A Musical Geography Lesson

This posting, by Curmudgeon, appeared originally at Die Grosse Blog on February 24, 2015. It is reprinted here with Curmudgeon’s blessing and our thanks.

The music of Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861–1906) has long been eclipsed by that of his teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and at least one of his students, Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rimsky-Korsakov had this to say about him: “In his youth Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later the influence came from Tchaikovsky. He will quickly be forgotten.”

Arensky did however produce one masterpiece (IMHO), the piano trio Opus 32. Its slow third movement, titled Elegie, is on YouTube.

And he gave his name to a glacier in Antarctica! Even more wonderful is the fact (Wikipedia) that the  Arensky Glacier flows south from Beethoven Peninsula (part of Alexander Island) into the north end of Boccherini Inlet.

What’s more, (still Wikipedia) the south side of  Beethoven peninsula is supported by the Bach Ice Shelf, and the Mendelssohn Inlet, the Brahms Inlet, and the Verdi Inlet apparently intrude into it. Not far away are Rossini Point and Berlioz Point.

Mapcarta adds some additional reference points:  the Franck Nunatak is 14 km north of the Arensky Glacier [a nunatak is a geological feature: see google for details], Mount Borodin is 14 km west, Gluck Peak is 17 km southwest, and Mount Liszt is 21 km northeast.

It’s reminiscent of some suburbs whose street names celebrate things like trees or birds. Dundas, Ontario, for example, has a subdivision which includes Robinhood Drive, Little John Road, Sherwood Rise, and Maid Marion Street. In such an instance one understands that a committee has been at work, with members representing local government and the developer/builder.

But how does it work with glaciers and inlets and peaks in Antarctica? The Arensky glacier was named by the USSR Academy of Sciences, but how did Bach and Beethoven and Brahms get in there? And where is Mozart? Is there an International Commission on Antarctic Place Names?

The First European

The European Union has been compared with the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted for a thousand years until Napoleon put an end to it. It was a loose confederation of autonomous principalities governed by compromise. The British historian R.J.W. Evans observed: “Around the early 18th century, pretty much the whole of Europe was tied into the Empire in this kind of way – Britain, Denmark, Prussia, Sweden, Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, all rulers with crowns outside the Empire, but intimately, functionally, connected to it. Even the Russian ruling house is a German house. So it’s a form of much wider political constellation. The security of the Empire is inextricably linked to the security of Europe as a whole. This is a very important way in which, on the one hand problems of the Empire can be exported, but also the rest of Europe can find it necessary to sustain some kind of order in Germany.”

The greatest of the early emperors was Frederick II (1194–1250), named in his own time, “a wonder of the world” (stupor mundi), who has been rediscovered from time to time by writers like Goethe, Nietzsche, German poets before World War I and admirers of Angela Merkel.

In addition to being Holy Roman Emperor in direct line of succession from Augustus, Frederick was King of Sicily and – among other kingdoms – Jerusalem. He reigned during the sixth crusade.

By family heritage, he could not have been more diverse. One grandfather northern, the other southern – emblematic of the tension between the European north and the European south, which is so acute today.

In his court in Palermo, the brightest of the bright – scientists and artists – were assembled, including Muslims and Jews. For half a century, they achieved a unique harmony – so unique that it could not survive his death.

One of his two grandfathers, Frederick I’s, red beard – Barbarossa – was used as the code word for the Nazi invasion of Russia in June, 1941.