REVIEW POTPOURRI: 10th former President John Tyler

John Tyler

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

John Tyler

The 10th former President John Tyler (1790-1862) did forge important treaties with Great Britain and China and brought about the admission of Texas as a state. But he had a stubborn streak in his independence and refusal to compromise on his own principles, which quickly led to the resignations of every member of his cabinet, except for Secretary of State Daniel Webster.

The easy going William Henry Harrison had reluctantly accepted Tyler as a running mate , the vice-president had thought that he could spend most of his time on his Virginia plantation while showing up a few months a year to preside over the Senate and both gentlemen could stay out of each other’s hair. Fate intervened with Harrison dying of pneumonia one month after taking office.

Congress was so alienated by Tyler’s incorrigible personality that they fought him on just about every piece of domestic legislation, even refusing to allocate funds for much-needed renovations in the White House.

Letitia Tyler

Tyler was married twice. His first wife Letitia Christian Tyler (1790-1842) bore him eight children and, three years before her husband assumed the presidency, had suffered a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair.

Her daughter-in-law Priscilla described her as follows:

“She must have been very beautiful in her youth, for she is beautiful now in her declining years and wretched health. Her skin is as smooth and soft as a baby’s; she has sweet, loving black eyes, and her features are delicately moulded; besides this, her feet and hands are perfect; and she is gentle and graceful in her movements, with a most peculiar air of native refinement about everything she says and does. She is the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine…”

Letitia died on September 10, 1842. Daughter-in-law Priscilla assumed White House hostess duties for most of Tyler’s term and the parties were a smashing success, the guest lists guided by a very generous open door policy that included Tyler’s political enemies.

One such occasion proved to be a personal embarrassment for the hostess when Secretary of State Daniel Webster was in attendance, as described in a letter to her sisters:

“…at the moment the ices were being put on the table, everybody in good humor, and all going ‘merry as a marriage bell,’ what should I do but grow deathly pale, and, for the first time in my life, fall back in a fainting fit! Mr. Web­ster… pick­ed me up…and Mr. Tyler (Priscilla’s husband Robert), with his usual impetuosity, deluged us both with ice-water, ruining my lovely new dress, and, I am afraid, producing a decided coolness between himself and the Secretary of State….”

A frequent guest, former First Lady Dolley Madison, happily made herself available at Priscilla’s request for consultation on details.

On February 28,1844, President Tyler and approximately 350 guests were upon the propeller-driven steam frigate Princeton for a cruise up the Potomac where a specially mounted gun, the Peacemaker, had been fired for demonstration purposes during these festivities. One final shot had been requested, the weapon exploded and eight men were killed .

Julia Tyler

Among those casualties were Daniel Webster’s replacement as Secretary of State Abel P. Upchurch (after three years of loyalty to Tyler, Webster resigned because of the controversy around the annexation of Texas which then allowed slavery, an issue on which he and President Tyler disagreed. However, both men had a high regard for each other, despite their differences on this issue and others); Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer; and Tyler’s good friend David Gardiner, whose 24-year-old daughter Julia was engaged to the president .

The president was below deck with Julia when the explosion occurred, who fainted in his arms when the tragedy occurred.

They were married the following June, the gaiety of White House social occasions was sustained during the remainder of Tyler’s administration and, for Julia, her husband could do no wrong.

She gave her husband seven more children and, when James Knox Polk became the chief executive, the couple retired to Sherwood Forest, a spacious plantation Tyler purchased for his wife that was located on the James River, in Virginia, and equipped with all the creature comforts then existing.

The magnificent parties continued with winter balls, infinite numbers of teas and lavish dinners.

In 1861, Tyler attended a Peace Conference in D.C. in a futile attempt to allay North/South tensions; he then returned to Virginia, sided with the Confederacy, was elected to the Confederate Congress and was ready to serve when he died in January 1862; his death was unnoticed in Washington and he remains the only former president not laid to rest under an American flag.

His widow outlived him by 27 years and died, at age 69, in 1889.

Tyler is also the earliest former president to have a grandchild still living, a 94-year-old gentleman unfortunately suffering from dementia and in an assisted living institution, also in Virginia.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Leonard Bernstein

The musical genius Leonard Bernstein was born August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He would achieve fame as the composer of West Side Story, as the first native-born conductor of the New York Philharmonic, as a teacher with his televised Young People’s Concerts and as a pianist with immense sight reading ability.

My earliest memory of him is the megahit 1959 Columbia LP of him conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, from the piano, and An American in Paris. Bernstein became inspired by Gershwin as a teenager but had certain reservations as revealed in the following comment:

“He has left music none of which is dull, much of which is mediocre and some of which is imaginative, skillful and beautiful. There is rightly much controversy as to its lasting value.”

Bernstein’s father and mother were Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine, Samuel Bernstein becoming successful as a manufacturer of beauty supplies (He expected his son to follow him into it; when the young man refused, Sam at first refused to pay for his music lessons, but seeing his son’s talent and persistence, finally relented.).

In 1939, Bernstein was one of a tiny handful of students admitted to Fritz Reiner’s conducting class at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia. Reiner’s conducting, particularly via the Chicago Symphony recordings he made between 1953 and 1962 when he was its music director, has thrilled me for decades with its searing clarity and beauty but the Hungarian-born Maestro had a renowned reputation for being a holy terror with orchestra players and students in his classroom.

When the Maestro auditioned a potential student, he would fling open a musical score on the piano and direct the student to play it. Bernstein passed the audition with flying colors and was the only student to get an A from Reiner.

Bernstein later commented that Reiner hammered home the importance of knowing every note in a composition more than all the players combined.

However, both conductors had radically different bodily movements in front of an orchestra. Reiner made very tiny movements with his baton, avoided perspiration and cued with his eyes. Bernstein jumped all over the podium, throwing his entire body and soul into the music and once fell off the podium during the climax of Tchaikovsky’s very exciting Francesca da Rimini.

It is reported that Reiner was once watching Bernstein grate on TV with a friend and commented, “He didn’t learn that from me.”

Composer/critic Virgil Thomson wrote, “He shagged, he shimmied and, believe it or not, he bumped.”

In 1940, Bernstein met the legendary Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky who mentored him like a father.

Other milestones during the 1940s:

In 1943, New York Philharmonic conductor Artur Rodzinski appointed Bernstein his assistant. That same year guest conductor Bruno Walter took ill before a concert and the 25 year old Bernstein substituted and achieved a smashing success with musicians, critics and the audiences at Carnegie Hall and those listening to the radio broadcast.

In 1944, Bernstein’s Jeremiah Symphony and musical On the Town had their acclaimed premieres.

In 1945, Bernstein replaced Leopold Stokowski as Music Director of the government funded New York City Symphony which gave very inexpensive concerts and his 3 years were renowned for their adventurous programming and musical quality.

Bernstein’s many recordings with the New York Philharmonic during his tenure from 1958 to 1969 and in later years with such orchestras as the Israel and Vienna Philharmonic number in the hundreds and, whatever faults, they all have an emotional intensity and individuality.

Most can be accessed via YouTube and are on cd.

Five particularly outstanding recordings for beginners are his first LP coupling of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and a very powerful Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet just after becoming music director of the New York Philharmonic; his Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony from the early ‘60s; the Beethoven Emperor Concerto with pianist Rudolf Serkin and 5th Symphony from the same years (I have never heard a better Beethoven 5th) and the 1980s live Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony with its very slow tempos that only contribute to greater eloquence.

On October 14, 1990, Leonard Bernstein died from a combination of heart attack, emphysema and other ailments at his apartment in Manhattan. He was 72 and, because of his constant cigarette smoking, had been suffering from emphysema since he was 29.

Highly recommended are the biographies by David Ewen and Joan Peyser.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: William Henry Harrison

William H. Harrison

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

William Henry Harrison

Former President #9, William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) achieved renown as an army captain in command at Fort Washington, Ohio, when he was in his 20s; as a governor in the Indiana Territory during the early 1800s; and being promoted to Major General after defeating the Indians in a battle at Tippecanoe which was a Wabash River settlement in Indiana (Hence his nickname: 1840 presidential campaign slogan with vice-presidential running mate John Tyler – “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.”) – and his success in a number of other War of 1812 battles, including the defeat of the formidable Indian Chief Tecumseh.

After resigning from the military in 1814, Harrison served in the Ohio state senate, as Congressional representative from the Buckeye state and finally U.S. Senator.

Anna Harrison

Harrison’s wife Anna Symmes Harrison (1775-1864) was born in New Jersey; her father was then serving in the American army. When her mother died, her father returned home, disguised himself as a Brtish officer and took his year-old daughter through enemy lines to live with her maternal grandparents on Long Island for the duration of the Revolutionary War.

After the war ended, her father had become a judge on the New Jersey Supreme Court, and then moved to Ohio where he accumulated 100,000 acres of land while Anna attended private schools on Long Island and in New York City.

Judge Symmes came east to remarry and took Anna, her stepmother and other settlers back to Ohio to live on his acreage. Shortly after arriving, Anna met her future husband who in­stantly fell in love with her but Papa considered Captain Harrison a poor prospect due to his low salary and refused his consent.

Anna was undeterred and, when her father was away, the couple married on November 22, 1795, exactly 168 years before tragedy struck a later president, in Dallas, Texas. By 1804, the couple was living in the Indiana Territory in a spacious log house which she and her husband built themselves, not long after he became governor.

The couple gave hospitality to many passing through, especially preachers, and spearheaded the building of schools, churches and libraries throughout the Territory.

When her husband won the White House, other family members traveled east with him but she was too ill at that point. D.C. was quite chilly while the inaugural festivities were going on, the president participating fully and throwing all caution aside. His March 4 inauguration speech clocked in at 75 minutes as he delivered it without any winter coat and hat.

The following day, already developing a cold, the president went shopping for groceries at an outdoor market and the cold worsened into pneumonia within a couple of days. He died a month later at the age of 68 and, on his deathbed, reciting one of the Psalms from memory.

Meanwhile Anna had recovered from her own illness back home in Ohio and had finished packing for the move when she received word of her husband’s death.

Congress gave her a $25,000 pension, which was the equivalent of the presidential annual salary and which would be granted to future presidential widows for several years.

She outlived her husband by 23 years, and nine of their ten children. Three of her grandsons, including the 22nd president Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901, who served from 1889 to 1893), fought on the Union side during the Civil War, a commitment she took much pride in even though she abhorred war as a general principle.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Vivid memories of our first TV

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Vivid memories of our first TV

I have vivid 1950s memories of some very engaging shows that were syndicated to the five channels that came in on the television sets in East Vassalboro (I should add that we were the last family in the village to get a TV set – a bulky used Philco which my grandmother Annabelle Ingraham Cates purchased for $30 from our local repairman, Richard Dowe, who was based in South China, and it arrived in early November 1959. For myself, it was the equivalent of the Second Coming, heaven on earth.).

Upon arrival, the usual sibling spat; I wanted us to watch the Three Stooges, then part of the nightly Mighty 90 show, hosted by Maine country and western singer Ken McKenzie, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., on the Portland CBS affiliate WGAN, channel 13 Mondays through Fridays. The others were screaming for Popeye on the Portland NBC affiliate WCSH, channel 6. For some very mysterious reason, I got my way and the other siblings, previously unacquainted with the Three Stooges, were roaring with laughter and forgot all about Popeye.

In addition to the Three Stooges’ 20 minute episodes, the show would feature other 1930s-40s Columbia Screen Gems shorts starring such comedians as Hugh Herbert, Leon Errol, Andy Clyde. etc., each evening, interspersed with Cowboy Ken chatting with the children gathered in the studio.

Around Christmas, Santa Claus would answer letters from kids around the state; I wrote one and heard my name mentioned on the air, which led to feeling on cloud nine for at least a week.

One of the sponsors of the show was our own Farrington’s Clothing Outlet right here in South China and a very busy store during those years.

The last half hour was given over to an action show, one of five such series rotating weekly. They included the following: The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, starring British actor William Russell. The Adventures of Casey Jones, with Alan Hale Jr., later better known as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island.

The Rough Riders, with Kent Taylor, Jan Merlin and Peter Whitney, itself a very gripping western dealing with three men who rode throughout the post-Civil War West dispensing justice to outlaws. I remember one episode in which Highway Patrol star Broderick Crawford did a guest appearance as a very evil murderer. Ivanhoe, starring Roger Moore, later, of course, 007 (James Bond) after Sean Connery.

The Buccaneers with Robert Shaw, who would later achieve even greater fame during the early ‘70s in the film classics, The Sting and Jaws.

Some more memories in the following weeks.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – U.S. President: Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Martin Van Buren

When I was in third grade, an aunt gave me a calendar with paintings and photos of all the presidents from George Washington to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I remember being fascinated by these names and faces: Washington’s implacable dignity, John Adams’ cherubic candor, Jefferson’s humane inscrutability, etc.

Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) with his bald head and wavy hair similar to that of the Three Stooges Larry Fine, had a good-natured congeniality and aura of approachability.

Reading up on his career in New York state politics and his subsequent rise to national clout, I now see how the term used to describe him, “sly fox”, was an apt one.

A few examples:

Van Buren was sympathetic to the farmers but also allied himself with the insidious Tammany Hall party machine which would influence so much of what went on in New York.

He supported state Governor Dewitt Clinton’s spearheading of the building of the Erie Canal but then threw his weight behind Clinton’s opponent in a re-election campaign.

He believed in the expansion of voting rights but opposed universal suffrage.

He opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state but was otherwise silent, seeing the abolition of slavery as a threat to national unity (in 1848, he would speak out against slavery as the chosen candidate for the short-lived Free Soil party, a coalition of anti-slavery Democrats, Whigs and abolitionists.).

His skills as a mediator and good listener were highly conducive to building some bridges between political foes, as was his occasional support of policies anathema to his allies.

Van Buren’s wife Hannah died at 35 of tuberculosis in 1819. In 1838, their son Abraham married Angelica Singleton (1818-1877), a second cousin of former First Lady Dolly Madison who finagled the match. During the remaining two years of Van Buren’s presidency, she served as her father-in-law’s hostess with consummate elegance.

Van Buren outlived presidents Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor and witnessed the election of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Being born to Dutch-speaking parents, Van Buren learned English as a second language.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Sir Malcolm Sargent

Jacqueline Du Pré

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sir Malcolm Sargent

Sir Malcolm Sargent

Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) conducted a huge number of fine recordings from the 1930s to not long before he died in 1967.

Ones that particularly stand out are a 78 set of a Vieuxtemps 5th Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz from the early 1930s and their stereo remake in 1961 coupled with one very beautiful performance of Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, itself highly recommended as a piece for newcomers to classical music.

Sargent also conducted violinist Ruggiero Ricci in two different and very distinguished recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, one in 1951 and a stereo remake ten years later.

He collaborated with violinist Albert Sammons in a wonderful 1940s 78 set of Frederick Delius’s evocative Violin Concerto and, during the 1960s, with the renowned Jacqueline Du Pré (1945-1987) in the same composer’s Cello Concerto.

Sargent recorded the complete Handel’s Messiah 4 times – in 1946 for Columbia, in 1955 and 1959 for Angel and in 1965 for Reader’s Digest. He conducted live performances annually for decades. In addition to the four different sets, I have his 1932 Victor 78 of two choruses from the oratorio .

Sargent was gifted as a conductor of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as HMS Pinafore and the Mikado. His 1930s set of all five Beethoven Piano Concertos with Artur Schnabel (1882-1951) was the first complete one with that pianist’s interpretive wizardry as a performance standard difficult to equal.

Sir Malcolm became popular as the conductor of the annual London Proms concerts, replacing Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944) in 1947 until his own death in 1967, when he was suéceeded by Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013).

Sir Thomas Beecham

Sargent and his good friend, the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), would often meet for lunch and ex­changed gossip about their romantic escapades; because of Sargent’s taste for expensive clothes, Beecham referred to him as Flash Harry.

Although singers and soloists enjoyed working with him, orchestral players had issues with Sargent’s arrogance and general disregard for their well-being, especially with tenure. Several friends considered him a “cad” and “bounder ” while his own son was estranged from him for years.

Because of the earlier-mentioned philandering, one woman warned her friends never to take a cab with the Maestro.

Sargent’s health declined during his last years due to pancreatic cancer but he did a successful guest concert with the Chicago Symphony a few months before his death.

Many of Sargent’s recordings and broadcasts can be heard via YouTube.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Film: A Kiss Before Dying

Robert Wagner

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

A Kiss Before Dying

Recently I viewed a 1956 film noir, A Kiss Before Dying, starring Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, both still living at 92; Virginia Leith (1925-2019) and Jeffrey Hunter (1925-1969).

From the visual perspective, it was a very good United Artists technicolor experience. The wide shots of the college campus, the small city downtown and the magnificent desert cliffs of the four corners horseback riding trails of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona were skillfully done.

The movie was based on a 1953 novel of the same name by Ira Levin (1929-2007) whose Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives were also transformed into successful films.

The plot concerns a college student, Bud Corliss (Wagner), who is pursuing a gold-digging courtship of a wealthy heiress, Dorey (Woodward), and she becomes pregnant. She is also madly in love with Corliss and desires marriage even if her father were to disown her, but a lack of reciprocation leads Corliss to planning a murder.

He forges her signature and mails a suicide note to Dorey’s father. Then, under pretense of taking her to the City Hall marriage bureau on the 12th floor (knowing that that office is closed during lunch hour), he suggests that the two of them, while waiting for the office to re-open, walk up to the rooftop balcony to enjoy the view, upon which he pushes her off the roof.

For “lack of any real evidence” – admittedly a point which stretches credulity, the murder is ruled a suicide by the authorities.

A few months elapse during which Corliss worms his way into the affection of Dorey’s sister Ellen (Leith) without her at first knowing of his connection with Dorey, but the plot thickens and I will leave off here.

I have generally found Robert Wagner’s acting to be overrated and his portrayal of Corliss does little to change my mind. The gifted Joanne Woodward considered Dorey her worst role but I found it a convincing, sympathetic depiction.

Virginia Leith

Virginia Leith was also very good at conveying charisma in sister Ellen’s personality, while Jeffrey Hunter as a tutor at the college who was working with Dorey, Mary Astor (1906-1987) as Bud’s mother and George Macready (1899-1973) as Dorey and Ellen’s father all did very good work.

Hunter was superb as John Wayne’s co-star in the 1956 John Ford classic The Searchers and the 1960 Hell to Eternity in which he portrayed the World War II Marine soldier Guy Gabaldon (1926-2006) who talked over 1,300 Japanese soldiers and civilians into surrendering during key battles in two of the Pacific Islands.

Mary Astor’s most famous role may have been as the murderess in Humphrey Bogart’s 1941 The Maltese Falcon.

Macready frequently portrayed either polished villains or temperamental men of wealth.

Berlin-born Director Gerd Oswald (1919-1989 and, as far as I know, no relation to John F. Kennedy’s assassin) did generally good work, except for the bland Wagner, and was most renowned for episodes of such TV shows as Perry Mason, The Outer Limits, Bonanza, The Fugitive and Gentle Ben.


Andrew Jackson

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Andrew Jackson

The seventh former President Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) has drawn much controversy during the more than 180 years since his years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from 1829 to 1837. His stand against the abolition of slavery, his being a wealthy plantation owner with slaves at his large Tennessee mansion known as the Hermitage, his signing into law the forced removal of native Americans from their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama to the Oklahoma Indian Territory (resulting in so many deaths from disease and malnutrition on the Trail of Tears) and his abrasive uncouth personality alienated many of the more socially refined ladies and gentlemen during his lifetime.

However, his list of accomplishments include a few milestones. As general of the American forces stationed in the Gulf Coast during the War of 1812, he drove the British out of that area during the 1814 Battle of New Orleans, itself becoming the title of a 1958 Columbia Records megahit 45 by the late Johnny Horton (1922-1960) which many kids in East Vassalboro, including myself, owned and played constantly, much to the annoyance of our parents.

As President, Jackson fought and won against the establishment of a National Bank which he rightfully saw as benefiting only the wealthy. He was also the only president to pay off the national debt during his administration. Needless to say, he resonated with the common folks.

When he first arrived at the White House, he threw open the doors to large crowds outside and got more than he bargained for. The inside partygoers busted every window in the White House, Jackson himself narrowly escaping through a kitchen window.

Only when the servants brought food and kegs of beer outside to the Rose Garden did the melee subside.

Interestingly by some weird twist of fate, Jackson’s vice-president was also South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun who stayed on in the job after former sixth President John Quincy Adams was defeated in his own re-election bid, but Jackson and Calhoun would have a falling out and Jackson would appoint Secretary of State and future eighth President Martin Van Buren as Veep for the second term.

Rachel Jackson

Andrew Jackson’s wife Rachel (1767-1828) died one month before Jackson moved into the White House. She had been married previously for several years to an abusive man and, trying to escape from that relationship, had moved back to her mother’s home. That husband filed for divorce, after which she and Jackson got married in 1791, only to find out that Hubby One had been mistaken when he told Rachel the divorce had been granted without confirmation from the court.

When the divorce finally came through, the Jacksons had a second ceremony in 1794.

When Jackson ran for president, his political enemies viciously slandered the couple as big amiss and the distress caused Rachel much suffering and depression and may have led to her death at the age of 61.

As did her predecessor, Elizabeth Monroe, Rachel disliked political life but was supportive of her husband when he was a Senator from Tennessee, much preferring life at the Hermitage. She once commented that she would much prefer to be a doorkeeper in the heavenly house of the Lord to living in the White House palace.

A niece Emily Donelson (1807-1836) served as hostess for most of her Uncle Andy’s years in the White House until her early death from tuberculosis.

On June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson died from heart failure at the Hermitage. He was 78.

A closing detail — Jackson fought for the removal of the Electoral College.

Emily Donelson

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Pianist: Marcelle Meyer

Marcelle Meyer

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Marcelle Meyer

Pianist Marcelle Meyer (1897-1958) was one of a superbly gifted group of pianists born between 1880 and the beginning of World War I, among whom other personal favorites include Artur Schnabel, Artur Rubinstein, Wilhelm Backhaus, Wilhelm Kempff, Edwin Fischer, Eduard Erdmann, Robert and Gaby Casadesus, Walter Gieseking, Rudolf Serkin, Shura Cherkassky, Oscar Levant, Dame Myra Hess, Sir Clifford Curzon, Sviatoslav Richter, Clara Haskil, Monique Haas, Claudio Arrau, Wanda Landowska, Friedrich Wuehrer, Cutner Solomon, Vladimir Horowitz, Cyril Smith.

The reason for this shopping list is to provide names of keyboard artists whose recordings can be found on Youtube so that the hopefully curious can indulge themselves and lead others, thus increasing the market for classical music which has shrunk to even lower levels (down from roughly 30 percent in previous decades to two per cent in this age of attention deficit disorder ignorance).

Born in France, Meyer started lessons at the age of five with her older sister Germaine and entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of 11 for further studies with the legendary pianists Alfred Cortot and Marguerite Long.

She drew the attention of composers Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, who coached her in the interpretation of his Preludes just before he died in 1918.

Meyer championed the works of several other 20th century composers both in France and elsewhere in Europe.

But her finest legacy might lie in her revival of interest in a handful of baroque and 18th century composers such as Bach, Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau, Haydn and Mozart when she began recording their music during the 1940s.

I have been recently listening to a 17 CD set of Marcelle Meyer, Complete Studio Recordings 1925-1957 (Documents 600209) which can be bought inexpensively from online vendors. It features her playing of the above mentioned composers along with Emannuel Chabrier, Rossini, Schubert, Spanish composers Oscar Espla, Isaac Albeniz and Manuel de Falla, Richard Strauss, Darius Milhaud, and Francis Poulenc.

She played with the most extraordinary emotional warmth, delicacy and inspired one on one connection with the listener. Some of her most beautiful playing was found in the records of Bach, Scarlatti and Rameau where an undercurrent of melodic line was conveyed which eluded other pianists.

On November 17, 1958, Marcelle Meyer died suddenly, at the much too young age of 61, of a heart attack while playing piano at her sister Germaine’s apartment.

Youtube contains a 1956 broadcast of her phenomenal rendition of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the underrated Volkmar Andrae conducting the Suisse Romande Orchestra in Geneva, Switzerland.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: First Lady Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams and John Adams

Louisa Adams

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Louisa Adams

The sixth former First Lady, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (1775-1852) was born in London, England, and was one of only two first ladies not born in the U.S., the other being Melania Trump who entered the world in 1970 in Yugoslavia.

Louisa was also born illegitimately; her mother was referred to by her grandson, the noted historian and cynic Henry Adams (1838-1918), as “one of the deeper mysteries of metaphysical theology.”

In America’s First Ladies, Christine Sadler describes Louisa as having “the delightful chore of making a parlor out of the vast East Room of the White House in which her mother-in-law had strung the family wash to dry 24 years earlier.”

Like Dolly Madison, she was quite the gracious hostess (although not the very bubbly social butterfly that Dolly was) and married to a president who preferred to be left alone in his study, more about his personality coming soon.

At first Louisa was not accepted by her mother-in-law Abigail Adams, but the older woman soon found they both had a lot in common, especially having very strong opinions which the gentlemen around them found at times unbearable, and they got along quite well.

Unlike her mother-in-law, Louisa was prone to depression and suffered from frail health.

J. Quincy Adams

I now shift the focus to Louisa’s husband John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) who served one term as president from 1825 to 1829.

By many scholars, including his detractors, Quincy Adams is considered one of the smartest to hold office with a very high IQ. Several of his predecessors recognized these qualities and he served at diplomatic posts in England, France, the Nether­lands, Prussia and Russia. In addition he was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Russian.

Socially, he could be a stiff arrogant prig and really did not enjoy being with most people, much like James Madison .

Interestingly, after leaving the White House, Q was elected by his home state of Massachusetts to the House of Representatives where his popularity was far greater than as chief executive. His arguably finest moment, as one of the handful of leaders unwaveringly opposed to slavery, was giving a speech defending the slaves who took over the Amistad ship transporting them from Africa to the United States and getting them acquitted and allowed to return to their homeland.

He served in Congress for the remainder of his life where in 1848, at the age of 81, he suffered a stroke while giving a speech in the chamber.

Q was carried into his private office where he died in the presence of his wife and others, including the Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln.

Louisa outlived her husband by four years and died of a heart attack in 1852 at the age of 77.

A few other facts:

Q and Louisa were believed to have married on the rebound, as both had suffered broken hearts in a previous relationship.

Q amassed a collection of different translations of the Bible.

While president, he bathed naked every morning at 5 a.m. in the Potomac River no matter what season of the year.

The above-mentioned grandson recounts an incident in his autobiography The Education of Henry Adams when, in sixth grade, he told his mother that he didn’t feel like going to school; whereupon grandfather, who was referred to by all his grandchildren as the President, took the lad firmly by the hand, walked him two miles to the schoolhouse never saying a word, escorted him into the classroom and sat him down at his desk.

The President then returned in the afternoon and repeated the procedure. Grandson never complained again.

Ironically, Quincy’s vice-president was South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) who was an unwavering supporter of slavery and a “White South.”