The Arts on the Stamps of the World — January 5

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 kicks off this new feature.


By Doug Briscoe

January 5th is the birthday of Mozart’s wife Constanze, Spanish sculptor Pablo Gargallo, French painter Nicolas de Staël, and African-American choreographer Alvin Ailey. We also note the anniversary of the opening of the Palais Garnier in Paris.

Mozart fell in love with his cousin the soprano Aloysia Weber when he was 21, but it was, as the saying goes, not in the stars. Three years later, Aloysia married the actor Joseph Lange. Disappointed, Mozart found solace in the arms of Aloysia’s younger sister Maria Constanze (5 January 1762 – 6 March 1842). Joseph Lange, by the way, left us a famous (albeit unfinished) portrait of Mozart (included in our accompanying collage in the form of a 1991 Mozart stamp from—wait for it—India!). Constanze was also a trained soprano but unlike her sister did not have a professional career. Against the wishes of Mozart’s father, the couple were wed on 4 August 1782. The next day, however, a letter arrived bearing Leopold Mozart’s consent. Two of Wolfgang and Constanze’s six children survived to adulthood: Karl Thomas (1784 – 1858) and Franz Xaver Wolfgang (1791 – 1844), who followed in his father’s footsteps as a composer. In 1797, Constanze married Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, who with her invaluable assistance wrote a biography of Mozart. The stamp is one from a Mozart issue of six stamps put out by the UAE state of Ras al Khaima in 1972.

Pablo Gargallo (1881 – December 28, 1934) was a Spanish sculptor and painter, though I wasn’t able to learn anything about his work in the latter genre. Much of his sculpture is noted for its manipulation of flat metal plates, but a more classical approach can be seen in his other pieces. He collaborated with Dídac Masana in the creation of a great arch representing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona. A Pablo Gargallo Museum opened in Zaragoza in 1985. Perhaps surprisingly, the most expansive Wikipedia article about him is not the page in Spanish, but rather the one in French. The Spanish stamp depicts his life-sized El Profeta of 1933.

Nicolas de Staël was born Nikolai Vladimirovich Stael von Holstein in Saint Petersburg on this day in 1914. (Madame de Staël was of the same family.) He was the son of an army general, who, with the onset of the of the Russian Revolution, fled with his family to Poland. Within a couple of years de Staël was orphaned and sent to live in Brussels, where he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. Following a period of adventurous travel (he was with the French Foreign Legion from 1939 to 1941), he lived in penury with his family during the occupation. Their straitened circumstances were such that his wife Jeannine Guillou, herself a painter and one of de Staël’s models, died from complications of malnutrition. His fortunes turned for the better with exhibitions in Paris and abroad. But his success came with a heavy cost: the demand for his work was so strong that de Staël fell victim to exhaustion and depression and committed suicide on March 16, 1955. His Wikipedia artciles tells us: “Typically his paintings contained block-like slabs of colour, emerging as if struggling against one another across the surface of the image. His painting style is characterized by a thick impasto showing traces of the brush and the palette knife, and by a division of the canvas into numerous zones of color.” A typical example of his style is found in Still Life with Candle, as seen on this French stamp of 1985.


Alvin Ailey (1931 – December 1, 1989) was born and grew up in Texas but moved to California, where his mother had sought war work, in 1942. From 1949 he studied at the school of Lester Horton. (A couple of years later he briefly relocated to San Francisco, where he met Marguerite Johnson, with whom he formed a nightclub act. Marguerite Johnson later changed her name to Maya Angelou.) When Lester Horton died in 1953, Ailey, only 22, took on the job of artistic director. Dissatisfied with the styles other modern dance companies, Ailey began to choreograph, initially in the manner of Horton, and in 1958 founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The most famous of the 79 works he created is Revelations (1960), a story of the struggles of African-Americans set to spirituals and blues. Although Ailey was deeply concerned with the Black experience in America, he always made a point of keeping his company multi-racial. He died of HIV/AIDS at the age of 58. He was honored on a US issue of 2004 along with three other American choreographers.

Today marks the 141st anniversary of the opening of the Palais Garnier in Paris. Begun in 1861, it opened its doors to the public on 5 January 1875 with a program including music by Auber, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Delibes, Minkus, and the first two acts of Halévy’s opera La Juive. The house, named for its architect, Charles Garnier, seats nearly 2,000 and was the primary home of the Paris Opera until 1989. Coincidentally, tomorrow marks the anniversary of a premiere that took place in another of Garnier’s musical structures, the Salle Garnier in Monte-Carlo.

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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