Monday, February 29, 2016

The First World War: A Photographic History

I've never forgotten a book I encountered in my hometown public library during the early 1960's – and which served as one of my earliest introductions to the world as it actually is rather than how it appeared on the streets of my hometown: 

Fort Smith, Arkansas, Armed Forces Day, 1953.
Military parade provided by nearby Fort Chaffee. 

The First World War: A Photographic History was edited and published in 1933 by Laurence Stallings (1894-1968), playwright, screenwriter, novelist, literary critic, and journalist.

"Laurence Stallings introduced The First World War: A Photographic History as a even-handed, unbiased collection of photographs of the Great War. He notes that 'a militarist will be disappointed in [the pictures] for there are not enough pictures of guns' and 'a pacifist will not find enough horror, nor enough of cadavers.' In spite of Stallings' statement of neutrality, the general tone of the work is distinctly anti-war. In fact, Stallings' book not only exposed the senselessness of the war, it also critiques the values and world view that justified the United States' entry into the war and informed the Wilsonian vision of the post-war era. ...

Stallings' criticism of Victorian and Wilsonian optimism and sense of progress is apparent throughout the work. It is, in fact, evident in the title of the book – The First World War: A Photographic History. In 1933, there had only been one world war. Stallings, through his title, implied that there will be more world wars. In addition to its use in the title, the phrase 'first world war' appears twice in the introduction. Also in that introduction he alludes to the next war not being so distant. In addressing Africa's absence from the book he says, 'There should be more pictures of Africa? In the next war, experts assure us, there will be.' " – Aaron J. Gulyas

One can read more about this book here:

What follows is a selection of 47 photographs out of a total of 500 from this now largely forgotten book. Poems by Heinrich Heine, Wilfred Owen and Marina Tsvetaeva have been inserted where it was made appropriate by the captions and subjects of the photographs.

I was born in 1863
 The spirit of war surrounded me
Now the spirit of war has come again
And I have a son with  The Fighting Men !

"Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland; es war ein Traum..."
(I once had a beautiful fatherland; it was a dream...)
reference to Heinrich Heine's poem:

                                          In der Fremde

                Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland
                Der Eichenbaum
                wuchs dort so hoch, die Veilchen nickten sanft 
                es war ein Traum.

                Das küßte mich auf deutsch und sprach auf deutsch
                (man glaubt es kaum,
                wie gut es klang) das Wort: "Ich liebe dich" 
                es war ein Traum.


                                                                                Anthem for Doomed Youth
                                                                         What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

                                                                              Only the monstrous anger of the guns
                                                                              Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
                                                                         Can patter out their hasty orisons.
                                                                         No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
                                                                              Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
                                                                         The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
                                                                         And bugels calling for them from sad shires.

                                                                         What candles may be held to speed them all?

                                                                              Not in the hands of boys, but in their eye
                                                                         Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes
                                                                              The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
                                                                         Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
                                                                         And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

                                                                                                    – Wilfred Owen (1917)

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
(It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country)



Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Killed in action, trying to get his men
across the Sambre Canal.

(note: the above portrait of Owen does not appear in Stallings' book)

     German cemetary in France

     "Im Westen nichts Neues" (literal translation: "Nothing New in the West")

     reference to Erich Maria Remarque's 1928
     World War I anti-war novel:  Im Westen nichts Neues
     (English title: All Quiet on the Western Front

     The entire 1930 English-language film of Remarque's novel is here:

"Girls" British shell factory at Woolrich

Top: Making shells in a U.S. munitions factory
Bottom: Making large calibre guns at Bethlehem, Pa.

Top: "Russian women" Members of the Russian Battalion of Death
Bottom: "English women" English women present a petition to the authorities 

                                              Little mushroom, white Bolitus,
                                                  my own favourite.
                                                  The field sways, a chant of Rus’
                                                  rises over it.
                                                  Help me, I’m unsteady on my feet.
                                                  This blood-red is making my eyes foggy.

                                                  On either side, mouths lie
                                                  open and bleeding, and from
                                                  each wound rises a cry:

                                                  One word is all I hear, as
                                                  I stand, dazed. From someone
                                                  else’s womb into my own:
                                                   – Mother!

                                                  They all lie in a row,
                                                  no line between them,
                                                  I recognise that each one was a soldier,
                                                  But which is mine? Which one is another’s?

                                                  This man was White now he’s become Red.
                                                  Blood has reddened him.
                                                  This one was Red now he’s become White.
                                                  Death has whitened him.

                                                  – What are you? – Can’t understand.
                                                  – Lean on your arm.
                                                  Have you been with the Reds?
                                                  – Ry-azan.

                                                  And so from right and left
                                                  behind ahead
                                                  together. White and Red, one cry of
                                                  – Mother!

                                                  Without choice. Without anger.
                                                  One long moan. Stubbornly.
                                                  A cry that reaches up to heaven,
                                                  – Mother! 

                                                 – Marina Tsvetaeva 
                                                 (From "Swans' Encampment")

Result of post-war famine in Russia

 (reference to the $10,000 insurance payment made to the families of fallen American soldiers)

"1933" Concluding photos for The First World War: A Photographic History 

… a preview of the next war before most realized that there would be one.


"...And since right could hardly be on either side..."

Several years after discovering Stallings' Photographic History of the First World War (in 1965 – once again, in the public library in my hometown) I made several related discoveries, the first being a two-LP set of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. The library had just acquired a copy of this now-historic 1963 premiere recording with the composer conducting. This, in turn, led to a second discovery: the poetry (and person) of Wilfred Owen, arguably the most significant poet of the English language to devote his art to the subject of war. This was due to the fact that Britten structures his War Requiem around a number of Owen's greatest poems.

The original 1963 recording of Britten's War Requiem was eventually re-issued by British Decca (its original producer) during the 1980's in the compact disc format together with a completely different set of program notes than those which accompanied the original LP set. The notes for the CD edition are much longer (and includes historical photographs of soldiers with military hardware, etc.) – but the anti-war, anti-nationalist, pointedly moral content of the earlier LP notes has either been toned-down or eliminated altogether, as with William Plomer's later omitted Preface to the LP edition. This, however, was to have been expected: since the 1980's "permanent war" has become our only reality.

So – in order that the original notes for Britten's War Requiem do not vanish even further, here they are in their entirety:  


Friday, February 26, 2016

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68 (1944)

I. Overture (Moderato con moto)

II. Recitative and Romance (Adagio)
III. Waltz (Allegro)
IV. Theme with Variations (Adagio)

Beethoven Quartet

Dmitri Tsyganov, 1st Violin / Vasili Shirinsky, 2nd Violin
Vadim Borisovsky, Viola / Sergei Shirinsky, Cello
(LP transfer; recorded Jan. 3 & 7, 1956)

Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 92 (1952)

I. Allegro non troppo II. Andante III. Moderato
(played without pause)

Beethoven Quartet:
Dmitri Tsyganov, 1st Violin / Vasili Shirinsky, 2nd Violin
Vadim Borisovsky, Viola / Sergei Shirinsky, Cello
(LP transfer; recorded Oct. 24 & 28, 1953)

Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101 (1956)

I. Allegretto

II. Moderato con moto
III. Lento
IV. Lento - Allegretto

Beethoven Quartet:

Dmitri Tsyganov, 1st Violin / Vasili Shirinsky, 2nd Violin
Vadim Borisovsky, Viola / Sergei Shirinsky, Cello
(LP transfer; recorded Oct. 13, 1956)

Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 117 (1964)

I. Moderato con moto

II. Adagio
III. Allegretto
IV. Adagio
V. Allegro

Beethoven Quartet
Dmitri Tsyganov, 1st Violin / Vasili Shirinsky, 2nd Violin

Vadim Borisovsky, Viola / Sergei Shirinsky, Cello
(LP transfer; recorded Feb. 1, 1965)


Sidney Finkelstein, from the notes for Shostakovich's Quartet No. 4, Op. 83 & Quartet No. 5, Op. 92 (Vanguard VRS 6021, issued 1955):

What is the meaning of these two extraordinary and compelling works? It is a legitimate question to ask, for Shostakovich has never been a composer fond of pure sound for its own sake. He wrote his Tenth Symphony, as summarized by the critic Irving Kolodin, that "it is a work which resists the drift to war, one which conceives man's function on earth to be creative rather than destructive." This thinking and feeling are found in the quartets. A catastrophic war is ten years over. And yet the peace is troubled. The shadow lies over the entire world of atomic war. One can fight through the anguish this arouses, but this is a struggle that demands belief in the triumph of human qualities, faith that people will not permit their own destruction. As to a plan by which this consummation can be achieved, that is not within the province of a string quartet. 

Daniil Zhitomirsky, from Our business is to rejoice! (Shostakovich Reconsidered, written and edited by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov, Toccata Press, 1998):

'Our business is to rejoice!'

In my entire life, I will not forget either this aphorism, or the first moment I first heard it. The year 1945. 'Ivanovo'. Summer. On 8 August, along with Nina Vasil'yevna, who had gone to Moscow for a few days, Dmitry Dmitryevich arrived. I came to meet the whole family, including his children Galya and Maxim. In the car, on our ride back from the train station, D. D. told me, for the first time, about the 'uranium bomb' that had been dropped on Hiroshima. He was talking about it in short, quick phrases, without any further comments (the one who commented on 'what atomic fission is' was Nina Vasil'yevna, who was a trained physicist). Shostakovich's agitation could be heard in the hoarse, constrained quality of his voice and seen in his vacant look and pallor. Later, we walked in silence from the car to the destitute little dacha where he was composing the Ninth Symphony at the time. My mind was reeling under the spell of the news and I said something very pessimistic. D. D., staring at a point in space, quickly and automatically cut me off: 'Our business is to rejoice!'

Dwight Macdonald, from Memoirs of a Revolutionist (Politics, September, 1945; quoted in: Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art - Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War, University of Chicago, 1983):

The Authorities have made valiant attempts to reduce the thing [the atom bomb] to a human context, where such concepts as Justice, Reason, Progress could be employed.... The flimsiness of these justifications is apparent; any atrocious action, absolutely any one, could be excused on such grounds. For there is really only one possible answer to the problem posed by Dostoevski's Grand Inquisitor: if all mankind could realize eternal and complete happiness by torturing to death a single child, would this act be morally justified? ... From President Truman down, they emphasized that the Bomb has been produced in the normal, orderly course of scientific experiment, that it is thus simply the latest step in man's long struggle to control the forces of nature, in a word that it is Progress.

The Bomb is the natural product of the kind of society we have created. It is as easy, normal and unforced an expression of the American Way of Life as electric ice-boxes, banana splits and hydromatic-drive automobiles.

Again, the effort to "humanize" the Bomb by showing how it fits into our normal everyday life also cuts the other way: it reveals how inhuman our normal life has become.

[author's comment: "For Macdonald, the dehumanization of society that made it possible to produce a weapon as sophisticated as the atom bomb, that made it possible for 125,000 workers to participate in a project without knowing the purpose of what they were doing, was incomprehensible. Under such conditions, he maintained, the words 'democracy,' 'freedom,' 'progress,' and 'science' no longer meant anything."]

Dmitri Shostakovich, from Testimony - The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich (Faber and Faber, 1979):

I discovered to my astonishment that the man who considers himself its greatest interpreter does not understand my music. [Yevgeny Mravinsky] He says that I wanted to write exultant finales for my Fifth and Seventh Symphonies but I couldn't manage it. It never occurred to this man that I never thought about any exultant finales, for what exultation could there be? I think that it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under a threat, as in Boris Godunov. It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, "Your business is rejoicing" and you rise, shakily, and go marching off muttering "Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing."

What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that. Fadayev heard it, and he wrote in his diary, for his personal use, that the finale of the Fifth is irreparable tragedy. He must have felt it with his Russian alcoholic soul.

[Alexander Alexandrovich Fadayev (1901-1956), an author set up by Stalin as head of the Writer's Union. He signed many sanctions for the arrest of writers (as did the heads of the other 'creative' unions for their members). After a shift in internal Soviet politics, he committed suicide.]