On this day in 1691, the Italian painter Giovanni Paolo Panini was born. He is known for his view painting: very large scale painting of cities. In his case, it was Rome. It’s interesting stuff, but I would prefer more people. He clearly had a gift for historical or mythical material, but he did very little of it.
Igor Stravinsky was born on this day in 1882. He is arguably the most important composer of the 20th century. Most of the last century was a muddle with the majority of the best composers really coming from the 19th century. But Stravinsky seemed to understand the opportunities that the liberalizing environment provided in the context of where music was going. It is hard to listen to his music without thinking that in a strange way it was defining the course of music. As interesting and important as Arnold Schoenberg was, almost no one writes like him anymore and few want to hear his work. He was probably as brilliant as Stravinsky but he used his gifts in a far less edifying way. And I say that as a fan of Schoenberg. It is just that Stravinsky was the 20th century.
Here is Stravinsky at age 82 conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra in the “Lullaby and Final Hymm” from The Firebird:
On this day in 1898, M. C. Escher was born. Everyone knows Escher and his prints of impossible reality. He worked mostly with lithographs and woodcuts, which alone makes him pretty interesting. But it is his ideas that made him world famous. I think it is a mistake to think of him in that way, however. He was much more. For example, Gravitation on the right has all of those elements but is also extremely compelling with the turtles using the polyhedron as a shared cell. If Escher hadn’t been so against politics, I would claim it was a socialist statement.
Actor Ralph Bellamy was born in 1904. And two-time World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian was born in 1929. He was known for his amazing defensive play. He was kind of the yin to Bobby Fischer’s hyper-aggressive offensive yang.
Japan’s “eternal virgin” Setsuko Hara is 92 today. Social realist director Ken Loach is 77. Newt Gingrich and Barry Manilow are both 70 today. Jello Biafra is 55. Here he is with Dead Kennedys doing one of my favorite songs, “California Uber Alles.” You’ve got to love a guy who (rightly) thinks that Jerry Brown is too conservative. Calling him a fascist is a bit hyperbolic, but that’s why it’s so fun:
The day, however, belongs to Ruth Graves Wakefield who was born on this day in 1905. Who could beat out Stravinsky and Escher and Biafra? Who is more important than all of these remarkable men? Why, only the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie! Wakefield worked as a dietitian and a food lecturer when she was young before starting a tourist lodge, Toll House Inn. She invented the cookies when she used chunks from a semi-sweet chocolate bar for her chocolate cookies, because she was out of baker’s chocolate. She sold the recipe to Nestle’s in exchange for a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.
Happy birthday Ruth Graves Wakefield!