29 July 2014

Toscanini and the Lusitania - there but for the grace of God go I

Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957) was born in Parma where he studied the cello and later was selected to play in the orchestra of an Italian opera company. In 1886, the teenager conducted his first opera, sur­prising everyone with how well he managed the orchestra. And he never looked back; Toscanini went on to conduct 18 operas, to great acclaim.

His reputation as a cellist might have been limited but as an operatic conductor, his career sky rocketed. How clever of him to fo­c­us on beloved Italian musicians, conducting the opening presentat­ions of Giacomo Puccini's La bohème in 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin and Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in 1892 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan.

Toscanini married Carla De Martini in 1897 and went on to have four children within the decade. These were busy years. In 1896, Toscan­ini conducted his first symphonic concert in Turin, focusing on the music of Schubert and Tchaikovsky. And within a coup­le of years he had become the Principal Conductor at La Scala where he happily remained until 1908. And to prove that Toscanini could make it abroad, he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1908 until WW1.

In 1915, Toscanini felt it was time to return home and once his season at the Metropolitan Opera ended, he booked a ticket on the British ocean liner Lusitania. It was believed that both the Lusitania and its sister ship were the most luxurious, fastest and roomy ships imaginable on the North Atlantic run.

record of Toscanini at La Scala
photo credit: Teatro alla Scala di Milano

So I have no idea why Toscanini ended his concert schedule in New York abruptly and left a week earlier than planned. Greg Daugherty suggested that the conductor was hyper-anxious about the Met’s management of finances, the poor performance of Carmen and his relentless workload during the opera season. Or to escape from Geraldine Farrar, a beautiful diva with whom he was ending an affair. What I do know is that he sailed towards Europe on an Italian ship, not on the Lusitania.

Perhaps the beautiful cruise ship Lusitania WAS carrying armaments for Britain, as the Germans claimed. In any case the Germans had already stated clearly that they would order unres­tricted submarine warfare in the waters around Britain; they would attack all ships that entered this war zone. So on 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torped­oed by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland en route to Liverpool. Within 20 minutes, the ship disappeared in the Celtic Sea; of the 2,000 passengers and crew on board, 1,200 people drowned.

Arturo Toscanini was not the only famous person who stayed alive when so many others died on the Lusitania. Lady Duff-Gordon (1863-1935), the hugely important fashion designer Lucile, had survived the Titanic on its trip to the USA in 1912!! By 1915 she wanted to go home to Britain and had booked her ticket on board the RMS Lusitania. Lucile, who apparently postponed her trip home due to illness, could consider herself a VERY fortunate soul!!

New York Times, May 1915

But it shows the fickleness of survival and death. Had Toscanini gone aboard the Lusitania as planned, his life career might have been cut short in his 40s. He might not have toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1930, he might not have been made the first music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York from 1937 and he might not have made amazing recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937.

Most importantly for this blog, we have to note that the Palestine Symphony in Tel Aviv would not have been the huge success that it was if Arturo Toscanini had died in 1915.

Bronislaw Huberman had to move Europe’s most brilliant Jewish musicians to a safe haven before WW2. He decided to tour across Central-Eastern Europe, to interview any musician who wanted to play in his to-be-established Palestine Symphony; if a person was selected, Huberman guaranteed to get him and his family a visa out of Europe. Eventually the Palestine Symphony did start its concert tours in Dec 1936 led by the greatest conductor then alive, Arturo Toscanini. Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion and every other communal-cultural figure in Palestine were at the first concert, which was held in the Italian Pavilion of the Levant Fair Ground in Tel Aviv. Perfect.

25 July 2014

How a British prince became a German duke.. and fought against Britain!

I believed it was impossible to learn accurate hist­ory from a tv programme. Wrong!!! The Channel 4 documentary Hitler's Favourite Royal traced the tragic tale of how a member of the British Royal Family was forced against his will into accepting a German dukedom, found himself fighting for the Kaiser in WW1, was deprived of all his British titles and branded a traitor peer. And worse.

Prince Charles Edward (1884–1954) was born in Surrey. His father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria. As his father died before his birth, Prince Charles Edward became The Duke of Albany at birth. His godparents were his granny Queen Victoria, his paternal uncle the Prince of Wales and other royal uncles and aunts.

When Uncle Alfred died over in Coburg leaving no son, the Queen's 3rd son the Duke of Connaught should have moved to Germany. But Connaught wisely renounced his claims to that distant duchy.

So when Charles Edward was a young schoolboy at Eton, granny Queen Victoria made a decision that was to scar his life. She decreed the British prince would eventually become Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the German principality from which her beloved late husband, Prince Albert, had come. This was despite young Prince Charles Edward hating anything German, including the language!

And so it happened. In 1900, at 16, Charles Edward was forced to leave his home and become Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, with 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, endless rich farmland in Bavaria and a very valuable duchy. He became the fourth and last reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, under the care of a regent. Only when he became an adult in 1905 did Charles Edward assume full constitutional powers. In the same year the Duke married Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein and had five children. It was a happy marriage.

Duke Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 1914
photo credit: The Daily Mail

As WW1 started, Charles Edward found himself in a hideous dilemma: fighting for the Kaiser OR for the beloved country of his birth. This caused a terrible conflict of loyalties for the young man, but finally he supported Germany and was given a commission as a general in the German Army. Meanwhile, back in Britain, King George V changed the name of the British Royal House from the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” to the “House of Windsor”. By 1917 the war against Germany had made King George want to distance his dynasty from its German origins.

It is correct to say that the Duke of Saxe Coburg became a controversial figure in Britain, due to his status as a German general in WWI. But who had originally forced him to become a German royal??? Why did he lose his British titles and his British honours in 1919? Why was King George absolved of his German-ness but Duke Charles Edward was not?

In November 1918, the Workers' and Soldiers' Council of Gotha deposed him and he relinquished his rights to Coburg throne. Thus he was doubly abandoned: branded a traitor and effectively exiled from Brit­ain AND deposed in Germany. Now a private citizen, he now moved to the far right, associating him­self with very nasty right-wing paramilitary and political organisat­ions. I felt sorry for him no longer. He voluntarily joined the Nazi Party in 1935 and rose through the ranks of the SA aka Brownshirts. He also served as a member of the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party from 1937 on, and as president of the German Red Cross from 1933 on.

Hitler and goodwill ambassador Charles Edward, c1937
Both are wearing the swastika.
photo credit: The Daily Mail

In 1936, Adolf Hitler made Charles Edward president of the Anglo-German Friendship Society, an ambassadorial role in his old country. His mission was to improve Anglo-German relations and to explore the possibility of a pact between the two countries. He attended the funeral of his first cousin King George V in a uniform of a general of the German army (his British uniform having been taken away from him), and sent Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy.

Charles Edward used his position as president of the newly-formed Anglo-German Fellowship to engineer personal dealings between his cousin, the new pro-German King Edward VIII, and Hitler. Then after the Abdication Crisis, he hosted the the terrible Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their “private” tour of Germany in 1937.

Although Charles Edward was too old to serve himself in WW2, his three sons served in the Wehrmacht. His second son was killed in action in 1943.

When WW2 ended, in the weeks following the death of Hitler and the fall of the Third Reich, a 60-year-old arthritic man was found in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. The American Military Government in Bavaria placed Charles Edward and other Nazi officials under house arrest at his main royal property, Veste Coburg. His sister, Princess Alice, travelled from Britain to Germany to plead for Charles Edward’s release.

At his trial, Charles Edward pleaded not guilty. He claimed he had acted honourably, as did the Nazi regime. In 1946, he was sentenced and almost bankrupted. Since Gotha was part of Thuringia, the Soviet Army confiscated much of the family's property in Gotha. Coburg had become part of Bavaria in 1920, and fared a little better.

Now he was a prisoner, ostracised by his royal relations and branded a traitor to his country (which one?) He spent the last years of his life almost in isolation. In 1953, he travelled to a local cinema to watch the Coronation of his beloved cousin's granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. He died in Coburg in a small flat in 1954, the last surviving grandson of Queen Victoria. What a dismal life.

22 July 2014

images of Scottish-Australian history

What has Scotland got to do with the development of Australia? Quite a lot, according to the Art Gallery of Ballarat which has mounted a special exhibition to the relationship between Australia and Scotland, right up to Federation (1/1/1901). The exhibition, For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation, delves into the most important facets of life - fashion, sport, high art and whiskey. 

Exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ballarat, 2014

Clearly Australia owes the Scots a lot. The exhibition shows that the first game of golf played in Australia was in Tasmania; Australia’s first Catholic saint Mary Mackillop was a Scottish Gaelic speaker having been taught the language at home in Melbourne in the 1840s by her father and that the wine industry in Australia was founded by the Scot James Busby. Thomas Watling was Australia's first professional artist, a Scot whose paintings beautifully depicted the new colony, its fauna and flora. Alas Watling was a convicted bank note forger and came to Australia involuntarily.

Tough and resourceful, the Scots were more literate and educated than most early settlers in Australia and were less likely to be convicts, so they flourished in their new land. The Scots, with their success­ful estab­lishment of economic and cultural networks, occupied signif­icant posts in the social and political life of the early colon­ies. In particular Scots were prominent among the naval and army officers who ran the NSW penal colony, and they were able to take advantage of generous land grants worked by free convict labour. It is not a coincidence, Patricia Macdonald noted, that three of the early governors hailed from Scotland.  

The exhibition brings together artworks and objects from across Aus­tralia and overseas. What I had not expected was a passion for early Aus­tralians to cast their minds to Scottish culture back At Home. When standing next to the Robert Burns statue in the middle of Bal­larat, the guide said that only Queen Victoria was memorialised more than Burns in Australia. And more than that. The poetry and writings of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns had a sub­stantial infl­uence of our most famous Australian poets eg Banjo Patterson.

Entrance to Glen Etive from near King's House, 1879 
By Waller Paton who migrated from Scotland to Australia.

Curated by Dr Alison Inglis and Patricia Tryon Macdonald, the ex­hibition has been advertised as a fresh contribution towards building Australia’s understanding of its extraordinary cultural inheritance. A collection of paintings of wildlife, Aboriginals and views of Sydney by artist and forger Thomas Watling is worth the trip to Ballarat by itself. His paintings have been sitting in the Natural History Museum in London for well over a hundred years and have never been shown in Australia. Macdonald reminded the viewers that as with so much of that wonderful early art, Watling's works all went back to England and we have very little of it here.

In particular I am grateful (as always) for compreh­ensive catalogue that includes essays by leading scholars on aspects of the Scottish presence in Australia. The closing day will be Sunday 27th July 2014.

Visitors to this Ballarat exhibition might also be interested in a Sunday-visit Villa Alba Museum in Melbourne (Kew) which was built by the Edinburgh-born William Greenlaw in c1884. The notable decorations were done by the Scottish-trained Paterson Brothers; they include an eclectic mixture of painted, stencilled and gilded decoration and feature a 40’ painted mural of Edinburgh and a dining room frieze decorated with scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.