Wednesday, March 31, 2021

recording some progress

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 14th month

In March, I managed to memorise the first half of the gigue in D minor (38 bars out of 76) so I'm quite happy with that.

Staying in the 2nd suite, I am now hoping to learn the other minuet, to complete the movement 2.5 which I started in January. See that month's blog entry for the relevant links. I already know the last bar of the D minor minuet, as it ends on an open D chord, and playing that before starting the D major minuet is an enormous help, because the first note fills in the missing F# to switch from minor to major. (This is one atom of Bach which I understood all by myself, so ignore me while I'm gloating about it.)

At the output end of the pipeline, I am now beginning to get some recordings that I am almost happy with, see the first youtube upload. I will list recordings under step 5 below, and possibly replace them if and when I manage to get a less embarrassing one of the same movement. Also hoping to get some outdoors videos, see if the birds would like to sing along ...

So after 13 months with 360 practice days, 12 movements studied, and 385 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
1.3 Courante (2/3)
2.5 Minuet I&II (1/2)
2.6 Gigue (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
2.4 Sarabande
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.5 Minuet I&II

5) movements recorded on video
3.5 Bourree I&II - here's the VIDEO

I may have snapped this one accidentally while trying to set up the camera for a video, but then I decided I kind of liked it.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

greetings from Adamsweiler

As I've been obsessing about old postcards for my #lostcities recently, I remembered this little treasure which isn't really from a city, but a village in Alsace, but it has the bonus feature of showing seven members of my family.

If you look at the picture of the railway station on the right:

you see from left to right, my great-great-grandparents, their five daughters - my great-grandmother being the youngest of the quintet, she's probably the last one in the line, followed by the station staff. The photo dates from 1900, which is the year the first of the daughters married.

So that is
Christoph Gottlieb Kauer (1845-1909)(see the brand new Kauer clan entry for his extended family)
Margaretha Imig (1847-1930) (see the Imig Clan entry for her extended family including dates and descendants for her daughters)

I have a half-finished book about the station master's family in the drawer, one day I'll have to dig that up and make it presentable. Among the interesting issues to be discussed in this oontext is how the dramatic expansion of the railways brought both social mobility and geographic movements. The parents in this family both hailed from small town Simmern, both from modest craftsmen families, and CG Kauer would normally have become a cobbler like his dad. As a young recruit, he was severely injured in the war of 1870 and the railway career was kind of the consolation prize he got for that.

PS The village is now called Adamswiller, and has a population of just under 400 (in 1900 it was 313 including the 7 people named above). I can't find any other postcards from that time online, if anybody has any I'd be interested to see them.

The station was still standing when I visited in the 1990s, and here is a picture of it that looks more recent. Hoping it does survive still.

STOP PRESS: I've now created a new flickr album for all things family history related.

New series: Every picture tells a story

Update 15.10.2021: The railway families master post is now online.

Update 27.9.2022: A new book on the history of Alsace-Lorraine railways has come out last November:
Jean Buchmann / Jean-Marc Dupuy / Andreas Knipping / Hans-Jürgen Wenzel
Eisenbahngeschichte Elsass-Lothringen
264 Seiten mit 417 Abbildungen
210 x 297 mm
ISBN: 978-3-8446-6429-4
Artikel-Nr.:6429 [2021]
I've had a look at it when I saw it at a railway station - it covers the entire history both under German and French administration, so there is only a limited amount of detail on the early days and its small stations. There are a few photos of small stations, including, I think, Bitsch, but sadly not Adamsweiler.

Friday, March 26, 2021

a city rising from the ashes

#lostcities episode 10: Würzburg

Finally, to the city that left a hole in my heart when I was transplanted to the sticks, but there is a happy ending of sorts in that two of my children went there to study (for reasons unrelated to previous family history), so I have had plenty of opportunities to revisit in the 2010s (see eg this Flickr album or the relevant tag).

Würzburg, located on the river Main upstream of Frankfurt, was comprehensively reduced to rubble in WW II (see this aerial view from 1948), but much of it reconstructed sympathetically, so today you wouldn’t guess that it has arisen from the ashes. When my parents arrived there in October 1961, there were still ruins in every street. After a stay in a nearby village, they managed to rent a couple of rooms in Neubaustraße 8, half way between the eponymous church and the river Main. We had to swap those rooms for the attic in the same building at some point, which was probably illegal but very romantic (at least in my imagination).

The medieval fortifications of Würzburg, today presenting as a green belt, describe a semicircle closed off by the river, and Neubaustraße is just a couple of hundred metres off the bisecting radius that runs from the cathedral to the medieval bridge. Looking across the river, the vista from this street points straight at the Marienberg fortress on the hill opposite the old town. (Conversely, this photo shows the view from the fortress down into Neubaustraße.) I went to nursery in a small side road nearby, I learned to walk in the parks of the baroque palace (Residenz), just beyond the inland end of the Neubaustraße. I may not have appreciated it as a toddler, but the presumed grave of Walther von der Vogelweide (ca. 1170 - ca. 1230) is also in the neighbourhood, in the Lusamgärtchen behind Neubaukirche.

By the end of 1968, we all washed up in the middle of nowhere, at which point my great-grandmother at Bad Nauheim was the last city resident standing among my direct ancestors.

PS: A day after I posted this, Twitter flagged up the birthday of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (27.3.1845), who of course discovered X rays at Würzburg, in a laboratory on the northern side of the old town, where the street name Röntgenring as well a small museum and a memorial sculpture today remind us of the fact. Back in the 1960s, the University's chemistry labs, where I toddled about between open drains carrying flammable solvents (maybe accounts have been exaggerated a bit to scare me), were still located on Röntgenring. Soon after, they moved to the new campus on Hubland, a high plateau just south of the city centre. Right now, I hear chemistry is again planning a move to new buildings.

Würzburg 1960

#lostcities series so far:

  1. Elberfeld / Wuppertal 1919 - 1961
  2. Strasbourg 1901 - 1908
  3. Minden 1903 - 1952
  4. Tangermünde 1888 - 1916
  5. Rheydt 1923 - 1935
  6. Königsberg 1935 - 1945
  7. Aachen 1936 - 1940
  8. Idar-Oberstein 1940 - 1962
  9. Bad Nauheim 1945 - 1972
  10. Würzburg 1961 - 1968

Stay tuned, as I still have a bonus episode in reserve.

Monday, March 22, 2021

watch your wastewater

During this pandemic I kept hearing about the great work researchers are doing detecting SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater as an early warning of coming waves and new variants up to two weeks before the relevant patients show up in hospitals. From the politicians, at least in this country, we have warnings only two weeks after the hospitals begin to fill up, and measures are generally taken several weeks too late, making the problem worse.

So I had a look around at what is being done in the wastewater epidemiology of Covid-19, and how in some countries it informs the political measures, while in some others it clearly doesn't, even though the methodology and the data are available. Still not clear why some people don't want to heed the warnings when they arrive well in time to allow them to adapt, but it is kind of reassuring that there are very clear lessons here to be learned for the next outbreak of a zoonotic disease. Reading the warnings from wastewater, we can stop the next pandemic from happening. Might require different political leadership, however, at least in some countries I can think of.

As part of the special treatment for Covid related information, my feature has been available as an open access preprint for the last two weeks, but today it is officially out in the proper format, and still on open access:

Wastewater warnings

Current Biology Volume 31, issue 06, pages R267-R269, March 22, 2021

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Samples taken from the raw sewage entering water treatment plants can be used to monitor the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The image shows aeration tanks at a water treatment plant in Upper Providence, Pennsylvania, USA. (Photo: Montgomery County Planning Commission/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

Saturday, March 20, 2021

a not so brief introduction

Once upon a time there was a book called Astrobiology - a brief introduction, which came out in 2006, and then in a second fully revised edition in 2011.

Now it's taken a bit longer, and a lot of things have happened out in space and here on Earth, but later this year we will have a third edition. We've spent the whole month of February checking the page proofs and preparing the index, so the book is now "in press" as far as I'm concerned. While the cover kept the basic layout, it now has a fresh new photo, and the other change you may notice is that the word "brief" has disappeared. Must be something to do with the fact that the book including index now has over 400 pages. Not quite so brief now. (Oh, and I am told the hardback will now also benefit from the lovely cover design. In the first two editions, the hardback was produced as a plain black "library edition", but I hear that policy has been dropped now.)

Further details to follow, I just wanted to share the lovely new cover at this stage:

Update 25.3.: details are now on the publisher's website, including:

Publication Date: 3 Aug 2021
Trim Size: 6" x 9"
Page Count: 416 pages
Illustrations: 37 b/w photos, 72 b/w illus.

Paperback: $34.95
ISBN: 9781421441290

Hardcover: $75.00
ISBN: 9781421441283

E-book: $34.95
ISBN: 9781421441306

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

father and son

some thoughts on

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, mon père
by Jean Renoir
Hachette 1962 / Gallimard 1981
an English translation from 2001 is also available

Back in 2013, the film Renoir was one of the few French movies that still made it to our local independent cinema, and I was lucky to catch it there, and then watched it again when it came out on DVD. It is about the last years in the life of the painter, after the death of his wife, Aline Charigot, in 1915. Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) is stuck in a wheelchair and barely able to move his hands, two of his sons get injured in the war, but he creates some of his most vibrant and life-affirming art.

By the time I started looking at paintings, the impressionists had become mainstream to the point of commercial overload, so I’ve never been a huge fan these works although I don’t mind seeing them every once in a while. The film, however, made me appreciate Renoir a bit more and as a result I picked up a few books about him at various charity shops and antiques fairs, including the memoir by his middle son, the film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979). The idea of the changing of the guard in visual arts, one of the first great film makers writing about one of the last impressionists to remain active in the 20th century, intrigued me so I actually read the book, assisted by the other volumes to look up paintings mentioned and consult timelines.

The biography is based on conversations Jean Renoir had with his father in the last year of his life, as well as with his long-serving model Gabrielle Renard (1878-1959) and other surviving witnesses. As the age gap between father and son is more than half a century, his own recollections only become useful towards the end of the story.

It is organised broadly chronologically, although the author tends to digress on thematic excursions, and covers a staggering range of historical change. From his childhood in the 1840s, Renoir remembered an old man who visited his parents regularly and happily shared memories of how he helped operating the guillotines in the French Revolution. Renoir’s family moved to Paris before it was completely reshaped by Haussmann in the 1850s, he experienced the restored monarchy and as he lived in the Tuileries, he played under the windows of the actual queen. Like some of the other impressionists, he lived and worked in Montmartre when it was still a village with wooden shacks, long before Sacré Coeur was built.

The complete rejection of the impressionists by critics, public and art officialdom in the 1870s is a well-trodden story but always fun to read. Apart from having fun with quoting from the hilarious reviews of the first exhibitions (one of which gave us the word “impressionists” for the artists who had called themselves “les intransigeants” initially), he highlights the occasions when French institutions like the Louvre wouldn’t even take the paintings for free, resulting in many of them winding up in North America. For instance, the painter and collector Gustave Caillebotte died in 1894 leaving his vast collection to the state and installing Renoir to execute his will. Initially the Louvre (as the official repository of the state’s art collection) didn’t want to be bothered with any of it. Three years later, they saw sense and accepted a part of the collection. Not sure if anybody has calculated what the Caillebotte collection would be worth today – I suspect you’d have to be very good in calculating with trillions and such like.

Renoir, who famously identified as a craftsman rather than an artist and considered the word intellectual an insult, comes across as an interestingly complex mixture of old-fashioned and revolutionary, which is part of the force field that keeps this book interesting, even though it isn’t the most organised biography ever written. That and the chance to meet the people you already know from those famous paintings. In another very famous French movie, Amélie, there’s the painter who copies Renoir’s Déjeuner des canotiers (1881) over and over again. Jean Renoir describes the setting and can identify most of the participants, mostly faithful friends of the painter. The woman at the front left, playing with a little dog, is Aline, the author’s mother. When we see these pictures in museums or on countless wall calendars, they are just paintings – but for Jean Renoir and the rest of the family they were life.

Oh, and I'll just have to watch the movie a third time, now I know the family so much better.

Monday, March 08, 2021

save the vaquita

There have been quite a few features about Homo sapiens recently(Covid, conspiracies, pollution and such like), so I was keen to get back to some endangered animals, and a faithful reader from Mexico suggested to look at their local endangered cetacean, the vaquita porpoise. It so happened that the vaquita just had a high quality genome sequence out, which led to the surprising conclusion that the species, although reduced to a population of fewer than 20 individuals, doesn't have any genetic problems. The only thing that has to happen is that the illegal fishing (for other species, but killing vaquitas as they're the same size) needs to stop.

Adding to that, I also looked at other genome and genetic diversity data of other cetacean species, to see how they're coping these days, including humpback whales recovering after a close brush with extinction.

The resulting feature is out now:

Cetaceans balancing on the brink

Current Biology Volume 31, Issue 5, 8 March 2021, Pages R215-R218

FREE access to full text and PDF download

(see also my twitter thread with all 2021 features in the open archives)

The vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is the most endangered cetacean, but a genome study suggests that it may still recover if the threat of gillnet fishing is removed. (Photo: Paula Olson/NOAA.)

Monday, March 01, 2021

jigging into spring

Plague Year(s) Bach Project, 13th month

I enjoyed learning the Sarabande in D minor in February, which was a perfect match as the piece has 28 bars, so I've been able to stick to my established speed of memorising a bar per day (skipping some of the troublesome chords which I can always fit in later). I do feel the sadness and the strength in that one.

Staying in the second suite, I'm now tackling the gigue, which has a few bars more, so I might end up with another fractionally memorised movement, let's see how it goes.

Some helpful links:

I'm starting with Inbal Segev's musings, as always, and I found a few recordings of the whole D minor suite, (with timestamps for the gigue in the link to take you there directly) from:
Ariana Kashefi
Eva Lymenstull
Misha Maisky
Laurens Price-Nowak

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

After 12 months with 329 practice days and 347 bars memorised, the list now looks like this (parts 2 upwards make up my revision rota, with the two most recently learned movements being revised on alternating days, and the others in a separate cycle):

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
1.3 Courante (2/3)
2.5 Minuet I&II (1/2)
3.4 Sarabande (1/3)

3) movements memorised in their entirety
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
2.4 Sarabande
3.6. Gigue

4) movements memorised and synchronised with metronome
1.5 Minuet I&II
3.5 Bourree I&II

5) watch this space ...

... like a briiiiiidge over troublllllled water ...