THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 posts from March 2017

31 March 2017

Wagenseil, Wagner and the Mastersingers of Nuremberg

By a neat coincidence, an enquiry about a work by Johann Christoph Wagenseil arrived in the same week that I attended a performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Royal Opera. Why a neat coincidence? Because an important source for Wagner’s opera was another work by Wagenseil, a history of Nuremberg with an appended study of the Meistersinger, or Mastersingers, and their art, especially as it developed in the city.

Wagenseil tp
Title-page and frontispiece portrait of the author from Johann Christoph Wagenseil, De Sacri Rom. Imperii Libera Civitate Noribergensi Commentatio ... (Altdorf, 1697) 794.f.6.(1.)

The precise origins of the historical Mastersingers are not entirely clear, but their schools or guilds developed in the late middle ages and their heyday was in the early 16th century. Wagenseil reports the tradition that the Mastersingers looked back to ‘Twelve Old Masters’, including the mediaeval poets Wolfram von Eschenbach and Walther von der Vogelweide – although in the opera the pedantic town clerk Beckmesser dismisses the latter as a master because he is ‘long since dead’ and would have known nothing of the guild’s rules.

In Wagner’s story, the knight Walther von Stolzing seeks admission to Nuremberg’s guild of Mastersingers in the hope of winning the hand of his beloved Eva Pogner at the St John’s Day singing contest. Among the masters he is opposed by rival suitor Beckmesser and assisted by the shoemaker Hans Sachs, who has to set aside his own feelings for Eva. In the first act Walther auditions for the guild and the Masters are shocked by his untutored efforts, which break all their rules and are especially condemned by Beckmesser, who judges the song in his official role as ‘Marker’.

Wagner took many details of the Mastersingers’ rules and ceremonies from Wagenseil. The list of sometimes bizarre names for the guild’s approved tones, which Sachs’s apprentice David reels off to the baffled Walther, all come from Wagenseil, and the rules of the ‘Tabulatur’ which the master Fritz Kothner recites before Walther’s audition for the guild cleverly reflect in verse the rules described by Wagenseil in prose.

Wagenseil Tones
A selection of the Mastersingers’ tones, from Wagenseil’s book

Walther’s experience of the ‘Singschule’ also follows Wagenseil’s description, including the time and place: following a service at St Catherine’s Church. One key difference, however, is that where Wagenseil describes four Markers, each with a specific task, Wagner has only one, in order to highlight the contrast and rivalry between Walther and Beckmesser.

Even the Masters’ names come from Wagenseil, who lists 12 ‘old masters’ of the Nuremberg guild. Wagner uses all of these (with some minor changes), but attributes a selection of trades to them which are not mentioned by Wagenseil. As Wagner also needed to add Hans Sachs to his list and presumably wanted to avoid the odd and unlucky number of 13 masters on stage, one of Wagenseil’s line-up, Niclaus (In Wagner’s libretto Niklaus) Vogel, is absent from the action, reported sick by his apprentice during the roll-call.

Wagenseil Masters
Wagenseil’s list of the 12 ‘old masters’ of the Nuremberg guild

For all its basis in Wagenseil’s work, Wagner’s opera presents a romantic and idealised view of the Mastersingers as a core part of a community where art and work go hand in hand, and where the townspeople share an instinctive appreciation of true art. The guilds actually had little public or popular resonance, but were more of a closed circle. Those who did become popular writers, such as the real Hans Sachs, tended to be known for other works, not least because their Meistergesang was performed only at the guild’s meetings and preserved only in manuscript among the members.

In fact one of the historical Sachs’s works features in the opera: the opening lines of his poem in praise of Martin Luther, Die Wittenbergisch Nachtigall, are sung in act 3 by an admiring chorus in praise of Sachs himself. But its poetic form is not that of authentic Meistergesang, and nor is the musical setting of the chorus.

Nachtigall  

Nachtigall Wach auf
Title-page and opening lines (as set by Wagner) of Hans Sachs, Die Wittembergisch Nachtigall  ([Augsburg, 1523]) 11515.c.18.(4).

Indeed, it seems that Wagner took little inspiration for the actual music of the opera from Wagenseil’s work: according to the musicologist Annalise Smith, it is only the songs of the rule-obsessed Beckmesser that closely follow the guidelines cited by Wagenseil. But since Wagner’s plot is concerned in part with the importance of change and innovation in artistic practice, and since he gently mocks many of the rules quoted from Wagenseil, perhaps this is only fitting.

Wagenseil Melody
An example of Meistergesang with music from Wagenseil’s history

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading

Herbert Thompson, Wagner & Wagenseil: a Source of Wagner’s Opera ‘Die Meistersinger’ (London, 1927) 07896.f.36.

John Flood, ‘Mastersingers’, in Matthias Konzett, ed., Encyclopedia of German literature (Chicago, 2000) pp. 687-689. YC.2000.b.1167

Annalise Smith, ‘Honour Thy German Masters: Wagner’s Depiction of “Meistergesang” in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.’ Musicological Explorations, 11 (2010)

29 March 2017

Celebrating the Stefan Zweig Collection

Zweig in 1912
Stefan Zweig in 1912

You’d be forgiven for thinking the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Study Day, which took place on Monday 20 March, would be a sombre occasion. Beginning with Klemens Renoldner, esteemed Director of the Stefan Zweig Centre in Salzburg, and his presentation entitled ‘When Europe was destroyed’ and ending with translator and poet Will Stone’s readings from the essay collection, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink (London, 2016; ELD.DS.115440), the programme might have struck a warning rather than warming tone. Yet the Library’s day of events brought together experts and fans – old and new – in a true celebration of Stefan Zweig and his collection of manuscripts around the 75th anniversary of his death.

Zweig Study Day KJ
Dr Kristian Jensen, British Library Head of Collections and Curation opening the Study Day

In the sold-out Eliot Room of the Library’s Knowledge Centre, guests were presented a programme that united the very latest research – namely on Zweig’s personal library, and on the relationship between Richard Strauss and Zweig –, the anecdotal and personal aspects of Zweig’s experiences across Europe, as well as the writer’s own words in the most recent translations of his more political essays. As Will Stone read from the concluding essay in Messages from a Lost World, ‘In this Dark Hour’, written in 1941, the day approached its end with the lines: ‘Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads’.

As darkness fell on Monday and on the study day, the shining stars of the Stefan Zweig Collection took centre stage at the Library’s ‘Evening of Music and Poetry from the Zweig Collection’. As Samuel West spoke the first lines in the role of Zweig himself, the audience was welcomed into a different era.

Zweig_SamuelWest
Samuel West as Stefan Zweig (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

In the words of West, and Zweig, following the performances of Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ and ‘An die Musik’ by soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone Simon Wallfisch respectively, accompanied on the paino by Simon Callghan, we forgot ‘time and space in our passionate enthusiasm, truly transported to a better world’.

Zweig_Baritone
Baritone Simon Wallfisch and pianist Simon Callaghan (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

Our performers navigated the often turmoiled life of Stefan Zweig through diary entries and letters, piercing the darkness of war and exile with moments of hope and friendship, and by bringing to life the sublime moments of creativity present in the manuscript collection.

Zweig MS 56 Das Veilchen
W.A. Mozart, ‘Das Veilchen’, a setting of words by Goethe (Zweig MS 56), one of the pieces performed at the evening event

From Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, via Keats, Verlaine and Wilde, to Mahler and Richard Strauss, Europe’s cultural heritage was on show, so that we for a moment could only share Zweig’s feeling that in the collection was the whole universe. As Zweig exited the stage, disillusioned with collecting and with a Europe lost to him forever, it was left for Ilona Domnich to bid us goodnight and to let the darkness fall once again with Strauss’s ‘Beim Schlafengehen’.

Zweig_Soprano
Soprano Ilona Domnich and Simon Callaghan (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

We thank all those involved in bringing the Zweig Collection to life and we hope to become aware once more in the near future of the majesty of those stars above our heads and in our collections.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library / University of Bristol

The Catalogue of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts from the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection is now published and can be purchased through BL Publishing. A display of manuscripts from the Zweig Collection will be in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery until 11 June.

27 March 2017

Hommage to the French Resistance: two recently donated books

Dr Catherine Delano-Smith, former reader in historical geography at the University of Nottingham, and now Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in the School of Advanced Studies at the University of London, donated two books to the British Library in spring 2015 relating to the French Resistance and its fighters in the Second World War.

The books originally came from the library of André Canivez (1909-1981), professor of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. André Canivez was related to Dr Delano-Smith by marriage, as her mother’s niece was his second wife, Mouza Raskolnikov. Her first husband was Fedor Raskolnikov (1892-1939), a Bolshevik and eminent Russian politician who went into exile to France in 1938 and died the following year in unclear circumstances. Mouza had spent the rest of the Second World War hiding in the Massif Central at Treignac. She married Canivez at the end of the hostilities and moved to Strasbourg with him. André Canivez had been a prisoner of war and taken to a camp when France capitulated; he survived his POW camp experiences but was left in very poor health.

Dr Delano-Smith and her mother visited the couple and, after her mother’s death in 1978, Catherine returned to Strasbourg regularly to visit Mouza, who was by then suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. After Mouza’s death, Catherine inherited part of André Canivez’s library and decided to donate the above books. She supplemented them with a photograph of an unnamed French Resistance fighter (without a blindfold) taken just before his execution. She feels that this picture was of significant importance to André Canivez as it used to hang in his study. This picture has always been a mystery and despite extensive research it has never been possible to identify the man.

French Resistance Temoins half-title
Half-title page of  Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger ([s.l.], 1946)  RF.2015.b.32

The first donation, entitled Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger, is an account of conditions in the concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and also of life in the French Resistance. It is a touching tribute to all those who died in horrific circumstances. The book is enriched with many photographs, none too horrific to look at but sufficient to bring home the terrible conditions these men and women endured. As well as many anonymous pictures there are also tributes to specific Resistance fighters who fought for their country. In addition to the current edition, 500 copies were printed for the families of the deceased. The A4 size photograph has been inserted in the British Library copy at the request of Dr Delano-Smith.

French Resistance Temoins women
Portraits of women from the Resistance who died in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, from Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger

The second donation, Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) (Avesnes-sur-Help, 1945) is a fictionalised account by Dr Denis Cordonnier, who was detained in the prison of Loos in northern France for a year and released before the end of the war. Whilst in prison he had promised his fellow Resistance prisoners that if he was released he would write a novel testifying to their sufferings but also celebrating the bravery and patriotism of these men who had been ready to give their lives for their country. Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) is the fruit of this promise. Names were changed, but events and characters closely reflected reality. The story is narrated by a Dr Duval who through his practitioner’s experience, his commitment to the Resistance, and his shrewd analysis of the human mind, is the perfect person to depict the effect of incarceration on the prisoners at Loos. Without lapsing into pathos, it is a very sensitive and realistic account.

 French Resistance geoles allemandes1   French Resistance geoles allemandes (Canivez)
Cover and title-page (inscribed to André Canivez), from, Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) (Avesnes-sur-Help, 1945)

These two donations were very timely, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and are a valuable addition to the British Library’s French literature of the war. These two volumes are not only a poignant testimony to the horrors of the Second World War, but also a celebration of the Maquisards and a reminder of how much France owes to the French Resistance.

Annick Mann, Quality Assurance, Content and Metadata Processing

23 March 2017

From Cubism to concentration camp: the life and death of Josef Čapek

Many English speakers who claim that they do not know a word of Czech would be surprised to hear that at least one has found a firm place in their vocabulary: robot. Those who are aware of its origins might confidently state that it owed them to Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), first performed in 1920. However, he declared that he had merely given it currency, and the term had actually been coined by his elder brother Josef Čapek (1887-1945).

CapekSelf-portrait Self-portrait from Co má člověk z umění a jiné úvahy (Prague, 1946) 07812.m.41.

The two brothers had been born in the Bohemian town of Hronov as the sons of a doctor, and enjoyed a happy childhood there with their older sister Helena, who later remembered them affectionately in her memoir Moji milí bratři (‘My dear brothers’: Prague, 1962; 11880.r.19). All three siblings showed talent as writers from an early age, but Josef also displayed a gift for painting and drawing, and it was as an artist that he found his true vocation, studying at the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola in Prague and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In later life he often illustrated the writings of Karel and Helena, but the paintings which initially made his name were in a very different style with a strong Cubist element, even in portrayals of Czech peasant life which recall the angular and bizarrely-coloured figures who people Chagall’s Vitebsk.

CapekHnedakrajinaJosef Čapek, Hnědá krajina (1936) from Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63.)

Josef possessed considerable creative versatility, however, and developed not only a variety of idioms appropriate to the authors whose works he illustrated but a literary career of his own. He collaborated with Karel on the play Ze života hmyzu (‘The Insect Play’: Prague, 1921; Cup.408.z.53). Its satirical parallels between human society and that of various species of insects, from the bourgeois Crickets to the totalitarian world of the Ants, were universally applicable, and two years later it was translated by Paul Selver and ‘adapted for the English stage’ as The Life of the Insects (London, 1923; 11758.a.40.) Under his own name he published the utopian play Země mnoha jmen (‘The Land of Many Names’), which was also translated into English in 1923. However, one of his best-loved works was a charming collection of tales about a dog and cat who set up house together, Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (‘The Tale of Pup and Puss’), which is still a firm favourite with Czech children.

CAPEKPOVIDANINEWTitle-page from Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (Prague, 1929) X.992/1488)

He also had the capacity to provide humorous illustrations which matched the style of the comic authors such as Eduard Bass as well as Karel’s fairy tales and stories for young readers; though both brothers married, Josef had only one daughter, Alena, and Karel no children, but they were both adept at creating books for them whose wit and fantasy were in no way inferior to their works for adults.

However, as the 1930s progressed, political events provided sharper and bleaker matter for Josef to portray. He had had many years of experience as a journalist, initially as a critic and the editor of various art periodicals, including Umělecký měsíčník (Prague, 1911-14; ZA.9.b.1513), the journal of the Skupina výtvarných umělců (Group of Representational Artists), which he had co-founded in 1911. From 1918 to 1921 he acted as editor of Národní listy (MFM.MF641) which he left to spend 18 years as the editor and art critic of Lidové noviny (MFM.MF623). The caricatures which he provided for the newspaper became increasingly pointed and bitter in the period leading up to the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis in 1938, and on 1 September 1939 he was seized and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Eight days later he was transferred to Dachau, and thence to Buchenwald, where he spent two and a half years. His artistic gifts led him to be assigned to a calligraphic workshop where, along with other artists including Emil Filla, he was given the task of painting the family trees of SS officers.

CapekDiktatorskieBotyA drawing from the cycle Diktátorské boty (‘The Boots of the Dictator’: 1937), reproduced in Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63).

His creative spirit remained undaunted even after his removal to Sachsenhausen on 26 June 1942, where he not only translated English, Spanish and Norwegian poetry but wrote and illustrated a long poem dedicated to his brother Karel and circulated further poems in manuscript. However, on 25 February 1945 he was moved yet again – this time to Bergen-Belsen, where typhus had broken out. In his weakened state after five years of incarceration Josef soon fell victim to the disease, and although some witnesses claimed that he was still alive in April, he died shortly before the camp was liberated, and as his body was never recovered he was officially declared in 1948 to have died on 30 April 1947. Karel had died at Christmas 1938, having contracted pneumonia after working in his beloved garden, and with his spirit crushed by the fate of his country; he is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery, where a monument also commemorates the brother whose last resting-place remains unknown.

Perhaps less well known in the English-speaking world than his brother, Josef Čapek deserves to be remembered on the 130th anniversary of his birth for the original and many-sided vitality of an artistic spirit which remained unquenched even in the grim circumstances of his final months.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

20 March 2017

Actaeon was not a voyeur

The current small exhibition about Ovid in art (primarily ceramics) at the Wallace Collection reminded me of an earlier one at the National Gallery. Here some artists of our time paid homage to Actaeon on the entirely bogus grounds that he was a voyeur, and regaled us with a mock-up of a peep-show and similar treats.

But let’s back to the text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book III: Actaeon was out hunting and stumbled on Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, bathing with her nymphs.

Actaeon MS Harley 4431

Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, miniature from Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa, part of MS Harley 4431.

In Mary Innes’s translation for Penguin Classics (1955 and much reprinted):

The nymphs, discovered in their nakedness, beat their breasts at the sight of a man ... Crowding around Diana, they sheltered her with their bodies, but the goddess was taller than they, head and shoulders above them all

Vengefully, the goddess sprinkles Actaeon with water, turning him into a stag and causing him to be killed by his hounds.

Actaeon Emblemata 12305.bbb.37 Actaeon transformed, and pursued by his own hounds, from Andreas Alciatus, Emblemata (Lyons, 1551). 12305.bbb.37

Ovid gives the message right at the start:

Fortunae crimen in illo,
non scelus invenies; quod enim scelus error habebat?
(Destiny was to blame for Actaeon’s misfortunes, not any guilt on his part; for there is nothing sinful in losing one’s way.)

Ovid himself likens himself to Actaeon in Tristia II. Explaining why the Emperor Augustus exiled him to Romania, he says “Like Actaeon, I saw something”. What we don’t know, but Ovid obviously thought Actaeon was innocent, which meant that he was innocent too.

Actaeon 833.l.1

Diana and Actaeon from Ovid, Metamporphoses (Venice, 1513) 833.l.1.

But later authorities couldn’t help wanting to put the blame on Actaeon.

Fulgentius (5th century) said that Actaeon wasted all his time on money on leisure (hunting) and was therefore consumed by his hobby.

Actaeon IB.23185

 The story of Actaeon, from Ovidio methamorphoseos vulgare, translated and allegorised by Giovanni di Bonsignore (Venice, 1497) IB.23185.

Giovanni di Bonsignore (14th century) said he turned into a stag because his love of the solitary pursuit of hunting had made his proud and anti-social, like the stag.

Camões in the Lusiads (16th century) says much the same about Actaeon, but this is interpreted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa in the 17th century as something to be applied to the young King Sebastian.


Actaeon King Sebastian 10631.c.4
 The headstrong King Sebastian of Portugal from Fray Bernardo de Brito, Elogios dos reis de Portugal (Lisbon,
1603) 10631.c.4

Headstrong young Sebastian, like Actaeon, was too keen on sports and neglectful of the need to find a wife. And of course he died young, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir, because of his hot-headedness and left Portugal without an heir, leading to what the Portuguese call the “Philippine Domination” of 1580-1640.

So, be careful when you go down to the woods.

But whatever his mistakes Actaeon was not a voyeur.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Barry Taylor, ‘O mito de Actéon: interpretação e poetização’, in Mythos: a tradição mitográfica portuguesa; representações e identidade séculos XVI-XVIII, ed. Abel N. Pena (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 55-66. YF.2012.a.29085

The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, 1955) W.P.513/58.

Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich, Sabine Lütkemeyer, Hermann Walter, Ikonographisches Repertorium zu den Metamorphosen des Ovid : die textbegleitende Druckgraphik (Berlin, 2004-), I.1, pp. 38-39. YF.2008.b.1354

 

17 March 2017

Poet of a pitiable time: Takis Sinopoulos

The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, whose personal vision of Greece inspired much of his poetry and whose life spanned the years of the Greek struggle for independence, wrote in his elegy ‘Brod und Wein’ (c.1800) the famous words ‘Wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit?’ These words, pondering the purpose of poets in times of crisis and oppression, would be only too applicable to the career of the Greek poet Takis Sinopoulos ,born 100 years ago today.

MariaStephanopoulouCoverYa1994a10059 Cover of Maria Stephanopoulou, Takēs Sinopoulos: Hē poiēsē kai hē ousiastikē monaxia (Athens, 1992) YA.1994.a.10059.

Sinopoulos was a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Athens when, in 1940, the Greco-Italian War  broke out. During this and the two conflicts that followed – the German-Italian occupation (1941-44) and the Civil War (1945-49) – he served as a doctor in the Sixth Army hospital at Loutráki on the Corinthian Gulf, and then with fighting units during the guerrilla fighting of the Civil War. Despite the professional control and objectivity which he was forced to exercise in carrying out his medical duties, he was deeply affected by the horrors which he observed, and throughout the rest of his life he sought to process and purge them in his paintings and poetry.

Sinopoulos had come of age under the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas, whose coup of 4 August 1936 led to a system modelled on Italian fascism where censorship was brutally enforced. It was not until 1951 that he wrote his first collection of poems, introducing images and themes which would recur throughout all his later works as he attempted to expunge the hallucinations which haunted him throughout his creative life. The first poem of all, ‘Elpenor’, recalls the fate of the first Greek hero to fall in the Trojan War, but also a terrifying vision which Sinopoulos experienced one blazing summer day in 1944 when he distinctly saw a childhood friend who had been killed in battle two years earlier.

The poems echo with the existential loneliness of humans even within friendship or erotic relationships, making true communication eternally impossible, and with the conviction that true happiness is unattainable, even when the figure of Helen of Troy, and all that she symbolizes, flickers through the pages of the Cantos (1953). The temptations of death and oblivion which they proclaim haunted him for several years afterwards, plunging him into a psychosomatic crisis in which he believed himself to be gravely ill. This suddenly resolved itself in 1956 with the publication of Hē gnōrimia me ton Max (‘Acquaintance with Max’), the only poem which he ever completed with such rapidity. Max is at once an alter ago, a builder of houses, and an elder brother with Christ-like qualities, but ultimately a figure who vanishes amid the images of burning and destruction, terror and death in life which reappear in Sinopoulos's later writings.

The earliest of Sinopoulos’s poems in the British Library’s holdings is To hasma tēs Iōannas kai tou Kōnstantinou (‘The song of Joanna and Constantine’). This took him seven years to write as he experimented with the imagery of the Song of Songs and the mingling of Eros and Thanatos in the disjointed narrative of a couple living in a farmhouse near his native village of Agoulinitsa, the shadowy figures of a mother-in-law, neighbour and dead child, and, once again, the futility of any attempt to build communications between them.

SinopoulosTitlePageTitle-page of To hasma tēs Iōannas kai tou Kōnstantinou (Athens, 1961) X.900/506.

Although he continued to experiment with automatic writing to break his writer’s block, political events once again conspired to delay the publication of his next and perhaps greatest work until 1972. The military coup of April 1967 inevitably hampered freedom of expression, but provided an apt context in which to revisit Sinopoulous’s experiences as a doctor in the army with which he had served for almost five years. In Thessaly and Macedonia he had seen captured guerrillas shot without mercy and his own friends and comrades blown apart by mines and grenades, and had had to gather fragments of their bodies from the blasted trees and bushes where they had landed. The result was Nekrodeipnos (‘Deathfeast’, 1972). In an equally fractured landscape recalling Eliot’s Waste Land, the shades of the dead mingle with the banalities of contemporary life and nostalgic images of June evenings in Athens many years before. There are reminiscences of Homer’s catalogue of the ships in the litany of names of the dead who crowd around the poet, and even a direct encounter with God does little to relieve the overall bleakness of a climax in which the poet is certified as an ‘inhabitant of the eternal’.

NekrodeipnosSinopoulosCover of Takis Sinopoulos, Nekrodeipnos: 1981, X.950.23290.

Unlike the poets of the First World War, those of Greece’s decade of agony are less well known to English-speaking readers, although Kimon Friar produced a fine translation of a broad selection of Sinopoulos’s work in Landscape of Death: the selected poems of Takis Sinopoulos (Columbus, Ohio, 1979: X.950/6323). Through his evocation of scenes as poignant and horrifying as those of Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, Sinopoulos, though unable to save the men whose tragedies he witnessed, could at least ensure that they would not be forgotten.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services

15 March 2017

Pskov, Pskov, 35.015: Railway and Revolution

In Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago there is an episode when a young telephone operator Kolya is having a conversation the meaning of which is not initially quite clear to the reader:

Kolya was as usual conducting another conversation and, judging by the decimal fractions which embellished his speech, transmitting a message in code over a third instrument. ‘Pskov, Pskov, can you hear me? – What rebels? What help? What are you talking about, Mademoiselle? Ring off, please. – Pskov, Pskov, thirty-six point nought one five. – Oh, hell, they’ve cut me off. – Hullo, hullo, I can’t hear. – Is that you again, Mademoiselle? I’ve told you, I can’t, speak to the station-master. All lies, fable – Thirty six … Oh, he… Get off the line, Mademoiselle’ (translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari).

Pskov Pskov railway station (postcard)

In fact the author made this character in his novel into a witness and a player in the big game which was to change Russian history for good. From the beginning of the unrest in Petrograd that started on 8 March (23 February) 1917, parliamentarians and politicians had been discussing various options of dealing with the disorder.

Yurii Lomonosov, a transport engineer and employee of the Ministry of Transport recorded in his diary on 14 (1) March 1917:

In the Duma, they debated for the whole day what had to be done. There were various suggestions: dethronement, abdication or persuasion, in other words – Tsarina’s arrest and appointment of a responsible ministry. They agreed on abdication. The Department of Exploitation clerk brought me an order to send the Tsar’s train to Pskov. I wish to believe that this was the last Imperial train.

Just before discontent started in the capital, Tsar Nicholas II had left his family residence in the suburbs of Petrograd, Tsarskoe Selo, for his army Headquarters in Mogilev.

Tsarskoe selo
Tsarskoe Selo railway station (postcard)

Mogilev-3
Mogilev railway station (postcard)

Yurii Lomonosov and Alexander Bublikov, also a railway engineer and member of the Duma, were tasked with preventing the Tsar’s train from re-entering Petrograd, so that he could not get support from any loyal troops or advisors, and negotiators could put pressure on  the monarch to abdicate. As General Spiridovich, Commander of the Imperial Guards, recalled in his memoirs:

The Tsar ordered to reply that he was waiting for Rodzianko [Head of the Duma] at the Dno station. The Tsar was walking along the platform for quite a while. All were surprised to learn that General Ivanov [commander of the Petrograd Military District with powers of martial law granted by the Tsar] had just arrived to the station with his train […]. We found out that while General Ivanov was at the station, several trains full of drunken soldiers arrived there. Many were rude and imprudent. Ivanov ordered to arrest several dozens of soldiers. Many of them were searched and a lot of officers’ belongings were found on them. They had probably been looted in Petrograd. In a manner of an old father figure Ivanov berated them, ordered to stay on their knees, beg pardon. He took the arrested in his train. All this, as told by witnesses was very strange and made an impression of something trivial, funny and sham.

On  15 (2) March 1917 Nicholas II signed an act of abdication under pressure from his ministers. Unwilling to place the burden of rulership on his frail 13-year-old son Alexei, he named his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as his successor. The following day, Michael announced that he would not take the throne unless a constituent assembly elected by ‘universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage’ voted to maintain the monarchy.  

Michael's authograph
Grans Duke Michael’s autograph refusal to accept the throne (From Wikimedia Commons)

As Yurii Lomonosov recorded in his diary, words changed their meaning overnight: mutineers became revolutionaries and loyal troop turned rebels:

‘What is the disposition?’
‘General  Ivanov  is in Semrin. He is on the phone with the gendarme officers who are going to meet him half way […]. The War Duma Committee ordered to stop all the [rail] traffic. We obeyed […] the order, but instead of destroying the tracks we took away parts of railroad switches, numbered them and took to Petrograd.’
‘Brilliant idea! Thank you very much. One of our telephones will be always connected with your telegraph. Let me know about all movements of General Ivanov.’
And it should be mentioned that the telegraph operators were excellent. They kept sending messages while General Ivanov was shooting their comrades behind the wall. We knew his every step.
As soon as I finished this telephone conversation, I was called again […]:
‘What is happening in Gatchina [an Imperial residence near St Petersburg]?’
‘Twenty thousand loyal troops are there’
‘What do you mean ‘loyal’?’
‘Not revolutionary…’
‘Do remember once and for all: these are rebels. Loyal – are those who are on the people’s side. So, Gatchina has been taken by the rebels. Go on…’   [From the conversation between Lomonosov and the Senior Railway Manager;  16 (3) March 1917]

HS.74-1870(5)

HS.74-1870(6)
 The Act of Abdication of Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael, published as a placard that would be distributed by hand or pasted to walls (shelfmark:  HS.74/1870)

Already on 12 March (27 February), the ‘Temporary Committee of the State Duma and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies – the two competing branches of power – had been formed, and the following day, the Petrograd Soviet published the first issue of its newsletter, Izvestiia (News). On the day of the abdication Izvestiia issued a special edition in a form of a leaflet, informing their readers about the epoch-making event:

HS.74-1870(1)

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

13 March 2017

Polish Noir on the Rise

This year Poland is the guest of honour at the London Book Fair. Consequently there will be a series of cultural events featuring Polish writers at the Fair and other locations. Within its rich programme the British Library is hosting the Crime Writing from Poland event on Tuesday 14th March with two outstanding writers, Olga Tokarczuk and Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

Crime fiction is one of the most popular and widespread literary genres in Poland. It has recently followed in the footsteps of Nordic Noir and includes some excellent writers whose novels are well received both at home and abroad. They represent all forms of crime writing from period drama through thrillers to modern crime addressing contemporary social issues. In 2003, only four thrillers were published, while ten years later over a hundred crime novels made their way into bookshops.

What makes Polish crime writing distinctive? It is inevitably the excellent use of Poland’s diverse and tumultuous 20th century history as a background, exhaustive research and credible characters – all combine in the attractive form of a crime story. The first recognised crime fiction writer of that generation is Marek Krajewski. He made his name with a retro series of four novels featuring Inspector Eberhard Mock masterfully solving criminal mysteries in pre-war Breslau, a German town, which in 1945 became Wrocław in Poland. Krajewski, a fan of the city, superbly recreated the spirit of Breslau, making it the second character in his series. As early as 2005 Krajewski received a literary reward for his crime novel The End of the World in Breslau (London, 2009; NOV.2010/950). This was the turning point – crime fiction, previously regarded as lowbrow literature, was now accepted as a distinct literary genre.

Polish Noir Krajewski

Cover of Dżuma w Breslau by Marek Krajewski. (Warsaw, 2007). YF.2008.a.704

One of the best-selling authors is Zygmunt Miłoszewski, famous for his trilogy with the phlegmatic Teodor Szacki, State Prosecutor, as the main character. He successfully investigates a murder case in modern Warsaw, Uwikłanie (‘Entanglement’; Warsaw, 2007; YF.2007.a.16937), and he next moves to Sandomierz, a provincial town in south-east Poland, to face the sensitive issue of Polish anti-Semitism Ziarno prawdy (‘A grain of truth’).  Miłoszewski also tackles Polish-German relations in Gniew (‘Rage’; Warsaw, 2014; YF.2015.a.6087), the last in the series, setting the plot in the provincial town of Olsztyn in north-east Poland, formerly a German territory.

Polish Noir Miloszewski
Cover of Ziarno prawdy by Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Warsaw, 2011). YF.2012.a.26350.

A rising star in the genre of crime fiction is Katarzyna Bonda, named the ‘Queen of Crime’ by Miłoszewski. She has so far published four crime novels featuring the Silesian police psychologist Hubert Meyer and the female profiler Sasza Załuska as the main protagonists. Bonda touches upon various social issues in her novels such as alcoholism in women, the trauma caused by the loss of a child, or problems concerning ethnic minorities. Her meticulously- researched books make use of police criminal records and the expert knowledge of consultants. She also wrote a non-fiction book, Polskie morderczynie (‘Polish female murderers’; Warsaw, 2013; YF.2015.a.8534), portraying women sentenced for heinous crimes.

Crime fiction appeals not only to readers but also to writers. Olga Tokarczuk, the most popular Polish author of her generation whose literary output includes over a dozen highly acclaimed books, applied crime conventions in Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (‘Drive your plough over the bones of the dead’). As in her other novels she mixes mythology with reality to convey important messages about the condition of modern society.

Polish Noir Tokarczuk

Cover of  Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk (Kraków, 2009) YF.2010.a.22348.

Crime writing, which explores all facets of human nature together with historical and social issues, is a very interesting and diverse form of Polish modern literature. So it is not surprising that some of the novels were made into films, e.g. Agnieszka Holland’s latest Pokot (Spoor), inspired by Tokarczuk’s book mentioned above. For the same reason a significant number of Polish crime novels have been translated into other languages, including English.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

10 March 2017

The First Anthology of Belarusian Poetry in English: Sponsors and Censors

For 57 years, from 1948 to 1985, UNESCO published its Collection of Representative Works, a series of books aiming to popularise major works of world literature written in lesser-known languages by translating them into more widely-used ones, particularly English and French. In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English appeared in this series. The book, Like Water, Like Fire: an Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day, was jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Byelorussian SSR, and published by the London imprint George Allen & Unwin.

Vera Rich, who translated all 221 poems in the anthology, came across the Belarusian community in London in October 1953 and since then took an active part in the life of the Belarusian diaspora in Britain and translated Belarusian poets. She also made an immense contribution to making Ukrainian poetry known in the English-speaking world. By the time Like Water, Like Fire appeared, Rich had already established herself as a poet, publisher of the poetry magazine Manifold, author of several books about Ukrainian and Belarusian literature, and a successful journalist.

LikeWaterTitle-pageTitle-page of Like Water, Like Fire. (London, 1971). X.981/2398

Like Water, Like Fire begins with the only known poem by Paŭliuk Bahrym (1812-c1891), ‘Play Then, Play’, which was taught in the schools of Soviet Belarus as the earliest example of peasants’ liberation literature. Already in this choice of the opening poem the influence of the anthology’s sponsors can be detected; it is even more obvious in the later sections of the volume.

This influence wasn’t absolute: the book contains a modest selection of persecuted authors such as Jazep Pušča, Uladzimir Duboŭka and Larysa Hienijuš. But there are no poems by Alieś Harun, a talented author deeply despised by the Soviet authorities. Vera Rich addressed this omission in 1982 when she published a volume of selected works by Harun, Maksim Bahdanovič, and Zmitrok Biadulia, The Images Swarm Free.

IMagesSwarmFreeTitle-page of The Images Swarm Free. (London, 1982) X.950/22024.

Arnold McMillin, who later became the most important scholar of Belarusian literature in the English-speaking world, welcomed Like Water, Like Fire as “an outstanding piece of work which will serve many English readers as an introduction to an unjustly neglected corner of European literature”. He noted that the book was the product of nearly 20 years of work and “the translations adhere closely to the form and rhythm of the original poems, and in many cases Miss Rich achieves felicitous results” . He was critical, however, of a misrepresentative – to a certain degree – selection of works, particularly from the 19th century:

No representation is given to such 19th-century poets as Ravinski, Čačot and Dunin-Marcinkievič, or to the anonymous Taras on Parnassus […] It is a pity that both by her selection of poems and by her introductory survey of the development of the Byelorussian poetry […] she creates the impression of a cultural void between 1828 and 1891.

Anton Adamovich of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York, also noted that “Soviet Belorussian poetry is represented most extensively […] and is translated most adequately […] But the poetry of the 1920s, the ‘years of plenty’ […] is very poorly represented with just a dozen poems.” Adamovich refers here to the translator’s comment that the “years of plenty” of the 1920s – the years of immense richness and vibrancy in Belarusian literature – were followed by the “years of dearth” under Stalin’s purges and repressions. About 90% of Belarusian writers published in the 1920s and-1930s were shot, died in NKVD prisons, were sent to the Gulag or were forced to leave the country.

It seems that Vera Rich’s work wasn’t entirely accepted by the Belarusian diaspora which had had great hopes for this publication and contributed to the translator’s efforts, as is evidenced by an extensive acknowledgements list. The book must have been seen by Belarusians in the west as a victim of Soviet ideological pressure. The Reverend Alexander Nadson, head of the Belarusian Catholic community in London, who knew Vera Rich for many years and assisted her with translations, recalled that the translator kept the exact content of Like Water, Like Fire secret. One day archival materials may shed light on the circumstances of appearance of this first – and so far only – anthology of Belarusian poetry in English.

Two curious stories relate to its publication. The first is narrated by the translator herself, who thanked “last and most definitely not least (and in view of the title, most appropriately) […] the Enfield Fire Service who salvaged the manuscript during a flood-cum-electrical-fire shortly before its completion”. Reading these words, those who knew Vera Rich would easily recall a chaotic but immensely amusing person who lived from one disaster to another and somehow even thrived on all those challenges.

The second story relates to the fact that the book appeared with two different dustjackets. One, with the former Belarusian coat of arms, the Pahonia evidently didn’t get approval from at least one of the sponsors: the Pahonia was banned in the Byelorussian SSR. The dustjacket had to be reprinted and the copies that went on sale carried a plain sky-blue jacket. A small number of copies with the original dustjacket have survived and occasionally appear in antiquarian bookshops in English-speaking countries.

Like_water_1    Like_water_2
The two dustjackets of Like Water, Like Fire.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London


References:

A. Adamovich, Review of ‘Like Water, Like Fire.An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. Slavic Review, 32 (1973), 4, pp. 863-864. Ac.2684.e.

Leanid Marakoŭ, Rėprėsavanyia litaratary, navukoŭtsy, rabotniki asvety, hramadskiia i kulʹturnyia dzeiachy Belarusi, 1794-1991: ėntsyklapedychny davednik u trokh tamakh.
Volume 1. (Minsk, 2002-2005). ZF.9.a.2546

A. McMillin. Review of ‘Like Water: Like Fire. An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. The Slavonic and East European Review, 50 (1972), pp. 118-120. Ac.2669.e

Rich, V. (2009) The most significant event in my life. Available from: https://belbritain.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/1-15/.

 

08 March 2017

Music of the Revolution: the Hymn of Free Russia

There has been great agitation in Petrograd all day. Processions have been parading the main streets. At several points the mob shouted for ‘Bread and peace!’ At others it sang the Working Man’s Marseillaise. In the Nevsky Prospekt there have been slight disorders.

This is how the French Ambassador to Russia Maurice Paléologue recorded 8 March (23 February old style) 1917, the day when the Russian Revolution started.

  Image 1 _Paleologue
Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador's memoirs, translated by F. A. Holt. (London, 1923-25) 09455.ff.3.

Spontaneous demonstrations to mark International Women’s Day were joined by angry women in bread-lines. The next day meetings, riots and strikes in Petrograd were multiplying and mixing with acts of hooliganism and vandalism. Almost all industrial enterprises were shut down and people were matching along the central street in Petrograd, the Nevsky Prospekt, causing severe disruptions to public transport.

Demonstrators were met sympathetically by the middle class and even by some troops. Nicholas II, who had left for the Staff Head Quarters (Stavka) at Mogilev some 400 miles away from the capital just days before the unrest, received belated reports and underestimated (or wanted to underestimate?) the seriousness of the events. When he finally commanded the use of troops to restore order, riots had already spread to some of the regiments stationed in Petrograd. Attempts to restore order ended in clashes between the troops and the protestors which only incited further protests. At the same time, politicians at the Duma (parliament), statesmen at the State Council (the supreme state advisory body to the Tsar) and the cabinet ministers all saw themselves as Russia’s saviours. The overall crisis of the old political system and the regime was so deep that the Tsar’s abdication seemed to be the most straightforward and secure solution. The situation spiralled out of control and within a week Russian Tsarism was over, no-one having risen to defend it.

The news was greeted with great enthusiasm by most Russian intellectuals and liberals. Expectations were high and hopes that a truly free Russia was already a reality turned into a creative euphoria: lyrics, essays and graphics glorifying and celebrating the Revolution and the people who made it happen, appeared in print and were read at rallies and meetings.

On 24 (11) March, the newspaper Birzhevye vedomosti (‘Stock-Exchange News’; Mic.B.1089) published a memo ‘Glazunov and Gorky’, informing readers that the actors of the ex-Imperial – now State – Mariinski Theatre asked the Director of the Petrograd Conservatoire, composer Aleksandr Glazunov, to write a new hymn for the new Russia. This was required for the ceremonial re-opening of the Opera House, which had been closed for a month during the unrest in the capital. As the re-opening was scheduled for the 26 (13) March, Glazunov declined saying that it was an impossible task for him at such a short notice. According to the memo, he suggested to ‬sing a Russian folk song Ekh, ukhnem! aka the ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (you can her it performed here by Feodor Chaliapin in a recording from 1902:Download Эй,_ухнем!_-_Фёдор_Шаляпин). The popular writer Maxim Gorky was asked to make necessary amendments to the lyrics.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, another Romantic composer Aleksandr Grechaninov  also came up with the idea of a hymn, performed here in 1926 by David Medoff:  Download The_hymn_of_free_Russia_-_Гимн_свободной_России_(text_and_music_-_1917)

Images 2a GrechaninovPortrait of Grechaninov from the Russian edition of his memoirs (New York, 1952), 10796.bb.23; an English translation by Nicolas Slonimsky (W11/4835) appeared in the same year.

In his memoirs, written in 1934 when he was living abroad having fled Soviet Russia, Grechaninov recalled:

The news of the Revolution of February, 1917, was greeted in Moscow with enthusiasm. People poured into the streets wearing red flowers in their lapels. Strangers embraced each other with tears of joy in their eyes. […] An idea suddenly struck me: I must write a new national anthem! I hurried home, and in half an hour I had composed music of the anthem. But what about the words? The first two lines, "Long live Russia — The country of the free," I took from a poem by Fedor Sologub, but I did not like the rest of the poem. What was I to do? I telephoned Constants Balmont , the poet. He came to see me without delay, and in a few minutes wrote out the text. Manuscript in hand, I went to see Gutheil [a music publisher]. Without wasting any time he sent the music to the printer, and on the following afternoon the Gutheil store displayed copies of my Hymn of Free Russia. The proceeds from the sales were turned over to the liberated political prisoners. The Bolshoy Theater was closed for only a few days. As soon as it reopened, my new anthem was performed, along with the Marseillaise, by the chorus and orchestra of the Bolshoy Theater led by Emil Cooper. Thanks to the simple melody and fine text, my anthem soon became popular, not only in Russia but also abroad. My American friends, Kurt Schindler and his wife, translated it into English, and it was published by the G. Schirmer Company.

 Grechaninov, obviously, was not aware that the score had already been published in London in 1917, with ‘with harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas’, a Canadian composer, who wrote his own lyrics instead of translating Balmont’s.

Image 3 Score
A. Grechaninov, The Hymn of Free Russia, harmonisation and poem by Clarence Lucas. (London, 1917) F.1623.e.(9.)

Grechaninov claimed that “the Hymn of Free Russia was still sung even when there was no more freedom left in Russia”, and indeed the tune became a theme of Radio Liberty (RL), that was broadcast to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections