Civilizations

Music and Art: West and Antes

By Cathy Fuller   |   Monday, January 24, 2011
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The inspiration for this series, pairing works of visual art and music, is the art you can see at the new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston. I've searched for American music created in the same year as specific pieces in the galleries there, and it been a fascinating treasure hunt.

The year is 1788 (or thereabouts) and the composer and artist were both born in Pennsylvania (two years apart), both died in England, and both had Benjamin Franklin in their lives.

This dramatic - and romantic - painting of Shakespeare's King Lear is by Benjamin West.



(Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)

West was born in Pennsylvania (where the campus of Swarthmore College is now), the tenth child of an innkeeper. With little education, he initially taught himself. In his memoirs he recalls learning to make paint from the Native Americans, mixing clay from a riverbank with bear grease in a pot. As a very young man, West worked in Pennsylvania painting portraits. It was the Provost of the College of Philadelphia who saw his work and decided to act as a patron. This was Dr. William Smith, whose offer of education and support was crucial to West's career. It brought West into contact with the wealthy and the connected, and it allowed him to meet the London-born painter John Wollaston, whose work famously captured the quality of shimmering silk and satin. West caught on to that technique and made it his own.

West also became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin's, and in fact, his second son had Ben Franklin as a godfather. Still in his twenties, West headed off to Italy where he spent time imitating the styles of the great masters like Titian and Raphael. He then settled permanently in London, becoming well known for his ancient Greek and Roman subjects, and for his portraiture. He became the history painter to King George III and served as president of the Royal Academy from 1792 until his death in 1820. Generations of American artists came to London to study with Benjamin West and in a certain sense, his studio became the first American "school" for painters.

"King Lear" was created for John Boydell's popular Shakespeare Gallery in London. It takes us into Act 3, Scene 4 of Shakespeare's tragedy, where Lear leaves his daughters to wander into the raging storm. His insanity begins to take hold of him. This wonderfully wild painting marks a new stage for West - the windswept theatricality of it is far from the carefully illuminated poses of his earlier work. As happens with many artists, the collection of countless, diverse lessons have built up within, combined, and expressed themselves with an entirely new voice.

At just about the same time that West was creating King Lear, a musician, also born in Pennsylvania, was writing string trios. John Antes was one of the Moravians in America who, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, fostered musical activities of high quality and rich diversity - instrument and vocal - for worship services and for pleasure. The early Moravian settlers in America had a very rich musical culture - they are an elemental part of the musical history of our country. (Go here for a history of the Moravian church in North America.)

John Antes crafted one of the earliest violins made in America, and his Three Trios are said to be the earliest known chamber music composed by an American. They appear to have been written while Antes was in Egypt, where he'd worked as a missionary beginning in 1769, and where he was tortured and nearly killed by an official of the Ottoman Empire.

It's hard to say precisely when the trios were composed, but 1788 is a good guess. They were published in London in the early 1790's. Antes also wrote string quartets while he was in Egypt - and he sent a copy of them to Benjamin Franklin.

Antes retired to Bristol, England and died there in 1811.

There is a clip from Antes’ String Trio no. 2 in D minor below, played by the American Moravian Chamber Ensemble. And I'd love to hear your comments (below) about the painting, the music, your time at the MFA - whatever strikes you!

Antes: String Trio No. 2 in d minor, III. Presto (excerpt)

 

Oct. 11: Columbus Day

By Laura Carlo   |   Friday, October 8, 2010
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This day honors Christopher Columbus, the Genovese explorer, who, sailing under the Spanish flag, ignored the commonly-held fear of falling off the edge of the earth and travelled across the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of discovering a new trade route to the East. It’s a good day for hearing the music of Italian and Spanish composers and performers, or music about those two countries.  Be listening today for music by Verdi, Vivaldi, Aguado, performed by Segovia, I Musici, Pollini to name a few. And while you're sipping an espresso and munching on cannoli (of course!), take a look at the replicas of the Niña and Pinta built by the Columbus Foundation, and the video that shows what it would have looked like if Columbus had made it all the way to Iowa.

Becoming Human, Part 2

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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In "Birth of Humanity," the second part of the three-part series "Becoming Human," NOVA investigates the first skeleton that really looks like us–"Turkana Boy"–an astonishingly complete specimen of Homo erectus found by the famous Leakey team in Kenya. These early humans are thought to have developed key innovations that helped them thrive, including hunting large prey, the use of fire, and extensive social bonds.

The program examines an intriguing theory that long-distance running–our ability to jog–was crucial for the survival of these early hominids. Not only did running help them escape from vicious predators roaming the grasslands, but it also gave them a unique hunting strategy: chasing down prey animals such as deer and antelope to the point of exhaustion. "Birth of Humanity" also probes how, why, and when humans' uniquely long period of childhood and parenting began.

The other programs in the series are Part 1: "First Steps," which looks at how, for millions of years, many species of small-brained human predecessors lived, and Part 3: "Last Human Standing," which examines why, of various human species that once shared the planet, only our kind remains.

A Workshop for History Teachers

Monday, September 16, 2013
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The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a new 6-part documentary series on African American history premiering October 22nd on WGBH 2.




Building upon existing research and drawing from recent scholarship, Harvard professor and host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will guide viewers on an engaging journey across continents and centuries to shed new light on the experience of being African American.


Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
To coincide with the broadcast of this new documentary series, WGBH will host a workshop that will introduce middle and high school history and social studies teachers to a suite of new and engaging resources designed to enhance the teaching and learning of African American history.

Monday, October 28th from 4:30 to 8pm
WGBH Studios, 1 Guest Street, Boston, MA 02135

WGBH is pleased to announce that Professor Gates will open the workshop with a keynote address, which will be followed by a screening of clips from the series, a tour of the educator website, and a presentation of the teachers’ guide, lesson plans, and other classroom supports.


Educators who attend this workshop will receive the following free resources:
• Many Rivers to Cross teachers’ guide and classroom resources
• Many Rivers to Cross series poster
• A free 1-year membership to WGBH
• Educator resources and information from our partner organizations



» Information About Our Partners


Major corporate support for The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is provided by Bank of America. Additional corporate funding is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s. Leadership support is generously provided by the Abby and Howard Milstein Foundation, in partnership with HooverMilstein and Emigrant Bank. Major funding is also provided by the Ford Foundation, Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky in Memory of Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, Richard Gilder, the Hutchins Family Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Support is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.

We Still Live Here - As Nutayunean

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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In Ancient Oregon Dump, Clues To The First Americans?

By Christopher Joyce   |   Friday, July 13, 2012
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July 13,2012

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Displayed in the hand of University of Oregon archaeologist Dennis Jenkins are three bases for western stemmed projectiles from the Paisley Caves in Oregon. The bases date to some 13,000 years ago. (Jim Barlow/Science/AAAS)

Some of the most interesting discoveries in archaeology come from sifting through ancient garbage dumps. Scientists working in Oregon have found one that has yielded what they say are the oldest human remains in the Americas and a puzzle about the earliest American tools.

Early Americans used Oregon's Paisley Caves for, among other things, a toilet. Little did they know that scientists would be picking through what they left behind.

The scientists extracted DNA from dried-up feces in the cave, known politely as "coprolites." And they've got something more — four projectile points, flaked from stone and presumably used for weapons. They're broken; their makers probably trashed them.

And the scientists now have reliable dates for all this stuff. Some of the coprolites appear to be 14,500 years old. They say it's the oldest direct evidence of people in America, because it's based on carbon dating of actual human "remains," the gold standard for dating ancient cultures.

And those stone points? They tell a new story, too. Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon says the shape of the points looks quite different from other stone points from around that time.

"It looks like you've got a separate group of people on the landscape, and these people are making different kinds of arrowheads or spear points," Jenkins says.

The stone points from Paisley Caves are called "western stemmed." Jenkins says they appear to be as old or older than Clovis points, which were thought to be the first in the Americas.

Archaeologist David Meltzer at Southern Methodist University says finding a different group with a different technology is surprising. But the next question is: Who came first? The Western Stem people or the Clovis? Were they related?

"We have contemporaneous groups," Meltzer says. "They are doing different stylistic things on the landscape. What is the relationship? Dunno."

Writing in the journal Science, Jenkins and his group suggest that whether the two groups were genetically related or not, one probably moved to the interior of the continent and used the Clovis technology. And the other stayed in the west and developed its own tool kit, as well as the continent's oldest known toilet.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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