Friday, 22 June 2007

Elijah and his fiery chariot

The choir of which I am currently chairman, East Malling Singers, will perform Mendelssohn's splendid oratorio Elijah at the Church of St James the Great, East Malling, Kent, on Saturday June 30. We will be joined by four vocal soloists, many guest choral singers and a full concert orchestra, conducted by our music director, Benjamin Rous. Rehearsal will start at 11.15am and the concert will start at 7.30pm. It promises to be an exciting, if exhausting day.

I mention this event here because the biblical text of one part of Elijah - No. 38 - was part of the inspiration for the name of this weblog:

"Then did Elijah the prophet break forth like a fire; his words appeared like burning torches. Mighty kings by him were overthrown. He stood on the mount of Sinai, and heard the judgments of the future; and in Horeb, its vengeance. And when the Lord would take him away to heaven, lo! there came a fiery chariot, with fiery horses; and he went by a whirlwind to heaven."

Another factor in choosing the name Fiery Chariot was my fascination by powerful jet aircraft and rockets, the most astonishing of which, in terms of sheer size, weight, power and speed, was the Saturn V launch vehicle, a gigantic 3-stage rocket, employed in the United States' 1960s/1970s Apollo Project for landing men on the moon and bringing them back safely. At launch the Saturn V was 110 metres high, 10 metres diameter, 3,000 tonnes weight, over 4,000 tonnes thrust; and ultimately it had a 40,000 km/hr maximum speed in space. Mind boggling? Well, in English money that's as high as St Paul's Cathedral, as wide as a 3-line motorway carriageway, as heavy as 2,000 large cars, 60 times more powerful and noisy than Concorde at take off; and at maximum speed an equivalent journey time for London to Paris of about 35 seconds! OK, it's still mind boggling. It's also the ultimate fiery chariot. Photos and videos simply cannot convey its audacity but, for the record:

After my little digression, back to Mendelssohn's Elijah. First, the composer:

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn was born in Leipzig in 1809, the grandson of a famous Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, and the son of a banker. The family took the name 'Bartholdy' when they converted from Judaism to Christianity, but Felix insisted on keeping both names. He belonged to the class of educated people in easy circumstances: his musical genius was quickly recognised and encouraged - before he was 15 he had written as many symphonies and an opera, all of which were discarded! In his early twenties, Mendelssohn travelled the world becoming a great favourite in England. He had a penchant for making and keeping friends, among them Queen Victoria, and in rehearsals he was described as being modest and charming, with unfailing tact and politeness. As Director of Music at Düsseldorf and in Leipzig, with its famous Gewandhaus concerts, Mendelssohn was influenced in his composing by Handel and Bach, and their musical styles are evident in Elijah.

Mendelssohn can be said to be a classical Romantic composer in that he used the classical forms, but belonged, with Liszt, Berlioz and Chopin, to the composers of the new music coming from Europe with its exciting virtuosity and exotic harmonies. His appeal to the English was the result of a number of circumstances. England's new concert halls, fulfilling the Victorian philosophy of moral and social improvement for the middle and working classes, were built to house large choral concerts usually accompanied by the organ, and could satisfy the Victorian's love of contrasts in volume and sound. But music and morals were closely tied in Victorian England. Here the oratorio came into its own - a drama, usually based on a Biblical or other sacred subject, but without the limitations of an operatic staging. It could, therefore, have an epic or contemplative breadth not possible in an opera and could be staged in the new concert halls around the country.

So, when Mendelssohn stood on the rostrum of Birmingham Town Hall on 26 August 1846 to conduct the first performance of Elijah, success was assured. The Times wrote: "Never was there a more complete triumph". From the daring harmonies of Thanks be to God to the anger of the mob in Woe to him, the audience enjoyed the 500 voices and the mighty organ, happy in the knowledge that they were improving their minds and their morals!

Mendelssohn's death followed shortly afterwards. He returned to England the following year with a revised Elijah and gave four performances. But he had been shocked and depressed by the death of his older sister Fanny and in October 1847 was himself dead at the age of 38.

(EMS programme notes courtesy of Christine Hide of Daventry Choral Society)

Some more video excerpts:

Introduction: 'As God the Lord of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word'
No. 1: 'Help, Lord! wilt Thou quite destroy us?'

Oh, by the way, this performance is sung in Korean, but don't let that put you off. They're very good. And anyway, there are subtitles. (These are in Korean also, but don't let that put you off either).

These South Koreans like to take this work at a good pace, as can be seen and heard with No. 29, 'He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps'. Well, at this speed he wouldn't:

Now for a piece of history. Ernest Lough sings 'Hear ye, Israel!', the aria which launches the Second Part of Elijah. As you will hear, this was a 'scratch' performance given when Lough was aged 16 (although he sounds more like he was half that age):

And a 'moving' performance by the accompanist's page turner:

Anyone wanting more of the same need only explore

Here's the story of Elijah:

As told in the Old Testament (1 and 2 Kings), Elijah is characterised as a stern, unyielding prophet of God called to lead the Israelite people back to worship of their one true God. He has a pivotal role in acting between the true, just God and the Israelites, called to serve God as His loyal interpreter to a fickle and wayward people. They are swayed first one way in response to God's miracles and then the other by Queen Jezebel as she incites them to crowd violence. The mainspring of the drama is the tension between the Israelites and Elijah: a series of powerfully dramatic choral movements convey the role of the population while Elijah's response to them is vividly portrayed in his three main arias - his opposition to them (Lord God of Abraham), his winning back of the people's trust (Is not His word like a fire) and his desertion by them (It is enough). Mendelssohn's music shows his effective use of the dramatic Handelian sweep of the oratorio, interpolated with Bachian-style meditations on the story.

Elijah takes centre stage from the beginning, calling down a drought upon the land as punishment for the people's deserting the true God and worshipping Baal. (Queen Jezebel had brought her heathen Baal gods with her to Israel and King Ahab had allowed their infiltration into the people's beliefs and worship.) The theme of drought and God's ultimate sending of rain takes up the first half of the oratorio, with two side plots in which God shows his mercy and his power. He shows his care by bringing back to life the widow's son and promising that her food supply will not run out. He provides dramatic evidence of his power to the Israelites in the contest on Mount Carmel between God and the prophets of Baal. The first half of the oratorio ends with the crowd acknowledging God's mercy and omnipotence.

The second part opens with God's words of reassurance to his people. Then Elijah confronts King Ahab. This gives Jezebel the chance to incite the people against Elijah and Elijah despairs of his mission. Angelic care and his witnessing the glory of the Lord at Mount Horeb restore his courage. The people describe the vigour with which Elijah returns to proclaim God's power and the miraculous consummation of his life as he is taken up into heaven in a 'fiery chariot'. Mendelssohn sees Elijah's life in its scriptural context as the forerunner of the Messiah, and in the final chorus he looks to the completion of Elijah's mission in the coming of the Christ.

(EMS programme notes courtesy of Christine Hide of Daventry Choral Society)

Here are some fiery chariot paintings (I couldn't find any featuring the Saturn V):

Ascension of Elijah by Juan de Valdés Leal

Elijah Taken up in a Chariot of Fire by Giovanni Battista

Russian Icon: The Prophet Elijah and the Fiery Chariot

Russian icon: The Fiery Ascension of Elijah the Prophet - Northern School

Russian icon of unknown name - Novgorodian 16th century

For further information on these last two paintings take a look at The Fiery Ascension of Elijah the Prophet

For a comprehensive collection of Elijah paintings you cannot do better than look at The Elijah Project

Finally, the Overture from Elijah fits remarkably well over this Flight to the Ford scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Both the audio and the video are completely un-cut. It was a miraculous coincidence the way the music fit the video.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

J. M. Barrie and George Meredith

J. M. Barrie, the Scottish author and playwright, died on June 19, 1937.

Today, 70 years later, perhaps a handful of people will write something in commemoration of his death. For my part, I should like to show you a place which was very special to Barrie from the age of 25, and to give you part of his memoir on it, including a piece which he wrote in commemoration of the passing of one of his literary friends, the English poet and novelist, George Meredith. Were it not for Meredith, Barrie might never have visited Box Hill, in Surrey.

Composite picture of Barrie and Meredith

From an early age, Barrie had been a great admirer of Meredith, perhaps his greatest. In 1886, when still a London-based journalist for the St James's Gazette, his employer, Frederick Greenwood, instructed him to visit Meredith at his home on Box Hill and write an article about him; that visit was to spark a mutual friendship which lasted until Meredith's death 23 years later, and Barrie was to pay many visits to Flint Cottage. In fact, Barrie had already been there of his own accord about a year earlier, as he explained, writing in the third person, in 1930 in The Greenwood Hat, Being A Memoir Of James Anon 1885-1887:

'He [Meredith] was royalty at its most august to Anon [Barrie], whose very first railway journey on coming to London was to Box Hill to gaze at the shrine' 'There is a grassy bank, or there was (for I go there no more), opposite the gate, and the little royal residence is only some twenty yards away. Even to Anon that day it seemed small but very royal. He sat on the grassy bank and quivered. Presently he saw a face at the window of a little sitting-room he was to be very familiar with in the hereafter. He knew whose face it was. Then the figure stood in the doorway, an amazing handsome man in grey clothes and a red necktie. He came slowly down the path towards the gate. It was too awful for Anon. He ran away'. 'Something I wrote made him ask me to visit him, and after that I was often at Flint Cottage for stretches of time until he died in 1909. I loved this man more every time I saw him. The last time, when he was very frail, I said I thought he had a better colour, and he replied with a smile, 'Yes, a pretty green.'

Green, the healthy kind, is all around Flint Cottage. Trees of many species, including rare box trees (after which Box Hill was named), stand on the upper levels of the expansive, steeply sloping hills here. Low-growing grasses and herbs bedeck the downland much of which is grazed by sheep. I'm very pleased to say that Barrie's 'grassy bank' remains intact and ungrazed to this day. Not only that, but also it is now marked on the local National Trust map as 'Barrie's Bank', and its survival well into the future seems assured. Situated on the lower slopes of the North Downs it supports typical chalk downland flora and fauna, and to sit knowingly on this bank, among the orchids, the bees and Chalkhill Blue butterflies, is to wear Barrie's suit for a while – the suit of a young writer who has yet to make his name as an author and playwright.

Extract of The National Trust's current map of Box Hill

Barrie's Bank

Barrie's Bank
View from the road outside entrance to Flint Cottage

Flint Cottage
Barrie's seated view of 'the shrine' perhaps?

Flora on Barrie's Bank in June

Meredith moved to Flint Cottage in 1867. He lived there with his second wife, Marie, and their children, and he entertained many visitors, including George Gissing, Henry James, Robert Louis Stevenson and, of course, James Barrie; and the critic and caricaturist Max Beerbohm lived there for a time during the Second World War.

Flint Cottage still retains its 'round'

George Meredith loved nature and kept fit by walking the Surrey countryside regularly, usually with his dogs. He probably knew every inch of Box Hill and every tree thereon: 'I am every morning at the top of Box Hill - as its flower, its bird, its prophet. I drop down the moon on one side, I draw up the sun on t'other. I breathe fine air. I shout ha ha to the gates of the world. Then I descend and know myself a donkey for doing it.' Meredith kept a donkey, named Picnic, which had its own shed.

Picnic's shed

As I wrote in my previous post, Meredith was envious of the Barries because at their summer home at Black Lake Cottage they were surrounded by pine woods. He loved all trees ... but pines had a special place in his heart. Today, not at all expected on the chalk downs, we can see a few mature pines growing in the garden of Flint Cottage, including one either side of The Chalet which was built by Meredith and was where Meredith did his writing. I judge these pines to be about 100 years old, and I'm prepared to wager that Meredith not only planted them there but that their origin was within sight of Black Lake Cottage.

Flint Cottage and part of garden, including The Chalet

The Chalet
Note the pine trees on either side

The timber-boarded chalet was used not only for writing but also occasionally for relaxing and sleeping: 'Anything grander than the days and nights in my porch you will not find away from the Alps: for the dark line of my hill runs up to the stars, the valley below is a soundless gulf. There pace like a shipman before turning in. In the day with the south west blowing I have a brilliant universe rolling up to me.'

Upon hearing of Meredith's rather sudden death on May 18, 1909, Barrie made straight for Flint Cottage to be with Meredith's relatives. As we read in Denis Mackail's The Story of J. M. B., he 'stood by, mourning and helping, in the unmistakable character of the hero's closest surviving friend.'

Barrie also busied himself in two significant ways. Again quoting Mackail: 'It was he, also, who joined in organising the request – which is said to have had royal support – that the hero's ashes should be laid in Poet's Corner. The Dean [of Westminster Abbey], however, had strange but dogged doubts, and refused. So Meredith was buried, by the side of his second wife, in Dorking Cemetery, and the world of literature must gather to honour him there. Barrie amongst them; and three days later the well-known tribute - presently to be published by Constable's, and again, long afterwards, in The Greenwood Hat – appeared on the green pages of the Westminster Gazette. Neither Dorking nor the Abbey was its heading, and the skill that went into it has seldom been equalled – by this or any other author – and never surpassed. It was terrific, and Barrie knew it. In the midst of his grief he could still see, and more than appreciate, the perfection of his own art.'

In his fanciful essay Barrie imagined the old man sitting on the crest of the hill which rises from Barrie's Bank, in front of Flint Cottage, chuckling at the sight of his own funeral cortege solemnly accompanying an empty coffin to the cemetery at Dorking.


Neither Dorking nor the Abbey

later published as

George Meredith 1909

by J. M. Barrie



May 22, 1909

All morning there had been a little gathering of people outside the gate. It was the day on which Mr. Meredith was to be, as they say, cremated. The funeral coach came, and a very small thing was placed in it and covered with flowers. One plant of the wall-flower in the garden would have covered it. The coach, followed by a few others, took the road to Dorking, where, in familiar phrase, the funeral was to be, and in a moment or two all seemed silent and deserted, the cottage, the garden, and Box Hill.

The cottage was not deserted, as They knew who now trooped into the round in front of it, their eyes on the closed door. They were the mighty company, his children, Lucy and Clara and Rhoda and Diana and Rose and old Mel and Roy Richmond and Adrian and Sir Willoughby and a hundred others, and they stood in line against the box-wood, waiting for him to come out. Each of his proud women carried a flower, and the hands of all his men were ready for the salute.

In the room on the right, in an armchair which had been his home for years – to many the throne of letters in this country – sat an old man, like one forgotten in an empty house. When the last sound of the coaches had passed away he moved in his chair. He wore gray clothes and a red tie, and his face was rarely beautiful, but the hair was white and the limbs were feeble, and the wonderful eyes dimmed, and he was hard of hearing. He moved in his chair, for something was happening to him, and it was this, old age was falling from him. This is what is meant by Death to such as he, and the company awaiting knew. His eyes became again those of the eagle, and his hair was brown, and the lustiness of youth was in his frame, but still he wore the red tie. He rose, and not a moment did he remain within the house, for “golden lie the meadows, golden run the streams,” and “the fields and the waters shout to him golden shouts.” He flung open the door, as They knew he would do who were awaiting him, and he stood there looking at them, a general reviewing his troops. They wore the pretty clothing in which he had loved to drape them; they were not sad like the mourners who had gone, but happy as the forget-me-nots and pansies at their feet and the lilac overhead, for they knew that this was his coronation day. Only one was airily in mourning, as knowing better than the others what fitted the occasion, the Countess de Saldar. He recognized her sense of the fitness of things with a smile and a bow. The men saluted, the women gave their flowers to Dahlia to give to him, so that she, being the most unhappy and therefore by him the most beloved, should have his last word, and he took their offerings and passed on. They did not go with him, these, his splendid progeny, the ladies of the future, they went their ways to tell the whole earth of the new world for women which he had been the first to foresee.

Without knowing why, for his work was done, he turned to the left, passing his famous cherry-blossom, and climbed between apple-trees to a little house of two rooms, whence most of that noble company had sprung. It is the Chalet, where he worked, and good and brave men will for ever bow proudly before it, but good and brave women will bow more proudly still. He went there only because he had gone there so often, and this time the door was locked; he did not know why nor care. He came swinging down the path, singing lustily, and calling to his dogs, his dogs of the present and the past; and they yelped with joy, for they knew they were once again to breast the hill with him.
He strode up the hill whirling his staff, for which he had no longer any other use. His hearing was again so acute that from far away on the Dorking road he could hear the rumbling of a coach. It had been disputed whether he should be buried in Westminster Abbey or in a quiet churchyard, and there came to him somehow a knowledge (it was the last he ever knew of little things) that people had been at variance as to whether a casket of dust should be laid away in one hole or another, and he flung back his head with the old glorious action, and laughed a laugh “broad as a thousand beeves at pasture.” Box Hill was no longer deserted. When a great man dies – and this was one of the greatest since Shakespeare – the immortals await him at the top of the nearest hill. He looked up and saw his peers. They were all young, like himself. He waved the staff in greeting. One, a mere stripling, “slight unspeakably,” R. L. S., detached himself from the others, crying gloriously, “Here's the fellow I have been telling you about!” and ran down the hill to be the first to take his Master's hand. In the meanwhile an empty coach was rolling on to Dorking.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

George Meredith (1828-1909)

Our life is but a little holding, lent
To do a mighty labour: we are one
With heaven and the stars when it is spent
To serve God's name: else die we with the sun.

Quatrain from 'Vittoria'
(reproduced on George Meredith's headstone in Dorking cemetery)

When barely in his twenties George Meredith abandoned a career in law to become a prolific poet and novelist. He is credited with having helped Thomas Hardy start his literary career and he succeeded Tennyson as president of the Society of Authors. In 1905 he was appointed to the Order of Merit by King Edward VII.

My grandmother was lucky enough to meet Meredith briefly on the occasions of his visits to her employer, J. M. Barrie, at Black Lake Cottage, near Farnham, Surrey:

Other famous visitors were mostly from the literary and artistic world. One of the most welcome ones was the poet George Meredith, then in his seventies, who twice drove over from his home on Box Hill. I was so excited when Mrs Barrie informed me that he was expected, for he was my favourite poet; I especially loved his South-West Wind in the Woodland. Mr Barrie had admired Meredith for years and, after travelling out from London to Box Hill, where he sat for hours on the bank opposite Meredith's Flint Cottage – the bank has since been named 'Barrie's Bank' - had become very close friends with him. He was also very special to Mrs Barrie, perhaps because he shared her enthusiasm for her lovely garden. Meredith was envious of the Barries because they were surrounded by pine woods. He loved all trees – his cottage was closely bounded on three sides by deciduous woodland, and some of his poems included wonderful descriptions of trees - but pines had a special place in his heart and he loved to walk among them in all weathers. Mrs Barrie clearly thought the white-bearded, eye-twinkling, always laughing Meredith was a charming gentleman. And, from what little I saw of him, so did I.
(Extracted from It Might Have Been Raining by Robert Greenham, Elijah Editions 2005)

George Meredith in 1893

Here is that favourite poem of my grandmother's:

by George Meredith, OM

The silence of preluded song -
AEolian silence charms the woods;
Each tree a harp, whose foliaged strings
Are waiting for the master's touch
To sweep them into storms of joy,
Stands mute and whispers not; the birds
Brood dumb in their foreboding nests,
Save here and there a chirp or tweet,
That utters fear or anxious love,
Or when the ouzel sends a swift
Half warble, shrinking back again
His golden bill, or when aloud
The storm-cock warns the dusking hills
And villages and valleys round:
For lo, beneath those ragged clouds
That skirt the opening west, a stream
Of yellow light and windy flame
Spreads lengthening southward, and the sky
Begins to gloom, and o'er the ground
A moan of coming blasts creeps low
And rustles in the crisping grass;
Till suddenly with mighty arms
Outspread, that reach the horizon round,
The great South-West drives o'er the earth,
And loosens all his roaring robes
Behind him, over heath and moor.
He comes upon the neck of night,
Like one that leaps a fiery steed
Whose keen black haunches quivering shine
With eagerness and haste, that needs
No spur to make the dark leagues fly!
Whose eyes are meteors of speed;
Whose mane is as a flashing foam;
Whose hoofs are travelling thunder-shocks; -
He comes, and while his growing gusts,
Wild couriers of his reckless course,
Are whistling from the daggered gorse,
And hurrying over fern and broom,
Midway, far off, he feigns to halt
And gather in his streaming train.

Now, whirring like an eagle's wing
Preparing for a wide blue flight;
Now, flapping like a sail that tacks
And chides the wet bewildered mast;
Now, screaming like an anguish'd thing
Chased close by some down-breathing beak;
Now, wailing like a breaking heart,
That will not wholly break, but hopes
With hope that knows itself in vain;
Now, threatening like a storm-charged cloud;
Now, cooing like a woodland dove;
Now, up again in roar and wrath
High soaring and wide sweeping; now,
With sudden fury dashing down
Full-force on the awaiting woods.

Long waited there, for aspens frail
That tinkle with a silver bell,
To warn the Zephyr of their love,
When danger is at hand, and wake
The neighbouring boughs, surrendering all
Their prophet harmony of leaves,
Had caught his earliest windward thought,
And told it trembling; naked birk
Down showering her dishevelled hair,
And like a beauty yielding up
Her fate to all the elements,
Had swayed in answer; hazels close,
Thick brambles and dark brushwood tufts,
And briared brakes that line the dells
With shaggy beetling brows, had sung
Shrill music, while the tattered flaws
Tore over them, and now the whole
Tumultuous concords, seized at once
With savage inspiration,--pine,
And larch, and beech, and fir, and thorn,
And ash, and oak, and oakling, rave
And shriek, and shout, and whirl, and toss,
And stretch their arms, and split, and crack,
And bend their stems, and bow their heads,
And grind, and groan, and lion-like
Roar to the echo-peopled hills
And ravenous wilds, and crake-like cry
With harsh delight, and cave-like call
With hollow mouth, and harp-like thrill
With mighty melodies, sublime,
From clumps of column'd pines that wave
A lofty anthem to the sky,
Fit music for a prophet's soul -
And like an ocean gathering power,
And murmuring deep, while down below
Reigns calm profound;--not trembling now
The aspens, but like freshening waves
That fall upon a shingly beach; -
And round the oak a solemn roll
Of organ harmony ascends,
And in the upper foliage sounds

A symphony of distant seas.
The voice of nature is abroad
This night; she fills the air with balm;
Her mystery is o'er the land;
And who that hears her now and yields
His being to her yearning tones,
And seats his soul upon her wings,
And broadens o'er the wind-swept world
With her, will gather in the flight
More knowledge of her secret, more
Delight in her beneficence,
Than hours of musing, or the lore
That lives with men could ever give!
Nor will it pass away when morn
Shall look upon the lulling leaves,
And woodland sunshine, Eden-sweet,
Dreams o'er the paths of peaceful shade; -
For every elemental power
Is kindred to our hearts, and once
Acknowledged, wedded, once embraced,
Once taken to the unfettered sense,
Once claspt into the naked life,
The union is eternal.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

I want to be one who is touched by the sun

Something to complement my recent 'Touched by the sun' post:

If you want to be brave
And reach for the top of the sky
And the farthest point on the horizon
Do you know who you'll meet there
Great soldiers and seafarers,
Artists and dreamers
Who need to be close, close to the light
They need to be in danger of burning by fire
And I, I want to get there
I, I want to be one,
One who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun

Often I want to walk
The safe side of the street
And lull myself to sleep
And dull my pain
But deep down inside I know
I've got to learn from the greats,
Earn my right to be living,
Let my wings of desire
Soar over the night
I need to let them say
"She must have been mad"
And I, I want to get there
I, I want to be one,
One who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun

I've got to learn from the greats,
Earn my right to be living,
With every breath that I take,
Every heartbeat
And I, I want to get there
I, I want to be one,
One who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun.

Lyrics written by Carly Simon for Jackie Onassis (Kennedy), released on her 1994 album, "Letters Never Sent"

Touched By The Sun by Carly Simon

Total solar eclipse, Turkey, March 29, 2006

180 degrees of 360 degrees of sunset, Turkey, March 29, 2006

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Touched by the sun

I want to share my wonderful experience of the total solar eclipse on March 29, 2006. The event had a profound impact on me and I cannot get it out of my head. Actually, I don't want to get it out of my head. I think the memory of such a dramatic event remains forever. Indeed, a witness to a total solar eclipse is surely changed, maybe even a little deranged, by it.

For this particular eclipse the narrow path of totality started in South America, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Africa (Ghana to Libya), the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, and on (north-eastwards) across Asia.

The path of the Moon's umbral shadow (shown here in dark blue) began in Brazil and extended across the Atlantic, northern Africa, and central Asia where it ended at sunset in western Mongolia. NASA illustration.

For Europeans seeking the great experience the most convenient sites were along a stretch of Turkey's Mediterranean coastline east of Antalya, where there is an airport. This region also had the best chance of favourable weather conditions, ie a clear sky.

Shaded band shows the path of totality across Turkey

Hundreds of thousands of Europeans flew to Turkey especially for the eclipse. Our holiday tour company alone took about 4,000 people to a handful of 5 star hotels for a one-night stay. And there were people of other nationalities there also. Many people were solar eclipse fanatics who try to witness every such eclipse, photograph it, video it, etc, with expensive equipment, and some were professional astronomers. Others, like Sue and me, had had their first taste of a total solar eclipse in Cornwall and South Devon in 1999 - which was marred by dense cloud cover but nevertheless had been a dramatic and moving experience - and just had to experience another one, whether it turned out to be clearly visible or not. The intervening total eclipses (including in Antarctica and Madagascar) were in the southern hemisphere and to witness those would have involved major investment of time and money.

Sue and I decided we should witness this eclipse on the sandy Mediterranean beach, close to the water's edge. We were not alone, although most people remained within the hotel's expansive grounds and gardens. The anticipation of the event was very high, some people staking their claim to a position hours before the eclipse.

'First contact' (when the moon's silhouette started to 'bite' into the bottom right of the sun's disc) occurred at 12.38pm. 'Second contact' (when the moon's silhouette first covered the sun's disc totally) was at 1.55pm. During this first phase the light and temperature dropped progressively, imperceptibly for much of the time, and then increasingly noticeably. By now it was getting cold, and the light was spooky - low contrast, and with a greyish hue. Shadows became fuzzy. All birds had flown off somewhere and fallen silent. Finally, the light dropped remarkably faster during the last few seconds - rather like dimming the lights in a theatre - yet its acceleration and silent, foreboding inevitability never ceases to amaze even the most hardened of eclipse chasers.

Now, we no longer needed to protect our eyes with the safety glasses when gazing upward, and we saw that the huge hemispherical sky was not completely dark and black but, with the exception of a narrow band above the horizon, a deep, deep blue, and only the moon's silhouette was black. The moon was surrounded by the glow of the sun and we could see long white 'streamers' radiating out from the sun, most prominently at top left and bottom right, as we viewed it, indicating a small portion of the sun's enormous magnetic field.

The indescribably beautiful sight of totality - photo by Miloslav Druckmüller

We could see three planets: Venus, by far the brightest; Mercury; and Mars. In fact Venus was visible for some minutes before and after totality. By this time Saturn had just risen above the eastern horizon but was not visible to us, and this was because it lay within the brightly-coloured band of sky akin to that seen immediately after the sun has set - red, orange, yellow - which eerily extended 360 degrees around us just as if the sun had set everywhere. We were, of course, peering out at distant daylight beyond the edge of the gigantic, 100-mile wide shadow of the moon.

Diamond ring at 2nd contact - Photo by Pete Lawrence

Start of totality. Note the prominence at top - Photo by Paul Yates

This incredibly beautiful spectacle lasted for 3mins 45 seconds, but it wasn't just the awesome sight which impressed. There was silence broken only by people speaking occasionally and in hushed tones. And then the voices grew even quieter as folks became increasingly overwhelmed by their emotions, and some were crying. Sue was shaking uncontrollably, and not just because of the cold. I became speechless with a lump in my throat, and I knew that if I tried to say anything meaningful I would end up blubbering! I defy anyone not to be overcome by the experience. The astronomers and 'anoraks' were gasping at the extent and beauty of the pattern of the sun's streamers and the images in their telescopes, and it was evident from hearing them that we were experiencing an exceptionally spectacular eclipse.

Totality. Extra exposure reveals streamers - Photo by Peter Vasey

A woman nearby left her husband and wandered into the sea for a leisurely ecliptic swim; was this a sudden impulse or had she long-dreamed of doing this?

'Third contact', when the sun starts to reappear, occurred all too soon. At the first hint of it people's voices started growing louder in anticipation of what was to follow, for we all knew that the sight of Bailey's Beads, and then the 'diamond ring', would be fleeting. No blinking now. The first we saw of the sun was the beads of light passing between gaps in the moon's mountains on the moon's bottom right edge,

Bailey's beads at 3rd contact - photo by Brian Woosnam

and these were rapidly followed by the appearance of the 'diamond', fantastically bright, which grew with increasing size and intensity very rapidly forcing us to revert to our safety glasses immediately.

Diamond ring at 3rd contact - Photo by Paul Yates

The growing voices were now shouting and cheering; more crying, clapping, hugging and kissing. Sue said it was like a rebirth, and she was right. The swimming woman rose serenely from the sea and returned silently to her husband for a long kiss and embrace. Surely there was never such mass peacetime emotion on a beach as now.

The inevitable rapid return of daylight and warmth seemed to be taken for granted by everyone and was not accompanied by the same feelings as the period before totality, and within just a few minutes, while there was talk of nothing but the profound experience we had all shared, many of us suddenly realised we were hungry and made our way in to the hotel to grab an overdue lunch.

Photo-montages showing complete sequence - by Ian Wardlaw

A good website for 2006 eclipse pictures, including most of those I have used to illustrate my account, is:

The website with the most stunning images is:

Sue and I wouldn't have missed this eclipse for anything. Later we heard folks who had travelled all over the world to twenty or more total solar eclipses exclaim that this one was the best they'd witnessed. Weren't we lucky? I thoroughly recommend the experience to everyone. It really is worth all the travelling time, inconvenience and expense, even if you spend just one day or night at the destination. A week or more's holiday would, of course, make more sense. Keeping these factors within sensible limits, the next four practicable opportunities for us Europeans are:

1: August 1, 2008, in Siberia, Mongolia and China. See:

2: July 22, 2009, in India and Nepal. See:

3: August 21, 2017, from the Pacific Ocean, right across the USA, to the Atlantic Ocean. See:

4: April 8, 2024, again across the USA. See:

If you would like to see NASA's information on all the solar eclipses (and you really need consider only the total ones) then start with this link:

If any fellow Britons are thinking of waiting until the next total solar eclipse visible in Britain, they need to think again. There won't be one here until 2090 and it won't be very long lasting either. There will be several great ones visible in Britain throughout the 22nd century, but what consolation is that?

Monday, 11 June 2007

Picasso Morphed

Following on from my last post, how could I not also alert you to another morphing miracle, seemingly by the same creator?

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Women in Art

Verbal diarrhoea is one of my many faults, but not on this occasion. Click, sit back and be transported to heaven by these startlingly beautiful, morphing portraits. Wonder at the collection of artistic talent of each painting. Marvel at the wonder of computer wizardry. Oh, and be sure to watch the eyes.

One question: Would a freeze-frame from any of the morphing sequences present a portrait of acceptable artistic merit?

Saturday, 2 June 2007

J. M. Barrie and the Russian Dancers

Two years ago, in June 2005, I published a book. My book. This event was the culmination of eight months of research and writing: Research in an area entirely new to me - that of the life and times of the Scottish author and playwright, J. M. Barrie (1860-1937) - and the writing of a book was a new experience, too, choosing to put myself in the shoes of my grandmother and tell her story as Barrie's housekeeper. But that's another story...

My point here is that the whole experience drew me into a new world: the world of J. M. Barrie and his devotees. The excitement of discovering 'new' facts - details never before mentioned in his biographies - still pervades and, since publishing my book, I have continued occasionally to dig and delve. New findings, fresh thoughts and comments, are shared with other 'Barriephiles' through three dedicated websites (one British, one American, one French), and this is usually done by posting to their discussion forums. Sometimes documents are added to databases, etc, and, just occasionally, and with a little luck, a well-researched article may be accepted.

Fingers crossed!

J. M. Barrie and the Russian Dancers

I begin this piece with an acknowledgment for, if it had not been for a simple, innocent question - “Do you know something about 'The Truth about the Russian Dancers'?” - I might never have embarked on certain avenues of research. I happily admit that two weeks ago I knew nothing about the play by J. M. Barrie, but then I never could refuse an opportunity for a bit of sleuthing. Céline-Albin Faivre, I am grateful to you for your question. I thank you for your invaluable help, especially once you received a copy of the 1962 publication of the play, and I admire you for your splendid, developing website devoted to Barrie - - and for all you are doing, through diligent research, writing and translation, to render J. M. Barrie and his works both accessible and appealing to French-speaking people of the world.

Sir J. M. Barrie (1912)

Most of Barrie's biographers seem to have been unimpressed with his work 'The Truth about the Russian Dancers'. Either that, or they simply chose to ignore it. In so doing they also omitted mention of the playwright's associations with two prima ballerinas: Tamara Karsavina and Lydia Lopokova. This article is therefore an attempt to collate such scraps of information as exist in both early recollections and more recent sources.

With respect to this topic the notable exceptions to the generality of Barrie's biographers are Cynthia Asquith, Janet Dunbar, who included some of Karsavina's recollections, and Denis Mackail, who described the play as “charming, ridiculous, light, tender, and touching”, “an interpretation of the world of dancers as only one author could have seen it”, and “a very complete entertainment ... in itself”. Yet Barrie's take was not only a satirical comment on the ballet craze initiated by Sergei Diaghilev's ballet seasons in London around the time of the First World War. More significantly, it was a light-touch appraisal of the unique ability of Diaghilev's dancers to give performances which, despite the technical difficulties and peculiarities of dance, seemed natural and accessible.

The arrival of the Ballets Russes in London in the late spring of 1911, led by the dynamic Diaghilev, made a huge impact on an entire generation of British composers who were still in music school, or, as in Arnold Bax's case, had not been many years out. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, it seems also to have made an impact, some seven years later, on the "totally unmusical" Sir J. M. Barrie. This lack of musical appreciation was observed by Peter Davies who, when aged seventeen, had taken his 'Uncle Jim' to the opera on two successive nights. A few days later, on 13th July, 1914, Barrie had written to Peter's brother George: “Both nights of Long Leave did he drag me to the opera”. Years later, when commenting on this, Peter wrote: “Being himself totally unmusical, [Barrie] not only did not encourage such leanings, but in one way and another could not help discouraging them . . . the fact is that music and painting and poetry . . . had a curiously small place in J. M. B.'s view of things.” What, then, happened to arouse Barrie's interest in ballet? Or, should the question rather be: how did Barrie become interested in two prima ballerinas of Ballets Russes?

Lydia Lopokova, only five feet tall and appearing a little dumpy when compared with the likes of Anna Pavlova, nevertheless had a captivating vitality and exuberance and, during 1918 and 1919, was celebrated for the roles created for her by the choreographer Léonide Massine in 'The Good-Humoured Ladies', 'The Fantastic Toyshop' and 'The Three-Cornered Hat'. Not only that, but the ballerina, who in August 1918 had come to London via the United States, where she had married, had seen Maude Adams in 'Peter Pan' and had acquired an admiration for Barrie and his books. And once she had achieved success in London she had written to Barrie and flatteringly asked him to write a play for her.

Lydia Lopokova (1921)

Thus it was that the playwright and the ballerina met, and a close friendship developed between the pair. She had an amusing, idiosyncratic way with the English language and, tellingly, an appealing childlike gaiety; on her visits to him 'Loppie' would sometimes sit on Barrie's knee. While the two were matched also in height their ages were markedly different: Barrie was then 58, Lopokova was 26. In different circumstances, maybe, this age difference might not have posed a barrier to love but, by that time, the outgoing ballerina had also formed close friendships with various other eminent gentlemen, all of them at least 20 years younger than Barrie; these included Stravinsky, Picasso, T. S. Eliot and members of the Bloomsbury group, a tight-knit group of English intellectuals stemming from turn-of-the-century student friendship at Cambridge, one of whose members was a six foot tall admirer with whom she soon started to exchange correspondence.

In the spring of 1919, in response to his new friend's request, Barrie started to write a three-act comedy about the imaginary and fantastic life of a Russian dancer, and he intended that Lopokova should star in it; she was to have a speaking part as Madamoiselle Uvula, and the play was to run at the Haymarket theatre. Whether the play would have been successful, and where the relationship between Barrie and Lopokova may have led, we can only speculate because, on the 10th of July, when the play was about half written, the famous ballerina went missing. Her brief marriage to the ballet company's business manager, Randolfo Barrochi, an Italian whom she had married in America, was known to be breaking down, and immediately there sprang a rumour that she had run off with a Russian officer who she had met at a recent party at The Savoy Hotel, where she had been living.

Just two days later, however, she revealed to Diaghilev that she was staying with some Russian friends in St. John's Wood, not far from Barrie's beloved Lord's cricket ground and not a million miles from his home. To Barrie, she might just as well have been back in New York or St Petersburg, the city of her birth; his frequent attempts to communicate with his supposed friend by telephone were to no avail even though she was aware of these. In a letter to Diaghilev, composed on the day of her disappearance, Lopokova wrote that she had had a serious nervous breakdown and, when pressed by a reporter for The Observer newspaper a few days later, Diaghilev explained that the dancer was ill. According to the Daily Sketch, however, Lopokova told them some time later that she stayed in her hotel for a few days and then went to France.

Whatever the truth about Lopokova's disappearance – and more recent information suggests that she remained in London, although the thoughts that she had an affair with a Russian officer seem not to have been dispelled - her silence towards Barrie must have seemed at least disrespectful and may have hurt and annoyed him. But, if it did, he kept this secret. And so there was perhaps a frustrated, if not emotional playwright, and a Russian dancer friend who disappeared and said nothing to him. Little wonder then that Barrie's work on the full-length play ground to a halt.

Without much delay, however, for the late summer of 1919 would see the playwright engrossed in 'Mary Rose', Barrie's imagination fired him to start modifying his idea into a play with a difference, a revealing and much shorter work. While the new play was not created specially for his absent friend it is tempting to wonder whether he might have thought it could entice Lopokova to return to him. As it was, Barrie had to contend with the unexpected absence of a leading dancer who spoke English with an acceptable accent. His genius was to become evident in his creation of a silent role. At the core of the play's plot, which was based on the courtship of Lydia Lopokova by a new man in her life, there was a female Russian dancer who said nothing and then was obliged to disappear (by dying). This clever reflection of recent events by Barrie provided a pragmatic solution for him and for Diaghilev, although the finished play, if ever one of Barrie's plays could be considered finished, was not ready until the end of 1919.

'The Truth about the Russian Dancers' is a whimsical one-act play with richly romantic incidental ballet music commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev from Arnold Bax (who received a knighthood in 1937). It is set in "one of the stately homes of England, but it has gone a little queer owing to the presence in the house of a disturbing visitor". Subtitled “Showing how they love, how they marry, how they are made, with how they die and live happily ever afterwards”, the play features as its female lead a Russian ballerina named Karissima who, alone in the cast, dances instead of speaking; she dances rather than simply mimes all her part, including even the responses in her wedding ceremony. Although the overall tone of the work is lightly satirical, some of Bax's score has considerable emotional weight, especially the music concerning the love of the Ballerina for Lord Vere and her decision to bear him a child. This costs her her life since, when the new "Russian Dancer" is made living, one must die to enable the greatness of Russian ballet to live on.

Being a dancer, though, the Ballerina gets to perform an encore after her death, and after the end of all dialogue. When it is time for her to return to her funeral bier, the ballet company's Maestro takes on the sacrifice himself, allowing her to live as a British aristocrat's wife and the mother of the new little Russian Dancer, already well-enough developed that she is chasing butterflies in the garden while dancing on point.

But, with Lopokova now missing for five months, who should now play the lead?

It so happened that Diaghilev's prima ballerina, Tamara Karsavina, who was dancing in London at the time, was connected by marriage to Kathleen Scott (née Edith Agnes Kathleen Bruce, afterwards Lady Scott, later still Lady Kennet), the widow of Robert Falcon Scott, naval Captain and famed explorer of the Antarctic, and mother of Barrie's Godson, Peter Markham Scott. Karsavina had married British diplomat Henry James ('Benji') Bruce in Russia in 1915, and the diplomat's father, Sir Hervey Juckes Lloyd Bruce, was a first cousin of Kathleen.

Tamara Karsavina (1921)

It is not clear how the decision to offer the lead to Karsavina came about, although in retrospect it seems she was the obvious choice; she had been a Prima Ballerina for almost ten years. Understandably, Kathleen (Lady Scott by then), may have seen good reason to introduce Barrie to Karsavina soon after the ballerina's arrival in London in 1917 by taking him to see her perform with Ballets Russes. She knew that in June of that year Karsavina had made a perilous flight from Russia with 'Benji' and her 17-month old baby, Nikita. This was just a few months before the Bolshevik Revolution, and they had had to escape without help from a distant cousin, Robert Bruce Lockhart, the British Consul-General in Moscow who, in different circumstances, would have been able to secure their safe passage. In any event, it is known that Lady Scott took Barrie on a special mission to visit Karsavina at the end of 1919. Here is a little of Karsavina's version of what happened:

“I have written a play for you,” he (Barrie) said in his peculiar rasping voice, and had a fit of coughing.

“I speak English with a Russian accent,” I replied.

“Oh, can you speak at all? I didn't know”

He then read the play. His strong Scotch accent, his cough, and to tell the truth, the play itself, rather overwhelmed me. I even thought at times that he was pulling my leg. After the reading he told me that he first intended the name Uvula for me, but it occurred to him that it might be taken as an allusion to the part of the palate so-called, and he changed it into Karissima, which should be spelt with a K so as to resemble my own name.

When she studied the script for herself, Karsavina understood the point of Barrie's remark, ”Can you speak at all?” She could not speak, according to the author, except with her toes. She found that the script had unspoken lines for her part, actually presented in the manner of stage directions, and it was her task was to translate those directions into movement – directions such as: 'KARISSIMA is sad'; 'KARISSIMA makes movements which mean all this is Greek to her'; KARISSIMA is eager'.

The main theme of the piece is that the Russian dancers are not like ordinary humans. They are called into being by a master-spirit and can only express themselves through their own medium: “they find it so much jollier to talk with their toes.” I had before everything to establish beyond question with my public that Karissima's natural mode of progress was on her toes and her utterance that of a being in possession of a language surpassing human speech.

Questions to the playwright, seeking clarification on some points, were sometimes met with unhelpful but not unfriendly answers:

“Don't ask me what I meant: I don't know myself,” he used to say.

Karsavina realized that her aim should be to strike a delicate balance between the sheer extravagance of the play and the deeper feeling underlying it. And to do this she needed music which would have poetic quality as well as rhythmical value.

I was awed at the task of first choreographing my part within the weird frame of Barrie's play. Music, of the quality that Arnold Bax composed, shaped into form my first gropings. And ever since I knew that if I listened to the music, the shape and curve, the rounds and angles of the movement just sprang, as it were, from the sound.

During the rehearsals, Barrie often called out from the stalls to delete or add some lines:

Barrie, who attended rehearsals, altered, added, or changed the script every time, almost driving the actors crazy.

'The Truth about the Russian Dancers' first opened at the London Coliseum on 15th March 1920, where it ran as part of a Variety bill for just a few weeks. The production was choreographed by Tamara Karsavina, and the sets and costumes were designed by British artist Paul Nash who, by that time, had made a name for himself in London's theatreland. The producer was the actor Gerald du Maurier, uncle of Barrie's 'lost boys' and father of Daphne, then aged 12. In ballet and box-office terms its success was modest, however, owing, at least in part, to Bax's eccentric take on fractured dance rhythms; classically trained dancers couldn't dance to it. Nevertheless it was received warmly by some drama critics. A.B. Walkley of The Times was appreciative of Barrie's work and the infinite care with which the finished product had been polished; he gave it lengthy, enthusiastic reviews in two successive editions of the newspaper. This might not have surprised anyone, however, because Walkley was known to be a devoted follower of Barrie, engaging in dialogues with him. Only a few months earlier Barrie had reworked 'The Admirable Chrichton' in preparation for its revival and, in a reply to the critic, Barrie had written, “What does touch me a good deal is that you cared enough about Crichton to say "hands-on". Your original writing about it gave me more pleasure than I have got from anything else I can remember said about my plays.” Punch magazine's reviewer, 'T', was generous with his praise of 'The Truth about the Russian Dancers': “But the triumph is the triumph of the whimsical author. I don't think he has ever done anything better; more ambitious things, yes, but nothing so free from flaw.” That the playwright had striven to hone his play to perfection became evident years later when Cynthia Asquith, his secretary for the last twenty years of his life, found ten different typescript versions of the play. And later still, Karsavina revealed her own script to be version number fourteen, although it is not known whether this related to the 1920 production or to the later one: the play was revived at the Savoy Theatre in 1926, again with Karsavina playing the lead role, but it ran for just 37 performances, never to be seen again.

Tamara Karsavina (c. 1920)

Barrie's friendship with Tamara Karsavina grew throughout the preparation and first production of the play, and continued to grow into a close relationship through the early 1920s, with the two often going to the theatre together. On one occasion they watched a performance of 'Quality Street' – of which Barrie commented to her: “It bored me to write it, it bores me to see it” - and on another they attended the first night of 'Mary Rose'. He called her 'Tommy', inscribing the name in some of his books he gave her, and he invited her to his Adelphi Terrace home on many occasions.

But what became of Lydia Lopokova in the meantime? She broke her absence by appearing as a dancer in New York in a show called 'The Rose Girl' in February 1921, and in early May she appeared in Paris dancing with Ballets Russes once more. What she did during the period since her abrupt disappearance in July 1919 remains a mystery, other than that she later wrote that she gave up dancing for 18 months, which revealed nothing other than that she remained tight-lipped about the episode. She returned to London with Ballets Russes in late May 1921, and by the end of July she had danced in a dozen ballets in that season. Of major significance in her personal life was the frequent attendance at these performances by the person she had first written to in December 1918, the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes. The relationship between 'Loppie' and 'Maynard' began to get serious at the end of 1921, and they married in August 1925. Eventually she became a British aristocrat's wife when she acquired the title of Lady Keynes in 1942 by virtue of her husband being created Lord Keynes, Baron of Tilton.

Barrie continued to feature quite prominently in Lopokova's life, however, after her return to dancing and London. The two kept in touch by letter and telephone, and they met from time to time. The dancer addressed the playwright as 'Barrie', for, as she once wrote to Maynard, “I could not call Barrie 'Jim' – I never address him 'Sir' either.” A letter he wrote to her on 7th August, 1923, is held in a collection of her letters (not accessible at the time of writing this article) at King's College, Cambridge, and a telephone conversation was referred to in a letter she wrote to Maynard on 20th January 1924: “Barrie tells me on the telephone that Massin [Lopokova's name for Léonide Massine] coached Gladys Cooper's 'Peter [Pan]' in all her movements, especially on the wires! He [Barrie] is so very occupied with the rehearsals that I can't ever see him. Now it is 'Alice sit by the fire', but he is well and was expecting Nicholas [Nico Davies, presumably] to-night.”

While Lydia's letters to Maynard indicate occasional contact with Barrie, including reports of the odd meeting for tea or dinner, this particular letter seems to show that she maintained a desire to meet with him over a period of at least a few years during the early 1920s. Other letters showed concern for Barrie's health and well-being: On 22nd February 1924 Maynard, writing from King's College, Cambridge, told Lydia of a forthcoming performance of 'The Duchess of Malfi', adding, “Why don't you and Barrie come down together for that play?”. On 2nd March he asked her again, “Have you asked Barrie? Dennis [Robertson] enquired because he also had thought of asking him; but D thinks he will refuse partly because he always refuses things, and partly because Cambridge may be rather haunted for him by the one who was drowned.” Lydia replied on 6th March writing, “I telephoned to Barrie, first in the bath he was (although clean I never thought he takes one), after he telephoned and I proposed the offer to [go to] Cambridge – a drastic refusal, besides he owns a little neuritis.” Maynard Keynes's mention of “the one who was drowned” would seem to refer to Barrie's ward, Michael Davies. Michael's drowning, in 1921, was life-changingly devastating to Barrie; this was very evident to Barrie's family and friends. But it seems that Keynes was confused. Michael was an Oxford scholar and he drowned in the river Thames at Sandford Pool, outside Oxford. There was no direct connection between Michael and Cambridge. For family connections we have to look at Michael's father, Arthur, and his uncles Charles, Crompton and Theodore, and also their father, John, all of whom were alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge. It so happens that Theodore also had died by drowning in a river (in the Lune, near Kirkby Lonsdale, in 1905) but it seems unlikely that Keynes would have known this.

For how long did the friendships between Barrie and the two Russian ballerinas last? While both dancers became British citizens and lived in England for the remainder of their lives, no evidence has been found that Barrie was invited to, or attended, Lopokova's wedding at St Pancras Central Register Office in 1925, or that either ballerina attended Barrie's funeral in Kirriemuir in 1937. According to Keynes's nephew, Milo Keynes, Sir Frederick Ashton once revealed to him that he had heard that for some time Barrie had had Lopokova in mind for another play but, in itself, and even if true, this does not constitute evidence of an enduring close friendship between the playwright and the dancer.

As for the play, 'The Truth about the Russian Dancers' went unpublished until 1962 when it appeared in America with an illuminating introduction by Tamara Karsavina. It was later published as a paperback in 1987.

Somewhere there is in existence a film of Karsavina dancing the role of Karissima, a short film sequence which reportedly was made at the request of Lopokova, for no official film was made of either the 1920 or the 1926 production.

Tamara Karsavina, centre, in 'The Truth about the Russian Dancers', 15 March, 1920

Photographs of the 1920 production were taken on the day of the premiere, and Barrie sent six of them to Huntly Carter, an English drama critic who also was seriously interested in the Russian arts. These six photographs, showing Karsavina and other characters in the ballet, together with the envelope addressed in Barrie's handwriting, were auctioned in Sheffield in January 2006.

A forthcoming, as yet untitled book about Lydia Lopokova, written by Judith Mackrell, Dance Critic for The Guardian, is due to be published in the UK by Orion in April 2008. It remains to be seen whether Mackrell has unearthed any details which throw further light on the friendship between Barrie and Lopokova, or on Barrie's view of ballet. In the meantime it is reasonable to say that, over the almost 100 years since the establishment of Ballets Russes in 1909, Russian dancers have not lost their special ability to give natural performances of technically difficult choreography, as is demonstrated nowadays in performances by the present day companies. As Poesio Giannandrea wrote of a Kirov Ballet production of 'La Bayadere' in The Spectator in 2000, “It is the expressive 'magic' on which Barrie commented that keeps 19th century works alive”.

Robert Greenham
May 2007


ASQUITH, Cynthia: Portrait of Barrie (Barrie, 1954)
BARRIE, J. M.: The Truth about the Russian Dancers, with an introduction by Tamara Karsvina (Dance Perspectives, Inc., 1962)
BIRKIN, Andrew: J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys (Yale University Press, 2003)
BRUCE LOCKART, R. H.: Memoirs of a British Agent (Putnam & Co. Ltd, 1932)
CALDWELL, Miller H.: A tribute to J. M. Barrie (c/o
DUNBAR, Janet: J. M. Barrie: The Man Behind the Image (Collins, 1970)
GIANNANDREA, Poesio: Kirov magic (The Spectator, July 1, 2000)
HILL, Polly & KEYNES, Richard (ed): Lydia & Maynard: Letters between Lydia Lopokova and John Maynard Keynes (Andre Deutsch, 1989)
KARSAVINA, Tamara: Introduction to The Truth about the Russian Dancers (Dance Perspectives, Inc., 1962)
KARSAVINA, Tamara: Theatre Street, with preface by J. M. Barrie (William Heinemann, 1930)
KEYNES, Milo (Edited): Lydia Lopokova (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983)
MACKAIL, Denis: The Story of J. M. B. (Peter Davies, 1941)
'T': At The Play (Punch, March 24, 1920)
Unknown: Obituary for John Maynard Keynes (The Times, 1946, c/o,,217299,00.html