The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That Mast in Mattapoisett

A visit with globe-trotting friends (ciao, Giulia) brought me to Mattapoisett; my first time in this whaleship-building town. The plaque in Shipyard Park summarizes its importance to Melvillians.
Mattapoisett's Shipbuilders

From the year 1752 to 1878 at least six shipyards
flourished along this waterfront from the foot of
Pearl Street to Ship Street (Cannonville). The fine
harbor, an abundant supply of virgin timber, and a
ready market for whaling and maritime commerce
attracted the finest of shipbuilders. Barks, brigs,
schooners, sloops and merchant ships were built and
launched here. When the whaling industry was at its
height in New Bedford, Mattapoisett became world
famous for its whaleships. More than 350 vessels
went down the ways during this period. Among the
most famous were:

"Acushnet," ship, 1840, which carried as a crew
member Herman Melville, on her maiden voyage.
Ten years later he wrote the famous whaling
saga "Moby Dick." [sic]

"Platina," ship, 1847, distinguished for capturing
a white whale.

"Wanderer," bark, 1878, last whaleship to be
built in Mattapoisett yards, and one of the
last whalers to sail from New Bedford.

Mattapoisett Bicentennial Committee 1976

The story of the Platina is told here, on the Whaling Museum's site.

The Wanderer is featured in actual whaling scenes in the 1922 film Down to the Sea in Ships (with Clara Bow in the first year of her movie career). If you visit Arrowhead, you can watch a DVD copy which plays in the small shed behind the house. On August 27, 1924 the Wanderer was wrecked on Middle Ground Shoal, between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard. This page displays an interesting artifact from the Wanderer — its mailbox.

I had read on several websites that the Wanderer's mizzen-mast is now the flagpole in Shipyard Park, but that is not exactly true.
Walk up to the flagpole and you'll see the bottom section is a conventional steel pipe. About two-thirds of the way up, another piece is joined to this steel pole. Is this top section part of the Wanderer's mast? Well, not anymore. According to the Mattapoisett Yacht Club,
...Ship Yard Park is the site of Jonathan Holmes’s shipyard, where in 1878, the last whaler of Mattapoisett, the Wanderer, was built. The flagpole in the park originally was the mizzen mast from that ship. However, lightning strikes and hurricanes took their toll, and the pole was replaced in 1993.
So what became of the old mast-cum-flagpole after it was removed from Shipyard Park? It is reported to have been donated to the Mattapoisett Historical Society Museum in November, 2012. (Who had it in the intervening 19 years!?) A return road-trip beckons.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Morgan afloat

Before launch (photo: Claire Whitehouse)
Earlier today the world's last surviving wooden whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, was re-floated at Mystic Seaport, right on schedule. Read the report in the New York Times, and look back at the fascinating daily details of the restoration in the "Shipwright's Blog." (Marvel at the dedication of the volunteers, and moreover, the skills and techniques of the artisans.)

Restoration of the ship's framing and planking began in 2008. At this point, the new masts and rigging have yet to be installed, but today's launch marks a significant milestone.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Symphony (and Cantata)

photo: Vancouver 125
As a film (and film score) buff, I eagerly followed up on Lemuel's discovery that Bernard Herrmann had written a Moby Dick cantata and sinfonietta.

For those less obsessed, Bernard Herrmann composed for some of the greatest films of the 20th century (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Taxi Driver, ...), finding particular success writing for Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, ...).

Herrmann wrote two pieces inspired by M-D. The Sinfonietta, written for string orchestra in 1935-36, and the Cantata, written for male voices and orchestra in 1936-38. You can hear snippets of a CD by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra on this Amazon page. According to the liner notes:
The fondness which the composer held for Melville's Moby Dick [sic] dated from his boyhood. The novel was a childhood favourite and as a young man Herrmann's father had served on two whaling ships and was even shipwrecked on an island in the Bering Sea in 1892.
Apparently, Herrmann originally intended to write a M-D opera, and had discussed it with lyricist William Clark Harrington. Harrington was "a New England poet and manager of the CBS music library." Together they took trips to the novel's Massachusetts locations, searching for inspiration. In the end, the opera became the cantata, with "text selected and arranged from the novel" by Harrington. Interestingly, the canata is dedicated to Herrmann's friend, Charles Ives.

If you have any interest in M-D spin-offs and/or orchestral music, seek out this recording. It bears close listening. The Sinfonietta is the culmination of Herrmann's interest in Arnold Schoenberg (say the liner notes). The Cantata condenses the novel to 45 minutes, featuring solos by Ishmael, Ahab, Pip, Starbuck, and various generic "sailors."

One curiosity: You can hear in the Amazon clip for track 10, Ahab sings "...and hemp can only kill me." M-D devotees will realize this is a misquote of "...and hemp only can kill me." The libretto with the CD has the same error.

Now, the singer for this recording is British, a native English-speaker, David Wilson-Johnson. One might assume he would have recognized that "can only kill" doesn't make sense in this context. Either there was an error preparing the CD, or Herrmann & Harrington made the error. I'd bet the former. It's a question for the Bernard Herrmann Society. (Yes, there is one!)

[Whoa! I completely forgot that I blogged about this music back in 2011. Time to listen to Old & In The Way.]

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Halfway to MDM18

At midnight tonight we'll be midway between MDMs—halfway to the next Moby-Dick Marathon, MDM18. (That is, if we assume MDM18 will follow the museum's recent pattern of launching the Marathon on the first weekend after New Year's Day.)

Clear the decks and mark your calendar.

Heed the advice of this post—take Monday (1/6/14) off, and book a room for the night of the close of the Marathon (1/5/14).  New Bedford and neighboring Fairhaven have a number of hotels and B&Bs. The fine Fairfield Inn & Suites is a three-block walk from the Whaling Museum. You'll spot some luminaries of Melville studies at breakfast there.

Lemuel and I will keep an eye on the Whaling Museum's website for definitive schedule info.

Update, 10/2/13 — The Whaling Museum's site confirms that MDM18 will be held on Jan. 3-5, 2014.