Jan 022017

Editor’s Note: As a lover a classical music and a stamp collector, Doug Briscoe began some years ago to concentrate on collecting worldwide stamps of composers. Three years ago he had the notion of posting some of these images to Facebook on the composers’ birthdays. Doug found to his surprise that, given the profusion of such stamps, and by expanding to performers, to anniversaries of concert halls and opera houses, to poets whose works had been set to music, etc., he was able to create a post for almost every day of the year. Now the project widens to include all the arts, as Arts Fuse kicks off this new feature.


By Doug Briscoe

For the 2nd of January we have only three arts anniversaries on stamps of the world: the birthdate of Russian composer Mily Balakirev and German sculptor Christian Daniel Rauch and the first performance of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman.

A word about the Wagner stamp. It comes from the first set of semi-postal stamps to be issued in Germany under the Nazis, a set depicting scenes from Wagner’s operas (I wonder whose idea that was). Since it is the only stamp I know of specifically to address this opera, and since it is rather a pretty thing, I thought we would include it. Profoundest apologies to any who may be offended.

Most American music-lovers who have heard of him pronounce Mily Balakirev’s name as ba-la-KEE-rev, but properly it’s bah-LAH-keer-yeff. He was born on 2 January 1837 (OS 21 December 1836). He met and was encouraged by Glinka as a young man, an experience that later made Balakirev the driving force behind what critic Vladimir Stasov came to describe as “a mighty handful” or “The Mighty Five,” a group of composers who espoused Russian nationalist tendencies in music. These were Balakirev himself, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, and Cui; but the others eventually came to resent Balakirev’s domineering dogmatism and outright interference in their creativity. He gave the young Tchaikovsky the (very detailed) ideas for both Romeo and Juliet and the Manfred Symphony. Because of his perfectionism, quarrelling, and depression, Balakirev went into isolation for several years. Sometimes he took decades to finish a composition. The First Symphony and Second Piano Concerto were both begun in the 1860s, then set aside, the symphony reaching completion only in 1898 and the concerto remaining unfinished when Balakirev died on 29 May (OS 16 May) 1910.

Wikipedia calls Christian Daniel Rauch (2 January 1777 – 3 December 1857) “the foremost German sculptor of the 19th century”. By the time his reputation had been well established he was entrusted with virtually all the major public statuary in the country. His subjects, many treated on a grand scale, included Dürer (Nuremberg), Luther (Wittenberg), Blücher (Breslau), and, grandest of them all, Frederick the Great (Berlin), on which project Rauch collaborated with the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The models for this huge piece occupied Rauch from 1830 until the final unveiling in 1851 and is held to be, again quoting Wikipedia, “the crowning achievement of Rauch’s work as a portrait and historic sculptor.”

The 2nd of January also saw the premiere of Wagner’s first operatic masterpiece The Flying Dutchman, which was given at Dresden in 1843, 173 years ago today.

A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with a B.A. in English, Doug Briscoe worked in Boston classical music radio, at WCRB, WGBH, and WBUR, for about 25 years, beginning in 1977. He has the curious distinction of having succeeded Robert J. Lurtsema twice, first as host of WGBH’s weekday morning classical music program in 1993, then as host of the weekend program when Robert J.’s health failed in 2000. Doug also wrote liner notes for several of the late Gunther Schuller’s GM Recordings releases as well as program notes for the Boston Classical Orchestra. For the past few years he’s been posting a Facebook “blog” of classical music on stamps of the world, which has now been expanded to encompass all the arts for The Arts Fuse.


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