Saturday 21 June 2014


“My masters are strange folk with very little care for music in them.” - Johann Sebastian Bach

The Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1046–1051, original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 (though probably composed earlier). They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era.

Bach’s dedication to the Margrave was dated 24 March 1721. Most likely, Bach composed the concertos over several years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (1708–17). The first sentence of Bach’s dedication reads:

As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness's commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigour of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.

The dedication page Bach wrote for the collection indicates they are Concerts avec plusieurs instruments (Concertos with several instruments). Bach used the “widest spectrum of orchestral instruments ... in daring combinations” as Christoph Wolff has commented. “Every one of the six concertos set a precedent in scoring, and every one was to remain without parallel.” Heinrich Besseler has noted that the overall forces required (leaving aside the first concerto, which was rewritten for a special occasion) tallies exactly with the 17 players Bach had at his disposal in Köthen. Because King Frederick William I of Prussia was not a significant patron of the arts, Christian Ludwig seems to have lacked the musicians in his Berlin ensemble to perform the concertos.

The full score was left unused in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen (as of 2008, about US$22.00) of silver. The autograph manuscript of the concertos was only rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn in 1849; the concertos were first published in the following year. In the modern era these works have been performed by orchestras with the string parts each played by a number of players, under the batons of, for example, Karl Richter and Herbert von Karajan. They have also been performed as chamber music, with one instrument per part, especially by (but not limited to) groups using baroque instruments and (sometimes more, sometimes less) historically informed techniques and practice. There is also an arrangement for four-hand piano duet by composer Max Reger.

Friday 20 June 2014


“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” - James Beard

Readers of my blog, especially on Fridays, are familiar with Food Friday, hosted by Maiylah. She has done an excellent job of hosting this meme and as she is now finding it difficult to host because of other commitments, she has graciously ceded the place of a host to me. I welcome all of your posts, so please link up using the Linky below.

From me, a vegetarian recipe that is nutritious as well as tasty and is popular with kids also.

Kidney Bean Burgers
1 cup red kidney beans
1/2 cup wholemeal breadcrumbs
1/4 cup semolina
1 very ripe tomato
1 onion, grated
squeeze of lemon or lime
Soy sauce to taste
Grated cumin, pepper, nutmeg to taste
oil for frying


Soak kidney beans overnight. The next day, simmer the beans for one to two hours or until tender (this will take longer if the beans have not been soaked). Drain and mash the kidney beans. Chop tomato, and add with the onion to the beans and mix. Add the breadcrumbs and semolina and mix well. Add soy sauce, spices and lime juice. Form into burgers in your hand. Lightly fry until brown on both sides. Serve in toasted wholemeal buns with salad.

Please add your Food Friday blog post below:

Thursday 19 June 2014


“For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.” - Henry Beston

When I lived in Europe I went to marvellous performance by a group called Cirque du Soleil. This is a fantastic troupe that has taken the circus and has made it a new scintillating and mesmerising spectacle. It did away with many of the traditional circus offerings (for example, no animals are used) and has created a show that relies on the amazing abilities of the human body. As well as showcasing incredible feats of acrobatics, juggling, balancing, tight-rope walking, dancing and clowning around, each show is based on a theme and there are underlying higher level messages running through each themed performance.

For example, the first show I saw in Europe was called “Saltimbanco” and was designed to be a celebration of life. It was “…conceived as an antidote to the violence and despair so prevalent in the 20th century, this phantasmagoria offers up a new vision of urban life, overflowing with optimism and joy. Saltimbanco is anything but linear; rather, it is a kaleidoscope, a whirlwind, an adventure in which anything can happen. Saltimbanco has its own special language, and its spirit is conveyed through voice, movement and music.”

Advertising hype aside, I think it exemplifies how even something like entertainment can keep up with the spirit of the times. Now that most civilised people around the world are beginning to be sensitive to animal rights, now that exploiting animals and torturing them has become a behaviour that is not only unacceptable but in many countries around the world illegal, a company like Cirque du Soleil has altered the way that we perceive traditional circus entertainment. Although the animal acts are gone, the entertainment that has been constructed in their absence has proved to be enchanting and spellbinding.

Many circuses still use animals in their shows. The species most commonly involved are elephants, tigers, bears, lions, horses, ponies, dogs, crocodilians, various snakes and non-human primates (usually macaque monkeys or chimpanzees). Occasionally, zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses and camels can also be found in circuses and travelling shows. The physical and practical constraints of the travelling circus environment result in animals being either chained or confined to transport cages or “beast wagons” at virtually all times when not performing. They are forced to defaecate, urinate, eat, drink and sleep all in the same tiny area.

Most wild or non-domesticated animals retain a need to engage in their instinctive behaviour patterns. Prolonged confinement frustrates these behaviour patterns, and can lead to serious psychological distress and the development of abnormal behaviours. Abnormal aggression, apathy, self-mutilation, and stereotypic movements such as head-weaving, rocking from side to side, bar-licking and pacing are relatively common in performing animals, and are indicative of an abnormal environment.

Trainers routinely dismiss suggestions that they mistreat the animals under their care, pointing to the fact that their animals represent a substantial financial investment, and abuse would jeopardise that investment. Moreover, they argue, it would be dangerous for trainers to abuse wild animals, along side they would later have to perform. However, many past trainers have come forth with shocking reports of animal abuse. For example, former animal trainer Pat Derby reports having witnessed “…elephants being beaten and electro-shocked in the vagina, ears, mouth, and anus; bears’ noses broken and their feet burned, and big cats being struck with wooden bats.” (see:

It’s time that we as humans become humane. Not only towards our fellow human beings, but also towards the other animals that share this planet with us. The arguments for using these animals for entertainment are simply not logical, compassionate, civilised or intelligent. Animal-free circuses are not only possible, but more entertaining and are thankfully becoming more widespread.

Wednesday 18 June 2014


"Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." - New Testament, Matthew, 6:11-12

Nutritional deficiencies are the world’s greatest health problem, compared to any other individual disease. Presently, 40 people per minute die worldwide from malnutrition. Even in the developed countries such as Australia, North America, Western Europe where the richest people in history live, we find evidence of nutritional deficiencies. In the 1950s, the world had 3 billion people, and one person in two went to bed hungry. Today, with 6 billion people, only one person in five goes to bed hungry, however, the developed nations are even more prosperous and pay the price of over-eating and obesity-related diseases.

Marasmus is the generalised wasting away of the body and is the result of deficiency of total caloric intake, while kwashiorkor is the result of a dietary deficiency of protein.  Both of these disorders are still disturbingly common in the developing countries of the world and the victims are unfortunately mostly children. Africa and Asia are the countries with most of these famine-related problems.

Vitamins are substances in the diet, which the body needs in small quantities but cannot manufacture itself and which take part in important metabolic reactions. Vitamin deficiencies are very unusual to rare in the industrialised countries, except amongst food faddists. In countries like Australia and the USA it is often claimed in urban myth that the population has a variety of subtle, subclinical vitamin deficiencies for which they need to be supplemented with a variety of available over the counter pills and tablets. These are for the major part hypothetical deficiencies and if the diet is balanced no need for vitamin supplements exists. It has been said that the most expensive urine in the world is produced by Americans, so many of whom take great quantities of vitamin supplements that they excrete them in enormous quantities in their urine.  By contrast, in the developing countries, vitamin deficiencies together with other nutritional deficiencies are still a major cause of disease and death.

Some excellent charities and international relief organisations exist that are desperately trying to make this world of ours more equitable, more fair, and attempt to make life easier for those millions upon millions of disadvantaged who do not know where their next meal is coming from. Please visit the web links below and if you can, donate from your surfeit so that those less fortunate can have a piece of their daily bread:

OxfamCare International:
World Vision (US):
World Vision (Aus):
International Famine Centre:
The Denan Project:

This link is to a very distressing picture by Kevin Carter that encapsulates the whole of the famine situation so poignantly. However, it is a picture that illustrates famine so dramatically that it seems to have been what broke this photographer’s will to live. After being exposed to so many situations like this, which he photographed, he committed suicide. Please do not look at it if you are likely to be affected adversely – but it is the truth and reality is cruel.

Tuesday 17 June 2014


“A book that is shut is but a block.” Thomas Fuller

At the weekend while browsing in a second-hand bookshop I came across a fantastic book that I just had to buy! It is called “At Home with Books” by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Simon Sykes, published by Thames & Hudson, London in 1995 but has been reprinted many times since (attesting to its popularity). Its ISBN 0-500-01684-4 and here is the Amazon link where this book is available and you can even peek inside it.

It is a large format book, lavishly illustrated and deals with how booklovers deal with the problem of dealing with the space required to house their book collections. Although some of the libraries illustrated are palatial to say the least (for example, the Duke of Devonshire’s, Loren & Frances Rothschild’s or Paul Getty’s), there are also libraries of common mortals, libraries designed by experts, by amateurs and libraries that “just happened” without their owners realising it! Towards the back of the book there is a wonderful section on book storage, conservation, enemies of books, building bookshelves, library ladders, confessions of bibliophiles and a section on great public libraries of the world. The book ends with a well-researched Resource Section on suppliers, rare book dealers, etc.

I love this book and I can definitely recommend to anyone who has books at home, who loves books and who is transported into a state of bliss when they find themselves in a room full of books. I really had to deal with a serious case of the drools I got when leafing through this book. I felt a wonderful sense of kinship with all of the people whose libraries are illustrated inside and I could definitely nod my head appreciatively when I read some of their comments that struck familiar chords in my psyche…

We are bibliophiles in home and one of the reasons for extending our home a few years ago was to make more room for bookcases and books. We have quite a serious collection in several languages and ranging from fiction to non-fiction. In case you are wondering, no, it is not me in the photograph. It is an illustration from the book and an image of its cover!

bibliophile |ˈbɪblɪə(ʊ)fʌɪl| noun
A person who collects or has a great love of books.
bibliophilic |-ˈfɪlɪk| adjective,
bibliophily |-ˈɒfɪli| noun
ORIGIN early 19th century: From French, from Greek biblion ‘book’ + philos ‘loving’.

Monday 16 June 2014


“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.” – Socrates

Euthanasia: The very word strikes fear or repugnance into many people’s mind. The idea of deliberately causing someone to die, even if that person wishes it to be so himself, strikes us as something contrary to the laws of nature, is a thing proscribed by many religions and is something that is impossible to even contemplate for many persons.

Euthanasia literally means “a good death” in Greek and is often described as a “mercy killing” or “assisted suicide”. The issue is one fraught with immense moral and ethical questions and is highly controversial. Here is a web resource (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy) that you may find interesting to consult.

The basic question posed by euthanasia is the following: "Should a person who is terminally ill, and who feels that their life is not worth living because of intractable pain (and/or loss of dignity, and/or loss of capability) and who repeatedly and actively asks for help in committing suicide and who is of sound mind and not suffering from depression be given assistance in dying?"

There are many people who will without thinking answer immediately and without thought with a resounding “NO!” to the above question. Others will answer with an unqualified “yes” and many will find themselves in a dilemma, not being able to make up their minds finding arguments for both sides of the debate. My offering for Movie Monday is a film that examines this question of euthanasia, and which is based on a true story. It provides an amazing insight into the life of Ramón Sampedro, a person who desires help in committing suicide. His attitude is summarised in this quote by Norman Cousins: “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

The 2004 film is by Spaniard Alejandro Amenábar and is called Mar Adentro (‘The Sea Within’). It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2004 as well as 56 other awards. The acting, direction, story development and cinematography are excellent in this film, but overall it is the raw emotional power that it packs that makes it worthwhile. The film, despite its profound theme is not depressing and there moments of genuine humour, tenderness, as well as gut-wrenching emotion.

This is a film that is going to shock many people as it explores a highly emotive and controversial topic; a film that will definitely make you think and question your own beliefs and ethics, a film that will cause you to question your own attitudes and thoughts about death and love, a film that will above all else make you feel…