Tuesday, 22 October 2013


“If you live long enough, you'll see that every victory eventually turns into a defeat.” - Simone de Beauvoir

Today is Somalia’s Revolution (National) Day II (since 1960); Vatican City’s - National Day and also an Egyptian Day (Dismal Day). Up until the 17th century in England, the Egyptian Days were commonly thought to be specific unlucky days throughout the year. Popular almanacs would list them as days on which to avoid such important activities as weddings, blood letting (a standard way of treating various illnesses), and travelling. No one knew why certain days were considered unlucky. In fact, which days were Egyptian Days seems to have depended upon which almanac was consulted; apparently, there was never any standard list that was widely circulated. Although it is not known for sure why they were referred to as the Egyptian Days, it’s possible that they were first computed by Egyptian astrologers or were somehow related to the Egyptian plagues. They were known as the Dismal Days, from Latin dies mali (meaning “evil days”).

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Franz Liszt
, composer (1811);
Sarah Bernhardt
, French actress (1844);
Ivan Bunin
, Nobel laureate (1933) writer (1870);
Sidney Kingsley
, writer (1906);
Joan Fontaine
(Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland), actress (1917);
Doris Lessing
, author (1919);
Robert Rauschenberg
, painter (1925);
Christopher Lloyd
, actor (1938);
Annette Funicello
, actress (1942);
Catherine Deneuve
(Catherine Dorléac), French actress (1943);
Jeff Goldblum
, actor (1952);

Savine, Juniperus sabina, is the plant that is assigned to birthdays falling on this day.  In the past, “wicked women have employed it to very ill purposes”, its effects on the uterus being used to induce abortions.  The plant is quite poisonous and modern herbalists do not use it internally.  In the language of flowers, savine means: “The fruits of love may sometimes be bitter”.  Astrologically, this is under the rule of Mars.

Today is the anniversary of the day in 4004 BC, that God created the Universe, according to James Ussher (1581–1656), an Irish Protestant prelate and scholar. He was archbishop of Armagh (1625) and was greatly admired for his learning. He established a chronology of the bible that set the date of creation at 4004 BC which was long used in some editions of the King James Version of the Bible.  His chronology is described in The Annals of the World (1650).  Perhaps it is no chance that this day was chosen to celebrate as the National Day of Vatican City!

Franz Liszt (1811–1886) was a Hungarian composer of romantic music, acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He studied with Czerny and his expressive, flamboyant and dramatic playing enraptured his audiences.  Liszt taught most of the major pianists of the next generation. He originated the symphonic poem and developed “programme music” to a high art.

Some of his famous works are Les Préludes  and Mazeppa (1856). The Sonata in B Minor of 1853  was marked by the transformation of themes thus changing the face of the classical sonata form.  Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss were both admiring of his works and were influenced by him.  His piano works include the Paganini Études (1851); concertos; and Hungarian Rhapsodies.  One of his characteristic pieces that I like is the Fantasy Based on Hungarian Folk Melodies of 1853.

On this day in 1979, Nadia Boulanger (16 September 1887 – 22 October 1979), French composition teacher died. She was a composer, conductor, and teacher who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. She also performed as a pianist and organist.

From a musical family, she achieved early honours as a student at the Paris Conservatoire but, believing that she had no particular talent as a composer, she gave up writing music and became a teacher. In that capacity, she influenced generations of young composers, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries. Among her students were those who became leading composers, soloists, and conductors, including Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, and Ástor Piazzolla.

Boulanger taught in the US and England, working with music academies including the Juilliard School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Longy School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family's flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92.

Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky.

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