Feature: The Arts on Stamps of the World — January 1
Editor’s Note: As a lover a classical music and a stamp collector, Doug Briscoe began some years ago to concentrate on collecting worldwide stamps of composers. Three years ago he had the notion of posting some of these images to Facebook on the composers’ birthdays. Doug found to his surprise that, given the profusion of such stamps, and by expanding to performers, to anniversaries of concert halls and opera houses, to poets whose works had been set to music, etc., he was able to create a post for almost every day of the year. Now the project widens to include all the arts, as Arts Fuse begins this new feature on the first day of 2017.
By Doug Briscoe
Artists born on New Year’s Day who have been represented on postage stamps of the world include Sándor Petőfi, perhaps the greatest Hungarian poet, American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Chinese painter Qi Baishi, Lutheran pastor, poet, and instrument maker Kristijonas Donelaitis, Argentine composer and educator Felipe Boero, and French-born dancer and choreographer Maurice Béjart. Also, two of the operas by Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko had their premières on this date, and we pay tribute to the Vienna New Year’s Day Concerts.
Sándor Petőfi (1823 – 1849) is greatly admired for his revolutionary activities—and sacrifice—as well as for his poetry. He probably died in the Battle of Segesvár, one of the last battles of the Hungarian Revolution, on 31 July 1849. His poems were set by his fellow countrymen Liszt and Farkas, but also in translation by numerous non-Hungarians: Brahms (one of the Liebeslieder Waltzes and the song “Wir wandelten,” Op. 96 #2), Delibes, Rheinberger, Gretchaninov, Nietzsche, and Robert Franz. In addition, the sixth of Liszt’s Hungarian Historical Portraits for piano solo commemorates Petőfi. Hungary has put Petőfi’s image on many stamps, of which a few are shown here, and the Soviet Union honored him with one in 1959.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864 – July 13, 1946) was one of the most important of the early American photographers, his work leading eventually to a broader acceptance of the medium as a serious art form. Born in Hoboken, the son of well-to-do German-Jewish immigrants, Stieglitz was in his youth taken for several years to Europe, studying in Karlsruhe and Berlin. It was there, as a mechanical engineering student, that he developed an interest in photography. He returned to the U.S. around 1890. His second wife was Georgia O’Keeffe, to whom he was married from 1924, in which year the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston received a collection of Stieglitz’s works in what was the first acquisition by a major museum of photographs for its permanent collection. In 2002, the United States issued a large sheet of stamps celebrating American photographers, and Steiglitz’s “Hands and Thimble” was selected as representative of his art.
The important Chinese painter Qi Baishi was born on exactly the same day as Stieglitz, January 1, 1864. He was an apprentice carpenter from the age of 14 and was initially self-taught as a painter. The subjects of his watercolors were typically drawn from plant and animal life, though many of his early human models were performers in Chinese opera. Later in life he also worked in calligraphy and seal-carving and wrote poetry. With the onset of Communism, Qi’s work continued to be treated with respect, and he was even given nominal administrative appointments. He died at the age of 93 on September 16, 1957. Several nations have recently issued what we philatelists call “souvenir sheets” honoring Qi—I show an individual stamp from one such sheet from Nevis, and the Soviet Union put out a stamp for him the year after his death.
Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714 – 18 February 1780) wrote what is considered the first classic Lithuanian language poem, “The Seasons”, in addition to six fables in the same language and at least three poems in German. He studied theology at the University of Königsberg, learning Greek, Latin, French, and Hebrew, and was soon appointed pastor in the town of Tollmingkehmen (now Chistye Prudy), where the population was a mixture of Germans and Lithuanians. Besides his literary creations, Donelaitis built pianos and clavichords, thermometers and barometers. The Lithuanian stamp was issued in 1994.
Felipe Boero (1884 – 9 August 1958) studied with Gabriel Fauré and Paul Vidal in Paris from 1912 to 1914. On his return to Argentina in 1915, he co-founded the National Music Society, today called the Argentine Association of Composers. He wrote six operas, one of them, El Matrero (1925), being considered one of the most important national operas of Argentina, with its quotations from indigenous songs and incorporation of native rhythms and dances. Besides opera, he composed an oratorio, a mass, and symphonic poems. The stamp derives from a 1969 set honoring Argentine composers.
Maurice Béjart (1927 – 22 November 2007) was born Maurice-Jean Berger in Marseille to the French philosopher Gaston Berger. He adopted the stage name “Béjart” to reflect his love of art and his admiration for Molière (whose wife and lover were both named Béjart). Maurice Béjart’s first ballet company was dissolved after a few years, but the second, the Brussels Ballet du XXe Siècle, was active from 1960 to 1987. In the latter year he founded the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, which went on to become one of the world’s Big Name ballet companies. It is still in operation, as is one of the three ballet schools Béjart founded, the Rudra School in Lausanne. His inventive if sometimes controversial choreography tended to take unexpected turns and often made use of Asian and African influences. The Belgian stamp was issued two years after Béjart’s death.
Two of the operas of Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko (stah-NEE-swahf mon-YOOSH-ko) happen to have had their premieres on this date: Halka, first given in Vilnius in 1848 (and which I like to call “The Incredible Halka”), and Verbum nobile, first performed in Warsaw in 1861. For the composer’s death centenary in 1972, Poland issued a set of eight stamps showing scenes from his stage works, so we have stamps specifically devoted to both of these operas.
For a few years, starting in 2004, Austria issued stamps marking the celebrated New Year’s in Vienna concerts, each year incorporating a portrait of that season’s guest conductor. Here’s an example of one of those stamps, the last one from 2007, when Zubin Mehta led the orchestra
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.