An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Today we salute composers Louis Spohr and Albert Roussel and Austrian conductor and “Generalmusikdirektor of Europe” Herbert von Karajan; and it so happens that three very prominent, even iconic American actors occupy our page today: Melvyn Douglas, Bette Davis, and Gregory Peck! Plus we have a (second) French composer, an Austrian stamp designer, and an Hungarian writer.
But we begin with Booker T. Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915), not an artist in the strictest sense, only insofar as he took up his pen and used it with eloquence and cogency in such works as Up From Slavery (1901). He was the first African-American to be honored by name on a US postage stamp in 1940. Another one marked his centenary in 1956.
A word about Louis Spohr (5 April 1784 – 22 October 1859): he was one of the violinists at the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, wrote ten symphonies of his own (among many other works, including 18 or 19 violin concertos), and invented the violin chin rest. (Betcha didn’t know that!)
Albert Roussel (1869 – 23 August 1937) served as a midshipman in the navy in his youth. His music teachers included Gigout and d’Indy, his students Satie, Martinů, and Varèse. Like Ravel, he was an ambulance driver in the First World War. His four symphonies and his ballets The Spider’s Feast and Bacchus and Ariadne are among his better known scores.
The Karajan stamp actually commemorates the Herbert von Karajan Center, founded by his widow Eliette in 1995. Karajan (1908 – 16 July 1989) strides through the 20th century like a colossus while at the same time coming under sharp criticism from many music lovers. (The condemnation for his Nazi Party membership is another matter, though his second wife, whom he married in 1942, was one-quarter Jewish. The above-mentioned Eliette was his third wife, their marriage dating from 1958.) Karajan, denazified in 1946, went on to a career of almost unparalleled stature and power in the European music world, despite the brickbats. He made hundreds of recordings, many with his Berlin Philharmonic, and, say what you will of the man, some of them are magnificent.
I was surprised to find Melvyn Douglas (born Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg on April 5, 1901, died August 4, 1981) on a stamp from Cambodia. The US stamps for Ruth Elizabeth “Bette” Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) and Eldred Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003; in Atticus Finch mode) were issued in 2008 and 2011 respectively.
Three more birthday kiddies today.
A student of Franck and Massenet, composer Louis-Gaston Ganne (1862 – 13-14 July 1923) conducted at numerous venues, including the Folies-Bergère. He wrote operas, operettas, ballets, and marches. The Lorraine March became very popular in the US just after World War I. The Monegasque stamp cites his opera Hans, le joueur de flûte of 1906.
Austrian painter Wilhelm Dachauer (April 5, 1881 – February 26, 1951) was another of those artists, like Koloman Moser, who were very prolific in stamp design. He produced a great many Austrian designs both pre- and post-war as well as a fair number for Germany after the Anschluss. Some of these, designed for use in Poland by the occupying “Generalgouvernement“, celebrated Hitler’s birthday with the Führer’s portrait. Dachauer was a professor at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna from 1928 to 1944, and although cleared of any criminal association with the Reich was not reinstated to his position. Let’s look at some of the early designs from the 1920s. Along with a number of series representing allegorical symbols of agriculture (240 kronen, violet), labor and industry (60k, yellow green), and art and science (500k, orange), Dachauer received particular praise for his series illustrating the Nibelungenlied (1926), one of which was chosen at a contemporaneous Philadelphia stamp show as the world’s most beautiful stamp. (It depicts the mythical Gunther’s voyage to Iceland.) Incidentally, it is Dachauer’s stamp design for Joseph Lanner that we’ll see on that composer’s birthday a week from today. In 1981 Austria issued a stamp for Dachauer’s centenary using one of his own illustrations as its centerpiece. For examples of Dachauer’s non-philatelic work, see artnet.com.
The Hungarian playwright and novelist István Örkény (5 April 1912 – 24 June 1979) trained in chemistry and pharmacology before seeing his first book of fiction, Ocean Dance, published in 1941. The next year he was sent to the Russian Front, not as a soldier, but because he was a Jew, as a laborer. Captured by the Russians, he was interned in a labor camp where conditions were bearable enough for him to write a play, Voronesh. He was released in 1946 and returned to Budapest, but repression followed him there, as he was forbidden to publish from 1956 to 1960. The best known work of Örkény is his series of “One Minute Stories”. These tend to deal with mundane and banal matters in a grotesque and absurd manner. The first series of 400 of these appeared in 1967. Other significant works include the novel The Tóth Family (1967) and the tragicomedy Catsplay (1963).
Johann Strauss’s most famous operetta, Die Fledermaus, was first heard on this date in 1874. (Coincidentally, Wilhelm Dachauer designed a Johann Strauss stamp for Austria, but this isn’t it.) One day when I visited my dear mother after work, she told me she had particularly enjoyed one of the pieces I had broadcast on the radio that day. She wrote down the name so she wouldn’t forget it. It was the overture to “Deflate a Mouse”.
A subsequent April 5th (1938) saw the première of the ballet Gaîté Parisienne as given by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo with choreography by Léonide Massine. The music was drawn from various stage works by Jacques Offenbach, arranged by Manuel Rosenthal and the composer’s nephew Jacques Brindejonc-Offenbach. Another colorful stamp from Monaco marks the occasion.
There’s no stamp for Algernon Swinburne (5 April 1837 – 10 April 1909).
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.