23 June 2018

two great museums in Leipzig - Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn

As you can tell from my old posts, I've long been interested in Leipzig’s musical connections. Now let us summarise the details published in Discover Leipzig and then focus on the historic Bose House-museum.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was active in Leipzig’s musical life from 1723 on. He was responsible for the services and special cer­emonies at the churches of St Nicholas and St Thom­as. And, as the city's Director Musices, he was also charged with the organ­is­ation of a wide range of secular events. He directed an association of pro­f­essional performers and musically active students.

Many of his major compositions were written in Leipzig, including annual cycles of choral cantatas, St John and St Matthew Passions, Christmas Oratorio, Art of the Fugue and his Mass in B Minor. Since the C19th no end of effort has been put into the study and interp­ret­ation of Bach's works in Leipzig, and several instit­ut­ions, societies and competitions have been established.

The Leipzig Music Trail is an easy way to explore the musicians who lived and worked in the city. The sites lie on a 5km stroll that winds through the city centre, marked by curved steel inserts in the ground. See the Bose Family Home A C16th front home is one of the oldest buildings on the square outside St Thomas’s Church. The twin-aisled Ren­aissance entrance hall had imp­r­es­s­ive Tuscan columns and a portal with its porphyry Romanesque arch. The Bach family later lived across the street in St Thomas’ School, now demolished.

Bose Haus, Leipzig
now the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum

In 1710, the home was acquired by Georg Heinrich Bose, an af­f­luent manufact­urer of gold and silver products, who had it turned into a prest­igious Baroque merchant’s residence. The side wings and back building were newly erected by the Bose family. The façade of the front building has a two-storey bay window. In the rear build­ing, Bose installed a magnificent banqueting/concert hall, fitted with wall mirrors, a musicians’ gallery and a movable ceiling painting.

In 1745 Bose’s son-in-law Johann Zacharias Richter acquired the parental home, adding an extensive art collection of his own, and opening it to the public. From 1765 it was opened to connois­s­eurs on one afternoon each week for two hours. Among the celebrities who viewed the art treasures were Moses Mendels­sohn, Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein and Jean Paul. The collection remained with the family until it was sold by auction in 1810. Some of these paintings are in Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts today.

In 1893, the instrument collector Paul de Wit opened a private mus­eum of music history in the old Bose House. Apart from hist­or­ical music instruments, the Paul de Wit's Museum of Mus­ic History gathered musical manuscripts, letters and port­raits of composers and instrument makers. Until de Wit’s death in 1925, the house was a meeting place for instrument makers, artists and publishers.

In 1973 the director of the Bach Archive erected a small Bach mem­orial in the Bose House entrance hall. Ex­tensive reconstruction took place in March 1985, then the Bach Archive was moved into what was now called the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum Leipzig. The first permanent exhibition was spread across four display rooms on one floor of the front building, as well as two small rooms for temporary exhibitions. More extension was added to the museum in 2000 and in 2008–2010, by including some of the neighbouring building at the back of the baroque courtyard.

Today its twelve thematically structured ex­hib­ition rooms are dedicated to the life/works of JS Bach, his family and to researching his rare original manuscripts. Displays include a double bass played in Bach’s orch­es­tra, surv­iv­ing furniture from his pers­on­al house­hold and Bach’s organ console from Leip­zig’s St John’s Church which he played in the 1740s.

Two exhibition rooms in the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) was born in Hamburg. He was the nephew of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and was one of the finest figures ever to emerge in the 19th century music world.  In Feb 1827 the première of his Symphony in C Minor at the Gewand­haus became the first public performance of his works in Leipzig. As Leipzig's important Gewandhaus Kapellmeister, Felix was resp­onsible for reforming the musical life of the city, instigating the “Bach Renaissance” in Germany. During his years in Leip­zig he worked hard to turn the orch­est­ra into one of the best in Europe. He shared in the founding of the Leip­zig Conservatory in 1843, and was very pleased that the first permanent staff included Robert Schumann. 

Mendelssohn Museum, Leipzig

The late-classical building houses the Mendelssohn Museum which was first opened to visitors in 1997. The composer lived here from 1835 until his death, and his study and salon, where Wagner, Schum­ann and Berlioz visited, have been faithfully rest­or­ed. Sun­day morning con­certs are still held today in the renovated music salon.

Until March 2013, the offices of the University of Leipzig’s Music Faculty were located in the building and the music branch of the University Library as well. Then the extended Mendelssohn House reopened in 2014 with a new floor. Since October 2017, the world's only permanent exhibition about Felix’s talented older sister Fanny Hensel can be found in a number of rooms.

19 June 2018

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Theosophy - or trickery?

The first part comes from the Blavatsky Archives; many thanks. Helena Petrovna von Hahn was born at Ekaterinoslav in Southern Russia, in 1831. She was the daughter of Colonel Peter von Hahn, and writer Helena de Fadeyev. Her mat­er­nal grandmother was Princ­ess Helena Dolgorukov, noted botanist-writer. After her mother’s early death in 1842, Helena was brought up with the grand­parents. This clever linguist was a sensitive child, and was soon aware that her psychic powers puzzled others.

At 18 she married the much older Nikifor Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of Yerivan Province. The marriage was never consummated and she soon escaped and travelled across Turkey, Egypt and Greece. Only 2 years later, in London in 1851, she met the Mahatma/Master Morya of her childhood visions, and fully accepted his guidance.

In 1852, Helena left for Canada, the USA, Mexico, South Am­erica and the West Indies, then went via the Cape to India and Tibet. Then to Britain, America again, India via Japan and the Straits. She entered Tibet through Kashmir, under-going part of her occult training with her Mahatma. She was again in France, Germany and Russia. From 1860-5, she lived in the Caucasus, exper­iencing a severe phys­ical and psychic crisis. She travelled via the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Italy. Then to India & Tibet, meeting the Mahatma Koot Hoomi. Then back to Cyprus, Greece and the Middle East.
The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky,  
by Sylvia Cranston, 
TarcherPerigee, 1993

Why the constant travel? In 1873, Helena was specifically instructed by her Teacher to go to New York to meet Col Henry Olcott. The Mahatmas believed Helena was the best means to offer the world the accum­ulated Wisdom of the ages, verified by generations of Seers; that body of Truth of which all re­ligions were bran­ches of one parent-tree. They co-founded the Theos­ophical Society of America  in Nov 1875, where Olcott was made President for life.

The Theosophical Soc­iety's goals were to:
a] form a nucleus of the Universal Brother­hood of Humanity, regardless of race, creed, sex, caste or colour;
b] encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science and
c] investigate the unexplained laws of Nature.

Helena’s first monumental work Isis Unveiled was published in New York in 1877, outlining the development of the Occult Sciences and of Magic. Her task was to chal­lenge both the entrenched dogmas of Christian Theology and the dogmatic materialistic view of Science.

Arriving in Bombay in Feb 1879, Helena and colleagues established the Theosophical Headquarters. The Found­ers started their first journal The Theosophist in Bombay with Helena as editor, and the society experienced a rapid growth. Alfred Percy Sinnett, editor of The Pioneer of Allahabad, and Helena wrote The Occult World 1881 and Esoteric Buddhism 1883, both generating even more public interest in Theos­ophy. In May 1882 a large estate was bought near Madras for the Theo­soph­ical Headquarters.

Helena was busy writing her next work, The Secret Doct­rine. But it didn’t save her. A vicious attack by staffers Alexis & Emma Coulomb was erupting, about Helena’s fraudulent product­ion of psychic phenom­ena. She returned to Madras on Dec 1884 to sue the couple, but they'd already left.  Alas Helena was overruled by the Theosophical Soc­iety committee and resigned in disgust. She left India for ever.

The "Coulomb attack" was based on partially forged lett­ers, presumably written by Helena, with instructions to arrange fraudulent psychic phenomena. So London’s Society for Psychical Res­earch app­ointed a special investigative committee. Rich­ard Hodgson arrived in India to report on the Coul­ombs’ allegations, which the research committee published in Dec 1885. William Emmette Coleman, a leading spiritualist, was also involved in the Coulomb case. He left the USA for London to obtain from the Scottish missionary Patterson the "original" Blavatsky-Coulomb letters, and published scathing denunciations of Theosophy and HPB in spiritualist journals.

Blavatsky was branded as one of the most acc­omp­lished impost­ors in history, and probably a Rus­sian spy. The Hodgson Report was the basis of later attacks on Helena’s and Theosophy’s honesty. Madame Blavatsky was soon called a plagiarist,  con artist, trickster and a manipulator of males. Coleman focused on her plagiarism.

Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott
London, 1887 (Wiki)

Blavatsky’s health was damaged, so she focused on writing. The Secret Doctrine was the peak of her literary car­eer. Vol. I dealt with the evolution of the Universe, and the fundam­ental symb­ols of the world’s great religions. Vol. 2 de­scribed the evolution of humanity.  Then Blavatsky published the devotional mystical work called The Voice of the Silence, trans­lated from an Eastern scripture. 

Helena Blavatsky aged 60 died in London in May 1891. Her ashes were divided between New York, London and Madras.


How important was Theosophy in modern history? Evidence suggested it significantly influenced the development of other mystical, phil­osophical and religious movements. And even psychological movements in the West. Supporters said Helena was among the mod­ern world’s innovative psychol­ogists of the visionary mind. At the same time that Freud and others were articulating their secularised theory of mind, the Theosophists were rescuing a forgotten psych­ology of the extra-sensory from exotic religion.  Madame Blavatsky was setting the style for modern occult literature.

Theosophy also influenced the growth of Indian national con­scious­ness, inspiring key figures in the Indian independence move­ment. In Nov 1889 Gandhi met Blavatsky. He did not join the Theosophical Society because, with poor knowledge of his own religion, he did not want to belong to any religious body. However in March 1891, he became an associate member of the Blav­atsky Lodge. Three months later Gandhi returned to India. Nehru learned the mys­terious philosophy of Theosophy with his childhood tutor Ferdinand Brooks. Young Nehru (13) was initiated into the Theos­ophical Society in 1902 by Annie Besant, a Theosophist who supported home-rule for Ireland and India.

Was Theosophy the most important avenue of Eastern teaching to the West? Rudolf Steiner said yes. He first began speaking publicly about spiritual experiences in his 1899 lectures to the Theosophical Society. Steiner kept Helena’s original approach, replacing her terminology with his own. Sylvia Cranston noted theosophy’s influence on important art­ists, writers and composers like TS Eliot, Wassily Kandinsky, Boris Pasternak, Paul Gauguin, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Jean Sibelius.

The Theosophist monthly journal, 1885
published in Madras 
edited by H.P Blavatsky

And consider the importance of Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society in the feminist movement, as described in Theosophy, Gender and the New Woman by Siv Ellen Kraft. Theosophy downplayed the importance of marriage, insisted upon the spiritual independence of women, included women on all levels of the organisation, and gave formal religious authority to women. Blavatsky described the suppression of women as typical of all religions, but was taken to the extreme by Christianity.

16 June 2018

The meaning of British surnames - Ancestry.com

The names Australians gave new born babies was a widely cited post, covering the most popular first names given to boys and girls in Victoria since 1900.

But I have never tackled surnames, given that everyone of my generation seemed to come from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Germany. Ancestry shows that many families actually have surnames passed down from ancestors in Britain. Last names were not widely used until after the Norman conquest in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field and Joan of York that ultimately led to many current surnames. 

There are perhaps 45,000 different English surnames, but most had their origins as one of these types.

1. Occupational
Occupational names identified people based on their job or position in society. Calling a man Mr Carpenter indicated that he worked with wood for a living, while someone named Knight bore a sword. Other occupational names include Archer, Baker, Brewer, Butcher, Carter, Clark, Constable, Cooper, Cook, Croft, Dean, Dyer, Farmer, Faulkner, Fisher, Forester, Full­er, Gardener, Glass, Glover, Head, Hunter, Judge, Mason, Miller, Page, Park­er, Parsons, Porter, Pot­ter, Sawyer, Slater, Smith, Stone, Taylor, Thatcher, Turner, Weav­er, Webb, Woodman, Wain­wright.

In medieval England, before the time of professional theatre, craft guilds put on Mystery or Miracle Plays, which told Bible stories and had a call-and-response style of singing. A part­icipant’s surname eg King, Lord, Pope, Virgin or Death, may have reflected a role which some people played for life and passed down to their eldest son.

Victorian family portrait 
Photo credit: The History Press

2. A personal characteristic
Some names, often adjectives, were based on descriptive nicknames. They may have described a person’s size (Short, Long, Little), colouring (Black, White, Green, Red or Fox) or another character trait (Coy, Grey, Savage, Stark, Stern, Strong, Sweet, Swift, Peacock, Truman, Winter).

3. A place name
A surname may have pointed to where a person was born, lived, worked or owned land. It might be from the name of a house, farm, hamlet, town or county eg Bedford, Boroughs, Burton, Hamilton, Hampshire, Kipling, Lincoln, Spalding, Sutton, Thorpe, Trent, Wakefield, Warwick, Wilton.

Those descended from landowners may have taken as their surname the name of their holdings, castle, manor or estate eg Staunton. Windsor is a famous example in the British royal family.

Some surnames showed that the family came from another country eg Britten, Dane, Fleming, French, Lubbock/Lubeck.

4. A geographical feature of the landscape 
Consider the surnames Atwood, Bridge, Brooks, Bush, Camp, Fields, Forest, Greenwood, Grove, Fleet, Heath, Hill, Knolles, Lake, Moore, Perry, Stone, Wold, Underwood, Waters, Wood and Woodruff.

Trees also gave names like Ashley, Elm, Hazelthwaite, Maple, Oakham, Palmer (which also had a meaning for pilgrims).

5. Patronymic, matronymic or ancestral
Patronymic surnames came from a male given name eg Benson, Davis, Dawson, Evans, Harris, Harrison, Jackson, Jones (Welsh for John), Nicholson, Richardson, Robinson, Rogers, Robertson, Simpson, Stephenson, Thompson, Watson, Wilson. Matronymic ones, surnames derived from a female given name, include Madison (from Maud).

Scottish clan names created a set of ancestral surnames. These include Armstrong, Cameron, Campbell, Crawford, Douglas, Forbes, Grant, Henderson, Hunter, MacDonald and Stewart.

Some surnames honoured a patron. Hickman was Hick’s man (Hick being a nickname for Richard). Kilpatrick was a follower of Patrick.

If readers are wondering whether their family name was English, Ancestry invites them to plug their surname into the Ancestry Last Names Meanings and Origins widget.

I have added many other surnames from Behind the Name and from the BBC