An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
François-André Danican Philidor (September 7, 1726 – August 31, 1795) was a French composer better known, in his own day and ours, to chess players than to musicians, despite his having come from a distinguished musical family. (Accomplished chess players will be familiar with Philidor’s Defense: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6). Both of the Philidor stamps shown here were issued in remembrance of Philidor’s brilliance as a chess player, not as a composer. The family name was originally Danican, which is adapted from the Scottish Duncan. His grandfather was an oboist at the court of Louis XIII (himself a composer), who nicknamed him Philidor because his playing reminded the king of an Italian virtuoso oboist named Filidori. Our Philidor’s great-uncle Michel Danican (d. c1659) is credited with coinventing (with Jean Hotteterre) the oboe by modifying the shawm. Young Philidor joined the royal choir of Louis XV in 1732 when he was six. For much of the decade 1745–54 he was in London, where he knew Samuel Johnson and Charles Burney. Later he became one of the leading opera composers in France, producing over twenty works in the form. When the French Revolution broke out, however, Philidor, having had so many aristocratic connections, was stranded in England and died there. Just a few days later, his relatives persuaded the French authorities to remove his name from the banned list. For an interesting piece on the mystery of Philidor’s burial place, see this impressive article.
Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel (7 September 1740 – 26 February 1814) was born and died in Stockholm. Like so many other artists he was drawn to Paris and Rome. In the latter city he remained for twelve years and worked in marble. On stamps of Sweden we see the artist himself, his sculpture The Dying Spartan Hero Otryades (1779), and Carl Larsson’s painting Carl Michael Bellman in Sergel’s Studio. Sergel also made a drawing and a bronze medallion of Bellman.
The Italian poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (7 September 1791 – 21 December 1863) wrote sonnets (2,279 of them!) in the Roman dialect of Romanesco. Born in Rome, he made his first poetic efforts in mainstream Italian; oddly enough, it was a visit to Milan that awakened him to the possibilities of dialect verse. Although much of his writing was satirical or erotic, and some of it was anticlerical, he was always a conservative at heart, and he ended up working as a censor for the papacy. It was only in private readings, before such friends as Saint-Beuve and Gogol, that Belli brought out his own saucy verses, and he requested that they be destroyed after his death. Luckily his wishes were ignored. Anthony Burgess translated some of them, as did Harold Norse.
I’m pleased, in a self-satisfied sort of way, to report that I was able, with much googlish industry, to find a stamp showing the work of French sculptor and painter Alexandre Falguière (7 September 1831 – 20 April 1900). He was born at Toulouse and won the Prix de Rome in 1859. His first significant work was the charming Victor of the Cockfight (Le Vainqueur au Combat de Coqs, 1864). He also created a number of public monuments to prominent figures such as Balzac and Admiral Amédée Courbet (the missing hand and other damage are due to bombing during World War II). On the stamp from São Tomé we see Asia, a piece Falguière created for the Paris World’s Fair in 1878.
Today is also the birthday of the famous American folk artist known as Grandma Moses. Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961) was born in Greenwich, New York, the third child of ten. Here’s a sweet photograph of her as a little girl. Her introduction to art was her admiration for the Currier and Ives prints she saw in one of the homes where she worked as a housekeeper. The kindly employees supplied her with drawing tools. Over the years she made quilts and embroideries and occasionally decorated household items with designs in paint, but she did not turn to painting on canvas until she was in her late 70s. Blessed with another quarter century of life, however (she lived to be 101), she produced in toto some 1500 paintings. One of these, Fourth of July, owned by the White House, was selected for a 1969 stamp in her honor.
Another long-lived artist, but one who got a much earlier start, was Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (7 September 1863 – Cannes, 4 April 1958). Educated at the Royal Danish Academy, he went to France and was attracted to the Symbolist movement. He loved France so much that he spent half his long life there (he lived to be 94). Willumsen also worked in ceramics, architecture, and photography. The stamp show his 1904 painting An Alpinist. Here’s a photo of the work and others by Willumsen on display in Oslo in 1913.
We wind up today with Buddy Holly (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), who despite his very short life, had a far-reaching influence on rock and roll. Born Charles Hardin Holley in Lubbock, Texas, he opened for Elvis Presley and for Bill Haley and His Comets before starting to make records in 1956. After appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, he and his band The Crickets went on tour to Hawaii, Australia, and the UK. Holly’s biggest hits were “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”. The plane crash in which he died also claimed the lives of Ritchie Valens, J. P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”), and pilot Roger Peterson. Holly was 22 years old.
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.