Saturday, 25 October 2014

MUSIC SATURDAY - LISZT HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY No2

“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” - Charles de Gaulle

Franz Liszt (22 October 1811, Doborján, Hungary [now Raiding, Burgenland, Austria] - 31 July 1886, Bayreuth, Germany [pneumonia]), the virtuoso pianist and composer, was the most famous concert superstar of the 19th century. He was born in what was then the Austrian Empire. His father was Hungarian and his mother was Austrian. At age 6 he took music lessons from his father, Adam Liszt, who worked at the Court of Count Esterhazy, the main sponsor of Liszt’s education and career.


Liszt continued his music studies in Vienna under Carl Czerny and Antonio Salieri. In 1823, at the young age of 12, Liszt moved with his parents to Paris. There he enjoyed an early friendship with Frédéric Chopin, but later they became rivals. At that time young Liszt began his career of a travelling virtuoso. He was adulated all-over Europe, from Ireland to Russia. His concert performances included his own compositions, regarded by many as the most difficult piano music ever written.


His elegant, worldly manners in combination with diabolic cynicism and his impressive stage presence and supernatural virtuosity gave cause for rumors, that he must have made a deal with the Devil. His “Mephisto Waltz” depicts the Devil playing a Paganini-style violin on the piano. Franz Liszt became a friend of many important cultural figures of his time. He attended the Paris premiere of the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz and the two composers became good friends. Liszt shared mutual respect with Mikhail Glinka. He also admired Aleksandr Borodin and promoted his first symphony for performances in Western Europe.


Liszt was a friend of Richard Wagner, who was Liszt’s son-in-law, until their differences led to cooler relationship in their later years. Liszt’s influence on his fellow musicians was legendary. He made superb piano transcriptions of symphonies, operas and large orchestral works of other composers, such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Wagner. Operas and symphonies in Liszt’s transcriptions became valuable repertoire of many pianists. Liszt lived and travelled with the married Countess Marie D’Agoult for 12 years and they had three children.


In 1847, in Russia, Liszt met the beautiful and wealthy Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein, who soon left her husband for Liszt. In 1848 he became the Director of Music at the Court of Weimar. There, living with Carolyne in her mansion, he composed and revised his most important music, including the “Dream of Love”, dedicated to Carolyne. The Church did not allow Liszt to marry Carolyne and also did not allow Carolyne to divorce Wittgenstein, with whom she had a daughter.


In 1861 Liszt settled in Rome where Carolyne bought a home and they tried to marry again, but the Church did not terminate Carolyne’s marriage until her husband died in 1864. She then changed her mind and lived with unmarried Liszt, who was stuck in this painful situation until the end of his life. Under her influence, he became a religious man and in 1865 Pope admitted Liszt into Holy Orders and commissioned the church music. Since 1870s Liszt taught at the Budapest Conservatory and also participated with Wagner in several concert events in Bayreuth. He spent his last years between Rome, Weimar, Budapest and Bayreuth, where he died in 1886.


Here is Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, originally written for solo piano, which comes to life in its orchestral version in this fiery performance by the Cologne New Philharmonic conducted by Volker Hartung. Recorded live at Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Germany in March 2012.


Friday, 24 October 2014

FOOD FRIDAY - VEGETARIAN MUSHROOM PIE

“If only one could tell true love from false love as one can tell mushrooms from toadstools.” - Katherine Mansfield

For Food Friday today, a vegetarian dish perfect for my Northern Hemisphere readers who are in the midst of Autumn with lots of mushrooms available!

Vegetarian Mushroom Pies
Ingredients
50 mL olive oil
180 g Swiss brown mushrooms, chopped
180 g field mushrooms, chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
30 mL sherry
1 tsp dry mustard powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
100 mL cream
6 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh chopped thyme
1 x 500g packet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten, to glaze (if desired)

Method
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the prepared mushrooms and shallots, stirring over a high heat for 5 minutes until golden and cooked through. Add the sherry and dry mustard and cook again for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, Dijon mustard, parsley and thyme and season well with freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut 4 circles, large enough to line a 4 hole pie tin. Fill each with the mushroom mixture, then cut a further 4 circles for the lids, lightly brushing the rims with a little water to enable them to stick. Make a slit in the top of each lid using a sharp knife, then rough up the edges of the pies using a sharp knife – this makes sure the base and the lids stay together throughout cooking.
Use the egg to glaze the pies (if desired), and bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and well risen.

Please link your favourite recipes in the Mr Linky tool below:

DIWALI

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” - Plato

Diwali, perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the best known Hindu holidays has just been celebrated. The word Diwali means “rows of lighted lamps”. Houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. The holiday is also known as Deepavali and the “festival of lights”, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November.

Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas inside and outside their home, participate in family puja (prayers) typically to Lakshmi - the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Lamps are lit to help Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, find her way into people's homes. After puja, fireworks follow, then a family feast including mithai (sweets), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends. Diwali also marks a major shopping period in nations where it is celebrated. In India, people start the new business year at Diwali, and some Hindus will say special prayers to the goddess for a new successful business year.

Diwali is an important festival for Hindus. The name of festive days as well as the rituals of Diwali vary significantly among Hindus, based on the region of India. In many parts of India, the festivities start with Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdasi on second day, Diwali on the third day, Diwali Padva dedicated to wife-husband relationship on the fourth day, and festivities end with Bhau-beej dedicated to sister-brother bond on the fifth day. Dhanteras usually falls eighteen days after Dussehra.

On the same night that Hindus celebrate Diwali, Jains celebrate a festival of lights to mark the attainment of moksha by Mahavira, and Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas. Diwali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

POETRY JAM - YOUR FAVOURITES

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” - Mahatma Gandhi

For this week, Poetry Jam enjoins its readers to write about “a toy or game you liked in your childhood”. Almost all readers of this blog will have a wealth of happy childhood memories where many hours were spent in carefree play. It is important to remember, however, that there are still children in the world who live and die in poverty.

Of the estimated 2.2 billion children worldwide, about a billion, or every second child, live in poverty. Of the 1.9 billion children in developing nations, 640 million are without adequate shelter; 400 million are without access to safe water; 270 million have no access to health services. In 2003, 10.6 million children died before reaching the age of five, which is equivalent to the total child population of France, Germany, Greece, and Italy. 1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation while 2.2 million die each year due to lack of immunisations...

Our Favourite Toys

A hard life, where every day is a struggle,
Where putting bread on the table is hard labour,
Where drinking water is never taken for granted:
A life that cheats death every day.

A hard existence, where everyone works
To eke out a living, and children grow up early,
To till the barren soil, trying to raise a meagre crop:
A life that gives pleasures rarely.

A poor man’s lot, where bitter food is eaten greedily,
Where hunger never goes away completely, and disease kills,
Where most children never get a chance to grow up:
A life of want gratefully stopped short.

Our favourite toys:
A ball of rags kicked stealthily, in between chores;
Worn plastic containers, no good for reuse,
Make toy houses, cars and drums to beat:
In secret, while we steal a few moments to play.

Sticks, pebbles, twigs – and if you’re lucky –
An old bicycle wheel, to make of them whatever
Your boundless imagination desires,
Rubbish transformed into wondrous things;
And most precious of all:
Your little sister a living doll to care for…

If you are able to, please donate some money to ease poverty in some part of the world so children are able to live, and perhaps play:

UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund. UNICEF’s vision is of a world where the basic rights of every child will be met.

CARE Australia is an Australian charity and international humanitarian aid organisation fighting global poverty, with a special focus on empowering women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities.

World Vision is a worldwide community development organisation that provides short-term and long-term assistance to 100 million people worldwide (including 2.4 million children).

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

EROTOKRITOS

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan

For literary Tuesday, we’re going back in time and place to meet a contemporary of William Shakespeare, the Greek epic poet Vincenzo Cornaros. He is the greatest of all the Cretan poets and one of the most significant and influential figures in the entire course of modern Greek poetry. He was the son of a Venetian/Cretan aristocrat and was born near Sitia, Crete in 1553. Later, when he married, he came to live in Candia (now Iraklion) where he joined the Academia dei Stravaganti. Kornaros died in about 1617. His masterpiece is “Erotokritos” a romantic epic, comprising 10,052 fifteen-syllable rhymed verses. The poem was well known in Crete at the time and had a long oral tradition. The Venetian Antonio Bortoli edition (1713) in Greek is considered to be the first definitive printed version.

Erotokritos unites the magic of myth with a deep understanding of everyday life and sympathy for the universal human emotions. It expresses the threefold ideal of the time, which is bravery, beauty and wisdom. Erotokritos sets great store by true love, friendship, courage and patriotism, and this is the reason for its later popularity all over Greece. It was a great source of inspiration for Dionisios Solomos and influenced Greek poets as diverse as Kostis Palamas, Kristallis and Seferis. English translations of the complete poem are available, as are also English adaptations.

The story takes place in Athens where King Herakles lives with his wife Artemis and their very beautiful daughter Aretousa. Erotokritos, a handsome and brave young man, son of the king's advisor, has fallen in love with Aretousa. After many difficulties and trials, the couple is married amidst celebrations and magnificent contests. The language of this work is authentic Greek and Cretan, a synthesis and conscious effort of the poet to express lofty human feelings and values with simplicity, directness and truth.

The form of the poem gave rise to many imitations, and the tradition of 15 syllable rhymed couplets called “Mantinades” (μαντινάδες) is a characteristic feature of Cretan life even today.
Ότι και να ΄χει ο Κρητικός με λόγια δεν το λέει
με μαντινάδες χαίρεται, με μαντινάδες κλαίει.

“In plain words Cretans never speak, whatever they may feel, 
With mantinades they will weep, with them will laughter peal!”

In Crete the ability to compose apt mantinades on the spur of the moment is considered to be a highly desirable talent and is greatly admired.

Parts of Erotokritos have been set to traditional Cretan music and the poem has also been adapted for theatrical performance. In the YouTube video below, a portion of the Erotokritos music, sung by the great Nikos Xylouris can be heard:
The whole of the epic is available on the internet in Greek. The illustration is from the Theatrical Company of Crete’s production of “Erotokritos – The Play”.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

VALE, GOUGH WHITLAM

“Whitlam was the most paradoxical of all Prime Ministers in the last half of the 20th century. A man of superb intellect, knowledge, and literacy, he yet had little ability when it came to economics ... Whitlam rivalled Menzies in his passion for the House of Representatives and ability to use it as his stage, and yet his parliamentary skills were rhetorical and not tactical. He could devise a strategy and then often botch the tactics in trying to implement that strategy ... Above all he was a man of grand vision with serious blind spots.” WallaceBrown

We woke up to the news of the death of Gough Whitlam, this morning… The Hon. (Edward) Gough Whitlam AC, QC was the 21st Australian Prime Minister, and was in office from 5 December 1972 to 11 November 1975.

He was born in Melbourne on 11 July 1916, he attended primary schools in Sydney, secondary schools in Canberra and the University of Sydney (BA, LLB). He was a Flight-Lieutenant navigator in the Pacific War. He was admitted to the New South Wales bar in 1947. In 1942 he married Margaret Dovey, the daughter of the late Justice Dovey of the NSW Supreme Court. The Whitlams had three sons and one daughter.

Whitlam was first elected to Parliament in 1952, representing Werriwa in the House of Representatives. He became Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in 1960, and in 1967, after the retirement of Arthur Calwell, he was elected Leader and became the Leader of the Opposition. After narrowly losing the 1969 election, Whitlam led Labor to victory at the 1972 election after 23 years of continuous Liberal-Country Coalition Government.

Whitlam’s government embarked on the extensive program of reform, which he had enunciated as Leader of the Opposition. Amongst other reforms, it took over financial responsibility for tertiary education and abolished fees, the Schools Commission was established, welfare payments were introduced for single-parent families and homeless persons, the death penalty was abolished for Federal crimes and the voting age was reduced to eighteen years. In 1975 the Government successfully repelled five challenges by the non-Labor State Governments in the High Court. The New South Wales and Queensland governments, however, changed the composition of the Senate by making non-Labor appointments to fill two Labor vacancies.

In October the Senate thrice postponed a vote on the Budget. On 11 November the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Whitlam Government. Whitlam’s account of these controversial events is given in “The Truth of the Matter” (1979, 2nd edition 1983 and 3rd edition 2005) and in “Abiding Interests” (1997).

Whitlam stepped down after losing again at the 1977 election, retiring from Parliament in 1978. Upon the election of the Hawke Government in 1983, he was appointed as the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, and remained active in public life well into his nineties. His last years were spent in a Sydney retirement home and he died on 21 October 2014. The circumstances of his dismissal as Prime Minister, and the legacy of his government, remain a large part of Australian political discourse.

Vale, Gough!

Monday, 20 October 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - SKY CAPTAIN

“My advice to young film-makers is this: Don't follow trends, Start them!” - Frank Capra

For Movie Monday today, quite a different film, which at the time of its release was quite controversial and I must say, I was not game to sit down and watch, after what I had heard about it. Firstly, I was told that it was a rehash of 1930s cliffhangers with gross deficiencies in plot, character development and a profound lack of humour. Secondly, it is a film that relies completely on digital techniques for sets (the whole film was shot with the actors in front of blue screens and the backgrounds were digitally filled in afterwards by superimposition). Thirdly, I was warned that the film is for “geeks” and not “normal” people (well OK, that wasn't much of a deterrent, I have been called geeky before!). And lastly, the title of the film was rather cumbersome and made one rather question the film content - I mean, who goes around calling their film, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”? (2004). Quite by chance, as I was rummaging in a remainders basket in my DVD shop, I found the DVD and what attracted me firstly to it was the artwork on the cover. Then, given that its price was less than a cup of coffee and cake, I bought it on impulse. We watched it and I was wowed!

The first thing that was remarkable was the “feel” and “look” of the movie. It had a deliciously retro quality about it, which made it quite endearing. With muted colours, in shades of warm gray, glowing golden browns, subdued blues and understated reds, it is immediately evocative of old black-white films, but is quite genuinely a colour film. The time the movie is set in is definitely a time past, but it is a curious evocation of the future in times past. This is how people thought the future would be like in the past… Quaint!

The plot, yes, is rather simple: In New York City, 1939, a fearless reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwynneth Paltrow) is investigating the disappearance of famous scientists around the world. When the city is attacked by giant robots she makes the important connection between the two events. She gets her ex-boyfriend, Sky Captain (Jude Law) to help her solve the mystery. He is the captain of a mercenary legion of pilots and a typical action hero. Robots attack the city again and Dex, Sky Captain's right hand man is able to locate the place where they originate. Polly And Sky Captain set off on an adventure in search of the evil mastermind behind these schemes, who is bent on creating a utopia and destroying the current world. Along the way they are helped by Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) a military officer and ex-girlfriend of Sky Captain.  Real gung-ho, boys' own adventure stuff, which has been updated with a backward twist…

The appeal of the film lies in its multiple references to films of the past (for example, King Kong, The War of the Worlds, Forbidden Planet, Lost Horizon, Star Wars, etc, etc) but also in its retro look and obvious homage to the old cliffhanger serials of the 30s. Saturday matinee stuff that many people remember from their childhood (either in the movie theatres or on TV reruns). I think what impressed me the most was the artistic merit of the cinematography, the digital artistry and the quite lush backgrounds and sets. Artificial, but well-done and blending quite seamlessly with the live action of the actors that was superimposed on them. There is a wonderful art deco feel throughout and the overall feel of the times of the 30s has been captured wonderfully. There is subtle humour there also, and also there is a plot, albeit simple.

Don't expect deep philosophy from this movie - it is after all, an escapist fantasy. Aimed at a broad audience, it may tempt even the film aficionados because of its experimental use of the film medium and its bold uniqueness. Kerry Conran, the director and writer, has shown originality and a freshness of vision. I enjoyed quite a great deal and would recommend it to all who wish to see something “different”…