Friday, August 28, 2020

Imperial Tokyo in the Meiji period

Meiji Japan (1867-1912) was the period of 'Civilization and Enlightenment,' when the shadows of feudal Edo were swept away. Under the slogan 'Rich Country and Strong Army,' Japan took its place among the nations. This was as an empire, because the Tenno, the Emperor, had also emerged from the deep chambers of his Kyoto palace and was made into a central symbol for the whole nation.


It was quite a feat to put the emperor on the map, so to speak, because ordinary people at beginning of Meiji thought at most that he was a folk religion deity (if they knew at all about his existence). But it was also a necessity: in the Tokugawa period, the Japanese were separated geographically, the country was split in hundreds of almost independent fiefs; ties were local rather than national. In Meiji, under the emperor, those same people were forged into one nation.

This was done by various means: the creation of national holidays connected with the emperor; by having state propagandists go around the country; by establishing new state ceremonials and public rituals around the emperor; and by setting up the suitable buildings for those national pageants. When the Meiji-period ended in 1912, the Japanese indeed felt they shared one history centering upon the imperial household - a far cry from the situation 45 years earlier.

Here we will travel to a few places in Tokyo (and one in Kyoto) where we can still get a whiff of "Imperial Meiji."

[Nijubashi]

Nijubashi and the Palace
15 min on foot from Tokyo St (Marunouchi side), or 10 min from Nijubashi-mae St on the Chiyoda line.

The imperial family moved its residence to Tokyo in 1868, after the Meiji Restoration; till then they had resided in Kyoto for more than 1,000 years. A new palace was built in the grounds of the former Edo castle; it was finished in 1888, only to be destroyed again in the air raids of 1945. This old palace was a series of linked pavilions and inside demonstrated a curious mix of Western and Japanese styles. Foreign dignitaries were impressed by its magnificence, such as the crimson Throne Room with brocaded walls, coffered ceiling, and golden throne under a baldachin. Here the Meiji Constitution was promulgated on February 11, 1889 (see a painting of the event in the Meiji Picture Gallery). The area in front of the former castle was cleared of all structures and named the Outer Garden (Kokyo Gaien). Its broad thoroughfares were convenient for military reviews and today they can still be used for marathons.

The Double Bridge (Nijubashi) is the symbolic entrance to the Imperial Palace. Most tourist programs in Tokyo, such as the tours offered by the Hato Bus company, start at this monument. There are two bridges here, but the name "Double Bridge" does not derive from that fact, although most people may think so now. The stone bridge in front is impressive with its heavy arches. It dates from 1887, the year the palace was built, and leads across the moat to the black, hermetically closed gate with a little white house for a guardsman sitting next to it. It is in fact the main entrance to the palace and was designed by a Japanese student of the British architect Conder. Then there is a steel bridge farther to the back that crosses another part of the moat and leads into the palace grounds proper. This steel bridge is modern and has replaced an wrought-iron original built also in 1887 by a German engineer. It was this old bridge that gave Nijubashi its name: it consisted of an upper and lower level, and these two decks or layers led to the designation Nijubashi.

[Statue of Kusunoki Masashige]

Statue of Kusunoki Masashige
(5 min walk from the Double Bridge)

The Double Bridge is popular with Japanese tour groups. On the way back to the bus, they invariably file past the bronze equestrian statue of Kusunoki Masashige. Monumental statues of this type were another novelty of Meiji Japan: until the Edo period, there had almost only been religious sculpture, mainly Buddhist, and what statues were made of private persons were a kind of memorial portraits to revere after the death of the person in question. Meiji was hit by a veritable statumania, from military heroes as Omura Masajiro (in the Yasukuni Shrine) to the famous statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park. This public art had a clear message, too: Kusunoki was a paragon of loyalty to the imperial house, or at least, he was made into one in Meiji schoolbooks. He had died in 1336 when defending Emperor Go-Daigo in a power struggle with the Ashikaga shoguns, who in Meiji were depicted as "usurpers." The Kusunoki statue was sculpted by Takamura Koun. The small shop next to the statue sells copies of the statue and ashtrays and clocks with the effigy of the Double Bridge.


[Meiji Picture gallery]

Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery
From the Double Bridge and Kusunoki Statue take the Chiyoda line (from Nijubashi-mae) to Omotesando and transfer there for one station to the Ginza line for Gaienmae. Then it is 15 min on foot through the avenue lined with gingko trees.
Admission: JPY 500 (open year round).
http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/english/seitoku-gallery.html.


Seen from Aoyama-dori, over an approach lined by venerable gingko trees (the prime spot for viewing autumn colors in Tokyo), the domed Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery is an impressive presence. Inside, the atmosphere is even more venerable, not to say hallowed. In the galleries stretching away on both sides from the dome, hang huge canvasses (3 by 2.7 meter) on dark, wood-paneled walls. Forty paintings in Japanese style on the one side and forty oil paintings in Western style on the other, depict the major events of the reign of the Meiji Emperor (1852 - 1912).

The Outer Gardens of the Meiji Shrine, of which the gallery's grounds form part, now are somewhat incongruously a sports Mecca, with the Jingu Baseball Stadium, a golf driving link and a tennis club. Nearby is also the National Stadium. On Sundays, the park is full of people practicing on roller-skates and skateboards, or engaged in various ball games. It is quite a change from the brightness outside to the solemnity of Meiji inside.

The Memorial Gallery was constructed in 1926. During the lifetime of the Emperor, this had been the Aoyama Military Parade Field; in a small park on the way to the Picture Hall still stands the enoki tree where to Emperor used to take his position when viewing the troops.

The paintings in the hall (which run to a total length of 250 meters) were not finished until 1936. The Japanese style murals depict the first part of the Emperor's life, from his birth in the Kyoto Imperial Palace (the Lying-in Chamber or Gosanjo is shown, which was erected especially for this occasion) to 1878; these are the brightest and most beautiful paintings, executed in soft colors. Sometimes they may be a bit stiff, but we are dealing after all with ceremonial art. These paintings focus on the happy years of early Meiji and the well-managed switch from the old feudal system to a modern state. The next 40 paintings concern the second half of the Emperor's life and are rather somber, not only due to the oil-painting technique, but also because the Meiji period gradually darkened towards war and death.

The bright years show the Prince growing up, engaged in the Ritual of Dressing the Hair, being invested as Crown-Prince, and accessing the throne upon his father Emperor Komei's sudden death in 1867. That same year, the last shogun, Yoshinobu, proclaimed his resignation in the Nijo Castle in Kyoto. Imperial Rule was restored ('restored' is the term used, although in most of Japanese history, the emperor had been a ceremonial and religious figure rather than a ruler). To convey this message abroad, we see the new Emperor receiving foreign ambassadors in audience; in the picture he greets the Minister from the Netherlands, who has typical red-brown hair. After the shogunal forces in Yedo Castle surrender, the emperor is enthroned in a colorful ceremony. In a long procession, dressed in ancient Court Regalia, he travels from Kyoto to the new national capital of Tokyo. The next year he is back in Kyoto for his marriage to Princes Haruko, who arrives at the ceremony in a traditional cart drawn by oxen.

The following decade, the Emperor undertakes several Imperial Tours around the country in order to show the people his authority. In the Edo period, most Japanese did not know about the existence of the Emperor and it was such a well-kept secret that foreigner observers actually thought that the Shogun was the Emperor. In 1872 Japan's first railway, between Tokyo and Yokohama is opened. The Imperial carriage arrives at the new. Western-style station of Shinbashi. A beautiful painting by Domoto Insho shows the Emperor receiving a lecture from a prominent scholar at the Akasaka Palace; this was a practice that continued for many years. Except for the brief samurai rebellion in Kyushu in 1877, these years are peaceful: we see visits to industrial exhibits, a Noh play, the Empress visiting a school for girls and, finally, in a poetic painting by Kaburagi Kiyokata, composing a poem.

[The gingko avenue]

The series of oil paintings starts innocently enough with a visit by the former U.S. President, General Grant. We see the Emperor conversing with him, a box of cigars open on the table, in the Hama Detached Palace. A currency conversion system is adapted in 1881 and the draft constitution is written in 1888. In the painting we see the conference where Ito Hirobumi (one of the leading Meiji statesmen) explains the draft to the Emperor.

In the next painting the constitution is promulgated by the Emperor on February 11, 1889 in the newly constructed Imperial Palace. Nice detail: the Emperor is shown handing the constitution to the Prime Minister - in other words, the Meiji constitution was a gift from the Emperor to the Japanese people and the Emperor himself stood above and outside that constitution (thus showing that Meiji was not a constitutional monarchy in the normal sense of the word). The first session of the Imperial Diet is opened in 1890. In 1894, the Emperor and Empress celebrate their Silver Wedding, but then a decade of war starts.

In 1894-95 the Sino-Japanese War is fought, with a battle in the Yellow Sea. Japanese warships are shown attacking the Chinese fleet with a lot of fire and smoke. The Emperor stays at military headquarters in Hiroshima to personally direct the war effort, the Empress is depicted visiting wounded soldiers. A peace treaty is finally concluded in Shimonoseki, where we see the Chinese delegates still in Manchu dress conferring with their Japanese counterparts, who are in Western-style costumes.

In 1904 war with Russia follows. We see the famous scene of the Russian General Stoessel at the surrender of Port Arthur presenting his white horse to the Japanese Commander Nogi. The bitter battle of Mukden follows, then Japan finally vanquishes Russia by destroying the Russian fleet in the Battle of the Japan Sea. Southern Sakhalin is ceded to Japan and we watch how army officers place a demarcation stone at the new frontier. By the way, that stone now stands in the garden of the museum, as Sakhalin is Russian again. One of the results of the war is that Japan could annex Korea. The next painting shows Seoul's South Gate with the caption 'The Union of Korea and Japan.' In the Gallery, history is presented exactly as it was conceived by Japan in the 1930s - as if time has stuck there.

The two last paintings show the Emperor's final illness, with people praying day and night in front of the Imperial Palace, and the funeral in the Momoyama Mausoleum in Kyoto. Fourteen years afterwards the present Gallery was built on the place where the funeral carriage was put out for public viewing and from where the cortege carrying the Emperor's body left Tokyo for burial in Kyoto on September 13, 1912. Interestingly, the very spot where the carriage stood is marked by a camphor tree or kusunoki, again a pun on the name of the loyal retainer we met above.

After all those paintings, one may be thirsty. What about tea in the Meiji Kinenkan, a restaurant and wedding hall complex sitting close to the Gallery and allied with the Meiji Shrine? Disregard the important-looking guards at the entrance and proceed to the Lounge Kinkei, although refreshments do not come cheap there. Inside, the restaurant may look familiar to you: indeed, it is the very room where the deliberations on the constitution were held from picture no. 50. The room with its characteristic wall decorations has been reconstructed here after the original building was dismantled. It now serves as a nostalgic background for ladies and gentlemen sipping coffee. Isn't that real democracy?

[The Meiji Shrine]

The Meiji Shrine
(Walk past the Picture Gallery to the large road on which Shinanomachi St lies and turn left into this road. You will pass the national No Theater, and after a while, also on the left, you will come to the north entrance of the Meiji Shrine. Alternatively, return from the Picture Gallery to Gaienmae, take a train to Omotesando and from there take the Chiyoda line to Meiji Jingu-mae. This brings you to the main entrance of the shrine.)
https://www.meijijingu.or.jp/en/


That Omotesando, the avenue leading to the Meiji Shrine, holds the middle between a French boulevard and a kid's town (especially on weekends) was undoubtedly not the intention of the planners. As the large stone lanterns at the Ometesando crossing demonstrate, it was meant as a formal approach to the shrine, dedicated to the memory of the revered Meiji Emperor (r. 1868-1912) and his wife. The shrine was finished in 1920. It is set in a cool and green park, on what had been a favorite spot of the Emperor and Empress: the estate and garden originally owned by the Ii clan. They seem to have loved the garden with irises that bloom here in the pond every year in spring. The many shrubs and trees now creating a dense forest in the shrine grounds were donated and planted by people from all over Japan.

[Wedding Procession]

The Emperor and Empress are not buried here (their tombs are in Momoyama in Kyoto), but according to Shinto belief, their souls are enshrined in the temple. Original Shinto only honored extraordinary forces of nature (mountains and rocks, huge trees, waterfalls etc.), but in a mix with ancestor veneration already in early historic times clan leaders had started to pray to their ancestors in shrines as well. Indeed, also in historical times exceptional human beings were sometimes enshrined, such as Sugawara no Michizane, a 10th century courtier. State Shinto had since the Meiji-period taken up this custom by enshrining political activists whose deeds had helped bring about the Meiji restoration, so it was not such a big step towards the canonization of the Imperial couple. The Meiji period had been a time of dramatic change and the Emperor was much honored as the leader (or at least the symbol) who steered Japan through these difficult years. Still, for a Western observer it is a strange thought that modern people come to pray to a human being who only lived a century ago.

The shrine buildings are the essence of simplicity. State Shinto architecture is based on the style of the Ise Shrines, so we find here unadorned Japanese cedar wood and smooth, green copper roofs. The buildings were replaced in 1958. There are many shrine festivals, such as the New Year visit, when however the crowds are appalling. It is nicer to visit in the middle of January, when young people decked out in kimono come for the coming-of-age day, or in November when children also in kimono are brought here for Shichigosan. On Sundays, there are often weddings. The shrine's autumn festival is held from Nov. 1-3 (Nov. 3, now called Culture Day, is in fact the birthday of the Meiji Emperor, still furtively celebrated after the war in this new guise), with performances of traditional music and martial arts.

[The old Meiji Shrine Treasure House]

Meiji Jingu Museum
Admission JPY 1,000 (Cl. Thursdays)
https://www.meijijingu.or.jp/en/whattosee/museum/


The Meiji Jingu Museum consists of a modern, airy structure from 2019 (a beautiful design by popular architect Kuma Kengo) and an old ferro-concrete building of 1921 ("Treasure House"), which copies the style of the high-floored storehouses of the Shosoin in Nara. The modern, new museum features 3,200 square meter of display space spread over two floors and wood is the major design element. (The old Treasure House is now mainly closed).

Inside, various articles used by the Imperial couple during their lifetime, are on display. We see uniforms and dresses (very small in size), but the most interesting items are the portraits of the Emperor and Empress by the Italian artist Ugolini, painted after photographs. They show the Emperor as a stiff, dignified figure in European military dress. He does not look very friendly, but perhaps it was not thought becoming for an Emperor to smile. In the picture, a vase stands on a small table at his side, and in the museum that same vase now stands in front of the painting - a nice touch.

Another interesting item is the horse-drawn carriage in which the Emperor used to ride. Mention should also be made of a copy of the so-called Imperial Rescript on Education, a short moral message issued by the Emperor, which forms a good indication of Meiji-period ethics. In fact, it is a mixture of Confucianism and nationalism, culminating in phrases as "should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth." Unfortunately, there were many such emergencies already in the Meiji period, and even more in early Showa times, so that millions of subjects were indeed compelled to give their lives. It is a bit discouraging that the shrine authorities apparently still think this feudal hodgepodge is fit to lead the Japanese into the 21st century, as is demonstrated by the various translations provided in the museum (you can also find the text on the shrine's website). But it does serve as a good indication of the spirit of Meiji times.

Many visitors only visit to the shrine proper and then leave again. That is a mistake: if one wants to understand the historical background of the shrine or the ideology of the Meiji period, one should also visit this museum as well as the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery in the shrine's Outer Gardens. After getting that perspective, one can finally unwind in the beautiful Inner Gardens of the shrine.

[Iris field in Meiji Shrine Inner Garden]

Meiji Jingu Gyoen (Inner Garden)
Admission: JPY 500
https://www.meijijingu.or.jp/en/whattosee/garden/


After entering the grounds of the Meiji shrine from Omotesando, one passes under huge wooden torii gates of Taiwanese cedar wood. In a bend of the path is a small sign (easily missed) indicating the Inner Garden of the Meiji Shrine. The garden is not very large, but has a good atmosphere. It lies under huge trees. The upper part is a western style lawn, the lower part contains a pond and an iris garden.

Meiji Jingu Gyoen, or the Inner Garden, is exactly what the name says: a garden almost hidden in the innermost recesses of the woods surrounding the Meiji Shrine. It is in fact the oldest part of the shrine area, as it goes back to a garden of the residences of two daimyo families, the Kato's from Kumamoto and the Ii's from Hikone. In 1889, the place came under the control of the Imperial Household Agency and was renamed as Yoyogi Imperial Garden. Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken often used to visit here. The emperor even wrote a waka poem praising the rural atmosphere of this garden in the middle of the metropolis.

[Torii of Meiji Shrine]

The most famous part of the Inner Garden is the Iris Garden, constructed according to a design by the emperor himself on behalf of his empress. And indeed, the irises are splendid here when in full bloom. There are more than 150 varieties, collected from the best types from all over Japan, and a total of 1500 plants. The valley where the irises stand is hemmed in by dense forest and seems far removed from the mundane world. At the back of the marshy land one finds a spring from which still a stream of clear water flows. It is this natural water that also forms the large South Pond in the garden. This pond boasts water lilies which come into flower in the same period as the irises: late June to early July. They make a beautiful display. Pleasantly winding paths bring the visitor to a tea house and a fishing stand. In autumn, the red foliage of the dense trees is very impressive. The only distraction are the aggressive crows (literally thousands of them) who - lacking trees in modern Tokyo - now lord it over the garden.


[Nogi Jinja]


General Nogi Residence and Shrine
A one-minute walk from Nogizaka Station on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line (exit 1)

We continue the imperial tour by returning to the theme of the Loyal Subject. The myth of Kusonoki Masashige, who gave his life for his Emperor, was reenacted by General Nogi Maresuke in September 13, 1912, when the general and his wife Shizuko followed the Meiji emperor (who had died several months before, on July 30) into the grave. At that moment, the imperial funeral cortege left the palace grounds and a gun boomed to announce this. Nogi was perhaps not a great general (as experts say), but he was very human and so seems to have spoken strongly to the Japanese. The country is still littered with monuments and shrines dedicated to him. His suicide turned him into a new myth, that could be exploited by the imperialists in the twenties and thirties. Japan had got its new Loyal Subject...

Nogi had waged both the war with China and the one with Russia. In that last war, a battle in trenches as Europe was to experience 10 years later in WW1, the loss if life was huge at 50,000 casualties; the general's two own sons died. Like in Europe, the war was waged with weapons which were modern but tactics which were ancient. You don't storm a hill fortified with machine guns by sending waves of soldiers towards it. For such a job, you need a tank, but unfortunately, tanks had not been invented yet. It may have been the dark memory of this war that inspired Nogi to his deed, rather than simple loyalty. In fact, his deed was anachronistic: samurai sometimes committed suicide when their lord and master died, but this custom was frowned upon and had died out in the early 17th c. Nogi's harakiri was contrary to his times, and that may have been why he became so famous. It also marked the end of an era, and had a profound impact on contemporary writers, such as Mori Ogai and Natsume Sōseki. For the public, Nogi became a symbol of loyalty and sacrifice.


[The Suicide Room]

The Nogi Shrine was set up in 1923 in the grounds of Nogi's former residence (and place of the seppuku); the house was also preserved. It is a frugal, two-storied wooden structure, raised on a stone basement. The stable next door (where General Nogi kept the white horse given him by the defeated Russian General Anatoly Stessel), is a more sturdy brick building. A walkway has been built around the house, so that visitors can look in through the windows, also into the tatami-floored suicide room. This is rather grisly: the positions of the general and his wife at death have been indicated by signs.


[Momoyama Goryo]

Meiji Imperial Tumulus in Fushimi Momoyama, Kyoto
There are in fact four "Momoyama stations" giving access to the Meiji tomb: Momoyama St on the JR Nara Line; Fushimi-Momoyama St on the Keihan Main Line; Momoyama Minamiguchi St on the Keihan Uji line; and Momoyama Goryumae St on the Kintetsu Kyoto line.

For our final destination we move from Tokyo to Kyoto. The imperial funeral cortege mentioned above, consisting of a cart decorated in gold leaf and lacquer, solemnly hauled by a team of oxen, made its way to nearby Tokyo Station where at midnight a special train left for Kyoto. Crowds gathered at stations along the way to bow in reverence.

The next day, the emperor was interred in the Fushimi Momoyama Tomb (Fushimi Momoyama Goryo) in the Fushimi area of southeastern Kyoto. This was in line with a thousand year old tradition that emperors had always found their last resting place in Kyoto (from the next Taisho emperor on, the imperial family's graves are in Hachioji in Tokyo, at the Musashi Imperial Graveyard). The emperor's tomb was laid out on the site where originally the Momoyama Castle of Hideyoshi had stood (some big stones that once belonged to that castle still are lying around). Close-by is also the tumulus of Kyoto's first emperor, Kammu. Emperor Meiji had been born in Kyoto in 1852, although he had ruled from the new capital of Tokyo since 1868. 

From Fushimi, a quiet avenue a kilometer long and lined with pine trees stretches to the emperor's tomb. From another direction, the south, there is also a 230 stairs high stone stairway, now popular with joggers. The domed tomb sits behind a number of torii. It all is very clean and pure. It was the first time since the late 7th c. that an emperor was buried, rather than cremated, in a "return" to pre-Buddhist rites.

It is all in good taste and today usually very quiet. That is a big difference with the decades before the war, when the Keihan, Kintetsu and JR trains brought school class after school class to pay their respects at the Meiji tomb, via stations that had been especially set up for this purpose.

By the way, at the foot of the mausoleum, like a loyal dog lying at the feet of his master, stands another Nogi Shrine, smaller than the one in Tokyo described above.


Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Too Loud a Solitude" by Bohumil Hrabal (review)

Too Loud a SolitudeToo Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about love for books as a way to freedom from the years that Czechoslovakia was a Communist dictatorship, and therefore a “current” topic because dictatorships - the majority telling the minority what to believe - seem to be proliferating again around the world.

This novella contains the story of Hanta who has been compacting paper for 35 years (before he could live from the pen, Hrabal himself did various odd jobs and from 1954 to 1959 he worked as paper compacter in a recycling mill in Prague). But his great love are literature and philosophy and every evening he rescues numerous books from the jaws of his press, carries them home, and stocks his small apartment with them to overflowing (even his toilet is full of books). His boss and colleagues consider him as an idiot, but this idiot can quote Hegel and the Daodejing. Hrabal not only saves books, but he also reads them - he thirsts after the great ideas and knowledge of the world. Saving books is his life. He is an obsessive collector of knowledge.

This novella is a strong protest against the banning and burning of books and the proscription of knowledge and freedom of thought – something unfortunately important again in our own harshly populist times. In that sense it has a lot in common with Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (the eponymous film by Truffaut is better than the book!).

But the times change even under a dictatorship: modern hydraulic presses are introduced which do the job better and more efficiently. For Hanta this means that all significance is taken away from his job and his existence. Finally, he commits suicide after being assigned to compact only clean paper...

Due to political censorship, this humorous short novel could not be officially published in the Czechoslovakia of the 1970s. Hrabal self-published it and had to wait until 1989 before it could be brought out in a normal edition.

Thanks to Hrabal's bawdy, witty humor, which infuses the whole book, reading this dystopian novella is unexpectedly great fun.


Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) was born in Brno when that Moravian city was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He studied law at the Charles University in Prague and took his degree in 1946. Hrabal worked in many jobs, such as stagehand, steelworker, postman, baler of wastepaper, dispatcher at a small railway station and insurance agent. These occupations provided rich material for his books when at age 49 he started writing. He wrote in an expressive style with often long sentences. Two of his most famous works are Closely Watched Trains, which gained an international audience both as a novel and as a film by Jiri Menzel, and the picaresque novel I Served the King of England. Together with Jaroslav Hasek, Karel Capek and Milan Kundera - likewise imaginative and amusing satirists - he is considered one of the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century. As a true successor to Jaroslav Hasek of The Good Soldier Švejk-fame, all his work is infused with an indomitable Czech wittiness.


View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bach Cantatas (B): Funeral Cantatas and Motets

In this post we will look at Bach funeral cantatas, of which three have come down to us. This seems a rather small number, but the fact is that at funerals usually motets were used - only at funerals of persons of high rank or royalty such as in the case of BWV 198 cantatas were played. We will look at the funeral motets (of which seven have been preserved) after our discussion of the the cantatas.

By the way, Cantata BWV 53 "Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde" is another funeral work, but as it is now generally considered as a composition by Georg Melchior Hoffmann (1679?-1715), we will skip it. Hoffmann studied in Leipzig, where he was first a member and then leader of the Collegium Musicum, founded by Telemann; he was also organist at the Neukirche. He composed instrumental works, masses, cantatas, as well as operas for the Leipzig opera (during the brief period there existed an opera in Leipzig). This "cantata" is a single aria for alto, scored for strings with two bells sounding a knell, ethereally beautiful (although I could do without the bells - something Bach would never have added!), irrespective of who wrote it (listen here).

So below we have cantatas BWV 106, 157 and 198; as well as motets BWV 118, 226, 227, 228, 229, Anh, 159 and BWV deest (by Kuhnau).

Cantata Studies:
Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)


[Blasiuskirche, Muhlhausen]

  • Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus tragicus), BWV 106, 1707-08

    1. Sonatina
    2. Chor "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit"
    3. Arioso (Tenor) "Ach, Herr, lehre uns bedenken"
    4. Arie (Bass) "Bestelle dein Haus"
    5. Chor und arioso (Sopran) "Es ist der alte Bund"
    6. Arie (Alt) "In deine Hände"
    7. Arioso (Bass), Choral (Alt) "Heute wirst du mit mir"
    8. Chor "Glorie, Lob, Ehr und Herrlichkeit"

    "God’s time is the best time"
    Text & translation

    This is one of the earliest known cantatas by Bach, older even than BWV 4 and 131, cantatas which also originated in Mühlhausen, where Bach was organist at the Blasius Church from 1707-1708. The oldest source for this cantata is a copy made in 1768 in Leipzig, which already contains the name Actus Tragicus.

    The instrumentation is quite modest, consisting of four soloists, two recorders, two viols, a small choir and continuo. The music is generally soft and slow, the very opposite of showiness. The text concerns death (Old Testament) and the coming of Jesus (New Testament). The chorus ‘Es ist der alte Bund’ functions as dramatic climax and central axis - finally, the two ideas are combined.

    Although there is speculation that the cantata was written for an uncle of Bach (who left him 50 guilders for his upcoming marriage to Maria Barbara), in fact we don't know for whom this ethereally beautiful cantata was written by the 22-year old Bach.

    The cantata is in the archaic style en vogue until the end of the 17th c.: that means that texts have been borrowed from the Bible or from chorales; that there are no free poetic texts, no recitatives and da-capo arias; and that there is no four-part chorale setting as finale. This brilliant work is not a youthful study, but rather the final peak and conclusion of a past genre.

    The music in this  very special cantata is expressive and profound, the mood most sorrowful. The cantata contains wonderful moving moments as the recorders and viols share their sorrow with the singers.

    Rating: A+
    Video: Netherlands Bach SocietyKoopmanLeonhardt


  • Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn, BWV 157, 1727


    1. Duet aria (tenor and bass): Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn
    2. Aria (tenor): Ich halte meinen Jesum feste
    3. Recitative (tenor): Mein lieber Jesu du
    4. Aria, recitative and arioso (bass): Ja, ja, ich halte Jesum feste
    5. Chorale: Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht


    "I cannot release You until You bless me"
    Text & translation

    This cantata was commissioned as a memorial cantata for Johann von Ponickau, a chamberlain at the Saxon court. The piece has only come down to us via a score and set of parts copied by Penzel (a successor of Bach as Cantor of the Leipzig Thomaskirche) and had to be reconstructed (the cantata had been adapted for performance on the Feast of the Purification of Mary).

    It is an intimate chamber work, thoughtful and pensive in tone, and without a choir or string ensemble.

    The cantata opens with a fine duet between tenor and bass that is introduced with a delicate accompaniment from flute, oboe and violin. It is a highly contrapuntal movement, and the music's effortless flow is impressive.

    The tenor aria is notable for its oboe d'amore accompaniment. The idea of clinging on to Jesus is expressed by several long notes on the word "halte."

    The powerful bass aria has a lovely part for the flute and breaks into arioso near the end for dramatic effect before returning to its original texture.

    The cantata ends with a straightforward chorale setting of Christian Keymann's hymn "Meinen Jesu lass ich nicht" (1658).

    Rating: B+
    Video: Bach-Stiftung


  • Lass Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, BWV 198, 1727


    First part

    Chorus: Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl
    Recitative (soprano): Dein Sachsen, dein bestürztes Meißen
    Aria (soprano): Verstummt, verstummt, ihr holden Saiten!
    Recitative (alto): Der Glocken bebendes Getön
    Aria (alto): Wie starb die Heldin so vergnügt!
    Recitative (tenor): Ihr Leben ließ die Kunst zu sterben
    Chorus: An dir, du Fürbild großer Frauen

    Second part

    Aria (tenor): Der Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus
    Recitative (bass): Was Wunder ists? Du bist es wert
    Chorus: Doch, Königin! du stirbest nicht

    "Allow Princess, just one more ray"
    Text & translation

    Funeral Ode written for the commemoration service of Christiane Eberhardine, Queen of Poland and Electress of Saxony, performed in the University Church at Leipzig. Bach composed the ode at the request of the university. The libretto was written by Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-1766), professor of philosophy and poetry. The solemn memorial ceremony took place in the St Paulinerkirche on October 17, 1727. Playing in front of a select group of university, noble and civil authorities, this was one of the highlights in Bach's career. Bach himself presided at the harpsichord during the performance.

    The main part of the service, a funeral oration, was preceded by the first part of Bach's Trauer Ode, and the second part followed immediately afterwards. Bach set Gottsched's nine somewhat uniform verses in ten movements, in the Italian style with recitatives and arias - in fact, showing no respect for the original literary style and only thinking in terms of musical potentialities! The funeral instrumentation includes four soloists, four-part choir, two flutes, two oboes d'amore, two viola da gambas, lute and continuo, so instruments whose soft timbres were well suited to solemn mourning music.

    The opening chorus with its dense concerted texture in French style begs the deceased to grant one more ray of her beauty. The first aria, for soprano, "Verstummt, ihr holden Saiten" contains the most energetic string writing in the whole piece - which breaks off when the soprano enters (a Bachian pun).

    The heart of the piece is the alto aria "Wie starb die Heldin so vergnügt" with its obbligato of two gambas accompanied by two lutes. In the recitative preceding this aria we find an astonishing depiction of funeral bells.

    The fugal chorus at the end of the first part depicts the queen as an example for great women. The chorale which closes part 2 has a dance-like character and the chorus sings the ultimate phrases "She has been virtue's property, her loyal subjects joy and fame" in rare unisono, as if to underline the special status Christiane had earned herself.

    The somber, menacing atmosphere of the music resembles, not surprisingly, that of the Passions, and Bach in fact reused the music for the lost (but recently reconstructed) Markus-Passion of 1731, and also for the mourning music for Leopold van Anhalt-Köthen of 1729.

    The mood is dignified, quietly contemplative, restrained even. But each movement is a gem. Bach uses his diverse forces to give a beautifully varied musical perspective on mourning. The Trauer Ode should probably be appreciated on equal terms with the two surviving Passions.


    Rating: A+
    Video: Bach-Stiftung


    • The Funeral Motets

    Motets are compositions for choir a-cappella on religious, non-liturgical texts. A-cappella means that instruments do not play an independent role, but they can be used as reinforcement of the vocal parts.

    The motet was one of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music. Motets are highly diverse in form and style.

    In Bach's time motets as independent compositions were considered old-fashioned - they had been replaced by the more fashionable cantata. Bach only wrote them on commission, usually for funerals or memorial services. But the interesting fact is that, unlike Bach's cantatas, his motets remained in the repertoire during all of the 18th c. and were the first to be published in the 19th c.!

    Here is an overview of Bach's funeral motets:

    BWV 118, O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, 1736-47.
    There are two versions: 1736-37 for outdoor performances, 1746-47 for indoor settings. The first version is unique for not including strings; instead, it includes two "litui" (an ancient horn-like instrument), cornet, three trombones, and portable organ - outdoors, brass would have been more effective than strings. The second version includes strings and optionally three oboes and bassoon. In both versions the chorale melody is presented phrase by phrase as a long-note cantus firmus in the soprano.

    The work is known to have been performed at a funeral (possibly the grave-side ceremony for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, governor of Leipzig, on October 11, 1740), and was probably a generic work intended for such occasions. At least, the fact that the accompaniment exists in two versions suggests that there was a subsequent revival of the work in the 1740s.

    When the work was first published in the 19th c. it was called a cantata, perhaps because it has an instrumental accompaniment which plays ritornello-like interludes. However, modern scholarship accepts it is a motet. The text is a 1610 hymn by Martin Behm.

    Video: Rilling / Seville Chamber Choir / Andras Vass


    BWV 226, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, 1729
    Scored for two four-part choirs, this motet was performed in Leipzig in 1729 for the funeral of Johann Heinrich Ernesti, rector of the Thomasschule and professor at the University of Leipzig. The text is taken from the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:26–27) and Martin Luther's third stanza to the hymn "Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott" (1524).

    The motet is in one movement with several contrasting sections, the first two of which may be adapted from an older composition. The buoyant opening section is musically uncharacteristic for a motet - and also for funeral music. A change of meter and affect takes place in the fugal second section. The last section, in which the two choirs combine, is a double fugue.

    The original performing parts have come down to us and provide evidence for the fact that Bach performed his motets with basso continuo and colla parte instrumentation.

    This motet is often performed followed by a four-part chorale ("Du heilige Brunst," the third stanza from Luther's "Komm, heiliger Geist"), but that chorale (although also by Bach) is not originally part of the motet. It was probably sung later at the graveside, and should not be performed as if it were the concluding chorale of the kind often found in Bach's church cantatas.


    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Collegium Musicum Traiectum


    BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy), 1723-1735
    Motet for five vocal parts. It has been suggested that it was composed in 1723 for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of the Leipzig postmaster, but there is no evidence for this. It takes its title from the hymn "Jesu, meine Freude" by Johann Franck on which it is based. The stanzas of the chorale are interspersed with passages from the Epistle to the Romans. The chorale melody on which several movements are based was by Johann Crüger (1653). The German text is by Johann Franck, and dates from c. 1650.

    In fact, there are strong indications that various movements of the motet were composed during different periods of Bach's life and that the well-known 11-movement version is a compilation (albeit by Bach himself). The 9th movement, for example, seems to be the oldest part. Unfortunately, we lack original source material and also don't now for sure what the purpose of the piece was.

    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Vocalconsort Berlin


    BWV 228, Fürchte dich nicht, 1726 (or earlier)
    A motet in A major for a funeral, set for double chorus and unspecified instruments playing colla parte. The work in two movements draws its text from the Book of Isaiah and a hymn by Paul Gerhardt. Traditionally, scholars believed that Bach composed it in Leipzig in 1726, while more recent scholarship suggests for stylistic reasons that it was already composed during Bach's Weimar period. The motet shows its indebtedness to traditional models, though with typical Bachian twists.

    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Bachkantorei / Musica Amphion & Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam

    BWV 229, Komm, Jesu, komm, 1731–1732
    Bach scored the motet for double choir. It was probably composed for a funeral, as others of his motets but exact dates of composition and performance are not known. It is his only motet without biblical text. He set a poem by Paul Thymich, which Johann Schelle set as a funeral aria in 1684. Also unusually, the motet is not closed by a chorale, but by an aria which is harmonized like a chorale.

    The work has been described as having a confident, intimate and tender character, and making more use of polychorality (interplay of the two choirs) than polyphony (interplay of the voices).

    Video: Netherlands Bach Society /

    BWV Anh. 159, Ich lasse dich nicht, 1712
    Motet scored for double chorus, SATB—SATB and unspecified instruments playing colla parte. The motet, which was formerly attributed to Bach's older cousin Johann Christoph Bach, appears to be one of Bach's earlier works, possibly composed during his Weimar period around 1712. It draws its text from a verse taken from the Book of Genesis, from the scene of Jacob's Ladder (Genesis 32:27), combined with the third stanza of the hymn "Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz" by Erasmus Alberus.

    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Schola Cantorum Basiliensis /


    BWV deest, Der Gerechte kommt um, 1700
    A chorale from a pasticcio passion oratorio, a parody of the motet Tristis est anima mea which was likely composed by Johann Kuhnau. The arrangement is Bach's, and possibly Bach used it as a separate funeral motet. But the basic music is by Kuhnau.

    Video: Vox luminisBach Collegium San Diego



    Bach Cantata Index

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bach Cantatas for Church Events without Date (A): Wedding Cantatas

In this post we look at the wedding cantatas Bach wrote. In the first place we should make a distinction between wedding cantatas written for the official church ceremony and wedding cantatas written for the festivities afterwards. Of the first type we have five titles, of the second type three, but these are not all of them preserved. In fact, it is shattering how much has been lost. It is estimated that during his tenure in Leipzig, Bach must have performed some sixty wedding cantatas during religious wedding ceremonies in the Thomas- or Nicolaikirche - for the well-to-do who could afford such an expensive production. Why have these almost all been lost? Probably because most were parodies (i.e. re-using older material) and because the texts, in which the groom and bride were addressed by name, were tied to only one occasion. The cantatas that have been preserved were probably of a more general "felicitous" nature. 

Here is an overview of what we now have:

BWV 34a (church wedding, 1726)
Only the text of this wedding cantata has survived, and the movements 1, 4 and 5, which Bach used a year later for his Pentecostal cantata BWV 34. I could not find a recording. Not included below.

BWV 120a (church wedding, 1729)
This wedding cantata has a parody relationship with the Ratswechselkantate BWV 120 that is handed down to us in an autograph score from 1742, but the experts contradict each other as to which of the two cantatas served as an example. Probably there was an older example underlying both. Aided by the parody relations, this cantata was fairly easy to reconstruct (by Koopman and Suzuki among others).

BWV 195 (church wedding, 1748)
See below.

BWV 196 (church wedding, 1708)
See below.

BWV 197 (church wedding, 1736)
See below.

BWV 202 (wedding party, 1720)

BWV 210 (wedding party, 1738)
This cantata is sometimes also considered as a more general congratulatory cantata, not one specifically tied to a wedding.

BWV 216, "Vergnügte Pleißenstadt" (wedding party, 1728)
Only the text and vocal parts for a soprano and an alto have survived from this cantata written for the wedding of the merchant Johann Heinrich Wolff to Susanna Regina Hempel. It is impossible to make a reliable reconstruction. There is no recording.

Interestingly, all six preserved (or reconstituted) wedding cantatas are of high quality - I have given them almost all A status! Despite that, the only cantata reasonably well-known is "Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten" for solo soprano, which means that there are some rare gems to be discovered.

Take for example the other work for solo soprano, "O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit," BWV 210 which is about the power of music and contains a good text and moving arias. Or the deceptively simple "Der Herr denket an uns," BWV 196. And then the grand and festive tones of "Dem Gerechten muss das Licht," BWV 195...

Happy discoveries!

Cantata Studies:
Bach Cantatas Website | Simon Crouch | Emmanuel Music | Julian Mincham | Wikipedia | Eduard van Hengel (in Dutch) | Bach Companion (Oxford U.P.) | Bach: The Learned Musician (Wolff) | Music in the Castle of Heaven (Gardiner)



  • Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 196, 1707–08


    1. Sinfonia
    2. Chor: Der Herr denket an uns und segnet uns. Er segnet das Haus Israel, er segnet das Haus Aaron.
    3. Arie Soprano: Er segnet, die den Herrn fürchten, beide, Kleine und Große.
    4. Arie (Duett) Tenor & Bass: Der Herr segne euch je mehr und mehr, euch und eure Kinder.
    5. Chor: Ihr seid die Gesegneten des Herrn, der Himmel und Erde gemacht hat.


    "The Lord hath been mindful of us"
    Text: Psalm 115:12-15

    Early wedding cantata in a simple and light vein. The occasion probably was the wedding of the minister Johann Lorenz Stauber with Regina Wedemann, who was the aunt of Bach’s wife Maria Barbara, which took place in Arnstadt in 1708. Stauber had been the clergyman who had married Bach and Maria Barbara in Dornheim in the preceding year.

    The text is a passage from Psalm 115, asking for asks for blessings ("segnen") on the house and children - suitable for a wedding cantata. After a peaceful sinfonia follows a chorus in prelude-fugue style. This is followed by an aria, a fresh and lively duet, and a final chorus. Each has been beautifully crafted. The work is scored for three vocal soloists, a four-part choir and a Baroque instrumental ensemble of strings and continuo. The style is typical for Bach's early cantatas (without free poetry set as recitatives and arias) and harks back to the 17th century. The cantata has come to us in a copy from 1730 by Bach's pupil Johann Ludwig Dietel.

    Rating: A
    Video: Netherlands Bach Society / Holland Baroque Society / Vox luminis

  • Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202, 1714?-1721?


    Aria Soprano "Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten"
    Recitative Soprano "Die Welt wird wieder neu"
    Aria Soprano "Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden"
    Recitative Soprano "Drum sucht auch Amor sein Vergnügen"
    Aria Soprano "Wenn die Frühlingslüfte streichen"
    Recitative Soprano "Und dieses ist das Glücke"
    Aria Soprano "Sich üben im Lieben"
    Recitative Soprano "So sei das Band der keuschen Liebe"
    Aria Soprano "Sehet in Zufriedenheit"


    "Depart, gloomy shades."
    Text: Salomon Franck?

    A wedding cantata for solo soprano (written for the wedding party after the formal church wedding). The text concerns itself with renewal, an appropriate theme for weddings.

    The cantata begins with a poetic inspiration: quietly rising string arpeggios suggest the "gloomy shades," the winter mists, which are then penetrated by a warming ray of light from the oboe's first long note, presaging the soprano's entry. The central part of this aria sings of the delights of spring, the time for love - even for the ancient gods.

    The tone gradually lightens over the nine numbers that constitute the cantata. The second aria shares its origin with Bach's violin sonata BWV 1019 and most effective it is here too. The sixth movement makes specific reference to the coming together of two souls in health and good fortune, an experience which Bach seems to have enjoyed within his own two happy marriages. The cantata ends with a courtly gavotte.

    This cantata survives intact thanks to a copy made by Johannes Rinck in 1730. It may have been composed during Bach's time at Cöthen (1717-23, with Anna Magdalena Bach as possible soloist) but other suggestions have placed it even earlier, during Bach's Weimar years.

    Rating: A+
    Video: Bachstiftung / Koopman / Bach-Archiv Leipzig

  • Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge, BWV 120a, 1729


    Part 1

        Chorus: Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge
        Recitative (tenor, bass, and choir): Wie wunderbar, o Gott, sind deine Werke
        Aria (soprano): Leit, o Gott, durch deine Liebe

    Part 2

        Sinfonia
        Recitative (tenor and choir): Herr Zebaoth, Herr, unsrer Väter Gott
        Aria (alto, tenor): Herr, fange an und sprich den Segen
        Recitative (bass): Der Herr, Herr unser Gott, sei mit euch
        Chorale: Lobe den Herren, der deinen Stand sichtbar gesegnet


    "God, who rules over everything."
    Text: anonymous. The closing chorale is by Joachim Neander, stanzas 4 and 5 of his hymn "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren"

    A wedding cantata in two parts, the second part to be performed after the wedding ceremony. The cantata has come down to us in incomplete form, but can be reconstructed by referring to BWV 120 (going back like our wedding cantata to the same lost Köthen original). There are performances by Koopman and Suzuki.

    Only the recitatives are unique to this cantata. Three movements were copied from BWV 120 "Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille," composed for the occasion of the inauguration of a new town council: BWV 120a/1 corresponds to BWV 120/2 (and this was later again adapted for the opening chorus of the Mass in B minor. one of Bach's greatest works), BWV 120a/3 corresponds to BWV 120/4, and BWV 120a/6 corresponds to BWV 120/1, The sinfonia 120a/4 comes from BWV 1006/1 (the prelude of the partita for violin solo in E major). BWV 120a/8, finally, corresponds to BWV 137/5.

    The music is generally agreed to be of high quality despite these various origins. Generally, the orchestration is typical of what Bach used for festive occasions, with oboes d'amore, trumpets and timpani. The names of bride and groom are not known.

    Rating: B+
    Video: -


  • O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit, BWV 210, between 1738 and 1746


    Recitative: O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit
    Aria: Spielet, ihr beseelten Lieder (A major)
    Recitative: Doch, haltet ein, ihr muntern Saiten
    Aria: Ruhet hie, matte Töne (E major)
    Recitative: So glaubt man denn, dass die Musik verführe
    Aria: Schweigt, ihr Flöten, schweigt, ihr Töne (B minor)
    Recitative: Was Luft? was Grab?
    Aria: Großer Gönner, dein Vergnügen
    Recitative: Hochteurer Mann, so fahre ferner fort (A major)
    Aria: Seid beglückt (A major)

    "O glorious day, longed-for time"
    Text: anonymous

    Like BWV 202, this is a wedding cantata for solo soprano - and like BWV 202, it was written for the (more frivolous) wedding party after the formal church wedding. The text is addressed primarily to the bridegroom and discusses the place of love and music in his future life. The occasion is unknown, although several important weddings that took place during the last decade of Bach's life have been suggested. Bach re-used material from a "Huldigungskantate" (homage cantata), "O angenehme Melodei," first performed in 1729.

    There are five recitatives and arias. The first recitative introduces the happy day. Then follows a confident orchestral introduction, after which the soprano praises the power of music to move the soul. The virtuosity of this aria suggests a mature and accomplished singer (perhaps Bach's wife Anna Magdalena). The following recitative doubts that music should interrupt the harmony of bride and groom and a lovely oboe line introduces the next aria (Rest here, weary tones) which stresses this further. This is a "slumber aria" in a languorous rhythm.

    The third aria is accompanied by the flute and seems resigned to the fate of music to be quiet (the flute, however, is disobedient and continues to adorn the music with decorative filigree), but the fourth aria, a lovely polonaise, strongly takes up the defense of music again. The bridegroom is addressed as a beneficent music lover.

    The final recitative urges the bridegroom not to abandon both his love and patronage of music and the cantata ends with a song of general rejoicing, expressing good wishes for the future of the bridal pair.

    It seems strange that this work is so little known and rarely performed and recorded... it is a most beautiful work, on a good text.

    Rating: A+
    Video: -

  • Dem Gerechten muss das Licht, BWV 195, 1748–49


    I.
    Chor: Dem Gerechten
    Rezitativ Bass: Dem Freudenlicht gerechter Frommen
    Arie Bass: Rühmet Gottes Güt und Treu
    Rezitativ Soprano: Wohlan, so knüpfet denn ein Band
    Chor: Wir kommen, deine Heiligkeit

    II.
    Choral: Nun danket all und bringet Ehr

    "There is sprung up a light for the righteous"
    Text: anonymous. Two verses from Psalm 97 are used for the opening movement, and the first stanza of Paul Gerhardt's hymn "Nun danket all und bringet Ehr" constitutes the closing chorale.

    A grand and festive wedding cantata, based on an earlier work from 1727-31 (Bach substituted the earlier work's recitative, aria and chorus in the second part with just a chorale). The cantata was written for an important event, the wedding of Johanna Eleonora Schutz and Gottlob Heinrich Pipping, who was a lawyer and burgomaster. On this glorious occasion an elaborate orchestra was available (including trumpets, timpani and two oboes). The cantata starts and finishes with mighty, festive choruses. There is only one aria, for bass, but the recitatives are also quite elaborate and far more imposing than the usual run-of-the-mill recitative. The bass aria has the character of a folk song and demonstrates the late Bach's familiarity with the galant style. It is accompanied by pairs of flutes and oboes d'amore.

    There is a very short second part (post wedding ceremony) to the cantata consisting of two stanzas of the chorale Nun danket all und bringet Ehr set to the melody Lob Gott, ihr Christen, alle gleich.

    Rating: A
    Video: Bach Cantatas Tilburg

  • Gott ist unsre Zuversicht, BWV 197, 1736/37 (partly based on 197a)


    I.
    Chor: Gott ist unsre Zuversicht
    Rezitativ Bass: Gott ist und bleibt der beste Sorger
    Arie Alto: Schläfert allen Sorgenkummer
    Rezitativ Bass: Drum folget Gott und seinem Triebe
    Choral: Du süße Lieb, schenk uns deine Gunst

    II.
    Arie Bass: O du angenehmes Paar
    Rezitativ Soprano: So wie es Gott mit dir
    Arie Soprano: Vergnügen und Lust
    Rezitativ Bass: Und dieser frohe Lebenslauf
    Choral: So wandelt froh auf Gottes Wegen


    "God is our hope and strength"
    Text: anonymous (chorales by Luther and Neumark)

    Cantata written for the wedding of persons of rank, although nothing is known about the occasion. But the dimensions of the piece and the large assembly of instruments indicate that it was performed at a wedding of people of high position. There is even a Latin subheading "In diebus nuptiarum." The elaborate work is based in part on a now lost Christmas cantata.

    The text is about God's providence and omnipotence. In Part 2 we also find an address to the wedded couple in terms of well-wishing.

    The cantata is over 30 minutes long, but there are only three arias. In other words, the individual movements are all quite long. The vigorous fugal opening chorus takes a full six minutes. It is a resplendent piece, scored festively for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and continuo, in fact a fusion of an introductory sinfonia with an opening chorus. 

    The first aria for alto and oboe d'amore is a tenderly expressive exhortation to trust in God's guidance. It features a beautiful and stately instrumental accompaniment. In the second part (to be played after the wedding ceremony), a celebratory bass aria forms an intimate address to the wedded pair, with an accompaniment of note by oboe and bassoon. The soprano aria has the character of a lullaby or even folk dance and is accompanied by violin and two oboes d'amore. The arias for bass and soprano have been taken from the now lost Christmas cantata BWV 197a.

    The final chorale is a simple setting of a beautiful tune.

    Rating: A
    Video: Trinity Church



Bach Cantata Index

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Female Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (Bodkin, Footner, Forrester, Green, Marsh, Orczy, Pirkis, Sims, Weir)

The Victorian and Edwardian eras watched the appearance of a number of female literary detectives, both in Britain and America, acting as "the female rivals" of Sherlock Holmes. There was something of a false start in the 1860s (in The Female Detective by Forrester, and other books), after which the real wave of "lady detectives," as they were called, came rolling on from the mid-1890s until WWI (my last example below from the 1920s is a latecomer).

This was of course an off-shoot of the general interest in mystery and detective stories (following in the wake of the highly popular sensation novel as practiced by Collins and Braddon) and made possible by a huge proliferation of magazines eager to publish short stories - and at the same time an expansion of literacy by general education
 
Leaving aside the false dawn of the 1860s (a period which was still solidly Victorian, with no opportunities given to women to work independently), we see that in the 1890s society was slowly changing. Where in mid-Victorian times women had been solely keepers of the domestic sphere (with only the possibility to step out of that when pursuing charitable causes), now among women themselves a demand was coming up for equality with men, something symbolized in the actions of suffragists who fought for the right to vote. 
 
This led to the concept of the “New Woman,” or in other words, women who were well-educated, who enjoyed economic independence (employment), and who demanded physical freedom (including “rational clothes” and bicycle riding). In those aspects, the New Woman was very close to the type of the female detective.

All the same, in late-Victorian and Edwardian times the female detective was still not more than pure fiction. London's police department had been founded in 1829 and the first two women were only employed in 1888, to assist in managing female prisoners. But London did not have female police officers until a 1916 Act of Parliament specifically allowed for it. Female policewomen had to be between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age and single. They were asked to leave the force as soon as they married. And the first female detective position was only created in 1922. This all serves to demonstrate how "fictional" the below stories about female detectives unfortunately were...

So how was it possible that such fictional female detectives were at all accepted by readers? This may be because of the characteristics of the genre of detective stories: it was a new profession, both in reality and in fiction, and the only quality that counted for a detective was to have outstanding problem-solving abilities.

Woman detectives brought a few extra qualities as well. One was that they could enter spaces forbidden to men: they could pose as governesses, household helps,  etc., and enter into the very bosom of families where a mystery had to be solved. The second was a “woman’s intuition,” a faculty enabling them to make sharp judgements about others based on little information. Intuition is of course not typical for women - also Sherlock Holmes uses a lot of it - but the writers tell us it was perhaps more acutely developed in their "lady detectives." And finally another feature of the lady detective is her meddlesomeness, an inclination to nosiness and toward knowing all there is to know about the lives of others (this is very strong in Miss Gladden, and in Judith Lee, see below). In fact, the inability to mind one’s own business would become a particular trait of detectives of the future. 

One regrettable aspect of these stories is that the writers were, unlike their protagonists, mostly men (there are only three woman writers among the nine listed below). Some of them perhaps felt they had to bow to Victorian convention by explaining how their woman characters ended up doing such work - usually it was because of outside forces beyond their control. And by the end of the series, not a few women are sent back to their domestic sphere by their creator, showing that even in fiction the female rivals of Sherlock Holmes were the exception rather than the rule.



[Illustration from the Loveday Brooke stories,
showing the detective and her employer]

1. Miss Gladden ("G"), "The Female Detective," by Andrew Forrester (1864)
This book can claim to be the beginning of the tradition in the crime literature of the female detective: Miss Gladden (or “G”) is the first female professional detective to appear in fiction. She is a somewhat mysterious figure, even her name is not revealed ("Miss Gladden" is supposed to be an assumed name) and we learn little about her. "G" is not directly employed by the police, but is a sort of inquiry agent who works independently but on behalf of the authorities. "G" may also initiate her own inquiries (as she does in "Tenant for Life" with rather disastrous results). She usually works undercover and only introduces herself as a detective when the need arises or when her investigations have come to a close. Her strong point is that she can get into places where men cannot, as she as a woman is not seen as a threat, for example by posing as a milliner.

It is interesting to note how far these stories are ahead of their times: in 1864 when they were published, there were no women detectives in Britain (and no women police officers either) - and there would not be any for another 50 years. No wonder that Miss Gladden operated undercover!

By the way, only months after The Female Detective saw the light, a similar story collection called Revelations of a Lady Detective (attributed to William Stephens Hayward) appeared, which featured the debut of Mrs. Paschal, a detective of “vigorous and subtle” brain who works for an all-women branch of the police department, both unfortunately this was a false dawn. The next female detective in Britain would only appear 30 years later, in the form of The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective by Catherine L. Piskis in 1894.

The Author:
James Redding Ware (1832-c. 1909, pseudonym Andrew Forrester) was a much-published writer and editor, who turned his hand to all kinds of subjects, but remained in obscurity - even the year of his death is not certain. Ware published two more collections of detective stories.

The Stories:
The Female Detective (1864) has been republished in 2016 by The British Library (although out of copyright, this rare book cannot be found online). In the longer stories, such as "Tenant for Life" and "The Unknown Weapon", Ware developed a strong, three-dimensional character, with ingenious skills of deduction. Although written by a man, the stories depict a strong woman's outlook. But on the negative side, out of the seven stories in this book (actually two novellas of about 100 pages each and five short stories), there are only four in which the "female detective" plies her craft. Moreover, several of the stories have no plot but are more like essays on the duties and techniques of the detective. This book is mainly interesting for its historical significance, and for explicitly acknowledging the private spaces to which a woman would have access that a man would not.

The seven stories are: "The Tenant for Life," "Georgy," "The Unraveled Mystery," "The Judgement of Conscience," "A Child Found dead," "The Unknown Weapon," and "The Mystery."

There is no origin story, but a short introduction presenting Miss Gladden. Besides that, I recommend the two longer stories mentioned above (especially "The Unknown Weapon" is quite good). The language is a bit stiff and stilted, but "G" certainly is a self-assured and realistic detective.


2. Loveday Brooke, "The Lady Detective," by Catherine Louisa Pirkis (1894)
Appearing exactly 30 years after Miss G, Britain's second female detective Loveday Brooke was created by a woman, Catherine Louisa Pirkis. The book stands halfway between the casebook stories from the 1860s (as in The Female Detective) and the mystery plots of Conan Doyle, who started writing his Sherlockian stories in 1891. The sharply observant and remarkably self-reliant Loveday Brooke is the star employee of a detective agency. She is not a bored member of the upper classes, but a working girl, an intelligent and independent woman who works as professional detective for Ebenezer Dyer, the head of a detective agency in Lynch Court (off Fleet Street). Finding herself thrown upon the world penniless, with no means of support, the thirtyish Loveday Brooke turns to detective work where her common sense and knack for disguise come in handy.

As her boss remarked: "I only know she is the most sensible and practical woman I ever met. In the first place, she has the faculty–so rare among women–of carrying out orders to the very letter: in the second place, she has a clear, shrewd brain, unhampered by any hard-and-fast theories; thirdly, and most important item of all, she has so much common sense that it amounts to genius–positively to genius."

She is frequently sent undercover into households, for example as a governess, a servant or an interior decorator. The interplay with her employer Mr Dyer is very modern. She does so well in her new profession, that she can afford her own chambers and hire a maid. All of the Loveday stories show a feminist point of view.

The Author:
C.L. Pirkis (born Catherine Louisa Lyne, 1839-1910) - who often used only initials to hide her gender as in Victorian England women writers were not socially accepted - wrote 14 novels in the mystery genre and also contributed to major magazines. The female detective Loveday Brooke was her most popular character, in 1893 appearing in seven magazine stories, and the next year brought out in book form. Contemporary critics dubbed Loveday Brooks "the female Sherlock Holmes" (she was also called "a character who continues to outshine the detective Sherlock Holmes in preternatural prescience") and Piskis's collection of stories became one of the bestselling Sherlockian rivals. Later in life, Pirkis and her husband became known as champions for animal rights. Unfortunately these new endeavors also meant that Pirkis only wrote one set of stories about Loveday Brooke.

The Stories:
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1894) contains seven short stories. The stories predate the fair play conventions of later mystery fiction (and sometimes the solution arrives rather "out of the blue"), but the deductions are always logical and reasonable. The plots are captivating and, different from The Female Detective of 30 years before, are still interesting of their own accord. 

The seven stories are: "The Black Bag Left on a Door-Step," "The Murder at Troyte's Hill," "The Redhill Sisterhood," "A Princess's Vengeance," "Drawn Daggers," "The Ghost of Fountain Lane" and "Missing!"

My favorites among these seven stories are "The Redhill Sisterhood" and "Drawn Daggers." But as they are short and snappy, why not read them all?


3. Dorcas Dene, the "Professional Detective" by George R. Sims (1897-1898)
Dorcas Dene was a beginning actress strong in using various impersonations, but she left the stage when she married the young and promising artist Paul Dene. Then Paul had an illness and became blind, so Dorcas Dene again had to look out for an occupation to make both ends meet. As chance would have it, next door lived a retired superintendent of police, who conducted a high-class inquiry business, and Dorcas started working for him as a lady detective. He told her: "You have plenty of shrewd common sense, you are a keen observer, and you have been an actress."

Dorcas stipulates that she will give up if she finds out that the job "involves any sacrifice of her womanly instincts," but as her first case involves the tracking down of a man who has abandoned wife and children, her scruples are overcome.

Dorcas is an attractive woman, with soft grey eyes, who is a master of disguise. The earliest tales occasionally become sentimental (much is made of poor Paul’s blindness), but this element is fortunately reduced as the stories progress and the husband is moved offstage. That being said, the family atmosphere of a suburban home complete with pet bulldog reoccurs in most stories.

Dorcas shows outstanding detective skills and relies on leg work and professionalism. She always uses real detection to solve her cases, never guess work or coincidence. She impresses the reader as a highly intelligent, gifted woman excelling in her profession. She therefore enjoys the respect of Scotland Yard.

The stories are told by Mr Saxon, an elderly dramatist who originally introduced Dorcas Dene to the stage, but who now acts as her assistant and trusted chronicler. Interesting is how Dorcas orders her "Watson" around, directing and planning his activities - the unusual thing for the 19th century is of course that we have a woman giving a man orders. This portrait of an able woman boss is in advance of its time.


The Author:
George R. Sims (1847-1922) was an English journalist, poet, dramatist and novelist. Sims started out as a satirist, but soon concentrated on social reform. He was an avid sportsman and had a large circle of artistic friends. Sims was interested in the psychology of crime, and he penned some ingenious detective stories. Sims liked to discuss actual criminal cases with Max Pemberton and Arthur Conan Doyle, such as the murders of Jack the Ripper.

The Stories:
Dorcas Dene was featured in two case books, Dorcas Dene, Detective, First Series (1897) and Second Series (1898), written in a somewhat Holmesian vein. A modern Kindle edition containing all Dorcas Dene stories is available. The mysteries are well plotted and logically presented - they are also often quite inventive and hold up very well to other stories about the rivals of Sherlock Holmes. It is again a step ahead compared to the stories about Loveday Brooke.
 
The stories are: First Series (1897): "The Council of Four," "The Helsham Mystery," "The Man with the Wild Eyes," "The Secret of the Lake," "The Diamond Lizarx," "The Prick of a Pin," "The Mysterious Millionaire," "The Empty House," "The Clothes in the Cupboard," "The Haverstock Hill Murder," "The Brown Bear Lamp." Second Series: "The Missing Prince," "The Morganatic Wife," "The House in Regent's Park," "The Co-Respondent," "The Handkerchief Sachet," "A Bank Holiday Mystery," "A Piece of Brown paper," "Presented to the Queen" and "The One Who Knew." Note usually 2 titles make up one story, so the first series consists in fact of 5 stories; the second series consists of 4 stories (the first 3 titles belong together).

The "origin story" "The Council of Four" is disappointing, as Dorcas Dene is shown in strict Victorian style as subservient to the intellect of her husband. Happily, this pretense is discarded in most of the other stories, where Dorcas Dene is the major intellect and "boss" who orders her male assistant around. Some of my favorite stories are "The Man With the Wild Eyes," "The Diamond Lizard" and "The Mysterious Millionaire" - but all stories are fun to read - with the provision that the stories in the first series are generally better than those in the second series.


4. Dora Myrl, the "Lady Detective," by Matthias McDonnell Bodkin (1900-1911)
Dora Myrl is the well-educated daughter of a (now deceased) Cambridge don. She has a degree in medicine, but unable to find work as a physician, she works in odd jobs from telephone girl to journalist. In other words, despite her impressive qualifications, there was a sad lack of opportunities for her to use them in the society of her day. Fortunately, she realizes her gift for detection while working as a companion to an elderly woman who was being blackmailed (in the first story, "The False Heir and the True"). After that, she established herself as a professional private detective, mostly catering to high society. Her practice soon became quite lucrative.

When she first appears, Dora Myrl is described as follows: "...the face of a bright schoolgirl out for a holiday, brimming over with excitement. An audacious toque, with a brace of scarlet feathers stuck in it, was perched among thick coiled hair that had the ripple and lustre of a brown trout stream in the sunshine. The short skirt of her tailor-made dress twitched by the light wind showed slim ankles and neat feet encased in tan cycling boots..."

Dora Myrl is vivacious and good at tennis and billiards; observant, adept at disguises, and intuitive. In short, she the prototype of the "New Woman," something symbolized by the fact that she always moves around on her bicycle (even using it to race after criminals!). She is capable of wielding a revolver and can decipher codes. She treats her early cases as a game in which she pits her wits, sometimes flirtatiously, against the villains.

The Author:
Matthias McDonnell Bodkin (1850-1933) was an Irish politician and MP, a barrister who was appointed a judge - but also a noted author, journalist and newspaper editor. He wrote in a wide range of genres, including novels, plays, history and political texts. Bodkin earned a place in the history of the detective novel by his invention of the first detective family. His character Paul Beck was an Irish Sherlock Holmes with a very original yet logical method for detecting crime. Beck first appeared in Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective in 1899. In the following year Bodkin's creation Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective, appeared. In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909), Bodkin had them marry each other and in 1911 their son comes on stage, in Paul Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block. Other titles in this series were The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915) and Paul Beck, Detective (1929).

The Stories:
Dora Myrl, The Lady Detective (1890) contains 12 stories. A modern Kindle edition containing all Dora Myrl stories is available. 
 
The stories are: "The False Heir and the True," "The Hidden Violin," "How He Cut His Stick," "The Palmist," "The Last Shall Be First," "Clue," "A Railway Race," "The Pauper's Legacy," "Was it a Forgery?," "Hide and Seek," "Weighed and Found Wanting" and "The Wings of a Bird."
 
My favorite story is "How He Cut His Stick," in which Myrl sprints after the villain on her bicycle. I also liked, for example, "The Hidden Violin," "Clue" and The Pauper's Legacy." All stories are vivid and concise.


5. Lady Molly, "Of Scotland Yard," by Emma Orczy (1910)
Lady Molly is the aristocratic daughter of the Earl of Flintshire and a French actress "from whom she inherited all her beauty and none of her faults." She is at ease in high society, but can also disguise herself as a maid when necessary. 
 
"Some say she is the daughter of a duke, others that she was born in the gutter, and that the handle has been soldered on to her name in order to give her style and influence... We always called her "my lady" from the moment that she was put at the head of our section; and the chief called her "Lady Molly" in our presence."
 
Her greatest qualifications are her feminine tact and her woman's special knowledge, such as of the servant class, of fashion, and of the psychology of other women. But she is in the first place valued for her sharp feminine intuition. 

"We of the female department are dreadfully snubbed by the men, though don't tell me that women have not ten times as much intuition as the blundering and sterner sex; my firm belief is that we shouldn't have half so many undetected crimes if some of the so-called mysteries were put to the test of feminine investigation."

Lady Molly has an assistant called Mary Granard who acts as narrator. The book soon became very popular, with three editions appearing in the first year. Orczy's police officer preceded her real life female counterparts by a decade. Lady Molly, like her fictional contemporaries as for example Loveday Brooke, succeeded in her job because she recognized domestic clues foreign to male experience. 
 
Lady Molly's backstory is told in the last two, rather sentimental tales of the collection and it is rather a downer: her entry into the police is motivated by a desire to save her secret husband from a false accusation - unfortunately, not because she wants to challenge male dominance in the police force by doing an important job... Emma Orczy was very conservative politically and certainly not a feminist. Once her superior intuition has triumphed, Lady Molly marries and leaves the force.

The Author:
See Emma Orczy's profile in my article The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

The Stories:
Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910) contains all twelve Lady Molly adventures. 
 
The stories: "THE NINESCORE MYSTERY," "THE FREWIN MINIATURES," "THE IRISH-TWEED COAT," "THE FORDWYCH CASTLE MYSTERY," "A DAY'S FOLLY," "A CASTLE IN BRITTANY," "A CHRISTMAS TRAGEDY," "THE BAG OF SAND," "THE MAN IN THE INVERNESS CAPE," "THE WOMAN IN THE BIG HAT," "SIR JEREMIAH'S WILL" and "THE END." 
 
"The Woman in the Big Hat" was adapted for the TV series "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes." - it is indeed the best story. Generally, the Lady Molly stories are weaker than Orczy's other detective stories about The Old Man in the Corner. The background stories employed by her are also often hackneyed Victorian "family-secret" plots. The last two stories about Lady Molly's secret marriage and vindication of her husband are saccharine.


6. Judith Lee, "The Lip-Reading Detective," by Richard Marsh (1911-1916)
Richard Marsh's creation Judith Lee is very original: a young teacher of deaf pupils whose lip-reading ability involves her with mysteries that she solves by acting as a detective. She is a busybody who lip-reads the conversations of others across crowds and in restaurants etc. and comes in action when she spots any suspicious behavior. Her fiery sense of justice makes her take action against evildoers, almost against her will. It is also a skill which embroils her in trouble (also because she not always acts wise, as in "The Restaurant Napolitain" when she faces the criminal alone rather unwisely informing him she knows he has murdered someone).
 
In the origin story "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair", Judith narrates her first case, when as a 13-year old she is caught lip-reading a conversation between jewel thieves. The (male) criminals tie her up and, before leaving her for dead in an empty house, cut off her hair to scare and shame her. She manages to help catch them but is nonetheless traumatized by the experience. Every subsequent story shows Judith getting stronger and more tenacious - she even learns jujitsu! What distinguishes the Judith Lee stories from those about other female detectives is that the present heroine regularly is placed in physically threatening situations. But she can also be quite nasty and vindictive (something typical for the protagonists in Richard Marsh's fiction).

The stories are quite varied and increase in intensity as Judith finds herself in more perilous situations as the series progresses. From preventing a prospective marriage based on fraud, finding a "vanished" bride, or flouting a fraudulent fortuneteller, she thwarts a bombing, faces off with agents of the Mafia, and is trapped in a locked building forced to do battle with a murderous knife-wielding assailant... 
 
The stories are of high quality with excellent plots (albeit chance plays a rather important role) - it is mystery why these mysteries have been completely forgotten!

The Author:
Richard Marsh (1857-1915) was the pseudonym of the English author born Richard Bernard Heldmann. A best-selling and prolific author of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, Marsh is best known for his supernatural thriller The Beetle, a truly weird book, which was published in the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), and which initially was even more popular (it is certainly stranger). Marsh produced nearly 80 volumes of fiction and numerous short stories, in genres including horror, crime, romance and humor.

The Stories:
The 22 Judith Lee stories were from 1911 on published in The Strand Magazine and were first collected in book form in 1912. Richard Marsh was still writing Judith Lee stories when he passed away, and his widow issued a second and final collection of still unpublished stories in 1916. The two collections are Judith Lee: Some Pages from Her Life (1912) and The Adventures of Judith Lee (1916). They have been published together by Black Coat Press as The Complete Adventures of Judith Lee.

Judith lee is an interesting character. I advise to start with "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair" which is a sort of origin story and quite good fun. I also enjoyed "Eavesdropping at Interlaken," (the young Judith Lee is accused of being a thief by all the other hotel guests, and has to face them alone), "Matched," and "Isolda." The second collection is less interesting. Note that between both collections another "origin story" is included which was found among Marsh's papers (and probably not meant for publication), which clashes with "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair."


7. Miss Madelyn Mack, the "Master Detective," by Hugh C. Weir (1914)
Madelyn Mack is a woman-about-town, mistress of style and master detective. After first working as house detective for the Niegel Dry Goods Store, where she successfully solved a big theft, she struck out on her own by establishing her detective agency on Fifth Avenue. She employed several staff members and does well enough to buy a country place shaped like a Swiss chalet north of New York City on the Hudson River. Sufficiently well-off, she later closes the agency and only works as a consulting detective.

Madelyn Mack is about twenty-five, with red and white cheeks, crowned by a softly waved mass of dull gold hair, and a pair of vivacious grey-blue eyes "that at once made one forget every other detail of her appearance.” She usually dresses all in white or all in black. An interesting aspect is that she uses cola berries (which she carries in a locket around her neck) as a stimulant when she needs to go without sleep or food for days when working on a case. Madelyn comes complete with her faithful Watson in the form of her friend and chronicler, the reporter Nora Noraker.

The Author:
Hugh Cosgro Weir (1884-1934) worked as a reporter in Illinois and in Ohio, before becoming a freelance magazine writer and then a screenwriter in the very early days of Hollywood. In fact, the Mack stories were based on two films based on his scripts which were made in 1913 and 1914. Later Weir went on running an advertising agency and being a magazine editor. Weir is rather obscure, even Wikipedia doesn't have his profile as of this writing.

The Stories:
The 5 stories have been collected in Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, published in 1914. They are: “The Man with Nine Lives,” “The Missing Bridegroom,” “Cinderella’s Slipper,” “The Bullet from Nowhere,” “The Purple Thumb.” 


8. Violet Strange, "The Girl Detective," by Anna Katherine Green (1915)
Anna Katharine Green is credited as America's first female mystery novelist (with The Leavenworth Case, 1878), establishing many of the conventions of the genre. "Girl Detective" Violet Strange appears in 1915, so quite late in her career, but she had already written 3 novels about female detective Amelia Butterworth in That Affair Next Door (1897), Lost Man's Lane (1898) and The Circular Study (1900) (not treated here because I only include short stories). 

Violet Strange is a wealthy debutante who secretly moonlights as a sleuth. Violet's detective work must be kept secret, especially from her father (her mother is deceased). She specializes in cases involving high society in which as a debutante she can move freely. In the first story, "The Golden Slipper," she attends a house party to safeguard a priceless jewel necklace - and discovers the culprit when the necklace is stolen from among four rich women. One wonders why considering her position she is at all interested in detective work (and why she is so good at it) - there is no origin story in which this is explained. But the police chief who hires her has to do a lot of effort to engage her interest, for only then will she take a case. She keeps far from distasteful cases. Violet drives around in a chauffeured limousine, and as she cannot travel alone to questionable places, she has to take her brother into her confidence and let him accompany her. In the final story she marries and her sleuthing days are over...
The Author:
Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935) was an American poet and novelist, who has the distinction of being one of the first writers of detective fiction in America. Green has been called "the mother of the detective novel" for her well-plotted and legally accurate stories. Green is credited with developing the series detective: her main character was detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force, who appears first in The Leavenworth Case and then in 12 more novels. In three other novels he is assisted by the nosy society spinster Amelia Butterworth (who could be called the prototype for Agatha Christie's Miss Marple or Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver). Green also invented the 'girl detective' in the character of Violet Strange, a debutante with a secret life as a sleuth. Green's plot devices were innovative and included dead bodies in libraries, newspaper clippings as "clews", the coroner's inquest, and expert witnesses. Yale Law School once used her books to demonstrate how damaging it can be to rely on circumstantial evidence. But as is also shown by the fact that she "safely" marries off her heroine, Green was a conservative who was opposed to women's suffrage and who certainly was not a  feminist.

The Stories:
The stories: "THE GOLDEN SLIPPER," "THE SECOND BULLET, "AN INTANGIBLE CLUE," "THE GROTTO SPECTRE," "THE DREAMING LADY," "THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS," "THE DOCTOR, HIS WIFE, AND THE CLOCK," "MISSING: PAGE THIRTEEN, "VIOLET’S OWN."

"The Golden Slipper" is a sort of origin story. My favorite stories are "An Intangible Clue," "The Grotto Spectre," and "Missing: Page Thirteen."


9. Madame Storey, the "Practical Psychologist," by Hulbert Footner (1926-1936)
One of the last (and most interesting) Lady Detectives was Madame Storey who made her magazine debut in 1923 in Argosy All-Story Weekly, and went on to appear in numerous novellas, novels and collections for well over a decade. She is a fabulous looking woman, brilliant, fearless, intelligent, tall and graceful (her arms graced by long lizard gloves, in tune with the flapping 1920s), and "darkly beautiful in the insolent style that causes plainer women to prim up their lips."


This last description is by her plain, red-haired assistant Bella, who narrates her exploits in true Watson-like fashion (in the first story "The Ashcomb Poor Case" we learn how she came to be hired by Madame Storey). Although she prefixes "Madame" to her name, Rosika Storey is unmarried, because she has yet to meet a man bold enough to face her down - she is always mentally the strongest. This is a problem for Mr Barron, the assistant district attorney of New York, who brings several cases to her but is unable to make a dent in her armor. Madame Storey does have a fixed companion, a little monkey called Giannino.

Madame Storey works as a psychologist and private eye from her apartment in Manhattan, but her exploits take place not only in New York, but also in Paris, Monte Carlo and East Asia. Most of the stories are of the longer novella type, which makes them more interesting thanks to the larger scope; besides, Footner wrote a number of novels about his lady detective. I've only read a number of the stories, but found them quite original and refreshing.

The Author:
Hulbert Footner (1879-1944) was a Canadian writer of primarily detective fiction, who lived and worked mostly in New York. He also wrote plays and travel stories.

The Stories and Novels:
My suggestion is to start with the four stories in Madame Storey of 1926. These are: "The Ashcomb Poor Case," "The Scrap of Lace," "The Smoke Bandit" and "In the Round Room." 
 
Also read my article "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes"