PatchChords: The Death Of Antony, Or The Death Of Handel


Imagine a world without performances of The Messiah, Samson, Jephta, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. It might have come to pass, were it not for the fortuitous outcome of one deadly duel in 1704.

Instrumentalist, composer, teacher and singer, Johann Mattheson, at age 22, was a fast friend of George Frideric Handel, although, by this time, a certain air of jealous rivalry had developed between them, owing to a long series of circumstances.

Their rivalry came to a head when Mattheson's opera, Cleopatra, premiered in December of 1704. Mattheson himself sang the role of "Antony", and Handel, stepping into the breach when the original conductor proved unavailable, lead the orchestra while seated at the harpsichord. Eventually, Mattheson played his character's glorious death on the stage and then moved over to the orchestra, where it was planned that Handel would yield his seat and conducting duties to Mattheson.

But Handel, his long-simmering jealous resentment boiling over, refused to budge.

Soon, blows were exchanged (to the delight of the audience, no doubt), and the two men took their argument outside, where they faced each other with drawn swords, each of them ready to skewer the other and settle their jealous feud once and for all.

And then…

As Handel's biographer, John Mainwaring wrote, "Mattheson made a push at him with a sword, which, being aimed full at his heart, would for ever have removed him from the office he had usurped, but for the friendly score which he accidentally carried in his bosom; and through which to have forced it, would have demanded all the might of Ajax himself". Another account of the incident suggests that Mattheson's sword hit one of Handel's large brass buttons and was snagged on it.

Standing outside the opera house, the two men ended up laughing and reconciling, and a friendship was restored, not to mention a musical life saved.

And it was all a matter of inches.

More, at the Library, about Handel

Reading Recommendations from the Depths – Installment Numero Cuatro

We have heard that the weather will be especially nice for the last week of August 2017, with pleasant temperatures, sunshine, and low humidity. Alas, fresh air and sunlight is not in the cards for your humble correspondent down in the depths of the library, but he has discovered for you a number of clever titles that have arrived in the latest shipment of books. These five books are kind of a hodge-podge as they don’t really have much in common other than the titles struck me as fairly amusing, but they seem like they might make good reads for the closing days of summer.


First up is Can It & Ferment It: more than 75 satisfying small-batch canning and fermentation recipes for the whole year. Both experienced canners and rank beginners will find good advice in this book, with over 75 all-season recipes for among other things, chutneys, kimchi, and even pickles. From reading the description of this book, I have learned that canners and fermenters are sometimes at  odds with each other. Author Stephanie Thurow attempts to bring them together with advice and recipes that will work for both parties. I must confess that the only canner I really know is Chef Boyardee, but he doesn’t seem to make an appearance in this book.

What would you do if you were a former British Royal Marine who found himself adrift in life feeling bored and disillusioned? If that were me I would probably just try to watch a funny movie on TV or get an ice cream cone. However, if you were Mick Dawson you might try to get together with one of your best mates and attempt to row across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco. Lest you think that this was a spur of the moment decision, you should know that Dawson had already twice(!) rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and had also twice made gallant, but unsuccessful, efforts to row solo across the Pacific. Dawson’s new memoir Battling the Oceans in a Rowboat tells the dramatic story of the effort Mick Dawson and his friend Chris Martin made. Did they make it? We’ll let you read the book in order to find out, but suffice to say it’s one exciting story.

I’ll have to admit that I am a fan of cats. So, when I spot a book cover that has a picture with no less than three cats on the cover, I know that I am in the presence of some great literature. Thus I bring to your attention Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. This is the 20th book in the Joe Grey mystery series. Joe Grey, if you have not met him before, is a cat living in the small California coastal town of Molena Point. While Joe may seem like an average, everyday cat, he does have a special talent. He’s great at helping to solve mysteries. Many times he’s better at it than the local Molena Point police. Since Joe does not speak English, he has to make his sleuthing skills visible in other clever ways. In this book, Joe has just become a father to three rambunctious kittens. When Joe stumbles upon a murder in a local hair salon he doesn’t realize his kids are following him inside, and this puts them in great danger. Can Joe, along with his lady cat friend, Dulcie, solve the mystery while protecting his kittens from grave danger? The book will tell you! I’ll add that I generally believe that all cats shine bright. The only exception would have to be the cat my best friend in elementary school had. The only person that cat liked was my friend’s mother. Everyone else, he would hiss at and try to scratch. What he was angry at all the time I’ll never know. He would always hang out in my friend’s basement where we would all want to go to play and he made playtime miserable for everyone. I’ll have to admit that cat was one nasty critter.

I also noticed All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco. This book only has one cat on the cover, but it still seems like  a fun read. The second title in the Zodiac Mystery series,  the first being The Madness of Mercury. San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti sees ominous signs in the stars for her friend Geneva Leary’s upcoming wedding day. But Julia is a bridesmaid and she doesn’t want to ruin her friend’s special day. Julia never expected murder though. Can Julia’s astrological skills help her uncover some dark Leary family secrets and perhaps catch a killer?

To end my report I do want to say that I hope that the last title on my recommendations list does not portend the future. It’s an event that would really ruin Labor Day weekend. But I must mention the Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter. This is an officially authorized sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. The action in Baxter’s book takes place 14 years after the events in Wells’ book. Everyone thinks that the Martians have been beaten and the world has moved on. But what if the first Martian invasion was only a practice run? What if the Martians have learned from their mistakes and this time they are coming back to get the job done right? People who recognize the true Martian danger are few and far between, and mostly ignored or laughed at. But, Walter Jenkins, the original narrator of Well’s book, is one of those few. He knows how much trouble Earth and mankind is in, and he is racing to make sure everyone else learns the truth fast.

A Book I Like – A Total Eclipse of My Heart

American Eclipse by David Baron book cover

I’ve explained in a previous post that I really enjoy reading as a hobby. I do read a lot of books, many of which I enjoy and many of which I believe often do not get the notice they deserve. So, in these posts I plan to tell you about a book I have read that I think some of you might also like. I read mostly fiction, but I do read a wide variety of books that strike my fancy. And also, if we’re being honest, I should admit that I think highly of my own opinion and always want to share it far and wide.

For my first post in this series, I want to report on a very timely book that I just finished reading called American Eclipse : a Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron. Baron’s book is the story of the great 1878 total solar eclipse that was visible across a great swath of the United States, and the quest to show that America was worthy of a place among the great nations of the world for its growing scientific and industrial prowess.

As you may have heard there will be another total solar eclipse that will take place this year on Monday, August 21. Unfortunately, just like in 1878, Long Island is not in the path of totality, which means that we will only see a partial eclipse of the sun. Still it should be a fun show. And of course the Patchogue-Medford Library is planning an Eclipse Extravaganza to celebrate. Our own Martha and Jessica are throwing a big party with arts and crafts, refreshments, and a live video feed from NASA of the total eclipse. It will be held at the Carnegie Library from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM on August 21. Trust me when I say that I have been to library parties that Martha and Jessica have thrown in the past and believe it when I tell you that they know how to throw a party.

David Baron’s book is popular history at its best. I always used to be a person who thought that when it came to American history, that lots of important events happened from colonial days to the Civil War and then again from World War I to the present. In between from say 1865 to 1914, I once believed that not much of historical importance really happened and that the United States was run by a string of forgettable presidents, albeit presidents with great facial hair.


A president with great facial hair.

Over the years I have learned just how false that opinion was, and David Baron’s book is just the latest work to put the nail into that coffin for me. Baron uses the example of the Great Eclipse of 1878 to show just how active the intellectual ferment was in the country at that time. Many European scientist and engineers in their various royal societies looked down on American technological prowess of that era. The Eclipse of 1878 was the chance for America to prove that it could pull its own scientific weight in the world and should belong with the big boys.

Along the way Baron tells stories and anecdotes that illustrate the industrial, scientific, and technical ferment that was consuming the United States and its effort to be taken seriously in the front ranks of the nations of the world. Among other stories, this book tells of the true origin of the gypsy moth plague in the United States, the development of the telegraph and telephone, and of course the cutting edge scientific theory of the time regarding the deleterious effects of railroad travel on women’s reproductive parts. Watch out next time you are on the Long Island Rail Road ladies, because I don’t know if that theory has been officially disproved!

One story I particularly enjoyed was the fight over the telephone greeting. The story is that when Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone, he wanted everyone to use “ahoy” as the greeting whenever you picked up the phone. It was Thomas Edison who championed the now familiar “hello.” I think that’s too bad, as it seems like it would be great fun to shout, “ahoy” every time we answer the phone. Therefore, I propose that the library Board of Trustees take up a motion at their next meeting to adopt “Ahoy! Patchogue-Medford Library here mateys,” as our official phone greeting.

Many colorful characters fill the pages of the book, but Baron focuses on three major ones. The first was James Watson, a somewhat pompous University of Michigan professor and the man considered the leading American astronomer of the time. His quest was to prove that there was an undiscovered planet orbiting between the Sun and Mercury. The elusive planet Vulcan. Then there was Maria Mitchell, a professor of astronomy at Vassar College, which was then a women’s only school. Even though her scientific training and research was first rate, Mitchell and her female students had to struggle to get the respect and recognition their work deserved. They viewed the eclipse of 1878 as their big chance to attain equality, at least for their science. And finally, there is Thomas Edison, the great American inventor. His part in studying the 1878 eclipse was a trip out west to work on the tasimeter, a device used to measure small changes in temperature. Like a good thriller writer, Baron builds his oftentimes suspensful and exciting story by bringing all these major, and quite a few minor characters, together for the big 1878 eclipse viewing in Wyoming, where it could best be viewed.

I guarantee that you don’t have to be an umbraphile to enjoy this book. Anyone who enjoys popular history, the history of science, or wants to learn more about a lesser known period of American history would find American Eclipse well worth reading.

Reading Recommendations from the Depths: the Third Installment

The sultry heat of summer may be dragging us all down, but have no fear as cool new books continue to arrive in the library basement on a regular basis. On those rare occasions when your humble writer makes it up to the ground level and is allowed outside, he often spends his time visiting various exhibitions of art and architecture in the metropolitan area. Thus, I want to report on four new books on art and architecture topics that have caught my eye. Several of these books are commemorating significant anniversaries in the art world that are taking place this year.

Do yourself a favor and head into New York City to the Museum of Modern Art to view the special exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive. Its on view until October 1, so you have plenty of time, even though it seems like the Long Island Railroad may sometimes take until October to get you into Penn Station on an average day. The exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth.  The complete archives of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in Arizona were recently packed up and acquired by Columbia University and the Museum of Modern Art and shipped to New York City. The Wright exhibition includes a small, but completely absorbing selection of the holdings and is divided into 12 sections, each investigating a particular structure or theme in Wright’s work. If you visit the museum, you’re in for a true multimedia feast, as the exhibit features photographs, sketches, drawings and plans, film, pieces of furniture and decorative art, 3D models and more to illustrate different aspects of Wright’s work. The models of Wright’s proposed St. Mark’s apartment tower in New York City and for the Guggenheim Museum are incredible. Our newly acquired book, Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive gives you a great overview of what you can see at the exhibition and some more details on Wright’s creative process.

In my opinion Frank Lloyd Wright probably was a genius, but he certainly had a big ego and was quite the showman.  Late in life he spontaneously decided to call a news conference to propose an actual mile high skyscraper to be built in Chicago. Did anyone actually ask for such a building? Was there any way a building like that could have been built at the time? Did anyone have the money to pay for it? The answer to all these questions is no, but that didn’t stop Wright from showing off his vision of what he thought the world should need.

For the revitalization of downtown Pittsburgh he proposed a giant, spiral, ziggurat-like structure that would have included a football stadium, a basketball arena, an opera house and theater among other wonders. To access these attractions you would have driven up a giant spiral ramp on the outside of the ziggurat that would have totaled over 4.5 miles in length. If you got tired of driving you could stop at any one of a number of shops, restaurants, and even a hotel on the way to the top. Incredible!

You can see drawings and plans for both projects at the exhibit. As great as the current exhibition is, I hope that some day they build a museum in New York City just to show off more of Frank Lloyd Wright’s archive. It’s really an amazing glimpse into one of the most fascinating figures in American architectural history.

Here’s a few pictures I took at the exhibition…

Drawing of proposed downtown Pittsburgh development by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Model of proposed St. Mark’s Tower for New York City by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Sketch of the interior of the Dana House in Springfield, Illinois by Frank Lloyd Wright.


100 Years, 100 Buildings is architecture critic John Hill’s choice of the most significant and consequential architectural work for each year from 1916 to 2015. One building is chosen per year. There has been a lot of good modern architecture built over the last century and there are many fascinating examples in this book. You will see many world-famous structures, as well as many lesser known works. Some are quite beautiful, others perhaps not, but that is probably a matter of individual taste. Take a look at some of the entries and judge for yourself. A timeline in the back of the book lists Hill’s other nominees for “building of the year.” Each entry includes at least one color photo and a full page description of the building.

You can see three of the profiled buildings right here in New York, including the Seagram Building (1958), the Guggenheim Museum (1959), and the Ford Foundation headquarters (1968). I have personally been able to see 15 of the author’s choices for myself. I hope to make it 16 , by taking a trip to see the 1938 choice, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, sometime later in the fall.

The Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan is an educational institution dedicated to promoting partnerships and understanding between the United States and the people of Asia. The society includes a museum and exhibition space, but it is certainly not large enough to show off their vast collection of treasures from every corner of Asia. That’s why the book, Treasures of Asian Art: the Asia Society Museum Collection is so valuable. You can see images of priceless objects – sculpture, painting, pottery and porcelain – that are rarely on view at the museum. 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Asia Society. I always find it interesting to look at Asian art of all types. Many of the objects are of course beautiful in their own right, but I also find that I can often look at them with a more neutral and less judgmental eye than when I look at pieces of  European and American art. This is because I just know so much less about Asian culture, history, and religion than I do about its western counterpart and I just come at the works with less prejudice. The Asia Society has great exhibitions, but also visit the Rubin Museum and the Metropolitan for other nice collections of Asian works.

Now I’ll admit that we usually don’t get many hippies visiting us in the basement of the library, but if they did show up they would probably get misty-eyed when looking at the new book, Summer of Love: Art, Fashion and Rock and Roll.  This book is definitely full of memories for all the great times they must have had back then. That’s if they can remember them. The hippies can look at fashion objects, psychedelic posters, album cover art and more from their heyday fifty years ago during the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Do take a look at the book as it is indeed “far out” and a great trip. But, even if you’re not a hippie yourself, you can still capture some of the spirit of the Age of Aquarius by coming down to the main library and taking a look at our very own Summer of Love mural on the back wall facing the Terry Street parking lot. Don’t delay though, because it will only be here until September. Our understanding is that the mural has become quite the local tourist attraction. If you were an actual hippie you would definitely be tripping over to the library ASAP. Peace man!

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