The Magic Flute Premiere

September 30, 1791 – The first performance of The Magic Flute, the last opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to make its debut, took place at Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, Austria.

The Magic Flute (German: Die Zauberflöte), K. 620, is an opera in two acts to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that included both singing and spoken dialogue.

The story of The Magic Flute focuses on the triumph of reason and virtue over irrationality and evil. This concept was important in Freemasonry, a fraternal order that was popular during the Enlightenment, and of which Mozart was a member. The opera’s plot borrows symbolism from Masonic ritual, in which members’ progress through levels of self-understanding in a personal quest for knowledge.

The Magic Flute is set in ancient Egypt. Its story centers around Tamino, a young prince who enters a quest to win the hand of the princess Pamina. To marry Pamina, Tamino must undergo a series of initiation rites (symbolic of those found in Freemasonry), which test his dedication to reason.

Throughout the story, Tamino is caught between two powerful, symbolic figures. Sarastro, the High Priest of Isis and Osiris, leads Tamino through his search for wisdom, and symbolizes the power of reason. The Queen of the Night represents irrationality. She will stop at nothing to destroy Sarastro, and tries desperately to lure Tamino and Pamina into her power.

The mood in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is often solemn, but being a great dramatist, Mozart knew his story would benefit from a little comic relief. The opera’s lightest moments come courtesy of the birdcatcher,Papageno, Tamino’s nutty sidekick. Papageno is less interested in Reason than he is in finding a wife, and one of the opera’s most charming moments comes when he’s finally united with his equally flighty soul mate, Papagena.

Shown here is a souvenir sheet issued by Germany in 1991 commemorating the opera.



Holocaust: The Babi Yar Massacre

September 29, 1944: Jews gather in liberated Kiev, Ukraine, to commemorate the third anniversary of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar, Ukraine.

Babi Yar is a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by German forces and local collaborators during their campaign against the Soviet Union.

The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on 29–30 September 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation. The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor, Major-General Kurt Eberhard, the Police Commander for Army Group South, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. It was carried out by Sonderkommando 4a soldiers, along with the aid of the SD and SS Police Battalions backed by local Kiev police force.  The massacre was the largest single mass killing for which the Nazi regime and its collaborators were responsible during its campaign against the Soviet Union and is considered to be “the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust” to that particular date, surpassed only by the Aktion Erntefest of November 1943 in occupied Poland with 42,000–43,000 victims, and the 1941 Odessa massacre of more than 50,000 Jews in October 1941, committed by Romanian troops.

Israel issued a postage stamp in 1983 which memorialized this horrific tragedy.  The stamp features a painting by Yosef Kuzkovski called “The Last Way”.

babi yar - israel

Oscar I of Sweden, 1799 – 1859

September 28, 1844 – Oscar I of Sweden – Norway is crowned king of Sweden.

Oscar contributed some of his time and energy to endeavors supportive of the performing arts.  In 1832-34 he completed the opera Ryno, the errant knight left unfinished on the death of the young composer Eduard Brendler.

He also placed a high value on education and social justice.  In 1839 he wrote a series of articles on popular education, and (in 1841) an anonymous work, “Om Straff och straffanstalter”, advocating prison reforms.

This stamp, issued by Norway in 1856, features a profile of Oscar I.

king oscar I of Norway

Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust – a rare moment of benevolence

September 27, 1943: Ugo Foa, head of the Jewish community in Rome approached the Vatican in hopes of getting a Papal loan for the fifty kilograms of gold the Nazi German SS was demanding if the Jews were to avoid deportation to the death camps.  In a rare act designed to save Jews, Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) approved the request.  Funds were never released since the Jews, acting in desperation, raised the funds on their own.

Pope Pius XII’s actions during the Holocaust remain controversial. For much of the war, he maintained a public front of indifference and remained silent while German atrocities were committed. He refused pleas for help on the grounds of neutrality, while making statements condemning injustices in general. Privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews.

This stamp portraying Pius XII was issued by the Vatican City postal administration in March 1945:

pope pius XII

George Gershwin, 1898 – 1937

September 26, 1898 – Birthdate of George Gershwin, American pianist and composer.

Gershwin’s compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928) as well as the opera Porgy and Bess (1935).

Gershwin was born of Russian and Lithuanian Jewish descent. His grandfather, Jakov Gershowitz, had served for 25 years as a mechanic for the Imperial Russian Army to earn the right of free travel and residence as a Jew.

His teenage son, Moishe Gershowitz, worked as a leather cutter for women’s shoes. Moishe met and fell in love with Roza Bruskina, the teenage daughter of a furrier, born in Vilnius. Bruskina moved with her family to New York due to fears of an increasing anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia.

George Gershwin was born at the new residence on September 26, 1898; his birth certificate bears the name Jacob Gershwine, with the surname being commonly pronounced ‘Gersh-vin’ by the predominantly expatriate Russian and Yiddish community.

George lived a usual childhood existence for children of New York tenements – running around with his boyhood friends, roller skating and misbehaving in the streets. Remarkably, he cared nothing for music until the age of ten, when he was intrigued by what he heard at his friend Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin recital.  The sound, and the way his friend played, captured him. His parents had bought a piano for lessons for his older brother Ira, but to his parents’ surprise, and Ira’s relief, it was George who spent more time playing it.

Gershwin was influenced by French composers of the early twentieth century. In turn Maurice Ravel was impressed with Gershwin’s abilities, commenting, “Personally I find jazz most interesting: the rhythms, the way the melodies are handled, the melodies themselves. I have heard of George Gershwin’s works and I find them intriguing.”  The orchestrations in Gershwin’s symphonic works often seem similar to those of Ravel; likewise, Ravel’s two piano concertos evince an influence of Gershwin.

What set Gershwin apart was his ability to manipulate forms of music into his own unique voice. He took the jazz he discovered on Tin Pan Alley into the mainstream by splicing its rhythms and tonality with that of the popular songs of his era. Although George Gershwin would seldom make grand statements about his music, he believed that “true music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”

Gershwin died of a brain tumor on July 11, 1937, at the age of 38.  His funeral was held at Temple Emanu-El in New York City and 3,500 people attended. He was buried in Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County, New York.

As testament to how well-loved his music was throughout the world, his image can be seen on these stamps issued by the United States, Monaco, the Republic of Comoros and the Republic of Niger:

george gershwin_us               george gershwin_monaco

george gershwin_republic of comoros               george gershwin_Niger

Mark Rothko, 1903 – 1970

September 25, 1903: Birthdate of Mark Rothko. Rothko was a painter who is often classified as an abstract expressionist, although he vociferously denied being an abstract painter. He was born Marcus Rothkowitz in Daugavpils (Dvinsk), Russia (now Latvia) and emigrated to the United States in 1916.His work concentrated on basic emotions, often filling the canvas with very few, but intense colors, using little immediately-apparent detail. In this respect, he can also be considered to presage the color field painters (see Helen Frankenthaler).Although respected by other artists, Rothko remained in relative obscurity until 1960, supporting himself by teaching art. In 1958, Rothko was commissioned by architect Philip Johnson to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. This substantial project was completed in late 1959. Ultimately, Rothko was not happy having his paintings as the backdrop to gourmet dining so he gave a set of nine of the maroon and black works to the Tate Gallery, where they are on permanent display in an installation designed by Rothko. In 1967, Rothko again collaborated with Johnson on a church in Houston, Texas, contributing 14 related works in an installation setting. The church has subsequently become known as “The Rothko Chapel”. Numerous other works are scattered in museums throughout the world. Rothko’s work was secretly supported by the CIA which considered it “free enterprise painting”.  After a long struggle with depression, Rothko committed suicide by cutting his wrists in his New York studio on February 25, 1970. After his death, his son edited and released Rothko’s novel, An Artist’s Reality, which was incomplete at the time of his death, despite decades of work. Following his death the settlement of the Rothko estate became the subject of a famous court case.

Both the the United States and Latvia have issued stamps commemorating Rothko:

mark rothko_us                        mark rothko_latvia

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1896 – 1940

September 24, 1896 – Birthdate of F. Scott Fitzgerald, American novelist and short story writer.

He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.  Fitzgerald is considered a member of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s. He finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, The Great Gatsby (his best known), and Tender is the Night. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Love of the Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Fitzgerald also wrote many short stories that treat themes of youth and promise along with age and despair.

The postage stamp pictured here was issued in 1996 by the U.S. Postal Service.

f scott fitzgerald

Kol Nidre, 1901

September 22, 1901(9th of Tishrei, 5662): Eight days after Vice President Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in as President following the death of William McKinley, Jews prepare to hear Kol Nidre.

Stamps shown here were issued for use by the Canal Zone (Panama Canal) and Israel (as part of its Festivals 2012 series).

t roosevelt canal zone yom kippur stamp israel

Gustav Holst, 1874 – 1934

September 21, 1874 – Birthdate of Gustav Holst, English composer and educator.

Holst is well-known for his orchestral suite, “The Planets”.

His distinctive compositional style was the product of many influences, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss being most crucial early in his development. The subsequent inspiration of the English folksong revival of the early 20th century, and the example of such rising modern composers as Maurice Ravel, led Holst to develop and refine an individual style.

There were professional musicians in the previous three generations of Holst’s family, and it was clear from his early years that he would follow the same calling. He hoped to become a pianist, but was prevented by neuritis in his right arm. Despite his father’s reservations, he pursued a career as a composer, studying at the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford. Unable to support himself by his compositions, he played the trombone professionally and later became a teacher—a great one, according to his colleague Ralph Vaughan Williams. Among other teaching activities he built up a strong tradition of performance at Morley College, where he served as musical director from 1907 until 1924, and pioneered music education for women at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, where he taught from 1905 until his death in 1934, raising standards and so laying the foundation for several professional musicians. He was the founder of a series of Whitsun music festivals, which ran from 1916 for the remainder of his life. Holst’s works were played frequently in the early years of the 20th century, but it was not until the international success of The Planets in the years immediately after the First World War that he became a well-known figure. A shy man, he did not welcome this fame, and preferred to be left in peace to compose and teach.

The postage stamp shown here was issued by the Royal Mail in 1985 as part of a series honoring British composers.


Necdet Kent – a Turkish Holocaust hero

September 20, 2002: Ninety-one year old Necdet Kent, the Turkish diplomat, who while serving as vice-counsel in Marseilles from 1941 to 1944 risked his life to save Jews, passed away.

“When Kent heard that Turkish Jews who were living in France were rounded up by the Nazis, he personally went to the train station and demanded the release of all Jews who were Turkish citizens. According to Arnold Reisman, “When the guards refused to comply, he got into the wagon with them. A German officer ordered him to get off but Kent refused to leave unless they let his Turkish citizens off as well. Angrily, the officer said no, you can go with them and closed the door. After three hours of extreme cold and filth, the train arrived at the next station. Obviously realizing a possibly explosive international incident had to be quickly diffused, the German officer who opened the door to the wagon apologized profusely and allowed Kent to leave and take all the people in the wagon with him, never looking at papers, never checking to see if they were Turkish citizens or not.” He saved 80 Jewish lives.”

This stamp was issued in 2008 by Ptt, the postal authority of Turkey, as part of its “Precedent for Humanity” series.

necdet kent - righteous gentile