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As I was reading Patrick O’Brian’s The Letter of Marque on the train this morning, I came across a passage in which Stephen Maturin mentions to Jack Aubrey that he is busy transcribing a sonata by Duport.

In past readings, I must have skipped over this reference without giving it a thought.  This time, however, I was seized with the desire to learn just exactly to whom the Doctor was referring.

Well, it turns out that there appear to be two choices, Jean-Pierre (1741-1818), and Jean-Louis (1749-1819).  They were both notable cellists in their day (hardly surprising where Dr. Maturin’s transcriptions are concerned),  acquainted with Beethoven and widely known and traveled in Europe.

It seems that the younger brother was an especially able performer.  According to the post linked above,

[t]he sweetness and beauty of the tone he caused to issue from his instrument is said to have surprised Voltaire, who allegedly quipped, “Monsieur Duport, you will make me believe in miracles, for I see that you can turn an ox into a nightingale.”

Another anecdote, which one would think irritating to Stephen Maturin, concerned an encounter with the Corsican Tyrant:

who insisted on trying out Duport’s Stradivarius cello, exclaiming, “How the devil do you hold this thing, Monsieur Duport?” Duport was so obviously afraid that Napoleon would damage it, that Napoleon laughingly returned it to the cellist’s more careful hands. Actually, Napoleon had made a small dent in the ribs of the cello, which may still be seen in the “Duport Strad” today. (The instrument was later owned by Franchomme, then Servais, and is now in the capable hands of Mstislav Rostropovich.)

Considering that “Slava” died a few years ago, I can only assume that the Duport Strad has, in fact, been removed from his hands by now.

At any rate, I thought this an interesting little nugget.  Apart from the fact that I have an autographed picture of Leonard Rose somewhere in my posession (owing to my own feeble attempts to master the instrument in my yoot) and I’ve seen Lynn Harrell in performance, I really don’t know that much about cellos, cellists or their history.

I was tipped off to this amusing video by a friend last evening:

My sentiments, exactly.

What I fail to understand is why I am branded as a provincial, knuckle-dragging, racist, anti-innulekshul troglodyte for not caring a toss for soccer, when the fact of the matter is that soccer fans are the worst, most obnoxiously hooliganistic yabos in the world.  It’s soccer fans who burn down stadiums, crush each other to death in mass stampedes and regularly break out in riots.  It’s soccer fans who channel all their nationalistic, xenophobic and racist bile into international grudge matches.  It’s soccer fans with, for example, these insanely obnoxious noisemakers, who disrupt the games, making life miserable for everyone involved.

And for what? A bunch of guys kicking a ball around.

Compared to these people, American football fans look downright gentlemanly, and baseball fans are a veritable School of Socrates.


I see that today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1750, of Dieudonné Sylvain Guy Tancrède de Dolomieu, a French geologist.  I had known previously that dolomite is a type of rock, and also that there is a mountain range in Northern Italy named the Dolomites, but I had not known where the name came from.  Now I do.

This bit of trivia got my attention because I have been noodling again on the wonders of geology over the past couple of days, ever since driving out to Pennsylvania to drop off the gels at camp, in fact.  Although it’s only a couple of hours each way, the trip from the Northern Virginny suburbs to the Laurel Highlands takes one through several distinctly different regions of the vast geological smorgasborg known as the Appalachians.   Contemplating the almost unimaginable lengths of time and complexity of forces that have gone into fashioning the region as I stare at the peaks and valleys (that is, when I’m not contemplating their more recent, human history) always fills me with a kind of pleasurable dizziness.

Indeed, I am strongly tempted to roust out my John McPhee, and start wallowing.


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June 2010