31 January 2015

Leipzig - music centre of the world?

Joe and I were staying in Berlin itself for a week, but that only left seven extra days for Dresden, Meissen, Leipzig and Dessau. The addit­ion­al tours, therefore, had to be professionally organised and detailed.

Discover Leipzig noted  that 500 composers have lived and worked in that city over the centuries, including: Johann Sebastian Bach (Cantor of St Thomas Church), Georg Philipp Telemann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Kapell­meister at the Gewandhaus), Clara and Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg and Gustav Mahler. Others, like Joseph Joachim and Hanns Eisler, did their studies there.

Schumann House Museum. Leipzig

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was our chief attraction. He was active in Leipzig’s musical life for most of his later adulthood. He was responsible for the services and special ceremonies at the ch­ur­ches of St Nicholas and St Thomas. People familiar with Bach music will recognise his creativity in Leipzig - annual cycles of choral cantatas, the St John and St Matthew Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, the Art of the Fugue and his Mass in B Minor.

But not just church music. As the city's Musical Director he had to organise secular events as well. And academically he was just as committed. He directed the Collegicum Musicum, an association of professional performers and students. So you would expect this city to pay attention to its musical hero. The Bach-Archiv was founded after WW2 by Werner Neumann. It served as a central archive for historic documents connected to the composer and a central research centre for the entire Bach family. After unific­ation the archive became part of the Konferenz Nationaler Kulture­inrichtungen, a merger of nationally sig­nif­icant cultural organisations. Next door is the Bach Museum, located in Bach’s own home. Both the archive and the museum join in a research complex with the magnif­icent adjoining building, owned back then by the goldsmith Georg Heinrich Bose.

The young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) studied at the University of Leipzig from 1765-68. I would not normally include him in a musical tour except that his poems were later set to music by some very imp­ort­ant composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Mahler. So it may be important to visit the Goethe memorial in the centre of Leipzig’s Naschmarkt. Fans may also like to buy a disc that celebrates the large and important role that Goethe's work played in Franz Schubert's short life (1797–1828). Although it contains only a portion of the Schubert/Goethe song output, The Goethe Schubertiad starts with material written in Leipzig.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) was another brilliant German musician who made his way to Leipzig. As the Gewandhaus Kapell­meister, Mendelssohn was the man who reformed the musical life of the city and instigated the Bach renaissance in Germany.

Mendelssohn House, Leipzig

But his creativity had to be speedy; he died too young. He premièred his Symphony in C Minor at the Gewandhaus in 1827. During his years in Leipzig he worked closely with Ferdinand David to turn the orchestra into one of the best in Europe. In 1843 he founded the oldest music school in Germany, the Leipzig Conservatory, thereby creating top quality tertiary education for young musicians.

Since 1997 Leipzig has the only Mendelssohn Museum anywhere, located in the family’s flat. It has been carefully restored to what it looked like when the composer lived there so that modern visitors can see his letters, sheet music, furniture, study complete with books, his own paintings and his music salon.

Robert Schumann (1810-56) in Saxony and came to Leip­zig in May 1828 to study law. The young man soon discovered that a] he wanted to play and compose Romantic music for the rest of his life and b] he wanted to marry his piano teacher’s daughter. Friedrich Wieck’s daughter Clara (1819-96) was herself a child prodigy on the piano. She was born in Leipzig and gave her first performance at the Gewandhaus, a concert hall origin­ally built in 1781 and now the home of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In the many concert tours that started in 1831 and cont­inued, Clara played works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. By 16 her reputation as a pian­ist was assured.

Robert Schumann wasn’t necessarily polite. By April 1834, he start­ed A New Journal for Music where the articles were very critical. The young man loathed the popular taste for inferior composers. But it was not Schumann’s fault that Franz Brendel later became the Journ­al’s new editor (in 1844). Brendel allowed a viciously anti-Semitic piece by Wagner to be published, insulting the late Felix Mendelssohn, founder of the Leipzig Conservatory,

After Robert’s marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840 at the church in Schöne­­feld, the young couple moved into their home. Apparently there was no other building in Leipzig from which so much great music emanated and to which so many notable artists were drawn. Marriage must have suit­ed Schumann well; during that first year, he created 150 piano lieder. The late classical style Schumann House has an interesting exhibition on the life and work of the famous musical couple. A permanent exhibition in the living quarters on the first floor is well worth seeing, as is he study. Fans will already know that regular concerts and readings are held in the carefully restored music salon.

Bach's tomb
St Thomas Church, Leipzig

There is also a connection to Jewish religious music in Leipzig, surprising because the community was not huge. European synagogues generally did not use instruments in ser­vices, as recently as the early C19th. So it must have shocked the locals when a modern organ was first used to accompany worship in a Berlin synagogue (opened 1815) and in Leipzig’s new Reform Synagogue (opened 1820). Orthodox communities did not like choir and organs in any synagogues, and fought them tooth and nail. But after two rabbin­ical conferences and the 1869 Synod of Leipzig, most of the new synag­ogues in Central European count­ries int­roduced organs. And some employed semi-professional choirs! The synagogue composers visited Leipzig from various German-speaking cities, especially the incomparable Louis Lewandowski from Berlin, Salomon Sulzer from Vienna and Kurt Weill from Dessau.

Leipzig's mag­nif­icent Moorish Revival Synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht (November 1938) by the Nazis, but music tourists can still visit the Brody Synagogue in Keilstrasse. Or download the original music sung by the old Leipzig Synagogue Choir.

27 January 2015

A sterling silver dinner-set fit for a maharaja

One of the questions I was asking in Maharaja splendour in Canada  was how many Princely States were there in India and how wealthy/influential were the maharajas. Wiki estimated that the number ranged from 160 princely states in 1872 to 202 in 1941.

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891–1938) was the ruler of the princely state of Patiala in the south-east of the Punjab. He served on the General Staff in France, Belgium, Italy and Palestine in WW1 and he represented India at the League of Nations in the years after the war. But I had initially been very interested in this Maharaja because he was the one who had bought the most fabulous De Beers jewellery from Cartier of Paris in 1928 - five rows of diamonds encrusted in a platinum chain.

And since Patiala was said to be among the wealthiest princely states of British India, I am once again very interested in him because of the banqueting service hallmarked by the Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Company of London in 1921. It had been commissioned by the Maharaja of Patiala in honour of the Feb 1922 tour of India by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. The entire dinner service must have arrived in India in time; it was indeed used at the State Banquet held in Prince Edwards's honour. Some sources say that once the three days of royal feasting was over, the set was never used again.

gold-plated silver dinner service created for the Maharaja of Patiala
photo credits: Daily Mail

Each piece with a scroll and foliage border above cast and chased panels of animals, separated by cast daggers, variously engraved or with coat-of-arms, crown and initials. The most impressive object was the centrepiece, formed as three bowls supported on a shaped conforming stand. The flower and foliage decorated feet were applied with cast elephant's mask and the handles of the bowls with cast lion's masks. The stand was not small, being 115 cm wide. I was also very impressed with the pair of soup tureens that had lion mask-capped handles, detachable covers and quatrefoil ogee loop handles. Each was 45 cm wide over the handle.

Needless to say, not even a maharaja’s dining table could hold all the 1400 pieces at one time. Alas some of the pieces went missing eg there are 183 dinner-plates, all that is left from the set that was orig­in­ally designed for 200 guests. Follow the Christie's reference for further information.

Clearly this Maharaja was not an ordinary man. He was captain of the Indian cricket team, the first individual in India to own his own plane and he definitely loved the 20 Rolls Royce cars that he drove. So perhaps it was not surprising that £2 million (USA $3.25 million) paid at the July 2013 auction set a new world record for an English dinner service. Impressive!

I had assumed that times must have been tough for the family, after Bhupinder Singh’s death in 1938. Otherwise why else would they sell the dinner service? But since his son Maharaja Yadavindra Singh was the first Indian prince to sign the Instrument of Accession, thus facilitating the process of national integration after independence in 1947, perhaps the family was actually well looked after by the modern state.

The princely state of Patiala was in the south-east of the Punjab

24 January 2015

Brisbane 1919 - racist red flag riots

This history comes from: The red flag riots: a study of intolerance by Raymond Evans, Riot Acts: The History of Australian Rioting by David Lowe, the SBS television programme Remembering Brisbane's anti-Russian Red Flag Riot and from my own Russian-Australian family. For a more personal history, see the work done by Marett Leiboff:  “The main thing is to shut them out: The Deployment of Law and the Arrival of Russians in Australia 1913-1925". Your Brisbane Past and Present provides good information on Brisbane's Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Russian Jewish Synagogue in the post WW1 era.

Brisbane was a gateway into Australia. In the years 1908-14, Australia operated an Immigration Bureau in Brisbane for eastern immigrants who were largely Russian - intellectuals, profess­ionals, workers and political prisoners from Siberia. They were searching for freedom yet they were not warmly welcomed; they were not British-Australian, were not Anglican and were not truly white. Worse still, these new immigrants wanted equality for all the workers.

Even though Brisbane was not a large city, a Russian com­mun­ity of 3,500 formed there with Merivale St as its centre, in the vicinity of their synagogue. In 1913 a Russian Club was established in South Brisbane, for coffee, discussion and reading Russian newspapers from abroad. A Russian language play was produced and staged in Brisbane. A local Russian newspaper began regular publication.

When WW1 broke out, Russian-born Australians quickly enlisted. [The book Russian Anzacs in Australian History by Elena Govor is recommended]. Then came the extraordinary news of the 1917 Revolution, greatly exciting workers across the country. A ship was soon chart­ered and 500 Russian im­migrants from across Australia returned to the country of their birth. Meanwhile all non-British immigration into Australia stopped.

When Leon Trotsky signed an early truce with Germany to end WW1 in Dec 1917, the Brisbane Russians became enemy aliens. People who hated the idea of non-British immigrants attacked the new commun­ity in newspapers and suggested that all Russian-born Australians be interned. The Governor-General of Australia contacted the Secretary of the State for the Colonies in London to ascertain that Britain's recent deportation of 100 "Russian Jew Bolshevist Propagandists" could serve as a precedent for Australian deportations to proceed. The Daily Mail called for the same deportation of socialist leaders from Brisbane, and 8 of these men were promptly deported by the Federal government.

Raymond Evan's book, The Red Flag Riots,
University of Queensland Press, 1988

Meanwhile the working people of Brisbane became divided over the symbolism of the red flag. While many workers’ organisations proudly flew it, others bitterly opposed what the flag represented. The conservative press grew more virulently anti-socialist.

Since May 1918 sections of the Commonwealth government’s Military Intelligence, the Special Intelligence Bureau and the Commonwealth Police were promoting anti-revolutionary initiatives by encouraging right-wing vigilante activism. Brit­ish loyalists merged with the rightist Returned Soldiers' Organisations. The Queensland Commissioner of Police, Frederick Urquhart, organised an anti-socialist, paramilitary vigilante force to defend loyalty to Britain and to ensure White Australia. Common­wealth surveillance identified the activist Alexander Zuzenko and Peter Simonoff, the new Soviet Consul in Queensland as particularly problematic.

Consul Simonoff was interned. In protest, a peaceful march wound its way through Brisbane’s streets, led by Russian-Australians. After the march, lists of dang­erous Russians who had taken part were compiled. Military raids seized revolutionary mater­ial. The Russian Hall was wrecked; the Russian community faced evictions from their rented homes and job dismissals; their newspaper was closed; their leaders in prison, with some facing deportation. The synagogue was threatened. What shocks me is that most of the rest of the local labour movement did not rush to their aid.

New Russian club premises were established in Merivale St.

But it was now illegal to march under the red flag. In March 1919 a 400 workers met outside Brisbane Trades Hall. Police looked on. Surveillance agents mingled with the crowd. Suddenly Alexander Zuzenko and his followers opened three large red banners for the crowd. The march began and increased in size as the marchers app­roached the Domain. Police on horses attempted to move against the workers, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. The Russian-born workers seemed safe.

That night, several thousand ex-servicemen violently attacked a union meeting at North Quay. Russians and workers were seized, mauled and stabbed. Then 2,000 men crossed Victoria Bridge to attack the Russian headquarters. Police stood by and watched.

Early next day military police ransacked the treasured workers’ lib­rary stored at Merivale St and Russian homes were ruined. That night, fuelled by alcohol, anti-Russian editorials and an inflammatory meeting at North Quay, 7,000 British-Australian ex-servicemen and loyalists marched on the Russian Club chanting ‘Burn their meeting place down!’ and ‘Hang them!’ Commissioner Urquhart was seriously wounded.

After the Brisbane Courier defended the actions of the pro-British mob, further violent riots went for three days. The riots were followed by months of intimidation and individual assaults upon people who were, or might have been Russian-born. For the terrified Russian community, the Brisbane pogroms had started.

The Brisbane Courier Mail
25th March 1919
The police force was not mustered to protect Russians, so this was confused reporting.

Instead of punishing the rioters, commonwealth and state authorities turned against the victims i.e the Russians and the workers who had been the target of public attack. They gaoled 15 workers for flying banned red flags. The state govern­ment offered its police forces and gaols to the Commonwealth, helping in the deportation without trial of eleven Russians. Lists were compiled for the expulsion of sixty more, but this was thwarted by British Authorities. For more than two months after the riots, enormous rallies loyal to British Australia decried anything foreign or radical in their midst.


In what context can we possibly understand these racist riots in Brisbane? By early 1919 local fears of the Bolshevik Revolution became mixed up in conservative minds with hatred of non-British immigration. Feeding these fears was the local conservative press, describing revolut­ionary Russians as Bolshevik swine, guilty of repulsive bestial­ity, lawlessness and lust. And leaders of the Catholic and Protestant churches were preach­­ing against the alarming spread of ungodly, atheistic communism.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the civil liberties march of workers, including Russian-born Australians, from Trades Hall on the 23rd March 1919. The march was planned to protest the continuation of the draconian War Precautions Act in peacetime and internment of the Russian Consul Simonoff. But what chance did these young migrants have? The vast crowd was literally screaming for lynchings.

Both newspapers, the Brisbane Courier and the Daily Standard, reported the following day that something quite exceptional had happened. The Daily Standard viewed the rioting as one of the maddest and most disgraceful scenes ever witnessed in any part of Australia. But The Brisbane Courier saw only wild and thrilling magnificence in the riots. Nothing approaching it, the editor gushed, had ever been witnessed in Brisbane before.