Mar 162017

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


By Doug Briscoe

Rather skimpy fare on today’s Arts on Stamps of the World, but your humble servant is beholden to the dictates of the calendar and the world’s postal services.

Happy birthday to the great German mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig (born 1928)! Both of her parents were opera singers, her father also an opera administrator. She made her debut at the age of 18 right after the war in a Frankfurt production of Die Fledermaus. After Darmstadt and Hannover she joined the Vienna State Opera in 1955 and would sing with the company for thirty years. She first appeared in the United States in 1959 at both the Lyric Opera of Chicago and at the Met. Her first husband was the much-admired bass-baritone Walter Berry, and her second was the French comic actor Paul-Émile Deiber. She made many superb recordings of opera and Lieder and retired in 1994. On the stamp, an Austrian issue that came out as part of a 1969 set commemorating the centennial of the Vienna State Opera, she is shown as Octavian (with her back to us) in Der Rosenkavalier opposite the Sophie of Annelies Rothenberger.

The delightfully opinionated critic Martin Seymour-Smith, whose compendious volume Who’s Who in 20th Century Literature (1977) I find indispensable, dubbed Peruvian poet César Vallejo “the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language” (!), and Robert Bly called Vallejo’s first volume of poetry, Los Heraldos Negros (The Black Messengers), “the greatest single collection of poems I have ever read.” Sam Shepard claims Vallejo as his favorite poet, and Thomas Merton described him as “the greatest universal poet since Dante.” César Vallejo (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was born in remote village in the Andes but attended the University of Trujillo and Lima’s University of San Marcos, where he studied literature. He published a volume of poetry, the one so admired by Bly, in Lima before returning home. In 1920 he was unjustly accused of arson and imprisoned for nearly four months. He was not fully exonerated until 2007. During his incarceration one of his poems, anonymously submitted, won a prize from the city hall of Trujillo. He produced a further volume of poetry, Trilce, in 1922, work that ex post facto was recognized as Surrealist. Two books of stories came out the next year, but then Vallejo fled his homeland for Europe, his release from prison having been on a temporary basis only. He lived in penurious circumstances in Paris, but was later able to make visits to Spain (that government gave him a small stipend) and Russia. He contributed articles to periodicals in South America and Europe, but saw only one more book of poetry and one of reportage, Russia in 1931, published during his lifetime. A second book on his experiences in the USSR had to wait until 1965 for publication. He also wrote five plays, a novel and two novellas. Vallejo died of a recurrence of malaria at the age of 46. He was recognized not only on a stamp from his native Peru but also one from Uruguay.

Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck (16 March 1918 – 14 January 1999), the son and brother of poets (the brother was also a painter and art restorer), grew up from infancy in the UK, returning to the Netherlands, then proceeding to Switzerland, to complete his education. The stamp shows his Amsterdam Orphanage, built in 1959-60 to a modular Structuralist design that simulated the plan of a small city.

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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