This week: A campus addition, Carnegie musicians & more.
Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War, by Lewis E. Lehrman (Stackpole Books): The relationship between biography and general historical writing can be at times fraught. Because the historian is charged with not only telling history but also explaining it, any book structured around a single person will find itself at constant risk of adopting the thrilling but untestable idea that the events of human history are principally driven by a select group of once-in-a-generation “Great Men.” And yet, great men have always existed—men who in select moments make significant contributions to the direction and survival of our civilization. Lewis E. Lehrman’s most recent book tackles the wartime efforts of two such men—Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill—but manages to remain cool-tempered and analytical in the process. Though they lived in different eras and nations, both men valiantly led their respective countries through existentially perilous struggles (Lincoln’s Civil War and Churchill’s fight against Hitler’s Germany). The two had drastically different personalities, but held in common a rare gift for oratory, similar war strategies, and, most of all, an undying commitment to core principles of freedom and liberty. —AS
“Tamayo: The New York Years,” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (through March 18): The story of Mexican Modernism includes a far broader cast of characters than los tres grandes, “the three greats”—José Clemente Orozco (1883–1949), Diego Rivera (1886–1957), and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974). There were also many counterforces and divergent influences that enriched that country’s Modernist legacy. Rufino Tamayo (1899–1991) went against the grain of his muralist contemporaries to question the wisdom of revolution and Leftist doctrine. Steeped in regional iconography, he also looked internationally for influence. For two decades starting in the late 1920s, New York City became Rufino’s second home. Branded a traitor in his native country, Rufino found quick success in New York, exhibiting his work at Weyhe, Valentine, Knoedler, and Marlborough galleries. His art developed in contact with the innovations of Picasso and Matisse. As an art instructor at the Dalton School, he also taught a young Helen Frankenthaler. “Tamayo: The New York Years,” an exhibition now at Washington’s Smithsonian American Art Museum, reveals an artist who worked at a crossroads of modernist innovation. —JP
Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch at Carnegie Hall (January 20): The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has been in the very first rank of international opera stars for the last decade, but his recent career in New York has been rocky. A series of cancellations—including his withdrawal from the Tosca that recently opened at the Metropolitan Opera, just days after it was announced—for unspecified family reasons has resulted in very few appearances outside of Europe in the last two years. This Saturday, we’ll at last have a chance to hear him again at Carnegie Hall with the great lieder accompanist Helmut Deutsch. They’ll perform Die schöne Müllerin, the first of Schubert’s two great song cycles, and the first major cycle of its kind to hold a place in the standard repertoire. The set of twenty songs, with texts by Wilhelm Müller, is hardly epic, lasting barely more than an hour in performance, yet its rich poetry and vivid music make for a powerful emotional experience in the hands of great artists like Kaufmann and Deutsch. —ECS
The New Residential Colleges at Yale: A Conversation Across Time, by Robert A.M. Stern with Gideon Fink Shapiro (The Monacelli Press): Campus architecture, at least following the advent of Modernism, can only be described as a minefield. Build something too redolent of the past, too in keeping with historical tradition, and you are accused of pastiche and slavishness. Build something too voguish and you end up with Harvard’s One Western Ave, the sort of dehumanizing structure which looks as though its walls have been bugged by the KGB. All of this makes Robert A.M. Stern’s accomplishment in his new residential colleges for Yale University even more impressive. The buildings are historically situated but not dated, and have already proven welcome additions to Yale’s campus. Out soon from The Monacelli Press is Stern’s monograph on his buildings; for the architect Peter Pennoyer’s thoughts on the new colleges, see his piece from the September 2017 issue of The New Criterion. —BR
From the archive: “Fictions & fabrications in autobiography today,” by James Tuttleton (March 1990). On the question of whether or not autobiography is literature, and its status in contemporary criticism.
From the current issue: “Populists & the past,” by Douglas Carswell. On three historical examples of populist uprisings.