If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

Genre: History
Author:Frances Stonor Saunders

The astonishing untold story of a woman who tried to stop the rise of Fascism and change the course of history

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 1926, a woman stepped out of the crowd on Rome’s Campidoglio Square, a 50-year-old Violet Gibson, wearing a shiny old black dress, carried a revolver wrapped in a black veil. Less than a foot in front of her stood Benito Mussolini. As he raised his arm to give the Fascist salute, the woman raised hers and shot him at point-blank range.

Mussolini escaped virtually unscathed, cheered on by practically the whole world. Violet Gibson, who expected to be thanked for her action, was arrested, labeled a “crazy Irish spinster” and a “half-mad mystic”—and promptly forgotten.

Now, in an elegant work of reconstruction, Frances Stonor Saunders retrieves this remarkable figure from the lost historical record. She examines Gibson’s aristocratic childhood in the Dublin elite, with its debutante balls and presentations at court; her engagement with the critical ideas of the era—pacifism, mysticism, and socialism; her completely overlooked role in the unfolding drama of Fascism and the cult of Mussolini; and her response to a new and dangerous age when anything seemed possible but everything was at stake.

Mussolini was aghast at being shot. “Fancy, a woman!” he’s reported to have said.
He was ready, he said, for “a beautiful death”, but Violet, one of the “old ugly repulsive women who come from abroad in groups”, was not the kind of person he wanted to be killed by.

There was also an article by Lucy Hughes-Hallett on the story of the woman who tried to kill Mussolini, The Hon Violet Gibson, whose father was Lord Chancellor of Ireland. In 1926, Hughes-Hallett explains, at the time of their “bathetic encounter,”

Mussolini was a splendid figure of a man who liked to display his muscled torso shirtless. Violet was tiny, emaciated and not much loved. She was 50 years old but looked 60, and was odd enough in her behavior to have been twice admitted to sanatoria for the mentally ill.

After her attempt on his life, Violet was again admitted, this time for 20 years. Once that time had passed, Hughes-Hallett says, “history might have endorsed [Violet's] political judgment,” the Duce having been defeated and lynched in his turn, but …

… two decades in an asylum had done nothing for her sanity. She belabored fellow patients with a broom handle. She believed her moods created the weather. She never came out."

Frances Stonor Saunders points out in her superb new book, The Woman Who Shot Mussolini, or that between 1922 and 1943 Il Duce sent at least a million people to an early grave. He remained, for a very long time, the darling statesman of the conservative press and the fashionable fascists of Europe, although they conceded that he might be a bit hasty and brutal.

Still and all, according to the British ambassador to Italy, Mussolini was "like any other gentleman." The King of England decorated him with the Order of the Bath, and Austen Chamberlain, the British foreign secretary (whose half-brother was Neville, future prime minister and champion of the Munich accord), considered Mussolini a sincere, charming patriot, and certainly preferable to any other "Italian."

Not so the epigraph in Saunders's new book: "There is such a thing as a moral atmosphere." Those are the words of Violet Gibson, who happens to be the woman who shot Il Duce in 1926. Indeed, a moral atmosphere pervades Saunders's often poignant tale of the Irishwoman, labeled mad, who possessed both gumption and a pistol, which she tried to use to change the course of history.

*original post Dec.23, 2010


Thursday, November 15, 2012

In Celebration of Dogs


In Celebration of DOGS  Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace. - Milan Kundera

In human affairs, despite power, fame and fortune, there exists a true unflinching love that cannot lie, a perfect passion worship fed, fidelity and companionship always available in the form of a dog. When you have a dog, you open yourself to profound joy and, prospectively, to equally profound sadness.
The hardest thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.

Rudyard Kipling said:
“….When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear…”
Lord Byron puts it more eloquently than I ever could:
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.

This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead Nov. 18, 1808.

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown by Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one – and here he lies.

This most profound perspective from Kahlil Gibran:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight…”

With the advent of writing, people began to set dog stories down on page. And, as happens when stories are retold, lines blur between fact and fancy, history and legend.
As a tribute to that enigmatic connection in the way human beings and dogs try to coordinate their confusing lives around each other, we consider some of the most stirring examples of Dog + Man throughout history.

Argos + Odysseus 

Argos Recognizes Odysseus,” Theodor van Thulden (1606 - 1669)
The first famous canine story dates from the 8th century B.C. In Homer’s “Odyssey,” the king of Ithaca returns home disguised as a beggar after 20 years. Two of King Odysseus’ old friends recognize him, his aged nurse and Argos, the only dog to whom Homer gave a name, and as such the first named dog in recorded history.
“As they talked, a dog that lay there lifted up his muzzle, pricked his ears … It was Argos, Odysseus’ long-enduring dog, he trained as a puppy… the moment he sensed Odysseus standing by he thumped his tail, muzzling low, and his ears dropped, though he had no strength to drag himself an inch toward his master.
Odysseus glanced to the side and flicked away a tear.” And with that, on his dung heap, Argos dies. While the story of the steadfast friend and the first recorded tear shed for an animal, may be mythic, the vignette of the faithful hound was a story that would be oft repeated.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Seven Years in Tibet - John Williams

This is a lovely soundtrack which enables you to tap in to the magic of the backdrop of Tibet and history.

Music from the 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet

John Williams wrote this evocative score, which also features the popular and highly talented cellist

Yo Yo Ma.

*original post Dec '08

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lalo / Leonid Kogan, 1959: (Complete) Symphonie Espagnol, Op. 21 - Kondrashin, Philharmonia

The Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op. 21, is a work for violin and orchestra by Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo, a French composer. Although Lalo is not one of the most immediately recognized names in French music, his distinctive style has earned him some degree of popularity.

Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra still enjoys a prominent place in violinists' repertoire, and is known in many classical circles simply as "The Lalo".


The work was written in 1874 for violinist Pablo de Sarasate, and premiered in Paris in February 1875.

Though officially a symphony (the name translates as "Spanish Symphony") (see also Sinfonia concertante), it is considered a violin concerto by musicians today. The piece has Spanish motifs throughout, and launched a period when Spanish-themed music came into vogue (Georges Bizet's opera Carmen premiered a month after the Symphonie espagnole did).

The Symphonie espagnole is one of Lalo's two most often played works, the other being his Cello Concerto. His "official" Concerto in F for violin, Op. 20, and his Symphony in G minor for orchestra, written thirteen years later, are neither performed nor recorded as often.

Lalo's early musical training was at the Conservatoire in his native Lille, before he transferred to the Paris Conservatoire to study composition and violin.
He started composing in the 1840s, but, discouraged by the lack of performances and publications of his music, he abandoned his creative work for almost a decade to play viola in the Armingaud-Jacquard Quartet.

His muse was rekindled in 1865 upon his marriage to Bernier de Maligny, a fine contralto who performed many of his songs in recital and who also inspired him to produce his first opera, Fiesque.


The Symphonie espagnole had some influence on the genesis of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major. In March 1878, Tchaikovsky was staying at Nadezhda von Meck's estate at Clarens, Switzerland, while recovering from the breakdown of his disastrous marriage and his subsequent suicide attempt.

His favorite pupil (and possibly his lover), the violinist Iosif Kotek shortly arrived from Berlin with a swag of new music for violin. These included the Symphonie espagnole, which he and Tchaikovsky played through to great delight.

This gave Tchaikovsky the idea of writing a violin concerto, and he immediately set aside his current work on a piano sonata and started on the concerto on 17 March. With Kotek's technical help, the concerto was finished by 11 April.

"Do you know the Symphonie Espagnole by the French composer Lalo?" Tchaikovsky wrote to his patroness, Nadejda von Meck. "The piece has been recently brought out by that very modern violinist, Sarasate.

It is for solo violin and orchestra, and consists of five independent movements, based upon Spanish folk songs. The work has given me great enjoyment. It is so fresh and light, and contains piquant rhythms and melodies which are beautifully harmonized.... Lalo is careful to avoid all that is routinier, seeks new forms without trying to be profound, and is more concerned with musical beauty than with traditions."

Tchaikovsky's enthusiasm for Lalo's music has been shared by audiences since the Symphonie Espagnole was first heard in 1875. Lalo had labored for many years, however, before success came his way: he was almost fifty when the Divertissement for Orchestra gained him the attention of the public.

It was with the Violin Concerto of 1874 and this Spanish Symphony, both written for and premiered by the Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, that Lalo secured an international reputation.

The Symphonie Espagnole, despite its name, is a true concerto in which the soloist is called upon to display significant feats of violinistic prowess, especially in quick shifts between the highest and lowest registers, a characteristic that reflects an important aspect of Sarasate's technique.

The work's five movements individually employ symphonic structures, which led Lalo to write about the work's title, "It conveyed my thought--a violin soaring above the rigid form of an old symphony." The Spanish influence is heard in some of the rhythmic and harmonic components of the themes, an influence that also lured such other French composers as Bizet, Ravel, Debussy and Ibert.

The first movement is cast in a carefully developed sonata form, with a main theme employing bold upward leaps and a legato second theme in a contrasting major tonality.

The nimble, dance-like second movement, in rounded three-part form, calls for both lyricism and flexibility from the soloist. The next movement is characterized by the extensive use of the Spanish rhythmic device of alternating groups of two and three notes.

In the fourth movement, in rounded three-part form (A–B–A), a somber introduction leads to the melancholy main theme for the soloist. The finale, ushered in by the sound of distant peeling bells, is a rondo based on the bubbling rhythm of the saltarello.

*Leonid Borisovich Kogan was a violin virtuoso and one of the 20th century's most famous Soviet violinists. He ranked among the greatest representatives of the Soviet School of violin playing.

Leonid Kogan was less widely known than his somewhat older contemporary David Oistrakh, but no less a first-tier artist. More concentrated in tonal focus and with a quicker vibrato than Oistrakh and others of the Russian school, Kogan was avowedly a man of his time.

His espousal of the four-octave scale for exercises assured the infallibility of his technique by strengthening his fingering hand in the upper positions. His violin was a Guarneri del Gesù dated 1726 ( although he also had another one dated 1733 ) , which Oistrakh acquired for him in the early 1960s. Kogan had played a Stradivarius in the early years of his career.

Kogan was the only classical violinist of note who preferred to play on all steel strings (Thomastik brand). Most serious classical players prefer a steel E-string, and perhaps also steel A-string (as in case of David Oistrakh), while using gut or synthetics on the G and D strings. Steel gave Kogan more clarity and power, while sacrificing warmth, depth and sweetness associated with gut or synthetics.

Kogan plays with the fearlessness of Heifetz, but with that added to the remarkable tone - which is larger and mightier than Elman's, creates something distinctly Kogan. There can be no comparisons here. It is something about that bowing arm that draws from his Guarnerius an unmistakable propelling tone that is even throughout all registers. High notes do not thin out and there is no weeping mellowness on his G-string. Altogether, it is a beautiful cross between magnetic brillance and soulful wood - truly a unique violin voice

Although he died at age 58, he had amassed a discography that remains as a commanding legacy.


Leonid Kogan plays Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole in D minor, Op. 21

Kirill Kondrashin and the London Philharmonia Orchestra

February, 1959

Allegro non troppo (0:01)
Scherzando (7:09)
Intermezzo (11:10)
Andante (16:47)
Rondo (22:53)

*Kennedy Center
*users globalnet