Lost Debussy score rediscovered

A manuscript score by Claude Debussy has reemerged more than 90 years after it was last seen. Composed by Debussy when he was just 19 years old and struggling to make ends meet as a voice teacher, the piece is a score, piano and voice, for the play Hymnis by poet Théodore de Banville who along with Paul Verlaine was the poet who most influenced the young composer.

The score was never published and the manuscript was last documented in 1926 when it was sold at auction in Paris. It never made it into any catalogues of the composer’s works and basically disappeared until November of 1917 when a client asked the manuscripts experts at Christie’s Paris to take a look at a manuscript of his and tell him what it was.

This manuscript, which hasn’t been seen or played in public in almost a century since it last appeared at auction in 1926, is one of three known scores for Hymnis that Debussy worked on. Of the others, one contains his strophes for the opening scene, the second for the beginning of scene seven. Both, however, feature different music for the same parts of the play.

Offered in Paris on 29 May, the manuscript contains a further 15 pages of previously unseen music by Debussy. “Everyone I’ve talked to, every musician, is excited, because of course we get to look at this music maybe for the first time in 100 years,” says the composer and pianist Jeff Cohen, who plays the score in our film. “I found that even touching the paper itself is quite moving. Seeing Debussy’s handwriting, it’s as if he is standing there next to you — it’s so personal.”

It was personal in more ways than just the handwriting. Debussy’s first published work was Nuit d’étoiles (1882), set to the poem by the same name by Banville. He wrote the Hymnis score around that time, in 1881-1882, and like his other pieces inspired by the Symbolist poet, it is dedicated to his lover, muse and vocal student Marie Vasnier. She was a cultured woman 14 years older than him who taught him a great deal about the arts, including the amatory ones. She was also married. To top it off, in 1882 they were separated when Debussy traveled through Europe with his patroness Nadejda von Meck. The threesome at the heart of the story of Hymnis may have had particular resonance for him given the complications of his relationship to a married woman.

Several specialists consider that the melodies written for Marie Vasnier are as many love notes that he addresses to him, Hymnis, perhaps more than the others. Thus Eileen Souffrin-Le Breton, later taken up by François Lesure, wonders: “We can ask ourselves about Hymnis if Debussy did not have intimate reasons to love the piece … How (…) do not to see an analogy between the situation of the three characters of Hymnis and Debussy himself vis-à-vis the Vasnier household? (…) When Hymnis sings:
“He sleeps again, one hand on the lyre ! / (…) / Divine Charmer, while you sleep / around you flutter the bees: / The sweet poet is the envoy of the Gods “.
How not to imagine Mrs. Vasnier in the traits of a Hymnis (first) protective (and) maternal:
“To be proud of your genius / To surround yourself as a child / To be encouraged and defended “.
(or) burning (with) passion:
“In the ardor that tears me / The heart full of you, / I offer you, O my king, / My fury and my delirium”
(And the composer in the traits of) Anacreon who proclaims:
“Hymnis! Oh half of myself / Dear Hymnis! I love you”
(To finish with the duet):
“Ah, we are blessed …”.

The manuscript goes under the hammer at Christie’s Paris at the end of the month. The pre-sale estimate is 120,000 – 180,000 euros ($141,856 – $212,785). Composer and pianist Jeff Cohen accompanies soprano Pauline Texier perform a short preview of the score in the video at the top of this page.

Earliest evidence of Roman military found in Poland

Numerous Roman military artifacts dating as far back as the 1st century A.D. have been unearthed in Kujawy, north-central Poland, a region in the Vistula basin far outside the boundary of imperial Rome even at its greatest extent under Trajan in the early 2nd century. This is a find that could rewrite history, and it came about thanks to looters’ terrible understanding of true archaeological value.

Researchers from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw were working on a study of the movement of peoples during the Migration Period, specifically looking for evidence that some Germanic settlements may have survived the upheaval and remained populated until the Slavic invasion. Part of the research involved looking through material given up by looters as trash of no interest to them. The team had to sift through buckets full of artifacts — sheet metal, coins, musket balls, lead shot — still caked with mud.

Among the buckets of assorted stuff, Dr. Bartosz Kontny discovered a piece of metal that looked a lot like a fitting from a Roman cavalry horse’s bridle. He set it aside, dampening his excitement by reminding himself that such artifacts aren’t found in Poland. Then he found another. And another. Soon he had a right pile of fittings, all of Roman origin. More Roman military artifacts followed, like 1st century latch buckles and bullae from the cingulum militare (a belt with hanging leather straps studded with rivets).

The bullae date to the late empire (4th century, early 5th century A.D.) and could be explained by barbarian recruits returning home with their gear after serving in the Roman army, but the much earlier cavalry fittings and buckles could not be explained so easily. Given the enormous significance of these objects, archaeologists arranged an official excavation of the area between the villages of Gąski and Wierzbiczany, where the looters reported having made most of the finds.

Among the unique monuments are metal pendants that decorated the straps of the Roman horse gear. They were in the shape of phalluses or vulvas (female womb). “These amulets were believed to ensure happiness and protect against evil forces, they had apotropaic meaning” – said Dr. Kontny.

As a truly unique object among the analysed artefacts, the archaeologist mentions a gold-plated copper [fitting] for a hip belt. It depicts a spear of a beneficiarius, a high-ranking officer of the Roman army. “It was an attribute of his power” – says the archaeologist.

Such a large accumulation of similar Roman objects in other places in the barbarian Europe – for example in central Germany (where, for example, the local population was recruited to the legions) is clearly associated with physical Roman presence.

The beneficiarius was an officer of rank and importance in the Roman army. He could command an advance unit or direct intelligence missions. If there was one in Poland, he wasn’t just passing through to enjoy the charms of the Vistula. Fittings like the one found in Kujawy have been found inside the boundaries of the empire with only two exceptions, and they were in Germania. Where a beneficiarius was dispatched, troops were dispatched with him. He was a commander, not a lone wolf.

Just to give you an idea of the distances involved, to the right is a map of the Roman Empire in 125 A.D. in the reign of Hadrian. The red dashed line is the imperial border. Kujawy is on the west bank of the crook of the Vistula in the territory of the Goths, Burgundians and maybe the Lugii (it’s not clear where exactly their lands were as they’re rarely referenced by Roman historians and geographers, and when they do get a mention they are described in different terms at different periods). The artifacts were unearthed about 20 miles southwest of where the bend straightens out, hundreds of miles from the imperial frontier.

According to historian Cassius Dio, Roman cavalry may have made in appearance in what is now Kujawy in the late 1st century, and it was the Lugii themselves who called said cavalry. Around 91 A.D., they made an alliance with Rome and asked the emperor Domitian to send troops to aid in their fight against the Suebi. Domitian agreed in a desultory fashion and sent a measly 100 horsemen. Dio does not mention them any further, so there’s no way to know if they arrived, fought, returned or anything else. The territory of the Lugii, as far it can be determined, seems to have extended further to the south of modern-day Kujawy, so even if the horsemen went to their aid as promised, they could well have been a long way away from the find site. If they did make it, they would be the first Roman soldiers recorded in what is today Poland.

One key clue that might explain the finds is that the area is located directly on the Amber Road which went from the Baltic south along the Vistula, following that crook before cutting due south overland to the Varta river, then continuing southbound over river and land routes until reaching the Roman Empire at Carnutum in Pannonia (modern-day eastern Austria). Romans loved them some amber, so it’s conceivable that there might have been some kind of military presence to secure the route. Pliny mentions Nero sending a trading expedition to the Baltic, but nothing about a military escort. Still, a highly valued trade route winding through the territories of many and varied tribes with little political stability and a tendency to engage in hostilities could certainly have used some securing. The Kujawy might be evidence that Rome sent legions to keep the amber coming.

None of the artifacts were found in the graves of local people, so it’s unlikely they were random bits of pillage or trade. The sheer quantity of the fittings strongly indicates the presence of the Roman military in the area and is the earliest archaeological evidence of Roman troops in what is now Poland.

Intact Bronze Age cremation found in Cornwall

Archaeologists have discovered an intact 4,000-year-old cremation urn on a farm in Cornwall. Found less than 10 inches beneath the surface, the clay urn is unbroken and still contains ashes and what appear to be fragments of charred human bone.

The team, led by Australian National University (ANU) archaeologist Catherine Frieman, unearthed the earthenware vessel dating to the Bronze Age during a two-week dig in a field near the town of Looe. The farmers told them the site had been extensively cultivated when they were children and for generations before that, so nobody expected to find a great deal of intact archaeological material, much less an urn buried there 4,000 years ago that managed to duck untold decades of ploughing.

“We were so excited to find such a lot of archaeology on the site despite scores of generations of ploughing, but to find an intact clay urn buried 4,000 years ago just 25 centimetres beneath the surface is nothing short of a miracle,” said Dr Frieman.

This and other evidence from the site has led her to conclude there was most likely a large mound over the burial which existed from prehistory well into the middle ages protecting the centre of the barrow.

“This is a sealed, intact cremation so it has the potential to tell us a lot about the cremation rite as it was practiced 4,000 years ago. We also appear to have some identifiable fragments of bone among the cremated remains so we’ll potentially be able to tell a lot about the individual themselves,” she said.

“We’ll be able to say what gender they were, possibly their age, or an age range, and depending on the bone preservation we can conduct analyses to examine where they were from, what their diet was like, where this food was coming from and what they ate and drank as a child when their teeth were forming. This is a very beautiful, very complete burial, and we’re very excited,” she said.

Other Bronze Age objects have been found in the dig: some pottery, small flint tools and two hammer stones that were used to chip flint flakes off larger pieces to shape and edge tools and weapons. A number of Bronze Age shipwrecks have been found off the coast of southeast Cornwall, so it seems this area was a well-trafficked trade route going back to prehistory.

The analysis of soil, pollen, flint and other samples is underway but it will probably be a year before a comprehensive story of the find is possible.

Row of houses with balconies found in Pompeii

Archaeologists excavating have discovered a row of houses with intact second story balconies. So far four adjacent balconies have been unearthed, plus the remains of railings, tile roofs and even empty amphorae that had been tilted on their sides to dry out in the sun.

Second floors of buildings are very seldom found in Pompeii because of the way the eruption of Vesuvius struck the city, burying it from above first with a six-hour fall of pumice and ash. The weight of the volcanic material caused roofs and storeys to collapse and suffocated people as they sought shelter. The superheated pyroclastic surges that followed reduced people and buildings to ashes. Herculaneum, on the other hand, was destroyed by volcanic pyroclasts that flooded the city from bottom to top and then way over the top. They hardened into 20 meters of dense rock, preserving structures and carbonized organic material for 2,000 years.

The balconies were found in a previously unexcavated section of Regio V of the ancient city known as “the wedge” because of its triangular shape. The excavation in this area has been highly productive, rich with frescoed walls in vivid colors and designs — ochre and pompeiian red, geometrics, animals, florals, winged cupids — but the discovery of a whole alley of balconies preserved in great detail is unique for Pompeii.

The excavation is ongoing and in the upcoming months more may be found. Meanwhile, the dig team, which is composed of more than 40 experts from architects to archaeologists to archaeobotanists, is exploring the site more thoroughly than ever with the aid of technology like drones, nanocameras and laser scanners. In the course of their work, they’ve uncovered the very beginnings of Pompeiian archaeology, the excavations of the mid-1700s, which were accomplished by digging one very deep hole and then digging long tunnels radiating out from the central pit. This was not archaeology as the professional discipline dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and preservation of material culture. It was treasure-hunting, pure and simple, and the archaeological team walking in their footsteps today has found evidence of this in the things they dropped or deliberately left behind because they considered them of little value, including fresco fragments and a large, handsome bronze vessel missing one of its handles.

The newly discovered homes and their balconies will be stabilized and added to a new route that will take visitors from the Via di Nola to the Alley of the Silver Wedding, the latter of which takes it name from a luxury villa found on the street. The House of the Silver Wedding is sumptuously appointed, featuring a grand atrium with Corinthian columns 23 feet high, elaborate frescoes in the dining room, mosaics depicting a Roman aqueduct in the private baths, and even rich Pompeiian red frescoes on a cream background covering the entire wall of a small latrine off the kitchen. The villa has been closed for decades but is in the process of being restored and will be reopened to the public as part of the new route. You can get a glimpse of its many wonders in this video tour.

First new Rembrandt since 1974 identified

A previously unknown painting by Rembrandt van Rijn has been identified, the first “new” work by the Dutch Golden Age master to appear since 1974. The hidden gem was spotted by Jan Six, an Amsterdam art dealer, art historian and specialist in Dutch old masters, at a Christie’s auction in 2016. Christie’s attributed the portrait “of a gentleman, half-length, in a black velvet cloak and white lace collar and cuffs” to the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn, dating it very generally to his lifetime. The painting itself is neither signed nor dated. The provenance couldn’t shed much light on the painting’s origin as the ownership record starts in England a century later at the earliest.

Six knew from the moment he laid eyes on the work in the Christie’s showroom that it was by Rembrandt, not someone in his circle. The direct gaze of the sitter making eye contact with the viewer was a rare approach in 17th portraiture, but they’re typical of Rembrandt’s portraits, including self-portraits. Then there was the matter of the collar. Six recognized it as a style that was in fashion for a brief period in 1633. Rembrandt had moved to Amsterdam from Leiden in late 1631 to begin his career as a portraitist. He quickly made a name for himself as a gifted portrait painter, but in 1633 there was no circle of Rembrandt yet.

Jan Six and an unnamed investor bought the painting at the Old Masters Day Sale in London on December 9th, 2016, for 137,000 pounds ($185,000), a sum nine times higher than the pre-sale estimate but chump change compared to its market value as a portrait painted by Rembrandt. Confirming attribution of an unsigned painting that is unknown in the literature is no easy task, however.

[Six] spent 18 months using X-ray techniques and analysis of paint samples to prove he had in fact bought a real Rembrandt.

The 39-year-old art dealer eventually won the backing of more than a dozen Rembrandt experts, including [Ernst van de Wetering,] the former leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, who spent a year verifying its authenticity.

“Seeing all these experts agreeing to what you’ve found is truly special. With the support of this vast body of knowledge, anybody contesting the painting would clearly represent a minority,” Six said.

The painting has been cut out of a larger piece. Researchers believe the dapper gentleman was part of a double portrait, likely with his wife as the other subject. That means there could be an unknown lady painted by Rembrandt out there for someone to find.

The cleaned and conserved portrait went on display at the Hermitage Amsterdam on Wednesday, May 16th, and will remain there until Friday, June 15th. Jan Six plans to seek a buyer for it. Here’s hoping it’s a museum.