Saturday, 2 May 2015


“Every man’s work, whether it be literature, or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.” - Samuel Butler

Philippe de Champaigne, (26 May 1602 – 12 August 1674), was a Brabançon-born French Baroque era painter, a major exponent of the French school. He was a founding member of the Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture. Born of a poor family in Brussels (Duchy of Brabant, Southern Netherlands), during the reign of the Archduke Albert and Isabella, Champaigne was a pupil of the landscape painter Jacques Fouquières.

In 1621 he moved to Paris, where he worked with Nicolas Poussin on the decoration of the Palais du Luxembourg under the direction of Nicolas Duchesne, whose daughter he married. According to Houbraken, Duchesne was angry at Champaigne for becoming more popular than he was at court, and this is why Champaigne returned to Brussels to live with his brother. It was only after he received news of Duchesne’s death that he returned to marry his daughter.

After the death of Duchesne, Champaigne worked for the Queen Mother, Marie de Medicis, for whom he participated in the decoration of the Luxembourg Palace. He made several paintings for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, dating from 1638. He also drew several cartoons for tapestries. He was made first painter of the Queen with a pension of 1200 pounds. He also decorated the Carmelite Church of Faubourg Saint-Jacques, one of the favorite churches of the Queen Mother. This site was destroyed during the French Revolution, but there are several paintings now preserved in museums, that were part of the original design (The Presentation in the Temple is in Dijon, the Resurrection of Lazarus is in Grenoble and the Assumption of the Virgin is in the Louvre).

He also worked for Cardinal Richelieu, for whom he decorated the Palais Cardinal, the dome of the Sorbonne and other buildings. Champaigne was the only artist who was allowed to paint Richelieu enrobed as a cardinal, which he did eleven times. He was a founding member of the Académie de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1648. Later in his life (from 1640 onwards), he came under the influence of Jansenism. After his paralysed daughter was allegedly miraculously cured at the nunnery of Port-Royal, he painted the celebrated but atypical picture Ex-Voto de 1662, now in the Louvre, which represents the artist’s daughter with Mother-Superior Agnès Arnauld.

Champaigne produced a very large number of paintings, mainly religious works and portraits. Influenced by Rubens at the beginning of his career, his style later became more austere. Philippe de Champaigne remains an exceptional painter thanks to the brilliance of the colours in his paintings and the stern strength of his compositions. He portrayed the entire French court, the French high nobility, royalty, high members of the church and the state, parliamentarians and architects, and other notable people. In depicting their faces, he refused to show a transitory expression, instead capturing the psychological essence of the person.

His works can be seen in public buildings, private collections, churches such as Val-de-Grâce, Sorbonne, Saint Severin, Saint-Merry, Saint-Médard and in the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand. Champaigne was prominent enough in his time as to be mentioned in Cyrano de Bergerac in a line by Ragueneau referencing Cyrano: “Truly, I should not look to find his portrait By the grave hand of Philippe de Champagne.” His pupils were his nephew Jean Baptiste de Champaigne, William Faithorne, Jean Morin, and Nicolas de Plattemontagne. During his last period Champaigne painted mainly religious subjects and family members. He died in Paris in 1674.

The painting above is “The Denarius of Caesar” (138.5 x 188 cm), painted around 1664 and is in the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal in Canada. It depicts the episode recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. A group of Pharisees set a trap for Jesus who is teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, asking whether it is right to pay taxes to Rome. The refusal would offend the Roman authorities, while a positive answer might offend Jews, who have never accepted the occupation. Showing the image of Caesar on a denarius, Jesus said: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” This mature work acknowledging Raphael, borrows classic elements, while its formal rigour reflects Champaigne’s debt to Poussin. Given these life-size figures, the viewer can imagine being amongst the actors in the scene. The figure appearing on the far right is clearly a portrait, perhaps a self-portrait of the artist.

Friday, 1 May 2015


“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” - Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (born Eisenach, 1685; died Leipzig, 1750) was born into a musical family and he received his earliest instruction from his father. After his father’s death in 1695, Bach moved to Ohrdruf, where he lived and studied organ with his older brother Johann Christoph. He also received an education at schools in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Lüneburg.

Bach’s first permanent positions were as organist in Arnstadt (1703-1707) and Mühlhausen (1707-1708). During these years, he performed, composed taught, and developed an interest in organ building. From 1708-1717 he was employed by Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, first as court organist, and after 1714, as concertmaster. During this period, he composed many of his best organ compositions; in his capacity as concertmaster, he was also expected to produce a cantata each month. In Weimar, Bach’s style was influenced by his study of numerous Italian compositions (especially Vivaldi concertos).

Bach’s next position, as Music Director for the Prince Leopold of Köthen (1717-1723), involved entirely different activities. Since the court chapel was Calvinist, there was no need for church compositions; Bach probably used the Köthen organs only for teaching and practice. His new works were primarily for instrumental solo or ensemble, to be used as court entertainment or for instruction. Among the important compositions at Köthen were the Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of Das wohltemperirte Clavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), the “French” and “English” Suites for harpsichord (although the “English” Suites may be from the Weimar period), and most of the sonatas and suites for other instruments. Bach also composed a few cantatas for special occasions (birthdays and New Years).

In 1723, Bach was appointed cantor at the St. Thomas Church and School, and Director of Music for Leipzig, positions which he retained for the rest of his career. His official duties included the responsibility of overseeing the music in the four principal churches of the city, and organising other musical events sponsored by the municipal council. For these performances, he used pupils from the St. Thomas School, the city’s professional musicians, and university students. Bach divided his singers into four choirs (one for each of the four main churches); he personally conducted the first choir, which sang on alternate Sundays at St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. His usual performing group consisted of around sixteen singers and eighteen instrumentalists, although these numbers could be augmented for special occasions.

During his first six years in Leipzig (1723-1729), Bach’s most impressive compositions were his sacred cantatas (four yearly cycles), and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions. Bach apparently gave virtuoso organ recitals in Leipzig and on various tours, although he had no official position as organist in Leipzig. After 1729 Bach no longer concentrated so completely on composing sacred vocal music. For services, he re-used his own substantial repertory of cantatas, and turned increasingly to the music of his contemporaries. In 1729-1737 and 1739-1741, he was director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, an organisation which had been founded by Telemann in 1704. This group of professional musicians and university students performed weekly concerts (out-of-doors in the summer, and at Zimmerman's coffee-house in the winter). Although no specific programs for these concerts have survived, Bach apparently revived and many of his instrumental compositions from Köthen, wrote new works (e.g., secular cantatas), and conducted pieces by other composers.

During the 1730s, Bach renewed his interest in keyboard compositions, and prepared the first three volumes of his Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) for publication (1731, 1735, 1739); the fourth volume appeared in 1741-1742. In the 1730s, he also showed considerable interest in the royal court at Dresden, and was named “Hofkomponist” (court-composer) in Dresden in 1736.

During Bach’s last decade (the 1740s), he completed or revised several large-scale projects which he had started earlier. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. II; a manuscript collection of chorale preludes (known as the “Leipzig 18”, comprising revisions of Weimar pieces), and the B minor Mass. Other new works showed an increased interest in fugal and canonic writing: Musikalische Opfer (Musical Offering); the canonic variations for organ on “Vom Himmel hoch”; and Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue). In the 1740s, Bach made various journeys, most notably to the court of Frederick the Great in 1747. He continued a lively interest in the building of organs, and kept informed about the latest developments in the construction of harpsichords and pianofortes.

Here are Bach’s six sublime Brandenburg Concertos BWV 1046 – 1051 with the Münchener Bach-Orchester, directed by Karl Richter at the harpsichord.


“Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” - George Bernard Shaw

When living in Holland I often had colleagues dropping into my apartment for a drink and an impromptu meal with whatever was in the fridge. At that time I concocted several cocktails, the better of which I fortunately wrote down. We tried a couple at home the other day and they certainly still tasted good!

1 measure of gin
1 measure of dry vermouth
3 drops of Angostura bitters
Stuffed green olive.
Dry white wine

Pour the spirits into a tumbler, add several ice cubes and bitters. Top up with dry white wine.  Drop the olive in, secured with a toothpick.   This is very palatable, light and definitely morish…

1 measure gin
Dash of lemon juice
Dash of Angostura bitters
Ice cubes
100 mL of sour cherry juice (may substitute crushed fresh cherries)

Mix the gin, lemon juice, bitters and ice cubes shaking well. Add the ice-cold cherry juice and stir thoroughly.

1 bottle port
2 cups of brandy
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods
2-3 pieces star anise
1 orange stuck with about 15-20 cloves
1 apple, cored and quartered
Peel of one lemon

Heat the port over a slow fire and add the spices, sugar, apple and citrus.  Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the brandy and remove from the fire into a fireproof jug. Keep warm over a tea-light until all is consumed.

A lump of sugar
3 drops of peach essence
A measure of warm water
A measure of brandy

Drop the peach essence onto the sugar and dissolve in the warm water. Stir in the brandy and sip by the open fire,  late at night, listening to this:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

I am reading at the moment, “Port Out Starboard Home”, by Michael Quinion. This is a marvellous book that will interest anyone who has a fascination with the vagaries of the English language. It examines the real etymology (origin) of a large number of words and phrases, but looks mainly at the fanciful stories that people have made up to explain how these odd words and phrases came about (ie: “etymythology”). Some of these these stories are very tall, highly amusing, a few ingenious, some ridiculous, and in other cases downright silly.

For example why is a Guinea pig so-called, when it is neither porcine nor from Guinea? Why are Americans nowadays loath to use the phrase “to call a spade a spade” and why perhaps we should all be saying instead “to call a trough a trough” in its place? Perhaps you would like to know why you should mind your P’s and Q’s but not worry about other letters of the alphabet? Or perhaps why women can’t testify, whereas any able-bodied male can…?

It all makes for captivating reading and proves that the English language is not only a very rich and highly interesting one, but a quirky and irrational one as well, a language precise enough to write philosophical treatises of great abstraction in, but at the same time one whose illogical grammar and whose prodigious vocabulary with its immense shades of meaning, its homonyms, homographs and homophones, can make learning it the nightmare of a foreigner, and drive even a native speaker to distraction.

For example:
The bandage was wound around the wound.
The farm was used to produce produce.
The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
We must polish the Polish furniture.
He could lead if he could get the lead out.
The soldier decided to desert and eat his dessert in the desert.
Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
I did not object to the object.
The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
They were too close to the door to close it.
The buck does funny things when the does are present.
A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
After a number of injections my jaw got number.
Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
He decided to cleave the piece of wood, but as soon as it was done he put his mind to cleave it into one piece again.

Or how about this anonymous piece that has been around for some time?

“Let’s face it, English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England nor French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth “beeth”? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another day. Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who ARE spring chickens or who would ACTUALLY hurt a fly?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.”


“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke

Justice is meant to be blind and we are familiar with the image of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice holding the balance of judgement while blindfolded. When one thinks of a court of law, one thinks of justice. Judges are meant to serve justice and be impartial, disinterested, unbiased and unprejudiced when considering a case before them.

We now see corruption in the judiciary becoming increasingly common and judges are exposed to be willfully violating their oath of office. Justice is not being served in an astonishing number of cases, with verdicts leaving the public perplexed, and the innocent becoming victims of a corrupt legal system. Read more about this topic here.

Poets United today has as its theme “Justice” and invites participants to: “Create a poem centering on Justice or Poetic Justice”. Here is my offering:

The Fillips of Hope

Sacrificing all to dark gods –
Who ever more bloodthirstily demand –
You lose your dignity.
Killing all traces of humanity
While burying deeply all regrets,
You lose your probity.

A faceless ghost of who you were
A vampire feeding on the blood of justice
Your silence makes the evil stronger.
The bloodless lips won’t speak out
The wide-open eyes refuse to see,
Your ears hear, but won’t listen.

Is every cell of yours malignant now?
Has heart become so petrified,
Has soul escaped you so completely?
Is cruel body just an empty shell,
Are tendons tightly drawn so taut
In attitudes of ever-attacking fury?

Your brazen corpse, so empty
Should let the hardened shell at least to crack,
Admit the light, truth, justice, love…
And then your every cell would resonate
As the sounds of hope enter it and act as fillips,
To effect your metamorphosis,
From noisome grub to brilliant butterfly.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


“There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.” - Daisaku Ikeda

The news from Nepal is getting worse and worse after last Saturday’s massive quake. The 2015 Nepal earthquake (also referred to as the Himalayan earthquake) occurred at 11:56 NST on 25 April with a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.8 or 8.1Ms and a maximum Mercalli Intensity of IX (Violent). Its epicenter was approximately 34 km east-southeast of Lamjung, Nepal, and its hypocenter was at a depth of approximately 15 km.

It was the most powerful disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. As of 28 April 2015, more than 5,000 people were believed to have died as a result, with casualties reported in Nepal and adjoining areas of India, China, and Bangladesh. Within minutes of the earthquake, the Government of India, via the Indian Armed Forces, initiated Operation Maitri (English: Operation Amity), a massive humanitarian mission with the primary objective of conducting relief and rescue operations in Nepal. The Indian government also evacuated Indian and foreign citizens from Nepal.

The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 18 people. The death toll surpassed that of the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche, making it the most lethal day on the mountain. It triggered another huge avalanche in Langtang valley where 250 are missing. The quake and avalanches have changed the geography of the region and it is believed that Mt Everest may be a metre higher after the disaster.

Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square. Nepal’s government has declared three days of mourning after the quake. Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal, with one shock reaching a magnitude of 6.7 on 26 April at 12:54:08 NST.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has announced that the death toll in Nepal’s earthquake could reach 10,000. Survivors’ despair is turning to anger at the government’s slow response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country, with food, water and other essentials in desperately short supply. At the moment, more than 10,000 people have been injured, however, there are warnings the full extent of the tragedy will not be known until rescue teams have reached “flattened” villages in remote regions.

You can help by visiting these websites where donations are accepted:

Monday, 27 April 2015


“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” - OrsonWelles

For Movie Monday, here are ten films I’ve watched all beginning with the letter “A”. They are all notable in some way and some of them are extremely enjoyable. See what you think of my list, and if you like, construct a similar list of titles of films you’ve seen and liked beginning with the letter of your choice!

Allegro non Troppo (1976; Italy) – An enthusiastic filmmaker thinks he’s come up with a totally original idea: Animation set to classical music! When he is informed that some American named “Prisney” (or something) has already done it, he decides to do his own version, using an orchestra comprised mostly of old ladies and an animator he’s kept locked in a dungeon. Several different classical pieces are animated, while the animator plots his escape. A humorous and rather whacky take on Disney’s “Fantasia” by Bruno Bozzetto.

America, America (1963; USA) – It is somewhere around 1900. We watch a young Greek who lives a miserable life in Turkey, selling ice in the town market. Although the Greeks are oppressed by the Turks, they refuse to leave the land of their ancestors. But, our hero has a different opinion: Sick of being humiliated in a daily basis, he decides to gather some money, and travel to Constantinoupolis. From there he will be able to fulfil his dream of “escaping” to America... A classic film by Elia Kazan.

Angels and Demons (2009; USA) – Despite his notorious relationship with the Church, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is once again called upon to decipher the clues to a catastrophic conspiracy. The Pope has died, and before conclave can begin to determine his successor, the four preferitti (primary hopefuls for the papacy) are kidnapped. An ominous threat of their hourly demise, along with the complete annihilation of Vatican City, is issued as an elaborate revenge scheme for a persecuted group known as the Illuminati. With their meagre time limit steadily counting down, Langdon, accompanied by beautiful physicist Vittoria Vetra, must travel throughout Rome to unravel the carefully hidden signs that will lead them to a terrifying adversary, a harrowing discovery, and the shocking truth. Ron Howard’s thriller, riding on the wake of “The Da Vinci Code”.

Anna Karenina (1935; USA) – Clarence Brown’s version of the Tolstoy classic. This version of the novel lingers longer in Moscow during the weeks that follow the initial meeting of the starstruck lovers-to-be Vronsky and Anna Karenina. The story as it unfolds, also focuses on Kitty, a young woman who is related to Anna’s sister-in-law whose marital rift has brought Anna to Moscow. Until Anna shows up, Kitty had hopes of getting Vronsky, who is single and well connected, to propose to her. Ignored by Vronsky, Kitty turns her attention to another suitor, a man who seems to have a lot in common with Tolstoy.

Après Vous (2003; France) – Antoine is a maitre d’ in a Paris brasserie, ‘Chez Jean’, and is so very conscientious and so loves being of service to others that he can’t say ‘no’. Late for dinner with his girlfriend, Christine, he takes a shortcut home through the park but finds a stranger, Louis, in the act of committing suicide by hanging. Louis is distraught by the loss of his girlfriend, Blanche, and is so grateful that he attaches himself to Antoine. Antoine arranges a job for Louis - as a sommelier at ‘Chez Jean’ and sets about trying to repair Louis’ life... Light French comedy by Pierre Salvadori.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944; USA) – Mortimer Bruster is a newspaperman and author, known for his diatribes against marriage. We watch him getting married at city hall in the opening scene. Now all that is left to do is a quick trip home to tell Mortimer’s two maiden aunts the good news about the nuptials. While trying to break the news, he finds out his aunts’ hobby; killing lonely old men and burying them in the cellar. It gets worse for poor Mortimer… A classic, riotous farce from Frank Capra.

As it is in Heaven (2004; Sweden/Denmark) – A successful international conductor suddenly interrupts his career and returns alone to his childhood village in Norrland, in the far north of Sweden. It doesn’t take long before he is asked to come and listen to the fragment of a church choir, which practises every Thursday in the parish hall. “Just come along and give a little bit of good advice”, he is asked… He can’t say no, and from that moment, nothing in the village is the same again. The choir develops and grows. He makes both friends and enemies. And he finds love. A delightful romantic comedy from Kay Pollak.

Atonement (2007; UK/France/USA) – Joe Wright’s dark tale of false accusations and childish piques that change the courses of several lives. When Briony Tallis, 13 years old and an aspiring writer, sees her older sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner at the fountain in front of the family estate she misinterprets what is happening thus setting into motion a series of misunderstandings and a childish pique that will have lasting repercussions for all of them. Robbie is the son of a family servant toward whom the family has always been kind. They paid for his time at Cambridge and now he plans on going to medical school. After the fountain incident, Briony reads a letter intended for Cecilia and concludes that Robbie is a deviant. When her cousin Lola is raped, she tells the police that it was Robbie she saw committing the deed…

Autumn in New York (2000; USA) – A May-December romance. He’s 48, on the cover of New York magazine, an upscale restauranteur, and a womaniser who rejects ideas of love. She’s 22, living with her grandmother, artistic, facing a tumour that’s life-threatening, which she tells him about the morning after their first night, when he tells her not to expect permanence from him. Will finds Charlotte unprecedented and unpredictable, and experiences feelings of love, but she packs him off when he’s casually unfaithful. He’s stung, and he’s also flummoxed by the appearance of a young woman from his past. Can he convince Charlotte to take him back, and can he help her through her illness and change his irresponsible ways? A dark chick flick from Joan Chen

Avanti! (1972; USA) - Wendell (Jack Lemmon) goes to Italy to pick up his father’s body after an automobile accident. He soon finds that his self-righteous elderly father had been having an affair with Pamela’s (Juliet Mills) mother for the past 10 years. The two parents were known as the model romantic couple at the hotel contrary to the image that the two offspring had of them. Wendell and Pamela embark on a journey where they discover who their parents were, but also learn much about themselves… Billy Wilder’s fond adieu to the 1960s romantic comedy genre.