REVIEW POTPOURRI: Nathaniel Hawthorne on Herman Melville

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) , whom I hope to discuss more about at a later date, wrote the following about his friend Herman Melville (1819-1891), another true original genius among American writers of the 19th century, when Melville visited him in Southport, England, during the older writer’s years as the American consul in Liverpool from 1853 to 1857, a position he was appointed to by his Bowdoin College classmate and loyal friend, President Franklin Pierce:

“He stayed with us from Tuesday to Thursday; and, on the intervening day, we took a pretty long walk together, and sat down in a hollow among the sand hills (sheltering ourselves from the high, cool wind) and smoked a cigar. Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had ‘pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated ‘; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief…..He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us….”

Hawthorne conveyed a gripping sense of blackness, of evil, in such classics as The Scarlet Letter, The Minister’s Black Veil and Young Goodman Brown joined by a cynicism as to any hope for humanity.

Herman Melville

Melville concerned himself with a greater range of thematic characterizations-the determination of Bartleby the Scrivener to “prefer not to do” any other tasks but copy documents all day and night in a Wall Street law office, even sleeping there; the admittedly heroic and destructive determination of Captain Ahab to catch the great white whale Moby Dick, who ate his leg; the horrible brooding tensions aboard a slave ship that has been taken over by the slaves in Beneto Cereno; and the hanging of an innocent sailor Billy Budd for defending himself against the lies of a vicious Master of Arms .

Melville concluded Billy Budd with a poem depicting Billy’s remains buried deep in the ocean with his wrists still bound by ‘darbies’, otherwise known as handcuffs, when he is executed by the British navy:

“But me they’ll lash in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease these darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair!
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Book: The Beast That Walks Like a Man

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Beast That Walks Like a Man

The Beast That Walks Like Man is a 1955 history of the grizzly bear by author, naturalist and explorer Harold McCracken (1894-1983).

Harold McCracken

He writes “I have never lost that deep fascination which Old Ephraim inspires, and in the matter of personal experiences with these marvelous creatures, out in their natural haunts, I have been considerably more fortunate than most men.”

The book is rich in anecdotes of his own experiences in the grizzly country extending from the western United States and Canada to Alaska. It recounts much anthropological information and legends of the creature’s relationship with native Americans and other groups.

McCracken also provides an appendix listing 86 known species of the grizzlies and big brown bears of North America, starting with the Big Plains Grizzly or Ursus Horribilis Horribilis – huge in size, long massive skull, long curved claws and a killer of buffalo.

The author quotes an account of the explorer Kit Carson (1810-1868) in one vivid encounter:

“While out procuring meat for camp, Kit shot an elk with his muzzle-loader; and he hardly had time to observe the effects when the echo of the blast ‘was broken in upon and completely lost in the terrific roar from the woods directly behind him …..and he instantly saw two huge and terribly angry grizzly bears. As his eyes first rested upon the unwelcome guests, they were bounding towards him, their eyes flashing fiery passion, their pearly teeth glittering with eagerness to mangle his flesh, and their monster fore-arms, hung with sharp, bony claws, ready and anxious to hug his body in a close and most loving embrace.”

I found my copy, still with its dust jacket, for a quarter at a yard sale but noticed a penciled in price of $40 for a previous owner at a used bookstore, so there is no telling what prices for it are being listed on Ebay. And its research findings have been probably surpassed by ones published since 66 years ago.

But its colorfully written style does score points for connoisseurs of these delightful beasts of prey.

State Fair

Jean Crain (left)

Dana Andrews

The 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein film musical State Fair stars Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Jeanne Crain, Fay Bainter, Vivian Blaine and Charles Winninger; features such classic songs as It’s A Grand Night For Singing, and It Might As Well Be Spring; and has very pleasing technicolor cinematography in its Iowa locale, making it one DVD worth re-watching numerous times.

* * * * * *

For a few months, I have been working my way through a megaset of 40 compact discs comprising the complete recordings of French pianist/conductor Alfred Cortot (1878-1962). They cover the years from 1919 during the acoustic era to 1959 when stereo lps had been developed.

His musical interests ranged from Bach and Beethoven to Brahms, Chausson and Falla but his interpretations of the keyboard works of Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy had a special eloquence and insight based on close study and outstanding virtuosity that did include wrong notes but brilliant wrong notes.

He collaborated in several recordings of trios by Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn etcs with cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973) and violinist Jacques Thibaud (1880-1953).

Conclusion to Robert PT Coffin’s Kennebec Crystals

Finally, the concluding paragraphs from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals about the ice harvesting industry in Maine:

“Now the Kennebec icehouses are rotting and falling back into the earth. Their interiors are taken over by the wasps and the mice. The old piers are sinking into the water. No ships come up in tow of a tug through the first leaves of May. School keeps week after week, and there are no bells ringing out to greet the steamer that leads up the spring. The gougers and saws are rusted half away.

“For the Kennebec crystals, last harvest of Maine’s finest river, have joined the white pine and the spruce, the sturgeon and shad and salmon. The end is elegy. The day of natural ice is done. New men, outside New England, bring their sons in their strength to the work of refrigerating homes and factories. And the small farmhouses, back from the river, that once housed great numbers of young men and boys, are full of empty rooms where the swallows bring up their young, or they have only a few children who work at their tasks and never need turn their heads toward the river, where the strength of their fathers lay and their fathers’ lives.

“The other day my good Kennebec friend whose great house looks up the river and down, over a twelve-foot hedge of spruce, took me out and showed me the tools of the ice harvesters. They were dark with rust and covered with cobwebs. They had joined the flint arrows and bows that once bent to bring life to the men along the ancient Kennebec.

When we were coming back we passed a strange depression in the woods, grown up with lusty spruces. It was the refrigerator men of my friend’s house used 150 years ago. It was the ruins of the earth cellar where they had stored their vegetables in summer and winter, to keep them from heat and cold. It was the Kennebec refrigerator his ancestors and mine learned how to make from the Indians when they drove them away into the everlasting dark from the bright blue river. That refrigerator was a ruin, and the Kennebec was as young and lusty as ever as it hurried toward the sea. Someday our own sons’ far great-grandchildren may find among the timbers of my friend’s house the rusted shards of the electric refrigerator that serves the house today. And the Kennebec will be going down to the sea, as young and as fresh and blue as ever.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Book: The Haldeman Diaries

President Richard Nixon, left, and H. R. Haldeman

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Haldeman Diaries

The Haldeman Diaries, a massive book of almost 700 pages, was issued by Putnam a year after the death of H.R. Haldeman (1926-1993) who served as Chief of Staff for former President Richard Nixon for four years before being quietly pressured to resign by his boss in the spring of 1973 during the Watergate scandal.

He ran a very zero tolerance tight ship and was a genius of efficiency and a consummate workaholic, putting in 48-hour work weeks, and loyally being Nixon’s hatchet man. I first became aware of him in 1970 after reading a Sunday Parade magazine puff piece, portraying him as hard working and Mister Geniality.

About a month before Haldeman resigned, Newsweek did a more thorough and quite fascinating cover story on him. It reported his Medusa stare at erring underlings, his having more access to Nixon than any other human being on earth (which included Nixon’s wife Pat and daughters Tricia Cox and Julie Eisenhower), his having little interest in music, art and literature, and his complete devotion to his wife and two children, although spending very little time with them during the White House years.

His marine-style crew cut aptly conveyed his quite authoritative command of everything that went on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, only doing Nixon’s bidding. Absolutely nobody got to see the president in the Oval Office without Haldeman’s approval; calling him the pit bull at the door is an understatement.

The Diaries came about after Nixon appointed him as the second top man at the White House, as recounted by the author in his own preface:

“Robert Rutland, a close personal friend and eminent Presidential scholar, urged me to record faithfully in a journal the major events of each day and my thoughts regarding them. He believed that this had never been done by someone working so closely with the President. At least my ‘diaries’ would provide a fascinating account for my children and grandchildren; more importantly, they could prove to be an invaluable asset to historians and scholars.”

Haldeman hit the nail on the head with that last statement.

Nixon was often referred to as Tricky Dick but quite a number of presidents have played dirty including the notorious FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), while Nixon’s predecessor LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) was complimented by a labor union leader as “no slouch either.”

The September 9, 1970, entry in the Diaries amidst a ruthless political campaign against the Democrats conveys Nixon’s personality here – “Really wants to play the conservative trend and hang the opponents as left-wing radical liberals. Said to say, ‘Our opponents are not bad men, they are sincere, dedicated, radicals. They honestly believe in the liberal left.’ And force them on the defensive.”

Haldeman’s earlier best seller The Ends of Power is also highly recommended.

William MacEwan

William MacEwan

I rec­ent­ly found a 78 among my piles of records by a singer I had never heard of before, tenor William MacEwan (1871-1943) performing The Old Rugged Cross in a very good 1927 English Columbia recording that sold 250,000 copies worldwide by 1933 while sheet music sales totaled 20 million by World War II.

Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow

A powerful piece of acting is that of Max von Sydow, in the 1975 film Three Days of the Condor, portraying the assassin Joubert staring into the abyss just before he leads two other killers on a murder spree against seven CIA researchers in a quiet New York City office. He also comments on the peace and comfort of having no conscience to Robert Redford’s character.

Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals continued

More from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals about Maine’s winter ice industry:

“And down in New York and Philadelphia prosperous citizens were getting down their ice cream freezers. Children in Richmond and children under the shadow of the Blue Ridge were running starry-eyed behind high carts with letters frosted and dripping with icicles. The letters on those carts spelled ‘Kennebec Ice.’ Further south, the crystals of Maine touched the fruit of the Caribbees. Far down off the Horn and up the other side, ships with bones bred in Maine forests carried the Maine treasure to the Pacific. Trains plowed through the dusty cornlands of Nebraska and on to the Rockies, carrying Maine ice. And a whole nation knew the clear taste of the Kennebec. Half the world, too, England and France, and Holland.

“But all that was in the twilight days of wooden ships, when Maine women still kept their neat houses moving around the world. That was when the wizards had not wakened new secrets out of electricity and steel. That was in the eighties and nineties.”

Concluding paragraphs next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Church steeples; Author: Thornton Wilder; Singer: Kay Starr

George Fox

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Church steeples

The Protestant church steeples still seen in The Town Line’s surrounding communities include the towering beauty at the China Village Baptist Church. Back during the decades of 80 or more years ago, some of these steeples summoned the citizens of the surrounding communities to Sunday morning assemblies to an extent not seen as often today, no matter what the weather was.

This might seem like a big leap here but bear with me for a moment. I was reminded of the required weekly attendance at both church and Sunday school from my parents, for what seemed like untold years to my immature mind, at the East Vassalboro Friends Meeting AND how often we kids heard about Quakerism’s 17th century founder George Fox (1624-1691) after recently reading a quote from him about steeples in his Journal, itself quoted in a critical essay by Sir Victor S. Pritchett (1900-1997).

Pritchett wrote:

“One hesitates, since Freud, to admit to a strong personal feeling for church steeples, and yet who does not respond to the ring and vividness of that phrase which occurs again and again in George Fox’s Journal and which puts the man and his book a key higher than the common chord of living – ‘As I was walking in a close with several Friends, I lifted up my head and espied three steeple house spires and they struck at my life.'”

Both Fox’s Journal and Pritchett’s 1991 Complete Collected Essays, which contains over 1,300 pages of his book reviews, are highly recommended.

Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play Our Town is a wistful and, at odd moments, sardonic tribute to pre-World War I village life in the fictional Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, in three acts with the subtitles 1901, Daily Life; 1904, Love and Marriage; and 1913, Death and Eternity.

Whether it’s two housewives, Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, chatting outdoors while snapping stringbeans, the alcoholic church organist Simon Stinson rehearsing the choir on Wednesday night, the young high school graduates George Gibbs and Emily Webb falling in love or the recently departed spirits of a few villagers conversing in a holding pattern at the cemetery while a funeral is occurring during a driving rainstorm, Wilder caught the immediacy of life more than a century ago in this village quite brilliantly.

One quite apt quote from the main character who’s referred to as the Stage Manager – “We like to know the facts about everybody.”

A very good movie version came out in 1940 starring William Holden, Thomas Mitchell, Martha Scott, Faye Bainter, etcs.

Kay Starr

Kay Starr

Jazz singer Kay Starr (1922-2016) recorded a Capitol lp, Movin’ (ST 1254) which contains 12 positively vibrant performances of Great American Songbook classics – On a Slow Boat to China, I Cover the Waterfront, Around the World, Sentimental Journey, Night Train, Indiana, Lazy River, etcs. She had the arrangements of the gifted conductor Van Alexander while the album was produced by Dave Cavanaugh.

And it can be heard on YouTube.

Robert PT Coffin essay Kennebec Crystals continued

Continuing with Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals, on Maine’s once most important winter industry, the harvesting of ice from the Kennebec River:

“May saw the ice ships arrive and tie up at the docks. The Kennebec crystals came down the runs, slithered across the decks of the four-masters and into the holds. When a number of the old hulls were loaded, which had once breasted the waves on the underside of the world, white under thunderclouds of sail, a tugboat steamed down-river on a neap tide, dragging the old veterans of the Atlantic back to the Atlantic again, below Popham.”

More next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Author: Larry McMurtry; TV Show: Elementary; Composer: Gustav Mahler

Larry McMurtry

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Larry McMurtry

Novelist Larry McMurtry (1936-2021) was perhaps most well known for Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show. His 2008 books: A Memoir is an account of his adventures as a voracious reader, book collector (he would eventually amass a personal library of 28,000 books) and dealer in rare and-not-so-rare books.

He describes growing up on a ranch in the vast West Texas spaces, at least 18 miles from the nearest town and his family being plentifully self-sufficient with raising cattle, hogs and chickens and growing vegetables for their food supply during the depression.
However, books were another matter:

“Of books there were none….it puzzles me how totally bookless our ranch house was. There must have been a Bible, but I don’t remember ever seeing it. My father did read the range cattle books of J. Frank Dobie, but the only one I remember seeing in our house…was The Longhorns, which I borrowed for my father from Mr. Will Taylor, a wealthy and elderly oilman who lived in a great mansion just south of our hay field.”

McMurtry later bought the mansion and used it to house his library.

Highly recommended for those who love, read and collect books.

Elementary

I have been bingeing on Elementary, another take on Sherlock Holmes, with the very consummate starring roles of Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson, Aidan Quinn as a chief of detectives Captain Thomas Gregson (Quinn was in Waterville during the filming of Empire Falls and portrayed David Roby, one of the two sons of Paul Newman’s character), and Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell.

The setting is the 21st century New York City and depicts Holmes and Watson’s roles as consultants for the Manhattan Police department and Sherlock’s super-human intuition for solving the continually odious murders in each of its seven seasons from 2012 to 2019 on CBS and now available on Hulu.

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler

Depending on my mood, I shift back and forth between the 3rd and 5th Symphonies of the ten that Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) left us. YouTube has quite a number of performances of the 3rd which I have lately been enjoying. Recently the Bucharest, Romania, Enescu Festival 2021 hosted a very exciting Mahler 3rd with Paavo Jarvi conducting the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, chorus and the very good contralto Wiebke Lehmkuhl.

Unfortunately that one is not available yet on YouTube but a video broadcast of Paavo from 2008 can be seen.

Here at the house are over 40 different Mahler 3rds, including two different ones of Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink, Klaus Tennstedt, Jascha Horenstein, Erich Leinsdorf, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Rafael Kubelik plus single ones of Heinz Rogner, Herbert Kegel, Sir Simon Rattle, Esa Pekka Salonen, Semyon Bychkov, Michael Gielen, Riccardo Chailly, Claudio Abbado, Vaclav Jiracek, Benjamin Zander, Pierre Boulez, Richard Burgin, Carl Schuricht, Antoni Wit, Maurice Abravanel, James Levine, Andrew Litton, Armin Jordan, Jesus Lopez-Cobos etcs. Each one scores points and I hope that this list of Maestros might instigate curiosity about the 3rd and other compositions.

Continuing with Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals:

“The geese were coming back early, up along Merrymeeting, that same spring, before the middle of April. And in late April that best day of all the spring on the Kennebec came, when the first boat arrived, the Boston steamer, with the star on her smokestack and her whistle tied down all the way from Swan Island to the Cobbosseecontee, waking the dead and the hills with her news of spring at last. There was not a church bell in the five towns that wasn’t ringing. Women in bombazine waved handkerchiefs. School was let out for the day and the hills were alive with children.”

More next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Author: H.L. Mencken; Film: Cop Land

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken

The delightful scoundrel H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) wrote the scholarly and hilarious Treatise on the Gods in 1930 and revised it in 1946. Like so much of Mencken’s writing, it is very biased, scores points both intentionally and unintentionally in spots, reveals blindness in other spots, and was never intended to be taken very seriously.

In his 1943 On Native Grounds, Alfred Kazin (1915-1998) spoke of Mencken’s popularity among the younger generation of the bootlegging 1920s:

“As it was, he not only rallied all the young writers together and imposed his skepticism upon the new generation, but also brought a new and uproarious gift for high comedy into a literature that had never been too quick to laugh….Mencken proved that one could be ‘a civilizing influence’ by writing like a clown.”

Mencken’s own passage on the conflict between love your neighbor as yourself and loving yourself shows his devious wit:

“So long as it was believed that the end of the world was at hand it all was well enough to be poor and humble, but when years of uncertainty began to stretch ahead every man of any prudence had to take thought for his own security and that of his family. Thus the Beatitudes were forgotten and the immemorial game of dog-eat-dog was resumed.”

Cop Land

One highly recommended film, the 1997 Cop Land, depicts a group of New York City’s men and women in blue, the community they live in across the George Washington Bridge, and the harrowingly moral ambiguity in their conduct both on and off the job.

It even takes on the dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy in its gritty realism, hopeless cynicism and the struggles to do what’s right.

The cast included Robert de Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Sylvester Stallone, Janeane Garofalo and Annabella Sciorra, along with others, in one outstanding ensemble performance.

Also highly recommended is Howard Shore’s very eloquent soundtrack.

Robert PT Coffin’s essay
Kennebec Crystals continued

Continuing with paragraphs from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals:

“That year the Hudson did not freeze over ‘til March. The betting of the Maine farmers had been three to one against its doing so. They won their bets. The rival river, the only rival the clear blue Kennebec had among the rivers of earth, had lean-kine stalls along its banks that year of our Lord. The Lord had been good. The Kennebec ice farmers heaped great towers of the harvest outside their houses and covered them with spruce boughs and sawdust, for extra measure. The Knickerbocker Ice Company lost nothing. For they owned most of the icehouses along both the Hudson and the Kennebec. All ice was ice to them. The Kennebec crop was better than the Hudson, in fact, for the water in the Maine river was clearer and purer. Kennebec ice stood at the head of all ice. It was the Hudson ice cutters who lost. But if Peter was robbed, Paul was paid. The Kennebec farmers went back to their hens and heifers with wallets stuffing out their trousers and their sons’ trousers, after the $4-a-week lodging and eating bills had been paid. The grocers canceled whole tomes of ledgers. The schoolteachers kept their patience right up to ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ in the Friday afternoon’s speaking. New barrels of pork and flour came home to the high farms on the whistling runners of the horse sleds. And barrels of halibuts’ heads and broken-bread. Active Frost stopped moving his checkers when his foreman turned to take a shot at the spittoon. And Timothy Toothaker asked the question when he brought his Susannah the first bunch of mayflowers. They were married and setting up housekeeping on new pine floors and in the new spooled maple bed before the catkins were gone from the popples.”

To be continued next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Novelist: Mary McCarthy; Conductor: Karl Bohm

Mary McCarthy

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Mary McCarthy

Novelist Mary McCarthy (1912-1989) summered in Castine for years and received honorary degrees from Colby College, in Waterville, and Bowdoin College, in Brunswick. She possessed a feisty, at times savagely critical brilliance as seen in her novels and essays.

I have read two of the novels, 1954’s A Charmed Life and 1963’s The Group, which became a bestseller and was turned into a Hollywood film.

A Charmed Life is a thinly disguised fictional depiction of her brief marriage to the renowned and fascinatingly brilliant essayist and critic Edmund Wilson (1896-1972) and not very flattering.

For reasons of space, I will mention one detail. He used to lock her in their bedroom for two-and-a-half hours to force her to write.

She also flirted, as did many other intellectuals, with communism during the 1930s depression but broke off with those who supported Joseph Stalin.

In the 1960s, she travelled to North Vietnam and wrote two books in which she claimed that the Viet Cong were not brutal at all in their treatment of civilians, a point of view that has been rightfully refuted and rebuked.

She appeared on the Dick Cavett Show in 1979 and caused controversy and a lawsuit brought against her by playwright Lillian Hellmann (1905-1984); McCarthy charged Hellmann’s Memoirs with being nothing but lies, “even her a’s, an’s and the’s were lies.” Her allegations about Hellmann engendered much investigation by journalists, proved McCarthy to be telling the truth and led to a decline in Hellmann’s reputation.

One of McCarthy’s three younger brothers was the actor Kevin McCarthy (1914-2010) who achieved fame as the star of the 1956 movie classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and who gave a consummate performance as a serial killer in a 1968 guest appearance on Jack Lord’s Hawaii Five-O.

Karl Bohm

Karl Bohm (1894-1981) left many fine recordings as a conductor. One particular LP (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft 139159, early 1960s) contains the Mozart Sym phonies 26, 31 (known as the Paris Sym­phony) and 34. Bohm’s conducting of the Berlin Philharmonic yielded performances of bracing rhythmic energy, the most savvy phrasing, exquisitely underscored detail and graceful elegance.

Bohm did conduct in Germany during the Hitler years and supported several of his policies. Somehow, he did get de-nazified after World War II by the Allies and, very strangely, became bosom buddies with composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990).

Robert PT Coffin Kennebec Crystals
continued

Continuing with paragraphs from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals:

“And the steel-bright days went by. No thaws came by to erase the grooves in the checkerboards. The icehouses were filled to their eaves and the last tier roofed in the aisles between the cakes. Roughage was heaped over all. The doors were closed and sealed.”

To be continued.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Harry C. Browne

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Harry C. Browne

A ten-inch acoustically recorded shellac, Columbia A2179, featured singer and banjo player Harry C. Browne (1878-1954) performing Balm of Gilead, while side two contained another banjoist Fred Van Epps (1878-1960) playing Southern Medley, comprised of such quaint tunes as Old Folks at Home, Jordan Is a Hard Road to Travel, Kentucky Home, Clime Up Chillern and Carve that Possum.

Harry C. Browne was a native of North Adams, Massachusetts, and fought with his home state regiment in the Spanish American War. He was also a noted actor and appeared in several staged productions, including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (whose author Kate Douglas Wiggin attended Gorham Female Seminary, now University of Southern Maine, and whose home in Hollis still exists and can be seen in a Google photograph) and later found his way to Hollywood where he starred in several films during the silent era.

Browne was a very active campaigner for the Democratic party and, in 1914, was offered a diplomatic post by then Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) which he declined.

During the late 1920s, Browne was an announcer for CBS radio.

He started recording for Columbia records in 1916, scoring a hit with Turkey in the Straw; that selection’s initial title was horrifically racist and won’t be mentioned here.

Balm of Gilead was recorded later the same year on October 16; side two was set down for posterity on November 29.

Fred Van Epps was the father of jazz guitarist George Van Epps (1913-1998), one of the busiest studio session players for various LP record labels.

Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals continued

Continuing with paragraphs from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals:

“Inside, men caught the thundering cakes and switched them, this one to the right, this one to the left, to their places. The walls of cakes rose gradually, aisles of air spaces left between the walls of solid crystal. The workers here were in their shirt sleeves. They were the youngest of the men, sons more often than fathers. Their work made them glow inside like cookstoves. The sweat ran down their faces. They stood by the cataracts of ice and flung the bright streams each way, stepping as in a dance to keep clear of a blow that would shatter their bones. The work was like the thunder of summer in their ears, thunder all day long. And the house filled up with the cakes. Square cakes piled as even as the sides of a barn, true and deep blue in the steaming dusk. The men walked between walls of Maine’s cold wealth.”

To be continued.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Symphony Sounds from the Colby Campus

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Symphony Sounds from the Colby Campus

Century Custom Records, once based in Cape Elizabeth, released an LP, Symphony Sounds from the Colby Campus, an anthology of live performances of the Colby Community Symphony Orchestra conducted by its late Music Director Ermanno F. Comparetti during the 1970-1971 seasons.

The selections were as follows:

The opening Allegro of Bach’s 4th Brandenburg Concerto with flutists Jean Rosenblum and Marion Agnew, and violinist/concertmaster Mary Hallman.

Habanera from Bizet’s opera Carmen, as sung by mezzo-soprano Dorothy Spurling, who died in 2020 at the age of 88 and who frequently appeared in concerts on campus during those earlier years.

Another opening Allegro movement from Spring in Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons, again played by concertmaster Hallman.

Frescobaldi’s Toccata in D minor performed by the full orchestra.

Vio Che Sapete from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, sung by Spurling.

Finally, the very famous 1st movement of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 performed by Tibor Yusti who taught piano at the college and gave a successful recital at New York City’s Town Hall, in 1961, that was reviewed by the New York Times.

The orchestra consisting of performers at the professional, semi-professional and amateur level gave spirited renditions .

Since 1959, I have attended Colby Symphony concerts at the Waterville Opera House, Waterville High School Auditorium, Colby’s Lorimer Chapel and its now-demolished Wadsworth Field House.

Back during the 1960s, I remember the college’s former President, Dean Robert Strider, gave commentary at a few concerts and sang the baritone solos in a performance of the Brahms German Requiem.

Two other former concertmasters, Max Cimbolleck and Geza Fiedler, along with Fred Petra who was gifted at playing both the trumpet and double bass in the orchestra, were family friends and music teachers of myself and other family members.

Other acquaintances listed among the personnel were violist Church Blair, cellists Dorothy Reumann, Anthony Betts and Gratia Laws, John Wheeler on French horn, flutist Jean Rosenblum and harpsichordist Adel Heinrich.

* * * * * *

Robert PT Coffin’s Kennebec Crystals continued

Continuing with paragraphs from Robert PT Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals, on the harvesting of ice, Maine’s former major winter industry:

“The afternoon saw the first great checkers of ice lifted from the checkerboards. With heaving of cant dogs and picks, the square crystals came up into the splendid sunshine, sparkling like emeralds shading to azure in their deep hearts, with sections of whole rainbows where the edges were flawed. Layer on layer of brightness, layers of solid winter to go into the hot heart of summer in faraway cities and scorching lands. Long canals opened up into dark water, and men poled the cakes down to the ends where other men caught them with cant dogs as they came, hoisted them up on the ice, slued them to the runways. Chains clanked, the hooks bit into them, and up they flashed along the high lines of steel and plunged into the icehouses.”

Continued next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Baritone Oscar Seagle, Soprano Marie Tiffany

Oscar Seagle

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Baritone Oscar Seagle, Soprano Marie Tiffany

Baritone Oscar Seagle (1877-1945) was one of the best selling recording stars for Columbia records during the post World War I years of the acoustic era. He recorded two hymns for the label on a 10-inch shellac in 1921 – I Love to Tell the Story and Nearer My God to Thee (the one being played by musicians on the Titanic as it was sinking).

Seagle was accompanied by four men described as the Columbia Quartette, with an accompanying orchestra. He sang both hymns beautifully and with conviction.

In later years, he started a music school in New York’s Adirondacks.

Columbia A3354.

Soprano Marie Tiffany (1881-1948) and contralto Elizabeth Lennox (1894-1992) recorded Barcarolle, translated as Oh, Night of Love, from the opera, Tales of Hoffmann, by French composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), also on a ten inch acoustic shellac, in 1921; side two contained Miss Tiffany’s rendition of Jules Massenet’s (1842-1912) Elegie. Both have been commonly recorded staples since those years and I thought I could care less about ever hearing them again until I played this record. Both sides were sung with a vibrant beauty and freshness as though they had just been composed.

A number of recordings by both ladies can be heard on YouTube but not these, unfortunately.

Brunswick 5040.

Continuing with Robert PT Coffin’s Kennebec Crystals:

“Then the workers went to the shores and ate their cold ham and bread and broke the crystals in the top of their jugs and drank the sluggish milk. They built fires to toast their thick soles and sat on the leeward side chewing their quids of tobacco in the heat and haze of the smoke that made the tears run from their eyes. Fathers and sons broke into cakes and frosty doughnuts the wives and mothers had made. Apple pie with splinters of ice.”

More next week.