Sunday, 26 April 2015

ART SUNDAY - VIGÉE-LE BRUN

“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.” - B. R. Ambedkar

Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun (April 16, 1755 - March 30, 1842) was a French painter, and is recognised as the most famous female painter of the eighteenth century. Her style is neoclassical in that it exhibits ideals of simplicity and purity. Her work can also be considered Rococo in its grace, delicacy, and naturalism.

She was born in Paris, Marie Élisabeth-Louise Vigée, the daughter of a portraitist and fan painter, Louis Vigée, from whom she received her first lessons. She also benefited by the advice of Gabriel François Doyen, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Joseph Vernet, and other masters of the period. By the time she was in her early teens, she was painting portraits professionally. After her studio was seized, for practicing without a license, she applied to the Académie de Saint Luc, which willingly exhibited her works in their Salon. On 25 October 1774, she was made a member of the Académie.

In 1776, she married Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, a painter and art dealer. She painted portraits of many of the nobility of the day and as her career blossomed, she was invited to the Palace of Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette, the French Queen consort. So pleased was the queen that over the next several years, Vigée-Le Brun was commissioned to do numerous portraits of the queen, her children, and other members of the royal family and household.

In 1781 she and her husband toured Flanders and the Netherlands where seeing the works of the Flemish masters inspired her to try new techniques. There, she painted portraits of some of the nobility, including the Prince of Nassau. On May 31, 1783, Vigée Le Brun was accepted as a member of France’s Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture as a painter of historical allegory. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard also was admitted on the same day. The admission of Vigée-Le Brun was opposed on the grounds that her husband was an art dealer, but eventually objections were overruled by an order from Louis XVI because Marie-Antoinette put considerable pressure on her husband on behalf of her painter.

The admission of more than one woman on the same day to the Académie encouraged comparisons among the works of the women instead of one woman contrasted with the existing members, who were men. In 1789, she was succeeded as court painter to Marie Antoinette by Alexander Kucharsky.

After the arrest of the royal family during the French Revolution Vigée-Le Brun fled France. She lived and worked for some years in Italy, Austria, and Russia, where her experience in dealing with an aristocratic clientèle was still useful. In Rome, her paintings met with great critical acclaim and she was elected to the Roman Accademia di San Luca. In Russia, she was received by the nobility and painted numerous members of the family of Catherine the Great. While there, Vigée-Le Brun was made a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Saint Petersburg.

She was welcomed back to France during the reign of Emperor Napoleon I. Much in demand by the élite of Europe, she visited England at the beginning of the nineteenth century and painted the portrait of several British notables including Lord Byron. In 1807 she traveled to Switzerland and was made an honorary member of the Société pour l’ Avancement des Beaux-Arts of Geneva.

She published her memoirs in 1835 and 1837, which provide an interesting view of the training of artists at the end of the period dominated by royal academies. Her portrait of fellow neoclassical painter, Hubert Robert, is in Paris at Musee National du Louvre. Still very active with her painting in her fifties, she purchased a house in Louveciennes, Île-de-France, and lived there until the house was seized by the Prussian Army during the war in 1814. She stayed in Paris until her death on March 30, 1842 when her body was taken back to Louveciennes and buried in the cemetery near her old home. Her tombstone epitaph states “Ici, enfin, je repose…” (Here, at last, I rest…).

Vigée-Le Brun left a legacy of 660 portraits and 200 landscapes. In addition to private collections, her works may be found at major museums, such as Hermitage Museum, London’s National Gallery, in Europe and the United States. The painting above, “The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Sons Alexis and Adrien”, painted in 1787 is exhibited at the National Gallery of Art and exemplifies well her refined and highly accomplished style. Intimate portraits of women and children were Vigée-Le Brun’s specialty and were highly popular with her aristocratic sitters.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

MUSIC SATURDAY - ANZAC DAY REQUIEM

“Dulce et decorum est
 pro patria mori.” - Horace

April 25th is Anzac Day, the anniversary of the first major military campaign fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in WWI. ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the soldiers in these corps became known as Anzacs. In 1914, at the outbreak of WWI, Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only thirteen years, and the new federal government was eager to establish Australia as a sovereign nation amongst the others in the world. In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies, in order to capture Istanbul. They landed at Gallipoli on 25th of April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders of the site.

What was supposed to be a masterstroke to eliminate Turkey from the war became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. Over 8,000 Australian and 2,700 New Zealand soldiers were killed. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians at home and 25th of April quickly became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war. An excellent film to see, highlighting the Gallipoli campaign from the Australian perspective is Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” (1981).

Today in Australia we marked this solemn day with dawn services, commemorative parades, talks and special exhibitions. Anzac Day is a national public holiday and is one of the most spiritual and solemn days of the year for all Australians. This year the commemorative events are particularly widespread and important as we mark the centennial of the landing of the Anzacs in Gallipoli in 1915.

Anzac Day is a solemn day to mark our war losses, but more importantly it is a day to contemplate upon the futility of war and to actively promote peace. I am mindful that a lot of my readers may have children, partners, friends fighting in wars at this time and my heart goes out to you in empathy.

For Music Saturday, a Requiem Mass by André Campra (baptised 4 December 1660 in Aix-en-Provence – 29 June 1744 in Versailles). Campra was a French composer and conductor. Who was one of the leading French opera composers in the period between Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau. He wrote several “tragédies en musique”, but his chief claim to fame is as the creator of a new genre, “opéra-ballet”. He also wrote three books of cantatas as well as religious music, including the Requiem below.

Campra was the son of Jean-François Campra, a surgeon and violinist from Graglia, in Italy, and of Louise Fabry, from Aix-en-Provence. His father was his first music teacher. On December 3, 1660, he was baptised in the Église de la Madeleine in Aix. He became a choirboy in the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur in Aix in 1674, and commenced ecclesiastical studies four years later.

He was reprimanded by his superiors in 1681 for having taken part in theatrical performances without permission, but was nevertheless made a chaplain on 27 May of that year.From 1694 to 1700, he was maître de musique (music director) at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, after having served in a similar capacity in Arles and Toulouse. Campra controversially brought violins into the making of sacred music at Notre-Dame de Paris, which at the time was seen as very avant-garde due to their reputation as ‘street instruments’.

He began to turn toward the theatre in 1697 and published some theatrical compositions under his brother’s name to protect his reputation within the church. In 1700 he gave up his post at Notre-Dame and concentrated on his theatrical music to critical success. By 1705 he was a musical celebrity but this resulted in him becoming a target for negative articles in the press. From 1720 onwards, he returned to the composition of sacred music.

Although Campra had obtained critical success he did not have financial security and hence in 1722 he was engaged by the Prince of Conti as maître de musique although this appointment was short lived. After the death of the regent, Campra became sous-maître at the Royal Chapel in Versailles in 1723. In 1730 he became the Inspecteur Général at the Opéra (Royal Academy of Music).He died at the age of 83.With his composition of L'Europe galante he was the true genius of the opéra-ballet, a musical genre originated by Pascal Colasse (in his Ballet des saisons).

Messe Des Morts (Requiem) – Composed after 1723
1. Introit
2. Kyrie (7:51)
3. Graduel (14:08)
4. Offertoire (20:59) Offertoire (Suite) (26:29)
5. Sanctus (32:14)
6. Agnus Dei (36:13)
7. Post Communion (43:07)

With Judith Nelson, Soprano; Dinah Harris, Soprano; Jean-Claude Orliac, Tenor; Wynford Evans, Tenor; Stephen Roberts, Bass; Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (1979).

Friday, 24 April 2015

FOOD FRIDAY - ANZAC BISCUITS

“If I have got to be a soldier, I must be a good one, anything else is unthinkable.” - Wilfred Owen

As Anzac Day is tomorrow, Food Friday today offers you the recipe for Anzac Biscuits. These are sweet biscuits, popular in Australia and New Zealand, made using rolled oats, flour, desiccated coconut, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda and boiling water.

Anzac biscuits have long been associated with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) established in World War I. It has been claimed the biscuits were sent by wives and mothers to soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation. Today, Anzac biscuits are manufactured commercially for retail sale. Biscuits issued to soldiers by the Army, referred to as “Anzac tiles” or “Anzac wafers”, differ from the popular Anzac biscuit. Anzac tiles and wafers were hard tack, a bread substitute, which had a long shelf life and was very hard.

The term “Anzac” is protected under Australian law and cannot be used in Australia without permission from the Minister for Veterans' Affairs; misuse can be legally enforced particularly for commercial purposes. Likewise similar restrictions on naming are enshrined in New Zealand law where the Governor General can elect to enforce naming legislation. There is a general exemption granted for Anzac biscuits, as long as these biscuits remain basically true to the original recipe and are both referred to and sold as Anzac biscuits and never as cookies!

ANZAC BISCUITS
Ingredients
150g (1 cup) plain flour
90g (1 cup) rolled oats
85g (1 cup) desiccated coconut
100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
55g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
125g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Method
Preheat oven to 160°C. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper.
Combine flour, oats, coconut and combined sugar in a large bowl.
Stir the butter, golden syrup and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda. Add to the oat mixture and stir until well combined.
Roll level tablespoonfuls of the oat mixture into balls and place, about 5cm apart, on the prepared trays. Flatten until about 1cm thick. Bake, swapping trays halfway through cooking, for 15 minutes or until light golden.

Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

ORGANIC FOOD

“What is necessary to keep providing good care to nature has completely fallen into ignorance during the materialism era.” - Rudolf Steiner

Organic food is a growing concern around the world and in many of the Western industrialised nations, it is also big business, as more and more people are consuming it. Organic farmers and food producers grow and produce food without using synthetic chemicals (such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers). They do not use genetically modified (GM) components, or expose food to irradiation for any reason. 

Generally, organic food production also takes into account animal welfare and environmental sustainability. The term organic can also cover animal produce, such as eggs, which are free-range (and not from caged – i.e. battery) hens.

Most people living in Australia, the USA, Western Europe can walk into a supermarket or specialist store and buy organic fruit and vegetables, dried legumes, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some processed foods. In order for a product to be deemed “organic” it has to come from a certified organic food producer. Organic farms are thus designated only after they have been operating according to organic principles for three years. However, one must use caution because in many countries the use of the word “organic” is not regulated, and theoretically, anything which is not organic can be marketed thus.

Animals raised according to certified organic principles are treated humanely. Chickens are free-range and not kept in battery cages, cows are not kept in confined feed lots. Animals are not fed any growth-regulating drugs, steroids, hormones or antibiotics. However, animals may be treated with vaccines to prevent disease. Protecting the environment and working in harmony with existing ecosystems is a prime feature of these food production facilities. Conserving water, soil and energy, and using renewable resources and natural farming cycles is a standard modus operandi. Traditional farming methods are often used, such as rotating crops to prevent depleting the soil of nutrients and allowing land to become fallow or sown for a season with soil-enriching plants such as clover.

It is often not realised, that organic foods are not necessarily completely chemical free, but the pesticide residues are considerably lower than those found in foods produced with synthetic chemicals. Certain naturally occurring pesticides, including pyrethrins, light oils, copper and sulphur, together with biological pesticides such as the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis are permitted in organic farms. Some people buy organic produce because they are concerned about pesticides, antibiotics or other chemical residues in conventionally-produced food. Although pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables are monitored in Australia, organic food consumers believe organic food is healthier. 

Others, appreciate that organic foods promote a healthier and more sustainable use of the environment, and more humane treatment of animals. Also, some people worry about the possible long-term health, economic and environmental consequences of GM foods and prefer to support an industry that doesn’t use GM techniques.

The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner pioneered biodynamic farming, which places strong emphasis on ecological harmony and environmental sustainability. Biodynamic food is grown with particular composts, growth-promoting practices and natural activating substances. Excessive use of chemicals and modern farming methods have led to a decline in soil fertility and an increase in salinity and blue-green algae in waterways over many years. Organic farmers try to minimise damage to the environment by using physical weed control and animal and green manure. Quite a lot of Steiner’s ideas and methods are used in organic farming.

Many studies have been published that compare the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown plants, and most have shown no significant differences in nutritional content. However, some researchers maintain that although the differences are small, some organic food has lower nitrate levels, higher vitamin C levels and higher levels of selenium. Having read many published literature on the subject, I would not use the argument of “higher nutritional content” in promoting organic food.

Organic food is considerably more expensive because production is more labour-intensive and without herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, the yield is generally smaller. However, many organic food outlets can take the consumer on a price hike that is quite unacceptable. To take an apt example (this being citrus season) my local supermarket had conventionally-produced oranges for sale at $1.10 per kg. Next door, a health food shop was selling organic oranges at $7.50 per kg. A greengrocer down the street was selling organic oranges at $4.90 per kg. Many people buy organic produce over the internet (for example, here is a site in Brisbane: http://www.organicfoods.com.au/).

The Australian organic food industry is currently worth around $200–$250 million per year domestically and a further $50–$80 million per year in exports with an expected annual growth of up to 60 per cent. Consumer demand is growing at a rate of 20–30% per year, with retail sales increasing 670% between 1990 and 2002. I do not go out of my way to buy organic food, but if it is available and reasonably priced, I prefer it over conventionally-produced food. The fruit and vegetables that we grow in our garden are grown organically and I must say that nothing that we buy in shops tastes quite like the home-grown stuff!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

POETS UNITED - EARTH DAY

“We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.” - Wangari Maathai

This is the first time I am joining Poets United upon Mary’s invitation (thank you, Mary!). The theme this Wednesday is very aptly, Earth Day, which we have just marked off our calendar on April 22.


The destruction of the environment, increasing pollution, nuclear leaks, fallout, mutants and destruction of our planet are all issues that are now commonplace. This poem echoes what is illustrated: A nightmare where in the grey-blue skies and sea hang over the smoking cooling towers of the nuclear power plant and the metal derricks of rampant technological progress. The low-hanging deleterious smog makes of the winged elephant an evil portent of what is to come unless we change…


When Elephants will Fly

My genome hurts,
The water burns,
And air corrodes my tissues.

My body shrieks,
Each cell distraught,
As sea turns to acid, biting into bony beach.

My flesh creeps,
And cancers rage,
The wars within diminishing me.

My eyes extinguished,
My touch long-lost,
With oily residue polluting my pores.

Plutonium coats the sand, and cobalt paints the sky;
Iodine seas scintillate and thorium pebbles glow.
Each rasping breath begins a murderous clone of cells within me,
Rampant mutations that make me a freak in a sideshow.

My back sprouts wings,
My bones dissolve,
And thick skin turns to mush.

My life shortens,
My brain is porous
As radioactivity punctures me.

My world is ending,
My dreams defiled
The downfall of my species imminent.

My tribe extinct,
My peers unrecognisable
In monstrous transformations.

Uranium stars and curium moon that poisonously glow,
A rapidly burning palladium sun that turns all to ash.
Each step a torture, each touch an agony,
Liberation only in death, when elephants will fly.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

EARTH DAY 2015

“The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.” - Havelock Ellis

I met an alien today, who had just clambered out of his spaceship in a forest where I was walking. He approached me and we looked at each other in wonderment. He spread his hands out in a greeting, and bewitched he looked at the beautiful green trees, the flowing stream, the butterflies flitting about, the birds singing and the clear blue sky above. He gently touched a flower and his words formed in my mind:
“You live on a beautiful planet, I don’t think I’ve seen one more beautiful in all of my travels across the universe.”
“I know,” I replied, “but many of my fellow humans often forget it…”
“It is as fragile as it is beautiful, like a soap bubble or a clear crystal.” He continued.
“Beautiful things are easily spoilt.” I mused. “And we earthlings are not as wise as this planet deserves. We have evolved, it is true, but we have lost our sensitivity and we have become unbalanced.”

He looked at me sadly and he sat down on the grass, tenderly. He breathed in deeply and his thoughts merged with mine again:
“Your air is still fragrant and fresh here. I come from an elderly planet that my ancestors poisoned and which is now dying. We were forced to abandon it, searching for a new habitable world. A pity that such a beautiful planet as yours is inhabited. I would have liked to live here. Is there another one like it nearby?”
“No,” I replied, “this is a rare and enchanting planet, and you will have to search long and hard to find another like it. Alas, my fellows do not appreciate it as they should.”
“Why do you say that? I see a green forest, a clear stream, birds, animals, butterflies, you!” He said.
“This is one of the last few vestiges of wilderness. In South America the rainforest is being burnt. In Asia the trees are being cut down for timber. We waste our precious resources, we fail to renew and we do not think of the future. We are poisoning our oceans and polluting our air. We are driving our animals to extinction and the sun once our friend is now burning us. Our glaciers are melting and our seas are rising. Earthquakes are happening all the more frequently and tidal waves are drowning our islands. The climate is disrupted and we are hurtling towards destruction. We are blind and do not see the precipice which yawns open in front of us…”

He looked at me tears welled in his eyes.
“Then, you too are destined to become interstellar refugees like us…”
I nodded and gestured around me at the precious reserve where I worked.
“Stay a while, be my guest, I befriend whoever appreciates what we are losing.”
“No, I must away! My people are depending on me. But please, may take a few seeds with me? A flower or two and a green branch? The mothership is in orbit high above and they will rejoice in what I shall take back with me, if you give it me.”
I gave him what he wanted and more. He who has lost something precious deserves at least a memory of what he squandered.

Happy Earth Day, April 22, 2015
Please, let us not lose the irreplaceable…

Monday, 20 April 2015

MOVIE MONDAY - THE PARADISE

“You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.” - Howard Schultz

We are watching a rather interesting BBC TV series at the moment, Bill Gallagher’s 2012 “The Paradise” starring Joanna Vanderham, Emun Elliott, Stephen Wight, Sonya Cassidy, Elaine Cassidy, Sarah Lancashire, and Matthew McNulty. This is a series based on Émile Zola’s (1840–1902) novel “Au Bonheur des Dames” (= The Ladies’ Paradise). The novel is set in the world of the department store, an innovative development in mid-nineteenth century retail sales. Zola modelled his store after ‘Le Bon Marché’, which consolidated under one roof many of the goods hitherto sold in separate shops. The narrative details many of Le Bon Marché’s innovations, including its mail-order business, its system of commissions, its in-house staff commissary, and its methods of receiving and retailing goods.

The series has been adapted from the book by its creators to be quite English, the department store in question being renamed “The Paradise”, which is situated in England, with all characters British. If you are familiar with the novel, Monsieur Octave Mouret becomes Mr John Moray, Denise Baudu becomes Denise Lovett, and so on. The BBC used the novel as the basis for an eight-part television series making up the first season, and as this was successful, a second series was launched in October 2013. We are nearly through the first season and we have enjoyed this quite a lot.

As is the case with most BBC period dramas, the settings, costumes, acting and direction are impeccable and one gets a very clear impression of another time, becoming immersed in 19th century manners and mores. Emun Elliot as the charismatic retail magnate Moray, and Joanna Vanderham as the initially demure but fast developing shop-girl-on-the-way-up Denise, while the rest of cast support well, some in a studiously understated manner, others with more exuberance.

While watching this I was reminded of the highly successful British comedy series, the 1972-1985 “Are you Being Served?”, also set in a department store, but of course contemporary in setting and farcical in intent. Nevertheless, one could perhaps see a few touches here and there that were similar to ‘The Paradise’. I should also mention of course, that “Downton Abbey” is another TV series that I was reminded of, although there was hardly anything similar between the two shows. I think that if you enjoyed “Downton Abbey”, you are most likely to enjoy “the Paradise” as well.

Those who have read Zola’s novel may be a little disappointed as the series was “inspired” by it and what you see on TV is not a faithful rendition of Zola’s work, as say serialised Jane Austen novels are. However, the main ideas of Zola’s novel are there: Progress will not be halted, whether for the better or for the worse, and big business will relentlessly and irreversibly destroy small business…

I am now curious to see what will occur in the second season, as apparently this has fewer references to Zola’s novel, but according to the viewing statistics it still remained highly popular amongst viewers. We shall see what we shall see…

Sunday, 19 April 2015

ART SUNDAY - CEZANNE & STILL LIFE

“With an apple I will astonish Paris.” - Paul Cézanne

Contemplating a painting can be a form of meditation. I often like to concentrate on a single painting, look at it, revel in its colour and composition, analyse its lines and delve into the artist’s process of creation. Often there is no better painting to do it with than an abstract one, or perhaps a still life. Once I have dissected the painting in my mind, once I have examined all its details, dipped into its colours and lines, I may go on and sketch some detail of it, draw out the lines of its compositional framework, or even copy it wholesale.

There is no better exercise for the budding painter than to copy works of the masters. Copy them, adapt them, be inspired from them, create new works of arts from them. How many of the great masters of the past have done the same! And in the process, some of them have created great works, sometimes surpassing that which inspired them. One can see the original painting and the new work of art and acknowledge both as unique and different pieces.

A single painting for this Art Sunday, Paul Cézanne’s “Still Life”, painted sometime between 1890-94. A work in oils on canvas, now in a private collection (imagine that hanging on your wall!).

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a French painter who is often called the father of modern art. He strove to develop an ideal synthesis of naturalistic representation, personal expression, and abstract pictorial order.  He was the son of a wealthy banker and his boyhood companion was Émile Zola, who later gained fame as a novelist and man of letters. In 1862, after a number of bitter family disputes, the aspiring artist was given a small allowance and sent to study art in Paris, where Zola had already gone. From the start he was drawn to the more radical elements of the Parisian art world. He especially admired the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix and, among the younger masters, Gustave Courbet and the notorious Edouard Manet, who exhibited realist paintings that were shocking in both style and subject matter to most of their contemporaries.

Though Cézanne considered the study of nature essential to painting, he nevertheless opposed many aspects of the Impressionistic ideals. He declared: ‘I wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums.’ Believing colour and form to be inseparable, he tried to emphasise structure and solidity in his work, features he thought neglected by Impressionism. For this reason he was a central figure in Post-Impressionism. He rarely dated his works (and often did not sign them either), which makes it hard to ascertain the chronology of his works. Until the end of his life he received little public success and was repeatedly rejected by the Paris Salon. In his last years his work began to influence many younger artists, including both the Fauves and the Cubists, and he is therefore often seen as a precursor of 20th-century art.

Here is some music from Cézanne’s time: Claude Debussy’s “La Plus que Lente” performed by Daniel Berman, at Flushing Town Hall.

As far as M. Émile Zola is concerned, would you like to read something of his oeuvre? How about “L’ Oeuvre” (1886). Although Zola and Cézanne were friends from childhood and in youth, they broke in later life over Zola’s fictionalised depiction of Cézanne and the Bohemian life of painters in this novel! Otherwise, you may like to read his more lurid “Nana” (1880), or the revolutionary “Germinal” (1885) or at least his fiery letter “J’ Accuse” (1898), published to condemn government corruption and prejudice over the Dreyfuss Affair.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

MUSIC SATURDAY - RUSALKA

“But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking. Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter.” - Arthur Rimbaud

Rusalka”, Op. 114, is an opera (‘lyric fairy tale’) by Antonín Dvořák. A Rusalka is a water sprite from Slavic mythology, usually inhabiting a lake or river. The Czech libretto was written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil (1868–1950) based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová. Rusalka is one of the most successful Czech operas, and represents a cornerstone of the repertoire of Czech opera houses. Rusalka was the ninth opera Dvořák composed.

Dvořák had played viola for many years in pit orchestras in Prague (Estates Theatre from 1857 until 1859 while a student, then from 1862 until 1871 at the Provisional Theatre). He thus had direct experience of a wide range of operas by Mozart, Weber, Rossini, Lortzing, Verdi, Wagner and Smetana. For many years unfamiliarity with Dvořák’s operas outside Czechoslovakia helped reinforce a perception that composition of operas was a marginal activity, and that despite the beauty of its melodies and orchestral timbres Rusalka was not a central part of his output or of international lyric theatre. In recent years it has been performed more regularly by major opera companies.

In the five seasons from 2008 to 2013 it was performed by opera companies worldwide far more than all of Dvořák’s other operas combined. The most popular excerpt from Rusalka is the “Song to the Moon” (‘Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém’) from Act 1 which is often performed in concert and recorded separately. It has also been arranged for violin and used on film sound tracks. It begins at 21 minutes into the video, which is subtitled in Italian.

Song to the Moon

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night send your rays.
This sleeping world you wander by,
Smiling on men’s homes and ways.

Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?

Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping he may
Think of the love that enfolds him,
May between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.

Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!
Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane....
Jaroslav Kvapil

Here is the whole opera performed in the National Theatre in Prague, with Rusalka: Eva Jenišov; Prince: Vladimir Hrisko; Water King: Peter Nicholas; Witch: Marta Beňačková; Foreign Princess: Anda-Louise Bogza; conductor Jiri Belohlavek.