST

On this, the 100th anniversary of the day the first world war began, it is sobering to look back at the way that conflict was so badly reported. The catalogue of journalistic misdeeds is a matter of record: the willingness to publish propaganda as fact, the apparently tame acceptance of censorship and the failure to hold power to account. But a sweeping condemnation of the press coverage is unjust because journalists, as ever, were prevented from informing the public by three powerful forces – the government, the military and their own proprietors.

It is undeniable that newspapers began by demonising the German enemy. They published fabricated stories of German barbarism, which were accepted as fact. Although Belgian and French citizens were executed as reprisals by the German army in the early months of the war, many unverifiable stories – later dubbed “atrocity propaganda” – were wholly untrue. Editors and journalists were therefore guilty.

Censorship was a different matter. It was imposed from the opening of hostilities and, although gradually relaxed, it remained sufficiently strict to constrain reporters from obtaining information or, should they manage to get it, from publishing it. Rigid government control was exercised in conjunction with a complicit group of committed pro-war press proprietors.

The Defence of the Realm Act, enacted four days after hostilities began, gave the authorities power to stifle criticism of the war effort. One of its regulations stated: “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population.” Its aim was to prevent publication of anything that could be interpreted as undermining the morale of the British people, but it did not stifle all negative reporting. If it had done so, then Lord Northcliffe could not have campaigned so relentlessly against war minister Lord Kitchener through his newspapers, the Times and Daily Mail.

It was the Times’s war correspondent, Charles à Court Repington, who broke the story in May 1915 of the shortage of artillery ammunition. What became known as “the shells crisis” had explosive political results. It forced prime minister Herbert Asquith to form a coalition government, catapulted David Lloyd George into the post of munitions minister and was a precursor to Lloyd George replacing Asquith.

Northcliffe’s campaign against Kitchener, a national hero then held in high public regard, resulted in a revolt by a million Mail readers and several advertisers. He was quoted as saying at the time: “I mean to tell the people the truth and I don’t care what it costs.” He was vindicated once that truth emerged; sales and advertising returned.

Northcliffe was aware of having two advantages in being critical of the war effort. First, his patriotism was never in question because his papers published hysterical anti-German propaganda. Second, he was assured of support from Lloyd George, with whom he connived in order to oust Asquith. But Northcliffe was far from the only newspaper proprietor who supported the war. CP Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, was initially opposed to it, as were his senior staff. After hostilities began, they felt compelled to back it. “Once in it,” wrote Scott, “the whole future of our nation is at stake and we have no choice but do the utmost we can to secure success.”

At the war’s outbreak, Kitchener banned reporters from the front. But two determined correspondents, the Daily Chronicle’s Philip Gibbs and the Daily Mail’s Basil Clarke, risked his wrath by defying the ban and acting as “journalistic outlaws” to report from the front line. Gibbs was arrested, warned that if he was caught again he would be shot, and sent back to England. Clarke, after reporting on the devastation in Ypres following the German bombardment, returned home after a similar warning.

Three months later, the government relented by allowing five “accredited reporters” access to the front and, over the following three years, several more journalists were also given accreditation. But censorship ensured that all sorts of facts were hidden from the readers of British newspapers. British blunders went unreported, as did German victories.

Even the bloodiest defeat in British history, at the Somme in 1916, in which 600,000 Allied troops were killed, went largely unreported. The battle’s disastrous first day was reported as a victory. The Daily Mail’s William Beach Thomas later admitted he was “deeply ashamed” of what he had written, adding: “The vulgarity of enormous headlines and the enormity of one’s own name did not lessen the shame.” Gibbs defended his actions, claiming that he was attempting to “spare the feelings of men and women, who, have sons and husbands fighting in France”. He had the gall to claim that the truth was reported about the Somme “apart from the naked realism of horrors and losses, and criticism of the facts”. After the war, both men accepted knighthoods for services to journalism. Others, like Hamilton Fyfe, previously editor of the Daily Mirror and later editor of the Daily Herald, regarded the honour as a bribe to keep quiet about the inefficiency and corruption he had witnessed.

Only later did the public learn of the high casualty toll and the horrific nature of trench warfare, such as the use of poison gas and the effects of shell shock. With these appalling conditions in mind, it was no wonder that Lloyd George confided to Scott in December 1917: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.” He was speaking after listening to Gibbs’s description – at a private meeting – of the reality on the western front. He conceded that the censors “wouldn’t pass the truth”.

Lloyd George was sufficiently concerned about sagging public morale in 1917 to encourage the creation of a propaganda body, the National War Aims Committee. He also offered Northcliffe a chance to join the cabinet. He refused that post, but accepted an appointment as director for propaganda at the ministry of information. So Britain’s most influential media tycoon became the war’s official propagandist. The prime minister extended his press control by appointing the newly-ennobled Daily Express and London Evening Standard owner, Lord Beaverbrook, as the first minister of information. Lloyd George used press proprietors as a private reporting service, with censored articles being passed on to the cabinet.

But self-censorship played a big role. As Gibbs wrote later: “We identified ourselves absolutely with the armies in the field. We wiped out of our minds all thought of personal scoops and all temptation to write one word which would make the task of officers and men more difficult or dangerous. There was no need of censorship of our despatches. We were our own censors.”

A fuller version of this article is published in the latest issue of the British Journalism Review.

The posters that sold World War I to the American public: here.

The U.S. confiscated half a billion dollars in private property during #WWI: here.

World War I, fiction and reality


This video is called Trench warfare at its worst – Battle of Somme 1916.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Untold stories of the war

Jeremy Paxman, Michael Morpurgo, Pat Barker and other writers tell some of the surprising and heart-rending stories still emerging from the conflict

Saturday 26 July 2014

Jeremy Paxman

For much of the first world war the official Royal Navy fleet included a battleship that was quietly rusting at the bottom of the sea.

In 1914, the British navy was the greatest seagoing force in the world. HMS Audacious joined the fleet the previous year, a new, state-of-the-art battleship with 10 13½in guns, 16 smaller guns and a crew of 900.

On 27 October 1914, the Audacious emerged from the fleet’s deep-water anchorage in Lough Swilly for gunnery drills off the coast of Donegal. Just before 9am the crew heard a low thud. A sublieutenant Spragge, who was having a bath at the time, thought it was the signal to start firing. It was not: the ship had struck a mine – almost certainly laid by a German passenger liner that had just passed through the area – and the British battleship had been holed. The captain attempted to take Audacious back into Lough Swilly, hoping to beach the ship for repairs. But, with the engine room flooded, it soon became unmanoeuvrable. As the great battleship settled further and further into the water the crew began to be evacuated to other ships.

One British warship after another attempted to give the Audacious a tow. All failed. At this point the luxurious liner the Olympic (a sister ship of the Titanic) appeared on the scene, nearing the end of a crossing from New York to Britain. The liner evacuated the remainder of the crew and attached a line to the Audacious. This rope broke and it was clear that the pride of the Royal Navy would have to be abandoned. At about 9pm, survivors on the Olympic heard a tremendous explosion aboard the Audacious and she sank beneath the waves. The wealthy passengers on the Olympic gave the rescued sailors their spare clothes. They later disembarked in dancing slippers, evening waistcoats and top hats.

At the highest levels of government the decision was taken that the public were not to be told about the catastrophe. The Olympic was detained and its radio silenced. One of its richest passengers, the American steel magnate Charles Schwab, who was on his way to London to try to secure a lucrative munitions contract, was allowed off the ship, having given a strict promise of silence. British passengers disembarking later in Belfast blithely told reporters they’d had “a marvellous passage”.

To maintain the lie, the Admiralty redistributed the crew of the Audacious around other vessels in the navy, while the battleship remained on the official complement of the Royal Navy throughout the war. It was only on 14 November 1918 that the government admitted that their prize battleship had spent almost all the war on the seabed.

• Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War is published by Viking. …

Sebastian Faulks

A hundred years ago, the Great War destroyed Europe’s claim to be the most civilised continent in the world and seemed to make a mockery of terms such as “the Renaissance” and “the Enlightenment“. Three empires were lost. Our grandfathers killed 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians; they introduced the idea of genocide as a political solution – and 20th-century Europe proved eager to embrace it. It did not feel like that to the soldiers at the time. They responded in a traditional way – by forming close bonds with those next to them. It was dangerous to make a best friend because you might need a new one tomorrow. But that didn’t stop them.

Jack Dorgan, a sergeant in the 7th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers had a German shell drop in among him and his friends during the attack in St Julien on 26 April 1915. In the aftermath, he discovered bodies lying a few yards from the shell-hole. “All I could see when I got up to them was their thigh bones,” he recalls on a recording in the archive of the Imperial War Museum. “I will always remember their white thigh bones, the rest of their legs were gone.”

One of those wounded, a Private Bob Young, was conscious right to the end. Jack Dorgan lay down beside Young and asked if there was anything he could do for him. Dorgan recalled: “He said: ‘Straighten my legs, Jack’, but he had no legs. I touched the bones and that satisfied him. Then he said, ‘Get my wife’s photograph out of my breast pocket.’ I took the photograph out and put it in his hands. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t lift a hand, he couldn’t lift a finger, but somehow he held his wife’s photograph on his chest. And that’s how Bob Young died.”

There were millions of Bob Youngs. It has fallen to later generations to try to interpret the disaster that befell – then shaped – our world.

• Sebastian Faulks is the co-editor with Hope Wolf of A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War (Hutchinson). …

Richard J Evans

On 5 January 1919, almost two months after the end of the war, a curious ceremony took place in a small colonial settlement on the eastern coast of New Guinea. A column of about 20 native soldiers emerged from the jungle, headed by a German officer in the full-dress uniform of the Prussian army, and made its way over to a waiting detachment of Australian troops to surrender in what must have been the final act of the first world war.

The officer was Captain Hermann Detzner, an engineer and surveyor, and he had an extraordinary tale to tell. When the war broke out in August 1914 he had been mapping the border between the British protectorate of Papua, occupying the south-eastern quarter of the island, and the German colony of Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, occupying the north-eastern quarter. The German part of the island formed part of the kaiser’s possessions in the Pacific, gained during the colonial scrambles of the late 19th century. At the beginning of the war Germany’s Pacific territories were overrun by Australian and Japanese forces – Japan was an ally of Britain during the war – and their governors and commanders surrendered virtually without a shot being fired.

Not so Detzner. Receiving an order from invading Australian forces to surrender on 11 November 1914, he decided to keep the German flag flying and marched away from the border eastwards on to the Huon peninsula. Here, according to Detzner’s memoir Four Years Among the Cannibals, published after the war, they made a German flag from dyed loincloths and marched through the jungle singing patriotic German songs such as “The Watch on the Rhine” to keep their spirits up. By this time the Australian troops on the island were under orders to shoot him on sight. His second-in-command was captured, and Detzner himself, a small, wiry man, fell ill, weighing only 40 kilos when he surrendered. Nevertheless, his memoirs became a bestseller in Germany, calling to mind the lost days of Germany’s overseas empire and its achievements, which Detzner claimed in his case included the discovery of many new species of flora and fauna previously unknown to science.

Unfortunately, however, his claims were eventually revealed to be false. According to the Australian forces on the island, he had not roamed the jungle at all: he had been staying all the time in a German Lutheran missionary compound, retreating to the hills only when they drew near. He was a civilian, not a soldier, and he undertook no military action during the entire war. His scientific claims were discredited by other German explorers, who pointed out that they were frequently plagiarised from their own work, or, where this was not the case, pure invention. In 1933 he was forced to issue a retraction and apology, and he retired into private life, dying in 1970 at the age of 88. His tale is a reminder of the fact that the Great War was fought not just in the mud of Flanders but in many locations all across the globe.

• Richard J Evans’s Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History is published by Little, Brown. …

Douglas Newton

When many people think of Britain’s decision to go to war in 1914, fatalism descends. They mutter that there was no alternative. They imagine that Britain did all it could to avert heading to conflict. It was a response to German aggression against Belgium; Britain stood up for democracy.

This tale scarcely matches the evidence. Britain’s war-makers forced the pace, “jockeyed” the Cabinet, blindsided parliament, and rushed to a premature decision – before Belgium’s invasion.

First, Britain’s decision-makers frogmarched events. They did very little to restrain Russia or France. Britain itself was provocative; on 28 July, the fleet was ordered to “War Stations”, before news of a Balkan war. The following day its “Warning Telegram” was sent across the empire, two days before the comparable German proclamation.

Second, the interventionist minority in Asquith’s Cabinet “jockeyed” the neutralist majority. The naval moves, the shunning of all negotiations on neutrality, the army mobilisation, and the calling out of the Naval Reserve, were all decisions taken by the Asquith clique – between meetings of the Cabinet.

Third, cheerleaders for war were active in London. Influential men, in government and the press, linked with the French and Russian embassies, campaigned for Britain’s instant intervention – for the sake of Russia and France, irrespective of Belgium.

Fourth, democracy was sidestepped. Parliament learned almost nothing of British policy until Monday 3 August. The leaders fostered the impression that any war for Britain would be naval only. Asquith sought to squash all parliamentary debate. On 6 August, the government gave MPs the famous “White Paper”, amending various diplomatic cables to hide Russia’s pressure for war. Effectively “bounced”, the parliament backed war.

Finally, Britain’s choice for war was made on Sunday 2 August, when Cabinet authorised Grey to pledge naval assistance to France – before the Belgian disaster. This pledge almost wrecked the Cabinet. So appalled were neutralist ministers at their own government’s haste that four resigned. Nowhere else did this happen in Europe.

The demand for neutrality was never a demand that Britain should simply walk away if Germany invaded Belgium. It was a demand for a credible active neutral diplomacy during the crisis. That might have averted war.

• Douglas Newton’s The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914 is published by Verso.

Opera about Holocaust in New York City


This video from the USA is called Houston Grand Opera’s “The Passenger“.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

The Passenger depicts the Holocaust and its aftermath in opera form

25 July 2014

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1968 opera The Passenger recently had its New York premiere as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival. The performances showed that this challenging work, dealing with the Holocaust and its aftermath, deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertoire.

Weinberg, born in Warsaw in 1919, narrowly escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland, arriving in the Soviet Union before his 20th birthday. His parents and younger sister were sent to the Lodz Ghetto and later perished in a concentration camp. Weinberg, who lived the remaining 56 years of his life in the USSR, was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets, operas and film music. Among his film scores was that for the award-winning The Cranes Are Flying.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg

(Interestingly, one of Weinberg’s cousins, following the Russian Revolution, was the secretary of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Baku Soviet commune and was executed by counterrevolutionary forces in September 1918 along with the other 26 Baku commissars.)

In eight scenes over two acts, The Passenger tells the story of a prosperous German couple in the early 1960s, Liese and Walter, who have embarked on an ocean voyage to Brazil, where the husband, a West German diplomat, is to take up a new post.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

In the midst of what should be a time of satisfaction and happy anticipation, however, Liese observes a mysterious passenger onboard, and becomes convinced that this is in fact Marta, who as a young Polish woman was an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Liese was an Auschwitz guard, something she has tried to leave behind and suppress psychologically, and has never even spoken about to her husband.

The opera, with a libretto by Alexander Medvedev and music by Weinberg, then compellingly develops the theme of the Holocaust and its aftermath. The action takes place on two levels, both in its staging and in its time frame. The upper level is the ship itself, including Liese and Walter’s private cabin. Stairs lead to a lower level, the concentration camp barracks and the railroad tracks leading to the camp. The scenes alternate, forcefully depicting the memories that increasingly haunt Liese as the story progresses.

We are soon introduced to Marta as a young concentration camp inmate. Her fellow prisoners include Tadeusz, Marta’s beloved, whom she finds after a separation of two years. Liese is the only character that appears on both levels of the opera, with the events of nearly 20 years earlier clearly seared into her memory. In her role as a camp guard, she threatens and taunts the prisoners, and in particular tries to take advantage of Marta and Tadeusz’s relationship for her own purposes.

The work explores the issue of the aftermath of the Holocaust, for both victims and perpetrators. The Passenger is set in the early 1960s, in the midst of the postwar economic boom in Germany, and also in the shadow of the Eichmann trial in Israel, which brought the issue of the Holocaust and its architects before a new generation of Germans as well as to a global audience. A generation of young people in Germany, as elsewhere, were radicalized by the war in Vietnam in particular as the 1960s unfolded and attempted to come to terms as well with their own traumatic national history. This was the period that saw the publication of some of the best-known novels of German writers such as Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the first films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff and others.

The Passenger [Photo ©Stephanie Berger/Lincoln Center Festival]

The historical issues are deliberately not spelled out in The Passenger. The story is presented without even settling the issue of whether the mysterious woman is in fact Marta, or perhaps only the vivid reflection of Liese’s guilty conscience.

The opera also does not portray Liese as a kind of stand-in for Germany as a whole, a symbol of collective guilt. It does, however, show the impossibility of ignoring the past. It raises the inevitable issues of the causes of the descent into barbarism. The portrayal of both the younger and middle-aged Liese suggests the self-satisfied layer of the middle class that finds itself, under definite social and political conditions, capable of the most monstrous crimes.

The opera is based on a novel by a Polish concentration camp survivor, Zofia Posmysz. Posmysz, alive and well at the age of 90, has been involved in the belated production of the opera, and appeared at the New York premiere.

Arrested as a young girl because of an association with an anti-Nazi group, Posmysz spent three years as a prisoner. Some years later, as a journalist on assignment in Paris, she thought she saw someone who had been a guard at Auschwitz. This episode led first to a radio play, which was later turned into a novel, in which the relationship is reversed, with a conscience-stricken former guard believing she has glimpsed a former inmate.

The novel became enormously popular in Poland. This was a time of political ferment following the working class protests in Poznan in 1956. The book was turned into a film— Passenger (1963)—by the talented young Polish director Andrzej Munk (Man on the Tracks, 1956), completed by colleagues after Munk’s untimely death in an auto accident in 1961. Somewhat later, Weinberg’s close friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich urged him to consider a project based on the novel.

Weinberg’s music is impressive, as we have had occasion to note in the past. It reflects his lifelong association with Shostakovich, whom he first met in 1943, when he was only 23 years old and Shostakovich himself was 13 years older. Highly dissonant at times, the score remains tonal and emotionally involving. The composer is especially effective in combining and alternating several styles while still adhering to a distinctive musical language.

The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but the music is not derivative. Weinberg depicts the growing apprehension and panic of Liese, the concern of her husband for his career prospects, and above all the suffering and heroism of the prisoners. The music is at times anguished, jazz-influenced in its depiction of some of the shipboard activities, and briefly but strongly lyrical in the reunion of Marta and Tadeusz.

If there is one major weakness, it is in the vocal writing itself. In an opera, this is of course an issue that can’t be overlooked. There were times, especially in the opera’s first act, when an emphasis on orchestral writing, and an imbalance between the orchestra and performers, tended to detract from the dramatic action. The second act was more affecting, especially the exchanges between Marta, Tadeusz and Liese.

Both Marta and Tadeusz resist Liese’s attempts to enlist their cooperation, even though it will mean their deaths. A high point of this act, and the climax of the entire opera, comes when Tadeusz, a violinist, is commanded to play the camp commandant’s favorite waltz, and instead defiantly performs the famous Bach Chaconne from the Second Partita for Violin, before being led off to his death.

Weinberg’s orchestration is masterful. Strings and winds are joined by powerful writing for the brass section, and above all, a percussion section that includes almost every imaginable instrument, including timpani, triangle, tambourine, whip, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, bells and glockenspiel.

The Houston Grand Opera production was also striking. Director David Pountney was responsible for the English translation of the libretto. The opera, originally presented in Austria in 2010, was staged in Houston last winter, and it is the Houston production, including the orchestra under Patrick Summers, that was brought to New York for three performances. The opera was first presented in Moscow in concert version in 2006, nearly 40 years after it was written.

The New York performances took place in the historic Park Avenue Armory, in a building dating to 1880 and for decades the headquarters of the 7th New York Militia Regiment, which had fought in the Civil War. The huge vaulted space of the Drill Hall, at the center of this building, is a music venue unlike any other in New York. The size of the space made some amplification of the voices necessary, a rare occurrence in the opera world. In this case it was carried off in so understated and effective a fashion that some listeners would not even have been aware of it. Although the opera was sung in English, the use of supertitles was also effective, as was the unusual placement of the orchestra, to the side of the two-tiered set.

The singers were uniformly excellent, particularly soprano Melody Moore as Marta. Tadeusz was sung by Morgan Smith, Katya by Kelly Kaduce, Liese by mezzo soprano Michelle Breedt and Walter by tenor Joseph Kaiser.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is one of the “lost composers” of the twentieth century. Strictly speaking, he is not of the generation that came of age musically between the imperialist world wars, or whose career was interrupted by the rise of fascism during those decades, including some promising composers who perished in the Holocaust. Although Weinberg was younger and had a full musical career, the environment in which he worked was shaped by the tragedies of this era.

In connection with the belated appearance of The Passenger, little has been said about why it languished in obscurity for decades. Shostakovich was enormously taken by the work, but for reasons that were not spelled out, it was not staged, although many other works of Weinberg were regularly performed in the Soviet Union.

The Stalinist regime, which still used a heavy hand in cultural matters in this period, may have decided that an opera that focused on concentration camps and dealt with Polish victims did not mesh with its own continuous efforts to build up nationalist feelings. The authorities decreed that emphasis had always to be placed on the Russian and Soviet toll in the war, which of course was massive, to the exclusion of others. It was for this reason that Shostakovich encountered such official opposition to his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar,” dedicated to the Jewish victims of Nazi extermination at this site in Kiev.

Weinberg’s life was shaped in no small part by horrific Nazi barbarism on the one hand, and the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution on the other. While he and many others found refuge in the Soviet Union, they also confronted the regime of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, which used anti-Semitism for its own purposes.

Dutch seventeenth century painting and foreign authors


This video is called Art Museum Mauritshuis (The Hague, the Netherlands), part 1.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The Golden Age of Dutch art has inspired writers from Marcel Proust to Donna Tartt

Just as Tracy Chevalier pilfered Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Proust purloined the artist’s ‘View of Delft‘, so Donna Tartt appropriated Fabritius’s ‘The Goldfinch’ – set to be Booker-longlisted this week – as her inspiration. But what is it about the Golden Age of Dutch art that so enthrals novelists? Boyd Tonkin travels to the Mauritshuis museum, home to these three masterpieces and many more, to see for himself.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Blessed are the latecomers. By a couple of days, I missed the official press unveiling of the restored Mauritshuis, the treasure-crammed “jewel-box” of an art museum in The Hague that houses the Dutch royal picture collection. So, after the media crowd had left but before the gallery opened its doors to the public, I was allowed to sit in Room 15 for as long as I liked, almost alone. Outside, around the town lake and beside the 17th-century courts and mansions of the seat of the Netherlands government, orange-clad cafés geared up for another Holland World Cup game. Inside, in room after masterpiece-crammed room, time stopped – and the paintings began to whisper their tantalising stories.

On one wall, between Gerard ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter and Hunting for Lice, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring forever turns an enigmatic gaze on the spectator. Across the room, the same artist’s View of Delft captures for all eternity his home city in 1660 or 1661, bathed in fitful sunshine after a passing shower. Next door in Room 14, re-positioned between windows in honour of its new-found celebrity, hangs The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the Delft-based pupil of Rembrandt and perhaps a teacher of Vermeer.

I was more fortunate than Tracy Chevalier. Although the novelist had kept a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring on her wall since the age of 19, she only caught her in the flesh here at a Vermeer exhibition in the mid-1990s. “These are paintings that need a calm empty room to be appreciated in,” she later said. “You were lucky if you had three seconds in front of a painting before you were shoved out of the way by another visitor.” Even so, that brief encounter incubated the bestseller that, after its release its 1999, helped to make this ever-elusive canvas one of the best known of all Dutch paintings.

The “girl” had starred in fiction at least once before. In Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency (1987), a stalled writer travels to the Mauritshuis to see her – only to find that she has moved to a temporary show abroad.

As for Fabritius’s quizzical bird, it entered the fiction charts – via Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – thanks to a sojourn in New York. Tartt’s novel turns on the (imaginary) theft of the picture after a terrorist bombing at the Met, and pivots its reflections of art and life around the secrets of this gnomic painting. It has already won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – and now it looks like a strong contender for the Man Booker Prize longlist, due on Wednesday in the first year of eligibility for American works.

Yet no tale spun around the masterworks of the Mauritshuis can match in literary gravitas the fictional afterlife of Vermeer’s View of Delft. For Marcel Proust, who saw it first in the Hague in 1902, and again in 1921 when it visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris, this cityscape of buildings irradiated by an ever-changing light was simply “the most beautiful painting in the world”. Across the epic length of his A la recherche du temps perdu, it recurs as a touchstone and talisman of art’s perfection – and art’s mystery.

'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp', one of the fine Mauritshuis Rembrandts, inspired the novelist Nina Siegal (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Remarkably, for a gallery that displays only 260 works, the contribution of the Mauritshuis to literature does not end there. The American writer Nina Siegal has just published a novel prompted by The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp – the youthful masterpiece of 1632 found in the Hague’s dazzling cluster of first-rate Rembrandts. And downstairs, Holbein’s portraits of Jane Seymour and of the cruelly handsome Robert Cheseman, Henry VIII’s master falconer, plunge the imaginative viewer straight into the milieu of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

This inspirational gallery has re-opened after a two-year, €30m refit. A new underground foyer connects the neat waterside palace – built around 1640 for the former governor of Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, and home of the Dutch royal collection since 1822 – to an Art Deco building across the street converted to host shows, events and a library. But the “jewel-box” ambience remains – even embellished with a state-of the-art lift that hoists you from the subterranean entrance-hall to just inside the old front door.

Director Emilie Gordenker walks me around rooms renovated with a vigilant care for period fittings and materials. “It’s the perfect size as it is,” she says. “We didn’t want to turn it into a big museum.” (The royal collection numbers some 800 works, many on show nearby at the Prince William V Gallery.) She believes the focused but secretive masterpieces of the Golden Age invite, and reward, repeat visits. “You see more and more in them; they benefit from close attention.”

Save for The Goldfinch’s new prominence, the star attractions of the Mauritshuis have not been fenced off in any VIP enclosure. “People said, ‘Don’t you want to put the Girl with a Pearl Earring on her own?’ No: you see her surrounded by the very high quality of the other paintings.”

Does Dr Gordenker, who curated Dutch and Flemish art at the National Gallery of Scotland, before coming here in 2008, have any personal favourite? “It’s like asking a mother about her favourite children!” In her guide to highlights of the Mauritshuis, though, she does write that if “forced to choose”, it would be View of Delft.

'View of Delft' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660-1661 (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Writers of fiction have woven yarns around the lives of artists, real or imaginary, since as early as 1831, when Balzac re-invented the young Poussin in The Unknown Masterpiece. From Somerset Maugham channelling Gauguin in The Moon and Sixpence to Irving Stone’s semi-documentary heroics in Lust for Life (Van Gogh) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), the results have spanned the sublime and the faintly ridiculous. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera appear in Barbara Kingsolver’s Orange Prize-winning The Lacuna. Orhan Pamuk‘s My Name is Red, with its richly tinted evocations of Ottoman court painting in the 16th century, shows that the genre can adapt to fit a variety of frames.

At the Mauritshuis, the proximity of so many story-spinning canvases prompts a different sort of question about the traffic between prose and picture. Here, the broad sweep of the bio-novel takes second place to the ellipses and enigmas of individual works. For all the heavyweight scholarship devoted to symbolism and allegory in paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, the mystery of these frozen moments continues to haunt viewer and story-teller alike. True, Chevalier’s novel does in its oblique way, via the voice of the maid Griet, observe the life of Vermeer and his household in Delft; more importantly, it captures, scene by scene and gesture by gesture, the episodes, emotions and secrets hinted at by that outlandish jewel glinting at the servant’s (if she is a servant) ear.

The paintings from this place and time seem to serve as uniquely combustible firelighters of narrative. As Chevalier has said about the Girl’s almost startled sideways glance, “It’s the kind of expression you can interpret in different ways depending on your mood.” The writer, she has argued, may stretch the passing glimpse into a plot and colour in the vacant temporal background: “A painting is about a moment, a book is about a sweep of time – be it 100 years or a day or an hour, it is still about what changes between the beginning and the end of the story.”

The biographical canvas of Carel Fabritius is nearly as blank as the plain rough-cast wall behind his finch. To Donna Tartt, this picture tells a story not about the artist but about art itself. Its thick brushstrokes both make and break the illusion of reality, allowing us to experience both the subject and the artist’s technique in the same moment. As her bereaved young hero Theo puts it, “you see the mark, the paint for the paint, but also the living bird”. Fabritius’s artwork functions both as “the thing and not the thing”, a sacred sign of that “slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint but also feather and bone”. So the bird sings the magic of creation.

In Tartt’s book, the meaning of the painting entwines with the death of Theo’s mother and his long journey though grief. In Dutch Golden Age art as a whole, the vivid snapshots of life are often pregnant with an awareness of mortality. With their skulls and maggots, their blown roses and rotting fruits, these paintings swarm with every sort of memento mori to recall the transience of our days – and our loves. And the novelist, perhaps unlike the painter, can not only hint at but also describe the story’s end.

In The Captive, the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust’s obsessional admiration for View of Delft reaches its climax. The writer Bergotte has long wanted to revisit not only Vermeer’s painting but one small corner of it, “a little patch of yellow wall” which “was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself”. Critics and biographers argue over the fragment Proust had in mind; yellow patches lie on both sides of Vermeer’s Rotterdam Gate.

Already sick, Bergotte hauls himself (as Proust did in 1921) to the Jeu de Paume, where he sees the Vermeer – then dies, of a stroke. In his final revelation, “the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall” comes to stand not only for the sublimity of the greatest art but the purpose of life itself. It appears to the dying Bergotte like a coded signal from a better world, “based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again”.

The yellow wall – or, perhaps, the meaning of life – is in Room 15 of the Mauritshuis. The girl with a pearl looks straight at it. Next door, a goldfinch chirrups silently and unfathomably on its perch. A few metres away, seven medical students crowd around Dr Tulp’s pallid cadaver, each pointy-bearded face bristling with ambitious life. Three centuries and more ago, every one of those lives ended with one more chalk-white corpse.

Even though I had the chance to wander through an almost-silent gallery, the stories stacked inside the Mauritshuis could deafen you; the seam of fictional transformation from Proust to Chevalier, Tartt and Siegal is far from exhausted. Among the plentiful great Rembrandts in this gallery, you will find his haunting Two Moors from 1661: a pair of Africans, one defiant, the other subdued, the spectrum of feeling on their faces seeming to express the span of experience available to alien newcomers in the Holland of the Golden Age. Who will write their story?

The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery (mauritshuis.nl), Plein 29, 2511 CS The Hague, is open daily until 1 November, then Tuesday to Sunday.

After a triumphant tour of Japan, then the United States and ending in Italy, the Girl with a Pearl Earring has returned home to the Mauritshuis royal picture gallery in The Hague. For ever. The museum, which reopened last month after two years’ renovation work, will no longer allow Vermeer’s masterpiece out. Officially the Mona Lisa of the North has been gated in order to please visitors to the Mauritshuis who only want to see that painting. Its fame has steadily increased since Tracy Chevalier published her novel in 1999 followed in 2004 by the film by Peter Webber starring Scarlett Johansson. Anyone wanting to see the portrait will have make the trip to the Dutch city: here.

British suffragettes and World War I


This video from Britain is called Mark Steel on Sylvia Pankhurst.

By Claire Eustance in Britain:

WWI didn’t end fight for women’s equality

Saturday 19th July 2014

Not all Suffragettes gave up the struggle for votes in 1914, says CLAIRE EUSTANCE

It is still all too easy to dismiss the scope and radicalism of the early 20th century British women’s movement. A case in point is the standard response to the question — what happened to the movement after outbreak of war in August 1914?

You are likely to hear comments along the lines of “Didn’t it all just stop?” or “The Suffragettes stopped attacking buildings and pillar boxes and instead started handing out white feathers to men who didn’t rush to join the military.”

If you are lucky you might find someone who knows something of the women suffragists who embraced the peace movement. Perhaps they might mention the International Congress of Women meeting at The Hague in the Netherlands in April 1915.

Surely the history of the women’s movement has more to it than this? What about the thousands of other women who had joined the myriad of women’s suffrage societies to campaign for an end to the exclusively — albeit partial — male parliamentary franchise?

My talk at the Tolpuddle festival, Keeping the Suffrage Flag Flying, focuses on one of these societies, The Women’s Freedom League (WFL), and considers the ways some of its 5,000-plus members responded to the outbreak of war and the impact the conflict had on them.

“Patriotism before politics” was the position adopted by the British Establishment in August 1914. The message to the suffrage societies was clear — it was selfish for women to continue to demand political rights when the country was at war.

And yet, while Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and other suffrage campaigners were won over by such sentiments, others were less convinced.

Among them was Charlotte Despard, the revered president of the Women’s Freedom League, who declared that war “was the decisive damnation of a corrupt society.”

Although many of her comrades found it impossible to follow her into the peace movement, a significant number agreed that it was vital to keep attention focused on women’s demands for an equal voice in the politics of the nation.

The Women’s Freedom League’s long-standing commitment to the principle of resistance to government without representation remained broadly intact through the years of war.

An example was the decision of one member, Florence Underwood, to continue to refuse to pay income tax on her earnings. The league also moved swiftly to accommodate the wishes of their members who wanted to offer service to their country by channelling some of their considerable organisational skills into supporting working women, mothers and children who had been affected by the war.

The Women’s Freedom League’s commitment to the principles of equality produced what might seem a rather incongruous stance on alcohol — viewed by many as a national scourge in wartime.

However, in Hartlepool in 1917, the entire branch membership rose en masse to protest at the exclusion of women from licenced premises at certain times of the day. It was they claimed “not only an injustice but an insult to women!”

The Hartlepool campaign was just one of many forays taken by the league into debates around civil liberties.

Other campaigns highlighted equal pay, prostitution, sexual abuse and the treatment of women by law courts — topics that are largely still relevant to feminists and radicals today.

Yes, war meant that the women’s movement in Britain was probably organisationally weaker. There was less accord, less publicity and less wealth.

And yet over the same period some important principles relating to women’s rights to work, equality with men, rights of mothers as well as meanings of national identity and citizenship, were tested by women and found wanting.

It was feminism as much, if not more, than suffrage that flourished after 1914. There are some lessons for us there today, surely.

Claire Eustance is senior lecturer in history at the University of Greenwich. She will be giving a talk at the Tolpuddle radical history school.

Charles Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online


This video says about itself:

11 November 2011

A classic example of evolution on Daphne Major Island in the Galapagos. Natural selection works on beak size variation of Darwin’s Finches.

From ars technica:

Darwin’s complete Galapagos library posted online

404 volumes kept on board the Beagle join the giant Darwin Online repository.

by Sam Machkovech – July 16 2014, 10:40pm +0200

Charles Darwin‘s massive ship library, including astounding drawings of species from far-off lands, meant he rarely had to come above-board while sailing on the Beagle in the 1830s.

Charles Darwin’s five-year journey to and from the Galapagos Islands ended in 1836. While that was over two decades before the publication of On the Origin of Species, he credited his time on board the Beagle as a formative experience for his theory of evolution. That extended trip wasn’t only spent studying local wildlife, especially during lengthy voyages at sea to and from home—Darwin also devoured a library of more than 400 volumes of text.

While many of those books were referenced in his later research, they were not preserved as a collection once the Beagle returned to England, leaving a gap in our understanding about the books and studies that kept Darwin’s mind occupied during such an historic era. Now, thanks to the painstaking efforts of a two-year Beagle project funded by the government of Singapore, that complete on-ship library has been transcribed and posted at Darwin Online, the world’s largest repository of Darwin-related texts and writings.

The library, which was stored in the same cabin as Darwin’s bed and desk during his journey, totaled out at 195,000 pages by the time researchers at the National University of Singapore assembled the full collection (and these weren’t exactly picture books, with only 5,000 corresponding illustrations). The complete list is quite astounding, made up of atlases, history books, geology studies, and even a giant supply of literature. Darwin also enjoyed a few books in French, Spanish, and German, along with a book in Latin about species and a Greek edition of the New Testament.

Historians and fans can read and perform text searches of the fully transcribed library. But if you’re pressed for time, we strongly encourage you to at least skim through the collection of gorgeous illustrations.