Saturday, 14 January 2012

Immacolata Concezione - The last ship of the Papal Navy

The corvette Immacolata Concezione - the last ship in the Papal Navy

There were times when the Papal Navy (Marina Pontificia in Italian) was a considerable maritime force of the Papal States. However, as the Papacy had already been confined to the Vatican City after the capture of Rome in 1870 (the final event in the process of Italian unification), Pope Leo XIII is said to have sold off the last ship in the papal navy, the corvette Immacolata Concezione, during his first year in office (1873).

The flag and a scale model of the Immacolota Concezione are now in the Vatican Museum in the Lateran Palace.

An article from 12 May, 1939, published on the Catholic Herald archive page gives some additional information about the fate of the papal yacht:

It is just eighty years since the last flagship of the-Papal Navy was launched on the Thames, according to a recent article in the P.L.A. Monthly.

It is not generally known that there ever was a Papal Navy, and yet the Papal Squadron distinguished itself at the Battle of Lepanto. But by the time the last Papal flagship was built in 1859, Pius IX needed nothing more formidable than a private yacht and a fisheries protection vessel.
"The steam corvette Immacolata Concezione was a graceful, full-rigged auxiliary ship," states the P.L.A. Monthly, "armed only with eight 18-pounder brass cannons. Cardinal Wiseman and a distinguished gathering of Catholics saw her off from the Thames ironworks at Blackwell.
"After 1870, Pius IX presented her to a house of the Dominican Order at Arcachon for use as a training ship.
She changed hands, first to English and then to French owners, and eventually was lost in the Mediterranean as recently as 1905." It. was frequently the custom for the Papal Government " to buy British."

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Baden-Baden concert 2007 - The best ever opera gala?

Elīna Garanča and Anna Netrebko

There are many excellent opera gala concerts available on dvd or blu-ray, but the Baden-Baden concert from 2007 must be one of the best, if not the best. The consert that brought together four of the the world´s most illustrious singers -  Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Ramón Vargas and Ludovic Tézier - is remarkable both with regard to the the high quality of music making and the fine choice of music. The concert is now available also on blu-ray. If you want to enjoy bel canto at its best, buy this recording! You will not regret it.


An added bonus on the dvd/blu-ray is Anna Netrebko´s unforgettable version of Lehár´s "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss"

Monday, 9 January 2012

Cartoons a hundred years ago

On a gray and rainy Scandinavian winter day like today, I found myself looking at cartoons from a bygone era. A hundred years or so ago the humour was rather innocent compared to what we see today, but it still is rather amusing. And the cartoonists were often excellent artists.

Here is a small selection of old Swedish cartoons for you to enjoy:

"Professor, have you ever thought about marriage?
Well, to marry - - - to marry - - - it could be - - - but to have a strange woman in the house ..."

"So you and Ellen are married and happy?
Yes, that is -- she is happy and I am married".
"No, my dear P.-B. (Swedish composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger), a real artist is always modest - there are moments when I doubt that I am the greatest singer of our time."
"Mrs Blomkvist: And I thought that you were deeply mourning your husband ...
Mrs. Grönkvist: Oh yes, my dear, you should have seen me yesterday!"

"Is it really true Baron that you have broken your engagement?
Yes my fiancée became much to sentimental - she began to speak about marriage!"

"What was it that made you propose to that girl, love or her money?
Love, of her money".

"They say that that the marriage of those two artists is not a happy one.
-- Yes, he has become a cubist and now he is beating here because she is round".

"Professor, could you tell me what philosophy is?
-- To be near you and not lose one´s composure".
(This cartoon is from 1943)

"Could I borrow that sword to cut this steak with?"

Sunday, 8 January 2012

"Music, that glorious gift of God and foretaste of heaven"

"Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seyn" (When in the hour of utmost need) - the last piece of music that Bach composed

There are probably very few thoughts that have not been expresssed by somebody else before. The other day I imagined that I had come up with an nice description of music - particularly the music of J.S. Bach - as a foretaste of heaven. However, a Google book check revealed that Johann Michael Schmidt, a German theologian, who probably studied with Bach in Leipzig, had made the same observation already in 1754 in his book Musico-Theologia.

In his book Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint David Gaynor Yearsley cites Schmidt, who argued for the existense of music in "eternal life": "The soul will .... also receive certain pleasures through the nourishment of its transfigured body there (in heaven), including those which come through the ear".

Music was then according Schmidt to be one of the main delights of eternity.
Gaynor Yearsley describes Schmidt´s argumentation:

"Schmidt´s comments on the piece (Bach´s chorale Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen seyn) should be understood not only as a tribute to Bach´s genius and a rebuttal of materialist tenets, but also as part of a broader defense of heavenly music, which, of course, presupposes the immortality of the soul. Without a soul there can be no appreciation or understanding of this music; but beyond that, the soul is articulated through music, that glorious gift of God and foretaste of heaven".

It is interesting to note that the great Swedish film and theatre director Ingmar Bergman saw music - particularly the music of Bach - much in the same way:

"We are all living in our prisons, in our dreadful
loneliness, surrounded by cruelty. The gift that music bequeaths us is
to understand that there is a reality of infinite harmony beyond our
earthly exile."