Jan 312017

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


By Doug Briscoe

Happy birthday, Franz Schubert! It’s also the birthday of Mario Lanza, Blaž Arnič, Jean Picart Le Doux, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and Swiss cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer, a contemporary of Schubert who created what were likely the first European comic books!

These are most of the Schubert stamps I own, though several more exist. Along the top row I’ve gathered together six Schubert stamps that use the same 1825 portrait by Wilhelm August Rieder in their designs. First is a stamp from the Austrian set of 1922, the earliest stamps ever issued to commemorate composers. Next is another Austrian issue of 1947, then a couple of nice Mexican and Indian stamps from 1978, another lovely Austrian, this one from 1997, and a DDR issue of 1953. All of the stamps in the next row were issued for the bicentenary of 1997, at left a Bulgarian stamp that uses a reverse image of the same Rieder portrait, followed by issues from  Germany (a “Schubertiad”), the Netherlands, Moldova, and Liechtenstein. Below these are yet another Austrian design, my favorite, I think, which I purchased at an Austrian post office while traveling in Europe in 1978, decades before I started seriously collecting composer stamps. Another 1978 issue, a fanciful pair from Mali (!), completes today’s tribute to the great Franz Peter Schubert.

As a schoolteacher, Rodolphe Töpffer (1799 – 8 June 1846), born two years to the day after Schubert, amused his charges with caricatures and hit upon the happy notion of illustrating books with captioned cartoon panels, one to six per page. No less a figure than Goethe urged him to publish these, and in the end Töpffer did produce seven such books, which satirized the society of the day and achieved considerable popularity. The first of them, the Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1837), was published in the United States five years later as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. Töpffer also painted local landscapes and was a literature professor at the University of Geneva. A Swiss stamp of 1946 shows us the man, and two more from a 1999 set show us examples of his work.

The famed tenor and film star Mario Lanza, born Alfred Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia on this date in 1921, was “discovered” by Serge Koussevitzky (!), who gave the young man a full scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center. There he sang Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor in 1942, to strongly favorable reviews. It was at this time that he took on the stage name Mario Lanza. (He also studied at Tanglewood with Boris Goldovsky and Leonard Bernstein!) He served in the Army Air Corps during the war and resumed his career in September 1945. He had a particular success with his two appearances as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in New Orleans in 1948. Louis B. Mayer signed him up for a seven-year film contract with MGM, a move that established Lanza as a Hollywood star but gave him some qualms about the turn his career had taken. His great success in The Great Caruso (1951) was followed by his dismissal from MGM after a dispute over his next film, The Student Prince. Lanza took this rejection badly for some time but bounced back, performing for Queen Elizabeth in 1957 and giving a very well received European concert tour the next year. But he had ruined his health with alcohol and crash diets and died in Rome following a heart attack on October 7, 1959. Surprisingly, the US Postal Service has never put out a stamp in his honor; I expect we’ll see one for the centenary four years from now.


Slovenian composer Blaž Arnič (1901 – 1 February 1970) was born in a remote rural area, where he taught himself the accordion. Later he attended conservatories in Ljubljana and Vienna, with further composition studies in Warsaw, Kraków, and Paris. A communist from 1941, he was arrested and sent to Dachau in 1944. There he lost the sight of one eye in addition to the general impairment of his health. To add insult to injury, he was expelled from the Communist Party in 1949. Arnič shares with Schubert not only his birthday but the fact that he is one of those composers who belong to the “Nine Symphonies Club” along with Beethoven, Dvořák, Mahler, Bruckner, Vaughan Williams, and others. He also wrote symphonic poems, a concerto for violin and one for viola, piano and chamber music, etc. He was killed in an auto accident in 1970.

French painter and tapestry designer Jean Picart Le Doux (1902 – 7 May 1982) was a son of the artist Charles Picart Le Doux (1881–1959). He first exhibited his paintings in 1935 and his tapestries in 1943. With Jean Lurçat and Marc Saint-Saëns he founded the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and in 1952 became the first president of the der Alliance Graphique Internationale. In 1980, France issued a stamp reproducing his Aubusson tapestry Hommage à Jean-Sébastien Bach.

The Argentine singer/songwriter Héctor Roberto Chavero Aramburu (1908 – 23 May 1992) took on the name Atahualpa Yupanqui, derived from the names of two Incan kings, and which, in Quechua, means “He who comes from faraway lands to say something.” He spent much of his youth travelling and studying indigenous culture, of which his father was a descendant. A member of the Communist Party, he was forced to flee to Uruguay and, back in Argentina, was later arrested a number of times. After a European visit that lasted from 1949 to 1952, Yupanqui renounced his Communist affiliation, whereupon harassment and impediments to his career were eased. He toured the world and settled in France for the last two decades of his life. Yupanqui is said to be the most important Argentine folk musician of the 20th century.

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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