Club Room, Hotel Montgomery, Brussels, Belgium.
In January 2009, the Independent published a story speculating on an affair between the composer Felix Mendelssohn and the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. I have only just discovered that the Journal of the Royal Musical Association published an article by one George Biddlecombe in 2013 which purports to get to the bottom of this story, and concludes that “Mendelssohn wrote passionate love letters to Jenny Lind entreating her to join him in an adulterous relationship and threatening suicide as a means of exerting pressure upon her”.
But the evidence presented in the paper supports no such claims. A half-competent lawyer for the defence could drive a coach and pair through the material presented here. A paper written in 2013 refers to two documents (not apparently in the public domain) written in 1980, describing a post-prandial conversation in 1947, a conversation about some letters allegedly discovered at Lind’s death in 1887, letters which were purportedly written by Mendelssohn to Lind before his own death in 1847. Where are these letters? Allegedly burnt at the time of their re-discovery in 1887. Who read them? As far as I can tell from Biddlecombe’s paper, possibly only Lind’s widower, Otto Goldschmidt, a man who died in 1907. What language were they written in? Presumably German, since that was Mendelssohn’s mother tongue, and Lind spoke it. Could the various English solicitors who pepper this story and who MAY have been present at the discovery and burning of the letters in 1887 read German? Even if they could, did anyone other than Goldschmidt actually read the letters?
Did these letters actually exist? This is not obvious to me, and the evidence is only third- and fourth-hand. But even if they did exist, we have only Otto Goldschmidt’s alleged word, at several removes over 126 years, to say that the letters contained statements of passion by Mendelssohn to Lind. They may have been shopping lists, for all we know with certainty. Even though the various intermediaries in this fanstastical story may have been lawyers of integrity, and fine, upstanding men (as Biddlecombe seeks to show), who knows what Goldschmidt’s motivations may have been, whether in 1887 or later. All here is hearsay, and hearsay repeated after long intervals of time, and buried in obscure documents not open to our inspection. No court would accept such ramshackle, hearsay evidence for the claims made in this paper. George Biddlecombe surely knows this, for why else would he resort to a discussion of other sources (eg, third-party letters, memoirs) to buttress his claim of an affair? But these other sources, too, are less than compelling. A hill of beans is what they don’t add up to.
What a shame that this paper traduces the reputations of two people, both long dead, on such flimsy grounds. What a shame that others rush to endorse its argument. The problem is both too much imagination and too little. An affair is imagined when the evidence – the firm, uncontestable, irrefutable evidence – does not support any such claim. At the same time, there is a failure to imagine that two people can have a deep, intense friendship without also being lovers.
George Biddlecombe : Secret letters and a missing memorandum: New light on the personal relationship between Felix Mendelssohn and Jenny Lind. Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 138 (1): 47-83.
The Skygarden Bar at 20 Fenchurch Street (aka the Walkie-Talkie Building), London.
Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Minister for Finance, speaking at a press conference in Berlin on 5 February 2015:
“As finance minister in a government facing from day one emergency circumstances caused by a savage debt deflationary crisis, I feel that the German nation is the one nation in Europe that can understand us better than anyone else.
No-one understands better than the people of this land how a severely depressed economy, combined with a ritual national humiliation and unending hopelessness can hatch the serpent’s egg within its society.
When I return home tonight, I will find myself in a parliament in which the third-largest party is not a neo-Nazi party, it is a Nazi party.”
West Germany received debt relief in 1953, yet now deny it to the rest of Europe. The hypocrisy and economic negligence of the German government of Mrs Merkel reminds me of the British Government’s hypocrisy in the Great Depression: insisting that Australian Federal and State Governments continue to pay all interest and loans owed to British lenders, while at the same time seeking debt relief for British loans from American creditors. Every Australian economist, including no doubt the very impressive former Sydney University academic Dr Varoufakis, knows the name of Sir Otto Niemeyer, bullying representative of colonial rapacity. The unspeakable Mrs Merkel and her condescending ilk will, like Niemeyer, live long in the memory of Greeks.
An article from the Sydney Morning Herald of 1924, about the introduction of buffaloes to Australia in 1857, an adventure involving both a great-great-grandfather and a great-great-great-grandfather of mine. I wonder if the ship mentioned below, the Florence Street, was named after a member of the illustrious Street Family of New South Wales.
To the late Captain Peverley, of Balmain, belongs the credit of having introduced the buffalo to Northern Australia, though he did so indirectly in a measure, when the good barque the Florence Street became a total wreck on the northern coast, not very far from where Wyndham now stands.
Captain Peverley, ship master and ship owner had, when he settled in Balmain, 28 ships of various sizes and capacities; he always boasted that not one was a “coffin ship”, and that he himself would sail on them in any sea, in any weather, and he would add as climax that he would give a first-rate rope’s ending to any of his crew, who dared to complain or say otherwise. He was a true type of the ship’s master of the old windjammer days, days when Sydney Harbour was crowded with sailing craft of all kinds, the days of the middle and late ‘fifties, when the gold fever had reached its crisis after the astonishing yields from Bendigo and Ballarat.
Continue reading ‘Australian Buffaloes’
Category theory takes a bird’s eye view of mathematics. From high in the sky, details become invisible, but we can spot patterns that were impossible to detect from ground level.
The opening sentences from Tom Leinster : Basic Category Theory. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Studies in Advanced Mathematics.
A minimalist Nativity scene, by Emilie Voirin:
Yamba Surf Club was founded in 1908. The photo shows Tommy Walker surfing at Yamba around 1911. (Photo by O. B. Notley, from Manly Life Saving Club Australian Surfing Museum.) The post title is a reference to an O. Henry story.
People who have passed on during 2014 whose life or works have influenced me:
- Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (1934- 2014), American poet
- Charles Barsotti (1933-2014), American cartoonist
- Sid Caesar (1922-2014), American comedian
- Al Feldstein (1925-2014), American artist and editor of Mad magazine
- Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014), South African writer
- Stuart Hall (1932- 2014), British cultural theorist
- Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014), American actor
- Rik Mayall (1955-2014), British actor and comedian
- Tony Meale (c. 1963-2014), Australian wit
- Maximilian Schell (1930-2014), German actor
- Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014), Australian composer
- Pete Seeger (1919-2014), American folk singer
- Horace Silver (1928-2014), American jazz pianist
- Edward Gough Whitlam (1916-2014), Australian statesman
- Robin Williams (1951-2014), American comedian and actor
Last year’s post is here.