Jan 202017

An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.


By Doug Briscoe

Rather slim pickings for artists on postage stamps for this January 20th. We have only the Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu, the Nobel Prize-winning Danish writer Johannes V. Jensen, and “Bones” McCoy.

Guillaume Lekeu (20 January 1870 – 21 January 1894) might very well have developed into a major composer had he not died of typhoid fever the day after his 24th birthday. Though Belgian-born, he lived in France from the age of nine and composed regularly from the age of fifteen. He studied counterpoint with César Franck and orchestration with Vincent d’Indy, who completed Lekeu’s Cello Sonata and Piano Quartet after the young man’s death. (It was, incidentally, Téodor de Wyzewa, who later collaborated with Georges de Saint-Foix on the first volume of the monumental Mozart, sa vie musicale et son oeuvre, who introduced Lekeu to d’Indy.) Lekeu took second prize in the 1891 Prix de Rome with his large cantata “Andromède.” His violin sonata of 1893 was commissioned by Ysaÿe. In 1987, the Belgian record label Ricercar embarked on a project to record all of Lekeu’s works, and an eight-CD set was released in 1994. The postal service of Belgium issued the stamp in that same year, the hundredth anniversary of Lekeu’s death.


Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (1873 – 25 November 1950) is one of those Nobel Prize winners whom most of us have never read (or even heard of). His greatest work, they tell me, is his collection Digte 1906 (Poems 1906), the first significant use of prose poems in Danish, and his novel The Fall of the King (1901) was selected by two of his country’s newspapers as the finest Danish novel of the 20th century. Like many creative figures, he began by studying medicine, writing only in order to pay for his education, but after three years he gave up science for art. Fascinated with evolution, he penned a cycle of six novels, Den lange rejse (The Long Journey; 1908–22), that dealt with the topic in a fictional perspective beginning with the Ice Age. His later years were devoted to “ambitious biological and zoological studies in an effort to create an ethical system based upon Darwinian ideas” (Wikipedia). Apparently he held some questionable racial theories, but was never a fascist about it. Denmark put out a stamp for him in his centenary year, 1973.

DeForest Kelley (1920 – June 11, 1999), “Dr. Leonard McCoy” on Star Trek, was honored just last year in a set of Canadian stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of the iconic television series. (The United States also issued a set of four Star Trek stamps, but without depicting any of the actors. Instead, they boast a nostalgic, retro design.)

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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