Saturday 15 November 2014


“You write to become immortal, or because the piano happens to be open, or youve looked into a pair of beautiful eyes.” - Robert Schumann

The Symphonic Variations (Variations Symphoniques), M. 46, is a work for piano and orchestra written in 1885 by César Franck (10 December 1822 – 8 November 1890). It has been described as “one of Francks tightest and most finished works”; “a superb blending of piano and orchestra”; and “a flawless work and as near perfection as a human composer can hope to get in a work of this nature.”

It is a fine example of Franck’s use of cyclic unity, with one theme growing into various others. The piano and orchestra share equally in the continuous evolution of ideas. The work is in F-sharp minor (with the last movement in F-sharp major). Duration in performance is about fifteen minutes, and the instrumentation is piano solo and orchestra: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons; four horns; two trumpets; timpani; and strings.

The work was dedicated to Louis Diémer, who on 15 March 1885 had premiered “Les Djinns” (a symphonic poem for piano and orchestra that brought Franck one of his rare critical successes). He promised to reward Diémer with ‘a little something’, and the similarly scored Symphonic Variations was the result.

Franck started work in the summer of 1885, and completed the piece on 12 December. The premiere on 1 May 1886, at the annual orchestral concert of the Société Nationale de Musique, went almost unnoticed. The soloist was Diémer, and the composer conducted. The second performance was not until 30 January 1887, at a concert devoted entirely to Franck under the conductor Jules Pasdeloup, with Diémer again as soloist. It still failed to impress. Before and after Franck’s death, however, his works were championed by his students, including Vincent d’Indy, Henri Duparc, Paul Dukas, and Ernest Chausson; and the Symphonic Variations soon entered the repertoire of major pianists. It was mainly through the Symphony in D minor and the Symphonic Variations that Franck became posthumously famous. The work is now regularly performed, and has been recorded many times. It was later arranged for two pianos, four hands.

While there is no doubt that it demonstrates Franck’s mastery of variation form, the overall structure of the Symphonic Variations has been a matter of debate. Donald Tovey called it “a finely and freely organised fantasy, with an important episode in variation form.” It has three broad sections, played without a break: Introduction; theme and variations; and finale. These sections resemble the fast–slow–fast layout of a three-movement concerto. The main theme is announced by the piano. The variations follow, and the work ends with a brilliant final section in the parallel major (F-sharp major).

The number of variations is also debated, ranging from six to fifteen. The final section may itself be likened to a compact sonata-form movement, complete with first and second themes, development, and recapitulation. Themes in all three sections are founded on the melody announced by the piano at the very start; but the variations proper occupy only the central third of the work. The introduction has reminded many commentators of the theme of the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G.

Friday 14 November 2014


“When someone asks if you’d like cake or pie, why not say you want cake and pie?” - Lisa Loeb

The English Eccles Cake is named for the town of Eccles in Lancashire, and was a popular pastry in the seventeenth century. However, these cakes were banned (along with mince pies) by the Puritans in 1650. In fact, Oliver Cromwell decreed in an act of Parliament that anyone found eating a currant pie would be imprisoned. Luckily, by the time of the Restoration, the cakes were once again popular.

Eccles Cakes
50 g unsalted butter
150 g dried currants
2 tablespoons chopped candied mixed fruit peel
50 g white sugar
1/3 teaspoon mixed spice
1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
250 g frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg white, beaten
4 tablespoons caster sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 220 ˚C.and grease a baking tray.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in currants, mixed peel, white sugar and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved and fruit is well coated. Remove from heat.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to a 5mm thickness. Cut out eight 13 cm circles, using a saucer as aguide. Divide the fruit mixture evenly between the circles. Moisten the edges of the pastry, pull the edges to the centre and pinch to seal. Invert filled cakes on the floured surface and roll out gently to make a wider, flatter circle, but do not break the pastry.
Brush each cake with egg white and sprinkle generously with caster sugar. Make three parallel cuts across the top of each cake, then place them on the prepared baking tray.
Bake in preheated oven 15 minutes, until golden.

Please add your favourite recipes here, using the Mr Linky Tool.

Thursday 13 November 2014


“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” - Dante Alighieri

We live in interesting times… Interesting as in the old Chinese curse: “May you live during interesting times”! Everywhere one looks there is something “interesting” going on, as for example the activities of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) if you prefer; the Ukraine crisis; climate change; the Ebola virus epidemic; almost daily terrorist attacks; African warfare and Asian warfare… And the list goes on with famines, rapes, murders, cannibalism, religious fanaticism, random shootings, abductions, kidnappings, etc, etc.

Granted that some of these events are local and have always occurred in the background right throughout human history, and the only way they achieve notoriety now is because of the internet and the ready dissemination of information (and misinformation!). However, one cannot deny that there is a constant escalation of all sorts of critical events around the world, each one of which could possibly have global consequences. The Ebola virus outbreak in Africa in one example, and we have already seen imported cases of the disease in Western countries, which rang alarm bells around the world.

The G20 summit is about to begin in Brisbane, Australia. Just in case you’ve just come out of a coma and you don’t know what G20 (Group of 20) is, it is a forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, including 19 individual countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States; and the European Union (EU). The EU is represented by the European Commission and by the ECB.

The Brisbane G20 agenda outlines that action on tax avoidance, free trade, economic growth, tax avoidance and other economic issues will be discussed. There is growing scepticism that G20 meetings fail to achieve tangible outcomes and simply deteriorate into talkfests and a host of junket type activities for attendees (brothels in Brisbane are expecting a roaring trade).

In 2008 when the global economy was in crisis, the G20 was in panic mode, trying to find solutions. In the six intervening years since then it has become better known for the protests it attracts than the progress it has made on its central goals of promoting growth and strengthening international economic institutions. The leaders meeting in Brisbane this weekend will be under pressure to achieve something real and achievable for the gathering to prove its relevance, in times when the G20 risks losing focus. Climate change may be raised, but to its shame Australia wishes to avoid this thorny issue.

More importantly, the G20 summit has to shed its elitist, paternalistic and capitalistic image. There is a strong perception that the G20 is there to make the rich of the world richer and develop continuing economic well-being in Western type countries. That major banks are involved is reason enough for many people to doubt the intentions of the group as “global do-gooders” for all people in the world. Scandalously high annual salaries ($2 to $4 million) for top bankers and obscene “golden handshakes” on retirement find little sympathy amongst the common people who struggle with mortgages (if they are lucky enough to be buying a house), or even worse, those who are trying to scratch out a living in famine-ridden lands.

How much will be discussed in relation to developing countries in this G20 summit? Precious little, I should think. The G20 nations wish to preserve their supremacy, the bankers wish to grow their profits even more, the world leaders wish to strengthen capitalism, grow big business further and maintain the status quo in terms of the worker ants milling about slaving away and busily making the rich of the world richer. The G20 is indeed pursuing its interests wearing a set of prodigious blinkers that amplify the tunnel vision that characterises their activities.

Meanwhile, up in the heavens we’ve landed on a comet. On November 12, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander made history. The lander successfully made it to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Scientists confirmed the landing at a little bit after 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT). A huge technological and scientific step for humankind, but one has to wonder on its broader significance and its impact on the millions dying of famine, in wars, due to economic hardship, as a result of terrorism?

Wednesday 12 November 2014


“The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives - the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in yourself.” - Norman Cousins

Poetry Jam this week adopts the theme of “Dream”. Participants are encouraged to: “Write a new poem connected with dream.” Here is my contribution:


I loaded all my dreams
On a sea-faring ship
That sails the seven seas.

I stowed all my dreams
- My dreams that cannot swim -
On that long-awaited ship
Knowing from the beginning
That the ship would founder.

And yet, I piled all my dreams
On that proud, tall ship
And with my own two hands
Parted the sea so that my ship
Would sink and my dreams would drown.

If my ship’s cargo still shows
Through shallow waters
I shall keep on crying
Till my tears will make the oceans overflow
Covering up my shipwreck in a deep watery grave.

I loaded all my hopes
All my dreams and my illusions
On that ship that has been sunk...

Monday 10 November 2014


“We have all taken risks in the making of war. Isn’t it time that we should take risks to secure peace?” - J. Ramsay MacDonald

Throughout the British Commonwealth, Remembrance Day is the 11th day of the 11th month, when on the 11th hour we remember the fallen in the Great War and pay homage to victims of all wars all over the world.  The first ‘Day of Remembrance’ was observed in 1919 and was originally called ‘Armistice Day’. It commemorated the end of hostilities (the signing of the armistice), which occurred on 11 November 1918. It came to symbolise the end of the war and provide a formal opportunity to remember those who died.

After the end of World War II in 1945, the Australian and British governments changed the name to Remembrance Day. Armistice Day was no longer considered to be an appropriate title for a day that would now commemorate all war dead. In October 1997, then Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Deane, issued a proclamation:
“The 11th of November is declared Remembrance Day and I urge 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.”

Although Australia had become a nation in 1901, at the outbreak of war in 1914 its loyalties still lay with Britain and its culture was staunchly colonial. The Australian government had committed itself to supporting the British war effort and Australian men volunteered to fight and die on the battlefields of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East.  Of the Australian population of 5 million, 300,000 young men went to the Great War. Of those, 60,000 died and 156,000 were wounded or taken prisoner.

Unlike many of its Allies, Australia did not conscript its soldiers to fight in the Great War - all Australian “diggers” (= soldiers) were volunteers. But conscription was an issue in the Australian political arena with Prime Minister William (Billy) Hughes sending Australian voters to two bitterly fought referendums.  Although the ‘no’ vote to conscription was successful on both occasions, the ‘no’ wins were narrow ones. The 1916 referendum recorded a 64,549 majority for ‘no’ and the December 1917 referendum recorded a win for the ‘no’ case of 149,795.

Australian troops earned a reputation for their gallantry and courage under dreadful conditions, and they were often used by the British command as the first wave of an assault, leading to heavy casualties. Nearly 8000 Australian men died in the Dardanelles campaign; 800 at Lone Pine - the most famous of the Gallipoli battlegrounds. Do see the excellent 1981 Australian film “Gallipoli” of Peter Weir if you can, for a good coverage of the time and events around the Australian sacrifice in Gallipoli (

The war was no better for the Australians on the Western Front. The Front ran for more than 750 kilometres, from the English Channel to the French-Swiss border, and was marked by irregular rows of trenches. The Somme, Pozieres, Ypres, Villers-Bretonneux, Bullecourt, Amiens, Passchendaele, the Hindenburg Line are all places that still manage to send shivers down the spine. 10,000 Australians died at Bullecourt, nearly 23,000 were dead on the Somme.

Lest we forget!

Sunday 9 November 2014


“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” - Jean Jacques Rousseau, “The Social Contract”

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe. He was a great intellectual and his work includes philosophical discourses, political treatises and novels. “The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” was his second philosophical work and it claims that human beings are basically good by nature, but were corrupted by the complex historical events that resulted in the present day civil society. He proposed in this work the concept of the “noble savage”, the primitive human being who lives in communion with nature and is basically good and noble. Rousseau’s praise of nature is a theme that continues throughout his later works as well.

“The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific, 1767-1840” by Alan Moorehead (1987) is a book that takes Rousseau’s premise and applies it to the discovery of Australia and the South Pacific exemplifying the concept of the “noble savage” who was degraded, corrupted, exploited and culturally alienated by the invading Europeans. It is a must to read for anyone who wishes to understand the development of “young” nations like Australia and New Zealand. Moorehead objectively discusses the social and political situation in 18th century Europe and the triggers that led to the settling of the South Pacific. The title of the book describes accurately the decimation of whole populations and the destruction that ensued after the European invasion. The decadence of the “Noble Savage” is chronicled and the “civilised” culture of the Europeans is held up to considerable scrutiny and immense and justified criticism.

This may be a very long introduction to talk about the film for Movie Monday today, but it needs to be said as the film is one, which for the first time attempts to accurately portray Australian Aboriginal culture and life before the arrival of the Europeans. The film is Rolf de Heer’s “Ten Canoes” (2006). When watching the film on DVD I chose to watch the whole of it in the Aboriginal soundtrack version with English subtitles. This contributed greatly to the illusion of times long past, and the gentle, crooning, melodic language of the Northern Australian Aboriginal tribes that was used contributed more to the magic of the story.

Aboriginal culture thrives on stories and storytelling, so it is no surprise that this film is constructed in the way that it is. It is about a storyteller telling a story, about his ancestors, who in turn are telling a story, which is about their ancestors. It is a box, containing a box containing another box, or is like a series of nested Matryoshka Russian dolls. The film was shot on location in very remote areas of the Northern Territory of Australia and the actors are, obviously, all Aborigines. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking and is the other major player in the film. The cinematography incorporates the landscape into the story and makes of it a living thing, something that actively participates in the unwinding of the stories. The stories themselves are likened in the film to young trees that blossom, and grow, and branch and the metaphor is very apt.

There are two stories depicted, both taking place in two distant periods in the past before the arrival of whites. The first story is filmed in black-and-white, and concerns a young man called Dayindi who takes part in his first hunt for goose eggs in the Arafura swamp, in central Arnhem Land. He learns how to build a bark canoe and his older brother tells him a story that has immediate relevance to his own life. This older man, Minygululu knows that Dayinidi fancies his young and pretty third wife, so the story he tells is about the old laws, and a young man who had no wife. This second story that Minygululu relates is set in a much older time, and filmed in colour, It concerns Yeeralparil, who fancies the third wife of the warrior Ridjimiraril, mirroring the first story. The two stories weave in and out of each other and in the process we gain insight into a culture that is foreign to us, but at the same time imbued with great nobility. The alternation of the black and white with the colour footage not only separates the two stories but is also a tribute to the early photographers of the Aborigines, who documented the writings of the anthropologists.

There is humour in the film, as well as drama. We witness the interaction of the tribe members with each other as well as with members of other tribes. We experience their joys and sorrows and become involved in their rituals, beliefs and laws. There is an earthy, genuine quality about the people we observe and all in all this is a beautiful film and displays a maturing of Australian film-making involving the Aborigines in a way that was begun by the impressive collaboration between de Heer and Gulpilil in a previous film “The Tracker” (2002).

If you can get your hands on this film, watch it! It is a magnificent attempt at documenting a culture that is under the threat of extinction. Watching this film brought to my mind the Aboriginal legends that I have read and the wonderful art of the Aboriginal people. It brought to mind Rousseau’s ideal “Noble Savage” and also Moorehead’s “Fatal Impact”. It is a film that makes one happy and sad at the same time, and I can only imagine the pain that a native Australian would feel when watching this film. However, there must also be pride and nostalgia mixed with those painful emotions in the heart of the Aborigine. “Ten Canoes” is a great way of glimpsing an alien culture, yet one which is nevertheless deeply human, and hence engaging.