The Arts on the Stamps of the World — February 21
An Arts Fuse regular feature: the arts on stamps of the world.
By Doug Briscoe
Today’s birthday subjects on stamps of the world are Andrés Segovia, Sacha Guitry, Carl Czerny, the late Alan Rickman, and Albrecht Dürer’s kid brother Hans, along with six others. Alas, W.H. Auden (1907 – 29 September 1973) remains, to the best of my knowledge, stampless.
Andrés Segovia Torres (21 February 1893 – 2 June 1987) first performed publicly at the age of 16. Ten years later he was touring South America. His appearance in Mexico in 1923 earned him plaudits in a review by Manuel Ponce, who went on to compose a number of works specifically for Segovia. It was Fritz Kreisler, no less, who arranged for Segovia’s first US tour in 1928, and shortly thereafter Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote his famous Twelve Etudes for guitar, later dedicated to the young instrumentalist. Many were the composers who contributed to the modern guitar repertoire expressly for Segovia: Torroba, Mompou, Tansman, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Joaquín Rodrigo, who dedicated his beloved Fantasía para un gentilhombre to Segovia. In 1981, Segovia was ennobled by King Juan Carlos I as the 1st Marquis of Salobreña.
“Sacha” is a Russian diminutive for Alexander, and Alexandre-Pierre Georges Guitry (1885 – 24 July 1957) was born in Saint Petersburg, whither his father Lucien Guitry, a renowned French actor in his day, had removed with his wife to direct the French-language Théâtre Michel from 1882 to 1891. Little Alexandre-Pierre’s nanny called him “Sacha”, and the nickname stayed with him all his life. He went on the stage at age five and later quit school to become a playwright. His first efforts drew little attention, but then he had five hits in a row between 1911 and 1914. (Eventually he would author some 120 plays.) The next year he made the first of his many films, though he was dismissive of silents and didn’t make a full-length picture until 1935. But we get a bit ahead of ourselves. Still in 1915, he met the second of his five actress wives, the singer Yvonne Printemps, with whom ten years later he appeared in his play Mozart with music by Reynaldo Hahn. A tour of the play took them to Broadway, Boston and Montreal. Because Guitry continued to work throughout the Nazi occupation of France, he fell under a shadow from accusations of collaboration. He had used his position to help those in need and, though exonerated, was deeply hurt by the suspicion, besides which, his internment affected his health to the extent that he needed to recover in a nursing home. When he died, however, his coffin was visited by an estimated 12,000 people. Already twice this month, we’ve seen stamps from a French souvenir sheet honoring filmmakers, and now we have occasion to return to that sheet for a third: it is Guitry’s Le Roman d’un tricheur (The Story [or Confessions] of a Cheat, aka The Story of a Trickster or simply The Cheat) from 1936, an adaptation of his only novel Les Mémoires d’un tricheur. He directed and starred in the film in addition to writing the adaptation.
Carl Czerny (1791 – 15 July 1857) is known, and probably detested, by thousands of piano students who have spent thousands of hours practicing his thousands (wink) of etudes from such collections as “The School of Velocity” and “The Art of Finger Dexterity”. I don’t suppose he actually wrote thousands of etudes, but his publications reach as high as Op. 861! Besides the piano music, Czerny did also compose in other genres: symphonies, masses, quartets, etc. I know of no stamp that honors Czerny specifically, but he does appear on a Liszt stamp issued by Hungary in 1953. The illustration is a detail from a drawing by Josef Kriehuber (1800 – 1876) called “A Matinee at Liszt’s” (1846), in which Czerny appears between Berlioz and Liszt. (In the full drawing Kriehuber himself can be seen at left along with violin virtuoso Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.) Liszt’s own Transcendental Etudes were dedicated to Czerny.
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman (1946 – 14 January 2016) was an English actor best known, I suppose, for his roles as Hans Gruber in the John McTiernan action picture Die Hard (“Now I haff a machine gun. Ho…ho…ho”) and as Septimus Snape in the Harry Potter pictures. I first saw him in another deliciously slimy role as the odious Obediah Slope (Snape? Slope?) in the delightful TV dramatization of Trollope’s first two Barsetshire novels as The Barchester Chronicles (1982), which I recommend unreservedly. But it is as Snape (not Slope) that we see him on a stamp issued by the US (!) a few years back—one from an entire booklet devoted to the Harry Potter film franchise. This brings up the scabrous question of living persons being represented on stamps of the United States. It’s a long story, but in this particular case at that particular time (2013), one rule applies: the stamp does not honor Mr. Rickman himself, but rather a character he portrayed. So it’s kosher.
I shouldn’t think most people are aware that the great German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer had a younger (smarter? better-looking?) brother named Hans, who was born on this day in 1490. Hans, too, was a painter, illustrator, and engraver. The number of worldwide stamps honoring Albrecht or reproducing his works is legion, but I can find only one for Hans. Regrettably, perhaps, it’s a relic of the Third Reich, having been issued in 1942 under the aegis of the so-called “General Gouvernement” of Poland during the Nazi occupation. Its Polish provenance is due to the fact that Hans Dürer was court painter for King Sigismund I of Poland and lived and worked and died in Kraków. Although we know his birthdate, we know only that he died some time around 1538.
Brazilian songwriter and teacher Francisco Manuel da Silva (1795 – December 18, 1865) wrote a march on the occasion of the abdication of Emperor Pedro I, “the Liberator,” in 1831; this march was adopted as the Brazilian National Anthem in 1922. Da Silva also wrote one opera, O prestigio da lei, along with masses and motets and two musical treatises, Compêndio de música prática (1832) and Compêndio de princípios elementares de música (1845). He was born and died in Rio de Janeiro. (Coincidentally, another composer of Portuguese heritage, João de Sousa Carvalho, has a birthday tomorrow.)
The same set of stamps upon which we drew for Marie Champmeslé just the other day now provides one for a later French actress, Elisabeth Rachel Félix (1821 – January 3, 1858), who was known simply as Mademoiselle Rachel. She was born to Jewish parents in northern Switzerland and was a street performer as a child. But she was destined for bigger things. In Paris, she perfected her craft with singing and elocution lessons and made her first appearance on the stage at 16. Soon afterward she became involved with Paris Opera director Louis Véron, the first of her many lovers, who would later include Napoleon’s son and two of his nephews, one of them Louis Napoleon (who would later become Napoleon III)! As an actress—she found time for acting, too—she specialized in the venerable repertoire of Racine, Voltaire, and Corneille and in 1849, after touring throughout Europe, created the role of Eugène Scribe’s Adrienne Lecouvreur (later made into an opera by Cilea). She died of tuberculosis and is buried in the Jewish part of Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her name lives on in the Avenue Rachel in Paris, in an eponymous shade of face-powder, and in the raschel knitting-machine, invented to capitalize on the Rachel shawl that was all the rage in the 1850s. Charlotte Brontë saw Rachel perform in London and based the character Vashti in her novel Villette on the actress.
Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856 – 12 August 1934) was partly influenced by American architects, first by the Neo-Romanesque brickwork manner of H.H. Richardson so familiar to us Bostonians, later the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, with which Berlage became familiar during a trip to the U.S. in 1911, and which he championed in lectures in Germany. The variance in style can readily be seen in his Amsterdam Commodities Exchange of 1903 and his St. Hubertus Hunting Lodge of 1920, both of which have shown up on Dutch stamps. Berlage is thus seen as bridging the gap between traditionalists and modernists and as the “Father of Modern architecture” in the Netherlands.
The Czech journalist and novelist Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod (1860 – November 3, 1927) was born Matěj Čapek, minus the Karel and the Chod. A friend of his decided his first name wasn’t literary-sounding enough, so our man became Karel Matěj Čapek, then to avoid confusion with another writer named Karel Čapek, our man metamorphosed into Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod (KAH-rel MAH-t’yay TCHAH-pek KHOD). Impatient as a young man, he abandoned his studies so as to set out on the adventure of journalism. In the late 1880s he began to write novels. The best known of these is Kašpar Lén mstitel (Kaspar Len the Avenger, 1908), made into a Czech film in 1959. Čapek-Chod also wrote political essays and theater and art criticism.
Another novelist and essayist, with poems thrown in for good measure, was Suryakant Tripathi, known popularly as “Nirala” (1896 – 15 October 1961), who is one of the principals of modern Hindi literature. He was multilingual, learning Hindi, English, and Sanskrit besides his first language of Bengali. It was on the insistence of his wife that he learned Hindi and began writing poems in that tongue. Tragically, his wife died when he was only twenty, one of many hardships he endured, from the early loss of his mother to his years of poverty, the death of his daughter, and a lack of recognition for his work. He was a proponent of the Chhayavaad or Neo-romantic movement that blossomed in Hindi poetry (and other literature) in the 1920s and 30s. Nirala also left a great many drawings. Today, credited with the introduction of blank verse into the mainstream of Hindi poetry, he is honored with a college named for him. The stamp was issued in 1976.
Today is also the birthday of Belgian soprano Clara Clairbert, born Clara Pierre Impens on 21 February 1899. Her first stage name, however, was Clary Annie, which she used when singing at benefit concerts for World War I veterans. As Clara Clairbert she became the first lady of opera in Brussels from the 1920s, particularly beloved for her Violetta and Lakmé. She appeared with Beniamino Gigli during a tour of the United States. She took up teaching upon her retirement in 1953 and died on 16 August 1970.
In brief, I’d like to mention the Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment, born on this day in Arles, the oldest known human being on record. She lived to the age of 122 years, 164 days (21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997)
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