An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
On this January 7th we honor four composers from the classical music world: Francis Poulenc, Mykola Arkas, Jovo Ivaniševic, and Xiao Youmei, and one from Afro-Cuban jazz, Chano Pozo. From literature we celebrate French poet Charles Péguy and American writer Zora Neale Hurston, and from the visual arts Hudson River School painter Albert Bierstadt. Three of our subjects died quite young.
Just yesterday we saw a stamp citing the ballet Les biches by Francis Poulenc (1899 – 30 January 1963) to commemorate its premiere in 1924. It was only a few years earlier that Poulenc had been grouped together with five other composers (despite their variable styles) in an article by Henri Collet in which they were dubbed “Les Six.” Much of his music is imbued with a delightful Gallic lightness, but there are also works of greater sobriety such as his opera The Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957). Poulenc left a considerable number of recordings as a pianist, particularly of his own music, as both a solo player and as accompanist to the singers Pierre Bernac (birthday coming up on January 12, but no stamp) and Denise Duval. The French stamp was issued in 1974.
Charles Péguy (1873 – 5 September 1914) was a Socialist and Dreyfusard who, from 1900, edited the literary magazine Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which saw publication of his own essays and poetry as well as works of Romain Rolland and others. Péguy also wrote four plays on religious subjects. His free verse poem “Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue” is enormously popular in France and was a favorite of Charles de Gaulle. He must have been much admired by Graham Greene, who cites him in at least three of his own works, even using a quotation from Péguy as an epigraph for The Heart of the Matter. Péguy served as a lieutenant in World War I and was killed in action on the day before the beginning of the Battle of the Marne. He is remembered on stamps of France (1950 and 2014) and Monaco (1973).
Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – January 28, 1960), the daughter of slaves, was a writer and anthropologist. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in the U.S. Her sound education was acquired at Morgan College, Howard University, where she co-founded the student newspaper, and Barnard College, where at the time she was the only black student, but worked with Franz Boas (later she would also work with Margaret Mead), earning her anthropology degree in 1928 at the age of 37. Meanwhile she had gone to New York in the mid-20s at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, to which she contributed. Besides her four novels, she wrote stories, plays, and essays and produced a series of three musical folk revues based on her studies, conducted in the Caribbean and the American South, of authentic African song and dance. Hurston was the object of some criticism regarding her use of African-American dialect and her depiction of voodoo, but her work has received much positive reassessment since the 70s. She died of heart disease in poverty and obscurity in a welfare home. A volume of her folk tales found in the Smithsonian was published in 2001. The US Postal Service honored her on a stamp two years later.
Albert Bierstadt (1830 – February 18, 1902) was born in Germany but came to the U.S. as a baby, settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After a return to Germany for study, Bierstadt began his career as a landscape artist with pieces he painted in New England and upstate New York. As early as 1860 he was elected to the National Academy. In 1863 he (quite legally) escaped being drafted into the Civil War by paying for a substitute. Bierstadt’s work was much in demand, and he traveled a great deal in the West and is thus also associated with the Rocky Mountain School. Despite his success, Bierstadt’s paintings came to be criticized for what some saw as his excessive romanticism and grandiosity. With passing tastes, his work had been largely forgotten by the time of his death. He left some 500 paintings, of which his characteristic Valley of the Yosemite (1864) was selected for this 2008 stamp.
Ukrainian composer Mykola Arkas (7 January 1853 [OS 26 December 1852] – 26  March 1909) was born into the family of a Black Sea Fleet admiral of the same name. When he completed his own naval service in 1881 he became a magistrate and, in his leisure time, studied the history of Ukraine and started collecting folk songs. He opened a public school at his own expense and wrote a history of Ukraine published in 1908. As a composer, in addition to his choral and folk song settings, he wrote what is considered to be the first Ukrainian folk opera, Kateryna (1890). Ukraine honored him with this stamp in 2003.
English Wikipedia says the Montenegrin composer Jovan (or Jovo) Ðurov Ivanišević (ee-va-NEE-sheh-vitch) was born near Cetinje in 1861 (without a more specific date), but the only other Wiki page, which is in Russian, and other sources say his birth year is unknown. I did find another online source that gives his birth date as 7 January 1861, and since I have no other date to set aside for him, here goes. He is credited with having written the Montenegrin state anthem, “Ubavoj nam Crnoj Gori” (To Our Beautiful Montenegro), but the problem there is that the anthem was adopted in 1870, when Ivanišević was only nine years old. Yet another source says that the anthem was based on a Hymn to Saint Sava (the first Patriarch of Serbia), which someone has traced back as far as 1839. In any event, the anthem was retired when Montenegro was absorbed into Yugoslavia after World War I. It was put forward as a possibility for newly independent Montenegro in 1993 but was rejected on account of its monarchist lyrics. As for young Ivanišević, he composed choruses, piano pieces, and two orchestral works and met his death on 23 December 1889 when the ice broke under him while he was skating on the Vltava River. Montenegro issued a stamp for him in 2011.
Chinese composer Xiao Youmei (or Shio Yiu-mei; 7 January 1884 – 31 December 1940, according to Japanese Wikipedia) was “one of the first to reflect Western compositional techniques in his works.” He studied in Guangzhou (Canton), Japan, and Leipzig. His doctoral thesis there, “Historical Research on the Pre-Seventeenth Century Chinese Orchestra” (1916), wasn’t translated into Chinese until 1990. Xiao was also an administrator and educator and the author of many textbooks. He wrote over 100 pieces of music, including works for orchestra, piano, and chorus.
The versatile performer known as Chano Pozo was born Luciano Pozo González on January 7, 1915 in Havana. He was the first Latin percussionist in Dizzy Gillespie’s band and collaborated with him in writing some of Gillespie’s Latin-flavored compositions (“Manteca” and “Tin Tin Deo”, for example). Chano, also a singer and dancer, is credited with being one of the seminal influences in the founding of Latin jazz. He died at a young age, 33, in New York City on December 3, 1948.
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.