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We didn’t always wear the best clothes or live in the finest houses, but those of us who were lucky enough to receive musical training when we were young were the rich kids in school. We had something special, and somewhere, deep down, we knew it.
The black, plastic recorder that I got in the fourth grade was not even my first taste of making music. I had taken piano lessons before that. My older sister and brother were already members of their school bands, both starting out with the trumpet. By the time I came along, my family had had enough of trumpet-playing, and, of course, I wanted to do something different. My mother suggested the flute, and when I agreed, she lobbied my father—never one to let go of a dollar easily—to spring $100 for a new one. I loved that flute from the day I got it.
The recorder is long since gone, but I still have the flute. It has been an almost constant companion for all of my life, and I think it one of the few objects that I would rush into a burning building to save. But, I know that even if it were lost, the music would remain.
Have a wonderful musical and literate weekend.
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Holbein: Painting the rich, the royal, and the well-connected
If you were anybody (as opposed to a nobody) in or around the court of Henry VIII (1491-1547), you wanted your portrait painted, and the guy you wanted to paint it was Hans Holbein.
Many of those portraits, including those of the king and his several wives, survive today and are currently on display in an exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles. Those who can’t get there in person can view the exhibition at the link below.
Here’s part of what the exhibition notes say about Holbein’s work:
In his portraiture Holbein immortalized a vibrant Renaissance culture of self-definition, luxury, knowledge, and wit. He devised inventive pictorial solutions for a variety of clients: celebrity scholars, ambitious merchants, and officials at the English court. Holbein achieved the powerful impression of presence and specificity by means of a flexible working process and rapport with his sitters. Some patrons demanded not just accurate likenesses but celebrations of their values, aspirations, and professional identities. Source: Holbein: Capturing Character in the Renaissance
Holbein was born in Augsburg, Germany, in 1497 (or thereabouts), the son of Hans Holbein, a well-known and respected painter of the time. The son eventually surpassed his father in fame, wealth, and artistic ability, so that today the father is known as Hans Holbein the Elder and the son as Hans Holbein the Younger.
The Younger moved to Basel, Switzerland in 1515, where he launched his career and enjoyed the vibrant culture of the time. That vibrancy turned to turmoil with the stirrings of the Protestant Reformation, and commissions for his work dwindled. Still, in 1523 he painted a portrait of the well-known humanist and writer Erasmus of Rotterdam—a portrait that made the painter famous. Not only did he paint portraits, but he also mastered the art of woodcuts, which had revolutionized the way books were designed and printed, and he achieved a good deal of fame for his work in that realm.
Holbein felt constrained by the growing conflicts in central Europe and in 1526 looked for a better environment in which to pursue his art.
London, he believed, was a town where he could stretch out his talents and make a good living, and he did just that. It didn’t hurt that he carried a letter of recommendation from Erasmus to his friend Sir Thomas More, then a close advisor to the King of England. More did his part by arranging commissions for the young painter, including one of his entire family. That painting doesn’t survive, but the preliminary sketches do. The group portrait was an original concept and would eventually gain acceptance throughout Europe.
Holbein went back to Basel in 1528 and stayed for about four years. During that time, Reformation conflicts again arose, and Holbein’s art was not universally admired or accepted. In 1532, he returned to London where the atmosphere was also politically charged but the king was in firm control. Holbein distanced himself from Thomas More and his humanist circle and found favor with the court’s rising stars, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.
He traveled back and forth to Europe, painting portraits of the rich, the royal, and the well-connected. One of those was Anne of Cleeves. The portrait, which was said to be a flattering one, is thought to be one of the reasons Henry VIII chose her as his third wife after Anne Boleyn was executed. The king was disappointed with her appearance when he met her, but he never blamed Holbein. The fall of Thomas Cromwell from the king’s graces did damage his career, however.
Holbein died in 1543 at the age of 45. The cause of his death was probably the plague, although this is not known for sure. What is certain is the large body of work that he created and the influence on painting, particularly portraiture, that he left behind.
From the archives: Six years old and home for the series
Note: This piece was originally posted in the newsletter in November 2019. I’m posting it again because it is again World Series time.
When I was six years old in 1954 and attending my first grade of school, my mother wrote a note excusing me from school at lunchtime one day. It was late September, and I walked the three blocks from the school to our house. I wasn’t sick. I had a far more important reason for leaving school, that wonderful place that I loved so much.
It was the first game of the World Series.
The New York Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians. Willie Mays was the star centerfielder for the Giants, but the Indians had by far the best record in the major leagues that season. Not that I was aware of too many of the subtleties. I was only six years old, after all.
But I loved baseball, and I had followed it avidly since I had been aware of anything. Back in those dark ages, the World Series games were played in the afternoon.
My mother reasoned—probably due to my whining—that I would not be happy unless I could see at least one game of the World Series. It was the age before kindergarten, and this being my first year in school, it would be the first time in my young life that I would have to miss seeing the Series. So, she did what any reasonable, loving mother would do. She sprung me from school for the afternoon so I could walk home, park myself on the living room sofa, and watch the game on our more than adequate black-and-white TV.
I do not remember much about the game, although that game turned out to be historically memorable. It was the game in which the aforementioned Willie Mays, probably the greatest player of all time, caught a Vic Wertz fly ball running with his back to home plate. It has since been iconized as The Catch. That play in the eighth inning prevented the Indians from scoring and allowed the game to go into extra innings. The Giants won in the 10th inning and, surprisingly, went on to sweep the all-powerful Indians.
Photo: Willie Mays making his back-to-home-plate catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
E.B White and the art of reading aloud
Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had. And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together — just the two of you.
A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people — people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
E.B. White (1899-1985), writer
White was the author of Charlotte’s Web and the second part of “Strunk & White,” which commonly refers to The Elements of Style, a book many consider to be the greatest of all writing guides. He spent most of his career as a staff writer of the New Yorker magazine.
White was born in upstate New York in 1899, and after graduating from Cornell University in 1921, he worked for United Press International and the American Legion news service. He moved to the West Coast in 1923 where he got a job as a cub reporter for the Seattle Times. An editor at the paper told him to just “say the words” when his writing got stuck.
It’s a technique many writers use in their writing. Reading what you have written out loud—not to an audience but simply for the purpose of hearing the words—gives you a good idea of how the sentences are flowing and will often reveal gaps in the phrasing or syntax.
White began thinking about writing for children in the 1930s, and in 1945 he published his first children’s book, Stuart Little. The second, Charlotte’s Web, came out in 1952. While his first book received only a lukewarm reception, the second won the Newbery Award for children’s literature and went on to become one of the most popular books in the history of the genre. A survey of readers by the School Library Journal in 2012 named Charlotte’s Web as the best book ever written for children.
In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children created the E.B. White Read Aloud Award to “honor books that reflect the universal read aloud standards that were created by the work of the author E.B. White in his classic books for children: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.”
Timid and somewhat reclusive, White tried never to draw attention to himself. He loved his farm, his farm animals, the farm equipment he had gathered, and the weather. He also loved writing, but he never claimed it was easy or fun. Good writing is hard work.
Vic C.: I am in total agreement with your observations about noise and . . . I had a wonderful memory from the late 60s.
There was, then, a base about 200 miles north of Detroit and one of my off-duty pleasures was to go fresh-water fishing on Saturday mornings. I’d been guided by a long-time resident on how to navigate my way from the road, through the forest and to a stream. In the summer, I’d reach my destination by 6AM, stripped down to swimming trunks and a light shirt. Depending on how late I’d been working the previous night, I’d be ready with bait (usually blood-worms) or my fly gear. Despite being near an air base, those mornings were wonderfully peaceful and quiet. You could hear birds, the chirping of crickets and the bubbles breaking as the water moved. Occasionally, there’d be a light splash as a trout broke the surface finding some unwary flying insect that became a meal. That spot would, of course, become the target for my next cast. At 8AM, a siren went off and the floodgates of the dam just a short distance away would open, releasing a rush of water that would widen and deepen the stream. Since I was already in suitable attire, I would step back several feet and keep on casting. Eventually, I’d pack my gear—and my catch—and head back to the base.
There were other times, too. Skiing at night, when the only sound was the air rushing past your ears and the hissing of your skis cutting through snow. Those moments were all too short because you reached the end of the slope where people were talking, cars were moving in the parking lot and assorted noises spilled from the lodge. But, for those several brief moments . . . (well) Moments like these served as “retreats” during those times of stress when dealing with the constant roar of jet engines and radio traffic and multiple conversations which were the norms of being on duty on an Air Force base.
Phyllis P.: I would question whether 82 percent of murders were truly solved in the ’70s. I am sure there are a lot of wrongly accused individuals hidden in that statistic. The current lower percentage may reflect more rigorous investigation and not fewer murders solved.
Elizabeth F.: I like Pope! Scholarly, witty, reverent, and irreverent! A great combination, I think. And thank you for the meditations. I read your suggestion as I worked on my memoir regarding my daughter. I want it on record so that I can remind myself of the joy of her, every day of her life, and all that I learned from her. I think these meditations will help me feel comforted when I can barely see to write.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: On board with Coltrane
Best quote of the week:
Those who compare the age in which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in imagination, may talk of degeneracy and decay; but no man who is correctly informed as to the past, will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present. Thomas Babington Macaulay, author and statesman (1800-1859)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Mastering the heroic couplet, more on Baroque composers, and Frederick Taylor Gates: newsletter, October 29, 2021
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