Variations (5): Tech rehearsal

Robert Schumann saved a steel pen he found at Beethoven’s grave for special occasions, such as writing his essay on Schubert’s C-Major Symphony. There are various ways to understand this act, but I think it sufficient to note the association with Beethoven and that the pen was made of steel. Attempts to manufacture steel pens were not satisfactory until the 1820s, and steel pens did not widely supplant feathers until the 1840s. To find one at Beethoven’s grave would be comparable to finding a typewriter at Wagner’s grave, or a computer at Stravinsky’s.

—Alfred W. Cramer, “Of Serpentina and Stenography:
Shapes of Handwriting in Romantic Melody,”

19th Century Music (XXX/2), Fall 2006

It is not surprising that when the “Anti-Gas Establishment” of the Royal Engineers got together for a reunion ten years after the [First World War], one of the sketches in a comedy program made reference to the Russian ballet. Both gas and the Russian dancers were regarded as the height of “newness,” as expressions of a sense of the modern that far exceeded what was considered acceptable by most of society. Lieutenant Colonel Henry S. Raper, CBE, FRS, Cavalier Crown of Italy, was presented on the anniversary program in the following way:

Raperski Presents his famous Russian Ballet, “Dialysis.” Argument:—The scene is laid in a woodland glade in which the three beautiful sisters, Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine, are discovered wandering. Sodium, a notorious bad character, approaches and beguiles them by presenting each with an electron for their rings. Too late they discover what has happened and they are about to crystallize out in despair, when they are precipitated by Argentum and thus saved from their awful doom. The last scene depicts Sodium, who has now become an Ion, in Brownian motion.

—Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring: The Great War
and the Birth of the Modern Age


  1. Don’t forget that Arnold Bax wrote a ballet with the oddball title “The Truth About Russian Dancers.” (….) Re: your recent post about Constant Lambert, which is a bit off-topic. You mentioned that you’d like to do a bio of him; I think the only bio of him is the 1973 bio by Richard Shead. Here’s the odd thing: Shead also wrote a book about the Ballet Russe, and an excellent book about Paris in the 20’s. …well. Why not write a book about Lambert and the English classical music scene of the 20’s, while you’re at it? The only *really* good book on it is Peter J.Pirie’s “The English Music Rennaissance” — which in fact covers over 50 years. As the art historian Robert Hughes wrote when an incredible show of the painter/actor Sickert’s work was up at Yale years ago (I saw it and bought the catalogue), people have so assumed nothing happened in England at the time (including the English), that it’s an undiscovered country. Not only are we now discovering the microtonal works of John Foulds, whom Shaw tried to prevent from going to –and dying — in India, but there’s the mysterious Van Dieren, whose only work on CD is, I think, his third string quartet. Add in the weirder young works of Bliss, Bax, Walton, and the other … you may end up with quite a book.… best wishes, Robert Bonotto, Boston.

  2. Robert,Thanks for the recommendations. I read the Shead book years ago and don’t really remember it. There is another one, kind of—Andrew Motion’s <>The Lamberts<>, which covers three generations. (They were all pretty crazy, it turns out.)

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