The great French painter Nicolas Poussin was born on this day in 1594. His work is both Classical and Baroque. He paints mostly historical or mythical scenes. It’s all very crowded and intense and beautiful. The great German musical theorist Georg Joseph Vogler was born in 1749. Arranger and “difficult” composer Robert Russell Bennett was born in 1894. What do I mean by “difficult”? I mean that even I have trouble appreciating his work. Psychologist Erik “Identity Crisis” Erikson was born in 1902. Thomas the Tank Engine creator Reverend W. Awdry was born in 1911. Virologist Thomas Huckle Weller was born in 1915. And Waylon Jennings was born in 1937.
Harry Nilsson was born in 1941. He was one of the greatest popular singers and songwriters of all time. Everyone knows his music but most people haven’t heard of him. Two of his better known songs are “Without You” and the novelty single “Coconut.” But he didn’t write his best known song, Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” There’s no doubt, however, that Nilsson’s performance is what makes the song. He manages to make the song simultaneously perky and dark. “Skipping over the ocean like a stone,” for example, does not come off as carefree. Here is his version:
The great actor Simon Callow is 64 today. As much as I love him as an actor, I now think of him more as an Orson Welles biographer. Many people take offense at his biographies, but all he’s done is to remove the many layers from myth of Welles’ life. Welles was a gifted actor with one of the greatest voices ever. He was also a director of unsurpassed skill and unparalleled creativity. I disagree with Callow in his belief that Welles was fundamentally an experimentalist who didn’t really care about finishing films. I also think he is a tad critical of Welles’ life. But I do think he cuts to the core of Welles’ genius and appreciates him in ways that many of his fans do not.
The day, however, belongs to the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg who was born on this day in 1843. Although he was a Romantic composer and I’m not all that fond of the period, he transcends it. Here is his very playful piece, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, which I’m sure you know:
Happy birthday Edvard Grieg!