1759 — George Frideric Handel dies

Handel was 74 years old at the time of his death. Unmarried, he left much of his estate to a niece. He had experienced loss of vision after a botched cataract operation eight years earlier, which had curtailed his output.

Handel’s musical compositions included 42 operas, 29 oratorios, numerous arias, chamber music, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, 16 organ concerti and more than 120 cantatas, trios and duets. His best known work is the Messiah oratorio, which featured the Hallelujah Chorus. Handel was an unusual composer. Influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral traditions, he also introduced a range of unusual instruments into his compositions, including the viola d’amore, violetta marina, lute, trombone, clarinet, small high cornet, theorbo, horn, lyrichord, double bassoon, viola da gamba, bell chimes, positive organ and harp – many of which would become more commonly used by composers and musicians as a result of Handel’s popularisation of them.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1770 — Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is born

Hegel was one of the most influential philosophers of his time. He built upon the work of Kant, Descartes, Hume and others – his work assumes a familiarity with the writings of many of his predecessors – and Hegel himself was an influence on any number of the philosophers who followed him, notably Karl Marx and Theodor Adorno.

Hegel lived to be 61 years old, and spent most of his adult life studying and writing in a total of eight different German universities. He wrote four books: Phenomenology of Spirit (1807); Science of Logic (published in three volumes: 1811, 1812 & 1816); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1816) and Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1822).

Referenced in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

1770 — Ludwig van Beethoven born

Generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the classical composers, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, in what is now Germany. However, most of his early creative life was spent in Vienna, where he studied music under the tutelage of Joseph Haydn. Exposed to works by other composers of Vienna (notably Mozart and Bach), Beethoven nonetheless developed his own distinctive style.

At the age of 26, Beethoven began to develop tinnitus, an affliction which would slowly rob him of his hearing entirely. Undaunted, he continued to compose, play and conduct music, and many of his greatest works were written at a time when he was either partially or completely deaf.

The date given here for his birth is actually that of his baptism – no conclusive record exists of his actual birth date, although it is unlikely to have been more than a week or so earlier.

Referenced in:

Green Onions — The Blues Brothers

1772 — Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel is born

Schlegel and his brother August were two of the leading members of the Jena Romantics, a group of artists and patrons between roughly 1798 and 1804 who were the earliest influential Romantic movement in Germany. Schlegel would pass through atheism and a firm commitment to individualism in his twenties before converting to Catholicism in 1808.

His contributions to philosophy mostly consist of his promotion of and work to develop the Romantic school in Germany, especially as a critical position from which to analyze art.

Referenced in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

1787 — Christoph Willibald Gluck dies

Most famous for his operas, Gluck was an Austrian who first came to prominence as a composer in Italy. Later, he moved to Paris, where his works came to synthesise elements of the Italian and French operatic styles, invigorating the form. One of the most important elements of his approach was to diminish the importance of the singers in favour of a greater concentration on the actual story being related.

His most famous opera is probably Orfeo ed Euridice, first performed in 1762, which showed early moves in his reformist direction. Later works, such as Alceste (1767) and Paride ed Elena (1770), were even more innovative. At the time of his death, Gluck had created 35 full-length operas, plus a number of shorter works and ballets. The composer most directly influenced by him was probably Antonio Salieri, but his reach is great – Mozart, Berlioz and Wagner, among others, all cited him as an influence on their work.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1788 — Arthur Schopenhauer is born

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig, in what is now Poland. The child of a wealthy patrician family, Arthur went to university in 1809, and published his seminal book of philosophical thought (“The World as Will and Representation”) in 1819. However, he struggled to attract students as a lecturer (possibly because he was competing with Hegel), and soon left academia.

Nonetheless, over his 72 years, he continued his philosophical enquiries and published a number of other books, cementing his place in the history of his discipline. But his popularity as a philosopher peaked in the early part of the Twentieth Century (when he was a major influence on the Modernist movement), and has never again attained the same degree of prominence, although there has been a recent upswing of interest in his works.

Referenced in:

Bruces’ Philosophers Song — Monty Python

1789 — Marie Antionette (allegedly) says “Let them eat cake”

The French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” is usually translated as “Let them eat cake”, and is widely attributed to Marie Antionette.

However, in the original – Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, which he finished writing in 1769, when Marie Antoinette was 13 – the remark is attributed only to “a great princess”. The phrase was attributed to Marie Antionette only after the Revolution began, and many citations for it exist prior to this, and not referencing her. In fact, the emerging consensus among historians at this time is that the Rousseau was referring to Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, and pre-dates Marie Antionette by at least a century.

Referenced in:

Killer Queen — Queen
Ain’t That Just Like A Woman — Louis Jordan

1804 — Sacajawea joins the Lewis and Clark expedition

Probably the most famous member of Shoshone tribe of North American Indians, Sacajawea (or Sacagawea, depending on your translation) is best-remembered as the native guide who helped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their journey up the Missouri river, and on to the Pacific Ocean.

Sacajawea was vital to the success of the mission, as without her knowledge of the Shoshone tongue, Lewis and Clark would not have been able to barter with that tribe for badly needed supplies. Lewis and Clark tended to refer to her as ‘the Indian woman’ in their journals – but those same journals make it very clear that the entire expedition would likely have died, either from starvation or encounters with hostile Indians, without her knowledge of the lands, tribes and tongues of the areas they explored, and her apparently considerable skills in diplomacy.

Referenced in:

Black Man — Stevie Wonder

1809 — Joseph Haydn dies

Franz Josef Haydn is known as both the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” because of his important contributions to these genres. However, despite his many contributions to the sonata form, he is not the “Father of the Sonata.”

He was a prolific composer with few illusions regarding the magnitude of his talents or the importance of his contributions to the development of music. He died at age 77, shortly after an attack on Vienna by Napoleon’s force. Among his last words was a characteristically humble attempt to calm and reassure his servants when cannon shot fell in the neighborhood: “My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1816 – A party at the Villa Diodati inspires Mary Shelley to write “Frankenstein”

It must have been some party. George, Lord Byron was the host, and his guests were the recently married Percy and Mary Shelley, Dr John Polidori and Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover and Mary’s step-sister). It was the summer of 1816, or should have been: 1816 is sometimes called ‘the year without a summer’, so gloomy was the weather. In this mood of darkness and gloom, Byron read aloud from one of his works, Fantasmagoriana, and challenged them all to write something in a similar vein.

Byron himself wrote the poem Darkness in response to his challenge; Polidori wrote The Vampyre, which is largely forgotten today but was a bestseller in the 19th century, and influenced Stoker’s Dracula greatly. Finally, Mary Shelley wrote the first parts of what is often considered to be the first modern science fiction novel: Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

The party thus set a creative standard to which all subsequent goth parties would aspire, and few if any would reach.

Referenced in:
Ramble On Rose — The Grateful Dead

1822 – Percy Bysse Shelley dies

One of the greatest of the Romantic Poets, Shelley was the husband of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and a close friend of both Lord Byron and John Keats, his fellow Romantics. His best known works as poet and playwright respectively were Ozymandias and Prometheus Unbound.

His death was foretold by omens, at least according to Shelley himself, who believed he had met his doppelganger shortly before his death. In the event, he died in a storm on the Adriatic Sea, along with the two others aboard his boat. He was less than a month short of his thirtieth birthday at the time, and some have suggested that his death was no accident, although this seems unlikely. Shelley did seem depressed in the days before his death, but even he had been suicidal, it is unlikely that so staunch a pacifist would have countenanced the deaths of others in seeking his own demise.

Referenced in:

These Words — Natasha Bedingfield

1824 – Lord Byron dies

George Gordon Byron, the 6th Baron Byron, was one of the greatest of the Romantic poets, responsible for such works as Don Juan, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the short lyric “She Walks in Beauty.” He was only 36 when he died, although that probably came as little surprise to those who knew him by his “mad, bad and dangerous to know” reputation – think of him as an 18th century Jim Morrison and you won’t be too far wide of the mark.

A restless man, in the months before his death Byron had cast his lot with the Greek side in their War of Independence. But he saw no combat in his time with them. Before Byron could reach the front, he was struck ill, and his condition only worsened when the doctors treated him with bloodletting, which weakened him further and led to an infection. He developed a terrible fever which quickly led to his death on April 19, 1824, in Missolonghi, Greece, but his body was then transported back to England, and the Baron was buried at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.

Referenced in:

These Words — Natasha Bedingfield

1828 – Kaspar Hauser first appears in Nuremberg

Kaspar Hauser remains an enigma.

His first recorded appearance was on this day in 1828, on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He would barely talk; when a cobbler named Weickmann took the boy to the house of Captain von Wessenig, to whom a letter carried by Hauser was addressed, his only utterances were “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was,” and “Horse! Horse!” Further attempts to get him to communicate brought forth only crying, or the obstinate proclamation of “Don’t know” from Hauser.

The only identification he carried was the letter to von Wessenig, the captain of the 4th squadron of the 6th cavalry regiment. It was dated “From the Bavarian border / The place is not named / 1828”. The anonymous author said that the boy was given into his custody, as an infant, on the 7th October 1812, and that he had instructed him in reading, writing, and the Christian religion but had never let him “take a single step out of my house”. The letter stated that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman; and that therefore, the captain should take him in or hang him. There was another short letter enclosed, purporting to be from his mother to his prior caretaker, but later discovered to have been written by the same hand as the other one. It stated that he was born on April 30, 1812, and that his father, a cavalryman of the 6th regiment, was dead.

Hauser later became more communicative, but the puzzle of his origin was never solved, and his death, in 1833, was scarcely less mysterious.

Referenced in:

Kaspar – BAP
Kaspar Hauser – Trial
Kaspar – Reinhard Mey
Gaspard – Georges Moustaki
Kaspar Hauser – Dschinghis Khan
Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser’s Song) – Suzanne Vega

One of those cases where I have categorised the event as Culture, despite its ill-fit there, primarily due to the fact that it seems to fit any other category even less.