Sunday, 3 April 2016


Industry & Idleness, Plate 10; William Hogarth
It’s time for another installation of Mayhem Behind the Music: RIVALS EDITION*.

Today’s entry features four of the most macabre and deeply disturbing actual events to hit the classical realm in the past 200-some odd years.
The sensitive reader is advised to peruse the following entries in this edition of RIVALS at his or her own discretion.

Read Past RIVALS entries:

*Featuring another entry for the Did you Know? Archives.

“All hope abandon, ye who enter here”–  Dante Alighieri; The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto III

I) Peri vs. Caccini

Let’s ease into this gently: we begin in 16th century Italy, at the premier of the world’s first opera, Dafne.

Prior to the creation of opera, there was the Florentine Camerata – an intimate gathering of musical minds, respected poets other artistic intelligentsia who would congregate in the private residence of one Count Giovanni de’Bardi to discuss their love of music and drama. It was here that the adoption of the recitative would find it’s genesis, formed by the amalgamation of determined spirit to create high art and a deep desire to both revive and make unique improvements on the Greek tragedy plays and dramas from which opera would find it’s inspiration. It would also be here that the composer Jacopo Peri would meet the celebrated vocal teacher, Giulio Caccini.

It was during one such meeting of classical music’s elite minds at the Camerata that Peri would famously utter the phrase:
“Abandoning every style of vocal writing known hitherto, I gave myself up wholly to the sort of imitation (of speech) demanded by this poem.”
Jacopo Peri in costume
He was referring to his adaptation of the play Dafne to music, (in what would generally considered by posterity as the first very basic, yet original opera) and just how he could effectively do as much justice to the script as he could to the music. As Peri and his contemporaries bounced around ideas whilst pondering this very question, the inspired Italian suddenly experienced an epiphany. By making this rather bold statement, Peri was at once declaring to his colleagues that he fancied himself quite the innovator and that it was he who knew of just the right technique to impact the masses across contemporary Europe, just as the Greeks had done for their citizens so many centuries previous.
 It was through the use of the phrase “hitherto” that Peri would publicly declare himself as the proprietor of the recitative (the “imitation of speech” [to music: halfway between singing and speaking].

This audacious proclamation would be the first of many statements that would both wound and rub the then burgeoning operatic composer Caccini the wrong way. It is a common belief that Caccini had authored an earlier work prior to Peri’s Dafne, which included a preface written by the author himself, declaring the fact that it had "occur'd” to him to “adopt a kind of song resembling speech and betraying a nobile sprezzatura del canto.” (a “noble negligence of song”).

To further rub salt in Caccini’s already gaping wound, it would appear to outside circles that the birth of the recitative - and, in effect the opera - was the collective brainchild of the Camerata as a whole as they frequently bounced ideas off one another, leaving much room for it’s exalted members to claim progenitorship.

Peri’s Dafne, now lost in the annals of music history, was premiered 3 years after Peri completed the composition at the Palazzo Corsi in 1598. Much to the chagrin of an enraged Caccini, Dafne was both written and performed entirely in this new style, and for the recitative’s induction into the world of classical music, Peri would find himself a much lauded commodity.

Caccini gets the last laugh

Giulio Caccini
Peri may have fancied himself a most celebrated and revered inventor, however the much beleaguered Caccini would stop at nothing to override his nemesis’ fame and discredit Peri’s future successes.

Caccini, who had laid in wait for some two years would make a most nefarious move, stalking, then pouncing at his prey with stealth-like precision in the year 1600, when he would not only steal the limelight from his arch rival, but also the subject matter of Peri’s second (and last) opera. Peri’s "Euridice, " based on the ancient Greek prophet Orpheus and his wife Euridice, was to be a landmark achievement for the 39 year old composer: it was written to serve as entertainment at wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de’ Medici. This was truly an event for the history books.

Unfortunately for both Peri and posterity, the world’s second opera is remembered neither as a majestic opus for the likes of royalty nor as the brainchild of the Italian composer. Instead, the opera Euridice is commonly confused with the opera penned by Caccini – who not only chose for his work the exact same subject matter of his rival,  with the exact same title, but who also rushed to have his work published before Peri. So expedient was the quarrelsome Caccini, his Euridice would make it into print before Peri would even perform his own work at the Royal festivities!

Caccini wasn't finished prodding his nemesis: it is believed the nefarious composer attempted to ban his own followers from attending Peri's 'inferior' work!

Now that’s what I call “back—stabbery.”

II) "Cellist of Sarajevo" vs. Canadian author

Image: Wikipedia; photo by Mikhail Evstafiev
Fans of Steven Galloway’s 2008 novel “The Cellist of Sarajevo” may be surprised to learn the inspirational subject for the Canadian novelist’s work, a Bosnian cellist by the name of Vedran Smailović was reportedly so outraged at being made the unwitting subject of inspiration for the award winning novel, he not only publicly denounced the work and that of it’s author in 2008, he demanded from Galloway an apology and financial reparation for what he referred to as “bloody fiction… using my picture and advertising their product with my name.”

In Galloway’s book, “Smailović” (rather, the unnamed character based on him) is depicted as a mournful hero: a lone cellist who, for 22 days in 1922 took to the war-ravaged streets of Sarajevo to play for his fellow fallen men and women Albioni’s Adagio in G minor, miraculously dodging any sniper attacks in the midst of the siege that would claim some 14,000 lives by it’s completion.

Smailović, who had only learned of the existence of the semi-biopic by visiting a local bookstore, was anything but flattered:  
“It was like the explosion of an atomic bomb, emotions of anger and pain...How is this possible? They steal my name and identity. Nobody can take the rights to that from me.” 
To add further insult to injury, one of the main characters in Galloway’s novel is that of a female sniper, who becomes so enraptured by the beauty of the Adagio, she takes it upon herself to “protect” the so-called “Cellist of Sarajevo” from the sniper attacks of her comrades. In the novel the cellist would appear every day for 22 days, in the same location, at the same hour, to play the Adagio in honor of the 22 of his kinsman who perished by a mortar bomb attack as they queued for bread.

Image: Wikipedia; photo by
Mikhail Evstafiev
The real story of the cellist of Sarajevo is far more courageous, far more affecting - even in its contrasted muted tones. Smailović would set the record straight in an interview released shortly after the publication of the book:
"I didn't play for 22 days, I played all my life in Sarajevo and for the two years of the siege each and every day...they keep saying I played at four in the afternoon, but the explosion was at 10 in the morning and I am not stupid, I wasn't looking to get shot by snipers so I varied my routine...I never stopped playing music throughout the siege. My weapon was my cello.”
Perhaps most upsetting to the real cellist is the disruption of his private life. In the years following the siege, Smailović became something of a contented recluse, telling a local reporter
"For 10 years I have not wanted to go out. I don't want to be involved any more as a peacemaker or a public person.. I have a right to my privacy...I don’t want to go [out]…but now., because of this book, I am forced to.”
When prompted for a reaction to Smailović’s grievances, the author claimed incredulity. While Galloway has formally admitted both in media and through a letter of dedication to Smailović himself following the books release, that the work was indeed based on Smailović, he denies any wrong doing, in spite of the emotional distress he has caused his objet muse, and remains defiant in his stance that he owes Smailović no reparations for hijacking events of his life whatsoever, telling reporters that he knew Smailović “may not like the book” and “If I had, I suppose, sat down with him and taken up his time ... but I don't see how fiction writers can start paying their sources of inspiration. I would become a pariah of the literary world if I were to do that. .. What about the 25 people I interviewed whose stories are in the book? Should I pay them too?"

According to the latest updates on this tragic story, Smailović remains outraged at the actions, and lack of actions, on the part of Galloway. In an interview shortly after the books release, Smailović issued the rather mournful threat:
“If I do not get justice now, I will burn [my cello] back in Sarajevo."
Please don't!

The Adagio:

Fun Fact: The composition above, known colloquially as "Albioni's Adagio"  was in fact, not authored by Albioni! The piece was composed in 1945 by musician Remo Giazotto, and it is believed that if Albioni did indeed influence the work at all, his ownership can lay claim only in the work's bass line.

III) Outraged Ballerina vs. The Bolshoi Theatre

The Bolshoi Theatre at Moscow
This is perhaps the most upsetting entry to be featured in the Rivals archives yet. The details of the events that follow this preface have been, to the best of my ability, truncated (I hesitate to use the word censored, but in this instance, some of the details of unrelated events were so macabre in nature, I felt they had no place on my blog. I will provide links in the footnotes for the curious reader to follow so that he or she may be fully informed of the full extent of the Bolshoi’s extremely sordid history).

Sergei Filin in happier times
Back in 2013, Sergei Filin was living a regular life as Ballet Director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in Russia. The historic theatre holds the distinction of being one of the oldest and most internationally respected opera companies in the world, and as such, is highly coveted by the most experienced and gifted dancers. The theatre is also, however, renowned as a haven for scandal, intrigue, and back-stabbery amongst its performing and advisory sects. If ever there existed on earth a classical arts den of iniquity, it would be the Bolshoi. From needles inserted into costumes to shards of glass strategically placed in the tip of a rivals toeshoe, to animal carcasses hurled on stage, the Bolshoi has played host to an innumerable amount of sadistic betrayals.

Perhaps none were so sadistic as the event that would occur on January 17, 2013 to Ballet director (and former ballerina) Sergei Filin as he made his exit from what should have been the safe confines of his home in Moscow. As Filin made his way to his car, he was savagely approached by a masked assailant, who threw a pitcher of acid directly onto his face, severely damaging both it and his neck which achieved third degree burns, and which ultimately left him blind in one eye.

Sergei Filin bloodied and bandaged following the brutal attack
Details of who was involved in the crime and what inspired the attack would eerily echo director Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psych-thriller Black Swan. In a confession given to police on the 5th of March that year, a man by the name of Yury Zarutsky admitted to having been in the employ of Bolshoi ballet company dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko alongside another hired partner in crime by the name of Andrei Lipatov who had hired the duo to perform the assault as a retribution for Filin’s passing over Dmitrichenko’s girlfriend at the time of the incident, dancer Anzhelina Vorontsova for the much coveted role of Princess Odette in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. When pressed by authorities, Dmitrichenko eventually relented to conspiring the attack, but adamantly denied instructing the nefarious pair to use acid to accost the victim.

Further examination of witness testimonies to the alleged assault revealed both shocking and appalling negligence on behalf of the Bolshoi Theatre's Officials. Most surprising of all were the telling statements issued by colleagues of Filin, that were disturbingly foreshadowing in nature: a Bolshoi official would reluctantly admit to authorities (and later, to the public via press conference) that Filin had known for some time of the possibility of an assault, and had informed Bolshoi general director Antoly Iksanov prior to the attack that he felt his life was in jeopardy. Colleagues admitted to knowledge of Filin’s car having it’s tires slashed, his cellphones having been intercepted and disabled, and his email account having been compromised, with private exchanges of the ballet director going public. Iksankov would later inform the press details of his meeting with an unsurprisingly nervous Filin:  
“Sergei told me that he had the feeling that he was on the front line…I told him, ‘Sergei, I’ve already been on the front line for the last two years, it is part of our profession, the profession of the leadership, so it’s normal."
The men have since been tried and convicted, with Dmitrichenko - the mastermind behind the venomous attack, receiving a paltry 6 years or his role in the events, with accomplices Yuri Zarutsky receiving the highest sentence of ten years and Andrei Lipatov with the lowest at just four years behind bars.

When pressed by the presiding judge for an apology by Dmitrichenko to his victim during sentencing, the smiling defendant suddenly became overcome by a defiant rage, declaring quite callously: “For what?”

The partially blind Filin has since been replaced as Ballet director by the Bolshoi Theater.

Bolshoi Theatre's sordid history

IV) George Frederick Handel: Slave Master?

George Frederick Handel
George Frederick Handel, the much celebrated German-turned-British baroque composer is as much regarded by classical music aficionados today as he was lauded in his prime as both an iconic and prolific composer who carried with him a shrewd business sense and sense of majesty that he would invariably translate into a music form that was so dignified, so elevated, he would single-handedly reshape the national image projected by and from his adopted homeland.

There is, however, another side to the innovative composer, one that exhibits a rather startling state of amour-propre fueled by a blaring opportunistic streak. It is thanks in part to Handel’s lasting legacy that modern researchers have uncovered a semi-hidden past of the late composer.

It was in 2013 at the University of Texas that music librarian David Hunter discovered a most troubling history related to the composer, which would expand upon formerly suppressed disturbing details already known to just a hushed few within musical circles.

The infamous "Assiento" (contract)
granting Great Britain the
exclusive rights to trade in slaves
for profit in the Spanish Indies
For some time now, it has been a rather well managed ‘secret’ that Handel had an established connection via investment in the Slave trading mercantile “South Sea Company,” a British joint-stock company founded in 1711 which held a monopoly to trade with South America during the War of the Spanish Succession.
 Following the war, a series of ‘peace treaties’ under the general name the Treaty of Utrecht (named after the Dutch city) would grant, in the name of Britain’s reigning Queen Anne, a 30 year allowance for the British empire to trade in slaves for profit with a yearly capita of 4800 slaves, and with a quarter of the profits reserved for the King of Spain. Over the course of just four years, an estimated total of 170 000 African slaves were supplied to America and the West Indies for the sum of £8-£10 per head.

What Hunter would uncover in 2013 was a discovery that holds the potential of both further sullying the reputation of the robust composer, and, bizarrely, exposing to the musical realm a series of ironies that truly make the head shake.

“It was quite by chance” that Hunter would uncover yet another slave trading mercantile that was not only patronized by Handel, but a whopping third of the board of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music of which Handel was both founder and Master of Orchestra.

The mercantile in this instance was the notorious Royal African Company, a major player in the slave trade at the beginning of the 18th century. Founded and patronized by the Stuart dynasty (James II and Charles II of Great Britain), the Royal African Company held a monopoly over trading with West Africa, with half of the proceeds going to the reigning monarch and the other half to the company itself. To his astonishment, Hunter discovered a “…list of investors in the national archives at Kew; four of the stock transfer ledgers had been signed by Handel.”

The Royal African Company logo
The company was considered the prime ‘mercantile’ for the slave trade from the years 1680 to 1731, trading some 5000 iron branded slaves per annum, and drawing in considerable wealth for the established Londoners, which, it appears, very well may have included Handel himself.
 Hunter is quick to point out, however, that in contrast to scholarly writings depicting the composer’s well-known opportunistic streak, his 'hidden past' in terms of involvement in the slave trade has been neglected by more modern, assumingly race-neutral biographers.  In fact, one of the sole published accounts on this particular topic made its way to print in the mid 19th century, under the pen of  Handel biographer Victor Schoelcher, the 19th century abolitionist who has been credited as being “responsible for ending slavery in the French Colonies in 1848.”  After Schoelcher's publication, there has existed scant mention of the composers illicit activities, for reasons that are not fully understood, but which certainly make the mind ponder.

Did you know?

The unexpected death of Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt last month at the age of 86 had ultimately spurned on officials of the annual Salzburg Festival at Austria to finally admit to what classical music aficionados had long suspected: in a carefully worded statement issued shortly after the maestro’s demise, Festival officials effectively admitted to banning Harnoncourt from conducting or appearing at its festivities during the duration of rival conductor Herbert von Karajan’s lifetime. Karajan was no stranger to controversy and was once himself excised by the same festival many decades earlier, when a defiant Wilhelm Furtwängler orchestrated a 14-year ban on his nemesis beginning at the height of the second world war. It seemed Karajan took nothing away from the humiliating experience. By banning Harnoncourt from the Festival, the dynamic conductor would prove to Salzburg that he could give as well as he got!

“The Mozarteum Foundation was also responsible for his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic. After all, Herbert von Karajan did not want him to appear at the Festival during his lifetime. Karajan and Harnoncourt – those were separate musical worlds. However, they did have one thing in common: they were both after truthfulness in music. Both remained seekers throughout their entire lifetimes, but their searches took radically different paths.”


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