Sunday

Aug. 18, 2013

Part of Eve's Discussion

by Marie Howe

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

"Part of Eve's Discussion" by Marie Howe, from The Good Thief. © Marie Howe, 1988. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Italian-born Viennese composer Antonio Salieri, born in Legnago, in the Republic of Venice (1750). Although he was quite popular in the 18th century, he probably wouldn't be well known today were it not for the movie Amadeus (1984). The movie was based on Peter Shaffer's play by the same name (1979), which was in turn based on a short play by Aleksandr Pushkin, which was called Mozart and Salieri (1830). These stories all present Salieri as a mediocre and uninspired composer who was jealous of Mozart's musical genius; Salieri tried to discredit Mozart at every turn, and some versions of the story even accuse him of poisoning his rival.

But, in fact, Salieri was a talented and successful composer, writing the scores for several popular operas. He had a happy home life with his wife and eight children. And because he had received free voice and composition lessons from a generous mentor as a young man, he also gave most of his students the benefit of free instruction. Some of his pupils included Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Franz Schubert. He was the Kapellmeister — the person in charge of music — for the Austrian emperor for 36 years. He and Mozart were competitors, but their rivalry was usually a friendly one; Salieri visited Mozart when he was dying, and was one of the few people to attend his funeral.

Salieri suffered from dementia late in his life and died in 1825. He had composed his own requiem 20 years earlier, and it was performed for the first time at his funeral.

On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. In the latter half of the 19th century, states began gradually loosening restrictions on voting rights for women. Most Southern states opposed the amendment, and on August 18, 1920, it all came down to Tennessee. The pro-amendment faction wore yellow roses in their lapels, and the "anti" faction wore red American Beauty roses. It was a close battle and the state legislature was tied 48 to 48. The decision came down to one vote: that of 24-year-old Harry Burn, the youngest state legislator. Proudly sporting a red rose, he cast his vote in favor of ratification. He had been expected to vote against it, but he had in his pocket a note from his mother, which instructed him to vote otherwise.

On this date in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita was published in the United States (books by this author). First released in France in 1955 by a publisher that specialized in erotica, the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert and his obsession with his landlady's 12-year-old daughter was met with mixed reviews. A contemporary New York Times review pleaded with readers to ignore the word-of-mouth and keep an open mind.

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