Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay was born on this day in 1397. Italian opera composer Antonio Cesti was born in 1623. And another Italian opera composer Leonardo Leo was born in 1694. Although not as celebrated in his day, he is much more interesting to a modern ear. Here is his Cello Concerto Number 3:
The great mathematician Niels Henrik Abel was born in 1802. He proved that it is impossible to have a general solution to a fifth order polynomial. I always find these negative proofs amazing. It is one thing to find the generalized proof of a fourth order polynomial. That’s the sort of thing that I am up to. But I wouldn’t even know how to approach Niels Henrik’s work. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.
The great French opera composer Ambroise Thomas was born in 1811. Here is a bit of a performance of his opera Hamlet:
The great Russian realist painter Ilya Repin was born in 1844. The “Elephant Man” Joseph Merrick was born in 1862. When I was a kid I read a good biography of him, which seems to have been updated recently as The True History of the Elephant Man. It is very sad.
The Finnish composer Oskar Merikanto was born in 1868. I don’t think he is especially great, but he did write some really pretty stuff. Here is Valse Lente:
Unusual, proto-modern landscape painter Tom Thomson was born in 1877. Russian sculptor Naum Gabo was born in 1890. First man on the moon Neil Armstrong was born in 1930. And director of A Christmas Story, Bob Clark was born in 1941.
The day, however, belongs to one of the greatest Hollywood directors John Huston who was born on this day in 1906. He directed and usually wrote any number of memorable films. Just to name a few: The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, Moby Dick, Prizzi’s Honor. Here is a great scene from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre where Fred C. Dobbs goes from creepy to crazy in two minutes. The funny thing is that when I first saw the film, it seemed over the top. But since then, I’ve had some experiences with a number of actually crazy people. It’s pretty accurate. The combination of intelligence and paranoia is powerful. The one thing that is wrong is that they don’t laugh. It is deadly serious to them.
Happy birthday John Huston!