Friday, 16 January 2015


“Out in the lonely woods the jasmine burns Its fragrant lamps, and turns Into a royal court with green festoons The banks of dark lagoons.” - Henry Timrod

Today, we visited a dear old family friend who is in a nursing home. We go and see her as often as we can, but every time we go we feel quite sad. She is in her eighties, deaf and becoming demented. It was quite an effort for her today to recognise us, but eventually she did and this was because of one reason, the sense of smell and the memories it can evoke…

Whenever she visited our home she loved going out into our garden, and her favourite flowers were always the jasmines that we have rather a lot of. We used to give her a garland of jasmine buds strung together to take home with her and as they gradually opened up during the night they released their perfume in the room. They remain fresh in this way for at least 24 hours.

This morning I collected some jasmine buds and we strung them together in her familiar garland. When we went in to see her she could not recognise us, but as soon as she smelt the delicious perfume of the then opening flowers, her face lit up with a smile and she called us by our names. A flood of summery, sunlit memories must have brightened up the darkness of her failing brain and her eyes filled up with tears as she spoke our names once again, smiling through her tears.

We stayed with her for quite a while, knowing that the simple feeling of having someone close who cared for her gave her some happiness. How difficult that must be to achieve if one’s very essence of being is disappearing as the brain is no longer able to do its work. When we left her, she came to the window and waved goodbye to us, the smile still illuminating her face and her fingers holding the precious jasmine flowers…

Perhaps rather fitting to have a piece of music for Music Saturday that is in keeping with the mood I’ve described: The beautiful but melancholy elegy for string orchestra by Giacomo Puccini, “I Crisantemi”(The Chrysanthemums). This was written in a single night in 1890, as a response to the death of the Duke of Savoy, Amedeo. The composition is scored for a string quartet, but most frequently performed by a string orchestra. This is an unusual composition for Puccini whose familiar output is almost exclusively operatic.

“I Crisantemi” is a single, dark-hued, continuous movement, approximately 6 minutes long. The mournful key of C sharp minor provides the composer with the perfect milieu for expressing his feelings of grief in what must have been a painful parting from a dear friend. Puccini found his two liquid melodic ideas worthy enough to re-use in the last act of his opera, “Manon Lescaut”, of 1893. Almost never heard in its original string quartet guise, “I Crisantemi” frequented the music stands of the world’s orchestras in an arrangement for string orchestra throughout the twentieth century.

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (December 22, 1858 – November 29, 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including “La Bohème”, “Tosca”, “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot”, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Some of his arias, such as “O mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi”, “Che gelida manina” from “La Bohème”, and “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot”, have become part of popular culture.

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