Recent links of note:
“Romance and relics in Chopin’s Warsaw”
Charles Emmerson, Apollo
Frédéric Chopin was deathly scared of being buried alive. After the composer breathed his last in a cold and miserable garret in Paris in 1849, his heart was, by his own request, removed, pickled in a jar, and smuggled into Poland, where it was then interred underneath a monument in Warsaw’s Holy Cross Church. Thus began the long and strange history of Chopin’s hagiography. As Charles Emmerson writes for Apollo, a hundred years later a tug of war was taking place in battle-torn Warsaw over Chopin’s legacy, between Catholic Polish patriots and the Soviet authorities, each group claiming the composer and his relics for their own.
“Julius Caesar’s assassins were widely regarded as heroes in Rome”
Philip Womack, The Spectator
When historical fiction is monumental enough, it has the power to obscure and even supplant the very history in which it has its origins. Thus Tamburlaine becomes Marlowe’s “Scythian shepherd” and Richard the Lionheart becomes the “hero king” we know today from Walter Scott. But what of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar? It seems to me that the monolithic figure of Caesar, well-documented historically and autobiographically as he was, was not the Roman most changed by Shakespeare’s art. This honor goes to the more malleable figure of Brutus, caught between his sense of duty to the Republic and the mercenary motives of his co-conspirators, as the Bard tells it. For a look at these men beyond Shakespeare’s creative liberties, a new book by Peter Stothard gathers together the sparse scraps of history that come down to us today. Philip Womack reviews the book and investigates the story for The Spectator, following Augustus’s hellbent quest to exact revenge down to the last man standing. As it happens, that last man was a playwright by the name of Cassius Parmensis, whose work was allegedly stolen after his murder and published under the hitman’s name. Posthumous legacy can be a tricky thing.
“‘Subtle, False and Treacherous’”
Keith Thomas, The New York Review of Books
There is perhaps no better example of art replacing life than Richard III. It is exceedingly difficult to view the historical Richard III in any way other than the immortal image of Shakespeare’s hunchbacked, scheming tyrant of the stage. Far more than Shakespeare’s Caesar, he is fated to be reborn in the minds of each successive generation, as new Oliviers and McKellens give turns at the career-defining role. Meanwhile, the historical Richard remains perennial fodder for publications both highbrow and low. For as long as I can recall, the debate has raged as to whether we have the accounts of Richard’s enemies (and Shakespeare, who read them) to blame for a gross misunderstanding of a complicated man. Shakespeare might have missed the mark factually speaking, but as Keith Thomas writes in a biographical sketch for The New York Review of Books, he captured the spirit of the genuinely murderous tyrant perfectly.
“Music for a While #35: Greatness, consolation, transcendence.”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Magicians of modernity,” by Clayton Trutor. A review of Time of the Magicians: Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Cassirer, Heidegger and the Decade That Reinvented Philosophy, by Wolfram Eilenberger.