Sunday, September 19, 2021

the elusive hornplayer

some thoughts on

The travelling hornplayer
Barbara Trapido

I picked up a battered paperback edition of this novel from a book exchange mainly on the merit of its musical title (a reference to the poetic source of Schubert’s song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin” as I found out later) and the fact that there was a cello shown on the cover. The cello arrives fashionably late in the book, making its entry on page 90, but with a strong back story, involving a five-generation transfer in the family line, and a period spent buried in the woods. The young cellist who inherits the instrument is arguably the main character in the book, although the author has carefully constructed a kind of hypercube in which a dozen characters are connected in multiple ways, sometimes involving very improbable coincidences. The only living hornplayer mentioned, however, remains an elusive and very marginal character.

Apart from the welcome presence of celloing (although some very subtle details tell me the author perhaps doesn’t know much about cellos), other bonus points include occasional visits to Oxford, where Trapido lives, and, for me coming to it with 23 years delay, a glimpse of the almost forgotten world of the 1990s. People using their mobile on the train because they can, only to say “I’m on the train”, people smoking in restaurants, professionals mentioning the internet as a special tool at their workplace, and students studying without worrying about tuition fees. Characters can have Middleton as a family name without any royal implications. A distant world – although Oxford sounds very much the same as always.

All in all, a well balanced tragicomedy, great fun to read, and, notwithstanding the hornplayer of the title, I’ll file it under cello books. Oh, and I am listening to a CD of “Die schöne Müllerin” sung by Fritz Wunderlich right now (inherited from my mother). That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t read the book.

cover of the edition I have. The cello is (just about) recognisable by its spike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

wonderful Welwitschia

The desert plant Welwitschia mirabilis has accompanied my writing for a while. It featured in my book Exzentriker des Lebens / Life on the Edge. The info in the books is mostly 1990s plant physiology. Now however, researchers have published a high quality genome structure of Welwitschia in comparison with its closest relative - which isn't very close. I've used the opportunity to also have a look at other plant life in deserts on other continents - in the context that the climate disaster will produce more extreme conditions for life to cope with, so we'd better understand how it does.

The resulting feature is out now:

How to survive in the desert

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 17, 14 September 2021, Pages R1017-R1019

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
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Welwitschia_mirabilis, Plate 5369 from vol89 (1863) Curtis's Botanical Magazine (source: wikipedia)

bonus illustration not included in my feature, as images in portrait format are awkward with the column format we use.

Friday, September 10, 2021

journey inside my guts

In January 2019, as I was 55 then, I was invited to a bowel scope screening. According to the brochure I was sent at the time, "The NHS offers bowel scope screening to all men and women aged 55." It sounded like a good idea, because "for every 300 people screened it stops 2 from getting bowel cancer and saves 1 life from bowel cancer."

While experiences may vary, I didn't find it terribly unpleasant and as a scientifically curious person I rather enjoyed the opportunity to follow the camera view on a large screen and travel through my own guts.

I just found out that the programme has since been scrapped, and its history, shall we say, adjusted to the situation. The relevant NHS website now says:

"Previously, some people aged 55 were invited for a one-off test where a healthcare professional uses a tube with a camera to look inside the bowel. This is called bowel scope screening. Bowel scope screening is no longer offered."

NB: some people were invited. When it was my turn, the official info said, as quoted above "all men and women aged 55."

For a competent analysis of the withdrawal of the screening programme, see this blog entry from a cancer charity.

Although I was lucky in getting the screening before it disappeared, I find it upsetting that there is very little interest around here in preventing disease before it happens. The NHS is brilliant because it's free at point of use as it should be and good at treating people when they get ill, but preventative measures aren't its strongest point and they are the first to suffer when things get difficult.

To me preventing disease is the most important job of the health system. I remember my grandparents being in and out of hospitals for bowel operations repeatedly, and I'm quite sure I prefer a camera up my bum to their experience.

Checking up the numbers:

There are 900,000 people in the UK aged 55 right now. We're talking about 3,000 lives that could be saved every year and 6,000 bowel cancer cases that could be prevented according to the NHS info I cited above. This may be small fry in comparison to the numbers currently killed by the mishandling of the Covid pandemic, but I am sure those 3,000 55-year-olds would have liked to live a bit longer ...

Cover of the brochure I received in 2019. Shows it's good to keep the paperwork, because online info gets adjusted to political convenience.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

the trouble with Volksmusik

Last week, Germany’s Green Party got into trouble with a TV ad using the 19th century folk song “Kein schöner Land” in a somewhat sugary video extolling the loveliness of the country without mentioning any of the problems that the next government will have to address. Right now, the youtube video has three dislikes for every like.

At around the same time, I also ran into trouble being asked to share a German folk tune, something which I have studiously avoided so far, while playing music from all corners of Europe for the last seven years. As I am bad at explaining such things in conversation, I decided to a) do a write up as to why there are Irish folk sessions in Germany but no German ones, and b) just learn a suitable tune to present at such occasions in the future.

The trouble with German folk traditions is a complex mix of many factors, but the biggest one is that it has fallen into bad company and kept the wrong sort of friends for too long. Specifically, Nazi organisations hijacked everything that could be prefixed with Volks- (which means folk, the people’s, or popular), from the Volksempfänger (people’s receiver = radio) to the Volkswagen (VW), and the traditional music and song repertoire (Volksmusik) played a huge part in their project.

Post 1945 one would have had to denazify the canon in some form, but that didn’t happen. Lots of harmless and simple songs from the 19th century were kept as children’s songs, a compendium of maybe 100 songs that are endlessly reprinted in different orders. These are ok in their way, but one wouldn’t normally play them among adults.

The grownup folk songs, with only the most horrific Nazi songs swept under the rug, kept their cultural home on the right wing of the political spectrum. Especially those who wanted to recover Germany in the boundaries of 1938 were very keen on songs celebrating the beauty of their country.

Progressive people meanwhile turned outward for inspiration, discovered popular music and folk traditions from other countries and liked those. Which was a good thing as such, but had the unintended consequence of hardening the divide – people who engaged with Volksmusik were likely to be on the right wing and suspicious of other cultures.

There were only very few exceptions in bands and singers working to reclaim the people’s music of times past for the kind of people who used to sing it, namely the workers, sailors, farmers, and the failed revolutionaries of 1848. Zupfgeigenhansel (named after an early 20th century folk song book) and singers like Hannes Wader spring to mind, but the list doesn’t grow much longer than that.

All of this has been my perception until reunification – as I moved to the UK in 1993, I didn’t witness developments since then as closely and may have missed changes that happened. Bands I happened to hear about, like Santiano, Faun, Triskilian, may now be heralds of a different social context of folk music, or they may still be exceptions that prove the rule, I couldn’t judge from the distance. In any case, the story until 1993 explains why I don’t walk around singing Kein schöner Land (and haven’t dared to watch the Green Party clip yet, which, from what I heard, seems to be targeted at the old-fashioned Volksmusik fans).

So, as all this is a bit tedious to explain when the situation arises, I’ve now had a look around for any German folk tunes that are sufficiently interesting musically and come without any horrific historical baggage. The result is a very short list, but maybe if readers want to add suggestions, I’m all ears.

Some simple tunes for the D whistle:

Muss i denn (Friedrich Silcher) in G, start on G, end on B
This one is globally famous because it was recorded by Elvis Presley (Wooden heart, 1960) - which fits my much neglected folkmash tag

Warum (Vom Truge; Ponthus et Sidoine)
I’ve actually played this one at Galician sessions, as Carlos Nuñez has recorded it, although he learned it in Brittany. A UK catholic person told me it’s used as a hymn here as well. The song version I knew is called Warum and sung by Triskilian, who give as the source the song book of the Duchess Sophie-Erdmuthe von Nassau-Saarbrücken from 1750.

Zogen einst fünf wilde Schwäne
An anti-war song from Eastern Prussia

Something a bit more interesting that sounds nice on the alto recorder:

Ich hab die Nacht geträumet in G: range from B to e’ – doesn’t work on D whistles.

Loreley (Friedrich Silcher) in G, start on D
Travelling up the Rhine on the train Cologne – Koblenz is actually as close as I get to feeling at home in Germany, so I might as well make this my go-to German tune (although one could dispute its folkicity)

on the way towards Loreley (own photo, 2017).

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

quartets for random instruments

In addition to duets and trios, we (a hardy subset of Cowley Orchestra and some newbies) have also played some quartets over this summer. These included baroque pieces set for three melody instruments plus basso continuo (Baroque composers didn't mind very much what melody instruments were used). On some meetings, when we had a strong ensemble, we also ventured into the string quartets of classic/romantic periods.

This Bank Holiday Monday we had a particularly strong ensemble (nothing to do with me, I am either the weakest link or hiding behind a stronger player) with an interesting variety of instruments and played Dvorak's American quartet among other things. It struck me that I actually prefer our version with five different instruments (violin, flute, oboe, clarinet on the viola part, cello) to the string quartet performance. Listening to string quartets, I don't really like the fact that the four string instruments have similar sound textures and all blend into one sauce - having a variety of different sounding instruments is actually an improvement to me. Also, with its richness of textures, the random instruments version is a lot closer to the New World symphony. (UPDATE 11.9.2021: Just discovered it's been done before. Somebody called David Walter arranged it for string quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, published by Billaudot - Paris 1986) and YouTube has live videos from the Amsterdam Wind Quintet (fourth and first movement) as well as sound-only recordings from the Royal Flemish Philharmonic (complete) and Meliora Winds.)

Anyhow, here's my nascent collection of quartets so far:

Boccherini: 9 string quartets (various opus numbers).
Dvorak: string quartet No. 12 in F major (American quartet)
Haydn: Quintenquartett Op 76, Nr. 2, in D minor
Pachelbel: Canon in D, arranged for string quartet by Donald Fraser
Schubert: Excerpts from 5th symphony, strings pack
Schubert: Quartet for flute, guitar, viola and cello (YouTube). Found this in an edition published 1956 - it later turned out that Schubert had just arranged a trio by Czech guitarist Vaclav Matiegka (1773-1830) and added the cello to give it a bit more oomph. The original trio (Notturno op 21) is lovely, actually, but doesn't harm to have the cello part too.
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 1 Op 49.

And a bunch of baroque quartets I borrowed for the summer:

MA Charpentier, Noels (9 short pieces, some christmassy)
Naudot, concerto in C major
A. Scarlatti, Sonata in F major
GP Telemann, concerto in G major
JB Fasch, quartet in Bb major
JC Schickhardt, sonata in D major

The last page of the autograph score of Dvořák's American quartet with his inscription: "Finished on 10 June 1893 in Spillville. Thanks God. I'm satisfied. It went quickly."


Updated 6.9.2021 to add the Schubert quartet based on the Matiegka trio.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

the crazy history of Germany

some thoughts on


A personal history of Germans ancient and modern

Simon Winder

Picador 2010

Like the authors of fun history books for children such as the horrible histories series, Simon Winder treats history with all due disrespect. He exposes the lies in nationalist narratives, the madness of feudal rulers, and the crazy coincidences that make unfortunate events happen.

Following a vaguely chronological route through the history of German speaking lands (minus Switzerland), from Tacitus’s eponymous book through to the end of the Weimar republic, he revels especially in his visits to the monuments and curiosities left behind by hundreds of insignificant small feudal states, which all felt compelled to build a Schloss to mimic Versailles (the author uses Schloss and insists there is no good translation, which is a relief, as we’ve been looking for ages). Incidentally, these very same deluded mini-monarchies also provided suitable (because protestant and coming without major power political strings attached) marriage partners to British royalty for centuries. Go figure.

The fates of these mini states varied wildly. In the wars before the foundation of the Empire, some rulers placed their bets against Prussia and lost, including the kingdom of Hannover. Meanwhile, next door, the tiny principality of Schaumburg Lippe, with its very sumptuous mini capital Bückeburg survived until 1918. This was lucky for my grandmother in nearby Minden, because she got the opportunity to study at the conservatoire which the duke of Schaumburg Lippe had founded in 1913 in a last firework of cultural exuberance.

Winder is adept at making connections and parallels that you don’t normally find in history books. Karl Marx and Prince Albert moving to London at around the same time. Louis XIV burning down the Palatinate while everybody else was busy fighting off the Ottomans outside the gates of Vienna, showing that the unity of Christian Europe wasn’t as strong as we are often told. One tiny, unreferenced remark about composers Mahler and Strauss meeting in a Strasbourg piano shop led me to a journey of discovery which I have already reported here.

All in all an extremely enjoyable “horrible history” for grown-ups. Words like “demented” and many synonyms thereof occur on every page. An immaculate sense of place provides many ideas of towns and cities that one should really visit. The only serious blind spot I noticed is Wuppertal – it is mentioned only once, and then anachronistically, in the 19th century (page 359) when its position was still held by the separate, rapidly industrialised cities of Barmen and Elberfeld. Looking up the author’s details, I found that he has written two sequels covering the Danube watershed and Lotharingia, the middle bit in the tripartite heritage of Charlemagne. I will look out for these.

Monday, August 23, 2021

followers of fishes

I'm not a scuba-diving kind of person, but from my armchair studies of marine biology I recall seeing many photos of larger fish species apparently being followed by smaller ones. Never thought much about it, until I came across a publication referring to the followers of manta rays as hitchhikers. That sounded like an interesting feature topic, so I had a closer look and discovered all sorts of marvellous things I hadn't known. In addition to the obvious ecology implication, the social network of marine species if you will, there are also interesting bits of physics about the suckers allowing hitchhikers to hold onto fast moving transport vehicles.

All this in my latest feature which is out today (I love the title, even if I say so myself):

Friends, foes and followers of fishes

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 16, 23 August 2021, Pages R973-R976

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Manta rays are often seen with other species attached to them or following them closely. The image shows a giant ocean manta ray with some passengers. (Photo: Simon Fraser University/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mahler and Strauss in Strasbourg

Reading Simon Winder's excellent book Germania (about which I rave in more detail here), I stumbled across the surprising statement (on page 369):

... the vigour and pleasure of the pre-1914 world [...] can be summed up in the image of Mahler and Strauss in 1905 happily playing through the score of the latter's forthcoming opera Salome in a piano shop in Straßburg, ...

Which struck me as it falls in the period when both Heinrich the cellist and his then fiancée Maria were living in Strasbourg. Presumably they weren't so astronomically lucky to wander into that piano shop at the right time, but it made me wonder what Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949), then based in Vienna and Berlin, respectively, were doing in the faraway and musically less illustrious town.

As it turns out they were both guest conductors at the first Elsass-Lothringen Music festival, which aimed to build cultural bridges by featuring both French (Franck, Charpentier) and German composers (Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Wagner, and the two famous guests). Mahler conducted his 5th Symphony on May 21, 1905, and an all-Beethoven programme the next day (the Mahler Foundation provides full details for both days here and here). Assuming that Strauss also had a couple of concerts, and then a few for the French guest conductor, Camille Chevillard (1859-1923), this adds up to a whole week worth of music. The festival happened just one month after Strauss had completed the score for Salome, so at the time of that piano shop meeting, nobody in the world knew the music.

The whole event took place at the Sängerhaus in Sankt-Julianstraße, a huge venue built in 1903, which today is the Palais des Fetes in rue Selenick. Located in the Neustadt (German quarter), this location is literally only one block away from where Heinrich the cellist lived. So I'll henceforth assume that he did pop over to watch Mahler and/or Strauss do their thing.

Source: Wikipedia

PS: Here are some lovely postcards from the first decade of the Sängerhaus.

Stop press: I found the shop! It's Wolf Musique, it even had a plaque commemorating the one-man premiere of Salome, but it sadly closed down in June 2020 after 195 years in business. That news item was in French, but here's one in English. The French source mentions Mahler and his young wife Alma (along with baffled clients of the shop) as the audience, whereas Winder had only mentioned Gustav and left me with the impression that he and Strauss had played the orchestral score four-handed. The shop was located on the main island, 24 Rue de la Mésange.

Friday, August 13, 2021

real life art

Art exhibition with works by Alexander Calvelli about real life (working lives) opening in real life today:

The venue, Kunstraum Eigelstein, does not seem to have a web presence outside Facebook - find them there if you must.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

professor leather trousers

Coming back to the biography of Heinrich our family cello after a couple of months being busy with other things. Heinrich the cellist and his wife Maria had met at Strasbourg in 1903/04. He had come from faraway Tangermünde (joining the army), she came from the other side of the river Rhine (Bruchsal), to train as a secretary at the main hospital of Strasbourg. Like the rest of the city, the university and its hospital had benefited from a major programme by the newly founded German Empire to make the city a showcase for the world.

Maria's niece recently told me that she remembered her mother saying that Maria worked for "Professor Lederhose" at Strasbourg, which the children found understandably funny. It was almost true, though, add an extra "d" that is not part of the German word for leather trousers, and you get:

Professor Georg Ledderhose (1855-1925)

a prominent surgeon who, like Maria, had arrived from the other side of the river as a youngster, studying medicine at Strasbourg and then rising through the ranks there. After WW I, he ended up in Munich. He even has a syndrome to his name, Ledderhose's disease or plantar fibromatosis, which I understand is just a bump under the sole of your feet.

He also has a Gedbas entry - no children listed, but you can find his wife, parents and several generations of ancestors here. His paternal grandmother was Sophie Susanne Dupré, and her ancestry and relations are the main focus of the online genealogists who gave us the Ledderhose entry. A name that neatly links back to the cello theme ...

Source: Wikipedia

So where did Maria and Professor Ledderhose work? Presumably in the Hôpital civil (the French wiki is very interesting on its history, the English version less comprehensive). As I understand it, the Hôpital civil under German governance became closely connected to the medical faculty at the university, even though it wasn't a university hospital as such. It expanded dramatically using up former military land just south of the main island. This map shows the location in 1921:

Source: Wikipedia

I think Professor Ledderhose must have worked as a surgeon in building number 6, ie Clinique chirurgicale A, in place since 1881 (Clinique chirurgicale B was only opened in 1914). Not much hope of finding the place today, as Wikipedia says it has been turned into a car park, but I'll take this map the next time I visit Strasbourg.

Historically, every department was housed in a separate building, but many of these have now been demolished, and the new hospital, opened in 2008, aims to combine all services in one block. Today, the facilities are employing some 11,000 people.

As always, all hints appreciated ...

Monday, August 09, 2021

cat gods and coexistence

The recent paper on how worshipping cat gods helps people in India to coexist with leopards and even tigers inspired me to look for other examples. Naively, I assumed I would find similar stories around the world, but most of the surviving cultures codifying coexistence with dangerous wildlife led me back to India. So it became a slightly lopsided tour du monde, but I also have mentions of Central America, Australia, and Nigeria in there. The feature is out now:

A culture of coexistence

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 15, 09 August 2021, Pages R931-R934

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Children play with Waghoba at Manali temple
(this picture didn't quite make it into the published article)

Sunday, August 08, 2021

goldilocks instruments

Discussed alto flutes and other size variations at a session earlier today and it struck me that I have a very clear preference in several instrument groups, but they don't line up. Basically, I like to make deep sounds, but there are limits to the amount of suffering I am willing to take for that, such as straining my arm to lift a bass flute, or spreading my fingers more than a comfortable width to play low recorders. So the balance works out as follows:

* strings: cello (obviously)

* flutes: concert flute (I just don't feel the few extra notes added at the bottom are worth the suffering with heavier flutes).

* recorders: alto (a discovery I only made a few years ago, when I saw an alto recorder at a fleamarket and bought it on the spot - basically, it feels exactly right, presumably because it scales to the adult hands exactly like the soprano recorder to primary school kid hands).

* saxophones: tenor (haven't tried any of the other sizes, but the tenor feels so right, I can't imagine any of the others being a better fit).

Based on this, I should try low whistles, which I haven't done yet. And while I never cared much for trumpets, I am curious about tubas, euphoniums and such like.

Different sizes of recorders, from bass to sopranino. Image source: Wikipedia

PSA: this is blogpost no. 2000, and also a reminder to myself that I will resume the all our instruments series once the plague years are definitely over.

Friday, August 06, 2021

palaeo beyond genomics

I've been covering the very exciting progress in ancient DNA studies for nearly 20 years now, and I'm not complaining, but, in order to persuade editors that they should publish even more of my ravings, I need to introduce new elements every once in a while. So it was rather handy that recent developments in palaeoanthropology have featured a few things that were molecular but not based on the genomes retrieved from ancient people's bones, including proteomes read from tooth proteins (which may allow us to travel a lot further back in time), microbiomes, and DNA from dirt with absolutely no trace of fossil remains.

And the Neanderthal teeth used in the dental microbiome study come from the cave of Sima de las palomas (near Murcia), where I've also been scraping around in the dirt for a while, a few years before the site started coughing up some very impressive Neanderthal skeletons.

Looking at it from an analytics perspective for a chemically minded audience, I've discussed these developments in my latest feature for Chemistry & Industry, which is out now:

Chemistry & Industry Volume 85, Issue 7/8, July-August 2021 Pages 23-26

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI - appears to be on open access right now

Lateral view of the mostly-complete skull of Zlatý kůň, which cannot be carbon-dated but has now been identified as the earliest modern human from Europe, based on recent admixture of Neanderthal ancestry.
Credit: Martin Frouz

Oh, and Blogspot tells me that this is my 1999th published post. So let's party like it's 1999, and watch out for the millennium bug!

Thursday, August 05, 2021

astrobiology out now

I was slightly busy with other things and missed the actual publication day (Tue 3rd), but I can confirm that the third edition of

Astrobiology: an introduction

is out now across the habitable parts of the Universe. A lot of things happened since the second edition came out in 2011, so the page count has gone up, and it is no longer called "brief" in the title. Apart from that, the good old structure still stands, just with new findings added.

More details from:

* the publishers, Johns Hopkins University Press

* Blackwells bookshop

* my (slightly neglected) website

I seem to have acquired some grey hairs since the last edition ...

Monday, July 26, 2021

the music of the birds

Every once in a while, I've seen an exciting paper about birdsong in the news releases, but, somehow, the thought I should do something about birdsong hasn't resulted in action, until now. The work that made it happen was the PNAS paper on duetting wrens, which I discuss in some detail. As a less than perfect musician I am very impressed by the extremely rapid turn-taking between wren duet partners, which amounts to up to 300 events per minute. Playing three notes on a beat at 100 beats per minute is something I can manage on a good day with a following wind, but I might struggle doing it precisely on time in a duet situation, while paying attention to an equally fast-moving partner.

Another exciting thing I learnt is that the mockingbird doesn't just mock, it sticks together borrowed parts in original ways, just like any human composer would. Oh, and there is a cellist in there as well.

My musical musings on birdsong are out now:

Tuning in to bird behaviour

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 14, 26 July 2021, Pages R879-R882

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The rapidly alternating duet singing in plain-tailed wrens is one of the most impressive examples of cooperation in birdsong. (Photo: © Melissa Coleman.)

Friday, July 16, 2021

a pioneer of sado-populism

Some thoughts on

The first emperor – Caesar Augustus and the triumph of Rome
Anthony Everitt
John Murry Publishers 2006

Half way into the series Domina (about Augustus’ longest-serving wife, Livia Drusilla), I realised I needed some help to find my way through the imperial family clan, so started reading Everitt’s book in the middle, matching the historic events I had reached in the series, around 30BCE, after he had seen off Mark Antony. And after finishing both, I went back and started from just after the murder of Julius Caesar, seeing that I read Robert Harris’s excellent trilogy on Cicero not too long ago and had a reasonably good idea of what happened before 44 (looks like I haven't reviewed Harris's trilogy, but I mentioned it here).

From 44 BCE to 14 CE, the story is how a republic ruling over much of the known world is overthrown and replaced by an autocratic regime that was to last several centuries. Funny how my school books portrayed this as an entirely positive event and somehow didn’t dwell much on the mass murder of all supporters of the republic, including, most famously, Cicero. Everett doesn’t spare us the details of the “proscription” based on incentivising slaves, family members and everybody else to murder the blacklisted individuals. Strangely, he still uses the word barbarians for the populations beyond the boundaries of the empire without pausing to reflect on the barbaric things the Romans did to their own fellow citizens.

So, basically, let’s imagine the January 6 storm on the Capitol (in Washington, not Rome) had been led a bit more efficiently, and the invaders had murdered all Democrats in the House and put rewards out for the heads of all Democrat politicians in the rest of the country. The Trump clan would rule by default over several generations and get to write the history of events. In analogy to the Augustus story, people two millennia down the line would be led to believe that this was entirely a good thing. Because, you know, the old republic was corrupt, and you can’t run an empire efficiently if you have to debate everything in the Senate first. Also, all those people who didn’t look like the dear leader’s family were just barbarians. Scary thought.

Everitt wrote and published this biography at a time when the Trump presidency was just a joke in the Simpsons, and western democracies still appeared much more stable than they look now. For our more troubled times, there are many warnings in the book. For instance, it is worth noticing how carefully Augustus avoided the impression that he might want to install a dictatorship – although effectively he did. Learning from the mistakes of his adoptive father Julius Caesar, who had pardoned his enemies and flagged up his role as a dictator, Augustus took no prisoners, but otherwise operated within the legal framework of the republic, drawing his real power from the legions who were loyal to him and the military talents of his friend Agrippa. Today, as ruthless populists again threaten democratic rule, it is worth looking out for the subtle ways in which they can hoover up power that they may never give up again.

I’ve recently seen the term “sado-populism” being used on twitter (in the context of Johnson ending England’s covid measures regardless of the suffering that will cause). That could be discussed as a thread linking Augustus to the present day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

the world of RNA

The round-up of German pieces published in June to July 2021 is entirely made of RNA, from recreating the RNA world to saving the world with RNA vaccines and therapies.

RNA-Welt: Wie aus Chemie Biologie entsteht
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 55, Issue 3, June 2021, Page 153
Restricted access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English: coming soon

Die neue mRNA-Medizin
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 69, Issue 7/8, July/August 2021, Pages 60-61
access via Wiley Online Library - appears to be open access right now, probably because it's covid-related.
related content in English: The renaissance of RNA therapies
Also on the lovely cover (this is my second NCh cover story this year - a collateral benefit of the pandemic):

As it turned out, the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel also ran a cover story on RNA therapies at the same time. They probably put ten reporters on it, so I expect it will be a bit different from my story.

Monday, July 12, 2021

the world before Columbus

There have been apparently conflicting findings regarding the vegetation of Amazonia before the European conquest of the Americas. Some studies suggest a lot of the land was cultivated by the indigenous people and we're just looking at the regrowth that took hold after the population crash in the 16th century. Others find areas of land that have remained undisturbed for millennia.

As this has implications for the conservation and stewardship of the surviving rainforest, I had a closer look at these findings in the context of the multiple crises hitting the Amazon right now. The contradiction is resolved in my latest feature which is out now:

The Amazonian world before Columbus

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 13, 12 July 2021, Pages R821-R824

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
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Illegal slash-and-burn land clearing combined with drought conditions are threatening large parts of the Amazon rainforest, even in protected areas. (Photo: Felipe Werneck/Ibama (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

trios for flute, violin, cello

As the orchestra I joined back in 2017 is now reduced to a maximum of four people showing up to play every week (outdoors, while summer lasts), I have been obsessing about chamber music a bit, to make sure we don't get bored. Following up on the duos for cello and flute, here's a list of a some trios we have enjoyed playing in the last two months. I'm dreaming of scaling this up to reach the Schubert octet one day ...

My nascent collection:

Anonymus (Venice, around 1700): Due sonate a due flauti e basso (in F and C)

Corelli: 2 Chamber sonatas for two violins & BC: op 2 No. 4 in E minor, op 4 No. 9 in Bb major.

Haydn: Four London trios for two flutes or violins and cello Hob IV
Very accessible to amateur players and extremely lovely, these are from Haydn's second visit to London in 1794 and may have served as a sandpit where he tried out ideas for his later symphonic works. I discovered the Edition Peters set of trios 1-3 at Oxfam exactly when I needed it. A bit later I also found a different edition including all four trios from Southern Music that also includes parts for Bb clarinet, viola and bassoon (but has the slightly covid-unfriendly aspect that the two flutes are supposed to read from the same score). Combining these two sets, we could turn the trios into very colourful sextets ...

YouTube recordings (see also my new playlist):

London Trio No. 1
London Trio No. 2
London Trio No. 3
London Trio No. 4

Haydn, Trio No. 4 in F for flute or recorder, violin, cello or piano, op 11 No. 4 (Schott). First published by Hummel in 1770, this is presumably an adaptation of one of the 128 baryton trios, but it’s not No. 4.

Gottfried Keller (died 1704) Trio sonata in Bb for treble recorder/violin, oboe/violin, basso continuo

JB Loeillet, sonata No. 1 G major for two violins & piano

Borrowed sets:

JS Bach, Trio sonata Eb major, BWV 1031
Matthew Locke, Suite in G from Tripla concordia
JB Loeillet trio sonata in F major
JC Pepusch, trio sonata Bb major
JJ Quantz, trio sonata A minor - haven't played these two Quantzes yet, tried a different one though.
JJ Quantz, trio sonata C minor

Telemann triosonata in C minor
A. Corelli Triosonata in d minor from concerto grosso in c minor op 6 no. 3

It amuses me that these three stellar soloist took time out of their world tours to have a bit of fun with the Haydn trios.

Although at least three of the trios were published in Haydn's lifetime, they fell into oblivion and had a somewhat romantic rediscovery. In 1878, a Berlin antiquarian and manuscript collector died - Haydn's complete autograph of the London trios was found among his belongings and transferred to the Berlin Staatsbibliothek. Published in 1909 on the occasion of the centenary of Haydn's death, they arrived just in time for the last flourishing of Hausmusik before it was wiped out by the advent of broadcasting and recorded music.

Edits and updates:
26.7. added the Corelli (just found at Oxfam)
31.7. ditto for Gottfried Keller
10.8. ditto Anonymus

Thursday, July 08, 2021

how many more will die?

As the UK govt. (henceforth referred to as the Death Eaters) has now switched its Covid "strategy" to pouring fuel on the fire, I wondered how many more will die as a consequence of this reckless disregard for public health.

They say hospitalisations and deaths are now uncoupled from the case numbers thanks to the vaccination, but that's another lie. They are still coupled, just with a larger factor. If the risk of death was 2% before vaccinations, it may end up at 0.2 percent with everybody vaccinated and 90% protected by the vaccine. But let's look at where the factor stands now.

Dividing the cases in the seven days up to 23.6. (79,481) by the deaths in the seven days up to 7.7., i.e. two weeks later, that's 161 deaths, I get a factor of 494, so a 0.2 % risk of dying if you had a positive test. Not a risk I'd fancy taking, but 10 times better than before the vaccines.

This number has improved in the last five weeks:

9.6. 284
16.6. 382
23.6. 415
30.6. 489
7.7. 494

This looks like a move in the right direction, but note that the last weekly increase has shrunk significantly, so it looks as if we may have reached the limit of the improvement that we can get out of vaccines. Worth keeping an eye on that number.

So let's assume that of the people tested positive, on the order of 1/500 will die. So two million further infections by the end of this month (as admitted by the Death Eaters) may mean 4,000 additional deaths. Another 8 million in August (remember more than 20 million people will still be not fully protected), even if the curve will go down then, another 16,000. So I reckon 20,000 additional deaths before the third wave recedes are a realistic estimate.

Or if you prefer your horror in daily doses, 160,000 daily cases by August 7 would mean 320 daily deaths around August 21. The associated burden on the health system may well mean that we'll need another lockdown to avert collapse. And then there is the even bigger issue of long Covid, which the Death Eaters studiously avoid to mention.

And this is still under the optimistic / unlikely assumption that the virus doesn't evolve. In fact though, it does evolve, and it may very well find a way around the vaccine. As many people have pointed out, if you wanted to do a huge experiment to evolve a virus that is resistant to vaccines, letting it run wild in a partially vaccinated population is exactly the way you would do it (assuming you had no care for ethical concerns whatsoever).

This number looks a bit too high ... a recent anti-vaxxers demo I stumbled across at Carfax, Oxford (own photo).

Some fresh resources:

Mass infection is not an option: we must do more to protect our young (Deepti Gurdasani et al. in The Lancet)

Thursday, July 01, 2021

summer holiday

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, interval

I think after 16 months of suffering my attempts at playing Bach, dear old Heinrich deserves a holiday. Also, we are regularly playing chamber music in Florence Park now, so I'll obsess about that instead (here's a list of duos for cello and flute, I'll post trios some other time). Seeing how the UK is effing up the covid response for a third time, I expect we will be back to lockdown Bach come September.

In June, I almost managed to memorise the second half of the Gigue in D minor, just a few loose bars left to tie up. I also shifted the Courante and Sarabande in G to the next level, so the first suite is now beginning to take shape. Just need to find a way of doubling the speed of the Courante.

So after 16 months with 446 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 462 bars memorised, my list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
2.4 Sarabande
2.5 Minuet I&II
2.6 Gigue
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.3 Courante

5) movements recorded on video and also performed in public
1.4 Sarabande
1.5 Minuet I&II- VIDEO
1.6 Gigue(ooops, need to upload the video, watch this space!)
3.5 Bourree I&II - VIDEO

It's all downhill from here ...

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

blooming Bloomsbury

Book of Bloomsbury

Edward Gordon and A.F.L. Deeson

Published in 1950 by Edward Gordon (Arts) Limited, 9 Great Russell Street, WC1

Back in the 00s I was affiliated with Birkbeck College London as a science writer in residence, which is why I have kept a soft spot for all things Bloomsbury. So I couldn't resist this antiquarian edition of a guide to the architectural history of the area, and I enjoyed reading it as it filled in a lot of background knowledge regarding streets I know from my ramblings half a century after the book was published. In lieu of a review, I'll just type out what to me was the highlight of the book, the description of St. Pancras station (which I have, of course, seen quite a few times since the Eurostar terminal moved there).

The station, the authors inform us

"opened in 1873. What a glorious, fantastic, ridiculous sight it is! However much one may be inclined to scoff at the Gothic grotesque, so pretentious yet only a humble railway station, one cannot help being overawed by its mad magnificence. Glance up at its pinnacles and towers, its multitude of steeples and crazy battlements clustered together in a perfect orgy of uselessness. Who can fail to be impressed? Who is so unimaginative that they look upwards without a whole host of fancies taking wing in their brain? St. Pancras Station, rightly viewed, is a medieval fortress, an ogre's castle, a challenge to the prosaics of the twentieth century. A piece of empty pomp, a grandiose hotch-potch of bad taste? It is all that perhaps, but it is also a fairy-story, a common-place everyday thing transformed into a romance in the Chesterton tradition. To fully appreciate the weird wonder of St. Pancras visit it late at night or in the small hours. It has rained earlier and now a fresh wind is blowing down the empty street. Look up at the towers and ornate chimneys with the swift-moving clouds behind. There is a moon, riding on her back across the sky and lighting the brave spires with a silvery but fitful light. Surely in that patch of dark shadow thrown by the nearest tower onto the shining wet roof there is a flurrying movement? A witch pale and grim on her broomstick, flitting with marvellous dexterity between the erratic lumps of masonry, her black cloak billowing behind her? Look at those little windows at the very top, so small, dirty and neglected that by day it seems scarcely possible they could light real rooms, surely the moon's passing gleam reveals, for a fleeting moment, a white figure moving back and forth? A princess in distress in the giant's castle or merely the ghost of some long-dead and forgotten claimant in one of those legal actions against the railway companies which were so common during the last century?"

My first excited reading of all those negatives framed by question marks left me unsure whether the writer hated or secretly loved the structure. On rereading it now I realise they simply had a blast trying to reflect in their writing style the exuberance of the architecture. In the rest of the book, even though there are some battle scenes with angry mobs storming Georgian mansions, and quite a few violent deaths reported, there's nothing quite like this outburst of the imagination.

Personally I always appreciate the station as a fairytale castle each time I see it, and I'm glad it survived into our century and got a very thoughtful refurbishment when it became St. Pancras International.

Update 8.7.2021: The book mentioned the London tram system which I had never heard of before, as an attraction to visit before it disappears. Less than a week after I posted this, there was an article in the Guardian about a tram reopening for visitors.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

more chamber music for cello and flute

When I revisited our ancient noteflight scores of duets we arranged for cello and flute, I also remembered the list of duets that I had discovered online back then and that I found helpful for some initial directions. Back in 2011 it was hosted on the comprehensive flute website of jazz flautist Larry Krantz and credited to Julia Larson Mattern and others. Sadly it is no longer online, so I've used the copy I kept as a starting point to make my own list by adding in youtube links and dropping those items of which I could not find any performance. I also removed the comments from the original list and added some of my own. Oh, and I made a YouTube playlist.

Work in progress. Surely there must be more music that works well for cello and flute? Suggestions welcome.

So here's what I've got in alphabetical order:

1. Beethoven - Three Duets (published by Kalmus) Lovely music from a young Beethoven, written for clarinet and bassoon but available in several other combinations too. We played four or five of the 9 movements back then, some in arrangements derived from an edition for violin and viola, see the list of our scores. YouTube performances of duo No.1: Duo Dare plays first movement only, but clearer sound than this recording of the whole duo.

2. Besozzi, Alessandro - Divertimento in F (published by Urtext Premiere Publication) YouTube I thought this sounded a bit lame? (Besozzi has lots of trios though, which I'll still need to check)

3. Cambini, Guiseppe - Six Sonatas (published by Amadeus) YouTube

4. Carter, Elliott - Enchanted Preludes (published by Boosey and Hawkes) YouTube

5. Carrick, Richard - La Scene Miniature (self published) for piccolo and cello a quartet version with composer on piano.

6. Danzi, Franz - Three Duos, Op. 64 (published by Musikverlag Hans Sikorski) I'm loving the Danzi, might buy a copy Duo No.1; Duo No. 2; Duo No. 3

7. Doran, Matt - Sonatina (published by Western International Music) first movement; third movement

8. Febonio, T.G. - Rustic Airs and Folk Dances (published by ALRY) a selection of the pieces

9. Fiala, Joseph - Duo Konzertant in F Major (published by Amadeus) first movement

10. Handel - Acht Stücke (published by Amadeus) NB I have this edition, not clear where the pieces come from, no opus number etc. can’t spot any of them on youtube.

11. Heiss, John - Five Pieces (published by Southern) YouTube

12. Hofmann, Leopold - Divertimento (published by Amadeus) YouTube

13. Jevtic, Ivan - Musica per Due (published by LeDuc) YouTube

14. Tann, Hilary - Llef (published by Oxford University Press) YouTube loving the haunting sound of this.

15. Uebayashi, Yuko - Suite for Flute and Cello YouTube

16. Vali, Reza - Folk Songs (set No 9, published by MMB Music, Inc.) YouTube Fascinating but way beyond amateur standard.

17. Villa-Lobos - Assobio a Jato (Jet Whistle) One of many recordings available on YouTube

18. Whiteman, Lauren - Six Haiku (published by ALRY) a selection

Flautist Martha Long and cellist Marilyn de Oliveira performing Folk Songs Set No. 9 by Reza Vali. A still from this YouTube video

Saturday, June 26, 2021

delta taking off

With July and the rescheduled re-opening of everything in the UK approaching, let's do some back-of-the envelope calculations again to see what may happen in July and August, seeing that the UK govt. seems to think the vaccination programme is a magical solution to everything, including the exponential spread of the delta variant.

As per today's figures, there have been 32.2 million second doses, meaning that in two weeks time, when those second doses have all done their magic, there will still be 34.6 million people not completely protected. Some will be partially protected by a first dose, but, on the other hand, in some 10% of the doubly-vaccinated people the protection won't work, so let's assume these two imperfections cancel out and we will have 34.6 million unprotected people on Saturday July 10th (which happens to be the day before some football game planned to take place in Wembley Stadium).

Cases are currently increasing at more than 50% per week - earlier this month the figure had peaked at 66% and dipped to 31%, so 50% is a good midpoint between these extremes and easy to calculate. Going up by factor 1.5 each week means factor 2.25 in two weeks, so a doubling time of less than two weeks.

As per today's govt. figures, there were 98,460 new cases in the last 7 days, which gives us 14,065 for our 7-day rolling average of daily cases. Times 2.25 makes 31,650 new cases on the Saturday before the final.

Let's carry on in 2-week steps assuming (generously) 200,000 second doses are given every single day (2.8. million in two weeks):

24. 7. 71,208 daily cases, 31.8 million still unprotected.

7.8. 160,217 daily cases, 29 million still unprotected

21.8. 360,490 daily cases, 26,2 million still unprotected

4.9. 811.100 daily cases, 23.4 million still unprotected

18.9. ? 1.82 million daily cases, 20.6 million still unprotected

OK, so that last step in September is the one where I'm reasonably optimistic that it won't happen - with more than 2/3 of the population protected, the virus won't find another 1.8 million susceptible people it can infect. Especially because millions will already have had it. But before that, I wouldn't bet against the delta variant or expect any miracles from the vaccines.

Hundreds of thousands of cases in late August appear possible, and even with the mortality reduced to 1/1000 thanks to the vaccine protecting most of the previously vulnerable groups, this translates to hundreds of daily deaths. As we had in January, and last year in the first wave.

I made an assumption that may prove to be too optimistic, namely that the vaccine remains as effective as it is now. Letting the virus run free while conducting mass vaccinations against it is essentially an experiment in virus evolution. Given hundreds of thousands of opportunities to mutate, it may very well find a way around the vaccine. And then we will be back to square one. (It doesn't have to become completely resistant, even if it reduces vaccine protection from 90% to 45% we're facing a major disaster.)

To me the lesson is you shouldn't try to race an exponential function, unless you have exponentially growing power yourself, which would be unlikely. You need to catch and confine it while the case numbers are manageable, which the govt has failed to do for the third time in 18 months. As I was writing this post, the health secretary has handed in his resignation, but not for dismally failing to protect the health of the population.

first checkpoint 10.7.: I predicted 31,650 new cases for today. The 7-day rolling average falls a bit short with 30504, but the daily figure is above the prediction, with 32367. Second doses haven't come close to the 200k per day rate I assumed, so protection is generally less than anticipated.

Monday, June 21, 2021

mRNA therapies coming soon

One of the major changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic is that it lifted medical applications of RNA out of obscurity and to global stardom. Just imagine, trying to promote an mRNA in a lipid nanovesicle as a therapeutic in December 2019. You would have had to work very hard to persuade people that it's probably safe and might actually work. Now you can just point to the mindboggling fact that hundreds of millions of people have received vaccines based on this principle - within six months.

Given that all the experts in the field are currently either busy developing new products or already counting their billions, I went through the back catalogue of RNA therapeutics that were in development before Covid happened, on the assumption that these will now find it much easier to find funding and get approval and actually reach the market.

My feature on those other, non-Covid medical applications of RNA is out now:

The renaissance of RNA therapies

Current Biology Volume 31, issue 12, pages R763-R765, June 21, 2021

access to full text and PDF download
This is currently on open access as part of the general Covid-19 info policy from Cell Press. Should that change, it will become open access again one year after publication

Any problems with the link above, try the:

Magic link for free access
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mRNA researcher at the German company BioNTech, which in collaboration with Pfizer brought the first mRNA vaccine to regulatory approval. The company also develops treatments for cancer and other diseases based on mRNA. (Photo: © BioNTech SE 2021, all rights reserved.)

Saturday, June 19, 2021

sous le kiosque a musique

Ce qu'on peut rigoler
Par les beaux soirs d'été
Sous le kiosque à musique
On entend l'orphéon
Les tambours les clairons
La fanfare et la clique

I'm regularly using Oxford's only bandstand this plague year summer, both for chamber music and for folk sessions, so I am often reminded of one of my favourite French songs, an ancient one from the 1930s, which gently mocks the culture of widespread amateur / semi-professional music making for which these structures were built. I'm loving all the attention-grabbing flourishes and fanfares in the melody which are obviously a parody of the type of light music you might have heard at a bandstand on a summer evening in the early 20th century. Now that this culture has gone the way of the dinosaurs (along with the ophicleide mentioned in the text) and bandstands are mostly silent, I wonder what the authors of the song might have to say about it.

I've known the song since forever in the version performed by Georges Brassens (1921-1981) in a radio programme dedicated to the popular music of his youth: Georges Brassens chante les chansons de sa jeunesse (also available as CD).

Looking it up right now, there seems to be a general block in place forbidding users in the UK to access this recording. If you're outside the UK, you may be lucky to be able to listen to it on Soundcloud here.

I never knew the original version, only now I unearthed this one from jazz band leader Ray Ventura (1908-1979) which I'm assuming must be the version Brassens heard in his youth.

The only modern cover I've found is this one, which looks like a music teacher made it for kids, but it does have rolling lyrics, so if you want to learn the song it's a good resource (there are also chords provided here). According to this video, the composer is Marc Lanjean, and the lyrics are by Maurice Vandair.

Lyrics are also here (wrongly attributed to Brassens).

I've poked the very amazing Pomplamoose via twitter, I think they should definitely cover this.

Not our local bandstand, but one I saw at Romsey on a day trip earlier this year.

There is also a lovely flickr group called Bandstands Worldwide where you'll find some amazing structures (loving this one in Hove) as well as the occasional contribution from me.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Neumühl 1923

A mysterious photo from my inlaw family - there is no memory of anybody in the family ever having played a musical instrument, but then there is also this photo with the name of a great-uncle on the back (Friedrich Kosmowsky, sometimes also spelled Kosmowski), and the place name Neumühl, which is now a district of Duisburg. Several of Friedrich's relatives came to nearby Hamborn in 1922. To add to the confusion there was also a place called Neumühl in the area of Eastern Prussia where they came from (Kreis Wehlau), also very close those who didn't move west in 1922. This one is now part of Kostromino in the district of Kaliningrad. It could be either - although given that the Hamborn relatives didn't know anything about musical adventures, I am inclined to think they happened in Eastern Prussia.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

brother Klundt

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote up what I knew about the descendents of my ancestors Johannes Klundt and Eva Hust, who had emigrated to the Black Sea (today’s Ukraine) with their youngest children, while the oldest son, Johann Jacob Klundt (1782-1853; my four-times-great-grandfather) stayed in Germany.

The post has created a lot of interest (as well as inspiring a master dissertation from the young historian in the family) and most recently, two readers have been able to fill me in on the descendants of the youngest son, Georg Michael Klundt (1805-after 1866), about whom I knew nothing back then. It turns out his son became famous as a founder of the Baptist community in Bulgaria, but let’s start from the beginning again, from the migrating couple, and the new village of Rohrbach where they settled.

I found the historic report of school master Fritschle (an English translation available here) who taught at the village school in 1848 and wrote a detailed account of its history with its ups and downs. It started in 1809 with 26 families, and another 69 families arrived in 1810. Another arrival of five families brought the number to 100 families with 475 individuals. There were numerous Fritschle individuals among the settler families, so the schoolmaster definitely came from within that community, but I don't know his first name and haven't been able to identify him in the databases.

Fritschle noted that this happened under the authority of the governor “Rischileu”. I recently learned from Neal Ascherson's excellent book Black Sea that the city of Odessa, founded around the same time, was essentially run by French nobility that escaped the French Revolution. So this governor was Armand-Emmanuel Sophie Septimanie de Vignerot du Plessis, the 5th Duke of Richelieu and Fronsac (1766 –1822) who later returned to France to serve in the restored monarchy.

In 1810, my relatives at Rohrbach accounted for two households with nine individuals:

Founder family: Johannes Klundt, 51; Eva Katharina Hust, 48; Eva Catharina, 18; Heinrich, 13; Johann Michael, 9; Georg Michael, 5.

First generation family: Wilhelm Klundt, 25; Ottilia Golum, ca. 22; Jakob, 3

Fritschle notes that the Russian government paid for a stone-built house for every family. All other necessities such as farming equipment, seeds, animals and food were provided on a credit basis.

According to Fritschle, the colony failed to thrive in the first 18 years, because the colonists were lacking the relevant skills and/or work ethic, and for most of the time, the village didn’t have a pastor to instil the fear of God in its residents. Pastorn Elias Hübner was appointed in 1812, but died after less than two years in the job.

In 1824, the pastor Johannes Bonekemper (1795-1857) was appointed as pastor for both Rohrbach and the neighbouring colony of Worms (7km away). Bonekemper was of Reformed protestant faith, but was also tasked with offering Lutheran services. Also, from 1826, a new schoolmaster arrived, Wilhelm Eberhard, who taught until 1843 and is credited with a change of culture.

Bonekemper spread the “Erbauungsstunde” idea (a daily hour of spiritual recollection) around the Southern parts of Russia, creating what became the “Stundist” movement. A more extensive account of his role in the Reformed faith is here, scroll down to the subheading "Life in Russia". By 1847, the spiritual fervour of Bonekemper's followers got out of hand to an extent that authorities persuaded him to move on which he did in 1848. Schoolmaster Fritschle, by contrast, created the impression that Bonekemper resigned voluntarily and praised the spiritual renewal he achieved: "The blessings of his 24-years' work with us will long be remembered." Bonekemper was intending to emigrate to the USA, but didn't make it.

In the early 1840s, seven families from Rohrbach, including Georg Michael Klundt and his wife Elisabeth Feiock (* 1817 Rohrbach) moved to the new colony Neu-Danzig and took the stundist idea there. They had married in 1836 and had three children, including Margaretha (1837), Jakob (1839) and Barbara (1841). They may have had additional children in Neu Danzig, possibly including Beatha Klundt.

By 1840, the founder couple Johannes Klundt and Eva Hust had died, but all their children had families, with up to eight children. In stark contrast to the school master's moans about the colony’s initial lack of economic success, this family was thriving rather nicely, as judged by survival rates. Not counting the descendants they left behind in Germany, the founders had at least 19 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren.

In 1864, the Klundts in Neu Danzig became Baptists, which was a growing but illegal faith in Russia. In 1866, Jakob and his young family fled to Katalui, in the Danube delta, which was then a German colony under Osman rule, now known as Cataloi, Romania. This wider area on the West Coast of the Black Sea is called Dobruja, and the German settlers were known as the Dobrujan Germans. Georg Michael followed them and died there after 1866. The above-mentioned Beatha Klundt and her husband Johann Wilhelm Graf also moved there. Their first three children were born in Neu-Danzig in 1862-1865, but the fourth was born in Cataloi in 1867.

Jakob started a Baptist community in Katalui, which appears to have been so successful that he was hired by the British and Foreign Bible Society as a Bible colporteur for Bulgaria and part of Macedonia and Albania in 1872. For eight years he worked and traveled from Albania, but dangers and difficulties he faced there led him to move his base to Bulgaria.

From 1880 and for the rest of his life his base was in Lompalanka, now Lom, Bulgaria, and any history of Baptism in Bulgaria includes his biography (see eg here) and sometimes even a portrait (see below). His name in Bulgarian looks like this: яковъ клундтъ (in case anybody wants to dive into Bulgarian sources). Accounts mention his wife Regina as an active participant in the Baptist community, but don’t mention his descendants by name. He did have a son in law who later took over his role as pastor in Lom, so at least one daughter survived. We believe that no sons survived to adult age.

Jakob died on March 28, 1921, in Kazanlak, Bulgaria, where he was staying with his son in law (the obituary does not mention his daughter at this point, not sure if she was still alive).

Of Jakob’s sisters, we know nothing about Margaretha beyond her date of birth, but his younger sister Barbara married Philipp Krause and had five children. Only Barbara Krause (* 1864 in the Black Sea colony of Worms) survived to adulthood, she married Johann Brandner, emigrated to South Dakota (as many other descendants in her generation did too) and had 14 children.

Portrait of Jakob Klundt which appeared with his obituary in The EVANGELIST, Organ of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Bulgaria, editor: Rev. V. Tachtadjieff, Tchirpan.

Special thanks to Mihai, whose comment under the original Klundt Clan post already contained a lot of information about Jakob Klundt and set further investigations and contacts rolling.

Monday, June 07, 2021

giraffe genomes

I tend to write about species that are underappreciated, eg because they are living underground or in the deep sea or because they are invisibly small. Every once in a while, however, I also cover the big beasts that everybody knows from their local zoo or wildlife park. So this week it's the debut appearance in my writing of the mighty giraffe. I had noticed a paper on its collective behaviour, as well as one on genomics explaining its extreme adaptations, and then it turned out Current Biology had another one in the pipeline with more giraffe genomes.

So here goes, the questions you were asking on your first visit to a zoo, can finally be answered:

Survival of the tallest

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 11, 07 June 2021, Pages R697-R699

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(will become open access again one year after publication)

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Giraffe mothers with calves are more often seen near human settlements, presumably due to the lower risk of predation from lions and hyenas. (Photo: 12019/Pixabay.)

Thursday, June 03, 2021

delta rising

It is fairly obvious now that the delta variant (formerly known as B.1.617.2, first identified in India) is out of control in the UK, as the week-on-week increase in case numbers has been accelerating dramatically over the last 10 days.

Week-on-week rise in new cases, last 12 days, according to the govt. data site:
24.5. + 17.0 %
25.5. + 18.0 %
26.5. + 18.0 %
27.5. + 20.5 %
28.5. + 24.0 %
29.5. + 23.3 %
30.5. + 26.8 %
31.5. + 28.8 %
1.6. + 31.9 %
2.6. + 34.7 %
3.6. + 38.9 %

To unpack those data: any positive percentage means new cases in the last seven days are higher than they were in the previous seven days. A constant percentage means an exponential rise, but at around 20% per week, it would only double in four weeks or so, so if the figure stayed at 20% it would be nothing to panic about.

What really worries me is that the percentages are increasing, and even this increase seems to be getting faster. From Tue to Wed it was 4.2 percentage points more, a jump of a size we haven't seen recently. The likely explanation is that it started in a few clusters, but as these clusters haven't been containe, it's gaining more and more territory to spread in. If this trend holds up we will end up with a doubling time well under a week before the month is out, and then we're in trouble. Even if many of the most vulnerable people are vaccinated, the extra risks that they are likely to take because they feel safe after being vaccinated may well compensate part of the gain. The other part may be wiped out by the Delta variant being more agressive than the original version. Early data suggests it may well be, see today's report in the Guardian.

Hospital admissions are also on the way up, while deaths have just begun to rise again after Monday's minimum of 43 deaths in the last 7 days. Today this fitgure is 54. As cases have been rising for more than two weeks now, I am guessing that this was the turning point and deaths are also creeping up again.

I really don't think the lifting of all regulations can go ahead on June 21 as scheduled, and if it does we're bound to have a rather murderous summer which could rival the previous waves not just in cases but even in hospitalisations and deaths. There are always people unprotected, and an epidemic running out of control will eventually find them.

The other big covid news in the UK is that Portugal has been removed from the green list, which means people returning from there are not exempt from quarantine. This is of course a distraction. As we have a Variant of Concern spreading out of control in the UK, nobody should have been allowed to travel to Portugal in the first place, especially not those footballers who could have just sas well played their game in Wembley.

Update 6.6.: the last three days have continued the trend shown above. If anything, the percentages are rising faster ...
4.6. + 39.8 %
5.6. + 46.2 %
6.6. + 49.0 %

Meanwhile, clusters of Delta are also beginning to pop up in France ...

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

jigging into summer

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 16th month

As I write this, it is becoming clear that the govt. has lost control over the spread of Covid for the third time, so if they continue to eff up things like this, I'm still in with a chance to get through a considerable part of the Bach suites.

In May, I memorised what was missing from the Courante in G, and promoted it to metronome work - although it's rhythmically very simple, it still needs speeding up considerably. It's a running dance, and I'm still sleepwalking. I also consolidated the minuets in D major and D minor to an extent that I can play them as a unit as they are meant to be played.

In June, I am aiming to memorise the second half of the Gigue in D minor, and also do more park "performances" (if people around politely ignore me that's good enough). May was very rainy, so not much luck with playing cello in the park, but at least the Wednesdays were ok for Cowley Orchestra, which in very much reduced formation played some chamber music on three evenings this month. And accidental audiences were very appreciative - many will not have seen any actual humans playing actual musical instruments in more than a year!

So after 15 months with 420 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 424 bars memorised, my list now looks like this:

1) movements I've studied for a month, then put aside for now
1.1. Prelude
1.2 Allemande

2) movements memorised in a significant part
2.6 Gigue (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.3 Courante
2.4 Sarabande
2.5 Minuet I&II
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.4 Sarabande

5) movements recorded on video and also performed in public
1.5 Minuet I&II- VIDEO
1.6 Gigue
(ooops, need to upload the video, watch this space!) 3.5 Bourree I&II - VIDEO

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