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Category: tBC

Princeton’s own Bourbaki

In the first half of 1937, Andre Weil visited Princeton and introduced some of the postdocs present (notably Ralph Boas, John Tukey, and Frank Smithies) to Poldavian lore and Bourbaki’s early work.

In 1935, Bourbaki succeeded (via father Cartan) to get his paper “Sur un théorème de Carathéodory et la mesure dans les espaces topologiques” published in the Comptes Rendus des Séances Hebdomadaires de l’Académie des Sciences.

Inspired by this, the Princeton gang decided to try to get a compilation of their mathematical ways to catch a lion in the American Mathematical Monthly, under the pseudonym H. Petard, and accompanied by a cover letter signed by another pseudonym, E. S. Pondiczery.

By the time the paper “A contribution to the mathematical theory of big game hunting” appeared, Boas and Smithies were in cambridge pursuing their postdoc work, and Boas reported back to Tukey: “Pétard’s paper is attracting attention here,” generating “subdued chuckles … in the Philosophical Library.”

On the left, Ralph Boas in ‘official’ Pondiczery outfit – Photo Credit.

The acknowledgment of the paper is in true Bourbaki-canular style.

The author desires to acknowledge his indebtedness to the Trivial Club of St. John’s College, Cambridge, England; to the M.I.T. chapter of the Society for Useless Research; to the F. o. P., of Princeton University; and to numerous individual contributors, known and unknown, conscious and unconscious.

The Trivial Club of St. John’s College probably refers to the Adams Society, the St. John’s College mathematics society. Frank Smithies graduated from St. John’s in 1933, and began research on integral equations with Hardy. After his Ph. D., and on a Carnegie Fellowship and a St John’s College studentship, Smithies then spent two years at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, before returning back ‘home’.

In the previous post, I assumed that Weil’s visit to Cambridge was linked to Trinity College. This should probably have been St. John’s College, his contact there being (apart from Smithies) Max Newman, a fellow of St. John’s. There are two letters from Weil (summer 1939, and summer 1940) in the Max Newman digital library.

The Eagle Scanning Project is the online digital archive of The Eagle, the Journal of St. John’s College. Last time I wanted to find out what was going on, mathematically, in Cambridge in the spring of 1939. Now I know I just had to peruse the Easter 1939 and Michaelmas 1939 volumes of the Eagle, focussing on the reports of the Adams Society.

In the period Andre Weil was staying in Cambridge, they had a Society Dinner in the Music Room on March 9th, a talk about calculating machines (with demonstration!) on April 27th, and the Annual Business Meeting on May 11th, just two days before their punting trip to Grantchester,

The M.I.T. chapter of the Society for Useless Research is a different matter. The ‘Useless Research’ no doubt refers to Extrasensory Perception, or ESP. Pondiczery’s initials E. S. were chosen with a future pun in mind, as Tukey said in a later interview:

“Well, the hope was that at some point Ersatz Stanislaus Pondiczery at the Royal Institute of Poldavia was going to be able to sign something ESP RIP.”

What was the Princeton connection to ESP research?

Well, Joseph Banks Rhine conducted experiments at Duke University in the early 1930s on ESP using Zener cards. Amongst his test-persons was Hubert Pearce, who scored an overall 40% success rate, whereas chance would have been 20%.

Pearce and Joseph Banks Rhine (1932) – Photo Credit

In 1936, W. S. Cox tried to repeat Rhine’s experiment at Princeton University but failed. Cox concluded “There is no evidence of extrasensory perception either in the ‘average man’ or of the group investigated or in any particular individual of that group. The discrepancy between these results and those obtained by Rhine is due either to uncontrollable factors in experimental procedure or to the difference in the subjects.”

As to the ‘MIT chapter of the society for useless research’, a chapter usually refers to a fraternity at a University, but I couldn’t find a single one on the list of MIT fraternities involved in ESP, now or back in the late 1930s.

However, to my surprise I found that there is a MIT Archive of Useless Research, six boxes full of amazing books, pamphlets and other assorted ‘literature’ compiled between 1900 and 1940.

The Albert G. Ingalls pseudoscience collection (its official name) comprises collections of books and pamphlets assembled by Albert G. Ingalls while associate editor of Scientific American, and given to the MIT Libraries in 1940. Much of the material rejects contemporary theories of physical sciences, particularly theoretical and planetary physics; a smaller portion builds upon contemporary science and explores hypotheses not yet accepted.

I don’t know whether any ESP research is included in the collection, nor whether Boas and Tukey were aware of its existence in 1938, but it sure makes a good story.

The final riddle, the F. o. P., of Princeton University is an easy one. Of course, this refers to the “Friends of Pondiczery”, the circle of people in Princeton who knew of the existence of their very own Bourbaki.

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Cambridge, spring 1939

One of the few certainties we have on the Bourbaki-Petard wedding invitation is that it was printed in, and distributed out of Cambridge in the spring of 1939, presumably around mid April.

So, what was going on, mathematically, in and around Trinity and St. John’s College, at that time?

Well, there was the birth of Eureka, the journal of the Archimedeans, the mathematical society of the University of Cambridge. Eureka is one of the oldest recreational mathematics publications still in existence.

Since last year the back issues of Eureka are freely available online, unfortunately missing out the very first two numbers from 1939.

Ralph Boas, one of the wedding-conspirators, was among the first to contribute to Eureka. In the second number, in may 1939, he wrote an article on “Undergraduate mathematics in America”.

And, in may 1940 (number 4 of Eureka) even the lion hunter H. Petard wrote a short ‘Letter to the editors’.

But, no doubt the hottest thing that spring in Cambridge were Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics’. Wittgenstein was just promoted to Professor after G.E. Moore resigned the chair in philosophy.

For several terms at Cambridge in 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein lectured on the philosophical foundations of mathematics. A lecture class taught by Wittgenstein, however, hardly resembled a lecture. He sat on a chair in the middle of the room, with some of the class sitting in chairs, some on the floor. He never used notes. He paused frequently, sometimes for several minutes, while he puzzled out a problem. He often asked his listeners questions and reacted to their replies. Many meetings were largely conversation.

These lectures were attended by, among others, D. A. T. Gasking, J. N. Findlay, Stephen Toulmin, Alan Turing, G. H. von Wright, R. G. Bosanquet, Norman Malcolm, Rush Rhees, and Yorick Smythies.

Here’s a clip from the film Wittgenstein, directed by Derek Jarman.

Missing from the list of people attending Wittgenstein’s lectures is Andre Weil, a Bourbaki member and the principal author of the wedding invitation.

Weil was in Cambridge in the spring of 1939 on a travel grant from the French research organisation for visits to the UK and Northern Europe. At that time, Weil held a position at the University of Strasbourg, uncomfortably close to Nazi-Germany.

Weil not attending Wittgenstein’s lectures is strange for several reasons. Weil was then correcting the galley proofs of Bourbaki’s first ever booklet, their own treatment of set theory, which appeared in 1939.

But also on a personal level, Andre Weil must have been intrigued by Wittgenstein’s philosophy, as it was close to that of his own sister Simone Weil

There are many parallels between the thinkers Simone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein. They each lived in a tense relationship with religion, with both being estranged from their cultural Jewish ancestry, and both being tempted at various times by the teachings of Catholicism.

They both underwent a profound and transformative mystical turn early into their careers. Both operated against the backdrop of escalating global conflict in the early 20th century.

Both were concerned, amongst other things, with questions of culture, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, science, and necessity. And, perhaps most notably, they both sought to radically embody their ideas and physically ‘live’ their philosophies.

From Between Weil and Wittgenstein

Andre and Simone Weil in Knokke-Zoute, 1922 – Photo Credit

Another reason why Weil might have been interested to hear Wittgenstein on the foundations of mathematics was a debate held in Paris of few months previously.

On February 4th 1939, the French Society of Philosophy invited Albert Lautman and Jean Cavaillès ‘to define what constitutes the ‘life of mathematics’, between historical contingency and internal necessity, describe their respective projects, which attempt to think mathematics as an experimental science and as an ideal dialectics, and respond to interventions from some eminent mathematicians and philosophers.’

Among the mathematicians present and contributing to the discussion were Weil’s brothers in arms, Henri Cartan, Charles Ehresmann, and Claude Chabauty.

As Chabauty left soon afterwards to study with Mordell in Manchester, and visited Weil in Cambridge, Andre Weil must have known about this discussion.

The record of this February 4th meeting is available here (in French), and in English translation from here.

Jean Cavaillès took part in the French resistance, was arrested and shot by the Nazis on April 4th 1944. Albert Lautman was shot by the Nazis in Toulouse on 1 August 1944.

Jean Cavailles (2nd on the right) 1903-1944 – Photo Credit

A book review of Wittgenstein’s Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics by G. Kreisel is available from the Bulletin of the AMS. Curiously, Kreisel compares Wittgenstein’s approach to … Bourbaki’s very own manifesto L’architecture des mathématiques.

For all these reasons it is strange that Andre Weil apparently didn’t show much interest in Wittgenstein’s lectures.

Had he more urgent things on his mind, like prepping for a wedding?

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the Bourbaki code revisited

The fictitious life of Nicolas Bourbaki remains a source of fascination to some.

A few weeks ago, Michael Barany wrote an article for the JStor Daily The mathematical pranksters behind Nicolas Bourbaki.

Here’s one of the iconic early Bourbaki pictures, taken at the Dieulefit-meeting in 1938. More than a decade ago I discovered the exact location of that meeting in the post Bourbaki and the miracle of silence.

Bourbaki at Beauvallon 1938 – Photo Credit

That post was one of a series on the pre-war years of Bourbaki, and the riddles contained in the invitation card of the Betti Bourbaki-Hector Petard wedding that several mathematicians in Cambridge, Princeton and Paris received in the spring of 1939.

A year ago, The Ferret made the nice YouTube clip “Bourbaki – a Tale of Mathematics, Lions and Espionage”, which gives a quick introduction to Bourbaki and the people mentioned in the wedding invitation.

This vacation period may be a good opportunity to revisit some of my older posts on this subject, and add newer material I discovered since then.

For this reason, I’ve added a new category, tBC for ‘the Bourbaki Code’, and added the old posts to it.

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Where’s Bourbaki’s tomb?

In according to Groth IV.22 we tried to solve one of the riddles contained in Roubaud’s announcement of Bourbaki’s death.

Today, we’ll try our hands on the next one: where was Bourbaki buried?

The death announcement gives this fairly opaque clue:

“The burial will take place in the cemetery for Random Functions (metro stations Markov and Gödel) on Saturday, November 23, 1968 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.”

What happened on November 23rd 1968?

Bourbaki died on November 11th, 1968 (exactly 50 years after the end of WW1). Perhaps an allusion to the mandatory retirement age for members of Bourbaki, as suggested by the Canulars Bourbaki.

Be that as it may, I believe this date was chosen because it is conveniently close to the intended time of the burial.

But then, what’s so special about November 23rd, 1968?

Well, is there a more suitable moment to burry Bourbaki than during a Seminaire Bourbaki? And, yes, in the fall of 1968 the seminar was organised from saturday 23rd till monday 25th of november:

So, where would all of Bourbaki’s close family be at 3 o’clock on that particular saturday? Right, at l’Institut Henri Poincare.

But, it’s hard to view the IHP as a cemetery. Besides, it’s nowhere close to two metro stations as a quick look on the map shows. The closest one is the RER-station at the Luxembourg gardens, but the RER-line didn’t exist in 1968.

(True Parisians may object that the Gare du Luxembourg was at the time the terminus of the Ligne de Sceaux which has a fascinating history, but let’s try to remain on track…)

If the first clue is the Institut Henri Poincare, then if we are looking for a cemetery, we might ask:

Where’s Poincare’s tomb?

Jules Henri Poincare is burried in the family tomb at the Montparnasse cemetery

He’s not the only mathematician buried there. Évariste Galois, Jean Victor Poncelet, Joseph Liouville, Charles Hermite, and Gaston Darboux also found their last resting place in Montparnasse.

In fact, there are at least 104 mathematicians buried at Montparnasse.

This is hardly surprising as the Montparnasse cemetery is close to the IHP, the Collège de France, the Sorbonne, the “rue d’Ulm” aka the ENS, l’Observatoire and until 1976 l’École polytechnique.

Here’s a map with pointers to some of these tombs:

So, the Montparnasse cemetery appears to be a plausible place to host Bourbaki’s tomb.

But, what about the other “clues”?

“Cemetery of random functions (metro stations Markov and Gödel)”

There are several references lo logic, set theory and applied mathematics in Bourbaki’s death announcement. Why?

Roubaud (and many with him) feel that the Bourbaki enterprise failed miserably in these areas.

He writes on page 49 of his book Mathematics, a novel:

“But Bourbaki, that ‘collective mathematician”, as Raymond Queneau put it, also had a good knowledge of the current state of mathematics at the time when his Treatise was being composed; with, of course, a few “gaps”:

for example, probability, which was considered to be just an “applied” brand of measure theory”; and logic, especially logic, which was made almost a pariah because of (so it was rumored) the premature death of Herbrand, who, in the generation of founders, Normaliens to a man, had studied under Hilbert, and thus had been associated with his meteoric rise; in sum, logic had died in a climbing accident along with Herbrand.”

This might explain the cemetery of “random functions” and the metro stations named after the logicians and set theorists Kurt Gödel and A.A. Markov or the father of stochastic processes Andrey Markov.

Is there more into these references?

Probably not, but just to continue with our silly game, the two metro stations closest to the Montparnasse cemetery are Raspail and Edgar Quinet.

Now, François-Vincent Raspail was a French chemist, naturalist, physician, physiologist, attorney, and socialist politician.

More relevant to our quest is that the Centre d’analyse et de mathématique sociales (CAMS) was based at 54, boulevard Raspail. The mission statement on their website tells that this institute is clearly devoted to all applications of mathematics. That is, “Raspail” may be another pointer to applied mathematics and random functions.

As for the other metro station, Edgar Quinet was a French historian and intellectual. Is there a connection to logic or set theory? Well, sort of. The Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say about Edgar Quinet:

“His rhetorical power was altogether superior to his logical power, and the natural consequence is that his work is full of contradictions.”

I rest my case.

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Hasse = “le P. Adique, de l’Ordre des Diophantiens”

The Bourbaki wedding invitation is probably the most effective branding- and marketing-campaign in the history of mathematics.

It contains this, seemingly opaque, paragraph:

The trivial isomorphism will be given to them by P. Adic, of the Diophantine Order, at the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety, the 3 Cartember, year VI, at the usual hour.

It was pretty easy to decode the date of the wedding “3 Cartember, year VI” to be June 3rd, 1939, and (a bit more difficult) the wedding place “the Principal Cohomology of the Universal Variety” as the l’église royale Notre-Dame du Val-de-Grâce in Paris.

The identity of the celebrating priest “P. Adic, of the Diophantine Order” remained unclear. The most likely suspect was Helmut Hasse, but I couldn’t place him in Paris on June 3rd, 1939.

Hasse is the central figure in the picture above, taken in Oberwolfach in 1952, before one of his cars. Here’s another picture of car-freak Hasse (trains were to Andre Weil what cars were to Helmut Hasse). Both pictures are from the MFO photo collection.

Thanks to Peter Roquette’s publishing of Helmut Hasse’s letters we can now prove that Hasse was not in Paris on that particular day (however, he was there a couple of days earlier) but Weil had every reason to believe he might be there at the time he wrote the wedding invitation.

When was the wedding invitation written?

Frank Smithies recalls the spring 1939 period in Cambridge as follows :

“The climax of the academic year, as far as we were concerned, came in the Easter term. André Weil, Claude Chabauty, and Louis Bouckaert (from Louvain) were all in Cambridge, and the proposal was mooted that a marriage should be arranged between Bourbaki’s daughter Betti and Hector Pétard; the marriage announcement was duly printed in the canonical French style – on it Pétard was described as the ward of Ersatz Stanislas Pondiczery – and it was circulated to the friends of both parties. A couple of weeks later the Weils, Louis Bouckaert, Max Krook (a South African astrophysicist), Ralph and myself made a river excursion to Grantchester by punt and canoe to have tea at the Red Lion; there is a photograph of Ralph and myself, with our triumphantly captured lion between us and André Weil looking benevolently on.”

We know that this picture is taken on May 13th 1939 so the wedding-invitation was drawn up around mid april 1939.

“What did Weil know about Hasse’s visit to Paris?”

Hasse had been invited by Julia to give a series of lectures at the Institut Henri Poincare in 1938, but Hasse postponed his trip to Paris until May 1939.

In his letter to Hasse of January 20th 1939, Andre Weil writes:

“It is quite unfortunate that you couldn’t accept your invitation to Paris before this year, because last year all our number-theorists would have been present. By a sad coincidence all of us will be on travel this coming May (except for Chevalley perhaps who might have returned from the US by then). Pisot will be in Gottingen, Chabauty in Manchester visiting Mordell and I will be in Cambridge as I obtained a travel grant for England and Scandinavia.”

Clearly, Weil was aware of the upcoming visit of Hasse to Paris at the end of May, and there was no reason for him to assume that he wouldn’t be able to stay a weekend longer.

What do we know of Hasse’s visit to Paris?

Because Julia was exhausted and was on a three months sick leave, Elie Cartan took over the job of organising Hasse’s lecture series. In a letter of April 25th 1939 he proposes some possible dates, to which Hasse replies on April 30th 1939:

In it he fixes for the first time the dates of his talks which will be on “New results in the arithmetic of algebraic function fields” and consist of three lectures:

– On Friday 19th 1939: “Generalities: the group of divisor classes and the multiplier ring”

– On Saturday 20th 1939: “Rational and integral points on algebraic curves over the integers”

– On Tuesday 23rd 1939: “Rational points on algebraic curves with coefficient mod p”

He also mentions that he would stay for 15 days in Paris, arriving on May 17th, in time for the Jubilee Conference for Elie Cartan, scheduled on May 18th.

Weil must have known that Hasse would be present at the Cartan-fest and give a series of lectures in the following weeks. He had every reason to believe that Hasse would still be in Paris on Saturday June 3rd.

Where was Hasse on June 3rd 1939?

Back at home, as on that very day he wrote a letter to Henri Cartan, thanking him for an enjoyable day’s stay in Strasbourg, on the way back from Paris, on June 1st 1939:

If you want to catch up with previous posts on the Bourbaki wedding, you might want to download the booklet The Bourbaki Code.

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16 ways to capture a lion (in 1938)

A classic among mathematical jokes is the paper in the August/September 1938 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly “A contribution to the mathematical theory of big game hunting” by one Hector Petard of Princeton who would marry, one year later, Nicolas Bourbaki’s daughter Betti.


There are two main sources of information on the story behind this paper. There are Frank Smithies’ “Reminiscences of Ralph Boas” in the book Lion Hunting & Other Mathematical Pursuits and the transcript of an interview with John Tukey and Albert Tucker at Princeton University on 11 April 1984, part of the oral-history project on the Princeton mathematics community in the 1930s.

Smithies recalls being part of a lively group of people in Princeton during the academic year 1937/38 including Arthur Brown, Ralph Traber, Lyman Spitzer, Hugh Dowker, John Olmsted, Henry Walman, George Barnard, John Tukey, Mort Kanner (a physicist), Dick Jameson (a linguist) and Ralph Boas. Smithies writes:

“At some time that winter we were told about the mathematical methods for lion-hunting that have been devised in Gottingen, and several of us came up with new ones; who invented which method is now lost to memory. Ralph (Boas) and I decided to write up all the methods known to us, with a view to publication, conforming as closely as we could to the usual style of a mathematical paper. We choose H. Petard as a pseudonym (“the engineer, hoist with his own petard”; Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV), and sent the paper to the Americal Mathematical Monthly, over the signature of E. S. Pondiczery.”

Pondiczery was Princeton’s answer to Nicolas Bourbaki, and in the interview John Tukey recalls from (sometimes failing) memory:

“Well, the hope was that at some point Ersatz Stanislaus Pondiczery at the Royal Institute of Poldavia was going to be able to sign something ESP RIP. Then there’s the wedding invitation done by the Bourbakis. It was for the marriage of Betti Bourbaki and Pondiczery. It was a formal wedding invitation with a long Latin sentence, most of which was mathematical jokes, three quarters of which you could probably decipher. Pondiczery even wrote a paper under a pseudonym, namely “The Mathematical Theory of Big Game Hunting” by H. Petard, which appeared in the Monthly. There were also a few other papers by Pondiczery.”

Andrew Tucker then tells the story of the paper’s acceptance:

“Moulton, the editor of the Monthly at that time, wrote to me saying that he had this paper and the envelope was postmarked Princeton and he assumed that it was done by some people in math at Princeton. He said he would very much like to publish the paper, but there was a firm policy against publishing anything anonymous. He asked if I, or somebody else that he knew and could depend on, would tell him that the authorship would be revealed if for any reason it became legally necessary. I did not know precisely who they were, but I knew that John [Tukey] was one of them. He seemed to be in the thick of such things. John agreed that I could accept Moulton’s terms. I sent a letter with this assurance to Moulton and he went ahead and published it.”

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What’s Pippa got to do with the Bourbaki wedding?

Last time we’ve seen that on June 3rd 1939, the very day of the Bourbaki wedding, Malraux’ movie ‘L’espoir’ had its first (private) viewing, and we mused whether Weil’s wedding card was a coded invitation to that event.

But, there’s another plausible explanation why the Bourbaki wedding might have been scheduled for June 3rd : it was intended to be a copy-cat Royal Wedding…

The media-hype surrounding the wedding of Prince William to Pippa’s sister led to a hausse in newspaper articles on iconic royal weddings of the past.

One of these, the marriage of Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, was held on June 3rd 1937 : “This was the scandal of the century, as far as royal weddings go. Edward VIII had just abdicated six months before in order to marry an American twice-divorced commoner. The British Establishment at the time would not allow Edward VIII to stay on the throne and marry this woman (the British Monarch is also the head of the Church of England), so Edward chose love over duty and fled to France to await the finalization of his beloved’s divorce. They were married in a private, civil ceremony, which the Royal Family boycotted.”

But, what does this wedding have to do with Bourbaki?

For starters, remember that the wedding-card-canular was concocted in the spring of 1939 in Cambridge, England. So, if Weil and his Anglo-American associates needed a common wedding-example, the Edward-Wallis case surely would spring to mind. One might even wonder about the transposed symmetry : a Royal (Betti, whose father is from the Royal Poldavian Academy), marrying an American (Stanislas Pondiczery).

Even Andre Weil must have watched this wedding with interest (perhaps even sympathy). He too had to wait a considerable amount of time for Eveline’s divorce (see this post) to finalize, so that they could marry on october 30th 1937, just a few months after Edward & Wallis.

But, there’s more. The royal wedding took place at the Chateau de Cande, just south of Tours (the A on the google-map below). Now, remember that the 2nd Bourbaki congress was held at the Chevalley family-property in Chancay (see the Escorial post) a bit to the north-east of Tours (the marker on the map). As this conference took place only a month after the Royal Wedding (from 10th till 20th of July 1937), the event surely must have been the talk of the town.

Early on, we concluded that the Bourbaki-Petard wedding took place at 12 o’clock (‘a l’heure habituelle’). So did the Edward-Wallis wedding. More precisely, the civil ceremony began at 11.47 and the local mayor had to come to the castle for the occasion, and, afterwards the couple went into the music-room, which was converted into an Anglican chapel for the day, at precisely 12 o’clock.

The emphasis on the musical organ in the Bourbaki wedding-invitation allowed us to identify the identity of ‘Monsieur Modulo’ to be Olivier Messiaen as well as that of the wedding church. Now, the Chateau de Cande also houses an impressive organ, the Skinner opus 718 organ.

For the wedding ceremony, Edward and Wallis hired the services of one of the most renowned French organists at the time : Marcel Dupre who was since 1906 Widor’s assistent, and, from 1934 resident organist in the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris. Perhaps more telling for our story is that Dupre was, apart from Paul Dukas, the most influential teacher of Olivier Messiaen.

On June 3rd, 1937 Dupre performed the following pieces. During the civil ceremony, an extract from the 29e Bach cantate, canon in re-minor by Schumann and the prelude of the fugue in do-minor of himself. When the couple entered the music room he played the march of the Judas Macchabee oratorium of Handel and the cortege by himself. During the religious ceremony he performed his own choral, adagium in mi-minor by Cesar Franck, the traditional ‘Oh Perfect Love’, the Jesus-choral by Bach and the toccata of the 5th symphony of Widor. Compare this level of detail to the minimal musical hint given in the Bourbaki wedding-invitation

“Assistent Simplexe de la Grassmannienne (lemmas chantees par la Scholia Cartanorum)”

This is one of the easier riddles to solve. The ‘simplicial assistent of the Grassmannian’ is of course Hermann Schubert (Schubert cell-decomposition of Grassmannians). But, the composer Franz Schubert only left us one organ-composition : the Fugue in E-minor.

I have tried hard to get hold of a copy of the official invitation for the Edward-Wallis wedding, but failed miserably. There must be quite a few of them still out there, of the 300 invited people only 16 showed up… You can watch a video newsreel film of the wedding.

As Claude Chevalley’s father had an impressive diplomatic career behind him and lived in the neighborhood, he might have been invited, and, perhaps the (unused) invitation was lying around at the time of the second Bourbaki-congress in Chancay,just one month after the Edward-Wallis wedding…

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What happened on the Bourbaki wedding day?

Early on in this series we deciphered part of the Bourbaki wedding invitation

The wedding was planned on “le 3 Cartembre, an VI” or, for non-Bourbakistas, June 3rd 1939. But, why did they choose that particular day?

Because the wedding-invitation-joke was concocted sometime between mid april and mid may 1939, the most probable explanation clearly is that they took a calendar and scheduled their fake wedding on a saturday not too far in the future.

Or, could it be that the invitation indeed contained a coded message pointing to an important event (at least as far as Bourbaki or the Weils were concerned) taking place in Paris on June 3rd 1939?

Unlikely? Well, what about this story:

André Malraux was a French writer and later statesman. He was noted especially for his novel La Condition Humaine (1933).

During the 1930s, Malraux was active in the anti-fascist Popular Front in France. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War he joined the Republican forces in Spain, serving in and helping to organize the small Spanish Republican Air Force. The Republic government circulated photos of Malraux’s standing next to some Potez 540 bombers suggesting that France was on their side, at a time when France and the United Kingdom had declared official neutrality.

In 1938 he published L’Espoir, a novel influenced by his Spanish war experiences. In the same year, Malraux and Boris Peskine produced a movie based on the book, filmed in Spain (in Tarragon, Collbató and Montserrat) : sierra de Teruel (later called, L’Espoir)

This wikipedia-page claims that the movie was released June 13th, 1945. But this isn’t quite correct.

The first (private) viewing of the film took place … on saturday june 3rd, 1939.

In august 1939 there was another private viewing for the Spanish Government-in-Exile, and Malraux wanted the public release to take place in september. However, after the invasion by Hitler of Poland and considerable pressure of the French amassador to Madrid, Philippe Petain, the distribution of the movie was forbidden by the government of Edouard Daladier IV.
For this reason the public release had to be postponed until after the war.

But let us return to the first viewing on Bourbaki’s wedding day. We know that a lot of authors were present. There’s evidence that Simone de Beauvoir attended and quite likely so did Simone Weil, Andre’s sister.

In 1936, despite her professed pacifism, Simone Weil fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. She identified herself as an anarchist and joined the Sébastien Faure Century, the French-speaking section of the anarchist militia.

According to her biography (p. 473) she was still in contact with Malraux and, at the time, tried in vain to convince him of the fact that the Stalin-regime was as oppressive as the fascist-regimes. So, it is quite likely she was invited to the viewing, or at least knew about it.

From Andre Weil’s auto-biography we know that letters (and even telegrams) were exchanged between him and his sister, when he was in England in the spring of 1939. So, it is quite likely that she told him about the Malraux-Sierra de Tenuel happening (see also the Escorial post).

According to the invitation the Bourbaki-wedding took place “en la Cohomologie Principale”. The private viewing of Malraux’ film took place in “Cinéma Le Paris” on the Champs Elysées.

Could it be that “Cohomologie Principale”=”Cinema Le Paris”?

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