Monday, March 31, 2014

JOSEPH HAYDN ~ March 31, 1732 ~ May 31, 1809

Image:portrait by Thomas hardy:

Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809) was an Austrian composer. He was one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these genres. He was also instrumental in the development of the piano trio and in the evolution of sonata form.
A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Hungarian aristocratic Esterházy family on their remote estate. Isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original". At the time of his death, he was one of the most celebrated composers in Europe.
Joseph Haydn was the brother of Michael Haydn, himself a highly regarded composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor. He was also a close friend of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a teacher of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

SIR WILLIAM WALTON ~ March 29, 1902 ~ March 8, 1983

Sir William Turner Walton OM (29 March 1902 – 8 March 1983) was a British composer and conductor.
His style was influenced by the works of Stravinsky and Prokofiev as well as jazz, and is characterized by rhythmic vitality, bittersweet harmony, sweeping Romantic melody and brilliant orchestration. His output includes orchestral and choral works, chamber music and ceremonial music, as well as notable film scores. His earliest works, especially Edith Sitwell's Façade brought him notoriety as a modernist, but it was with orchestral symphonic works and the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast that he gained international recognition.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sergei Rachmaninoff ~ April 1, 1873 ~ March 28, 1943

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (Russian: Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов, tr. Sergej Vasil'evič Rahmaninov) (1 April 1873 [O.S. 20 March] – 28 March 1943) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He was one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, very nearly the last great representative of Russian late Romanticism in classical music. Early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers gave way to a thoroughly personal idiom which included a pronounced lyricism, expressive breadth, structural ingenuity and a tonal palette of rich, distinctive orchestral colors.

The piano features prominently in Rachmaninoff's compositional output, either as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. He made it a point to use his own skills as a performer to explore fully the expressive possibilities of the instrument. Even in his earliest works, he revealed a sure grasp of idiomatic piano writing and a striking gift for melody.

Sergei Rachmaninoff died only four days before his 70th birthday in the middle of World War II.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


It's curious to note that the Annunciation is literally nine months before Christmas!

Today is the birthday of my singer colleague friends Michelle Clair from the Schola Cantorum San Francisco and Frank DeSimone from the Aviary Chorus and Sons of the Sea. Frank is a recent Harvard grad and turns twenty-five today! He lived in Paris two years ago while working for an American law firm for a year. Now he's back in the States, I think.

U.S. Customs Seizes Allen Ginsberg's "HOWL" ~ March 25, 1957

United States Customs seizes copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl as obscene.

Howl is a poem written by Allen Ginsberg as part of his 1956 collection of poetry titled Howl and Other Poems. The poem is considered to be one of the seminal works of the Beat Generation along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957), William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch (1959), and Gregory Corso's Gasoline "(1958). Howl was originally written as a performance piece, but it was later published by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books. The poem was originally considered to be obscene, and Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged with its publication.

Customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem on March 25, 1957, being imported from the printer in London.

A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's new domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case when Judge Clayton W. Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance". On October 3, 1957 Judge Horn ruled that the poem was not obscene, and Howl went on to become the most popular poem of the Beat Generation. The case was widely publicized (articles appeared in both Time and Life magazines). The trial was published by Ferlinghetti's lead defense attorney Jake Ehrlich in a book called Howl of the Censor. In 2010, a film was made depicting the events of the trial called Howl.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

ELIZABETH I ~ September 7, 1533 ~ March 24, 1603

"Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth I of

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen regnant of England and Queen regnant of Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Henry VIII, she was born a princess, but her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed two and a half years after her birth, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. Her brother, Edward VI, bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey, cutting his sisters out of the succession. His will was set aside, and in 1558 Elizabeth succeeded the Catholic Mary I, during whose reign she had been imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.
Elizabeth set out to rule by good counsel, and she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by William Cecil, Baron Burghley. One of her first moves as queen was to support the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement held firm throughout her reign and later evolved into today's Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry, but despite several petitions from parliament and numerous courtships, she never did. The reasons for this outcome have been much debated. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.
In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and siblings. One of her mottoes was "video et taceo" ("I see, and say nothing"). This strategy, viewed with impatience by her counsellors, often saved her from political and marital misalliances. Though Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs and only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588 associated her name forever with what is popularly viewed as one of the greatest victories in English history. Within twenty years of her death, she was being celebrated as the ruler of a golden age, an image that retains its hold on the English people.
Elizabeth's reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Francis Drake. Some historians are more reserved in their assessment. They depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity to the point where many of her subjects were relieved at her death.
Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor, in an age when government was ramshackle and limited and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth's rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and eventually had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth's brother and sister, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Enabling Act Makes Adolf Hitler Dictator of Germany ~ March 23, 1933

The Enabling Act (German: Ermächtigungsgesetz) was passed by Germany's Reichstag and signed by President Paul von Hindenburg on March 23, 1933. It was the second major step, after the Reichstag Fire Decree, through which Chancellor Adolf Hitler legally obtained plenary powers and established his dictatorship. It received its name from its legal status as an enabling act granting the Cabinet the authority to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag for four years.

The formal name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (English: Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation).

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ~ August 28, 1749 ~ March 22, 1832

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German writer and polymath. Goethe's works span the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, philosophy, pantheism, and science. His magnum opus, lauded as one of the peaks of world literature, is the two-part drama Faust. Goethe's other well-known literary works include his numerous poems, the Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with Enlightenment, Sentimentality (Empfindsamkeit), Sturm und Drang and Romanticism. The author of the scientific text Theory of Colors, his influential ideas on plant and animal morphology and homology were extended and developed by 19th century naturalists including Charles Darwin. He also served at length as the Privy Councilor ("Geheimrat") of the duchy of Weimar.

Goethe is the originator of the concept of Weltliteratur ("world literature"), having taken great interest in the literatures of England, France, Italy, classical Greece, Persia, the Arab world, and others. His influence on German philosophy is virtually immeasurable, having major effect especially on the generation of Hegel and Schelling, although Goethe himself expressly and decidedly refrained from practicing philosophy in the specialized sense.

Goethe's influence spread across Europe, and for the next century his works were a major source of inspiration in music, drama, poetry and philosophy. Goethe is considered by many to be the most important writer in the German language and one of the most important thinkers in Western culture as well. Early in his career, however, he wondered whether painting might not be his true vocation; late in his life, he expressed the expectation that he would ultimately be remembered above all for his work on color.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Johann Sebastian Bach ~ ~ ~ March 21, 1685 ~ ~ ~ July 28, 1750

What can I say about Johann Sebastian Bach... that he was simply the greatest organist, composer... musician who ever lived? Possibly so. But it's curious to consider: several distinguished cultural historians have maintained that the most significant works of art are produced only at the forefront of new forms-- that it's the challenge of creating something new that is essential. For most artists that is probably true. But the example which disproves the rule is J.S. Bach. He was writing old fashioned fuddy-duddy musical forms, and was absolutely eclipsed by his fashionable sons in his own lifetime. What difference does form make if the results produce some of the most profound music of all time!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Iraq War’s 10th Anniversary Is Barely Noted in Washington

WASHINGTON — A decade after the night that American bombs first rained down on Baghdad, the president joked about wearing a green tie for a belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Congress noisily focused on whether spending cuts would force the cancellation of the White House Easter egg roll. Cable news debated whether a show about young women has too much sex in it.

Iraq War Anniversary

This week, The Times will feature reflections on the 10th anniversary of the invasion. We invite anyone who was directly affected by the invasion to submit their essays Please keep pieces to 500 words.
But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence: Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war.
The 10-year anniversary of the American invasion came and went on Tuesday with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it. Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: after 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq.
Never mind that Iraq remains in perilous shape, free ofSaddam Hussein and growing economically, but still afflicted by spasms of violence and struggling to move beyond autocratic government. With American troops now gone, the war has receded from the capital conversation and the national consciousness, replaced by worries about spending, taxes, debt and jobs. Whether the United States won or lost, or achieved something messy in between, seems at this point a stale debate.
President Obama, who rose to political heights on the strength of his opposition to the war, made no mention of it in appearances on Tuesday. Instead, he issued a writtenstatement saluting “the courage and resolve” of the 1.5 million Americans who served during eight years in Iraq and honoring the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who as a Republican senator broke with his party over the war, a move that complicated his recent confirmation hearings, likewise stuck to a written statement praising the troops and urging Americans to “remember these quiet heroes this week.”
Those on the other side of the debates likewise paid little notice. Former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and many other authors of the war made no public comments. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a message via Twitter: “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Although some foreign policy and news organizations held forums or produced retrospectives in recent days, the floors of Congress did not ring out with speeches expounding on the lessons of Iraq.
“This is a little like the crazy uncle in the attic that nobody wants to talk about,” said John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and is now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “But we need to because we put him there.”
Critics like Mr. Nagl argue that the anniversary should serve as a reminder about what he sees as the mistake of starting the war. “It would be a shame if we did not pause and think hard about this as a nation,” he said. “We paid an enormous price as a nation. The Iraqis have paid a huge price. The region is destabilized.”
Some war supporters disagreed. “President Bush made the right decision on removing the Iraqi regime from power,” said Douglas J. Feith, a former under secretary of defense. Where America went wrong, he said, was “when we transformed ourselves from liberators to occupiers.”
Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush, said that some lessons could be drawn, but that it was too soon for final judgments. “Many issues that will be key to answering the question of was it worth it still hang in the balance,” she said.
Public attitudes toward the war have hardened 10 years later. Fifty-four percent of Americans interviewed by CBS News in a poll released Tuesday said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, while 38 percent said it did the right thing. Fifty percent said the United States did not succeed in achieving its objectives, while 41 percent said it did.
The White House found itself in the awkward position of standing by Mr. Obama’s opposition to the war but offering an optimistic prognosis for Iraq — and even giving a grudging nod to Mr. Bush for removing a dictator from power.
“Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was a welcome development for the world and for Iraq,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at his daily briefing. “The president believes that Iraq has the potential for a better future today because of the remarkable sacrifice and service of American men and women in uniform as well as civilian American men and women who served in Iraq.”
Asked if that better future owed in part to the decision to invade, Mr. Carney said Mr. Hussein was removed by the military sent by Mr. Bush.
“And to the extent that credit is due, credit is due to him for that,” Mr. Carney said. “That does not change, I think, assessments made by this president as a candidate or by many others on this day, 10 years after, about the judgments made to go to war in Iraq.”
Courtesy of New York Times March 19, 2013


I crossed this bridge several times when I went to Australia with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys in February 1987 at the time of the America's Cup Race in Perth, Western Australia. When we spent a few days in Sydney, we were supposed to stay with families, but there was some complication, the details of which I don't now recall. It ended up that almost all the other choirmen moved into a hotel near the opera house. But I continued to stay a few days with my assigned family about ten miles away on the other side of the Harbour Bridge. I traveled back and forth by commuter train. So I became fairly familiar with the view from this bridge.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jacques de Molay burned at the stake ~ 1314

Jacques de Molay (c. 1240/1250 – March 18, 1314) was the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 20 April 1292 until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1307. Though little is known of his actual life and deeds except for his last years as Grand Master, he is the best known Templar, along with the Order's founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070–1136).

Jacques de Molay's goal as Grand Master was to reform the Order, and adjust it to the situation in the Holy Land during the waning days of the Crusades. As European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had de Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When de Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him burned at the stake on an island in the River Seine in Paris, on March 18, 1314.

The sudden end of both the centuries-old order of Templars, and the dramatic execution of its last leader, turned de Molay into a legendary figure. The fraternal order of Freemasonry has also drawn upon the Templar mystique for its own rituals and lore, and today there are many modern organizations which draw their inspiration from the memory of de Molay.

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Monday, March 17, 2014


Today is St. Patrick's Day, of course. He's the patron Saint of Ireland. I've been to Ireland once, back in May of 1996. I was part of the entertainment for a group from Texas. They rented one of the restored castles on the Pale, the outskirts of Dublin. That defined the protected area. Anything further was 'beyond the Pale.'

I really liked Dublin, particularly Trinity College. I saw several pages of the Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library. Years ago it was on tour, and I viewed it at the Palace of Legion of Honor here in San Francisco.

Since the English controlled Ireland for many centuries-- and Dublin was in fact almost always an English enclave after being founded by Vikings-- St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin is Church of Ireland, that is connected with the Anglican communion, not Roman Catholic. The Roman Cathedral is St. Mary's. I attended services at both, plus Christ Church Cathedral, a second Anglican Cathedral with a marvelous mixed choir of men and women. Until I sang with the Schola Cantorum, I had never heard such a beautiful blend of women's voices in a liturgical setting.

The location of the first performance of Handel's Messiah was but a short distance from Christ Church Cathedral. But I had to scour the area in order to locate it. There was only a small plaque on a rather delapidated building near some construction sites. Perhaps it has a more appropriate marker today after completion of the project. Oscar Wilde's birthplace at the corner of a lovely Georgian square had a much more visable commemoration!

Today is also my oldest surviving first cousin's 84th birthday! Jim Wiley is still going strong. Cousin Clae and I went to his celebration in Aptos on Saturday, March 21st four years ago. Best wishes to my cousin Jim!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Babylonians Capture Jerusalem ~ 597 B.C.E.


In 601 BCE, in the fourth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, unsuccessfully attempted to invade Egypt and was repulsed with heavy losses. This failure led to numerous rebellions among the states of the Levant which owed allegiance to Babylon, including Judah, where the king, Jehoiakim, stopped paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and took a pro-Egyptian position.

Nebuchadnezzar soon dealt with these rebellions. According to the Babylonian Chronicles he laid siege to Jerusalem, which eventually fell on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BCE. The Chronicles state:

"In the seventh month (of Nebuchadnezzar-599 BCE) in the month Chislev (Nov/Dec) the king of Babylon assembled his army, and after he had invaded the land of Hatti (Syria/Palestine) he laid siege to the city of Judah. On the second day of the month of Adar (16 March) he conquered the city and took the king (Jeconiah) prisoner. He installed in his place a king (Zedekiah) of his own choice, and after he had received rich tribute, he sent (them) forth to Babylon."

Nebuchadnezzar pillaged both the city and the Temple and deported to Babylon the new king Jeconiah who was either eight or eighteen at the time (Jehoiakim having died in the meantime and his court and other prominent citizens and craftsmen, along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judah, numbering about 10,000. Among them were Ezekiel. The author of the book of Daniel, while actually most likely writing/compiling in the middle of the 2nd century BCE, reports that his experiences (if they are to be understood and interpreted as historical narrative) also occur while in Babylonian exile in this period. A biblical text written in approximately the same time period of the exile reports that "None remained except the poorest people of the land" and that also taken to Babylon were the treasures and furnishings of the Temple, including golden vessels dedicated by King Solomon. (2 Kings 24:13-14)
These events are described in the Nevi'im and Ketuvim, sections of the Tanakh, and the Hebrew Bible, known to non-Jews as the Old Testament. This first deportation is the start of the Jewish Diaspora (or exile). (2 Kings 24:10-16) 

Nebuchadnezzar installed Jeconiah's uncle, Zedekiah as puppet-king of Judah, while Jeconiah was compelled to remain in Babylon, where he was regarded by the Jews in Babylon as the legitimate king of Judah and later would be regarded as the first of the exilarchs.

Chronological note

The Babylonian Chronicles, which were published by Donald Wiseman in 1956 CE, establish that Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem the first time on 2 Adar (16 March) 597 BCE. Before Wiseman's publication, Thiele had determined from the biblical texts that Nebuchadnezzar's initial capture of Jerusalem occurred in the spring of 597 BCE, while other scholars, including Albright, more frequently dated the event to 598 BCE.

Dates in the book of Ezekiel are given according to the year of captivity of Jeconiah (ie. the first fall of Jerusalem).

Friday, March 14, 2014


Today is my sister Julie's birthday. It's really extraordinary: when she was fifteen and wore thin-rimmed glasses, people thought she was the mother in the posed portrait of us four children. But when she was married at thirty, she looked twenty-one. Julie ages gracefully, and still looks terrific. Perhaps she's found the secret of that Brad Pitt movie last year.

When I was a child I think I used to call her JU-dah. Anyway best wishes to my beautiful older sister....beautiful in form and in spirit.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Assassination of Tsar Alexander II ~ 1881

Image:wikipedia com

Alexander (Aleksandr) II Nikolaevich (Russian: Александр II Николаевич, Aleksandr II Nikolaevich) (29 April [O.S. 17 April] 1818, Moscow – 13 March [O.S. 1 March] 1881, Saint Petersburg), also known as Alexander the Liberator (Russian: Александр Освободитель, Aleksandr Osvoboditel') was the Emperor, or Czar, of the Russian Empire from 3 March 1855 until his assassination in 1881. He was also the Grand Duke of Finland and the King of Poland.
Early life
Born in 1818, he was the eldest son of
Nicholas I of Russia and Charlotte of Prussia, daughter of Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. His early life gave little indication of his ultimate potential; until the time of his accession in 1855, aged 37, few imagined that he would be known to posterity as a leader able to implement the most challenging reforms undertaken in Russia since the reign of Peter the Great.

In the period of his life as
heir apparent, the intellectual atmosphere of St. Petersburg was unfavourable to any kind of changes, freedom of thought and all private initiative being, as far as possible, suppressed vigorously. Personal and official censorship was rife; criticism of the authorities was regarded as a serious offence. Some 26 years after he had the opportunity of implementing changes he would, however, be assassinated in public by the Narodnaya Volya terrorist organisation.

His education as a future Tsar was carried out under the supervision of the liberal romantic poet and gifted translator
Vasily Zhukovsky, grasping a smattering of a great many subjects, and becoming familiar with the chief modern European languages. His alleged lack of interest in military affairs detected by later historians could have been only his reflection on the results on his own family and on the effect on the whole country of the unsavoury Crimean War. Unusually for the time, the young Alexander was taken on a six-month tour of Russia, visiting 20 provinces in the country. He also visited many prominent Western European countries.

Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the
Crimean War and, after the fall of Sevastopol, to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor Prince Gorchakov. It was widely thought that the country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war. Encouraged by public opinion he began a period of radical reforms, including an attempt to not to depend on a landed aristocracy controlling the poor, a move to developing Russia's natural resources and to thoroughly reform all branches of the administration.

After Alexander became tsar in 1855, he maintained a generally liberal course. Despite this he was a target for numerous assassination attempts (1866, 1879, 1880). On March 13 [
O.S. March 1] 1881 members of the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) party killed him with a bomb. The tsar had earlier in the day signed the Loris-Melikov constitution which would have created two legislative commissions made up of indirectly elected representatives, had it not been repealed by his reactionary successor Alexander III.

Emancipation of the serfs
In spite of his obstinancy in playing the Russian autocrat, Alexander II acted for several years somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. Plans were formed for building a great network of railways—partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defence and attack.

The existence of
serfdom was tackled boldly, taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces and, hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorized the formation of committees "for ameliorating the condition of the peasants", and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of
European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

But the emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial
ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.

Alexander had to choose between the different measures recommended to him. Should the serfs become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or should they be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors?

The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander's brother
Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin.

On 3 March 1861, 6 years after his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

Other reformsArmy and navy reorganization and rearmament was initiated in response to the overwhelming defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War, and an awareness of military advances being implemented in other European countries. The changes included universal military conscription, the creation of an army reserve and the military district system (still in use a century later), the building of strategic railways, and an emphasis on the military education of the officer corps.

A new judicial administration based on the French model (1864); a new
penal code and a greatly simplified system of civil and criminal procedure.

An elaborate scheme of local self-government (
Zemstvo) for the rural districts (1864) and the large towns (1870), with elective assemblies possessing a restricted right of taxation, and a new rural and municipal police under the direction of the Minister of the Interior were instituted.

Marriages and children
During his bachelor days, Alexander made a state visit to England in 1838. Just a year older than the young Queen Victoria, Alexander's approaches to her were indeed short-lived. Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in February 1840. On 16 April 1841, aged 23, Tsarevitch Alexander married Princess Marie of Hesse in St Petersburg, thereafter known in Russia as Maria Alexandrovna.

(Marie was the legal daughter of
Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Wilhelmina of Baden, although some gossiping questioned whether the Grand Duke Ludwig or Wilhelmina's lover, Baron August von Senarclens de Grancy, was her biological father. Alexander was aware of the question of her paternity).

The marriage produced six sons and two daughters including:

Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich (20 September 1843 – 24 April 1865), engaged to Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna)

Tsar Alexander III (10 March 1845 – 1 November 1894), married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark (Maria Feodorovna).

Suppression of separatist movements
At the beginning of his reign, Alexander expressed the famous statement "No dreams" addressed to the Poles who inhabited Congress Poland, Western Ukraine, Lithuania, Livonia and Belarus. The result was the January Uprising of 1863–1864 that was suppressed after eighteen months of fighting.

Hundreds of Poles were executed, and thousands were deported to
Siberia. The price for suppression was Russian support for Prussian-united Germany. Twenty years later, Germany became the major enemy of Russia on the continent.

All territories of the former
Poland-Lithuania were excluded from liberal policies introduced by Alexander. The martial law in Lithuania, introduced in 1863, lasted for the next 40 years. Native languages, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Belarusian were completely banned from printed texts, see e.g. the Ems Ukase. The Polish language was banned in both oral and written form from all provinces except Congress Poland, where it was allowed in private conversations only.

In 1863 Alexander II re-established the Diet of Finland and initiated several reforms increasing Finland's autonomy from Russia including establishment of its own currency, the Markka. Liberation of business led to increased foreign investment and industrial development.

Finally, the elevation of
Finnish from a language of the common people to a national language equal to Swedish opened opportunities for a larger proportion of the society. Alexander II is still regarded as "The Good Tsar" in Finland.

These reforms could be seen as results of a genuine belief that reforms were easier to test in an underpopulated, homogeneous country, than the in whole of Russia. They may also be seen as a reward for the loyalty of its relatively western-oriented population during the
Crimean war and during the Polish uprising. Encouraging Finnish nationalism and language can also be seen as an attempt to dilute ties with Sweden.

Assassination attempts
In 1866, there was an attempt on the tsar's life in
St. Petersburg by Dmitry Karakozov. To commemorate his narrow escape from death (which he himself referred to only as "the event of 4 April 1866"), a number of churches and chapels were built in many Russian cities. Viktor Hartmann, a Russian architect, even sketched a design of a monumental gate (planned, never built) to commemorate the event. Modest Mussorgsky later wrote his Pictures at an Exhibition; the last movement of which, "The Great Gate of Kiev", is based on Hartmann's sketches.

On the morning of 20 April 1879, Alexander II was briskly walking towards the Square of the Guards Staff and faced
Alexander Soloviev, a 33-year-old former student. Having seen a menacing revolver in his hands, the Tsar fled. Soloviev fired five times but missed, and was sentenced to death and hanged on 28 May.

The student acted on his own, but other revolutionaries were keen to murder Alexander. In December 1879, the
Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), a radical revolutionary group which hoped to ignite a social revolution, organized an explosion on the railway from Livadia to Moscow, but they missed the tsar's train.

On the evening of 5 February 1880
Stephan Khalturin, also from Narodnaya Volya, set off a charge under the dining room of the Winter Palace, right in the resting room of the guards a story below. Being late for dinner, the tsar was unharmed; although 11 other people were killed and 30 wounded.

After the last assassination attempt in February 1880, Count Loris-Melikov was appointed the head of the Supreme Executive Commission and given extraordinary powers to fight the revolutionaries. Loris-Melikov's proposals called for some form of parliamentary body, and the Emperor seemed to agree; these plans were never realized.

On 13 March (1 March
Old Style Date), 1881, Alexander fell victim to an assassination plot.

As he was known to do every Sunday for many years, the tsar went to the Manezh to review the Life Guards. He travelled both to and from the Manezh in a closed carriage accompanied by six
Cossacks with a seventh sitting on the coachman's left. The tsar's carriage was followed by two sleighs carrying, among others, the chief of police and the chief of the tsar's guards. The route, as always, was via the Catherine Canal and over the Pevchesky Bridge.

The street was flanked by narrow sidewalks for the public. A young member of the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) movement, Nikolai Rysakov, was carrying a small white package wrapped in a handkerchief.

"After a moment's hesitation I threw the bomb. I sent it under the horses' hooves in the supposition that it would blow up under the carriage...The explosion knocked me into the fence."

The explosion, while killing one of the Cossacks and seriously wounding the driver and people on the sidewalk, had only damaged the bulletproof carriage, a gift from Napoleon III of France. The tsar emerged shaken but unhurt. Rysakov was captured almost immediately. Police Chief Dvorzhitsky heard Rysakov shout out to someone else in the gathering crowd. The surrounding guards and the Cossacks urged the tsar to leave the area at once rather than being shown the site of the explosion. A second young member of the Narodnaya Volya, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, standing by the canal fence, raised both arms and threw something at the tsar's feet. He was alleged to have shouted, "It is too early to thank God".Dvorzhitsky was later to write:

"I was deafened by the new explosion, burned, wounded and thrown to the ground. Suddenly, amid the smoke and snowy fog, I heard His Majesty's weak voice cry, 'Help!' Gathering what strength I had, I jumped up and rushed to the tsar. His Majesty was half-lying, half-sitting, leaning on his right arm. Thinking he was merely wounded heavily, I tried to lift him but the tsar's legs were shattered, and the blood poured out of them. Twenty people, with wounds of varying degree, lay on the sidewalk and on the street. Some managed to stand, others to crawl, still others tried to get out from beneath bodies that had fallen on them. Through the snow, debris, and blood you could see fragments of clothing, epaulets, sabers, and bloody chunks of human flesh."

It was learned there was a third bomber in the crowd. Ivan Emelyanov stood ready, clutching a briefcase containing a bomb that would be used if the other two bombers failed.

Alexander was carried by sleigh to the
Winter Palace to his study where ironically, twenty years before almost to the day, he had signed the Emancipation Edict 1 freeing the serfs. Alexander was bleeding to death, with his legs torn away, his stomach ripped open, and his face mutilated. Members of the Romanov family came rushing to the scene.

The dying tsar was given
Communion and Extreme Unction. When the attending physician, Dr. S. P. Botkin, was asked how long it would be, he replied "Up to fifteen minutes" At 3:30 that day the standard of Alexander II was lowered for the last time.

The assassination caused a great setback for the reform movement. One of Alexander II's last ideas was to draft plans for an elected parliament, or
Duma, which were completed the day before he died but not yet released to the Russian people. The first action Alexander III took after his coronation was to tear up those plans. A Duma would not come into fruition until 1905, when Alexander II's grandson, Nicholas II, commissioned the Duma following extreme pressure on the monarchy as a result of the Russian Revolution of 1905.

A second consequence of the assassination was anti-Jewish
pogroms and legislation.

A third consequence of the assassination was that suppression of civil liberties in Russia and
police brutality burst back in full force after experiencing some restraint under the reign of Alexander II. Alexander II's murder and subsequent death was witnessed first-hand by his son, Alexander III, and his grandson, Nicholas II, both future Tsars, who vowed not to have the same fate befall them. Both used the Okhrana to arrest protestors and uproot suspected rebel groups, creating further suppression of personal freedom for the Russian people.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)