In the world of cartoons, the magazine Puck reigns supreme, even though it ceased publication nearly a century ago. Today The New Yorker is often looked at for the cartoons more than the articles, but in an age without the visual media of television the cartoon assumed much greater prominence. It could be understood by a host of people, whatever their level of education or literacy, and did much to shape the culture of America in the Gilded Age.
This is the subject of a fascinating and much-needed exhibit of the original artwork at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. The accompanying catalogue is beautifully done, and deserves a serious look in the giftshop- it would make an excellent Christmas present.
Like the exhibit itself, the book offers a suite of cartoons thematically. Topics covered are Modern Life, Social Commentary, Love and Marriage, Culture and Society, Cast of Characters and Cornball Humor.
The original artwork on display is from the personal collection of Jean and Frederic Sharf, while the book is authored by Flagler Museum curators Tracy Kamerer and Janel Trull. They note in the preface that “because the cartoons consist only of the original figurative drawings, without the captions or stories that accompanied the published form, it isn’t always possible to “get” the jokes at first glance.” Their extensive research in conjunction with the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore has managed to flesh out this back story, so that the exhibit explains each one and usually shows the original issue each cartoon appeared in.
This is further supplemented by snapshots of the cartoonists themselves. For example the image that leads this article, Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue was the centerfold for the July 3, 1893 issue at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This stirring image was done by Joseph Keppler, who was born in Vienna in 1838.
It was Keppler who created the German edition of Puck magazine in 1876, and the English edition six months later. He retained his position as chief cartoonist until his death in New York in 1894. His son, Joseph Jr., is the artist of the other image shown here. It demonstrates the support by Puck magazine for the new president Teddy Roosevelt, showing that the steering wheel of the ship of state is in safe hands with him. It was the cover for New Years’ Day, 1902.
It was Joseph Jr. who sold Puck magazine in 1914; faced with competiton and without the Kepplers at the helm it foundered and ended publication in 1918. Joseph Jr. died in 1956.
The curators say in the catalogue that “during its run, Puck reigned supreme, constantly adjusting to stay on the forefront of humor but never losing sight of the core values the magazine was built upon.” As a window on the world as it was during the Gilded Age, Puck is unparalleled.
From cartoons of the immigrant Irish being portrayed as stupid, drunk and violent, to biting social commentary on women’s fashions and the dangers of the new-fangled automobile, these cartoons hit the mark every time. Well worth a visit to Florida’s finest mansion, now decorated in Christmas splendor. So take a holiday tour and see this exhibit before it ends!
The exhibit runs at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach until January 3, 2016. Visit the website for tour details: www.flaglermuseum.us
Three of the composers featured by the Symphony of the Americas shared a fascination with folk music. But this fascination was a love-hate relationship.
Opening the ‘Sounds of the Season’ concert were selections from Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. This perennial favourite features some of the most recognizable music created by a major classical composer, who just happens to be the best-known Russian composer in the world.
If his contemporary Russian composers had their way, he would be relegated to the dust heap. They have become known as the “Mighty Five”: Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. Outside of Russia the first two are now virtually unknown, while the others are noted for just one or two compositions each.
They believed Russian music should come from a Russian source, and that others were betraying the cause. Tchaikovsky was their arch-fiend as he did not derive his music from the folk traditions of the Motherland.
In England, by contrast, Ralph Vaughan Williams did just that. He managed to forge a unique nationalistic stamp, as exemplified by the second selection performed by the Symphony in Ft. Lauderdale, the English Folk Suite. To create his music, Williams went out and notated music in farming communities in England.
The Folk Suite, played with sensitivity by the Symphony, springs from the soil of England. It is comprised of six folk songs, composed for winds and dating to 1924, and features a full-throated exposition of English values- it could not have been written by an American or a European. As the work of one of the most significant voices in English music in the entire history of music, it was a delightful thing to enjoy, at least for those of us who are English. It would be nice to have a night of British-American music, to balance the annual Italian-American concert performed by the Symphony.
Williams collaborated on wind ensembles with Gustav Holst, another composer heavily influenced by the English folksong revival of the early 20th century. His composition Bleak Midwinter (1906) is the finest musical evocation of that time of year in England, and it was one of three Christmas pieces performed by the Symphony in a Holst medley. The others were Lullay My Liking (a carol from the 15th century using an early version of the word lullaby) and Christmas Day (1910). Simply delightful.
In addition to a Strauss waltz usually played at New Year’s concerts, the remainder of the program was filled with traditional chestnuts set in medleys themed around Broadway and the Movies. The concert concluded with New York, New York, which I assume was included in homage to Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday this month.
Overall a very fine concert to end the year on an upbeat note.
The next performance of the Symphony of the Americas at the Broward Center will be Jan. 12, 2016, featuring the rarely heard Symphony No. 6 by Dvorak. Visit the website for ticket details: www.sota.org.
Photo copyright C. Cunningham
On Dec. 16 Mystery On The Menu presents
"A VERY MERRY MURDER"
A One woman Interactive Murder Mystery
Featuring Barbara Fox
And... Members of the audience who will
read the parts of the different characters
- Read a Part
- Participate, Investigate,
§ Examine Clues
- Share Information
Help Solve The Crime
DATE Dec. 16
LOCATION Empire Stage
1140 N. Flagler Dr.
Fort Lauderdale, Fl
The Gay Men's Chorus of South Florida is putting on a show as good as they have ever done, despite the departure of artistic director Gordon Roberts. The chorus, now under the direction of Harold Dioquino, seemed to be more relaxed and obviously enjoyed the performance.
"Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year," said Dioquino in his opening remarks. "People tend to be more loving, caring and forgiving. The program we have prepared is a feast of Christmas carols and music. Our wish is to share with you the hope, joy and love in this Season of Love."
Great as the chorus was, they had a rival for audience affection in the person of returning guest soloist Birgit Fioravante, shown in the photo centre stage with conductor Dioquino at left.
Her rendition of The First Noel was superlative, with a voice as radiant as the Christmas Star she was singing about. But the closing number of act one, O Holy Night, set a new standard. Audience members were literally stunned by the bravura performance of the chorus in full voice with her leading the way. People all around me were exclaiming "Wow!" and "She brought the house down!" While a few sourpuss audience members remained non-plussed by the overtly religious music, this must be set aside no matter what your beliefs are to properly acclaim this as the highest peak ever reached in a collaborative effort by the Gay Men's Chorus.
A medley of Christmas classics such as Let It Snow gave several chorus members a chance to show off their fine choreography in a wonderfully joyous and campy way. And those who enjoy drag queens were not disappointed by the performance of Rodney Bolton in Jingle Bells. That number started with Fioravante coming back on stage, only to be shooed away by Bolton in an outrageous drag outfit, complete with red cape!
From the crystal clear voice of soloist Jake Skarin on A King is Born, to fine dramatic effect of David Lombardi's voice in Whisper! Whisper!, this concert covered all the bases.
Of course an evening with the boys of the chorus would not be complete without a joke by Randy Washburn. This time he poked fun at Donald Trump's hair. "Trump has not said much about gays" in the election so far, said Washburn. "He probably figures if someone comes up with a solution to his hair problems, it will probably be a gay guy, so it's best to stay on our good side."
The Chorus will perform again tonight (Dec. 12) and next week. In a total of five concerts (the first was in Boca Raton) their Christmas offering will be seen by more than 2,000 people. In case there are any cancellations to these sold-out shows, visit the website www.gmcsf.org.
Performances are at the Sunshine Cathedral in Ft. Lauderdale.
Among Classical and medieval historians the term The Phaenomena inevitably applies to the daily and yearly motions of the heavens. The Phaenomena is the title of an astronomical compendium by the Greek astronomer Eudoxus of Cnidos (ca.368-315 BCE) thought to be the first scientist to attempt to create a mathematical description of the celestial sphere and to formalize the location of the stars into a comprehensive written format, but unfortunately his writings do not survive. Cicero reports that Eudoxus also created a celestial globe covered with images of the constellations, now lost as well; both the treatise and globe of Eudoxus are known only from references by other early scientists, both Greek and Latin.
A second astronomical work, also called The Phaenomena, was composed in verse in 285 BCE by Aratus of Soli (ca. 315 - 240 BCE). Aratus was originally commissioned by the king of Macedonia to write a poem about the stars in the heavens; but what he composed was more than just a guide for learning the names and positions of the constellations. Important elements of astronomical information, such as the rising and setting of the constellations and a precise verbal description of their relative positions are described in his poem. Also included are the four celestial circles - the Equator, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and the Ecliptic.
Aratus was not a professional astronomer himself, but consulted The Phaenomena of Eudoxus seeking assistance and accuracy in his descriptions of the stars. It is thought that Aratus utilized both Eudoxus’ globe as well as his writings for guidance in the description of the constellations contained within his 1154-line poem. The Phaenomena of Aratus became very popular in Greek literary circles and was translated into Latin by many scholars; the most famous and most-often copied versions were those of Cicero and Germanicus Caesar. The manuscripts containing these astronomical poems were almost always illustrated with colorful celestial maps and images of the constellations. The Latin translations of Aratus’ poem are referred to as the Aratea and these astronomical poems were reproduced over and over throughout the Middle Ages and were among the first scientific books to be printed in the fifteenth century.
The Dekker book examines the history of astronomy through the development and change of celestial mapping, by scrutinizing both globes and entire sky maps created in antiquity and through the Middle Ages. By establishing sky coordinates and elaborate constellation imagery through memorable pictures, early astronomers established a method to distinguish one area of the sky from another. Science and art came together to shape an understandable image of the heavens and to impose order on the vast sky and its repetitive patterns. Stellar observers could now communicate more accurately by referring to areas such as, Orion’s Belt, Scorpio’s Tail, or the Chains of Andromeda.
The purpose of Dekker’s thorough study of celestial cartography is to fill in the gaps of scientific knowledge in this previously neglected field. Most surviving globes and sky maps have been studied individually but not as an extensive tradition from its initial examples in Antiquity through the Middle Ages, including essential contributions from Islamic celestial cartography and the expertise of Arab astronomers. This intensive study focuses on pictorial representations of the entire celestial sphere of globes and sky maps from manuscripts and excludes singular constellations or sky depictions of less than 100 stars. Astronomical and astrological ceiling paintings, so very popular in palaces of European courts during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, have also been omitted. The cartographical details and mathematical traditions are emphasized rather than mythological or iconographical specifics.
The astronomical contents have been organized into five precise chapters of uneven length:
1. The Preliminaries; 2. Celestial cartography in antiquity; 3. The descriptive tradition in the Middle Ages; 4. Islamic celestial cartography; 5. The mathematical tradition in medieval Europe and an Epilogue.
After a substantial introduction to the process of globe making, the study examines the surviving celestial globes from antiquity: The Berlin fragment, The Larissa, Kugel’s, The Mainz, Hyginus’, and the famous Farnese Globe, now in Naples. Also included are three additional globes from antiquity, simply named G1, G2, and G3. Dekker has accumulated a listing of surviving celestial globes created before the fifteenth century, as well as a listing of known full sky celestial illustrations included in medieval manuscripts, which she discusses in the appendices.
In order to contribute to the history of astronomy, Dekker explains the importance of early globe production: “The introduction of the moving sphere as a model for understanding the celestial phenomena caused a great breakthrough in scientific thinking about the structure of the world. It provided the momentum for making celestial globes and mapping the stars. All extant globes contain a celestial grid consisting of the main celestial circles defined by the daily and annual motions of the Sun and the stars. Descriptions of the locations of constellations with respect to this grid by, for example, the Greek astronomer Eudoxus provided the necessary information for drawing constellations on a globe.” p.432
During the Middle Ages, the descriptive tradition of celestial cartography, spelled out in medieval manuscripts, continued its popularity both among scholars, students and educated readers and also in libraries of the literate nobles and royal dynasties. In the third chapter, the longest by far, Dekker describes the types of sky maps created before 1500 that are extant. Many of the sky maps discussed are planispheres, circular maps centered on either an equatorial or an ecliptic pole. A planisphere usually covers just over one hemisphere of stars around either the northern or southern celestial pole or sometimes the solstitial or equinoctial colures. Other celestial maps depict the entire night sky with the circumpolar stars in the center and the abundant star patterns fanning out in all directions. The Signs of the Zodiac are depicted along the ecliptic. Numerous color plates and black and white images of the celestial constellations enrich the explanations.
Throughout the medieval era, the Aratea poems become more complicated as scholia and material written by other scholars such as Hyginus and Macrobius were added to the original Latin poetry. Illustrations are almost always the key element, as pictures are an essential aid in learning or memorizing the relative positions of the constellations. The quality of the manuscript illustrations vary from exquisite to primitive depending upon the finances of the person or monastery that commissioned the volume.
Chapter 4 focuses on the contributions to celestial cartography from the Islamic World beginning in the eighth century. The main topic of this section includes the plentiful number of Islamic globes, but Dekker also mentions astrolabes and gives a comprehensive examination of the celestial ceiling of Qaṣr ‘Amrah, a country residence or hunting lodge near Amman, Jordan, thought to have been built in the first half of the eighth century. The celestial fresco painted on the inner sphere of the cupola of the bath house is considered a unique document displaying Islamic workmanship in the early Middle Ages and the transmission of early astronomical knowledge. Although the sky map has greatly deteriorated, thirty-five of the classical forty-eight Ptolemaic constellations can still be identified. Dekker addresses the difficulties of projecting the constellation figures from a planar map or a convex globe onto a concave cupola, basically turning the globe inside out.
The final chapter investigates the mathematical tradition of celestial mapping before 1500 including the advances offered by the Islamic legacy. These globes and maps emphasize the circles and grids and were mostly created in the fifteenth century; the magnitudes and names of the stars, usually Arabic, are often noted. The constellation figures are superimposed on a mathematical grid providing more accurate placements. Before the development of perspective and precise mathematical proportions, medieval maps of the heavens created a sky filled with mythical heroes, gods, and animals. After the development of scientific perspective in the early Italian Renaissance, celestial maps became more exact and display a more ordered sense of space. Since the stars are often named and the positions are placed more accurately, these later maps produce a more detailed and true understanding of the motions of the heavens. The study also includes a brief mention of globes in the service of astrology.
This chronological survey of globes and sky maps from their origin in ancient Greece and Rome through the Islamic Near East, Moorish Spain, and Medieval Europe presents scholarly research and accurate explanations. Dekker makes good use of the various types of evidence that shed light on the subject, and this should stimulate further research. She has succeeded in defining a major topic by covering an expansive area, which includes astronomy, mathematics, science, and history.
In summary, Illustrating the Phaenomena is essential reading for those with an interest in the history of astronomy, the illustrations of the constellations, the advancement in astronomical accuracy contributed by Arab astronomers, and the astronomical precision reached before the turn of the sixteenth century. This book will be an important research tool for scholars requiring exact details on celestial cartography through its early history.
Elly Dekker, ILLUSTRATING THE PHAENOMENA: Celestial Cartography in Antiquity and the Middle Ages
Oxford University Press, 2013, 436 pages.
Our image of Santa Claus was largely created by one man- Thomas Nast, a German immigrant. He brought the traditional gnome-like figure to America, where he was eventually transformed into the slightly taller, rotund and jovial figure who brings presents to all.
Nast’s drawings were the subject of the annual Christmas lecture at The Flagler Museum, Whitehall, in Palm Beach. Florida’s grandest mansion hosted Ryan Hyman, curator of collections at the MacCulloch Hall Historical Museum in New Jersey, which has a large archival collection of Nast material.
In an interview, Hyman told me Nash published for 65 periodicals in his career, but the ones for Harper’s Weekly are the most famous. “They are timeless drawings. For some of his political drawings all you have to do is plug in today’s political figures. They are as relevant today as they were then.”
In his lecture,, Hyman said that in the 1850s Nast “had a tough time adjusting to life in America as he didn’t speak English, but drawing really got him through. His room was covered in his drawings- that was the way he could express himself best, rather than through language.”
He began illustrating for Harper’s Weekly in 1859, and depicted Christmas annually throughout the Civil War. “His first image of Santa during the Civil War shows him wearing a stars and stripes uniform. An image from 1862 shows Santa holding a toy, which on closer inspection bears the image of Confederate President Jefferson Davis hanging by a noose. His pictures really spoke a million words.”
An image from 1866, just after the war, depicts Santa and his works, making toys and looking for good boys and girls to deliver presents to. Of course the flip side of this is the fact that there are bad boys and girls, and that includes politicians. An 1889 image shows Santa admonishing members of Congress.
“Nast’s most iconic image of Santa, the one he most wanted to be known for, is actually a political image. It has a lot of symbolism including a dress sword and belt buckle. The image was made to support a move to increase military wages.”
These issues are for historians. People now will derive their pleasure from seeing Nast’s Christmas drawings that show little mice sound asleep in their beds as Santa delivers presents, or a nursery rhyme image of Santa dancing with Mother Goose. “His pictures really had a great influence,” said Hyman, and they continue to bring a smile to our face today.
Visit the website of Whitehall for more on their Christmas tours: www.flaglermuseum.us
The 32nd annual Christmas Pageant in Fort Lauderdale is expected to draw 37,000 people this season.
Like last year it features an unusual mix of music, with some Jamaican vibes thrown into the opener, and a superb techo-pop version of We Three Kings.
The song Christmas is here was done in elegant style with men in tails dancing with ladies in gowns. The ice skating routine also returns this year, this time to the fantastic tune Never Too Old for Christmas Dreams.
The song Run Run Rudolph was performed with lots of kids on stage in a rockabilly version that was also an outstanding number.
Of course Santa made an appearance in a segment entitled Santa's Got a Groupon that saw him taking an unplanned vacation just before Christmas. The integration of amusing video was inspired decision.
A very powerful Hallelujah with an angelic figure flying in the air over the audience and stage is just one of many highlights awaiting those who attend the Pageant this month. Visit www.christmastickets.com
Opera audiences are often mired in the past, insisting on nothing less than the most authentic staging of an opera based on its very first year of performance. No matter how long ago that was. In the case of the Barber of Seville, it has been 199 years.
New productions are often ridiculed. Pamela Rosenberg, the fifth director of the venerable San Francisco Opera from 2000-2005, was largely panned because she brought ‘Euro-trash’ opera to the City. Audiences were not amused.
One of the operas she looks back on with pride is her production of the Barber of Seville, from the 2003-2004 season. Coincidentally, that opera is also being performed this season in San Francisco, but in a traditional setting.
A professional review of the 2006 performance in San Francisco was telling. “Another major distraction is Hans Dieter Schaal’s set, a huge white modern structure that revolves to reveal multiple rooms in Bartolo’s house as befits the action. And sometimes just revolves gratuitously. Another indication that opera has increasingly become a director’s game in recent years.”
In this production by Florida Grand Opera, that director is Dennis Garnhum, artistic director of Theatre Calgary since 2005. He explained his mission in the following terms. “We’ll play with the setting, the characters, and the plot in hopes of making it a fresh and joyful experience for audiences in 2015.” Garnhum’s solution is to set the opera in a large warehouse that contains movie studio props. The year is 1940.
Whether this production works is a very personal decision. I went to the production with no pre-conceived notions, and I think it is a success. By contrast, one opera-goer of the older generation I talked to thought the set was “weird and distracting.” Like the 2006 set in San Francisco, this one by Allan Stichbury evoked strong reactions.
An effect of the updating is not only different acting on stage, but a libretto lightly sprinkled with new words. As the photo with this review shows, the opera features a selfie. Not with a cell-phone of course, but with a 1940-style camera. It may be the first selfie ever seen in an opera.
As for the libretto, the audience was amused to hear mention of Frank Sinatra and his signature tune Fly Me To The Moon. The libretto was not so updated that it interrupted the flow of the opera, and a delightful first act duet that featured elements of cross-dressing was very much in the comedic timbre of the opera.
An experienced opera personality I spoke to said that to carry such an updated version, “you need really powerful performances.” He felt these were lacking. Two baritones play the lead role of Figaro in this production, which began in Miami on Nov. 14: David Pershall and Brian James Myer. I saw the handsome Myer, who will also appear in the last performance tomorrow night, Dec. 5. Great acting skills, and while his voice is very fine, it does not have the commanding power the role ideally requires. A real stand-out performer is Kevin Glavin, a bass from Pennsylvania, whose antics both in and out of a wheelchair (because he has a broken foot) became central to the success of this production. Even though it was an unintended prop, it worked great.
For upcoming performances, see the website: www.fgo.org
Editorial: The National Geographic TV show Star Talk is generally a forum for intelligent discussion and a few laughs, but the hate speech that was uttered in the first episode of the second season this week cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed.
The host of the show, Dr. Neil Tyson, always includes a professional comic on the show. In the most recent episode he invited an Irish comedienne, whose name I will not print here as she deserves no personal publicity.
As she was apparently reading a communication to the TV show, she said (with seriousness, not with comedy) it was from England, “the enemy.”
The Irish made it quite clear to the world who the enemy is when they assassinated Lord Mountbatten in 1979, one of the two Supremos of World War II (along with General Eisenhower).
When Hitler died, the first head of state in the world to mourn was the President of Ireland, who signed a book of condolence at the German embassy.
Yes Miss Irish comedienne, we know who the enemy and its sympathizers are, and it’s not the English, the greatest friends the United States has on this planet.
I call upon the National Geographic TV executives to ban this comedienne from any further appearances on their network, and condemn her words of hatred.
Starting the second concert in the chamber music series by Chameleon in Ft. Lauderdale was no less than 15 ‘inventions’ by Johann Sebastian Bach from the 1720s. A better-known term is sinfonias, which are essentially little symphonies. Each can be considered as a cameo of varying size.
Some of the 15 performed on Nov. 29 are inscribed with scenes from the drawing room, others conjure the imagery of a stately dalliance. Still others are evocative of a promenade through the palace gardens. Together these 15 inventions form a delightful curio cabinet of musical miniatures.
Michael Klotz said at the concert “My favourite thing to do locally is to play in Iris’ series, Chameleon. She always challenges us- a quintessential string trio concert it is not. One of the hallmarks of Iris is that she searches for an unusual repertoire. I always feel tired after playing here,” he said jocularly. All three performers- violinist Misha Vitenson, cellist Iris van Eck and violist Klotz- were likely all tired after performing a short intermezzo for String Trio by Kodaly and two major compositions by Robert Muczynski and Max Reger.
The Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello by Muczynski is a very rarely heard composition. On youzeek.com, for example, there are 100 selections by Muczynski, but no sign of this trio. Likewise for the piece by Max Reger: 100 selections, but no trio.
The centerpiece of the concert was the Trio, opus 31, by Muczynski, which was created in 1972. In a tribute to him after his death in 2010, saxophonist David Pearson wrote “Muczynski is one of those 20th century composers who are under-performed and under-appreciated because they do not fit into the worlds of minimalism, serialism, or experiments in new sounds. His music puts emotion and expression at its core, and in drawing together disparate elements into a cohesive and highly individual style his compositions are daring and traditional at the same time.”
The first movement of his opus 31, Allegro, is very dark and brooding- think of a walk on the moors with the Hound of the Baskervilles baying in the (not too far) distance. The conclusion of the allegro is astonishing in its electric effect. The stage set by the allegro is dressed in black crepe in the second movement, which is the personification of somber mood music.
The third movement is frenetic, literally a chase scene through the corridors of the mind: and quite likely a deranged one, if the earlier parts of the composition are any indication. In the fourth and final movement, the cello tries to maintain a sense of normalcy opposing the sounds from the violin and viola, but it eventually joins in the maelstrom that ends this extraordinary work.
The Max Reger Trio for violin, viola and cello No. 1 (opus 77b) was first performed in 1904. The first movement exhibits a complex tonal texture woven by the three instruments, and the sprightly fourth movement was a showcase for the mastery of the three musicians as they navigated its demanding score. The Trio does have moments of brilliance, but Reger is unable to maintain it throughout as he tries without total success to emulate both Mozart and Beethoven.
The next in Chameleon’s brilliant offering of chamber music can be heard at the Leiser Opera Center in Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 24, 2016.
Photo by C. J. Cunningham