On this day in 1896, the great composer Virgil Thomson was born. I like his work, but it is bizarre in Thomson’s own way. There is, of course, Four Saints in Three Acts with its libretto by Gertrude Stein (And is it ever Gertrude Stein!) with music that is completely fitting. But here is his score to The River, a documentary about the Mississippi. It uses many American standards in what are often very humorous ways:
The great jazz saxophonist and composer Paul Desmond was born in 1924. Here is a reworking of his tune “Take Five” from his album Skylark from the end of his career. The song is called “Take Ten”:
The great R&B singer Percy Sledge is 72 today. He is best known for his mega-hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He is actually a lot more than that, but it’s still by far my favorite of his work. So:
Other birthdays: physicist Julius von Mayer (1814); horrible businessman Andrew Carnegie (1835); mathematician Ernst Schroder (1841); hell road paver Carrie Nation (1846); children’s author P D Eastman (1909); baseball player Joe DiMaggio (1914); one of the great villains of the 20th century, Augusto Pinochet (1915); film director Norman Tokar (1919); the stupidest “smart” guy ever Ben Stein (69); and actor John Larroquette (66).
The day, however, belongs to perhaps the greatest playwright of all time, Lope de Vega, who was born on this day in 1562. During his lifetime, he wrote at least 500 plays. He was a writing machine. I can’t help but find Shakespeare wanting in comparison to him, just based upon the fact that Shakespeare stopped writing at the end of his life. Writing seems to have been nothing more than a means to wealth and a coat of arms. Lope was driven. What’s more, Lope was subversive. Whereas Shakespeare never wrote anything that challenged the power elite (quite the opposite actually), Lope did so repeatedly. I wrote about this in, The 500 Plays of Lope We Have Not Read. A great example is from the play Fuente Ovejuna, which I also wrote about:
Happy birthday Lope de Vega!