alt Factive Friday

Guest Author John Birmingham on top of his form:

Photo credit: NRC

And so we are one hundred days into Donald Trump’s presidency of laughter and forgetting. The laughter is the deranged cackle of an escaped mental patient hiding in the darkened basement of a Stephen King story. The forgetting is inevitable, because who can keep this shit straight? The alternate facts, the Russian hookers, the amateur oompah band of cosplay Nazis winding their way through the White House kicking out the jams on a 76 trombone cover of old SS dancehall favourites, the early morning tweet storms, the gentle tonguing of Vladimir Putin, Kelly-Anne’s shopping network promo for Ivanka’s failing fashion line, Mike Flynn’s sacking, Steve Bannon’s demonic possession, selfies with the nuclear briefcase guy, and family favours and open bribes from the Chinese government and the transfer of the Situation Room to the outdoor dining lounge at Mar-a-Lago. And all of that is just off the top of my head. With a quick search on el Goog I could fill this whole column with a firehose of craziness, the same way that talking baboon’s anus constantly fills our world with a never-ending toxic gas leak of his brainfarts and crazy uncle conspiracy theories.

As John Oliver said. “Trump hasn’t said one crazy thing, he’s said thousands of crazy things, each of which blunts the effect of the others.”

In a week where an unremarkable Facebook post by Yassmin Abdel-Magied set off a firestorm of nontroversy—imagine a shrinking tribe of pantsless old white men circling their walking frames to light each others farts in Rupert Murdoch’s private cigar lounge—and as a human CAPS LOCK error approached the hundred day mark of his Administration, it’s worth unpacking the triumph of Donald J. Trump.

Yes. That’s right. Not his abject policy failure. Not the imminent prospect of the US government ceasing to function this weekend because a Republican majority House of Reps, and a Republican majority Senate cannot agree with a Republican circus peanut in the White House on how to pass a simple budget measure. Nope.

His triumph.

Because while Trump rolls from one outrage to the next like a giant fluorescent novelty condom filled with Sriracha flavoured hobo stew and nightclub urinal cakes, we are so thoroughly enthralled by the grotesque spectacle that we forget the original outrage, the one that will probably see him driven from office. As the hundred day milestone approaches, almost nobody is talking about whether Trump now wanders the halls of the West Wing at ohfuckno-thirty in the morning because the Russian intelligence services wanted him there.

How does that connect to the witch hunt and burning of Yassmin Abdel-Magied this week? Well, I think her mistake was not serving up a doubledown sandwich to the angry mob which pursued her online. Serving it up and jamming it down their fucking throats, actually. Especially the free speech hypocrites compulsively squeezing their raging hate-boners as they imagine being allowed to abuse Abdel-Magied for both her gender and her skin colour. (Not that there’s much stopping them now. Certainly not the editorial guidelines at News Corp.)

She backed down. Trump never does, at least in his own mind, and as he’ll tell you, he’s president and you’re not.

For now, anyway.

Every day of his term the world will awake to whatever exciting new dumpster fire he’s lit overnight. But the investigations of Russian involvement in his election continue quietly. This week the disgraced National Security Advisor General Flynn, who famously led the chants of ‘Lock her Up’ at the Republican convention, was back in the news because it turned out he’d earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in undeclared payments from Russian companies and individuals with close ties to Russia while he was working for Trump.

As one smartarse OpEd put it, Trump believes in extreme vetting for immigrants, “but apparently not for members of his administration. Unless, of course, he was fully aware of what Flynn was up to.”

Most likely, Trump’s not aware of what Trump is up to on any given day. After a hundred of them it’s exhausting to imagine what a whole four years might feel like when they’re done, assuming we live that long. At least if he decides to start a new Korean War from Mar-a-Lago this weekend, to distract everyone from the US government going out of business, there’s a good chance he’ll send the aircraft carriers in completely the wrong direction. Again.

Advertisements

Elegy

Photo credit: Wikipedia

This is part of the story of an extraordinary Australian.

Frederick Septimus Kelly is one of Australia’s greatest sons. A century after his death on the last day of the first Battle of the Somme, the time has finally come for his music to be played again, for the notes to rise off the page, like ghosts taking form, and move towards us through time with arms outstretched, before finally embracing us, here, in the present. This is a gift to all who love beauty – the music of a deeply, sensitive soul, who was an Olympic Gold medal-winning athlete, Pablo Casals’ preferred pianist and a composer of real genius – Australia’s Vaughan Williams. It is time to finally hear his music and savour the sweetness of his flowers – for Australia to love its lovely boy.

The person who probably knew ‘Sep’ Kelly best was his brother Bertie, himself an amateur violinist who had studied with Joseph Joachim. “Born in 1881, as the youngest member of a musical family, Sep soon decided to copy his elders,” Bertie wrote. “I can remember him as a baby climbing onto a music stool and imitating the actions of a pianist.”

“For a while Sep was limited to what he could create with his small closed fist, but clearly he was not satisfied with that. To the astonishment of his family he rapidly succeeded in playing what he wanted. He seemed to pass in one bound from the stage of a boisterous child using the piano as a toy, to that of a miniature musician. I cannot remember him ever learning the piano. He just seemed to play it as a duck suddenly finds it can swim.”

At 12-years old, the child virtuoso went from Sydney Grammar to Eton for specialist tuition. Here began Sep’s introduction to rowing as a cox, then stroke, of one of their boats. Having spent his youth on Sydney harbour sailing with his father, he had always loved the water. Within a few short years he would be considered the greatest amateur sculler of his time.

Sep had composed music from his teenage years and his early songs are unusually eloquent. He had always preferred to play music by heart. He wrote music in his head without referring to a piano, polishing the works to perfection before committing them to paper. There are very few corrections in his mature works, if any. There are very few drafts. As with Mozart, the pieces seemed to come into being perfectly formed, as if they had always existed.

After Oxford, Kelly studied piano and composition for five years at the Frankfurt Conservatory, the leading music school of the time, where Percy Grainger also studied. In 1908, Kelly ended his studies to train for the London Olympics. He aimed to beat the Canadian rower L.F. Scholes, the only man who had ever bettered him. He rowed in the eights and won Gold in commanding fashion – his Australian nationality no obstacle to rowing for England in those very different days. However, his fame as an oarsman presented many obstacles to his musical career. The public thought he was an athlete dabbling in music, rather than the other way round. Reviews of his piano performances always referred to him as a sculler and Kelly eventually would realise that only in composition would he be able to escape his own shadow.

Kelly’s professional musical life commenced in earnest after the 1908 Olympics. He quickly took on a leading role in London, becoming the cellist Pablo Casals’ recital partner and also appearing as soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, amongst others.

Kelly’s great return to Australia occurred in 1911 when he appeared as piano soloist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Town Hall. The Bulletin review said: “The orchestra had the help of F. S. Kelly, a returned Australian, in Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto for piano and orchestra. This was his first appearance in Sydney after many European successes and his brilliant performance justified a remarkable outburst of enthusiasm!” He followed this with three marathon piano recitals in ten days, two chamber recitals, and conducting a chamber orchestra concert, all of which featured his works.

When war broke out, Kelly was back working in London. He rushed to sign up and was soon commissioned in the Royal Naval Division (RND). He became part of the famous Latin Club, a group of officers from the Hood Battalion. Kelly served alongside the poet Rupert Brooke, the composer William Denis Browne, the British Prime Minister’s second son “Ock” Asquith, and New Zealand’s Bernard Freyberg, later commander of their WWII forces and finally their Governor General. The war would take all of them except Asquith, who lost his leg, and Freyberg, who was wounded seven times, eventually dying from one of those wounds when it ruptured 50 years later.

By the time war broke out, Kelly had composed enough music to fill five CDs but there was far more that remained in his head, un-notated. “Before dinner I looked through my recent unpublished works and revised some passages before going to bed,” he wrote on Sunday January 3, 1915. “In view of going to the front I am somewhat conscious of Keats’ sonnet:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain

“I am anxious to leave my unpublished work as far as possible ready for the press. Unfortunately there is no time to notate the works in my head – the Symphony in E Major, the Lyric Phantasy for large orchestra, the F Minor Piano Sonata, the Aubade for flute and strings, a String Quartet in E Minor and about a dozen songs.”

In the remaining 22 months before his death at the Somme on November 13, 1916, there never was enough time to write them all down and record them for history. They live now only as titles, the music dying with the bullet that cleaved his ‘teeming brain’.

In Australia artists are called many things, but rarely war heroes. Kelly was certainly that. More importantly, he wrote the most music of any composer who served. His war music is remarkably serene, as elusive as trying to collect moonlight.

Quickly written poems or drawings in the trenches are often cathartic, expressing and expelling bitter experience. Music, on the other hand, requires weeks of sustained concentration. It becomes a place of refuge on the battlefield – an oasis of calm transporting the mind to a more peaceful place. Kelly – like Mandela in Robben Island prison – transcended his environment, writing music in his mind over months at Gallipoli and France. He was able to sustain musical ideas coherently, notable for their lack of angst, even amidst danger and chaos.

Kelly fought throughout the Gallipoli campaign. He was wounded in the foot, allowing him the chance to notate his masterpiece, the Elegy for his friend Rupert Brooke. In the second half of the campaign, he wrote a sonata for the great Hungarian virtuoso, Jelly D’Aranyi, the most famous female violinist of her day. When the Royal Naval Division was transferred to the Western Front, Sep continued to compose, including trying to notate his aforementioned F Minor Piano Sonata, but which remained unfinished at the time of his death.

Kelly was a soldier who seemed to have no real hatred of his enemy. He spoke German fluently from his studies in Frankfurt and had mastered the musical language of Schumann and Brahms. He blended that with a very English sensibility, much like Handel did, creating a musical language that is closest to Ralph Vaughan Williams, but remains clearly his own. If Vaughan Williams had also died at 35, their two catalogues would be almost identical in quality and quantity, with Kelly writing more piano music and Vaughan Williams more chamber music.

There are layers of contradictions with Kelly: he was an Australian living within the highest levels of English society, whose manner was the epitome of an English gentleman but who was not accepted as such. He was often laughed at by his fellow officers for writing music in his dugout, along with his habit of constantly wearing gloves (though logical for a pianist protecting his hands), which they took as proof of his eccentricity. His Australian directness of expression caused fits of laughter, as did his love of cats, which he seemed somehow to collect in the trenches, particularly in France. However, it is very moving to read, how, after his death, his fellow officers came to realise how much they missed him – how life was a lot less interesting after he was gone.

Kelly’s last completed work was written on October 28, 1916 in Mesnil, near Thiepval, opposite Pozières. Lt. Commander Bernard Freyberg wrote: “Kelly and his fellow officers are situated in a small cellar of a bombed out house – indeed the whole town of Mesnil has been reduced to rubble by shell fire, and in this basement, only a few feet square, they cook, eat and sleep – the staircase serving the dual role of chimney and entrance.”

The work is an introduction and theme for a planned set of orchestral variations which Kelly marked Lento and Lamentoso, and which history will remember as The Somme Lament. The manuscript, in his perfect handwriting, scored as if for piano but with some details of orchestration, is impossibly clean, with no trace of dirt or soot, and not a single correction or error. It seems as pristine as if it had been written yesterday. It will shortly be orchestrated in order to represent the nearby battle of Pozières in the upcoming Diggers’ Requiem, the bookend companion piece to the Gallipoli Symphony, which will premiere in 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War.

On X Day, November 13, 1916, the day of the big push to take to take Beaumont-Hamel, the final battle of the Somme, Freyberg wrote: “On the extreme right I stopped to talk to Kelly who was in command of B company. We had been daily companions for the last two years and he, Asquith, Edgerton and I were the sole survivors of the Battalion who left Avonmouth for Gallipoli in February 1915. I wanted to take both his hands and wish him ‘God speed’ but somehow it seemed too theatrical, so instead we talked awkwardly and synchronised our watches.”

“Owing to our heavy casualties, it was never known really how Kelly was killed, but it appears that someone on Kelly’s left had missed a dugout entrance from which the enemy was starting to shoot. The situation was critical. Unless the strong point was captured at once enemy machine guns would pop up everywhere. Hesitation would have endangered the success of the whole attack on our front.”

“Kelly, being an experienced soldier, knew this quite well, as he must have known the risk he was taking, when with the few men he had hastily gathered, he rushed the machine gun. A few men reached the position, but Kelly, with most of them, was killed at the moment of victory.”

Freyberg, wounded four times, won the Victoria Cross. Kelly’s surviving men, as a sign of respect, carried him back through No Man’s Land in order that he might be properly buried. He is the only one of the dozen composers killed in the Somme to have a marked grave.

On the occasion of the centenary of Sep’s death, we must come at last to realise just how immense his loss was to our young culture. Our small population did not have composers to spare. Like so many countries, we paid a preposterous price in the First World War. The stories from this period are our modern-day Greek Tragedies, yet too often they are stories we do not know. If we did we would not risk war again.

We cannot recover Australia’s 60,000 dead from the Great War, but we can bring back Kelly. Following his death, Sep’s obituary was run in almost every major paper in England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia, and yet now he is largely forgotten. It is well past time for us to grieve for Kelly, to realise just what we lost, and to finally know him through his music, as Kelly himself foresaw when he quoted Callimachus in the foreword to his Elegy for Rupert Brooke:

Still your works live on, and Death, the universal snatcher, cannot lay his hand on them.

Fast and Furious Friday

Hello Pubsters . I”m still in Cairns so this is a quick Friday Post.

I’m Sure all people on this site contributors and lurkers where saddened to hear of the passing of Fiona’s Mum. I only met her once and liked her immensely. We owe her and her husband many thanks for raising such a wonderful daughter.

On a Happier Note

ON THIS DAY

BK WAS BORN  HAPPY BIRTHDAY

download (6).jpeg

ALSO

  • 1992 The first exoplanets are discovered

    Polish astronomer Aleksander Wolszczan announced that he found two planets orbiting the pulsar PSR 1257+12.

  • 1967 Dictator Georgios Papadopoulos assumes power in Greece

    During his six-year reign, thousands of political opponents were incarcerated and tortured.

  • 1934 The Surgeon’s photo, allegedly showing the Loch Ness Monster, is published in the Daily Mail

    In reality, the famous image depicts a toy submarine with a head and neck made of wood putty.

  • 1918 The Red Baron is killed

    Manfred von Richthofen was a legendary German fighter pilot. He earned his renown and nickname by achieving 80 air combat victories in World War I. He was shot down and killed during combat at the age of 25.

  • 1509 Henry VIII is crowned King of England

    In popular culture, the monarch is known mainly for his six marriages, two of which ended with the wife’s execution.

Births On This Day – 21 April

  • 1959 Robert Smith

    English singer-songwriter, guitarist

  • 1947 Iggy Pop

    American singer-songwriter, producer, actor

  • 1926 Elizabeth II

    of The United Kingdom

  • 1864 Max Weber

    German economist, sociologist

  • 1838 John Muir

    Scottish/American environmentalist, author

Deaths On This Day – 21 April

  • 2016 Prince

    American singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, actor

  • 2003 Nina Simone

    American singer-songwriter, pianist

  • 1946 John Maynard Keynes

    English economist

  • 1910 Mark Twain

    American author

  • 1736 Prince Eugene of Savoy

  • As Anzac Day is next Tuesday I predict the Libs are going to ramp up the patriotism cry to high level.
  • I don’t think it is doing them much good.
  • Labor still ahead in the polls. YAY