First exhibited in 1893 in Berlin, The Scream was the culmination of Munch’s magnum opus, a series of paintings called The Frieze of Life. This depicted the course of human existence through burgeoning love and sexual passion to suffering, despair and death, in Munch’s highly original, proto-expressionist style. His titles, from Death in the Sickroom, through Madonna to The Vampire, suggest just how directly and unironically he sought to depict the anxieties of late-19th century Europe. But against all Munch’s images, it is The Scream which stands out as the work which has seared itself into the Western imagination. It remains widely celebrated for capturing the torment of existence in what appeared to many in Munch’s time to be a frightening, godless world.
Salomé is a rare instance in British theatrical history of an authentically ‘Symbolist’ drama. This means that it belongs with an innovative group of plays produced in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Conceived as an alternative to naturalism and the kind of plays that purported to represent life by reproducing everyday habits of speech and physical behaviour in recognisable environments, ‘Symbolist’ drama made use of poetic language and pictorial settings to invoke the inner lives of characters. Released from the constraints of the here-and-now it was free to express all manner of emotions both spiritual and sensual.
Grover Cleveland seems like a very suitable president for the tail-end of the Gilded Age, with the demeanor of a wealthy industrialist, a magnificent walrus moustache, a wife half his age and an obsession with the incomprehensible issue of the gold standard while the reconstruction of the South was being rolled back.
A year into his second (non-consesecutive!) term, he sought the advice of the White House doctor about a persistent ulcer. A sample was taken, cancer was diagnosed, and a decision was made to secretly operate, on a yacht somewhere off Long Island, then to replace the president’s upper left jaw and hard palate.
Worlds Fairs range from the spectacular (The Great Exhibition in London in 1851, The Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889) to the middling (did you know Expo 2017 is taking place right now in Kazakhstan right now?) but surely none can have changed the world as much as the World’s Columbian Exposition which took place in Chicago in 1893. Among other things the fair saw
The first large-scale use of AC electricity, ending the war of the currents
The City Beautiful movement and the start of modern city planning
Eadweard Muybridge showing his moving pictures to a paying public in the first commercial movie theater
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show fixing the image of the “Wild West”
The Ferris Wheel, designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr
Scott Joplin, who became widely known for his piano playing at the fair and ragtime music, which had its first large-scale public exposure
The Pledge of Allegiance first performed by a mass of school children lined up in military fashion
The first moving walkway or travelator, which ran in a loop down the length of a lakefront pier to a casino
Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit gum, Quaker Oats and Shredded Wheat
Pabst Select being renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon following its win as “America’s Best” at the fair
The 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions, the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions from around the world
Little Egypt introducing America to the suggestive version of the belly dance known as the “hootchy-kootchy”, to the tune said to have been improvised by Sol Bloom which now serves as the theme tune to anything exotically Middle-Eastern
Milton Hershey buying a European exhibitor’s chocolate manufacturing equipment and adding chocolate products to his caramel manufacturing business
A device that made possible the printing of books in Braille
The third rail, giving electric power to elevated trains
The first fully electrical kitchen including an automatic dishwasher
The first modern serial killer, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, who killed up to 200 people in his specially-constructed “Murder Castle” three miles from the fair
The last of these was, naturally, not an advertised attraction, but the two are skillfully intertwined in the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Both were immense, ambitious construction projects which required single-minded planning, and both architects exploited the industriousness and anonymity of the modern city, though to very different ends. Though at times the book feels like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, with disconnected themes tied together with the flimsiest of thematic threads, it’s still both informative and very readable, and it’s hard to ask for much more in narrative nonfiction (I cannot speak for its accuracy, of course.)
A crash on the New York Stock Exchange starts a depression
France takes over Laos and Ivory Coast.
Interests connected to the USA overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii
The United States Supreme Court legally declares the tomato to be a vegetable
Gandhi arrives in South Africa where he will live until 1914
Lizzie Borden is acquitted of murdering her parents
New Zealand becomes the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote
The Independent Labour Party of the United Kingdom
The first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey
The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Ferris Wheel
Futebol Clube do Porto, FC Basel, Královské Vinohrady (later Sparta Prague)
The Bahá’í Faith is first publicly mentioned in the United States
Car number plates
St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”
“Good Morning to All”, which later becomes known as “Happy Birthday to You”.
Big Bill Broonzy, American blues singer and composer (d. 1958)
Jimmy Durante, American actor, singer, and comedian (d. 1980)
Lillian Gish, American actress (d. 1993)
Victor Gollancz, British publisher (d. 1967)
Hermann Göring, German Nazi official (d. 1946)
José María Velasco Ibarra, five-time President of Ecuador (d. 1979)
Mississippi John Hurt, American country blues singer and guitarist (d. 1966)
Harold Lloyd, American actor (d. 1971)
Mao Zedong, Chinese leader (d. 1976)
Gummo Marx, American comedian and actor (d. 1977)
Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (d. 1983)
Ivor Novello, Welsh actor and musician (d. 1951)
Leo Ornstein, Russian-born composer and pianist (d. 2002)
Wilfred Owen, English soldier and poet (d. 1918)
Dorothy Parker, American writer (d. 1967)
Prajadhipok, Rama VII, King of Siam (d. 1941)
Dorothy L. Sayers, British crime writer, poet, playwright and essayist (d. 1957)
Andrés Segovia, Spanish guitarist (d. 1987)
Albert Szent-Györgyi, Hungarian physiologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1986)
Soong Ching-ling, one of the Soong sisters, wife of Chinese president Sun Yat-sen (d. 1981)
Harold Urey, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1981)
Mae West, American actress, playwright, screenwriter, and sex symbol (d. 1980)
Georgiana Drew Barrymore, American actress-comedian (b. 1856)
Lucy Isabella Buckstone, English actress (b. 1857)
Jean-Martin Charcot, French neurologist (b. 1825)
Charles Gounod, French composer (b. 1818)
Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States (b. 1822)
Guy de Maupassant, French writer (b. 1850)
Lip Pike, American baseball player (b. 1845)
Duleep Singh, ruler of Punjab (b. 1838)
John Addington Symonds, English poet and literary critic (b. 1840)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Russian composer (b. 1840)
When looking back into the past, it’s important (but difficult) to remember that for everyone concerned it was just the present, especially at times like these when technology was making the world strikingly different. For Americans born into the civil war era, the gilded age of the 1880s and 1890s must have been a dizzying sprint up a mountain of advances, with the 1993 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago taking place right at the summit, opening four days before the worst stock market crash America saw until the great depression. Set over 690 acres, the fair set the tone for the next twenty-five years of architecture, arts, culture and the electrification of the world.
It was a bit too late for recorded sound, though, or a little too early. Edison’s wax cylinder “phonograph” and Columbia’s wax cylinder “graphophone” had been around for half a decade, and had lost much of their novelty value, while Emile Berliner’s disc-based “phonograph” was not quite ready to go on sale, and it would be another few years before the inception of the record business as we know it. All the same, in 1893 we can start to see more in the way of “hits” – music produced with an eye to selling, even if only as a souvenir or a fun novelty.
Our mix opens with the oddest of all curios, a song written and performed by a genuine group of black professional musicians. Not that there was a shortage of black music out there, of course, but the endemic racism of the time and the philistinism of the people in charge of recording meant that their name “Unique Quartette” was particularly apt. It would be a bit of a stretch to claim “Mama’s Black Baby Boy” as in any way proto-blues; it’s a show tune from a group who clearly knew what white audiences wanted. But despite its clear taint of racial stereotyping, it does appear to at least reflect something about their lives, and for this it’s an invaluable record.
After a brief (basically indecipherable) clip from the only surviving record of Louis Vasnier performing as his character Brudder Rasmus (which apparently was listenable as recently as the 1980s), we move onto the usual business, a stomping marching band piece from the 23rd Regiment Band Of New York, and the first of two pieces of “artistic whistling” which apparently sold well at the time and seem marvelously odd with nearly 125 years’ perspective.
As we move on through the years, there will be a certain tension between representing what was popular at the time, presenting a wide spread of what was happening around the world and making something which is enjoyable to listen to. I would say the last of these is the most important, followed by the second, but the first also has a part to play, especially when choices are as thin on the ground as they are this year. 1893’s biggest hit was ‘After The Ball’, a particularly lugubrious sentimental ballad. The rendition here by “silver-voiced Irish tenor” George J. Gaskin epitomises the best and worst aspects of the genre, having a clear, singable melody, a rousing, emotional vocal performance, and an overwhelming, oleaginous droning quality, apparently designed to put an end to any unseemly high spirits.
A better sampling of the year may perhaps be found in Issler’s Orchestra’s “On The Midway” – a 140-second sampling of the Chicago World’s Fair which pitches itself as neither comedy nor advertisement – just a souvenir. The most interesting part of the recording is perhaps the end, where the “hoochie coochie” belly dancers are leeringly described while a tune known variously as “The Streets of Cairo” “The Poor Little Country Maid” and “The Snake Charmer Song” plays. This melody was improvised by showman Sol Bloom, who brought the belly dancers to the fair, and has since served as a shorthand for Middle-Eastern exoticism throughout western culture. You definitely know it.
Next up is the first recording from Ada Jones, easily the most prolific female recording artist of the pre-WW1 era, here singing another huge hit of the day, sentimental romantic ballad “Sweet Marie” without thinking of doing any sort of lyrical gender-swap. Then a clip of a speech in Afrikaans leads into our first Julius Block cylinder of the mix – a delicate, accomplished piano duet from Sergei Taneyev And Leo Conus. Then a monologue from Russell Hunting, nobly describing an apparently momentous game of baseball.
A brass-band waltz from Sousa’s U.S. Marine Band leads into “A flute solo played by Mr Arthur Houston of Norwalk, Ohio” – who he was and why this recording was made are complete mysteries, but the multi-layered harmonies he manages to produce are truly astounding.
To finish off the mix we have a trio of popular songs – a rendition of The Commodore Song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, a fairly lighthearted tune from George H. Diamond, and another bit of whistling from John York Atlee, this time accompanied by verses in which he sings an explanation of “why should I keep from whistling? As it isn’t any sin.” Quite.
Unique Quartette – Mamma’s Black Baby Boy
Louis Vasnier – Adam And Eve And De Winter Apple (Excerpt)
23rd Regiment Band Of New York – A.O.O.S. March
John York Atlee – Anvil Chorus
George J. Gaskin – After The Ball
Issler’s Orchestra – On The Midway
Ada Jones – Sweet Marie
Unknown – Brown Wax Home Recording Of Speech In Afrikaans
Sergei Taneyev And Leo Conus – Leo Conus- Suite For Piano Four-Hands
Russell Hunting – Casey At The Bat
United States Marine Band – The Kiss Waltz
Arthur Houston – Flute Solo
Edward M. Favor – The Commodore Song
George H. Diamond – When Summer Comes Again
John York Atlee – Why Should I Keep From Whistling?