25 May 2019

Was Beethoven inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte?

Intellectuals th­roughout Europe looked on Napoleon as a hero at first, including German artists such as Goethe. As a youth, Ludwig von Beet­­hoven (1770-1827) was attracted by the ideals of the French Rev­ol­ution. His early writing was peppered with revolut­ion­ary sentim­ents and he expressed his disdain for organised religion. Thanks to Christopher George and Alexander Lee for their excellent articles.

When Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with Franz Joseph Hay­dn, he took his views with him. However since a police state existed in Aus­tria in the 1790s, Beethoven knew not to flagrantly display his sup­p­ort for the revolutionary movement there. Beet­hoven was still a German provincial from Bonn and not an established Viennese com­p­oser.

So as he gained fame as a composer in his own right, his democratic fervour was abating. Welcomed to the Viennese nob­il­ity’s salons, Beethoven adapted himself to his patrons’ tastes. He put on aristo­c­rat­ic airs, claimed descent from an old baronial family and adopt­ed the nobiliary particle “von”. Though he remained a passionate defender of liberty and secularism, the composer now believed that the French Rev­ol­ution had gone too far. Like many of his noble friends, he regarded the Reign of Terror with horror.

By 1800, Beethoven was traumatised to realise that his deafness was worsening. In April 1802, Beethoven left Vienna for Heiligenstadt, a village near Vienna. The Heilig­enstadt Test­am­ent was an emotional document in which Beethoven placed himself as a hero, stricken by deaf­ness, with­drawn from mankind, conquering suic­ide.

But there, surrounded by nature, he recovered and found a new sense of musical purpose. Wandering in the country, he toyed with a theme in E flat major and soon had the outlines of a comp­letely new symphony in mind. It was unlike anything he had written before – original and triumphalist.

3rd Sym­ph­ony Eroica by Beethoven
Classic FM

Against his personal anguish, the composer showed his politics. This 3rd Sym­ph­ony Eroica was one of a series of planned dedications to en­light­ened lead­ers in 1800-4. While Beethoven was labouring over the score, he decided to name the symphony after Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), then First Consul of France.

According to the composer’s biographer Anton Schindler, the link to Napoleon had first been sugg­est­ed by Jean-Baptiste Ber­nadotte, French ambassador to Aust­ria. But accord­ing to Beet­hoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries, the idea was the compos­er’s own. As Ries ex­plained, Beethoven had the high­est esteem for Napoleon, like the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. When the score was finished in early 1804, he wrote Symphony For Bonaparte on the cover and proudly left the manuscript on a table for all his friends to see.

Courtyard of Beethoven's house 
Heiligenstädt near Vienna, 1802.

Poor Beethoven. Not long after finishing his symphony, Ries came to him with news that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of France (May 1804) and was crowned (in Dec). Beet­hoven flew into a rage, shouting: So he is no more than a common mortal! Now he will think himself superior to all men and become a tyrant!’ Beet­hoven strode over to the score and scribbled out the title so violently that he tore through pap­er.

This event gave rise to an image of Beethoven as a lover of lib­er­ty, an admirer of the French Revolution and a repub­lic­an. Having once admired Napoleon as the apotheosis of revolutionary princ­ip­les, the republican composer later re­viled him for sacrif­icing those very principles.

Ries’ and Schindler’s versions were suspect. Ries provided no date for the composer's revocation of the de­d­ic­ation to Nap­ol­eon [be­cause when he wrote down his rem­iniscences years later]. Schind­ler’s claim that the idea of naming the sym­phony after Napoleon had been suggested by Bernadotte was clearly false. Though Bernadotte had indeed served as the Fren­ch ambassador to Austria, he had quit his post in dis­grace in 1798 and left. In any case Schindler was a known democrat, who destroyed or doctored many of Beethoven’s papers after the comp­os­er’s death.

Beethoven wrote to his pub­lish­er, ex­pressing his disapp­oint­ment that Nap­oleon had concluded a concor­dat with Pope Pius VII and thereby shatt­ered the sep­ar­at­ion-of-Church-and-state dream. Yet Beet­hoven saw Napol­eon as a necessary correct­ive for the excesses of the Revolution, produc­ing political order out of chaos. Napoleon knew how to keep a firm hold on the reigns, plus he had an appreciation for art and science.

So it was for practical and financial reasons that the com­poser no longer publicly acknowledged Napoleon as the inspir­at­ion for the symphony. He removed Napoleon’s name so as not to lose the patronage of a noble who had been scan­dalised by the Fren­chman’s actions. Note Beethoven dedicated the Eroica to Prince Joseph von Lobkowicz, who had given him 400 ducats for the rights to the music and who later became one of his most ardent supporters.

The symphony received its first private perf­ormance in Dec 1804 at Prince Lobkowitz's palace. It would not have been politically wise for him to have retained an identification with Napoleon. War with France was once again looming, so pat­riotic Lobkowitz raised a battalion of troops against the French. Austria was an implacable foe to Napoleon, at war with France for 13.5 years!!

The first public performance of Eroica Symphony took place in Vienna in Apr 1805 with Beethoven himself conducting. The work did not please the public who thought the symphony too heavy and too long. Though refusing to modify the score, and despite mixed public reaction to Er­oica, it remained Beethoven’s personal favourite.

The composer admired Bonaparte as a Republican con­sul, but may have thought he could not tolerate him as an auto­crat. Yet Beethoven did not turn­ his back on the Imperial family. In 1808 Napoleon’s broth­er, King Jerome Bonaparte of Westphalia, offered the composer 600 gold ducats a year to serve as Kap­ell­meister to the Court of Kassel!

In taking the pos­ition, Beethoven would have continued a family tradition. [The compos­er's grand father, Ludovicus van Beethoven, had been Kap­ellmeister to the Elector of Col­ogne in 1733]. But before young Ludwig could accept tainted Bona­part­e money, Viennese Archduke Rudolph offered Beethoven 4,000 florins a year.

It was only after Napoleon crushed Austria in the War of the 5th Coalition 1809 that Beethoven’s enthusiasm ended. Shaken by the French bombardment of Vienna and fearful of being compromised by a Bonaparte association, he rep­udiated Napoleon! Contempt grew as the emperor ranged across Europe like a conqueror, especially in Vienna. Beet­hoven was now identified liberty with Germanic patriotism. 

Shortly before the Emperor's exile on Elba, the composer sided with the Allies. So he wrote a short orchestral work celeb­rating Emp­eror's nemesis, Duke of Wellington, in 1813. The Battle of Vitoria Symphony celebrated the decisive British victory over Napoleon's troops in Spain in June 1813, and became Beet­hoven­'s greatest comm­ercial suc­cess. Beethoven dedicated Wellington's Victory to Britain’s Prince Regent and sent him an engraved copy of the score.

21 May 2019

Mendel Beilis' blood-libel trial in Kiev 1913

My grandfather told me this story many times in the 1950s. Grandpa was only an adolescent in 1913, at a time when pers­ecution of Jews had never abat­ed. But he believed that immigration visas suddenly opened up for Russian Jews, in a window of opportunity during and after the Beilis trial. What the records do show is that by 1917 the Jewish Emigration Society organised and managed the outflow of endless thousands of Jewish emigres to destinations abroad, before the Society was disbanded in 1917.  Due to Expulsion Edicts, pogroms and revolution, as well as the Beilis Trial.

Beilis with his wife and 5 children, 
after the trial

The libel that Jews committed ritual murder to take Christ­ian chil­d­ren’s blood originated in C12th. In Eng­land in 1144, Norwich Jews were accused of ritual murder-crucifixion after young William of Norwich's body was found. Blood libel trials continued in Gloucester 1168, Bury St Ed­munds 1181 and Bristol 1183. And in 1190, 150 Jews were massac­red in York. Finally every Jew in England was exil­ed in 1290.

In the C19th, blood libels saw a myster­ious revival in Central Europe, with 100+ cases in Germany and Austria-Hungary. This post examines the last blood libel trial in Europe. 
Medieval image of Jews killing a Christian child for his blood

Consider the political background. In Feb 1911 the Duma-parliament began debating the abolishment of the restrict­ive Pale of Settlement. And new elections were pending in the legislature, so there were forces that wanted to prevent liberalising acts. Among them was Tsar Nicholas II, given his strongly anti-Semitic views.

The victim, 13-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky, was found mangled in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev in March 1911. At first the police concent­rated on Vera Cheberyak (see photo) and her underworld associates. But within days of finding the body Russian anti-Semites, known as either Black Hundreds or Union of the Russian People, began spreading the blood libel. A leaflet passed out at the boy’s funeral read: “The Yids have tortured Andrusha Yushchinsky to death!”

The accused was Mendel Beilis (1874-1934) of Kiev. This 39 year old was an ex-soldier and the father of five children, working as a midd­le level manager at Kiev’s Zaitsev brick factory. After his arrest, Beilis spent 2 years in squalid prison cells, waiting for his trial.

In Kiev, the 34-day Beilis trial in 1913 was presented to a biased jury. Of the 12 jurors, 7 were member of the notoriously anti-Semitic Union of the Russian People.

Beilis received international support. Journalists wrote that the Russian state was charging a Jewish citizen with the ritual murder of a Christian citizen, to drain his blood for the baking of Passover matzo. This Dark Ages accus­at­ion led to indignation and drew the attent­ion of leading cultural, pol­itical and religious fig­ures like HG Wells, Anatole France and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In America, rallies head­lined by social reformers like Jane Addams were huge. The New York Times headlined an editorial The Tsar on Trial.

To prove the char­ge of ritual murder, the prosecution produced a weird collection of wit­ness­es and expert testimony. Among those pres­ented to the jury were: a Catholic priest from Tashkent who testified to the real­ity of the Jewish blood rituals, alcoholics and pathologists on-the-take.  But the most sens­at­ional witness was an attractive prima donna, Vera Cheberyak, leader of an infamous criminal gang in Kiev. A few years earlier she had blinded her young French musician lover by throwing sulfuric acid at him. She was the likely mastermind be­hind the murder of Andrei, her son’s best friend, in revenge for his suspected betrayal of her criminal activity to the police. Yet she ended up as a star witness for the state against Beilis!
Vera Cheberyak 

Detective Nikolai Krasovsky found that Vera Cheberiak was responsible for the murder. 
Krasovsky paid dearly for his honesty.

The fate of a huge country was at stake, given that after the 1905 revolution, Tsar Nicholas had already agreed to a constit­ution and a parliament. Beilis’ lawyer reminded the court that already by 1913 the Tsar was constantly und­er­mining emerging democratic institutions. Tsarist autocracy was clearly even more regressive than feared.

Tsarist officials were fully aware of the obvious weakness of their case. By the end of the trial, the state had devised an ingenious insurance policy against any possible failure to convict. The issue of ritual murder would be separated from the guilt of the defendant. The jury would be asked: First, did it accept the prosecution’s desc­rip­t­ion of the crime as having been committed at the Jewish-owned brick factory? The words Ritual Murder were not used, but the implic­ation was clear: the crime had all the hallmarks of the bloody Jewish rite. Second, was the defendant guilty of committing the crime “out of motives of religious fanaticism”?

Most courtroom observers believed the uneducated, peasant-dominated jury would vote with the prosecution on both quest­ions. But the jury voted Yes on the first question and found Beilis not guilty of the crime. 

Beilis had been starved and unwashed for 2 years, before he won his freedom. He warmly thanked the Russian gentiles who risked sacrificing their careers for him – the barristers, phil­osophers, detectives and professors who stood up for him in court and the journalists outside court. The Beilis family moved to Palestine, then to America in 1921.

Recent History 
The case maintained the myth of Jewish ritual murder. In 1926, the official Nazi Party newspaper devoted a series to the Beilis affair. In the 1930s, Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi weekly Der Sturmer, propagand­ised for Jewish ritual murder charges, devoting special issues to the subject. In May 1943, head of the SS Hein­rich Himmler sent a book on Jewish ritual murder, which included an entire chapter on the Beilis trial, to the Einsatz­gruppen-death squads.

After WW2 the Beilis case in Kiev survived in the collective memory. The worst post-war pogrom in Poland occurred in July 1946 in Kielce, where a mob killed 42 Jews & wounded 80. A Jewish del­eg­ation wanted a state­ment from Bishop Wyszinski of Lublin, condemning anti-Semitism. He wouldn’t con­d­emn blood libel anti-Semitism, writing that “during the Beilis trial, the matter was not definitive­ly set­t­l­ed.”

100+ years after the trial, the Beilis case remains a rallying point for the extreme right in Russia and Ukraine; Andrei Yushchinsky's gravesite is their place of holy pilgrimage.

Robert Weinberg, 
Blood Libel in Late Imper­ial Russia, 2003

Bernard Malamud used the trial for his great 1967 novel, The Fixer. Read Robert Weinberg’s Blood Libel in Late Imper­ial Russia, 2003.  And Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe and Beyond, edited by Eugene Avrutin et al. Thank you to Chabad.Org for the photos. 

18 May 2019

an important Thonet Design exhibition, Munich

THONET & DESIGN is an exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich until Feb 2020. Founded in 1819 by Bopparder master joiner Michael Thonet, one of the world's leading manuf­acturers of bent wood furniture has since emerged. The Pinakothek is showing that from a one-man business to a global enter­prise, 200 years of furn­iture design are reflected in the history of the Thonet family business. Their pioneering achievements - the new tech­nologies, design possibilities, dis­tribution and marketing channels - are on display. Later the conn­ect­ion to the Bauhaus design­ers delivered a new type of tub­ular steel furniture. Since these tubular steel fur­n­it­ure and the early bent­wood furniture have long been integrated into the perman­ent exhib­ition of the Neue Sammlung, the current exhib­ition also focuses on the groundbreaking modern designers.

Now, back to the beginning. German born Michael Thonet (1796-1871) founded his first workshop in Boppard on the River Rhine in 1819 and became a joiner. By the mid-1830s he experimented with a new furn­it­ure-making process. The Boppard Layerwood Chair was his first success, although he could not get his technology pat­ented. Basically the Thonet Chair was the result of using light, strong types of wood that were bent into curved, graceful forms via hot steam. Slowly his use of hot steam and sel­ect­ion of light, strong wood set a new standard for comfortable and dur­ab­le furniture.

Thonet eased his task by buying a glue factory in 1837. This enabled him and his four surv­iving sons to open a business in Moravia and to avoid the heavy, carved designs of the past.
#4 Café Daum Chair by Michael Thonet, 1870s
Beech and bentwood

The success of his Chair #14 began in 1841 when Thonet was at the Koblenz Fair and received an invitation from Austrian Chancellor Clemens Prince Metternich, inviting him to Vienna. Thonet soon succeeded in bending solid wood as well: long wooden rods were made flexible with pressure and steam, then bent into the desired three dimensional form with special equipment and muscle power. Together with his sons, Thonet first did parquet work and chairs at Palais Liechten­st­ein and Palais Schwarzenberg and soon orders for both palaces invited a wider range of furniture eg stools, tables and cabinets.

With unemployment after the 1848 Revolution, many workers were available for the new Thonet factories, steam engines were put into op­er­ation and the first export orders were received. He succeeded in 1859 with Chair #14 bent from solid wood.

After Michael died in 1871, the Gebrüder Thonet Co. stayed with Michael Thonet’s sons who kept the business in Vienna. The brothers always understood the need to integrate new move­ments and technological developments into their work. They presented their designs at the trade exhibitions, and translated catalogues of Gebrüder Thonet for ex­ports. Sales offices in many coun­t­ries opened.

Chair #14 quickly became central to Vienna coffee house cul­ture, at first for Café Daum located at Vienna’s Kohl­markt. Examine the 1896 painting of Cafe Griensteidl by Reinhold Völkel, full of Thonet chairs. This post on Vienna coffee house culture was one of most popular in the long history of my blog.
Adolf Loos Café Museum chair, 1898

The Vienna Secession (1897-1905) was created as a reaction to the conservatism of the artistic institutions in the Austrian capital. By 1900 Thonet’s light and elegant manufacturing greatly appealed to the Viennese designers. The Brothers joined Jacob and Josef Kohn Co to become the leading manufacturers of bentwood furniture. And produced to the designs of Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Otto Prutscher, Marcel Kammerer and Gustav Siegel.

On Hof­f­mann’s recommendation, Gustav Siegal was hired to head the design depart­ment of Jacob and Josef Kohn whose works were first acclaimed at the 1900 Exposition Universelle held in Paris. In 1901 Jacob & Josef Kohn displayed an ent­ire house of bent­wood furniture at an Austrian Museum for Art and Industry exhibition.

Vienna had become Europe's 4th-largest city after London, Paris and Berlin. But at the turn of the century many families were still using a style that belonged to the aristocratic courtly society. As soon as there was an emerging, strong bourge­oisie in Vienna, they needed their own aesthetic expression. There were new social, econ­omic and technical developments. So the Vienna Seces­s­ion artists joined for­ces against the conservative in­stit­utions. Despite not lasting for too long, the Vienna Secession Movement was infl­uent­ial. Their des­ig­ns were eventually mass-produced, both in Austria and Germany, launched by the Seces­s­ion artists. My favourite archit­ects of the Secess­ion, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner and Marc­el Kammerer, dis­cov­ered the design pos­s­ibilities of bent wood furniture in turn-of-the-century architect­ure.

Both Hoffman and Loos wanted to break with Victorian tradition and borrowed heavily from other traditions, Classical sources for Hoff­man and Japanese minimalism for Loos! The Vienna Workshop's mission was to give the individual a voice. In fact the Secess­ion­ists’ 6th Exhibition, in 1900, was dedicated to Japanese exhibition, the flat surface decor being a running theme throughout.

Adolf Loos disliked the elitism that came to be assoc­iated with Vienna Secession work. The furniture he designed was unpretentious and functional, showing his und­er­standing of materials and of form. So I care that Loos used Thonet bent­wood chairs in sev­eral of his comm­is­sions. His 1901 bench was made of stained beechwood. 

Vienna Secession design of Gustav Siegel, 1905 
Used at the Sanatorium Purkersdorf, Austria. 

Beech and bentwood etagère
Vienna Secession,  with Thonet signature
Mahogany-stained beechwood, c1906

Marcel Breuer for Thonet
Tubular steel and glass table, 1928

But deaths and unem­ploy­ment left families struggling during and after The Great War; and the crisis of bourgeois ideals brought demands for change. For Bauhaus era architects, Gebrüder Thonet represented the ideal of con­temporary seating furniture. However another material, sim­ilar to bentwood in its simp­lic­ity, came into high demand among architects. The revol­ut­ion­ary invention of cold-bent tubular steel furn­it­ure marked a new era in design history. In the 1930s the Com­p­any saw design­s by my Bauhaus favourites: Mart Stam, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer

Many thanks to the Thillmann Collection.

14 May 2019

Ned Kelly collections in Victoria

The Victorian architecture in rural Beechworth is beautiful. Visitors should see the Burke Memorial Museum, opened in 1857 and later named in honour of explorer Robert O’Hara Burke (1821-61). After his death at Coopers Creek in 1861 during the famous Burke & Wills Exp­ed­it­ion, Burke’s bible, inscribed revolver and the saddle­bags used in his tragic expedition were immediately added to the collection. 

The Museum holds 30,000+ individual items, and includes a sig­nif­icant collection of Aboriginal weapons and tools, many C19th native animal and birdlife taxidermy, significant Gold Rush era artefects, and the Street of Shops that is a recreation of Gold Era Beechworth.

Now I am interested in a newer section of the museum, the Ned Kelly Vault, opened in the former Sub Treasury building of the Beechworth Historic and Cultural Precinct in 2014. This collection is the most comprehensive of its type in regional Australia and includes the original death mask of Ned Kelly and many original items relating to the bushranger and his Gang.

Glenrowan Inn

This is one of the most famous parts of rural Victoria. The Siege at Glen­rowan on 28th June 1880, was the result of a plan by the notor­ious Kelly Gang to derail a Police Special Train carry­ing Indig­en­ous trackers into a deep gully next to the railway line. The plan was launched two days earlier with the murder near Beech­worth of police inf­ormant Aaron Sherritt. The idea was to draw the Police Special Train through the town­ship of Glenrowan, an area the local Kelly family knew intimately. After the day ended, the Kelly Gang planned to ride on to Benalla, blow up the under-manned police station and rob some banks. But Ned misjudged.

In the early morning darkness of Monday, June 28th, the Police Spec­ial train pulled into Glenrowan Railway Station, and the police contingent disembarked. The Glenrowan Inn was burnt to the ground by police in their attempt to flush out members of the Kelly Gang, sparking a tragic chain of events for the owner Mrs Ann Jones. Her business was destroyed, and her 13-year-old son was killed in the siege after he was hit in the hip by a police bullet. By afternoon the siege of the Glenrowan Inn ended when three of the Kelly Gang members - Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart – died, and Ned Kelly was captured behind the Inn.

He was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol on 11th Nov 1880. Kelly was, and remains Australia’s best known figure of folk law, partially be­cause of the iconic armour donned by his gang in the Siege at Glen­rowan. The Kelly story became famous because it showed impoverished work­ing class lads standing up against tough authority figures. And in­fam­ous because it focused on an era when guns were allowed in priv­ate hands in Australia.

Now Ashlee Aldridge has written about some precious artefacts salvaged from Ned Kelly's last stand at Glenrowan. The Fire at the Glenrowan Inn in 1880 was a tragic story, and after almost 140 years, surviving items from the blaze now are being dis­play­ed. A small brass box given to the proprietor of the inn, Ann Jones, has been acquired by Beechworth's Burke Museum. Matt Shaw, the founder and co-creator of the Ned Kelly Vault, said "It is handmade, made of brass and would have been an extravagant gift. It has Ann Jones, Glenrowan Inn, Glenrowan 1876 eng­raved on the top. So it was obviously a gift from one of her loved ones, on the com­mencement of this new, exciting business venture."

Kelly Vault, Beechworth

One display cabinet in
the Kelly Vault, Beechworth

The brass box was taken as a souvenir by loc­als the day after the fire. There was no real trace of it until it turned up at an auct­ion in the early 2000s. An antique dealer noticed it was listed in a lot and knowing its significance, bought it and put it on display in Melbourne’s Police Museum. Original objects and documents in the Melbourne collection include Dan Kelly’s and Steve Hart’s armour. 

This programme complements the history of Ned Kelly at the Old Melbourne Gaol. And it complements the State Library of Victoria collection; see the Jer­ilderie letter, Ned’s armour and death mask, family photos, police telegrams and photographs, newspaper reports, letters, minutes from the 1880 Kelly Royal Com­mission and books written about the bushranger.

Also from that horrible moment in history, a bullet-ridden table was salvaged. Burke Museum manager Cameron Auty said "the table was taken out of the inn by the Kelly Gang when their plans didn't go as well as they'd hoped, and police didn't turn up as quickly as they'd liked, so people started to get a bit bored. They decided to have a dance inside the inn, they cleared the table out to make some space. The table has bullet holes and other damage from the siege, so it is amazing to see that still in existence."

The table has been on display at the Ned Kelly Vault since it open­ed and for the next two months, it will form part of an exhibition about Mrs Jones at the Burke Museum. Mr Auty noted that "they're the only two large objects remaining from the siege. There are oth­er small things like scraps and bullets, but no more large objects".

Leather cartridge bag, with two metal buckles and broken straps
taken from Ned Kelly by Sergeant Steele at Glenrowan
Victoria Police Museum

Kelly Gang helmet, with bullet hole

Despite it being 130 years since that siege, interest in the Ned Kel­ly story has continued. Auty added that "the response has been huge, especially in the local community and there has been a lot of media interest. Every­body loves a Ned Kelly story, espec­ial­ly the siege at Glenrowan. It was one of the most significant ev­ents in Austral­ian history. Beechworth has a strong link to the Kelly fam­il­y. Ned grew-up in Greta just around the corner, the Beechworth courthouse hosted 40 trials for the Kelly fam­ily, and Ned and his mother Ellen were in and out of Beechworth Gaol."

And as Benalla is the heart of Kelly country, the Kelly story has emphasis in The Costume and Kelly Museum. In the museum is a transportable cell in which Ned was once imprisoned; it contains Ned's bloodstained sash worn at Glenrowan, his bridle and many letters/documents about Ned's family and Gang.