Recent links of note:
“Aesthetic prowess: the artists who competed for Olympic gold”
Harry Pearson, Apollo
Today art and sport are considered separate realms, but when Pierre de Coubertin worked to revive the Olympic Games he sought to “reunite in the bonds of legitimate wedlock a long-divorced couple—muscle and mind.” Though his fellow organizers balked at the idea of including artists among athletes, in 1912 de Coubertin finally got his wish. Painting, sculpture, literature, music, and architecture were now competitive categories; entries had to be “inspired by sport and adhere to the Olympic ideals.” Despite having few entrants and many skeptics, the artistic events persisted for the first half of the twentieth century. As Harry Pearson points out in Apollo, some notable names emerged: the artist Jack Butler Yeats, the brother of the poet, won a silver medal in 1924 for his painting The Liffey Swim, thus earning independent Ireland its first Olympic prize. The end came in 1949 when the professional status of the artists was deemed incompatible with the amateur requirements of the competition. The medals were removed from official tallies and the artistic Olympians nearly forgotten.
“Into the Wrecks”
Neal Ascherson, The New York Review of Books
James P. Delgado, one of the world’s most renowned underwater archaeologists, has written a new book, War at Sea: A Shipwrecked History from Antiquity to the Cold War, using his firsthand experience researching sunken vessels around the United States and beyond. While some explorers are more interested in the (very real) potential for treasure, Delgado is haunted by the personal artifacts that reveal the human cost of war. As Neal Ascherson reports in The New York Review of Books, war vessels have tended to be “lethally overcrowded.” Huge battleships in particular, a staple of nineteenth- and twentieth-century naval fleets, became easy targets for aircraft and submarine attacks, resulting in mass casualties. In ancient times naval warfare was no less costly. In 249 B.C., Rome defeated a Carthaginian fleet just north of Sicily, in the first naval battle for which we have significant archaeological evidence. Excavations revealed more than eighty sunken vessels and helmets scattered across the seabed; some estimates place the death toll as high as ten thousand. Ascherson shares these and other highlights, including a thrilling story of a gold-laden German WWI cruiser and the threats posed by modern-day “vulture” salvagers.
“ ‘Columbia Legacy’ Review: Conducting History”
Tim Page, The Wall Street Journal
Many record labels are creating remastered versions of recordings by legendary soloists and conductors before they enter the public domain; Morton Gould, Jean Martinon, and others have had their old recordings restored and reissued over the last few years. Now, Sony Classical has released the first volume of recordings made by the conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, covering the period from the 1930s through the 1950s (Ormandy remained associated with the orchestra until 1980). Tim Page in The Wall Street Journal reflects on the career of this conductor who made the first major Mahler recording in the United States and cultivated the “lush ‘Philadelphia sound’ ” inherited in part from his predecessor, Leopold Stokowski. Unlike the jet-set conductors of today, Ormandy stayed put in Philadelphia, where he lived a block away from the Academy of Music, and successfully helped to popularize the music of contemporary composers.
“Music for a While #47: Just Perfect.” Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Great spectacles, noble thoughts,” by James F. Penrose. On “Storms and Shipwrecks: From Vernet to Courbet” at Musée de la Vie romantique in Paris.