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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Great Fire in Moscow

It seems that every side of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, personality and activities is researched and described both in scientific literature and in fiction. So this is on a topic that might be less known to the Western reader, namely,The Great Fire in Moscow .

Napoleon Bonaparte was born the 15th of August, 1769 on Corsicajust three months after the island had been defeated by the French. He would spend his childhood hating France, the nation he would one day rule.

"I was born when [Corsica] was perishing. Thirty thousand Frenchmen spewed on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood... The cries of the dying, the groans of the oppressed and tears of despair surrounded my cradle from the hour of my birth."

After the French victory, many Corsican rebels fled to the mountains, where they continued to fight on. But Napoleon’s father Carlo, a twenty-three year-old university student, readily submitted to French rule. Soon he was wearing powdered wigs, embroidered waistcoats, and silver buckled shoes.

The Bonapartes were Corsican aristocrats, but they were not rich. With eight children, they struggled just to get by on an island that had been impoverished for centuries.

Napoleon never forgave his father for betraying his Corsican heritage. He would later say harshly that Carlo was rather "too fond of pleasure."

His mother, Letizia, was a hard, austere woman, toughened by war, who punished her children to teach them sacrifice and discipline.

"She sometimes made me go to bed without supper, as if there were nothing to eat in the house. One had to learn to suffer and not let others see it." 

As a representative of the Corsican parliament, Carlo traveled to Versailles. There, he saw the splendor of the French court in all its majesty, and he worked to secure Napoleon a scholarship to Brienne, a private academy in France.
Napoleon set foot in France for the first time in the winter of 1778, a thin, sallow nine year-old, accustomed to the warmth of the Mediterranean, suddenly alone on the windswept plains of northern France. He could hardly speak French.

He thinks of himself as a Corsican. He is surrounded by students who are the children of French aristocrats. And they have nothing in common with this little foreigner. And since he is quite proud, he becomes a loner.
When he was in school in Brienne in continental France, where he was very much laughed at and bullied for being a barbarous Corsican, he dreamt all the time of…liberating Corsica. But he did something quite exceptional. He conquered his conquerors. He got the better of the French.

At the age of fifteen Napoleon was promoted to the Royal Military Academy in Paris. At sixteen, he began his apprenticeship as a lowly second lieutenant, training with the best artillery unit in the French army. His ambitions soared far beyond a military career, but in French society power and achievement was reserved for the nobility — not for an unsophisticated Corsican soldier.

"Always alone among men, I come home to dream by myself and to give myself over to all the forces of my melancholy," Napoleon wrote. "My thoughts dwell on death... What fury drives me to wish for my own destruction? No doubt because I see no place for myself in this world."

Then the French Revolution changed everything. Bonaparte was twenty-three when he took leave of absence from the French army and returned to Corsica an idealistic revolutionary. The French Republic had made Corsica a part of France, and given Corsicans all the rights and liberties of French citizens. Bonaparte, a lieutenant in the island’s National Guard, threw himself into Corsican politics.
Bonaparte soon became the leader of a faction opposed to the island’s governor Pasquale Paoli. The Corsican patriot thought Bonaparte too ambitious, too self-centered, and too sympathetic to France.

Bonaparte and Paoli are on totally different wavelengths. Paoli retains the idea that Corsica should be independent. By this time Napoleon Bonaparte is perfectly comfortable with a Corsica that is part of revolutionary France.
Clan rivalry ran deep on the island, intensifying the political struggle between the two men. Paoli’s partisans and Bonaparte’s were soon at war. In the end, Paoli proved too strong. Bonaparte’s home was sacked and he was forced to flee to the mountains.

The Corsican Assembly declared Bonaparte and his entire family "traitors and enemies of the Fatherland, condemned to perpetual execration and infamy." Bonaparte no longer had the right to live in Corsica. He had been given a death sentence by his own people. 

On June 10, 1793 he set sail for France with his widowed mother, three brothers and three sisters – a refugee family carrying with them all they owned in the world. Twenty-four years old, he was banished from the land of his birth forever.

Napoleon's strategy

By 1812 Napoleon had conquered the whole of continental Europe - from southern Italy to the Baltic, from Portugal to Poland.

England herself he couldn't get at, not after the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805, when Lord Nelson had defeated the combined French and Spanish navies.

Despite this, Napoleon hoped to undermine the economic superiority of Britain, by banning trade with her and excluding the products of the 'nation of shopkeepers' from European markets.
'Napoleon crossed the River Niemen...in a bid to conquer Russia with the biggest, most spectacular army Europe had ever raised.'
In 1807 the Tsar of Russia, defeated for the second time, had agreed not to trade with the British, but harsh economic reality spoke louder than treaties, and Russia continued to trade despite the ban.
In response, on Midsummer Day in 1812, Napoleon crossed the River Niemen into what was then the Russian province of Lithuania, in a bid to conquer Russia with the biggest, most spectacular army Europe had ever raised.

This army consisted of almost half a million men, only half of them French.The rest were drawn from Napoleon's European empire, the result of his conquests over many countries.
Some of these, including Holland, for example, he incorporated, along with their armies, into France. In this way he had an almost inexhaustible supply of soldiers.
The Patriotic War of 1812, or the Russian Campaign of Napoleon as it was called on the West, occupies one of the most remarkable places in the century-old and reach of events Russian history.
The Patriotic War of 1812 had become the beginning of the end of Napoleon's Empire; Russia had become the place of the destruction of the Great Army. 
Now Napoleon had ten army corps, against the Russian Tsar's two. After a 'good battle' (as he called it) with his 'brother the Tsar', to bring him back into the fold, he planned - perhaps - to march their combined armies to India, and strangle the supplies of British gold that had been financing successive coalitions against France.
The entire Russian campaign, in fact, was actually aimed at Britain.

Many events were contained in this heroic epoch: long and heavy retreat of the Russian armies in land, a bitterness of defeats of the first months of the campaign, the tragedy of the surrender of Moscow to the enemy, the triumph and the joy after enemy's proscription from the limits of Motherland.

The officially given reason for the invasion was Napoleon's desire to defeat Britain.

Because of Britain's power at sea, Napoleon could not even think about overcoming her without powerful allies on the Continent. Russia was a key power that did not cooperate in closing her ports from British trade and thus enabled Britain to survive Napoleon's tactics.
Another and perhaps a more important reason was that Napoleon's and Alexander's interests were in competition when it came to acquiring new territory. 

Alexander I resented Napoleon's seizure of Oldenburg on the German coast and was suspicious of Napoleon's plans about Poland.
Alexander himself had absorbed a large portion of Poland, which made Napoleon fear that Alexander might want to take the rest of it, too.

There was a third, more personal matter that might have had some impact. In 1808, Napoleon was planning to divorce his wife Josephine for not giving him a child and to marry one of Alexander's sisters.

When Alexander's older sister, Catherine, married, Napoleon requested the younger sister's, Anna's, hand.

Anna's mother despised Napoleon and refused to give her daughter to Napoleon, saying that Anna, at fifteen years old, was too young to marry and that Napoleon would have to wait until she would be eighteen.

Napoleon correctly interpreted the response as refusal, which caused Alexander and Napoleon to distance from their temporarily cordial relationship.

Surrender of Moscow

On June 24, 1812, ignoring the advice of his closest advisors, Napoleon invaded Russia. Never in living memory had so large an army been assembled — Italians, Poles, German, French — more than 600,000 men from every corner of his empire. Napoleon prophesied the war would be over in twenty days.

Advancing to Moscow, Napoleon waited outside the city gates for prominent civic authorities to greet him and to discuss terms of surrender. None arrived. Moscow had been deserted.

As the Napoleon's troops noticed that they would not be threatened by Russian troops in Moscow, they went on unauthorized pillaging trips, gathering whatever treasures were left behind by wealthy Muscovites and feasting on wine and delicacies.

Nothing went as planned. There was no battle in Lithuania - where the French leader had hoped to start his campaign. The Russian army simply withdrew.

This made it possible, four days later, for Captain Victor Dupuy of the French 7th Hussars to gallop into Vilnius, at the head of the invading army.

Eyewitness accounts describe the scene:
'...the most joyous acclamations. The ladies in their party dresses were throwing down flowers and biscuits to us from the windows.'
'...all the windows were filled with wildly enthusiastic ladies. Every hand seemed to be waving a handkerchief.'

The faster the Russians withdrew, the further Napoleon was dragged into Russia. Tens of thousands of soldiers, many of them very young French and allied soldiers, died of exhaustion, thirst or starvation in its summer heats ('worse than anything we'd known in Egypt').

Then at Borodino, a week's march from Moscow, the French and Russian armies, by now about equally matched, fought to a sanguinary standoff.

The battle of Borodino was a brutal slug-fest. Napoleon threw his enormous army at the Russians in a frontal assault, showing little of his old strategic subtlety.
The battle began at 6:30 in the morning and lasted until 3 in the afternoon. At that point, both armies were exhausted. The Russians fought the Emperor's armies to a standstill. The next day they withdrew, leaving Napoleon proclaiming victory.

Napoleon was undeterred, however, and marched on to the almost deserted Moscow, which the next day was sent up in flames - burnt down by its Russian  governor.

Whether it was started by the drunken soldiers or by patriotic Russians, is not clear although the Russians clearly had had the intention to burn the city as all the fire-engines had been rendered unusable and fire-floats had been sunk in the river.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On This Savanna

The East African savanna is truly a rich and striking landscape. Thickly trunked Baobab trees thrust their branches bravely towards the sun, while Umbrella Thorns shelter from the day’s baking heat under prickly canopies. Millions of years of tectonic activity have sculpted not only the majestic lakes Tanganyika and Victoria but also the continent’s tallest peaks: Mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

But amid the natural beauty and anthropological significance, East Africa plays host to a grave contest. Away from the brash buzz of the vuvuzelas and the mass-merchandising of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the competition that takes place daily on the grasslands and plains could have severe repercussions and mean the difference between survival and extinction for some of the world’s most recognizable animals.

1 Elephant Drinking

3 Zebras Turning Heads

4 Cheetah & Cubs

5 Wildebeest Arc

6 Lioness Against Rock

7 Baboons in Profile
8 Hippos on Mara River

9 Elephant With Exploding Dust.

12 Cheetah & Cubs Lying on Rock

13 Lion Windswept.

14 Sitting Lionesses

15 Cheetah in Tree

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Concubine

Cixi: The Woman Behind The Throne
The concubine who became China's last empress

History can be a slippery substance, particularly when it comes to personalities. A century after the death of China's last and most famous empress, Cixi, the story of her life and reign remains veiled by varying versions of the truth.

Some sources paint her as a veritable wicked witch of the east, whose enemies often mysteriously dropped dead. Others link her to tales of sexual intrigue within the palace walls, even questioning whether her favorite eunuch was truly a eunuch. But recent scholarly analyses discredit many of those sensational stories and suggest a more complicated woman than this caricature.

What do we really know about this woman who indirectly controlled China's throne for almost half a century, in the twilight of the Qing dynasty? She entered history on November 29, 1835 as a rather ordinary Chinese girl named Yehenara, although there was a certain prestige in being born to a family from the ruling Manchu minority. At age 16, she was brought to the Forbidden City to join Emperor Xianfeng's harem—which may sound like punishment to modern ears, but was considered a swank role for Chinese women of her time.

Daniele Vare's book, The Last Empress,  
says Yehenara (he calls her Yehonala) rose to the top of the concubine ranks when the emperor overheard her singing and asked to see her. Infatuated, he began picking her name from the nightly roster of choices to visit his bedchamber, and soon she bore him a son. This earned her the title Tzu Hsi, meaning "empress of the western palace," spelled Cixi these days.

When Xianfeng died in 1861, Cixi's five-year-old son was his only male heir and became the emperor Tongzhi, making her the "empress dowager" and a regent ruler. 

Cixi relinquished the regency when her son turned 17, but Tongzhi died two years later and Cixi became a regent again, this time for her three-year-old nephew Guangxu. 

Some historians have pointed to this turn of events as proof of Cixi's political shrewdness because it defied tradition for the new emperor to be of the same generation as his predecessor. 

Also, although Tongzhi had no heir when he died, his first-ranking concubine, Alute, was pregnant. So it seems far too convenient that Alute and her unborn child died during the debate over succession. The court announced it as a suicide, but as the New York Times reported at the time, the circumstances "aroused general suspicion." 

Even if Alute was murdered, Cixi wasn't necessarily responsible, as author Sterling Seagrave points out. The late emperor had five brothers, princes of the imperial court, who had their own rivalries and ambitions for controlling the throne indirectly.

By Amanda Bensen
Smithsonian.com, March 01, 2008 


Tz'u-hsi (1835-1908), concubine to the Hsien-feng emperor and later empress dowager, was the power behind the throne in China from 1860 to 1908.

Tz'u-hsi, who is also known as Yehonala, Empress Hsiao-ch'in, or "The Old Buddha, " was born on Nov. 29, 1835. 

At the age of 16 she became a low-ranking concubine to the Hsienfeng emperor (reigned 1851-1861), but in 1856, when she gave birth to the Emperor's only son and heir, she was made a second-class concubine. 

When the Emperor died on Aug. 22, 1861, in Jehol, where he had fled before the allied British and French advance on Peking in 1860, Tz'u-hsi's son became the T'ung-chih emperor (1862-1875). 

During his minority the new emperor, according to his father's will, would rule through a regency, but all decrees had to be approved by the two empress dowagers - his mother and the senior consort Empress Tz'u-an.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Timeless Arcadia

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lang Lang plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1

 Lang Lang plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 1M

With classical music facing tough times, major recording companies are understandably cautious about signing new artists and releasing new recordings of standard repertoire. Much-released favorites like the First Piano Concertos of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn particularly sag under the weight of so many versions in the back catalogue.

 Lang Lang plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 1M_2nd part

Still, this new recording by 30-year-old Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang demonstrates that even the most unabashedly familiar fare sometimes deserves to be heard anew by younger talent.

A student of Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music, Lang first gained widespread public acclaim in 1999, when, on two day's notice, he replaced an ailing André Watts at the Ravinia Festival. His resume has been growing ever since, and this summer alone, he is making high-profile engagements with the orchestras of Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, and at the BBC Proms.

He also kicked off Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival and made his Carnegie Hall debut recital. His signing to the prestigious German label Deutsche Grammophon further suggests that he has a bright future ahead of him.

Lang's powerful and very personal reading of the Tchaikovsky Concerto demonstrates that he does not let bravura technique get the better of his musical judgment.

The concerto is the standard work against which all pianists must measure themselves, but Lang reminds us that the concerto is genuine music and not merely a flashy barn-burner of fast octaves.

Unlike many pianists attempt to smooth over the concerto's disjointed qualities, he takes measured tempos and brings a sense of cohesiveness through imaginative phrasing and subtle contrasts in dynamics.

 Lang Lang plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 2M

Lang is responsive to the music's every twist and turn in the first movement, eliciting pointed nuances and sparkling quality to the faster passages. The middle movement displays some wonderful legato playing, while the finale has a comic, even sly quality that suits Lang's ebullient temperament particularly well.

It can be reasonably argued that Lang Lang's powerhouse technique does not alone justify his fast-growing reputation and all of the accompanying promotional hype.
Yet he also shows much potential as an interpreter, and a steady, balanced career trajectory should yield even greater artistic growth from this exciting young pianist.
--Brian Wise

“The fabulous technique, the absolute control (even at hell-bent tempos), the flexible rhythm, the firmly centered, infinitely colored tone that can switch on a dime from tornado-like intensity to supple delicacy, the risk-taking temperament—all these things are already there in [Lang Lang’s] pianism,” wrote von Rhein. “He is a phenomenal talent.”

This showcases Lang Lang’s phenomenal dynamic range, and the earmarks of the young pianist—hitting the keys with a bit too much strength, for example—only show up in a few places.

Lang Lang plays Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 3M

Lang Lang is at his best when tearing into the most tumultuous passages of the Tchaikovsky with unbridled gusto. Listeners who come to this recording with a classic rendition of Tchaikovsky’s First in mind—say, of Vladimir Horowitz or Van Cliburn—may find the youthful energy off-putting, but to Lang Lang on his own terms can be wonderfully rewarding.-- John Tabin 

This was Lang Lang's 2004 performance with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic at the Waldbühne attended by 23,000 people and was broadcast internationally on TV.

*Video content remain the copyright of their rightful owners.
Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.