Mercurian Craters (A-D)

Johannes Sebastian Bach, German composer.  The musical selection is Suite for Solo Cello no. 1 in G major (Yo Yo Ma.)

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989), American choreographer, known for incorporating African-American history, spiritual and blues music into dance.  The video is from selections from Revelations.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Italian artist.  The image below is the Adoration of the Magi.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) German composer. Music selection is Für Elise, Bagatelle in A minor, (Alfred Brendel)

George Balanchine, born George Balanchivadze, Russian choreographer, often considered the father of American ballet, founded the American Ballet Theatre, and co-founded the New York City Ballet.  Click here for a short documentary on Balanchine, or here for former ballerina Heather Watts’ Ted talk on how important Balanchine was to American ballet. 

You can also look at the George Balanchine Foundation.

Here is a YouTube documentary in which principal dancer Ashley Boulder talks about what it is like to prepare for and to dance Serenade.  And here is Serenade, written by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Balanchine, and danced by the NYC Ballet.

The sisters Brontë:   Charlotte (1816-1855) Emily (1818-1848), and Anne (1820-1849) (the link leads to a Youtube documentary).   As women, they first wrote under pen names:  Currer, Ellis, and Anton Bell.  Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre; Emily wrote Wuthering Heights; Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Writer Truman Capote, 1976

Truman Capote (1924-1984), was an American writer, known for writing Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, the latter of which established the new genres of true crime and non-fiction novels.  Many have speculated that Harper Lee based the character of Dill (in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird), on her childhood friend, Capote

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), is the author of Don Quixote, and regarded as one of the great writers, and in particular one of the greatest if not the greatest Spanish writer.  Don Quixote is considered one of the classics in Western literature, and greatly influenced the Spanish language itself. Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than has any other book except the Bible. 

The story follows a noble named Alonso Quixano who read so many chivalric stories that he loses this mind, and decides to restore valor and justice and honor to the world.

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an Italian operatic tenor who was tremendously successful in a career in both Europe and the U.S. He was particularly successful at the Metropolitan Opera, in part because he understood the market of opera, and was willing to be recorded, he was willing to sign autographs, etc..  He participated in the first radio broadcast in the U.S.

Click here to listen to Caruso (youtube).

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  (Chaikovskij) (1840-1893)was a Russian composer during the Romantic period, greatly favored by Tsar Alexander III because of his emphasis on reclaiming Russian music.

You can listen to the youtube video “The Best of Tchaikovsky.”

Two clips:

  • Swan Lake:
  • Nutcracker, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies
Autumn colors
on the Qiao and Hua Mountains

Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322) was a scholar, painter, and calligrapher during the Yuan Dynasty.   Chao was a member of the “Academy of Worthies,” and much appreciated by Emperor Renzong.


Frédéric François Chopin  (1810-1949), was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era.  He maintained a rocky romantic relationship with the French writer Amantine Dupin (known by her pen name George Sand).

The following clip is from The Nocturnes, Op 9 No 2 in E-Flat Major:

The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), is a Spanish surrealist painter.  His best known work, The Persistence of Memory (above), painted in 1931, is at the MOMA in NYC.  

Dali was imaginative and impulsive, and often engaged in behavior that drew both positive and negative attention.  He was well known for his trademark flamboyant moustache.  His longtime companion and then wife, Gala, became his muse.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was a French composer, often described as composing in the “impressionist” style–that is, like painters of the same era, evoking a mood using harmony and tone.  Debussy himself did not describe himself that way, though it is true that by the late 1880s, he was drawn to the symbolist poets and impressionist painters of France, and began to move away from the explicit emotional content of Romanticism.


Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French painter and drawer.  Often classified as an “Impressionist,” Degas himself rejected that label, preferring to describe himself as a “Realist” or an “Independent.”  Nonetheless, he was a leader of the Impressionist school, eschewing landscapes for scenes of every day life, often indoors with artificial lighting.  His is particular  known for his pictures of ballet dancers. 

Charles Dickens was a British author of fifteen novels, and dozens of stories and essays.  He wrote Oliver Twist (1838), David Copperfield (1849-1850), A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861).  His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, has been adapted to stage and film countless times, featuring the rehabilitation of the well-known humbug character of Scrooge.

The term “Dickensian” is often used to describe the themes or traits of characters in Dickens’ work, such as poor social conditions, or comically unlikable characters.


Walt Disney (1901-1966) was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor, and film producer.

Things you might not know about Walt Disney:

  • He forged the date on his birth certificate in order to appear old enough to join in WWI as an ambulance driver, but arrived in France after the armistice.
  • Disney wanted to name his mouse character Mortimer Mouse, but his wife Lillian thought that sounded too pompous.  Mickey appears in the first post-production sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie.
  • A group of core animators, the “Nine Old Men,” created some of Disney’s most famous animated films or cartoons, from Snow White to The Rescuers.  Two (Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas) many years later had cameo appearances in The Incredibles.
  • When industry insiders heard that Disney was producing a full-length movie version of Snow White (rather than a cartoon short), people were so sure it would bankrupt the company that they called it Disney’s Folly.  It did come in three times over budget, but was one of the most successful films of all time.  Shirley Temple gave Mr. Disney his special Academy Award for the film.  You can also see a CBC interview with Disney about Snow White, making cartoons, and other subjects.)
  • Disney was in financial straights through much of his life.
  • Song of the South is the only Disney film never released on DVD in the United States, in large part because it had parts that, for example, showed happy slaves (or perhaps sharecroppers–it is unclear whether it took place before 1863, or immediately after the Civil War) singing songs (“Let the rain pour down!  Let the cold win blow!  Gonna stay right here in the home I know!”).  The famous “Zip-A-Dee-Dah” is from this movie.  It portrayed a plantation in Georgia of the 1800s.  James Baskett (1904-1948) played both the lead role of Uncle Remus and the voice role for the character Brer Rabbit, one of the film’s antagonists.  However, because of legal segregation in the South, neither he nor co-star Hattie McDanielik was not allowed in 1946 to attend the movie’s premiere in Atlanta.  In March 1948, shortly before he died, Baskett won an Honorary Academy Award for his work.
  • The author of the book series about Mary Poppins loathed the movie version.
  • EPCOT stands for the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.”  However, after his death, Roy Disney (Walt’s brother) changed the project from a town to an attraction.  EPCOT, like many other Disney parks, is getting a redesign–read about rumors here.
  • Wayne Allwine, who was the voice actor for Mickey for over three decades (1966-2009), was married to Russi Taylor, who has voiced Minnie  since 1986. (Click here to see a brief clip of an interview.)
  • An asteroid discovered in 1980 was named 4017 Disneya.





Dostoevskij (Fyodor Dostoevsky) (1821-1881) was a Russian author who wrote several essays and novels, including Crime and Punishment (1866), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880).  Dostoevsky wrote his first novel, Poor Folk, in 1845, and it met with some success.  His second novel, The Double (1846) was less well-received, as were a series of short stories he published across the next two years.  He was arrested in 1849 for membership in a literary group called the Petrashevsky Circle, which discussed the elimination of serfdom, and was a reading group for books that were banned in Tsarist Russia (the Tsar was the absolute ruler of Russia).  Tsar Nicolas I feared any flicker of the beginning of a revolution like the Decembrist revolt of 1825, or the revolutions spreading across Europe in 1848.  He was sentenced to death, but at the very last minute, he was given a reprieve, spending four years in a Siberian prison camp, and six more of compulsory military service in exile.

Dostoevsky spent most of his life deeply in debt, in part because of an addiction to gambling.  Dostoevsky, who strongly identified as an ethnic indigenous Russian, also was xenophobic, exhibiting hostility to Jews, Ottoman Turks,  and other groups.

Many of Dostoevsky’s works focus on the chaotic political and economic context of 19th century Russia, including poverty, despair, suicide, and ethics / morality.  There was a theme of religiosity and psychology in many of his works:  how do humans react to the events around them, and what is their nature, and what is their relationship to the divine? 

For example, Crime and Punishment deals with the anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student in St. Petersburg tries to convince himself that killing a corrupt pawnbroker is a morally justifiable killing.  Read here for an excellent summary of its plot and theme, and an explanation of what a new translation of the work contributes.

A constant theme in Dostoevsky’s work was man’s capacity for perhaps predictable,  but irrational behavior–that scientific reasoning could not explain human behavior.   People, Dostoevsky believed, could not really even begin to understand, much less articulate, why they wanted the things they wanted.