The Public Domain Review

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On Benjamin’s Public (Oeuvre)

Monday 31 October 2011 at 15:58

On the run from the Nazis in 1940, the philosopher, literary critic and essayist Walter Benjamin committed suicide in the Spanish border town of Portbou. In 2011, over 70 years later, his writings enter the public domain in many countries around the world. Anca Pusca, author of Walter Benjamin: The Aesthetics of Change, reflects on the relevance of Benjamin’s oeuvre in a digital age, and the implications of his work becoming freely available online.

Benjamin's passport photograph from 1928 - courtesy of the Walter Benjamin Archiv, Berlin.

Walter Benjamin, a German-Jewish intellectual of kaleidoscopic abilities and interests – literary critic, philosopher, translator, essayist, radio presenter – has always fascinated academics and intellectuals. His dense academic prose, his unique reading of Marxism, his fascination with Jewish mysticism, but more importantly, his ability to capture some of the major transformations of the early 19th century Europe in a series of literal and temporal frames that distilled the very material which gave it consistency – iron, concrete, shopping arcades, new technologies such as photography and film, ideological propaganda – into words, earned Benjamin a cult-like following which continues today. Artists, philosophers, theorists from every discipline, continue to offer different readings and meanings to his work, which remains strikingly relevant to social and political transformations today.

If Benjamin’s public is mainly of an academic nature today, that was certainly not the case at the time of his writing. With his habilitation rejected by the University of Frankfurt, Benjamin was forced to survive outside of academia, and hence to write accordingly: most of his work appears in fragments – essays, short stories, journal entries, letters, newspaper and journal articles, radio broadcasts – which mainly appeared in the public domain through his journalistic and radio work, with the exception of a few pieces intended for publication by the Institute for Social Research led by Horkheimer and Adorno. This significantly affected not only his writing style – making most of it much more accessible to a larger public – but also his thoughts on the role of language and text. The fragmentary nature of his work, initially a result of financial and practical constraints, later became a trademark of Benjamin’s methodology, particularly obvious in his unfinished magnus opus, the Arcades Project.

Detail from a 19th century postcard showing the Passage Bellivet, Caens, opened in 1836.

Conceived as a catalogue of thoughts and images on 19th century Paris as the emblematic modern city, the Arcades Project brings incredible innovation not only stylistically – through the fragmentary nature of the text, which could be read and accessed in non-linear fashion – but also intellectually, by breaking the traditional frame of text which rests upon a necessary temporal and linguistic progression, and effectively establishing a new architecture which relies less on words and more on the images and material that those words conjure. Benjamin effectively reconstructs different Parisian frames, capturing them not unlike a photographer captures a scene. Each of these frames, as fragments of text, contains its own temporality, existing both in relation to but also independent from the others. By embedding the relevance of each frame into a temporality that emerges directly from the material it depicts – for example, by depicting the old Parisian arcades in ruin as a new type of architecture emerges – Benjamin creates a unique dialectic in which the present can never exist as independent from either the past or the future.

The Galerie Vivienne during the Bourbon restauration : 8 rue Vivienne, Paris 2nd arr. c. 1820, one of the arcades mentioned in Benjamin's Arcades Project.

The return of Benjamin’s work back to its original wider audience, the public domain, at this particular point in time, creates a series of new possibilities that Benjamin himself could not have envisioned. Internet technology and the ability to collect, categorize and re-arrange Benjamin’s fragments in an electronic publication form could perhaps provide Benjamin with a post-humos solution to his struggle to organize the Arcades Project in a manner that would both appease publishers and maintain its innovative framework. One can already imagine the possibilities of a new interactive electronic Arcades Project in which Benjamin’s fragments could easily be navigated through the click of a button, the text appearing as a digital image, a material fragment much closer to Benjamin’s original intentionality.

Benjamin’s obsession with sorting, filing, keeping tabs on his work, making copies of manuscripts to leave with different friends, carrying a copy of the unfinished manuscript of the Arcades Project with him to his death, as he attempted to escape Nazi-occupied France, shows his determination to protect his work, his hope for eventual publication for future audiences. This is an incredible opportunity to pay Benjamin the ultimate compliment, by finding and bringing together all the fragments of his work, many of which still lie undiscovered and untranslated, and bringing them together into the public domain, free from the constraints of the publishers on which Benjamin depended so desperately during his life.

The publication of his writings on technology, online, particularly his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility’, but also his other writings on media, could not be more appropriate and relevant at this particular point in time. His essay on the ‘Work of Art’ has been used by many of today’s artists and theorists to understand the impact of digital technologies, as a form of reproductive technology, on art, culture and political mobilization. His arguments about the prioritization of the act of seeing, the increased speed through which information/the image in processed when reproduced by mechanical means, but also, the extent to which the technically reproduceable image is now completely removed from the actuality, and intentionality of the scene where it was initially created, remain strangely relevant today.

Interior sculpture display. at the Paris Exposition. 1900 - from Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection.

Street scene outside the Rue de Rivoli Arcades during the Paris Exposition, 1900 - from Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection.

The inability of perception to detect ‘authenticity’ – to connect the image with the original setting in which it was taken – had, according to Benjamin, important repercussions for how mass culture was re-imagined and potentially manipulated by different ideologies. Through technology, the image no longer stayed in the domain of ‘art’, but rather moved into the domain of ‘politics’. If film, the cutting edge technology at the time, served according to Benjamin: ‘to train human beings in the apperceptions and reactions needed to deal with a vast apparatus whose role in their lives is expanding almost daily’, one can easily apply a similar logic to different internet technologies today. Benjamin was however both admirative and weary of the technology of film, for the so-called ‘film capital’ could be used both in the interest of and against the masses. As we are increasingly learning today, same goes for ‘internet and social media capital.’

So many of Benjamin’s writings continue to carry important implications for the wider public today. It is perhaps high time that we remove the ‘aura’ around Benjamin’s figure – an aura built around limited accessibility to and tight control of his work – and return Benjamin and his oeuvre to his public.



Anca Pusca is Senior Lecturer in International Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Walter Benjamin: The Aesthetics of Change and other articles on Benjamin which have appeared in Alternatives, International Political Sociology, Perspectives and the Journal of International Research and Development.


Links to Works


A selection of Benjamin’s writings are housed in German here at Wikisource, including relevant Internet Archive links.

If you are interested in helping get English translations of Benjamin’s works into the public domain then get in touch

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/31/on-benjamin%e2%80%99s-public-oeuvre/


Halloween Postcards

Saturday 29 October 2011 at 14:27

Happy halloween!

Images from the New York Public Library Picture Collection.





























Operation Doorstep

The Spirit Photographs of William Hope

The Maps of Piri Reis

Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon Camera

Art in Art

Huexotzinco Codex


Sessions for the Blind at Sunderland Museum

Eugène von Guérard's Australian Landscapes

Landscape and Marine Views of Norway

The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy

Space Colony Art from the 1970s

Men in Wigs


De humana physiognomonia libri IIII (1586)

Field Columbian Museum

Maps from Geographicus

Arnoldus Montanus' New and Unknown World (1671)

World War II from the Air

Halloween Postcards

Engravings by Dominicus Custos

Kodak No.1 Circular Snapshots

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/29/halloween-postcards/


The Diary of a Nobody (1919 edition)

Friday 28 October 2011 at 12:39


The Diary of a Nobody, by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith; 1919 4th edition; J.W. Arrowsmith, Bristol.

This fictitious diary details fifteen months in the life of Mr. Charles Pooter, a middle aged city clerk of lower middle-class status but significant social aspirations, living in the fictional ‘Brickfield Terrace’ in London. The diary was written by George Grossmith and his brother Weedon Grossmith who also contributed the illustrations. It first appeared in Punch magazine through the years 1888 – 89, and was first printed in book form in 1892. Due to much of the humour deriving from Mr. Pooter’s comical tendency toward self-importance, the book has spawned the word “Pooterish” to describe the taking of oneself excessively seriously.

Open Library link



Letters From a Cat (1879)

Castaway on the Auckland Isles: A Narrative of the Wreck of the "Grafton," (1865)


Infant's Cabinet of Birds and Beasts (1820)

Old French Fairytales (1920)

Armata: a fragment (1817)

An Account of the Late Improvements in Galvanism (1803)

The Medical Aspects of Death, and the Medical Aspects of the Human Mind (1852)

Quarles' Emblems (1886)

Cat and bird stories from the "Spectator" (1896)

Wonderful Balloon Ascents (1870)

The Book of Topiary (1904)

The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (1899)

English as She is Spoke (1884)

The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

The Last American (1889)

Pirates (1922)

Napoleon's Oraculum (1839)

Horse Laughs (1891)

Hydriotaphia/Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus (1658)

Across the Zodiac: the Story of a Wrecked Record (1880)

Superstitions About Animals (1904)

The Diary of a Nobody (1919 edition)

The Attitudes of Animals in Motion, Illustrated with the Zoopraxiscope (1882)

The Eccentric Mirror: Reflecting a Faithful and Interesting Delineation of Male and Female Characters, Ancient and Modern (1807)

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/28/the-diary-of-a-nobody/


Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

Tuesday 25 October 2011 at 11:14

At the start of his career, as a young man in his twenties, Albrecht Dürer created a series of woodcuts to illustrate Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools of 1494. Dürer scholar Rangsook Yoon explores the significance of these early pieces and how in their subtlety of allegory they show promise of his masterpieces to come.

Attributed to Albrecht Dürer, woodcut illustration for Chapter 85, “Not Providing for Death”.

The celebrated Nuremberg artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) spent part of his journeyman years, from 1492 to 1494, in Basel, working as a woodcut designer for some of the most eminent publishers of his time, including Johann Bergmann von Olpe, Johannes Amerbach, and Nicolaus Kessler. Basel, along with Strasbourg, Augsburg and Nuremberg, was a prosperous commercial town and a leading artistic and publishing center in the North of the Alps. Dürer’s journeyman experience here was crucial in his formation as a woodcut designer deeply engaged in the early publishing industry. The most important woodcut project that he was involved with during this time was the design of an extensive illustration cycle to accompany The Ship of Fools, the satirical verses composed in German by Sebastian Brant (1457-1521) and published by Bergmann von Olpe in 1494. This collection of moralizing stories was an instant best-seller; so much so that in that same year, five separate pirated editions appeared in Strasbourg, Augsburg, Nuremberg, and Reutingen. No doubt, its numerous whimsical woodcuts depicting various types of foolish and sinful human behavior contributed to its great success, as these illustrations were copied in all subsequent editions until the late sixteenth century. Nowadays, in general, about two-thirds of the 114 illustrations (counting 9 repeating ones) in the 1494 edition are attributed to the young Dürer, while the rest, which are found inferior in design and cutting, are ascribed to anonymous masters, such as the so-called Master of the Haintz Narr (named after the namesake scene in The Ship of Fools). A more conservative view, expressed by the art historian Erwin Panofsky in 1945, attributes only one-third of the illustrations to Dürer.

The Master of the Haintz Narr, woodcut illustration for Chapter 5 , “Of Old Fools”.

Attributed to Albrecht Dürer, woodcut illustration for Chapter 14, “Of Insolence toward God”.

Overall, the woodcuts Dürer made during his journeyman years are not as impressive as those he created later as an independent master in Nuremberg. For example, hatching lines used for modeling consist here only of simple parallel lines, and the contour lines during this early period are depicted crudely and overly thick without much variation. The artist presumably simplified his illustrations so as to accommodate the limited skills of block-cutters (Formschneider) who were in charge of cutting the woodblocks he designed. Nevertheless, Dürer’s woodcuts in The Ship of Fools already reveal seeds of his stylistic elements and motifs found later in his career. They also betray a greater understanding of the book’s narrative and allegorical content, suggesting that he worked closely with Brant, possibly responding directly to the author’s demands and instructions. Dürer’s intimate knowledge of Brant’s text can best be illustrated by examining the original title page designed by the Nuremberg artist, The Fools on a Cart and a Boatload of Fools.

Dürer's Fools on a Cart and a Boatload of Fools, the original title page.

This woodcut of Dürer’s occupies almost the entire title page and consists of two scenes that are vertically arranged. The upper compartment shows figures in fools’ caps — shaped like donkey’s ears and adorned with bells — riding a cart pulled by horses and being guided by fools. This uppermost register also has the book’s title, “The Ship of Fools” (“Das Narren Schiff”), carved on the same woodblock as the image. In the lower section, three boats of yelling and singing rowdy fools set out for their destination, “The Land of Fools” (“Ad Narragoniam”), as indicated in the caption. Attentive viewers may find it odd that two different allegorical subjects, both the multiple ships of fools and a single cart of fools, are juxtaposed in this original title cut of 1494. It differs greatly from the better-known title cuts of later years, all of which utilize the image of only a large ship of fools, thus visualizing the book’s title verbatim. This seemingly dissonant title cut of 1494, however, confirms that Dürer was indeed well aware of the structure and themes of Brant’s original German text at the time of its conception and original publication.

Despite the book’s title, in Brant’s original text, the idea of a ‘ship’ is not central, but rather, incidental. As noteworthy as the ship is, it is only one amongst a number of diverse motifs including a cart, a dance, a wheel of fortune, a net, a mirror, and a bagpipe. The ship motif became the book’s foremost leitmotif only when, while being translated into Latin, Jacob Locher, Brant’s pupil, extensively rearranged and revised Brant’s text to give it a semblance of unity, which was found lacking in Brant’s original. This Latin edition, translated and edited by Locher and first published by Bergmann von Olpe in 1497, became the standard version of The Ship of Fools’ text that was repeatedly copied in all following editions and translations.

Given all, at the time of the book’s first publication, Dürer’s title cut, with both the cart and multiple ships, advertise the book’s full content more adequately than its short, unilateral title. It complements the title words in communicating the book’s complex, multi-structural narrative elements to the reading public, and further, it mirrors the general structure of the book.

The Ship of Fools, which consists of 112 chapters, is roughly dividable into two parts. In contrast to the first half of the book (that is, the first 61 chapters), where the metaphor of a ship plays a small role except in chapter 48 (“A Journeyman’s Ship”), the ship motif is disproportionately greater in the second half: the prologue (since it was written last) and chapters 103 (“Of the Antichrist”), 91 (“Of Prattling in Church”), 108 (“The Schluraffen Ship”), and 109 (“ Contempt of Misfortune”). We gather that Brant gradually realized its symbolic importance in the process of his writing. The significance of the ship in the second part is even more apparent when one examines the text illustrations. Even when the ship is only briefly mentioned, or even not mentioned at all, it is still visually depicted, sometimes as a tiny object floating on a lake (or a sea) in the background, and sometimes far more conspicuously. This can bee seen in chapters 68 (“Not Taking a Joke”), 72 (“Of Coarse Fools”), 75 (“Of Bad Marksmen”), 80 (“Foolish News”), and 81 (“Of Cooks and Waiters”).

Attributed to Albrecht Dürer, woodcut illustration for chapter 103 , “Of the Antichrist”.

Attributed to Albrecht Dürer, woodcut illustration for chapter 75, “Of Bad Marksmen”.

The motif of a cart of fools is treated as a principal theme only twice in the book, once in chapter 47 (“On the Road of Salvation”) and another time in chapter 91 (“Of Prattling in Church”), where both the cart and the ship are addressed simultaneously. Less emphatically, the cart motif is mentioned once again in chapter 53 (“Of Envy and Hatred”). However, Dürer’s depiction of the cart, along with ships, on the title page serve well as metaphors for land- and sea-going vehicles carrying the fools, thus conveying the universality of all the fools described by the text.

With the editorial changes made to Brant’s text by Locher, who utilized ‘the ship of fools’ as the leitmotif throughout, not only in the first Latin edition of 1497 but also in all subsequent publications (both authorized and pirated), the book no longer reproduced or imitated the original title page design by Dürer. Instead, after 1497, a different woodcut, rendering only a large ship laden with fools and attributed to the Master of the Haintz Narr, repeatedly served as the title cut prototype. In 1494, the Master of the Haintz Narr’s woodcut originally appeared as the frontispiece on the verso of the title page, and also can be found as an illustration accompanying chapter 108, “The Schluraffen Ship.” As the concept of the ship became the most significant motif of the book, this woodcut became the most fitting image for the title cut, as it visualizes the two principal ideas of the book and its title — namely, both a ship and fools. However, it is Dürer’s original title cut for the 1494 edition which represents the book’s original structure and thematic concerns much more faithfully and allegorically.

Master of Haintz Narr, the frontispiece of the 1494 edition which became a popular choice for title page in later editions.

Throughout his career as a successful independent master in Nuremberg, Dürer continued to create woodcuts that were meant to accompany texts. He provided numerous humanist friends and Nuremberg publishers with woodcuts to illustrate their new publications. Best known works, of course, are his own illustrated books, such as the Apocalypse (1498; the second edition in 1511), the Large Passion (1511), the Life of the Virgin Mary (1511), and the Small Passion (1511). Here, the primary features are the woodcuts themselves, rather than texts, and significantly, he self-published them by hiring printers. Dürer’s later productions of such high caliber, innovation, and audacity cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration his invaluable journeyman experience in the large publishing companies and his participation in executing extensive illustration cycles such as The Ship of Fools in Basel.



Rangsook Yoon is Assistant Professor of Art History at Central College in Pella, Iowa, specialising in Dürer’s early career as a print-maker and self-publisher. She is currently working on several articles dealing with Dürer’s woodcuts during his apprenticeship and journeyman years, as well as a book about the Apocalypse.


Links to Works


For Alexander Barclay’s 1874 English translation (but with illustrations from the 1497 Latin version) see here and here.

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/25/navigating-durer%e2%80%99s-woodcuts-for-the-ship-of-fools/


Cyrano De Bergerac (1950)

Saturday 22 October 2011 at 13:29



José Ferrer received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his starring performance as Cyrano de Bergerac, the charismatic swordsman-poet with the absurd nose and “crowned with the white plume freedom”. This film adaptation directed by Michael Gordon of the 1897 French Alexandrine verse drama by Edmond Rostand, uses poet Brian Hooker’s 1923 English blank verse translation as the basis for its screenplay. The story tells the tale of our large-nosed hero Cyrano falling in love with the beauteous Roxane; she, in turn, confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome but tongue-tied Christian. The chivalrous Cyrano sets up with Christian an innocent deception, with tragic results.

Download from Internet Archive

Note this film is in the public domain in the US, but may not be in other jurisdictions. Please check its status in your jurisdiction before re-using.



CLIPSSHORTFULL LENGTH SILENTFULL LENGTH TALKIE
Princess Nicotine (1909) 6min

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) 12min

Last of the Mohicans (1920) 1hr11min

Meet John Doe (1941) 2hr3min

The Unappreciated Joke (1903) 1min

Frankenstein (1910) 13min

The General (1926) 1hr19min

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) 1hr19mins


The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) 21sec

The Great Train Robbery (1903) 10min

Wolf Blood (1925) 1hr7min

Reefer Madness (1938) 1hr8min

The Kiss (1896) 25secs

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (1940) 20min

Battleship Potemkin (1925) 1hr13min

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) 1hr57min

Trapeze Disrobing Act (1901) 2min

Are You Popular (1947) 10min

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) 1hr11min

Scarlet Street (1945) 1hr43min

Annie Oakley Fires Her Gun (1894) 20secs

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) 13min

Faust (1926) 1hr55min

The Last Man on Earth (1964) 1hr27min

Operation Cue (1955) 52sec

Never Weaken (1921) 28min

Intolerance (1916) 2hr57min

Quicksand (1950) 1hr18min

Dutch Fashion Reel (1969) 1min50sec

Betty Boop: Minnie The Moocher (1932) 7min46sec

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) 1hr46min

Suddenly (1954) 1hr16mins


Buffalo Dance (1894) 14sec

The Cook (1918) 18min

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) 2hr20min

Five Minutes to Live (1961) 1hr14min

VD is for Everybody (1969) 1min

American Day in Tripoli, Libya (1962) 14min

For The Term of His Natural Life (1927) 1hr33min

Cyrano De Bergerac (1950) 1hr53min

Your Name Here (1960) 10min10sec

.

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/22/cyrano-de-bergerac-1950/


American Day in Tripoli, Libya (1962)

Saturday 22 October 2011 at 12:02



Filmed at Tripoli International Fairground eleven years after independence from Italian colonial rule and seven years before a group of military officers led by a 28 year old Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a coup d’état against King Idris bringing the monarchy to an end and beginning Gadaffi’s 42 year rule.

National Archives and Records Administration – ARC Identifier 37715 / Local Identifier 151.56 – [AMERICAN DAY IN] TRIPOLI, LIBYA – Department of Commerce. (1913 – ). Silent. DVD copied by IASL Master Scanner Timothy Vollmer.

Download from Internet Archive

Note this film is in the public domain in the US, but may not be in other jurisdictions. Please check its status in your jurisdiction before re-using.



CLIPSSHORTFULL LENGTH SILENTFULL LENGTH TALKIE
Princess Nicotine (1909) 6min

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) 12min

Last of the Mohicans (1920) 1hr11min

Meet John Doe (1941) 2hr3min

The Unappreciated Joke (1903) 1min

Frankenstein (1910) 13min

The General (1926) 1hr19min

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) 1hr19mins


The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) 21sec

The Great Train Robbery (1903) 10min

Wolf Blood (1925) 1hr7min

Reefer Madness (1938) 1hr8min

The Kiss (1896) 25secs

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (1940) 20min

Battleship Potemkin (1925) 1hr13min

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) 1hr57min

Trapeze Disrobing Act (1901) 2min

Are You Popular (1947) 10min

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) 1hr11min

Scarlet Street (1945) 1hr43min

Annie Oakley Fires Her Gun (1894) 20secs

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) 13min

Faust (1926) 1hr55min

The Last Man on Earth (1964) 1hr27min

Operation Cue (1955) 52sec

Never Weaken (1921) 28min

Intolerance (1916) 2hr57min

Quicksand (1950) 1hr18min

Dutch Fashion Reel (1969) 1min50sec

Betty Boop: Minnie The Moocher (1932) 7min46sec

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) 1hr46min

Suddenly (1954) 1hr16mins


Buffalo Dance (1894) 14sec

The Cook (1918) 18min

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) 2hr20min

Five Minutes to Live (1961) 1hr14min

VD is for Everybody (1969) 1min

American Day in Tripoli, Libya (1962) 14min

For The Term of His Natural Life (1927) 1hr33min

Cyrano De Bergerac (1950) 1hr53min

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/22/american-day-in-tripoli-libya-1962/


What Makes Franz Liszt Still Important?

Monday 17 October 2011 at 22:06

This week sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College and music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, explores what we can still learn from the life and music of Liszt.

Marking anniversaries of the birth and death of historic figures, particularly in music, is somewhat akin to commemorating annually the date of death of family members. It is never quite clear whether we are struggling to remember those to whom we were once close as we pursue our lives without them, all in an effort to assuage the guilt that comes with the natural tendency to forget, or whether we are indulging in a form of nostalgia, shaped in part by using the selective memory of the past to make claims about what our present and future lives ought to be but have seemingly little chance of becoming. And as we commemorate we rarely penetrate beneath the surface of received opinion, revising a set of inherited judgments.

In our concert life these anniversaries become easy excuses to justify a comfortable and unexamined account of what history has bequeathed as “great” music. Marking the 100th or 200th anniversary rarely leads to a change in the concert repertory. We belabor the obvious. One might consider the Gustav Mahler centenary in 1960 as an exception since it took place at the beginning of a Mahler revival. But the two-year extended Mahler remembrances that are justified by the 100th anniversary of his death (2011) and the 150th of his birth (2010) have functioned to ossify a sentimental historical portrait and further enshrine the central place Mahler’s music has in the orchestral repertory.

The Four ages of Franz Liszt, as published in The Etude magazine, 1913.

The case of Franz Liszt, who was born in 1811 and died in 1886, is more complex. Celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth ought to have been an opportunity to revisit a figure who helped define Romanticism, the role of the piano on the stage and in the home, and, most importantly, how music functions for most of the literate public. Yet our attention to him remains largely muted and ambivalent. Only a few of his works are still in the standard orchestral repertory — the piano concertos and one tone poem Les Preludes. Pianists bring out a few select works in recital, mostly to display the virtuosity they demand. This is in stark contrast to Chopin, his contemporary, whom Liszt championed. The choral and organ music are never performed. If one compares this to Liszt’s output, not only for the piano, (which is gargantuan in scope), one cannot help but be struck by the obscurity that most of his music has fallen into. The last effort in a major city to revive Liszt’s music took place in New York in the 1970s under the leadership of Pierre Boulez.

If we choose to remember Liszt more than in passing, it is as the legendary and charismatic personality he was, with all its complexities — his notorious love life, his turn to religion, his relationship with Richard Wagner and Wagner’s second wife, Liszt’s daughter Cosima. There never has been a better subject in music history for a Hollywood movie. He was classical music’s most successful, colorful, and long-lived superstar; he acquired and retained more groupies than any one before or since.

Photograph of Franz Liszt taken in 1858, featured in Die berühmten Musiker by Lacroix Jean, Kunstverlag by Lucien Mazenod, 1946.

We may also choose to recall that he was likely the greatest and most facile pianist that ever lived and perhaps the most influential teacher of the instrument. Liszt’s pupils and their pupils dominated the musical landscape for generations. He defined the personality of the concert pianist, even though, ironically, Liszt gave up concertizing relatively early in his career. Perhaps we also acknowledge Liszt’s uncommon generosity to and support for his contemporary composers, from Chopin and Wagner to Grieg and Saint-Saëns, as well as his influence on a younger generation, including Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Jean Sibelius.

As the bicentenary comes to a close without much ado, what have we missed? What indeed might we still learn and profit from taking a deeper and more comprehensive look at Liszt and his career?

First, Liszt ought to remind us that our approach to music should not be dependent on some construct of nationality that helps prop up the popularity of a composer. Reputations in classical music after Beethoven seem increasingly dependent on nationalist enthusiasms. We seek Hungarians to perform Bartók, Russians Tchaikovsky, the English Elgar, the French Debussy, and Americans Copland and Ives. Liszt defies this easy categorization. He was at one and the same time crucial to what we now regard as quintessentially Hungarian, German, and French. His reach as an artist and composer transcended national categories and reminds us of the limitations of nationalist appropriations and stereotypes.

Top: Hungarian Stamp from 1961 celebrating 150th anniversary of Liszt's birth. Bottom: German stamp from 1996 celebrating the 100th anniversary of his death.

Second, Liszt’s art bridged all genres. At the heart of his music for the piano was improvisation, an art sadly lost in what we now term classical music. Few, if any classical musicians can do it. Notation in his piano music sought to mirror an art that was spontaneous and tied to a moment of performance. His elaborations and fantasies for the piano based on the operatic works of others suggest many ways of freely adapting and altering music we like and wish to remember. The same can said for his transcriptions of works by Bach and Beethoven, where music written for one medium is translated into another. Liszt’s piano versions of the Beethoven symphonies (Beethoven was a composer Liszt venerated and spent a lifetime advocating) were particular favorites of that brilliant eccentric, Glenn Gould. We musicians would be well served by following Liszt’s example by liberating ourselves from some delusive ideology of faithfulness to historic texts, adapting old and new music into the framework of our own new music, and altering it to reach a generation of listeners accustomed to new sounds and a novel acoustic environment. Liszt did that using the piano, and by so doing he helped create an enthusiastic audience of spectators.

Third, Liszt pioneered in rendering music an art form connected to literature, painting, and narration. His notion that instrumental music can and should evoke character, landscape, plot, emotion, and ideas (for example in his tone poem Die Ideale, based on Schiller) laid the groundwork for what we now take for granted as the musical semantics and rhetoric we encounter in music for film and television. The magic in Liszt was that just music alone sufficed to spur the audience’s imagination. Playing Liszt and listening to his work reminds us of the power of music to tell and augment a story and evoke and embellish a memory. This is particularly the case with respect to the connection between spirituality and religion and music, as Liszt’s late orchestral work From the Cradle to the Grave and his massive oratorio Christus make clear.

Pastel impression of Liszt by the German artist Franz von Lenbach (1836–1904), ca. 1880, currently at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich.

Fourth, Liszt was a tireless innovator, never content to repeat himself. Without Liszt’s experiments in the uses of harmony and sonority and the shape of musical form (for example, the stress on single melodies and motives and therefore imaginative repetition in works of considerable duration) much of late Romanticism and Modernism, particularly that associated with Wagner, would be unthinkable. He harbored few prejudices and was, to the end of his days, receptive to the work of younger composers and enthusiastic about new ideas — as his generous treatment of Russian composers amply suggests. We live in too segmented an environment, where the classical and the popular are still segregated, except for occasional all too facile efforts at so-called crossover works and events. Originality was just one of the goals Liszt pursued. He borrowed happily from others and sought to integrate diverse influences into a synthetic and syncretic expressive musical art form. That expansive tendency helped lend him early on in his career as a composer the ill deserved reputation of being all too facile and superficial.

Fifth, consistent with his adherence to improvisation and transcription, he defined interpretation as a creative act, even when performing a Beethoven sonata, as close to a “sacred” text as exists in the 19th-century piano literature. He added and subtracted, inserted transitions, and refashioned the meaning of historic masterpieces. Perhaps the best known is his adaptation of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy into a work for piano and orchestra.

A more protean, gifted, generous, and versatile figure in music’s history can hardly be imagined, one who sought to keep the past alive and to link tradition with the contemporary. From Liszt we can learn that mere imitation and endless repetition of the same will not do and will condemn an art form to a form of living death. Virtuoso par excellence that he was, he despised mere athleticism in music — the single-minded obsession with speed, accuracy, circuslike tricks, and above all, arbitrary affectation in the rendering of music, attributes that have come to define our contemporary concert life. He demanded that performance and composition be kept together and define the performing musician. And yet he reveled in the theater of performance, with lightness and irony.

Photograph of Liszt in his music room in Weimar in 1884 - published in Modern Music and Musicians, University Society, New York, 1918

However, in order to gain the full measure of Liszt’s achievement and to benefit from his example far more of his music needs to be heard on the concert stage. Two great symphonic works, the Dante and Faust symphonies—although they have made periodic comebacks—need to be a regular part of the repertory. The same applies to the many orchestral tone poems, from Orpheus to Tasso. And the great choral music (the Missa solennis and the 13th Psalm, for example) should return to active life and take their place alongside the Mozart Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Last but not least, there is the endless treasure trove of piano music well beyond the Transcendental Etudes.

Liszt was the first composer-performer to find ways, as a pianist and conductor, to reach a wide public, to make music accessible and enjoyable to more than a self-styled elite of connoisseurs. He did so by connecting music to the public’s wider interests, in poetry and prose, in politics, in history, and in art and religion. He wrote on music, including a biography of Chopin. He ran a court theater in Weimar where he gave the first performances of Wagner’s Lohengrin and Schumann’s Genoveva. He laid the foundations of Hungary’s modern musical life by founding Budapest’s conservatory. He used his fame and artistry on behalf of political and humanitarian causes.

What we can and must learn from Liszt is precisely what it means to be a musician, and to be, as a musician, at the center of a community’s political and cultural life, and to do so fearlessly, courageously, and generously. He set an example of what it requires to be, truly, a citizen of the world as a composer and performer, as one who broke rules and conventions to chart new paths. That was the message contained in Arnold Schoenberg’s 1911 centenary appreciation of Liszt. The very same exhortation needs repeating a century later. The difference is that in 1911 Liszt the composer had become largely derided. Today he is no longer controversial, just neglected.

Franz Liszt Fantasising at the Piano (1840) by Josef Danhauser - depicting Liszt playing in a Parisian salon on a grand piano made by Conrad Graf, who commissioned the painting; on the piano is a bust of Ludwig van Beethoven by Anton Dietrich; the imagined gathering shows seated Alexandre Dumas, George Sand, Franz Liszt, Marie d'Agoult; standing Hector Berlioz or Victor Hugo, Niccolò Paganini, Gioachino Rossini; and a portrait of Byron on the wall.



Leon Botstein is music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He is founder and coartistic director of the Bard Music Festival, which celebrates its 22nd season this year at Bard College, the institution he has served as president since 1975. He is the editor of The Musical Quarterly and the author of many articles and books. For his contributions to music he has received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art. He is a recipient of the Carnegie Foundation’s Academic Leadership Award and a member of the American Philosophical Society.


Links to Works


Download and more info from Internet Archive


Download and more info from Internet Archive


  1. Allegro maestoso
  2. Quasi adagio
  3. Allegro vivace
  4. Allegro marziale animato

Download and more info from Internet Archive


Download and more info from Internet Archive


Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/17/what-makes-franz-liszt-still-important/


For The Term of His Natural Life (1927)

Saturday 15 October 2011 at 13:05



Considered to be the greatest of Australia’s silent films, it was also the most expensive, costing 50 times more than the average film of the time. Directed by Norman Dawn, and based on the 1870s novel by Marcus Clarke, it tells the tale of a wrongful imprisonment and the hero’s dramatic attempts at escape. Starring George Fisher as Richard Devine/Rufus Dawes/John Rex and Eva Novak as Sylvia Vickers.

Download from Internet Archive

Note this film is in the public domain in the US, but may not be in other jurisdictions. Please check its status in your jurisdiction before re-using.



CLIPSSHORTFULL LENGTH SILENTFULL LENGTH TALKIE
Princess Nicotine (1909) 6min

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) 12min

Last of the Mohicans (1920) 1hr11min

Meet John Doe (1941) 2hr3min

The Unappreciated Joke (1903) 1min

Frankenstein (1910) 13min

The General (1926) 1hr19min

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) 1hr19mins


The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) 21sec

The Great Train Robbery (1903) 10min

Wolf Blood (1925) 1hr7min

Reefer Madness (1938) 1hr8min

The Kiss (1896) 25secs

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (1940) 20min

Battleship Potemkin (1925) 1hr13min

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) 1hr57min

Trapeze Disrobing Act (1901) 2min

Are You Popular (1947) 10min

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) 1hr11min

Scarlet Street (1945) 1hr43min

Annie Oakley Fires Her Gun (1894) 20secs

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) 13min

Faust (1926) 1hr55min

The Last Man on Earth (1964) 1hr27min

Operation Cue (1955) 52sec

Never Weaken (1921) 28min

Intolerance (1916) 2hr57min

Quicksand (1950) 1hr18min

Dutch Fashion Reel (1969) 1min50sec

Betty Boop: Minnie The Moocher (1932) 7min46sec

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) 1hr46min

Suddenly (1954) 1hr16mins


Buffalo Dance (1894) 14sec

The Cook (1918) 18min

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) 2hr20min

Five Minutes to Live (1961) 1hr14min

VD is for Everybody (1969) 1min

American Day in Tripoli, Libya (1962) 14min

For The Term of His Natural Life (1927) 1hr33min

Cyrano De Bergerac (1950) 1hr53min

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/15/for-the-term-of-his-natural-life-1927/


VD is for Everybody (1969)

Saturday 15 October 2011 at 12:26



From the Internet Archive courtesy of the A/V Geeks: “The American Social Health Association was always experimenting with new ways to educate the public about venereal disease. They helped produce the first VD education film, “Fit to Fight”, in 1918 in order to educate soldiers being shipped abroad to fight in the first World War. Although this popular TV public service announcement informs the public that everybody is susceptible to venereal disease, strangely, it also seems to imply that having VD will make you successful, attractive and happy. Also, the song is quite infectious…”.

Download from Internet Archive

Note this film is in the public domain in the US, but may not be in other jurisdictions. Please check its status in your jurisdiction before re-using.



CLIPSSHORTFULL LENGTH SILENTFULL LENGTH TALKIE
Princess Nicotine (1909) 6min

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) 12min

Last of the Mohicans (1920) 1hr11min

Meet John Doe (1941) 2hr3min

The Unappreciated Joke (1903) 1min

Frankenstein (1910) 13min

The General (1926) 1hr19min

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) 1hr19mins


The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895) 21sec

The Great Train Robbery (1903) 10min

Wolf Blood (1925) 1hr7min

Reefer Madness (1938) 1hr8min

The Kiss (1896) 25secs

Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (1940) 20min

Battleship Potemkin (1925) 1hr13min

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) 1hr57min

Trapeze Disrobing Act (1901) 2min

Are You Popular (1947) 10min

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) 1hr11min

Scarlet Street (1945) 1hr43min

Annie Oakley Fires Her Gun (1894) 20secs

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) 13min

Faust (1926) 1hr55min

The Last Man on Earth (1964) 1hr27min

Operation Cue (1955) 52sec

Never Weaken (1921) 28min

Intolerance (1916) 2hr57min

Quicksand (1950) 1hr18min

Dutch Fashion Reel (1969) 1min50sec

Betty Boop: Minnie The Moocher (1932) 7min46sec

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) 1hr46min

Suddenly (1954) 1hr16mins


Buffalo Dance (1894) 14sec

The Cook (1918) 18min

The Thief of Bagdad (1924) 2hr20min

Five Minutes to Live (1961) 1hr14min

VD is for Everybody (1969) 1min

American Day in Tripoli, Libya (1962) 14min

For The Term of His Natural Life (1927) 1hr33min

Cyrano De Bergerac (1950) 1hr53min

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/15/vd-is-for-everybody-1969/


Superstitions About Animals (1904)

Friday 14 October 2011 at 11:49


Superstitions about animals, by Frank Gibson; 1904; W. Scott publishing co. ltd; London, Newcastle-on-Tyne, New York.

Author’s Note: My sole object in writing this little book has been to do something towards arousing a more general interest in a subject which has at no time obtained the attention it deserves. Yet there is no subject which so fully repays the thoughtful student as that of Natural History. In bringing together some of the most common superstitions about animals, and dealing with them in a light and popular way, I trust my object will in some measure be attained. If by the publication of this unpretentious work only a little of the prevalent superstition is swept away, and further interest is created in the wonders of the animal kingdom, I shall be more than amply rewarded. FRANK GIBSON. Bishop Auckland, July 1904.

Internet Archive link



Letters From a Cat (1879)

Castaway on the Auckland Isles: A Narrative of the Wreck of the "Grafton," (1865)


Infant's Cabinet of Birds and Beasts (1820)

Old French Fairytales (1920)

Armata: a fragment (1817)

An Account of the Late Improvements in Galvanism (1803)

The Medical Aspects of Death, and the Medical Aspects of the Human Mind (1852)

Quarles' Emblems (1886)

Cat and bird stories from the "Spectator" (1896)

Wonderful Balloon Ascents (1870)

The Book of Topiary (1904)

The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (1899)

English as She is Spoke (1884)

The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

The Last American (1889)

Pirates (1922)

Napoleon's Oraculum (1839)

Horse Laughs (1891)

Hydriotaphia/Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus (1658)

Across the Zodiac: the Story of a Wrecked Record (1880)

Superstitions About Animals (1904)

The Diary of a Nobody (1919 edition)

Source: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/10/14/superstitions-about-animals-1904/