Saturday, 14 November 2015


“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” - Francis of Assisi

On the evening of 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and its northern suburb of Saint-Denis. The attacks consisted of mass shootings, suicide bombings, bombings, and hostage taking. Beginning at 21:16 CET, three separate explosions and six mass shootings occurred, including bombings near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.

The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan theatre, where attackers took hostages and engaged in a standoff with police until it was ended at 00:58 14 November CET. At least 129 people were killed, 89 of them at the Bataclan theatre. 352 people were injured by the attacks, including 99 people described as being in a serious condition. In addition to the civilian casualties, eight attackers were killed and authorities continued to search for any accomplices that remained at large.

In a televised statement at 23:58 CET, French President François Hollande announced a state of emergency, the first state of emergency since the 2005 riots, and subsequently placed temporary controls on the country’s borders. According to some English-language sources, the first citywide curfew in Paris since 1944 was also put in place.

On 14 November, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks. According to The Wall Street Journal, the attacks were motivated by ISIL as “retaliation” for the French role in the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Civil War. Hollande also said the attacks were organised from abroad “by Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for ISIL, “with internal help”, and described them as “an act of war”.

The attacks were the deadliest to occur in France since the Second World War and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. The attacks came just a day after an ISIL terrorist attack in Lebanon that killed 43 people and the killing of ISIL member “Jihadi John”; and 14 days after the crash of the Russian-chartered Metrojet Flight 9268, which killed 217 passengers and seven crew members, and for which ISIL’s Sinai branch claimed responsibility. Prior to the attack, France had been on high alert since the January 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, including civilians and police officers.

I cannot fathom the depth of the hate that has caused these attacks, nor am I naïve enough to believe that religious causes are at the bottom of it. Islam is a religion that has peace and submission to God as its cornerstone and tolerance towards other people is something that the Qur’an espouses:
“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48, the Holy Qur’an

Numerous families in France have been plunged into the blackest of despair and mourn loved ones. All people of all faiths around the world who love peace, freedom, equality and fraternity sympathise with the victims and their families. This tribute is especially for them.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem Op.48 with Paavo Jarvi, Orchestre de Paris, Chen Reiss, Matthias Coerne.

Friday, 13 November 2015


“In Japan, the cherry blossom represents the fragility and the beauty of life. It’s a reminder that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful but that it is also tragically short.” - Homaro Cantu

We are enjoying cherry season at the moment in Melbourne and as well having these delightful fruits fresh, there are a multitude of ways to enjoy cooking with them. Here is a favourite recipe of ours for Spring, before the cherries are all too soon over (but yes, I suppose you can substitute canned cherries for fresh if there are none available...).

Cherry Eton Mess
350 mL thickened cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150 g petite vanilla meringues, roughly chopped (or you can use meringue nests, crushed)
2 cups pitted cherries, halved
1 tbsp maraschino liqueur
1/2 cup hot water

In a small saucepan combine the sugar and hot water over low heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and simmer without stirring for five minutes or until the syrup thickens. Add the cherries and vanilla extract. Increase the heat to high and simmer for one to two minutes and remove from the heat and add a tbsp. of maraschino liqueur. Allow to cool completely.
Beat the cold cream with a tbsp of sugar until it thickens and stiff peaks form. Do not over-beat as it will curdle. Put in the refrigerator.
Cherry Eton mess should be made up just before serving. When ready to serve, mix together the cream and the chopped meringues. Very gently fold through the cherry syrup mixture (don't totally combine) and heap into serving glasses. Top with a decorative meringue and fresh cherry if desired. Serve the cherry Eton mess immediately.

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Thursday, 12 November 2015


“People trample over flowers, yet only to embrace a cactus.” - James Joyce

Today, it is the St Martin I, the Pope’s Feast Day for Roman Catholics and St John the Merciful’s Feast Day for the Greek Orthodox faithful.
In Taiwan, Dr Sun Yat-sen’s Birthday is celebrated.

Today is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Baha’ Ullah, founder of Baha’i faith (1817);
Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, Russian composer (1833);
Auguste Rodin, French sculptor (1840);
Sun Yat Sen, Chinese statesman (1866);
Kim Hunter, actor (1922);
Grace Kelly, US actress/princess (1928);
Stephanie Powers, actress (1942);
Neil Young, musician (1945);
Nadia Comaneci, gymnast (1961).

The red crown cactus, Rebutia minuscula, is the plant for today’s birthdays.  It is a native of South Bolivia and North Argentina and produces masses of red blooms, often forming a complete ring around the base of the plant.  The plant symbolises warmth and desire.  In the language of flowers, it conveys the meaning: “I desire you”.

Alexander Porfirevich Borodin (1833-1887) was a Russian chemist who turned composer and whose musical works were largely based on Russian folk themes.  He wrote three symphonies, the third unfinished; two string quartets and two operas, Prince Igor, the most famous, finished after his death by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov.  He also published several scientific papers on organic chemistry!  The Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor are one of my favourite compositions of his.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


“Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.” - Hal Borland

Poets United this week is all about rivers. And poets have been waxing lyrical about these ever flowing watercourses since ancient times. Here is my contribution, as Summer approaches us Downunder!

By the River

At last, the warming rays have bleached the day
And skies are blue, with wisps of summer cloud;
The gentle breeze makes leaves dance and play,
While dragonflies dart about the blossoms proud.

The river slowly flows and water sparkles, shines
The crowds loll about the grassy shores, with laughter
Toasting, drinking, picnicking, beneath the shady pines;
Relaxing, dozing, counting dreams for a long time after.

The day is perfect: Warm, lazy tender, balmy, sweet
Our time of rest inviting idleness, persiflage, banter.
Enjoy this gem of a day, take it as given, a rarest treat;
Our summer’s over soon, gone as horses in a crazy canter.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015


“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” - Winston Churchill

On the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 o’clock in the morning, Australians will pay tribute to the men and women who served our country during wartime. This is our Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of the hostilities for the Great War (World War I), the signing of the armistice, which occurred on 11 November 1918 - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Armistice Day was observed by the Allies as a way of remembering those who died, especially soldiers with ‘no known grave’. On the first anniversary of the armistice, in 1919, one minute’s silence was instituted as part of the main commemorative ceremony. In London, in 1920, the commemoration was given added significance with the return of the remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of the Western Front.

The Flanders poppy became accepted throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance to be worn on Armistice Day. The red poppies were among the first plants that sprouted from the devastation of the battlefields of northern France and Belgium. Soldiers' folklore had it that the poppies were vivid red from having been nurtured in ground drenched with the blood of their comrades.

After the end of World War II in 1945, the Australian and British governments changed the name of Armistice Day to ‘Remembrance Day’ as an appropriate title for a day which would commemorate all war dead. In October 1997, then Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Deane, issued a proclamation declaring 11 November as Remembrance Day and urging Australians to observe one minute’s silence at 11.00 am on Remembrance Day each year to remember the sacrifice of those who died or otherwise suffered in Australia’s cause in wars and war-like conflicts.

In 1993, to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1918 armistice, the Australian Government exhumed the remains of an unknown Australian soldier from the Western Front for entombment at the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory, Canberra. As Australia’s Unknown Soldier was laid to rest, World War I veteran Robert Comb, who had served in battles on the Western Front, sprinkled soil from Pozières, France, over the coffin and said, “Now you’re home, mate”.

Lest we forget…

Monday, 9 November 2015


“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” - Sun Tzu

“The Third Man” is a 1949 British-American film noir, directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard. It is considered one of the greatest films of all time, celebrated for its acting, musical score and atmospheric cinematography. Novelist Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and subsequently published the novella of the same name (originally written as preparation for the screenplay). Anton Karas wrote and performed the score, which used only the zither; its title music “The Third Man Theme” topped the international music charts in 1950, bringing the then-unknown performer international fame.

We watched this classic film again last weekend and yet again we were impressed by its merits, making it a film far ahead of its time. The black and white cinematography by Robert Krasker is superb and contributes greatly to the artistic merit of the film. The acting is wonderful, the music perfectly suits the locale, mood and plot, and the direction is great.

Graham Greene’s screenplay concerns an out of work pulp fiction novelist, Holly Martins (Cotten), who arrives in a post war Vienna divided into sectors by the victorious allies, and where a shortage of supplies has lead to a flourishing black market. He arrives at the invitation of an ex-school friend, Harry Lime (Welles), who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime has recently died in a peculiar traffic accident. From talking to Lime’s friends and associates Martins soon notices that some of the stories are inconsistent, and determines to discover what really happened to Harry Lime.

One of the values of this film, viewed several decades since it was made is as a historical document and a social commentary of post-WWII Europe. The film was set in its own time when made, of course, but now we view it as a piece of history. Viewed superficially, “The Third Man” is a all about betrayal and corruption in a post-war, occupied Vienna; on the other hand, it is giving the audience a glimpse of the mood of Europe after the great war. The uncertainty that the Cold War was to generate is found throughout the film: Holly Martins is constantly trying to figure out whom to trust. Vienna is on the frontier of the new communist bloc. The shadow-filled images of a bombed Vienna are stark, mysterious and create a sense of anxiety and melancholy.

When the film was released in Britain and America, it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Time magazine said that the film was “crammed with cinematic plums that would do the early Hitchcock proud—ingenious twists and turns of plot, subtle detail, full-bodied bit characters, atmospheric backgrounds that become an intrinsic part of the story, a deft commingling of the sinister with the ludicrous, the casual with the bizarre.” Critics today have hailed the film as a masterpiece. Roger Ebert added the film to his “Great Movies” list and wrote, “Of all the movies that I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies.”

If you haven't seen this film, where have you been? It is a “must-see” movie for lovers of film noir and a wonderful movie for everyone who likes a meaty, well-made film that doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


“Anyone who hasn’t experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing about ecstasy at all.” - Jean Genet

Gustave Moreau, (born April 6, 1826, Paris, France—died April 18, 1898, Paris) was a French Symbolist painter known for his erotic paintings of mythological and religious subjects. The only influence that really affected Moreau’s development was that of his master, Théodore Chassériau (1819–56), an eclectic painter whose depictions of enigmatic sea goddesses deeply impressed his student.

In the Salon of 1853 he exhibited Scene from the Song of Songs and the Death of Darius, both conspicuously under the influence of Chassériau. Moreau’s Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864) and his The Apparition (Dance of Salome - ca 1876) and Dance of Salome (ca 1876) show his work becoming increasingly concerned with exotic eroticism and violence, and his richly crowded canvases made greater use of dramatic lighting to heighten his brilliant, jewel-like colours.

His last work, Jupiter and Sémélé (1896), is the culmination of such tendencies. Moreau’s art has often been described as decadent. He made a number of technical experiments, including scraping his canvases; and his nonfigurative paintings, done in a loose manner with thick impasto, have led him to be called a herald of Abstract Expressionism.

Moreau succeeded Elie Delaunay as professor at the École des Beaux-Arts, and his teaching was highly popular. He was a very influential teacher of some of the artists of the Fauve movement, including Matisse and Rouault. At his death, Moreau left to the state his house and about 8,000 works, which now form the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris.

Above is his Samson and Delilah of 1882. A watercolour in the Musée Gustave Moreau, Paris, France. The story of Samson in Judges 13-16 portrays a man who was given great strength by God but who ultimately loses his strength when Delilah allows the Philistines to shave his hair during his slumber (Judges 16:19). Delilah, meaning “[She who] weakened”,  is one of several dangerous temptresses in the Hebrew Bible, and has become emblematic as the femme fatal who is the cause of the downfall of a strong man.


“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” - Pablo Casals

Jan Lukas Zelenka (later Jan Dismas Zelenka) was born in Loudovice, Bohemia in 1679 and was the son of an organist. He was educated at the Prague Jesuit College, with which he continued to remain in contact throughout his life. He moved to Dresden around 1710, where he became principal double-bass player of the Dresden Court Orchestra. Apart from a period of study in Vienna and periodic returns to Prague, and possibly a journey to Italy, Zelenka remained in Dresden for the rest of his life.

In 1697, the King-Elector Augustus the Strong of Saxony had assumed the Polish crown, a step that obliged him to adopt the Roman Catholic faith even though Saxony was predominantly Lutheran. Thus, the Royal Court at Dresden maintained two religious “faces”, on the one hand honouring strictly Lutheran Bach with the title of Royal Court Composer, and on the other hand bestowing on Zelenka the title of Court Composer of Church Music for his numerous sacred works composed for the Dresden Catholic Church.

Among Zelenka’s compositions there are numerous sacred works, including some 21 masses, psalms, and three oratorios with biblical subjects (totalling some 150 works in all) side by side with secular instrumental compositions reflecting his role in the Court Orchestra, of which he became conductor for five seasons.

Zelenka spent about two years in Vienna, where he studied counterpoint under Johann Josef Fux. He most probably composed four of his five Capriccios there (the final one being composed in 1729). During the Vienna years, no doubt under the influence of Fux, he gathered a sizable study collection of works by various composers written in strict contrapuntal style, which still survives in the Saxon State Library.

In 1719 Zelenka returned to Dresden, once again taking up his position in the Court Orchestra and resuming his sacred compositions. He continued with his inventory of contrapuntal works, fortunately including his own compositions, which has been a blessing to musicologists studying his output. 1723 was a particularly significant year for Zelenka. In this year the coronation took place in Prague of the Emperor Charles VI, an occasion for which the Jesuits had commissioned Zelenka to compose suitably festive music. Monarchs and princes from all the surrounding territories converged on Prague for the occasion, bringing their retinues and orchestras with them.

Zelenka conducted his own composition (Sub olea pacis; ZWV 175), the solo parts being sung by Czech noblemen. It was a glittering occasion, perhaps the high point of Zelenka’s career. He also composed four of his 10 instrumental works in 1723. Thereafter, Zelenka’s life in Dresden continued uneventfully, with further sacred compositions, some commissions from Bohemian noblemen, and no doubt some (undocumented) occasional visits to Prague.

He gradually took over the duties of the ailing court Capellmeister Heinichen (1683-1729), but he was not awarded this title after Heinichen's death. Instead, he received the royal title of Church Music Composer during the 1730s and was never well paid at Court. Bach, based in nearby Leipzig, was also awarded a similar Court Title at this time. A well-known and greatly respected visitor to Dresden, Bach was undoubtedly on familiar terms with all the musicians and musical personalities of Dresden, including Zelenka. Bach would often take his son Wilhelm Friedemann with him on his visits to Dresden; Bach in fact instructed his son to copy one of Zelenka’s works – the Amen from his third Magnificat (ZWV 108) – for use in Leipzig at St Thomas’s.

Zelenka’s music is always fresh and creative. His instrumental works often surprise the listener with sudden turns of harmony, and performers are often challenged by the demanding instrumentation. His choral works bear no relationship to those of Bach – indeed the two composers were writing for different religious traditions and idioms. Zelenka’s choral works are difficult to place in time; in his eclectic mix of drama, counterpoint, and depth of feeling one could almost be listening to a Schubert Mass. Here again, as in his instrumental works, listeners should expect the unexpected. The seven masses Zelenka wrote in his last 12 years (ZWV 16–21), at the age of 54–66, are generally regarded as some of his finest works. They may even have been the inspiration behind Bach’s drive to create a full-length Catholic mass (the B-minor mass) during his own final years.

Zelenka died in Dresden, of dropsy, on December 23, 1745. A few of his works have been lost over the years, but miraculously most of his autograph scores still remain intact in Dresden (with some score copies located elsewhere). It was only during the second half of the 1900s that Zelenka was truly “discovered”, and unlike many lesser treasures of the baroque (that might just as well have been left undiscovered), Zelenka’s music undoubtedly rewards further exploration. It would be true to say that his compositional output, both instrumental and sacred, has put a fresh face on baroque music.

Here is his ‘Missa Omnium Sanctorum’ (ZWV 21), performed by Collegium 1704 at the Festival Oude Muziek 25 August 2012, Domkerk Utrecht, Netherlands.
Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745)
Missa Omnium Sanctorum ZWV 21
Kyrie; Gloria; Credo; Sanctus; Agnus Dei.