Dec 112017
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Louis-Hector Berlioz, a French composer best known for Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts (Requiem). Berlioz was a key transitional figure in the move to Romanticism and also made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works, and conducted several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. His influence was critical for the composers such as Richard Wagner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, and Gustav Mahler. Perhaps perversely, I’d like to focus on his writing about his music, rather than the music itself. Berlioz was an exacting writer (as well as composer), and frequently provided extensive notes to audiences to accompany performances of his pieces. To some extent program music (music that is about a particular topic – biography, narrative, nature, etc.) requires this kind of treatment, and composers from Berlioz to Strauss provided extensive program notes (hence the name).  This practice contrasts with absolute music, which is simply music that has no reference points to external factors (e.g. So-and-so’s opus 96 in G major). Here I’ll talk about Berlioz’ program notes for Symphonie fantastique, and then talk about his writing in general, given that he was a prolific writer.

Symphonie fantastique tells the story of an artist gifted with a lively imagination who has poisoned himself with opium in the depths of despair because of hopeless, unrequited love. Berlioz provided his own preface and program notes for each movement of the work. They exist in two principal versions – one from 1845 in the first score of the work and the second from 1855. From the revised preface and notes, it can be seen how Berlioz, later in his life, downplayed the programmatic aspect of the work.

In the first score from 1845, he writes as a preface:

The composer’s intention has been to develop various episodes in the life of an artist, in so far as they lend themselves to musical treatment. As the work cannot rely on the assistance of speech, the plan of the instrumental drama needs to be set out in advance. The following programme must therefore be considered as the spoken text of an opera, which serves to introduce musical movements and to motivate their character and expression.

In the 1855 preface, he changes his outlook because of the addition of Lélio, ou Le retour à la vie, a work incorporating music and spoken text intended as a sequel to Symphonie fantastique, and has also softened the requirement of distributing program notes if Symphonie fantastique is performed alone (believing that the music can be appreciated on its own merits):

The following programme should be distributed to the audience every time the Symphonie fantastique is performed dramatically and thus followed by the monodrama of Lélio which concludes and completes the episode in the life of an artist. In this case the invisible orchestra is placed on the stage of a theatre behind the lowered curtain. If the symphony is performed on its own as a concert piece this arrangement is no longer necessary: one may even dispense with distributing the programme and keep only the title of the five movements. The author hopes that the symphony provides on its own sufficient musical interest independently of any dramatic intention.

Symphonie fantastique has five movements instead of four that were conventional for symphonies at the time. The work takes over 1 hour to perform, so I am reluctant to embed the entire piece here. You can go here for a decent rendition:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK6iAxe0oEc 

What Berlioz does not mention in his notes is the fact that after attending a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on 11 September 1827, Berlioz fell in love with the Irish actress Harriet Smithson who had played the role of Ophelia. He sent her numerous love letters, all of which went unanswered. When she left Paris they had still not met. He then wrote Symphonie fantastique as a way to express his unrequited love. It premiered in Paris on 5th December 1830. Smithson was not present. She eventually heard the work in 1832 and realized his genius. The two finally met, and they were married on 3 October 1833. Their marriage became increasingly bitter, and eventually they separated after several years of unhappiness. His program notes come from 1845 and 1855 performances and publications. Here I give only his 1845 notes.

First movement: “Rêveries – Passions” (Reveries – Passions)

The author imagines that a young musician, afflicted by the sickness of spirit which a famous writer has called the vagueness of passions (le vague des passions), sees for the first time a woman who unites all the charms of the ideal person his imagination was dreaming of, and falls desperately in love with her. By a strange anomaly, the beloved image never presents itself to the artist’s mind without being associated with a musical idea, in which he recognizes a certain quality of passion, but endowed with the nobility and shyness which he credits to the object of his love.

This melodic image and its model keep haunting him ceaselessly like a double idée fixe. This explains the constant recurrence in all the movements of the symphony of the melody which launches the first allegro. The transitions from this state of dreamy melancholy, interrupted by occasional upsurges of aimless joy, to delirious passion, with its outbursts of fury and jealousy, its returns of tenderness, its tears, its religious consolations – all this forms the subject of the first movement.

Second movement: “Un bal” (A Ball)

The artist finds himself in the most diverse situations in life, in the tumult of a festive party, in the peaceful contemplation of the beautiful sights of nature, yet everywhere, whether in town or in the countryside, the beloved image keeps haunting him and throws his spirit into confusion.

Third movement: “Scène aux champs” (Scene in the Fields)

One evening in the countryside he hears two shepherds in the distance in dialogue with their ranz des vaches [a herder’s melody, sung or played to call their animals]; this pastoral duet, the setting, the gentle rustling of the trees in the wind, some hopes that he has recently conceived, all conspire to restore to his heart an unaccustomed feeling of calm and to give to his thoughts a happier coloring. He broods on his loneliness, and hopes that soon he will no longer be on his own… But what if she betrayed him!… This mingled hope and fear, these ideas of happiness, disturbed by dark premonitions, form the subject of the adagio. At the end one of the shepherds resumes his ranz des vaches; the other one no longer answers. Distant sound of thunder… solitude… silence.

Fourth movement: “Marche au supplice” (March to the Scaffold)

Convinced that his love is spurned, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow.

Fifth movement: “Songe d’une nuit du sabbat” (Dream of the Night of the Sabbath)

He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath … Roar of delight at her arrival … She joins the diabolical orgy … The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.

Romantic enough for you?

While Berlioz is best known as a composer, he was also a prolific writer, and supported himself for many years by writing musical criticism, always bold, and, at times imperious and sarcastic. He wrote for many journals, including the Rénovateur, Journal des débats and Gazette musicale. As a small example of his immense output, he produced over 100 articles for the Gazette between 1833 and 1837.  In 1835 alone, due to one of his many times of financial difficulty, he wrote 4 articles for the Monde dramatique, 12 for the Gazette, 19 for the Débats and 37 for the Rénovateur. These are all in-depth articles and reviews with little duplication.

The books which Berlioz has become acclaimed for were compiled from his journal articles. Les soirées de l’orchestre (Evenings with the Orchestra) (1852), a scathing satire of provincial musical life in 19th century France, and the Treatise on Instrumentation, a pedagogic work, were both serialized originally in the Gazette musicale. Many parts of his Mémoires (1870), a personal portrait of the Romantic era, were originally published in the Journal des débats, as well as Le monde illustré. Evenings with the Orchestra is more overtly fictional than his other two major books, but its basis in reality is evident, making the stories it recounts all the funnier due to the ring of truth. W. H. Auden praises it, saying “To succeed in [writing these tales], as Berlioz most brilliantly does, requires a combination of qualities which is very rare, the many-faceted curiosity of the dramatist with the aggressively personal vision of the lyric poet.” The Treatise established his reputation as a master of orchestration. The work was closely studied by Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss and served as the foundation for a subsequent textbook by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who, as a music student, attended the concerts Berlioz conducted in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Berlioz had a dish created in his honor, oeufs mollets Berlioz (soft boiled eggs Berlioz), which he apparently enjoyed. The dish can be made in a number of ways but the classic version calls for soft-boiled duck eggs, croustades of Duchesse potatoes, and a mushroom/truffle and Madeira sauce. I’m going to go with the original, but you can skimp if you want. Many cooks use poached rather than soft-boiled eggs, and use chicken eggs instead of duck eggs. Truffles might also be a bit pricey for the average home cook. Use strong mushrooms such as Portobello, crimini, or shiitake.

Oeufs Mollets Berlioz

Ingredients

8 duck eggs

For the mushroom sauce

350g mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, peeled and minced
100ml beef stock
50ml Madeira
1 sprig fresh thyme
butter

For duchesse potatoes

8 medium-sized floury potatoes, peeled and diced
75ml milk or cream
French mustard
butter
cream

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C.

For the duchesse potatoes: Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling water for at least 30 minutes until they are very soft. They should mash easily with a fork. Drain them thoroughly. While still hot, mash the potatoes, with a knob of butter, French mustard to taste, and a splash of cream.  Don’t make them too wet. Use a fork or potato masher to start the mashing, and finish with an electric beater or food processor. It’s important to remove all lumps. Shape into oval croquettes, and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake until the croquettes begin to turn golden. Keep warm.

For the mushroom sauce: Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until they are soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme sprig. Let them sauté until they are slightly browned, then pour in the Madeira. Reduce to a tablespoonful, then add the beef stock. Simmer until it is reduced by half. Blend to a puree in a blender or food processor and keep warm.

Assembly: Boil the duck eggs in their shells until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. 6 minutes is normally about correct for soft boiled.  Place 2 potato croquettes on each plate, top with mushroom sauce. Slice open the duck eggs and place 2 on each plate.

Serves 4

 

 

Dec 102017
 

Today is the birthday (1815) of Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, known commonly as Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognize that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as the first to recognize the full potential of a “computing machine” and the first computer programmer. Whether or not she actually wrote the algorithms published under her name is under dispute, so the title of “first computer programmer” may not be warranted. However, what is not questioned is her insight that computing machines could be used for more than working with numbers. She realized that if you used numbers to represent other things, such as letters of the alphabet, computing machines could be used for a host of applications beyond numerical calculation. In essence, her insight is the foundation of all modern digital computers, although neither she nor Babbage ever put the theory into practice.

Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke (“Annabella”), Lady Wentworth. All of Byron’s other children were born out of wedlock to other women. Byron separated from his wife a month after Ada was born and left England forever four months later. He died of disease in the Greek War of Independence when Ada was 8 years old. Her mother remained bitter and promoted Ada’s interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from developing her father’s perceived “insanity” (that is, his inveterate wandering, Romanticism, and inclination towards poetry). Despite this, Ada remained interested in Byron and was, upon her eventual death, buried next to him at her request. She was often ill in her childhood. Ada married William King in 1835. King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838, and Ada in turn became Countess of Lovelace.

Her educational and social desires brought her into contact with scientists such as Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and also with Charles Dickens. Lovelace described her approach as “poetical science” and herself as an “Analyst (& Metaphysician).” When she was a teenager, her mathematical talents led her to a long working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, also known as “the father of computers”, and in particular, Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine. http://www.bookofdaystales.com/charles-babbage/ Lovelace first met him in June 1833, through their mutual friend, and her private tutor, Mary Somerville. Between 1842 and 1843, Ada translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on his ideas for an Analytical Engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes, simply called “Notes.” These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. She also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. Her mindset of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine (as shown in her notes) examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool. She died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.

Throughout her life, Lovelace was strongly interested in scientific developments and fads of the day, including phrenology and mesmerism. After her work with Babbage, Lovelace continued to work on other projects. In 1844 she commented to a friend Woronzow Greig about her desire to create a mathematical model for how the brain gives rise to thoughts and nerves to feelings (“a calculus of the nervous system”). She never achieved this, however. In part, her interest in the brain came from a long-running pre-occupation, inherited from her mother, about her ‘potential’ madness. As part of her research into this project, she visited the electrical engineer Andrew Crosse in 1844 to learn how to carry out electrical experiments. In the same year, she wrote a review of a paper by Baron Karl von Reichenbach, “Researches on Magnetism,” but this was not published and does not appear to have progressed past the first draft. In 1851, the year before her cancer struck, she wrote to her mother mentioning “certain productions” she was working on regarding the relation of mathematics and music.[53]

Lovelace first met Charles Babbage in June 1833 and later that month Babbage invited Lovelace to see the prototype for his Difference Engine. She became fascinated with the machine and visited Babbage as often as she could. Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills. In 1843 he wrote to her:

Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans—every thing in short but the Enchantress of Number.

Some historians think that Babbage was calling Lovelace the “Enchantress of Number” which only goes to show how stupid some people are. I’d count them among Babbage’s “multitudinous Charlatans” for not being able to see that Babbage is calling numbers an enchantress, not Lovelace.

In 1840, Babbage was invited to give a seminar at the University of Turin about his Analytical Engine. Luigi Menabrea, a young Italian engineer, and the future Prime Minister of Italy wrote up Babbage’s lecture in French, and this transcript was subsequently published in the Bibliothèque universelle de Genève in October 1842. Babbage’s friend Charles Wheatstone commissioned Lovelace to translate Menabrea’s paper into English. She then augmented the paper with notes, which were added to the translation. Lovelace spent the better part of a year doing this, assisted with input from Babbage. These notes, which are more extensive than Menabrea’s paper, were then published in Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs under the initialism AAL.

Lovelace’s notes were labelled alphabetically from A to G. In note G, she describes an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. It is considered the first published algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, and Ada Lovelace has often been cited as the first computer programmer for this reason. The engine was never completed so her program was never tested. Explaining the Analytical Engine’s function was a difficult task because even many other scientists of the day did not really grasp the concept and the British establishment was uninterested in it. Lovelace’s notes even had to explain how the Analytical Engine differed from the original Difference Engine. Her work was well received at the time. Michael Faraday described himself as a supporter of her writing.

The notes are around three times longer than the article itself and include (in Section G[61]), in complete detail, a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Engine, which could have run correctly had Babbage’s Analytical Engine been built. (Only his Difference Engine has been built, completed in London in 2002.) Based on this work Lovelace is now widely considered the first computer programmer and her method is considered the world’s first computer program.

Section G also contains Lovelace’s dismissal of artificial intelligence. She wrote that “The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths.” This objection has been the subject of much debate and rebuttal, for example, by Alan Turing in his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.”

Lovelace and Babbage had a minor falling out when the papers were published when he tried to leave his own statement (a criticism of the government’s treatment of his Engine) as an unsigned preface—which would imply that she had written that also. When Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs ruled that the statement should be signed, Babbage wrote to Lovelace asking her to withdraw the paper. This was the first that she knew he was leaving it unsigned, and she wrote back refusing to withdraw the paper. The historian Benjamin Woolley speculated that: “His actions suggested he had so enthusiastically sought Ada’s involvement, and so happily indulged her … because of her ‘celebrated name’.” Their friendship recovered, and they continued to correspond. On 12 August 1851, when she was dying of cancer, Lovelace wrote to him asking him to be her executor, though this letter did not give him the necessary legal authority. Part of the terrace at Worthy Manor, the Lovelace country estate, was known as Philosopher’s Walk, as it was there that Lovelace and Babbage were reputed to have walked while discussing mathematical principles.

In 1953, more than a century after her death, Ada Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine were republished. The engine has now been recognized as an early model for a computer and her notes as a description of a computer and software. In her notes, Lovelace emphasized the difference between the Analytical Engine and previous calculating machines, particularly its theoretical ability to be programmed to solve problems of any complexity. She realised the potential of the device extended far beyond mere number crunching. In her notes, she wrote:

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

This analysis was an important development from previous ideas about the capabilities of computing devices and anticipated the implications of modern computing 100 years before they were realized. Walter Isaacson ascribes Lovelace’s insight regarding the application of computing to any process based on logical symbols to an observation about textiles: “When she saw some mechanical looms that used punchcards to direct the weaving of beautiful patterns, it reminded her of how Babbage’s engine used punched cards to make calculations.” Of course, those of us who were computing in the 1970s know the trials and tribulations of punchcards. Youngsters with smart PCs have no idea.

According to the historian of computing and Babbage specialist Doron Swade:

Ada saw something that Babbage in some sense failed to see. In Babbage’s world his engines were bound by number…What Lovelace saw—what Ada Byron saw—was that number could represent entities other than quantity. So once you had a machine for manipulating numbers, if those numbers represented other things, letters, musical notes, then the machine could manipulate symbols of which number was one instance, according to rules. It is this fundamental transition from a machine which is a number cruncher to a machine for manipulating symbols according to rules that is the fundamental transition from calculation to computation—to general-purpose computation—and looking back from the present high ground of modern computing, if we are looking and sifting history for that transition, then that transition was made explicitly by Ada in that 1843 paper.

Though Lovelace is referred to as the first computer programmer, some biographers and historians of computing claim otherwise.

Allan G. Bromley, in the 1990 article Difference and Analytical Engines:

All but one of the programs cited in her notes had been prepared by Babbage from three to seven years earlier. The exception was prepared by Babbage for her, although she did detect a ‘bug’ in it. Not only is there no evidence that Ada ever prepared a program for the Analytical Engine, but her correspondence with Babbage shows that she did not have the knowledge to do so.

Bruce Collier, who later wrote a biography of Babbage, wrote in his 1970 Harvard University PhD thesis that Lovelace “made a considerable contribution to publicizing the Analytical Engine, but there is no evidence that she advanced the design or theory of it in any way”. Eugene Eric Kim and Betty Alexandra Toole consider it “incorrect” to regard Lovelace as the first computer programmer, since Babbage wrote the initial programs for his Analytical Engine, although the majority were never published. Bromley notes several dozen sample programs prepared by Babbage between 1837 and 1840, all substantially predating Lovelace’s notes. Dorothy K. Stein regards Lovelace’s notes as “more a reflection of the mathematical uncertainty of the author, the political purposes of the inventor, and, above all, of the social and cultural context in which it was written, than a blueprint for a scientific development.”

But . . . in Idea Makers, Stephen Wolfram defends Lovelace’s contributions. While acknowledging that Babbage wrote several unpublished algorithms for the Analytical Engine prior to Lovelace’s notes, Wolfram argues that “there’s nothing as sophisticated—or as clean—as Ada’s computation of the Bernoulli numbers. Babbage certainly helped and commented on Ada’s work, but she was definitely the driver of it.” Wolfram then suggests that Lovelace’s main achievement was to distill from Babbage’s correspondence “a clear exposition of the abstract operation of the machine—something which Babbage never did.”

Add to this statement her obviously prescient insight that “computing machines” could go far beyond algorithms for number crunching and you have the measure of her contribution to modern computer science.

This website https://www.indianic.com/blog/general/the-best-food-for-programmers.html gives a list of foods that are good for computer programmers given that they live largely sedentary lives, and don’t get out much. One of the chief needs, apparently, is a diet rich in vitamin D, presumably because programmers don’t see the sun very often !!. Egg yolks and some mushrooms are rich in vitamin D, so here’s a recipe from Lovelace’s era that fits the bill.  It is from Houlston’s Housekeeper’s assistant; or, Complete family cook. Containing directions for marketing; also, instructions for preparing soups, broths, gravies, and sauces; likewise for dressing fish, butcher’s meat, poultry, game, &c. (1828)

Eggs with Onions and Mushrooms

Boil the eggs hard, take out the yolks entire, and cut the whites in slips, with some onions and mushrooms. Fry the onions and mushrooms, put in the whites, and turn them about a little; then pour off the fat, if there be any; flour the onions, &c. and put to them a little good gravy. Boil this up, put in the yolks of the eggs, and add a little pepper and salt; then let the whole simmer for about a minute, and serve it up.

What this amounts to is a dish of boiled egg yolks in a mushroom and onion gravy containing sliced egg whites.  Not that complicated, and would make a nice brunch dish if you are into that sort of thing.

Dec 092017
 

Today is the birthday (1848) of Joel Chandler Harris, a US journalist and author best known for his collection of Uncle Remus stories. Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, where he served as an apprentice on a plantation during his teenage years. He spent most of his adult life in Atlanta working as an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution. The Uncle Remus collection has had a mixed reception over the years. Some see it as racist, and an unwarranted appropriation of African-American folktales, while others see it as a groundbreaking and highly influential body of literature. There’s room for both views.

Harris’ mother, Mary Ann Harris, was an Irish immigrant, and his father, whose identity remains unknown, abandoned Mary Ann and the infant shortly after his birth. The boy was named Joel after his mother’s attending physician, Dr. Joel Branham, and Chandler was the name of his mother’s uncle. Harris remained self-conscious of his illegitimate birth throughout his life. A prominent physician, Dr. Andrew Reid, gave the Harris family a small cottage to use behind his mansion. Mary Harris worked as a seamstress and helped neighbors with their gardening to support herself and her son. She was an avid reader and instilled in her son a love of language.  He wrote later in life, “My desire to write—to give expression to my thoughts—grew out of hearing my mother read The Vicar of Wakefield.” Dr. Reid also paid for Harris’ school tuition for several years. In 1856, Harris briefly attended Kate Davidson’s School for Boys and Girls, but transferred to Eatonton School for Boys later that year. He had an undistinguished academic record and a habit of truancy. Harris excelled in reading and writing, but was mostly known for his pranks, mischief, and sense of humor. Practical jokes helped Harris cloak his shyness and insecurities about his red hair, Irish ancestry, and illegitimacy, leading to both trouble and a reputation as a leader among the older boys.

Harris quit school at age 16 to work. In March 1862, Joseph Addison Turner, owner of Turnwold Plantation nine miles east of Eatonton, hired Harris to work as a printer’s devil for his newspaper The Countryman. Harris learned to set type for the paper, and Turner allowed him to publish his own poems, book reviews, and humorous paragraphs. Harris lived on Turnwold Plantation, Joe Harris and had access to Turner’s library where he read Chaucer, Dickens, Sir Thomas Browne, Arabian Nights, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Thackeray, and Edgar Allan Poe. While at Turnwold Plantation, Harris spent hundreds of hours in the slave quarters during time off. He was less self-conscious there and felt his humble background as an illegitimate, red-headed son of an Irish immigrant helped foster an intimate connection with the slaves. He absorbed the stories, language, and inflections of people like Uncle George Terrell, Old Harbert, and Aunt Crissy. The African-American animal tales they shared later became the foundation and inspiration for the Uncle Remus tales. George Terrell and Old Harbert in particular became models for Uncle Remus, as well as role models for Harris. Turner shut down The Countryman in May 1866 and Harris left the plantation with useless Confederate money and very few possessions.

Harris bounced around newspapers in the South until in 1876 he was hired by Henry W. Grady at the Atlanta Constitution, where he would remain for the next 24 years. In addition, he published local-color stories in magazines such as Scribner’s, Harper’s, and The Century. Not long after taking the newspaper job, Harris began writing the Uncle Remus stories as a serial to “preserve in permanent shape those curious mementoes of a period that will no doubt be sadly misrepresented by historians of the future.” The tales were reprinted across the United States, and Harris was approached by publisher D. Appleton and Company to compile them for a book. Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings was published near the end of 1880.

Here’s his arguably most famous retelling of a slave tale: “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby”

“Didn’t the fox never catch the rabbit, Uncle Remus?” asked the little boy the next evening.

“He come mighty nigh it, honey, sho’s you born–Brer Fox did. One day atter Brer Rabbit fool ‘im wid dat calamus root, Brer Fox went ter wuk en got ‘im some tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun w’at he call a Tar-Baby, en he tuck dish yer Tar-Baby en he sot ‘er in de big road, en den he lay off in de bushes fer to see what de news wuz gwine ter be. En he didn’t hatter wait long, nudder, kaze bimeby here come Brer Rabbit pacin’ down de road–lippity-clippity, clippity -lippity–dez ez sassy ez a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low. Brer Rabbit come prancin’ ‘long twel he spy de Tar-Baby, en den he fotch up on his behime legs like he wuz ‘stonished. De Tar Baby, she sot dar, she did, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Mawnin’!’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee – `nice wedder dis mawnin’,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox he lay low.

“`How duz yo’ sym’tums seem ter segashuate?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee.

“Brer Fox, he wink his eye slow, en lay low, en de Tar-Baby, she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.

“‘How you come on, den? Is you deaf?’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Kaze if you is, I kin holler louder,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“‘You er stuck up, dat’s w’at you is,’ says Brer Rabbit, sezee, ‘en  I’m gwine ter kyore you, dat’s w’at I’m a gwine ter do,’ sezee.

“Brer Fox, he sorter chuckle in his stummick, he did, but Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nothin’.

“‘I’m gwine ter larn you how ter talk ter ‘spectubble folks ef hit’s de las’ ack,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee. ‘Ef you don’t take off dat hat en tell me howdy, I’m gwine ter bus’ you wide open,’ sezee.

“Tar-Baby stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“Brer Rabbit keep on axin’ ‘im, en de Tar-Baby, she keep on sayin’ nothin’, twel present’y Brer Rabbit draw back wid his fis’, he did, en blip he tuck ‘er side er de head. Right dar’s whar he broke his merlasses jug. His fis’ stuck, en he can’t pull loose. De tar hilt ‘im. But Tar-Baby, she stay still, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Ef you don’t lemme loose, I’ll knock you agin,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, en wid dat he fotch ‘er a wipe wid de udder han’, en dat stuck. Tar-Baby, she ain’y sayin’ nuthin’, en Brer Fox, he lay low.

“`Tu’n me loose, fo’ I kick de natal stuffin’ outen you,’ sez Brer Rabbit, sezee, but de Tar-Baby, she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’. She des hilt on, en de Brer Rabbit lose de use er his feet in de same way. Brer Fox, he lay low. Den Brer Rabbit squall out dat ef de Tar-Baby don’t tu’n ‘im loose he butt ‘er cranksided. En den he butted, en his head got stuck. Den Brer Fox, he sa’ntered fort’, lookin’ dez ez innercent ez wunner yo’ mammy’s mockin’-birds.

“`Howdy, Brer Rabbit,’ sez Brer Fox, sezee. `You look sorter stuck up dis mawnin’,’ sezee, en den he rolled on de groun’, en laft en laft twel he couldn’t laff no mo’. `I speck you’ll take dinner wid me dis time, Brer Rabbit. I done laid in some calamus root, en I ain’t gwineter take no skuse,’ sez Brer Fox, sezee.”

Here Uncle Remus paused, and drew a two-pound yam out of the ashes.

“Did the fox eat the rabbit?” asked the little boy to whom the story had been told.

“Dat’s all de fur de tale goes,” replied the old man. “He mout, an den agin he moutent. Some say Judge B’ar come ‘long en loosed ‘im – some say he didn’t. I hear Miss Sally callin’. You better run ‘long.”

I’m not going to venture too far into the deep, dark, murky waters of Uncle Remus criticism. Disney’s Song of the South makes Uncle Remus and slavery in general into a playful, happy-go-lucky romp that is a travesty of the truth, but Harris is not responsible for that image; that’s on Disney’s scorecard. Harris seems to me to be genuinely caring for the tales and making an honest effort to present them in authentic voice. My professor at UNC when I was taking an MA in folklore had nothing good to say about Harris because the Uncle Remus tales were not verbatim transcriptions of narratives from slaves. This critique is just rank anachronism. In Harris’ day there were no professional folklorists with tape recorders faithfully notating tales and songs. The Grimms documented peasant tales and then edited them for publication, even though they were scholars of language and could have given verbatim versions. Andrew Lang was a professional folklorist, and he too dressed up folktales for publication. The only reason folklore as a discipline got started in the first place – as a branch of anthropology – was that early folklorists believed that uneducated peasants were the unwitting bearers of the riches of ancient cultures, and even though the modern tales and songs repeated by poor rural laborers were debased in comparison with the original high art that spawned them (because the peasants were careless with the treasures they had), the glories of old could be glimpsed in them. I hope I have contributed to showing that this point of view is complete nonsense. In comparison with the scholars, I would say that Harris’ retellings of the slave tales are probably truer to the original than those of the scholars.

I could also get into whether Harris was appropriating African-American culture because he was a privileged white man, whether he was patronizing to African-American voices, etc. etc., but I won’t. Figure it out for yourself. There is no doubt in my mind that he preserved something that would have been lost otherwise. Among other things he helped the cause of anthropologists who wanted to counter the popular falsehood that African slaves arrived in the U.S. with nothing, and their subsequent acculturation was entirely Euro-centric. NO !!! Africans brought African culture (of various types) with them and it had a profound influence on the development of music, art, and literature in the United States. Many of the Uncle Remus tales have clear antecedents in West, Central, and South African animal trickster tales, the animal in question being either a hare or a spider. Some tales, virtually identical in basic form with Brer Rabbit tales, still exist in traditional African settings, the tar baby story being very common in numerous African cultures.

Uncle Remus makes reference to hoe cakes, or Johnny cakes, now and again, so here’s your recipe. Hoe cakes are griddle cakes similar to American breakfast pancakes, but with cornmeal mixed into the flour, and rather smaller. They have been popular in the South since plantation days. Nowadays some cooks add flavorings such as vanilla or nutmeg, but old-fashioned hoe cakes have none. They are usually eaten with butter and syrup. I suppose Aunt Jemima syrup is cutting a little close to the bone.

Hoe Cakes

Ingredients

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten
2½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
¾ cup milk
½ cup water
⅓ cup melted butter
butter for frying

Instructions

Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, water, egg, and melted butter. Mix the ingredients thoroughly to form a smooth batter.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add a knob of butter and let it melt. Using a ladle that holds about 2 tablespoons, drop the pancake batter into the hot pan to make the hoe cakes one at a time. Do not overcrowd. I can usually make 4 in one batch.

Let each hoe cake fry until brown and crisp on one side. The top will bubble a little and start to set.  Turn with a spatula and brown the other side.

Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

Dec 082017
 

Today is the birthday (1865) of Jean Sibelius, born Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, Finnish composer and violinist of the late Romantic and early-modern periods who is widely recognized as his country’s greatest composer and, through his music, is often credited with having helped Finland to develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia. The core of his oeuvre is his set of 7 symphonies which, like his other major works, continue to be performed and recorded in his home country and internationally. His other best-known compositions are Finlandia, the Karelia Suite, Valse triste, the Violin Concerto, the choral symphony Kullervo, and The Swan of Tuonela (from the Lemminkäinen Suite). Yet other works include pieces inspired by nature, Nordic legend, and the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. He wrote over 100 songs for voice and piano, incidental music for numerous plays, the opera Jungfrun i tornet (The Maiden in the Tower), chamber music, piano music, Masonic ritual music, and 21 pieces of choral music.

Sibelius composed prolifically until the mid-1920s, but after completing his 7th symphony (1924), the incidental music for The Tempest (1926) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926), he failed to produce any major works in his last 30 years, a perplexing decline commonly referred to as “The Silence of Järvenpää”, the location of his home. Although he is reputed to have stopped composing, he attempted to continue writing, including abortive efforts on an eighth symphony. In later life, he wrote Masonic music and re-edited some earlier works while retaining an active, but not always favorable, interest in new developments in music.

Sibelius was born in Hämeenlinna in the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. He was the son of the Swedish-speaking docto,r Christian Gustaf Sibelius, and Maria Charlotta Sibelius née Borg. Sibelius’ father died of typhoid in July 1868, leaving substantial debts. As a result, his mother—who was again pregnant—had to sell their property and move the family into the home of Katarina Borg, her widowed mother, who also lived in Hämeenlinna. His uncle, Pehr Ferdinand Sibelius, who was interested in music, especially the violin, gave Sibelius a violin when he was 10 years old and later encouraged him in his interest in composition.

From an early age, Sibelius showed a strong interest in nature, frequently walking around the countryside when the family moved to Loviisa on the coast for the summer months. In his own words: “For me, Loviisa represented sun and happiness. Hämeenlinna was where I went to school; Loviisa was freedom.” When he was 7, in Hämeenlinna, his aunt Julia was brought in to give him piano lessons on the family’s upright instrument, rapping him on the knuckles whenever he played a wrong note. He progressed by improvising on his own, but still learned to read music. He much preferred it when he turned to the violin. He participated in trios with his elder sister Linda on piano, and his younger brother Christian on the cello. (Christian Sibelius was to become an eminent psychiatrist, still remembered for his contributions to modern psychiatry in Finland). In addition, Sibelius often played in quartets with neighboring families, adding to his experience in chamber music.

Fragments survive of his early compositions of the period, a trio, a piano quartet and a Suite in D Minor for violin and piano. Around 1881, he recorded on paper his short pizzicato piece Vattendroppar (Water Drops) for violin and cello although it might just have been a musical exercise. The first reference he himself made to composing comes in a letter from August 1883 in which he reveals he had composed a trio and was working on another: “They are rather poor, but it is nice to have something to do on rainy days.” In 1881, he started to take violin lessons from the local bandmaster, Gustaf Levander, immediately developing a particularly strong interest in the instrument. Setting his heart on a career as a great violin virtuoso, he soon succeeded in becoming quite an accomplished player, performing David’s Concerto in E minor in 1886 and, the following year, the last two movements of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in Helsinki. Despite such success as an instrumentalist, he ultimately chose to become a composer.

After graduating from high school in 1885, Sibelius began to study law at the Imperial Alexander University in Finland but, showing far more interest in music, soon moved to the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy) where he studied from 1885 to 1889. One of his teachers was its founder, Martin Wegelius, who did much to support the development of education in Finland. It was he who gave the self-taught Sibelius his first formal lessons in composition. Another important influence was his teacher Ferruccio Busoni, a pianist-composer with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship. His close circle of friends included the pianist and writer Adolf Paul and the conductor-to-be Armas Järnefelt, (who introduced him to his influential family including his sister Aino who would become Sibelius’s wife). The most remarkable of his works during this period was the Violin Sonata in F, rather reminiscent of Grieg.

Sibelius continued his studies in Berlin (from 1889 to 1890) with Albert Becker, and in Vienna (from 1890 to 1891) with Robert Fuchs and Karl Goldmark. In Berlin, he had the opportunity to widen his musical experience by going to a variety of concerts and operas, including the premiere of Richard Strauss’s Don Juan. He also heard the Finnish composer Robert Kajanus conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a program which included his symphonic poem Aino, a patriotic piece which may well have triggered Sibelius’s later interest in using the epic poem Kalevala as a basis for his own compositions. While in Vienna, he became particularly interested in the music of Anton Bruckner whom, for a time, he regarded as “the greatest living composer”, although he continued to show interest in the established works of Beethoven and Wagner. It was also in Vienna that he turned to orchestral composition, working on an Overture in E major and a Scène de Ballet. While embarking on Kullervo, an orchestral work inspired by the Kalevala, he fell ill but was restored to good health after surgery. Shortly after returning to Helsinki, he conducted his Overture and the Scène de Ballet at a popular concert. He was also able to continue working on Kullervo, now that he was increasingly developing an interest in all things Finnish. It premiered in Helsinki on 28 April 1892 and was an enormous success.

It was around this time that Sibelius finally abandoned his cherished aspirations as a violinist:

My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night. I hated pen and ink — unfortunately I preferred an elegant violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.

In addition to the long periods he spent studying in Vienna and Berlin (1889–91), in 1900 he traveled to Italy where he spent a year with his family. He composed, conducted and socialized actively in the Scandinavian countries, the UK, France and Germany and later traveled to the United States.

Rather than take on Sibelius’ entire oeuvre, I’ll touch on Finlandia here, commenting also on the ways it has been reworked for other uses. Finlandia, Op. 26, is a tone poem first written in 1899 and revised in 1900. The piece was originally composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire, and was the last of seven pieces performed as an accompaniment to tableaux depicting episodes from Finnish history. The premiere of the revised piece, now what is usually heard, was on 2 July 1900 in Helsinki with the Helsinki Philharmonic Society conducted by Robert Kajanus. In order to avoid Russian censorship, Finlandia had to be performed under alternative names at various musical concerts. Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous—famous examples include Happy Feelings at the awakening of Finnish Spring, and A Scandinavian Choral March.

The original movements for tableaux are as follows.

Preludium: Andante (ma non troppo)

Tableau 1: The Song of Väinämöinen

Tableau 2: The Finns are Baptized by Bishop Henry

Tableau 3: Scene from Duke Johan’s Court

Tableau 4: The Finns in the Thirty Years’ War

Tableau 5: The Great Hostility [referring to the scorched-earth and reprisal tactics of the Russian Army during its invasion of Finland, 1714-1721]

Tableau 6: Finland Awakes

In February 1899 Nicholas II, tsar of Russia, issued a “February Manifesto” which aimed to restrict the autonomy of the Grand Duchy of Finland. This stirred opposition in most Finnish cultural circles, and paintings with protest themes became very popular. Sibelius wished to use his music to add to the protests. In 1899 he wrote The Song of the Athenians and The Breaking of the Ice on Oulu River. The year was crowned by his music for tableaux staged as part of the main event of the Days of the Press. The performances took place at the beginning of November 1899 at the Swedish Theatre.

The tableaux depicted scenes from the history of Finland. In the “Great Hate” tableau the performance had a particularly sharp edge. Mother Finland was sitting in a snowdrift with her children who were shivering with cold. They were threatened by War, Frost, Hunger and Death. Sibelius composed the darkest and most ascetic music for this image.  “Finland Awakens” was an early version of Finlandia. Finlandia itself was certainly not composed to describe these various stages in any precise way. Sibelius wanted to portray Finland’s awakening and its fighting spirit in more general terms. Later Sibelius told Jalmari Finne that he had no idea that there was anything special about Finlandia. It was not until he took the score to the copyist Ernst Röllig that it occurred to him that there might be something out of the ordinary in the composition.

During the following months Kajanus and Sibelius conducted the best pieces of the tableau music in Helsinki and Turku. They decided to take the finale of the suite on the European tour of Kajanus’s orchestra. The tour would end at the World Exhibition in Paris. Axel Carpelan became nervous:

Why will only the last piece of this suite, which is written in a “symphonic style” (probably the best), be played in Paris? If I can trust what others have told me about this tableau music, the music should be played in its entirety or at least 4 movements of it. And I wonder if the title ‘La Patrie’ is a good idea?

It turned out to be difficult to find a suitable title for the composition: in previous concerts it had been Finland, The Awakening of Finland or Finale. On the tour, it was called Vaterland and La Patrie (and possibly other titles). However, in November 1900 the piano arrangement of the tableau was given the name Finlandia – a title suggested by Axel Carpelan – and in February 1901 Kajanus finally conducted the orchestral version of the work under the name Finlandia. Soon the work was printed in an improved version. As early as 1909 an excerpt was recorded under Ronald Landon.

Most of the piece is taken up with rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. Towards the end, a calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard. Often incorrectly cited as a traditional folk melody, the Hymn section is of Sibelius’s own creation. Sibelius later reworked the Finlandia Hymn into a stand-alone piece. This hymn, with words written in 1941 by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, is one of the most important national songs of Finland. With different words, it is also sung as a Christian hymn (Be Still, My Soul, Hail, Festal Day, in Italian evangelical churches: Veglia al mattino), and was used as the national anthem of the short-lived African state of Biafra (Land of the Rising Sun). In the spring of 1963, the Rice University student body voted to establish a school song (Rice is Our Home), using the music from the Finlandia Hymn. The song was played at the 1964 Rice Commencement, but otherwise never officially adopted.

Joulupöytä (“Yule table”) is the traditional assortment of foods served at Christmas in Finland, similar to the Swedish julbord. It contains a variety of different dishes, most of them typical for the season. The main dish is usually a large Christmas ham, which is eaten with mustard or bread along with the other dishes. Fish is also served (often lutefisk and gravlax), and the ham is served with laatikkos, casseroles made with swede, potato and carrot, occasionally liver. A dish from the joulupöytä would be suitable to celebrate Sibelius, especially at this time of year. Karjalan Paisti (Karelian Hot Pot) is a very common dish on the yule table and, as is to be expected, varies from household to household. I’m using here a combination of three meats, beef, pork, and lamb, but two is more common.  It is conventionally served with mashed potato and lingonberry preserves. Also, it can be cooked in three ways: on the stovetop, in the oven in a casserole, or in a slow cooker. The last method is the most common these days.

Karjalan Paisti

Ingredients

1 lb stewing beef, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb pork shoulder, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 lb stewing lamb (shoulder or breast), chopped into 1″ pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tsp whole peppercorns
8 whole allspice
2 bay leaves

Instructions

Brown the meats in small batches on all sides in a skillet over medium-high heat using the olive oil.

In whatever vessel you are using to cook the hotpot, layer the ingredients. Begin with half of the sliced onions, add half of the meat, and sprinkle with half of the salt, peppercorns, allspice, and add one bay leaf. Repeat the layers. Cover the meat with water, and tightly cover the vessel.

What happens next depends on your choice of cooking method. A slow cooker on low will take about 6 hours. A casserole in a slow oven (250˚F) will take around 4 or 5 hours. A pot on the stove on a slow simmer will take 3 to 4 hours. I prefer a slow cooker.

Dec 072017
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Ambrose of Milan, also known as Aurelius Ambrosius (c. 340 – 4 April 397), a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was the Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, headquartered in Milan, before being made bishop of Milan by popular acclamation in 374. Ambrose was a staunch opponent of Arianism, a branch of Christianity that had been declared heretical by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but which was still very popular in much of Christendom, including Milan and Lombardy. I’ll spare you the long theological explanation. It bored me rigid when I studied it as an undergraduate, and things have not improved. It all has to do with the nature of the Trinity: God, the Father; God the Son; and God the Holy Spirit. The Council of Nicaea asserted that the three members of the Trinity are co-eternal, that is, have always existed, whereas Arians believed that only God the Father has existed for all time, and God the Son was begotten by God the Father in time (that is, the Son is not eternal). I am pretty sure that the average Christian of the time had no understanding of the theological arguments that raged among the church fathers, and, furthermore, had no interest in them. But bishops, cardinals, and popes had deeply held views and came to blows often over such matters, sometimes literally.  In fact, it is claimed that the original Saint Nicholas (who morphed into Santa Claus), slapped Arius (main supporter of Arianism) on the ear at one point at the Council of Nicaea.

Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family about 340 and was raised in Gallia Belgica, the capital of which was Augusta Treverorum. His father is sometimes identified with Aurelius Ambrosius, a praetorian prefect of Gaul, but some scholars identify his father as an official named Uranius who received an imperial constitution dated 3 February 339. His mother was a woman of intellect and piety and a member of the Roman gens of Aurelii Symmachi. Thus, Ambrose was cousin of the famed orator Q. Aurelius Symmachus. There is a legend that as an infant, a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey. His father considered this a sign of his future eloquence and “honeyed” tongue. For this reason, bees and beehives often appear in Ambrose’s symbology.

After the early death of his father, Ambrose followed his father’s career. He was educated in Rome, studying literature, law, and rhetoric. Praetorian prefect Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus first gave him a place in the council and then in about 372 made him governor of Liguria and Emilia, with headquarters at Milan, which was then (after Rome) the second capital in Italy.

In the late 4th century there was a deep conflict in the diocese of Milan between the Nicene Church (followers of the rulings of the Council of Nicaea) and Arians. In 374 the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, an Arian, died, and the Arians created problems over the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent the expected turmoil and addressed the people. His speech was interrupted by a call, “Ambrose, bishop!” which was taken up by the whole assembly. Ambrose was known to be Nicene Christian in belief, but also acceptable to Arians due to the charity shown in theological matters in this regard. At first, he energetically refused the office, for which he was in no way prepared: he was not even baptized and had no formal training in theology. He fled to a colleague’s home seeking to hide, but his host received a letter from the emperor, Gratian, praising the appointment of Ambrose, so he gave him up. Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, apportioned his money to the poor, donating all of his land, making only provision for his sister Marcellina (who had become a nun), and committed the care of his family to his brother. This raised his popularity even further, giving him considerable political leverage over even the emperor. Ambrose also wrote a treatise called “The Goodness of Death”. Augustine deemed him to be a happy man as bishop, but celibacy was a burden to him.

After consecration as bishop Ambrose studied theology with Simplician, a presbyter of Rome. Using his excellent knowledge of Greek, which was then rare in the West, he studied the Bible in Greek as well as the works of the Greek church fathers, such as, Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he also exchanged letters. He applied this knowledge to his preaching which, among other things, led to the conversion of Augustine of Hippo, who, up to that point, had thought poorly of Christian preachers.

In Augustine’s Confessions there is a curious anecdote about Ambrose which has been interpreted as relevant to the history of reading in the West:

When [Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.

This is a celebrated passage in modern scholarly discussion leading some scholars to argue that Augustine thought that Ambrose was weird for reading silently, rather than reading out loud, and that Ambrose was one of the first people in the West to read to himself. I was taught this, in fact. It is, however, not a legitimate conclusion to draw from the passage. In Ambrose’s time few people were literate, and books were hard to come by because they had to be copied by hand and were expensive to produce. Consequently, anyone getting hold of a new book read it out loud to as many people as were interested. This was the normal practice so that large numbers of people could benefit from the book. Reading was, therefore, akin to public speaking. Ambrose was not an oddity because he had figured out how to read to himself: everyone could. He was an oddity because he preferred to read to himself, rather than to others. In this way he could absorb the text and contemplate it in his own fashion at his own pace, and not be distracted by the need to entertain others. The real historical question is therefore, “How did scholars routinely hammer out complex theological issues for themselves when the reading of significant texts were typically public events?”

In his early confrontation with the Arians, Ambrose sought to theologically refute their propositions, which were contrary to officially defined orthodoxy. The Arians appealed to many high-level leaders and clergy in both the Western and Eastern empires. Although the Western Emperor Gratian supported orthodoxy, the younger Valentinian II, who became his colleague in the Empire, was Arian. Ambrose did not sway the young prince’s position. In the East, Emperor Theodosius I likewise professed the Nicene creed; but there were many adherents of Arianism throughout his dominions, especially among the higher clergy.

In this contested state of religious opinion, two leaders of the Arians, bishops Palladius of Ratiaria and Secundianus of Singidunum, confident of numbers, prevailed upon Gratian to call a general council from all parts of the empire. This request appeared so equitable that he complied without hesitation. However, Ambrose feared the consequences and prevailed upon the emperor to have the matter determined by a council of the Western bishops. Accordingly, a synod composed of 32 bishops was held at Aquileia in the year 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius, being called upon to defend his opinions, declined. A vote was then taken, when Palladius and his associate Secundianus were deposed as bishops.

Nevertheless, the increasing strength of the Arians proved a formidable task for Ambrose. In 385 or 386 the emperor and his mother Justina, along with a considerable number of clergy and laity, especially the military, professed Arianism. They demanded two churches in Milan, one in the city (the Basilica of the Apostles), the other in the suburbs (St Victor’s), be allocated to the Arians. Ambrose refused and was required to answer for his conduct before the council. He went, and his eloquence in defense of the Church reportedly so overawed the ministers of Valentinian that he was permitted to leave without surrendering the churches to the Arians The next day, when he was performing divine service in the basilica, the prefect of the city came to persuade him to give up at least the Portian basilica in the suburbs. As he still refused, certain deans or officers of the court were sent to take possession of the Portian basilica, by hanging up imperial escutcheons in it, to prepare for the arrival of the emperor and his mother at the ensuing festival of Easter.

In spite of imperial opposition, Ambrose declared,

If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.

In 386 Justina and Valentinian received the Arian bishop Auxentius the younger, and Ambrose was again ordered to hand over a church in Milan for Arian usage. Ambrose and his congregation barricaded themselves inside the church, and the imperial order was rescinded.

The imperial court was displeased with Ambrose’s religious principles and adamant opposition, but the emperor soon needed his help. When Magnus Maximus usurped the supreme power in Gaul, and was meditating a conquest of Italy, Valentinian sent Ambrose to dissuade him from attacking, and he was successful. However, a second, later, embassy failed. Magnus entered Italy and Milan fell. Justina and her son fled, but Ambrose remained in Milan and helped his parishioners in need by melting down the church silver. Theodosius I, emperor of the East, espoused the cause of Justina, and regained the kingdom, but only after great bloodshed. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for the massacre of 7,000 people at Thessalonica in 390, in retaliation for the murder of the Roman governor there by rioters. Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt — Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance, showing the power that a strong bishop could wield, even over an emperor.

Soon after acquiring the undisputed possession of the Roman empire, Theodosius died at Milan in 395, and two years later (April 4, 397) Ambrose also died. He was succeeded as bishop of Milan by Simplician. Ambrose’s body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated — along with the bodies identified in his time as being those of Saints Gervase and Protase (the whereabouts of their remains having been revealed to Ambrose in a dream).

Ambrose ranks with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church, but I’ll pass over his theology. Read it on your own if you are interested. Instead I’ll say a word about his interest in music. Ambrose is traditionally credited with advancing the repertory of Ambrosian chant, also known simply as “antiphonal chant”, a method of chanting where one side of the choir alternately responds to the other. It is not known if he actually composed any chants, but they are named in his honor due to his contributions to the music of the Church in general. He is credited with introducing hymnody from the Eastern Church into the West, and composed several original hymns as well, four of which still survive, along with music which may not have changed too much from the original melodies. It is said that he composed the hymn “Te Deum” to celebrate his baptism of  Augustine of Hippo, his most celebrated convert. Importantly, for this time of year, he is credited with composing the Advent chant Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come, Redeemer of the People). It’s in Latin, but you may be helped by this version which has a translation into Italian — or maybe that won’t help you.

In turn, to celebrate Ambrose, I cannot resist a pun (which generally I hate). Ambrose is patron of bees and beekeeping, so we need honey in today’s recipe, and his name suggests “ambrosia,” food of the gods. That means our recipe has to be honey ambrosia, a spread made with honey and butter.

Honey Ambrosia

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup honey
¾ lb butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

Place the sugar, cream, and honey in a sauce pan. Heat on medium-high heat and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.

Place the softened butter in a blender or food processor and pour the hot honey mixture over the butter. Blend or pulse on medium speed until the ingredients and smooth and well mixed, adding the vanilla during the process.

Pour the mixture into an airtight container, cover, and let cool. Then refrigerate.

Honey ambrosia can be used as a spread for bread, toast, or biscuits, or it can be used between layers of cakes. Use your imagination.

 

Dec 062017
 

On this date in 1768 the publication of the 1st edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica began, more fully titled, Encyclopædia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, compiled upon a New Plan. In part, it was conceived in reaction to the French Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (published 1751–72), which had been inspired by Chambers’s Cyclopaedia (1st edition 1728). It appeared in 100 weekly instalments (“numbers”) from December 1768 to 1771.  The publication history of the Britannica is usually divided into five periods based on who the publishers were, how it was marketed, and where it was published. In the first period (1st–6th editions, 1768–1826), the Britannica was managed and published in Edinburgh by its founders, Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, then by Archibald Constable, and then by various others. The Britannica of this period was primarily a Scottish enterprise, and it is one of the most enduring legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment. In this era, the Britannica moved from being a 3-volume set (1st edition) compiled by one editor—William Smellie —to a 20-volume set written by numerous authorities. Several other encyclopaedias competed throughout this period, among them editions of Abraham Rees’s Cyclopædia and Coleridge’s Encyclopædia Metropolitana and David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopædia, but it was Britannica which endured, and is still being published (although no longer in print form).

At the age of 28, Smellie was hired by Macfarquhar and Bell to edit the first edition of the Britannica. In many respects it was a masterful composition although, by his own admission, Smellie borrowed liberally (i.e. plagiarized) from many authors of his day, such as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. Despite its many fine qualities, the first edition of the Britannica contained gross inaccuracies and fanciful speculations not supported by sources. For example, it states that excess use of tobacco could cause neurodegeneration, “drying up the brain to a little black lump consisting of mere membranes.” Smellie strove to make Britannica as usable as possible, saying that “utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication. Wherever this intention does not plainly appear, neither the books nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind”. Smellie entertained strong opinions; for example, he defines farriery as “the art of curing the diseases of horses. The practice of this useful art has been hitherto almost entirely confined to a set of men who are totally ignorant of anatomy, and the general principles of medicine.” Sometimes Smellie could be rather too brief. His article on “Woman” has but four words: “the female of man.” Despite its incompleteness and inaccuracies, Smellie’s vivid prose and the easy navigation of the first edition led to strong demand for a second. Some engravings by Andrew Bell, that were considered prurient and later censored by King George III, may also have contributed to the success of the first edition. Smellie did not participate in the second edition onwards of the Britannica, because he objected to the inclusion of biographical articles in an encyclopedia dedicated to the arts and sciences. Instead, friends of the editors were recruited for new material.

During the second period (7th–9th editions, 1827–1901), the Britannica was taken over by the Edinburgh publishing firm A & C Black. Although some contributors were again recruited through friendships of the chief editors, notably Macvey Napier, others were attracted by the Britannica‘s reputation. The contributors often came from other countries and included the world’s most respected authorities in their fields. A general index of all articles was included for the first time in the 7th edition, a practice maintained until 1974.

Production of the 9th edition was overseen by Thomas Spencer Baynes, the first English-born editor-in-chief. Called the “Scholar’s Edition”, the 9th edition is, indeed, the most scholarly of all Britannicas. After 1880, Baynes was assisted by William Robertson Smith. No biographies of living persons were included. James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Huxley were special advisors on science. However, by the close of the 19th century, the 9th edition was outdated, and the Britannica faced financial difficulties.

In the third period (10th–14th editions, 1901–1973), the Britannica was managed by U.S. businessmen who introduced direct marketing and door-to-door sales. The U.S. owners gradually simplified articles, making them less scholarly for a mass market. The 10th edition was a nine-volume supplement to the 9th, but the 11th edition was a completely new work, and is still praised for excellence; its owner, Horace Hooper, lavished enormous effort on its perfection.

When Hooper fell into financial difficulties, the Britannica was managed by Sears Roebuck for 18 years (1920–1923, 1928–1943). In 1932, the vice-president of Sears, Elkan Harrison Powell, assumed presidency of the Britannica, and in 1936, he began the policy of continuous revision. This was a departure from earlier practice, in which the articles were not changed until a new edition was produced, at roughly 25-year intervals, with some articles completely unchanged from earlier editions. Powell developed new educational products that built upon the Britannica‘s reputation.

In 1943, Sears donated the Encyclopædia Britannica to the University of Chicago. William Benton, then a vice president of the University, provided the working capital for its operation. The stock was divided between Benton and the University, with the University holding an option on the stock. Benton became Chairman of the Board and managed the Britannica until his death in 1973. Benton set up the Benton Foundation, which managed the Britannica until 1996. In 1968, near the end of this era, the Britannica celebrated its bicentennial.

My family owned a set of Britannicas from this third period (revised 14th), when I was growing up, and later I bought my own copy (as a memento of childhood), in a basement sale in my local library in Port Jervis, New York.  My father bought his edition of the Britannica when he was a medical student at King’s College, London, in the early 1950s, from a door-to-door salesman. It was in a red cloth binding, called the student binding, that is, the cheapest on offer. Britannica was a gold mine for the whole family during my childhood, even though pretty much all of the articles on science and technology were completely outdated. My father bought a fold top desk with a glass fronted bookcase as a base to house the encyclopedia, and it traveled the world with us. We shipped it to Australia and back again, and he still had it in Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire when he died. My sisters and I both worked at that desk, with Britannica at our feet, for may years as schoolchildren. I used the articles to assist with homework until my middle years in secondary school, especially for geography and history. When I first started reading articles, when I was about 7 years old, they seemed to weighty and impossibly academic, but by the time I was 16 they had all become dated and less than satisfactory for my needs.  Nonetheless I bought a similar edition, in a blue leather binding this time, purely as a memento of childhood. Once in a while I would dip in to recall those innocent days.

An 18th century Scottish recipe is called for, and since we are in the Advent season leading to Christmas let’s have roastit bubblyjock (roast turkey) from an 18th century cook, Susanna MacIver, who ran a cooking school in Edinburgh, and published Cookery and Pastry in 1774, among its highlights being the first printed recipe for Scottish haggis (reminding me that William Smellie, first editor of Britannica, was a friend of Robert Burns). Several things to note. I suspect she does not mean to stuff the turkey under the breast skin (although this works well), but to stuff the cavity. In MacIver’s day poultry was sold with the head and feet attached, and this is still true in Asia in general. The “gravy-sauce” under the roasting turkey would be a dripping pan, which you then take up and use to cook the sauce. Sauce thickened with bread, rather then flour, can turn to a thick bread sauce if you let it. Bread sauce is traditional for poultry in Britain, but MacIver is suggesting a thinner gravy.

To roast and stuff a Turkey

Slit it up and the back of the neck; take out the crop; make the stuffing of crumbs of bread and currants; a little sugar and a scrape of nutmeg; work it up with a piece of fresh butter and a beat egg; fill up the breast with it, and skewer it with the head looking over the wing; it must be well floured and basted with butter, and roasted with a clear, quick fire; put a gravy-sauce under it; make a sauce of some thin sliced bread, some water, a little white wine, a blade of mace, some sugar, and a piece of fresh butter; let all boil until is it very smooth; and don’t let it be too thick. Send it up in a sauce boat.

Nov 292017
 

 

On this date in 1877 Thomas Edison publicly demonstrated what he called at the time a “talking machine.” As with most of Edison’s inventions he was not the first in the field, nor were his ideas completely original. But he did produce a workable prototype, based, in part, on ideas that others had been working on, and he had both the engineering and marketing skills to bring what became known as the phonograph to a wide public, hence he is generally credited with being the sole inventor of what evolved into the gramophone and record player. To set the record straight (no pun intended), here’s a small video demonstrating precursors of Edison’s device.

The great breakthrough that Edison made was that his device could both record and play back recorded sounds. The sounds on the video have been recreated via modern technology. Several inventors devised machines to record sound prior to Thomas Edison’s phonograph, Edison being the first to invent a device that could both record and reproduce sound. The phonograph’s predecessors include Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s phonautograph, and Charles Cros’s paleophone. Recordings made with the phonautograph were intended to be visual representations of the sound and could not be reproduced as sound until 2008. Cros’s paleophone was intended to both record and reproduce sound but had not been developed beyond a basic concept at the time of Edison’s successful demonstration of the phonograph in 1877.

Direct tracings of the vibrations of sound-producing objects such as tuning forks had been made by English physician Thomas Young in 1807, but the first known device for recording airborne speech, music and other sounds is the phonautograph, patented in 1857 by French typesetter and inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. In this device, sound waves travelling through the air vibrated a parchment diaphragm which was linked to a bristle, and the bristle traced a line through a thin coating of soot on a sheet of paper wrapped around a rotating cylinder. The sound vibrations were recorded as undulations or other irregularities in the traced line. Scott’s phonautograph was intended purely for the visual study and analysis of the tracings. Reproduction of the recorded sound was not possible with the original phonautograph. In 2008, phonautograph recordings made by Scott were played back as sound by US audio historians, who used optical scanning and computer processing to convert the traced waveforms into digital audio files. These recordings, made circa 1860, include fragments of two French songs and a recitation in Italian.

Charles Cros

Charles Cros, a French poet and amateur scientist, is the first person known to have made the conceptual leap from recording sound as a traced line to the theoretical possibility of reproducing the sound from the tracing and then to devising a definite method for accomplishing the reproduction. On April 30, 1877, he deposited a sealed envelope containing a summary of his ideas with the French Academy of Sciences, a standard procedure used by scientists and inventors to establish priority of conception of unpublished ideas in the event of any later dispute.

Cros proposed the use of photoengraving, a process already in use to make metal printing plates from line drawings, to convert an insubstantial phonautograph tracing in soot into a groove or ridge on a metal disc or cylinder. This metal surface would then be given the same motion and speed as the original recording surface. A stylus linked to a diaphragm would be made to ride in the groove or on the ridge so that the stylus would be moved back and forth in accordance with the recorded vibrations. It would transmit these vibrations to the connected diaphragm, and the diaphragm would transmit them to the air, reproducing the original sound.

An account of his invention was published on October 10, 1877, by which date Cros had devised a more direct procedure: the recording stylus could scribe its tracing through a thin coating of acid-resistant material on a metal surface and the surface could then be etched in an acid bath, producing the desired groove without the complication of an intermediate photographic procedure. The author of this article called the device a “phonographe”, but Cros himself favored the word “paleophone”, sometimes rendered in French as “voix du passé” (voice of the past), which accorded well with his vision of his invention’s potential for creating an archive of sound recordings that would be available to listeners in the distant future.

Cros was a poet of meager means, not in a position to pay a machinist to build a working model, and largely content to bequeath his ideas to the public domain free of charge and let others reduce them to practice, but after the earliest reports of Edison’s invention crossed the Atlantic he had his sealed letter of April 30 opened and read at the December 3, 1877 meeting of the French Academy of Sciences, claiming due scientific credit for priority of conception.

Throughout the first decade (1890–1900) of commercial production of the earliest crude disc records, the direct acid-etch method first invented by Cros was used to create the metal master discs, but Cros was not around to claim any credit or to witness the humble beginnings of the eventually rich phonographic library he had foreseen. He had died in 1888 at the age of 45.

Edison conceived the principle of recording and reproducing sound between May and July 1877 as a byproduct of his efforts to “play back” recorded telegraph messages and to automate speech sounds for transmission by telephone. He announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and replaying sound, on November 21, 1877 (early reports appear in Scientific American and several newspapers in the beginning of November, and an even earlier announcement of Edison working on a ‘talking-machine’ can be found in the Chicago Daily Tribune on May 9), and he demonstrated the device for the first time on November 29 (it was patented on February 19, 1878 as US Patent 200,521).

In December, 1877, a young man came into the office of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, and placed before the editors a small, simple machine about which very few preliminary remarks were offered. The visitor without any ceremony whatever turned the crank, and to the astonishment of all present the machine said: “Good morning. How do you do? How do you like the phonograph?” The machine thus spoke for itself, and made known the fact that it was the phonograph.

Edison presented his own account of inventing the phonograph:

I was experimenting, on an automatic method of recording telegraph messages on a disk of paper laid on a revolving platen, exactly the same as the disk talking-machine of to-day. The platen had a spiral groove on its surface, like the disk. Over this was placed a circular disk of paper; an electromagnet with the embossing point connected to an arm traveled over the disk; and any signals given through the magnets were embossed on the disk of paper. If this disc was removed from the machine and put on a similar machine provided with a contact point, the embossed record would cause the signals to be repeated into another wire. The ordinary speed of telegraphic signals is thirty-five to forty words a minute; but with this machine several hundred words were possible.

From my experiments on the telephone I knew of how to work a pawl connected to the diaphragm; and this engaging a ratchet-wheel served to give continuous rotation to a pulley. This pulley was connected by a cord to a little paper toy representing a man sawing wood. Hence, if one shouted: ‘ Mary had a little lamb,’ etc., the paper man would start sawing wood. I reached the conclusion that if I could record the movements of the diaphragm properly, I could cause such records to reproduce the original movements imparted to the diaphragm by the voice, and thus succeed in recording and reproducing the human voice.

Instead of using a disk I designed a little machine using a cylinder provided with grooves around the surface. Over this was to be placed tinfoil, which easily received and recorded the movements of the diaphragm. A sketch was made, and the piece-work price, $18, was marked on the sketch. I was in the habit of marking the price I would pay on each sketch. If the workman lost, I would pay his regular wages; if he made more than the wages, he kept it. The workman who got the sketch was John Kruesi. I didn’t have much faith that it would work, expecting that I might possibly hear a word or so that would give hope of a future for the idea. Kruesi, when he had nearly finished it, asked what it was for. I told him I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted ‘Mary had a little lamb’, etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly. I was never so taken aback in my life. Everybody was astonished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of.

The music critic Herman Klein attended an early demonstration (1881–2) of a similar machine. On the early phonograph’s reproductive capabilities he writes

It sounded to my ear like someone singing about half a mile away, or talking at the other end of a big hall; but the effect was rather pleasant, save for a peculiar nasal quality wholly due to the mechanism, though there was little of the scratching which later was a prominent feature of the flat disc. Recording for that primitive machine was a comparatively simple matter. I had to keep my mouth about six inches away from the horn and remember not to make my voice too loud if I wanted anything approximating to a clear reproduction; that was all. When it was played over to me and I heard my own voice for the first time, one or two friends who were present said that it sounded rather like mine; others declared that they would never have recognised it. I daresay both opinions were correct.

Edison’s early phonographs recorded on to a thin sheet of metal, normally tinfoil, which was temporarily wrapped around a helically grooved cylinder mounted on a correspondingly threaded rod supported by plain and threaded bearings. While the cylinder was rotated and slowly progressed along its axis, the airborne sound vibrated a diaphragm connected to a stylus that indented the foil into the cylinder’s groove, thereby recording the vibrations as “hill-and-dale” variations of the depth of the indentation.

Playback was accomplished by exactly repeating the recording procedure, the only difference being that the recorded foil now served to vibrate the stylus, which transmitted its vibrations to the diaphragm and onward into the air as audible sound. Although Edison’s very first experimental tinfoil phonograph used separate and somewhat different recording and playback assemblies, in subsequent machines a single diaphragm and stylus served both purposes. One peculiar consequence was that it was possible to overdub additional sound onto a recording being played back. The recording was heavily worn by each playing, and it was nearly impossible to accurately remount a recorded foil after it had been removed from the cylinder. In this form, the only practical use that could be found for the phonograph was as a startling novelty for private amusement at home or public exhibitions for profit.

Edison’s early patents show that he was aware that sound could be recorded as a spiral on a disc, but Edison concentrated his efforts on cylinders, since the groove on the outside of a rotating cylinder provides a constant velocity to the stylus in the groove, which Edison considered more “scientifically correct”. Edison’s patent specified that the audio recording be embossed, and it was not until 1886 that vertically modulated engraved recording using wax-coated cylinders was patented by Chichester Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter. They named their version the Graphophone.

The use of a flat recording surface instead of a cylindrical one was an obvious alternative which Charles Cros initially favored and which Edison and others actually tested in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The oldest surviving example is a copper electrotype of a recording cut into a wax disc in 1881. The commercialization of sound recording technology was initially aimed at use for business correspondence and transcription into writing, in which the cylindrical form offered certain advantages, the storage of large numbers of records seemed unlikely, and the ease of producing multiple copies was not a consideration.

In 1887, Emile Berliner patented a variant of the phonograph which he named the Gramophone. Berliner’s approach was essentially the same one proposed, but never implemented, by Charles Cros in 1877. The diaphragm was linked to the recording stylus in a way that caused it to vibrate laterally (side to side) as it traced a spiral onto a zinc disc very thinly coated with a compound of beeswax. The zinc disc was then immersed in a bath of chromic acid; this etched a groove into the disc where the stylus had removed the coating, after which the recording could be played. With some later improvements the flat discs of Berliner could be produced in large quantities at much lower cost than the cylinders of Edison’s system.

When Edison moved to New York in 1869 he had no money, but managed to trade some tea leaves for a breakfast of baked apple dumplings, and he states that they remained his favorite food. This recipe comes Gold Medal Flour Cook Book of 1904. Previously it had been printed on Gold Medal flour bags, so is likely to be close to what Edison ate.

Baked Apple Dumplings

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
6 baking apples, about 3 inches in diameter (such as Braeburn, Granny Smith or Rome)
3 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons chopped nuts
2 ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 ⅓ cups water

Steps

1. Heat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Cut in the butter, using a pastry blender or fork, until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle with the cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well with fork until all flour is moistened. Gather the dough together, and press it into a 6×4-inch rectangle.

2. Lightly sprinkle flour over a cutting board or countertop. Cut off ⅓ of the dough with a knife; set aside. On the floured surface, place ⅔ of the dough. Flatten dough evenly, using hands or a rolling pin, into a 14-inch square; cut into 4 squares. Flatten the remaining ⅓ of the dough into a 14×7-inch rectangle; cut into 2 squares. You will have 6 squares of dough.

3. Remove the stem end from each apple. Place the apple on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, cut around the core by pushing the knife straight down to the bottom of the apple and pull up. Move the knife and make the next cut. Repeat until you have cut around the apple core. Push the core from the apple. (Or remove the cores with an apple corer.) Peel the apples with a paring knife.

4. Place 1 apple on the center of each square of dough. In a small bowl, mix the raisins and nuts. Fill the center of each apple with raisin mixture. Moisten the corners of each square with small amount of water; bring 2 opposite corners of dough up over apple and press corners together. Fold in sides of remaining corners; bring corners up over apple and press together. Place dumplings in a 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish.

5. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the brown sugar and 1 ⅓ cups water to boiling over high heat, stirring frequently. Carefully pour the sugar syrup around the dumplings.

6. Bake about 40 minutes, spooning syrup over apples 2 or 3 times, until crust is browned and apples are tender when pierced with a fork.

7. Serve warm or cooled with syrup from pan.

Makes 4

 

 

Nov 282017
 

On this date in 1909 Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto number 3 in D minor (affectionately known as Rach 3) was first performed by Rachmaninoff himself with the now-defunct New York Symphony Society, Walter Damrosch conducting, at the New Theater (later rechristened the Century Theater). Rach 3 has the, well-deserved, reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in the standard classical repertoire. Here’s a recording of Vladimir Horowitz who is largely responsible for making Rach 3 as popular as it is today:

Rachmaninoff played the concerto again on January 16, 1910 under the baton of Gustav Mahler, which Rachmaninoff treasured because of Mahler’s famous attention to detail. Rachmaninoff wrote:

At that time Mahler was the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with Nikisch. He devoted himself to the concerto until the accompaniment, which is rather complicated, had been practiced to perfection, although he had already gone through another long rehearsal. According to Mahler, every detail of the score was important — an attitude too rare amongst conductors. … Though the rehearsal was scheduled to end at 12:30, we played and played, far beyond this hour, and when Mahler announced that the first movement would be rehearsed again, I expected some protest or scene from the musicians, but I did not notice a single sign of annoyance. The orchestra played the first movement with a keen or perhaps even closer appreciation than the previous time.

Rach 3 generally follows the classical, standard form for a concerto. It has three movements:

  1. Allegro ma non tanto (D minor)

The first movement involves a first theme, a diatonic melody, that resonates throughout, and a second theme in B♭ major, that drifts in and out.  The movement reaches a number of ferocious climaxes, especially in the cadenza. Rachmaninoff wrote two versions of this cadenza: the chordal original, which is commonly notated as the ossia, and a second one with a lighter, toccata-like style. Both cadenzas lead into a quiet solo section where the flute, oboe, clarinet and horn restate the first theme of the exposition, accompanied by delicate arpeggios in the piano. The cadenza then ends quietly, but the piano alone continues to play a quiet development of the exposition’s second theme in E♭ major before leading to the recapitulation, where the first theme is restated by the piano, with the orchestra accompanying, closing with a quiet, rippling coda reminiscent of the second theme.

  1. Intermezzo: Adagio (D minor → F♯ minor → D♭ major → B♭ minor → F♯ minor → D minor)

The second movement has two themes, moving from minor to major in a series of developments and recapitulations before the first theme from the first movement re-emerges. The movement is closed by the orchestra in a manner similar to the introduction, but then the piano gets the last word with a short cadenza-like passage which moves into the last movement without pause.

  1. Finale: Alla breve (D minor → D major)

The third movement is quick and vigorous, containing variations on many of the themes that are used in the first movement. However, after the first and second themes it diverges from the regular sonata-allegro form. There is no conventional development; that segment is replaced by a lengthy digression using the major key of the third movement’s first theme, which leads to the two themes from the first movement. After the digression, the movement recapitulation returns to the original themes, building up to a toccata climax somewhat similar but lighter than the first movement’s ossia cadenza and accompanied by the orchestra. The movement concludes with a triumphant and passionate second theme melody in D major. The piece ends with the same four-note as both Rachmaninoff’s second concerto and second symphony: claimed by some critics as his “musical signature.”

Rachmaninoff, under pressure, and hoping to make his work more popular, authorized several cuts in the score, to be made at the performer’s discretion. These cuts, particularly in the second and third movements, were commonly taken in performance and recordings during the initial decades following the concerto’s publication, particularly by Horowitz. More recently, it has become commonplace to perform the concerto without cuts.

Rachmaninoff composed the concerto at his wife’s family’s country estate, Ivanovka, where he often retired to have the serenity to compose in peace; completing it on September 23, 1909.

The concerto is respected, even feared, by many pianists. Josef Hofmann, the pianist to whom the work is dedicated, never publicly performed it, saying that it wasn’t for him – presumably meaning he was afraid to play it.  Gary Graffman lamented he had not learned this concerto as a student, when he was “still too young to know fear.” Due to time constraints, Rachmaninoff himself could not practice the piece while in Russia. Instead, he practiced it on a silent keyboard that he brought with him while en route to the United States.

I am not a pianist, so I cannot speak to the technical difficulties of the piece. It is often called the K2 of the piano repertoire, K2 being the second highest peak in the world, but the most dangerous mountain to climb: killing one in four people who attempt to reach the summit. Some players or commentators claim that the technical difficulty of the piece derives from the fact that Rachmaninoff had abnormally large hands’ with very long fingers, and may also have had Marfan syndrome, meaning that he had unusually flexible joints. From thumb to little finger he could span a major 13th (an average player can span an octave — that is, perfect 8th).

While Rachmaninoff’s physical peculiarities are a matter of record, they do not, in and of themselves, explain the technical difficulties of the piece. Django Reinhardt played amazing guitar solos using only two fingers on his left hand because the others were paralyzed. I’m not saying that Reinhardt and Rachmaninoff are comparable in any way; merely pointing out that you do not have to be a genetic freak to play difficult piano passages – but you do have to work hard at it.

The movie Shine (1996), concerning the life trials of the Australian pianist David Helfgott, features the concerto, and is responsible for giving it the nickname Rach 3. It contains this dialog between Helfgott and his teacher, Cecil Parks:

Parkes: Rachmaninov? Are you sure?
David: Kind of. I’m not really sure about anything.
Parkes: The Rach 3. It’s monumental.
David: It’s a mountain. The hardest piece you could everest play.
Parkes: No one’s ever been mad enough to attempt the Rach Three.
David: Am I mad enough, professor? Am I?

In my amateur opinion, I would venture to say that the Rach 3 is not so very different from many other technically difficult piano pieces in that it’s not just a matter of getting the notes right, but doing them justice.

Rachmaninoff often has the reputation these days for being a rather lugubrious presence because he was tall (6’ 6”/198 cm) and thin, and given to long bouts of depression, especially following poor receptions of his works. But his friends always tempered this judgment by saying that he loved good food, and was a rollicking dinner companion. He and Stravinsky were good friends, despite their radically different musical visions, and often dined together in Russia, leading to one of those tales that musicians love to tell about the famous. One night, Stravinsky had gone to bed late after working on his orchestral suite, “Four Norwegian Moods,” and, as he was dozing off, he was startled by footsteps on the porch outside. A minute later, Rachmaninoff was towering over his bed carrying a huge jar of natural honey. A few nights previously, over a meal, Stravinsky had mentioned how much he loved honey, so Rachmaninoff felt compelled to bring some round, regardless of the hour.

I also have a newspaper clipping from a reporter in Texas who interviewed Rachmaninoff over dinner when he was on tour. The reporter notes that Rachmaninoff ordered lobster salad in avocado, seafood chowder, and a salad. It’s a start, and prevents me from digging into my archive of Saint Petersburg recipes. I think that pairing lobster salad with avocado is an excellent idea, but I prefer to serve the lobster and avocado separately (with some lettuce), to able to control the balance of lobster and avocado better. If you simply remove the avocado pit, the remaining hole does not have much room in it for the lobster. Furthermore, I like the lobster meat in lobster salad to contain some nice big chunks.

For four diners I’d start with 1 lb of cooked lobster meat with the claw and tail meat as whole as possible. If you want smaller pieces break it up with your hands, rather than cutting it.  Toss the lobster in freshly squeezed lemon juice and add ½ cup of thinly sliced celery. Mix everything together with about 5 tablespoons of the best mayonnaise you can find (or make it yourself). Peel and slice one whole avocado per person. Sprinkle with fresh lime juice, and serve the avocado with ¼ of the lobster salad on a bed of lettuce or mixed greens. Served this way it is a main course.

 

 

Nov 272017
 

Today is the birthday (1940) of Li Jun-fan (李振藩)known professionally as Bruce Lee, an enormously influential actor, film director, martial artist, martial arts instructor, and founder of the Jeet Kune Do style of wushu or kungfu. He is widely considered by commentators, critics, media, and other martial artists to be one of the most important martial artists of all time, and a pop culture icon of the 20th century. He is also credited with helping to change the way Asians were presented in Hollywood films.

Lee was born on November 27, 1940, at the Chinese Hospital, in San Francisco’s Chinatown. According to the Chinese zodiac, Lee was born in both the hour and the year of the Dragon, which according to tradition is a strong and fortuitous omen. Lee and his parents returned to Hong Kong when he was three months old. Bruce’s father, Lee Hoi-chuen, (李海泉) was Han Chinese, and his mother, Grace Ho (何愛瑜), was of Eurasian ancestry. Grace Ho was the adopted daughter of Ho Kom-tong (何甘棠) and the half-niece of Sir Robert Ho-tung, both notable Hong Kong businessmen and philanthropists. Bruce was the fourth child of five: Phoebe Lee (李秋源), Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), Peter Lee (李忠琛), and Robert Lee (李振輝). Grace’s biological parentage remains unclear, but a common belief is that she had a German father and a Chinese mother.

In Chinese naming customs, the family name comes first, and the given name is second. Given names are typically unique, given by parents for some personal reason, and may be homophonically ambiguous. In Cantonese Jun-fan sounds like “return again” and was given to Lee by his mother, who hoped he would return to the United States when he came of age. The English name Bruce is thought to have been given him by the hospital attending physician, Dr. Mary Glover. Lee had three other Chinese names: Li Yuanxin (李源鑫), a family/clan name; Li Yuanjian (李元鑒), which he used as a student name while he was attending La Salle College, and his Chinese screen name Li Xiaolong (李小龍; Xiaolong means “little dragon”). Lee’s given name Jun-fan was originally written in Chinese as 震藩, however, the Jun (震) Chinese character was identical to part of his grandfather’s name, Lee Jun-biu (李震彪). In consequence, the Chinese character for Jun in Lee’s name was changed to the homonym 振 instead, to avoid a naming taboo in Chinese tradition. The character 李 in his name can be transcribed as Lee or Li using the Roman alphabet; the pinyin is Lǐ, which can mean “plum.”

Lee’s father, was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors of his day, and was embarking on a year-long opera tour with his family on the eve of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. He had been touring the United States for many years and performing in numerous Chinese communities there. Although many of his peers decided to stay in the US, Lee’s father returned to Hong Kong after Bruce’s birth. Within months, Hong Kong was invaded and the Lees lived for almost 4 years under Japanese occupation. Lee’s mother was from one of the wealthiest and most powerful clans in Hong Kong, the Ho-tungs. As such, the young Bruce Lee grew up in an affluent and privileged environment. Despite the advantage of his family’s status, the neighborhood in which Lee grew up became overcrowded, dangerous, and full of gang rivalries due to an influx of refugees fleeing communist China for Hong Kong, which at that time was a British Crown colony. After Lee was involved in several street fights, his parents decided that he needed to be trained in the martial arts. Lee’s first introduction to martial arts was through his father, from whom he learned the fundamentals of Wu-style t’ai chi ch’uan.

The greatest influence on Lee’s martial arts development was his study of Wing Chun. Lee began training in Wing Chun when he was 16 years old under the Wing Chun teacher Yip Man in 1957, after losing several fights with rival gang members. Yip’s regular classes generally consisted of practicing forms, chi sao (sticking hands) drills, wooden dummy techniques, and free-sparring. There was no set pattern to the classes; Yip tried to keep his students from fighting in the street gangs of Hong Kong by encouraging them to fight in organized competitions.

After a year into his Wing Chun training, most of Yip Man’s other students refused to train with Lee after they learned of his mixed ancestry, because the Chinese were generally against teaching their martial arts techniques to non-Asians. Lee continued to train privately with Yip Man and Wong Shun Leung in 1955.

In the spring of 1959, Lee got into another street fight and the police were called. Until his late teens, Lee’s street fights became more frequent and included beating the son of a feared triad family. Eventually, Lee’s father decided his son should leave Hong Kong to pursue a safer and healthier life in the United States. His parents confirmed the police’s fear that this time Lee’s opponent had an organized crime background, and there was the possibility that a contract was out for his life. In April 1959, Lee’s parents sent him to the United States to stay with his older sister, Agnes Lee (李秋鳳), who was already living with family friends in San Francisco. After living in San Francisco for several months, he moved to Seattle in 1959, to continue his high school education, where he also worked for Ruby Chow as a live-in waiter at her restaurant. In December 1960, Lee completed his high school education and received his diploma from Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College, located on Capitol Hill in Seattle). In March 1961, Lee enrolled at the University of Washington, majoring in drama, but also studying philosophy, psychology, and various other subjects.It was at the University of Washington that he met his future wife Linda Emery, a fellow student studying to become a teacher. They were married in 1964.

Lee began teaching martial arts in the United States in 1959. He called what he taught Jun Fan Gung Fu. It was basically his approach to Wing Chun. Lee taught friends he met in Seattle, starting with Judo practitioner Jesse Glove, and opened the Lee Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute, in Seattle. Lee dropped out of college in the spring of 1964 and moved to Oakland to live with James Yimm Lee (嚴鏡海), a well known Chinese martial artist in the area. Together, they founded the second Jun Fan martial art studio in Oakland. James Lee was also responsible for introducing Bruce Lee to Ed Parker, organizer of the Long Beach International Karate Championships at which Bruce Lee was later “discovered” by Hollywood.

At the invitation of Ed Parker, Lee appeared in the 1964 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed repetitions of two-finger push-ups (using the thumb and the index finger of one hand) with feet at approximately a shoulder-width apart. In the same Long Beach event he also performed the “One inch punch.” Lee could stood upright, his right foot forward with knees bent slightly, in front of a standing, stationary partner with right fist approximately one inch (2.5 cm) away from the partner’s chest, and, without retracting his right arm, deliver a punch to his partner that would send him sprawling to the floor. His first volunteer was Bob Baker of Stockton, California who recalled, “When he punched me that last time, I had to stay home from work because the pain in my chest was unbearable.”

Lee appeared at the 1967 Long Beach International Karate Championships and performed various demonstrations, including his famous “unstoppable punch” against USKA world Karate champion Vic Moore. Here, as with many other of Lee’s competitive bouts, Lee’s version of events and his opponent’s version differ significantly. Lee claims he threw 8 straight punches to Moore’s face (stopping before contact), and Moore failed to block any of them because Lee was too quick. Moore denies this, claiming he blocked every punch.

In Oakland, California in 1964 in Chinatown, Lee had a controversial private match with Wong Jack Man, a student of Ma Kin Fung known for his mastery of Xingyiquan, Northern Shaolin, and T’ai chi ch’uan. According to Lee, the Chinese community issued an ultimatum to him to stop teaching non-Chinese. When he refused to comply, he was challenged to a combat match with Wong. The arrangement was that if Lee lost, he would have to shut down his school; while if he won, then Lee would be free to teach Caucasians or anyone else. Wong denied this, stating that he requested to fight Lee after Lee boasted during one of his demonstrations at a Chinatown theatre that he could beat anyone in San Francisco, and that Wong himself did not discriminate against Caucasians or other non-Chinese. Individuals known to have witnessed the match include Cadwell, James Lee (Bruce Lee’s associate, no relation), and William Chen, a teacher of T’ai chi ch’uan. Wong and William Chen stated that the fight lasted an unusually long 20–25 minutes. Wong claims that he had originally expected a serious but polite bout; however, Lee attacked him very aggressively with intent to kill, straight from the beginning of the bout when he had replied to Wong’s traditional handshake offer by pretending to accept the handshake, but instead turning that hand into a spear aimed at Wong’s eyes. Forced to defend his life, he had nonetheless refrained from striking Lee with killing force when the opportunity presented itself because it would land him in prison. Wong claims the fight ended due to Lee’s “unusually winded” condition, as opposed to a decisive blow by either fighter. According to Bruce Lee, Linda Lee Cadwell, and James Yimm Lee, however, the fight lasted a mere 3 minutes with a decisive victory for Lee. In Cadwell’s account, “The fight ensued, it was a no-holds-barred fight, it took three minutes. Bruce got this guy down to the ground and said ‘Do you give up?’ and the man said he gave up.” The bout is famous, and accounts vary enormously. The part I tend to believe is that Lee got over-emotional in the fight and friends broke it up. From there it seems likely to me that both sides evolved a story flattering to themselves to avoid losing face. Losing face is a BIG DEAL among Chinese.

After filming one season of The Green Hornet in 1967 Lee was out of work and opened The Jun Fan Institute of Gung Fu. The controversial match with Wong Jack Man changed Lee’s philosophy of martial arts. Lee concluded that the fight had lasted too long and that he had failed to live up to his potential using his Wing Chun techniques. He took the view that traditional martial arts techniques were too rigid and formalistic to be practical in street fighting. He decided to develop a system with an emphasis on “practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency”. He started to use different methods of training such as weight training for strength, running for endurance, stretching for flexibility, and many others which he constantly adapted, including fencing and basic boxing techniques.

Lee emphasized what he called “the style of no style”. This consisted of getting rid of the formalized approach of traditional styles. His system of Jun Fan Gung Fu was even too restrictive, and eventually evolved into a philosophy and martial art he came to call Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Intercepting Fist), a term he later regret, because it implied a certain style whereas the idea of his martial art was to exist outside of parameters and limitations.

Lee was introduced into films at a very young age and appeared in several films as a child because of his father’s fame as a Chinese opera star. He had his first role as a baby who was carried on to the stage in the film Golden Gate Girl. By the time he was 18, he had appeared in twenty films. While in the United States from 1959 to 1964, Lee abandoned thoughts of a film career in favor of pursuing martial arts, but his martial arts exhibition on Long Beach in 1964 eventually led to the invitation by William Dozier for an audition for a role in the pilot for “Number One Son”. The show never aired, but Lee was invited for the role of the sidekick Kato alongside the title character played by Van Williams in the TV series, The Green Hornet. The show lasted only one season of 26 episodes, from September 1966 to March 1967. Lee and Williams also appeared as their respective characters in three crossover episodes of Batman, another William Dozier produced television series. This was followed by guest appearances in three television series: Ironside (1967), Here Come the Brides (1969), and Blondie (1969).

According to statements made by Lee, and also by Linda Lee Cadwell after Lee’s death, in 1971 Lee pitched a television series of his own tentatively titled The Warrior, discussions which were also confirmed by Warner Bros. During a December 9, 1971 television interview on The Pierre Berton Show, Lee stated that both Paramount and Warner Brothers wanted him “to be in a modernized type of a thing, and that they think the Western idea is out, whereas I want to do the Western.” According to Cadwell, Lee’s concept was retooled and renamed Kung Fu, but Warner Brothers gave Lee no credit and rejected him for the role of Kwai Chang Caine, Kung Fu master, in favor of US-born David Carradine, who had no martial arts experience at the time, but had the benefit of being the son of a famous actor, John Carradine. Hollywood had, and still has, a bad habit of casting WASP actors as non-WASP characters. How many Arabs played leads in Lawrence of Arabia?

Producer Fred Weintraub advised Lee to return to Hong Kong and make a feature film which he could showcase to executives in Hollywood. Lee returned to Hong Kong, unaware that The Green Hornet was very successful there and generally referred to as “The Kato Show.” After negotiating with both Shaw Brothers Studio and Golden Harvest, Lee signed a film contract to star in two films produced by Golden Harvest.

Lee played his first leading role in The Big Boss (1971) which proved to be an enormous box office success across Asia and catapulted him to stardom. I suppose you could say, “The rest is history.” I’ll say simply that you can study his subsequent movie career on your own.

On July 20, 1973, Lee was in Hong Kong, to have dinner with actor George Lazenby, with whom he intended to make a film. According to Lee’s wife Linda, Lee met producer Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. at home to discuss the making of the film Game of Death. They worked until 4 p.m. and then drove together to the home of Lee’s colleague Betty Ting Pei, a Taiwanese actress. The three went over the script at Ting’s home, and then Chow left to attend a dinner meeting. Later Lee complained of a headache, and Ting gave him an analgesic, Equagesic, which contained both aspirin and the tranquilizer meprobamate. Around 7:30 p.m., he went to lie down for a nap. When Lee did not come for dinner, producer Raymond Chow went to the apartment, but was unable to wake him. A doctor was summoned, who spent ten minutes attempting to revive Lee before sending him by ambulance to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. By the time the ambulance reached the hospital he was dead. He was 32 years old. The autopsy revealed that he had had an allergic reaction to the meprobamate, and that his brain had swollen fatally.

Lee’s stringent physical regimen had an important nutritional component which has been widely publicized. Key elements are:

  1. Little and often: Lee ate 4 or 5 small meals a day and snacked on fresh fruit.
  2. Avoid empty calories: Lee avoided pastries, breads and sweets.
  3. Dietary supplements: Vitamin C, Lecithin granules, bee pollen, Shilajit, Vitamin E, rose hips (liquid form), wheat germ oil, Acerola – C and B-Folia, and brewer’s yeast.
  4. Daily tea: Lee drank Lipton tea with honey or a Chinese tea called Li-Cha with milk and sugar.
  5. Balance: Lee’s diet was a healthy combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Lee’s favorite dish was beef in oyster sauce, a mainstay of Chinese-American restaurants. The Westernized version is easy enough to make if you have a wok and a hot enough gas burner. The key is finding good-quality, tender beef. Choice of vegetables in the dish is up to you. You’ll usually find broccoli, carrots, cauliflower or pea pods in restaurants across the US. I’m happy with bean sprouts or mushrooms (if I can get Asian mushrooms).

Beef in Oyster Sauce

1 lb. tender beef steak
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (chopped)
1 cup Asian mushrooms (sliced)
1 cup bean sprouts (or pea pods)
2 ½ tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
¼ cup chicken broth
vegetable oil (for frying)

Marinade

1 ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
2 tsp cornstarch
1 ½ tbsp water
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Instructions

Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices.

Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and marinate the beef for at least 15 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the chicken broth, sugar, and oyster sauce together and set aside.

Heat the wok on the highest heat possible until it is as hot as you can get it. Add a little vegetable oil, swirl, and add the ginger. Drain the beef. As soon as you smell the fragrance of the ginger, add the beef and stir fry (in batches if necessary) until it is lightly browned. Transfer the beef to a dish and clean out the wok.

Repeat the heating of the wok over the highest heat and add a little vegetable oil. Add your choice of vegetables and stir fry briefly. Push the vegetables to one side and add the oyster sauce mixture to the center. Bring it to a boil and add the beef back to the wok. Stir fry everything together for a minute or less, until everything is hot and the sauce is thick. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Nov 262017
 

On this date in 1942 the film Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York. It was a moderate box office success at first, but not stellar. It was not expected to be more than a run-of-the-mill wartime movie, rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca a few weeks earlier. It went on to win three Academy Awards – Best Picture, Director (Curtiz), and Adapted Screenplay (the Epsteins and Koch) – and gradually its reputation grew. Its lead characters, memorable lines, and theme song have all become iconic and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history. I saw Casablanca first in the early 1960s when old Hollywood black and white movies were the stock-in-trade of South Australian television because movies had to be at least 10 years old to be shown, and my parents (both Second World War veterans) would not have missed it for the world. My father anticipated and then cheered for the scene featuring the clash between Germans singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” drowned out by the house band and patriots singing “La Marseillaise,” and my mother got a bit weepy during the finale. I had no idea what the movie was about at age 10, but the scenes stayed with me over the years, and I’ve seen it many times since. Taken out of context it isn’t such a great movie in my oh-so-humble opinion, but you really can’t take it out of context any more. People still quote classic lines when making a point, and clips from the movie itself show up in other movies – in When Harry Met Sally, for example.  Here’s that great iconic scene:

There are plenty of complete versions of Casablanca on YouTube if you need your fix.

The story for Casablanca was based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to purchase the film rights to the play in January 1942. Brothers Julius and Philip G. Epstein were initially assigned to write the script. However, despite studio resistance, they left to work on Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series early in 1942. Howard E. Koch was assigned to the screenplay until the Epsteins returned a month later. Principal photography began on May 25, 1942, ending on August 3. The film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California with the exception of that climactic sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles.

The cinematography of Casablanca has been much commented on. The cinematographer was Arthur Edeson, a veteran who had previously shot The Maltese Falcon and Frankenstein. Particular attention was paid to photographing Bergman. She was shot mainly from her preferred left side, often with a softening gauze filter and with catch lights to make her eyes sparkle; the whole effect was designed to make her face seem “ineffably sad and tender and nostalgic.” Bars of shadow across the characters and in the background variously imply imprisonment, the crucifix, the symbol of the Free French Forces and emotional turmoil. Dark film noir and expressionist lighting was used in several scenes, particularly towards the end of the picture.

The music for Casablanca was written by Max Steiner, who was best known for the score for Gone with the Wind. The song “As Time Goes By” by Herman Hupfeld had been part of the story from the original play. Steiner wanted to write his own composition to replace it, but Bergman had already cut her hair short for her next role (María in For Whom the Bell Tolls) and could not re-shoot the scenes which incorporated the song, so Steiner based the entire score on it and “La Marseillaise,” transforming them as leitmotifs to reflect changing moods. Even though Steiner didn’t like “As Time Goes By”, he admitted in a 1943 interview that it “must have had something to attract so much attention.” The duel of the songs between Strasser and Laszlo at Rick’s café is, of course, a critical turning point in the plot. Originally, the opposing piece for this sequence was to be the “Horst Wessel Lied”, a Nazi anthem, but this was still under international copyright in non-Allied countries. Instead “Die Wacht am Rhein” was used. “Deutschlandlied”, the national anthem of Germany, features in the final scene, in which it gives way to “La Marseillaise” after Strasser is shot.

In 1942 Casablanca garnered decent reviews.  Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, “The Warners … have a picture which makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap.” He approved of the combination of “sentiment, humor and pathos with taut melodrama and bristling intrigue.” He also noted the film’s “devious convolutions of the plot,” and praised the quality of the screenplay and the performances of the cast.  Variety commended the film’s, combination of fine performances, engrossing story and neat direction” and the “variety of moods, action, suspense, comedy and drama that makes Casablanca an A-1 entry at the b.o. Film is splendid anti-Axis propaganda, particularly inasmuch as the propaganda is strictly a by-product of the principal action and contributes to it instead of getting in the way.” The review also applauded the performances of Bergman and Henreid and noted that “Bogart, as might be expected, is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but handles both assignments with superb finesse.” Other reviews were less enthusiastic. The New Yorker rated it only “pretty tolerable” and said it was “not quite up to Across the Pacific, Bogart’s last spyfest”.

In the 1,500-seat Hollywood Theater, the film grossed $255,000 over ten weeks. In its initial U.S. release, it was a substantial but not spectacular box-office success, taking in $3.7 million, making it the seventh highest-grossing film of 1943. By 1955, the film had brought in $6.8 million, making it the third most successful of Warners’ wartime movies (behind Shine On, Harvest Moon and This Is the Army). On April 21, 1957, the Brattle Theater of Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed the film as part of a season of old movies. It was so popular that it began a tradition of screening Casablanca during the week of final exams at Harvard University, which continues to the present day. Other colleges have since adopted the tradition. By 1977, Casablanca was the most frequently broadcast film on US television.

You might object to me saying that out of context Casablanca is not a great movie. Such judgments are personal, of course. It has the aura and mystique of the Golden Era of Hollywood which I don’t care for, and the characters are all stereotypes (archetypes if you want to Jungian), with some complexity, but no real development. Fortunately, Umberto Eco agrees with me. He wrote that “by any strict critical standards … Casablanca is a very mediocre film.” He viewed the changes the characters undergo as inconsistent rather than complex: “It is a comic strip, a hotch-potch, low on psychological credibility, and with little continuity in its dramatic effects.” He did add, however, that the use of multiple archetypes allows “the power of Narrative in its natural state without Art intervening to discipline it.” He also wrote that the movie reached “Homeric depths” and that was a “phenomenon worthy of awe.” A bit over the top towards the end there, but sums up my feelings (more or less).

Chicken Casablanca needs to be the dish of the day. There have been plenty of cocktails created to celebrate the movie if that’s your poison, but I’ll stick with chicken. This recipe uses ras el hanout as the primary flavoring, commonly used in Moroccan dishes. You’ll find recipes without it, but I hardly think they are worth considering. Ras el hanout plays a similar role in North African cuisine as garam masala does in Indian cuisine. The name is Arabic for “head of the shop” (similar to the English expression “top-shelf”) and implies a mixture of the best spices the seller has to offer.

As with garam masala, there is no definitive composition of spices that makes up ras el hanout. Each shop, company, or family may have their own blend. The mixture usually consists of over a dozen spices, in different proportions, although some purists insist that it must contain exactly 12 items. Commonly used ingredients include cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric. Some spices may be particular to the region, such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk’s pepper, cubebs, dried rosebud, fennel seed or aniseed, galangal, long pepper. Ingredients may be toasted before being ground or pounded in a mortar and mixed together. If you cannot find it locally you can get a version online.

Chicken Casablanca

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 onion, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 stalks celery, diced small
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pint pureed butternut squash
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp ras el hanout
2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 cup shelled fresh peas
⅓ cup raisins

Instructions

Place the chicken broth and the squash puree in a saucepan and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking or burning. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat and quickly brown the chicken breasts on both sides (in batches if necessary). Do not cook all the way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the heat under the pot to medium and add the onion. Sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and for another minute. Add the celery and carrot and sauté together for another 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low,  cover the pot, and leave the vegetable mixture to sweat for 10 minutes.

Pour the squash and chicken broth mixture over the vegetables in the pot, stir and bring to a slow simmer. Season the mixture with ras el hanout, cinnamon, and salt, and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 40 minutes.

Cut the chicken breasts into chunks and add them to the pot. Stir in the peas and raisins and simmer for 15 minutes longer. You want the chicken to be cooked and juicy, but not overcooked.

Serve with plain boiled rice.