I’ll tell you a secret: it’s not Christmas. It’s Christmas Eve, and I am really pushing to get everything done for tomorrow (today) and maybe the day after (tomorrow). I love going out of town. But it is really hard to keep this blog going. At this point, it would probably help to have some alcohol. Instead, I’m ingesting caffeine. But there may be serious alcohol consumption in my future. Oh God, I don’t even want to writ these words…
On this day in 1728, the German classical composer Johann Adam Hiller was born. He was the inventor of the singspiel, which is basically an early form of the musical comedy. The following video is a very nice bit from his one act opera (or maybe singspiel) Die Muse. It was apparently written for soprano, oboe, and basso continuo (what we today would call a bass line and lead sheet). Here, the bass is played by a bassoon, and the harmony is played by a harpsichord. And that’s probably pretty much how it was originally performed. This version is done by what looks like three students and a teacher at the Calgary University Department of Music. It is lovely:
The great classical composer Joseph Boulogne was born on this day, most likely in 1745. He is known as the “black Mozart.” He was in the French army, where he was known for his fencing. But otherwise, he was more or less a court musician. The French Revolution, really screwed things up for him. First, it landed him in jail for a year and a half. And after that, he had a difficult time making ends meet. Regardless, he left us a huge amount of work and it is wonderful. Here is “Ballet No 1” from his opera, L’Amant Anonyme performed by the Tafelmusik Orchestra:
The actor Humphrey Bogart was born on this day in 1899. I hesitate to call him a “great actor” even though I know he is. He always reminds me of that line from the movie My Favorite Year, “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” But there is no doubt that he’s one of the most authentic actors on screen ever. And he plays crazy great. I don’t think he’s ever been better than he is in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and (in a different kind of crazy) The Caine Mutiny. Of course, what I most love watching is Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. I never get tired of those films and a big part of it is him.
Here he is in a heartbreaking scene in The Caine Mutiny, where Captain Queeg is asking his men for help. But they refuse it. I don’t actually think you will see better acting anywhere on screen:
The great jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway was born in 1907. I don’t have a lot to say about him except that I always enjoy him. Here he is doing one of his many on screen versions of “Minnie the Moocher,” which shows off his acting:
Other birthdays: engineer Claude Chappe (1763); Irish novelist Sydney, Lady Morgan (1776); physicist Ernst Ruska (1906); sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911); Anwar Sadat (1918); the great Rod Serling (1924); film producer Ismail Merchant (1936); television producer Rick Berman (68); singer-songwriter Barbara Mandrell (65); actor Sissy Spacek (64); Antichrist Karl Rove (63); singer-songwriter Annie Lennox (59); and singer-songwriter Dido (42).
The day, however, belongs to Isaac Newton who was born on this day in 1642. I’ll assume that you don’t need to be told about him. He was one of the greatest scientists of all time. Of course, there is that thing about him inventing calculus at the same time as Leibniz. What I think is better to say is that, like Einstein and Maxwell, Newton was the right man for that time and place.
But let me say something about that apple. The story is surprisingly true. But the way people understand the story is all wrong. Newton’s insight was that the force that caused an apple to fall from a tree was the same as the force that caused the moon to orbit the earth. Even today, I find that a startling insight. If it were the same force, why doesn’t the moon careen into the earth? Well, it does. Kind of. The moon constantly has a motion that is parallel to the surface of the earth, and the gravitational force keeps pulling it into its elliptical orbit. Otherwise the moon would head in more or less a straight line away from the earth. Confused yet? Well, I’m doing my best! The truth is, it is more complicated than even that. But let’s leave it. If you really want to know, take a semester of calculus-based physics and then we’ll talk.
I really think the atheist community ought to start calling Christmas “Newton’s Day.” I don’t say this because Newton was that great, although he was. But the atheist community itself likes to drape itself in science. It’s actually one of the most annoying aspects of it. I mean, I love science. But I always get the feeling that atheists try to substitute science for religion. I think that’s a mistake. But then, I’m with Stephen Jay Gould: I believe in non-overlapping magisteria.
Here is Neil deGrasse Tyson on Newton, although his story is a bit fanciful:
Happy birthday Isaac Newton!