Friday 2 January 2015


“Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” - Tom Lehrer

For Music Saturday a wonderful piece of chamber music: Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (for piano, violin, and cello) written in 1839. This is the Beaux Arts Trio in a 2004 recording.

00:00 - I. Molto allegro ed agitato
10:05 - II. Andante con moto tranquillo
17:54 - III. Scherzo: Leggiero e vivace
21:50 - IV. Finale: Allegro assai appassionato.

The first Piano Trio was published in 1840 and has since been recognised as one of the composer’s best chamber works (along with his Octet, Op. 20) and is one of his most popular. It is a lively, melodic piece that is satisfying to perform as well as listen to. After his initial work on the Trio, Op. 49, Ferdinand Hiller, a pianist and friend of Mendelssohn, suggested the composer revise the piano part to make it more brilliant. It was this trio that prompted Schumann, in a review, to assert that, “Mendelssohn is the Mozart of the nineteenth century, the most illuminating of musicians....”

Without introduction, the cello states the song-like main theme of the first movement against a syncopated accompaniment in the piano. Later, the violin joins the cello with a distorted version of the theme. Variations of the theme fill the transition to the second subject, an arching melody on the dominant that is also introduced by the cello. Mendelssohn fragments and layers both themes in the development, which does not stray very far from D minor, the key on which the movement closes. In the recapitulation, Mendelssohn adds a violin counter-melody to support the return of the main theme.

The piano introduces the second movement, Andante con moto tranquilo, with the melody in the right hand and the accompaniment divided between the hands, as in a number of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (especially Op. 62, No. 1). Below this, the bass line in the piano walks along methodically and must be carefully balanced with the accompanying figure and the melody. After the piano states the lyrical, eight-measure theme, the violin repeats it with a counterpoint in the cello.

Mendelssohn’s Scherzo is concise and light. As in the Andante, the piano first states the main theme, which begins to reduce itself to fragments almost immediately. A rhythmic germ from the first theme permeates the movement, except in the more lyrical central section, the theme of which resembles material from the first movement.

After its first few pages, the Finale begins to sound heavy handed, largely because of the busy piano part. All types of keyboard writing occur in the movement, from close-position chords to swirling arpeggios and chromatic octaves. The cantabile moments are refreshing, as is the shift to D major shortly before the close.

Thursday 1 January 2015


“Work is the meat of life, pleasure the dessert.” - B. C. Forbes

We had these crêpes as dessert after our Christmas lunch. Although delicious, one crêpe is quite enough for each person!

Festive Crêpes
Ingredients - Crêpes:
4 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup water, about
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsps vanilla, about
1/4 cup butter, melted, plus more for the pan
2 cups flour, sifted
Ingredients - Filling:
1 cup blackberry jam
1/2 cup sultanas
1/3 cup glace cherries, chopped
2 tbsp brandy
Ground cinnamon and cloves to taste
Optional: Custard, cream or ice cream to serve

Prepare the filling by soaking the sultanas and cherries in the brandy. Stir a few times, leaving the fruit to soak for about 15 minutes. Then add the blackberry jam and spices and stir well. Leave to macerate for 30 minutes.
Beat eggs with a whisk until frothy. Beat in milk and water. Still whisking, add in salt, sugar, vanilla and butter. Add in flour in stages, about half a cup at a time, whisking well to incorporate.
Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes. You can also make the batter the night before and let it rest in the fridge overnight. Stir before using. You will probably need to add more water before using because the gluten in the flour will have soaked up some of the liquid in the batter while it rested. If it seems too thick, add just a little cold water– you can always add more later if the crêpe batter is still too thick.
Heat non-stick pan over medium to medium high heat; when it is hot enough, a few drops of water will seem to bounce across the surface before evaporating. Add a pat of butter and as soon as it has melted, add a small ladleful of batter. Swirl the pan around to distribute the batter evenly. When it is time to flip, the batter on the surface will lose its glossiness and the edges will start to look brown. Cook the second side for 30 seconds, no more.
Put a little of the filling in each crêpe and roll into a cylinder. Serve with custard, cream or ice-cream.

Stack the cooked crêpes on a plate with non-stick baking paper between each crêpe. Any left over can be frozen like that in a stack. Batter here makes about 12 crêpes.

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New Year’s wishes and thoughts for all of you, in Google Blogland!

“In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, never in want.” Irish toast.

“Resolve to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment.” Sydney Smith.

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” G. K. Chesterton

“For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” T. S. Eliot.

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin

May what you see in the mirror delight you, and what others see in you delight them. May someone love you enough to forgive your faults, be blind to your blemishes, and tell the world about your virtues.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday 30 December 2014


“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” - C. S. Lewis

Fittingly, as the year draws to a close, I shall write an entry for “Book Tuesday”. I can certainly describe myself as a bibliophagic omnivore. I often may read several strange things, which can only be described as trash – if nothing else but to have an opinion of them. Andre Maurois says: “In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” And best sellers often fit into this category of “astonishing choices” in the worst possible way! But, it is very easy also to dismiss “best sellers” wholesale as trash - one must remember that the classics of today were at some stage “best seller trash” too.

If I am reading something that is obviously badly written or formulaic in its approach, or gimmicky, I feel no compunction whatever in stopping reading it and throwing it out. Sometimes I am repulsed by a book that literary critics wax lyrical over. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book that I cannot stomach at all. I have tried to read it on numerous occasions but it is a grossly repellent book for me. The film was one I walked out of, also. Maybe in my old age I shall come back to it and appreciate its (now hidden) glories…

What is a classic? It is a book that has stood the test of time and appears forever relevant and fresh and appealing in a diachronic fashion. It is a book you can return to with pleasure. “When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.” Says Cliff Fadiman. There are books that I read again for pleasure’s sake. “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.” Styron remarks and it is such books that we return to because of their wealth of experience they offer us.  This of course goes well with Samuel Paterson’s opinion: “Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen.” My only trouble with this is that if one is forever re-reading a few, well-chosen classics, one is bereft of new experiences, undiscovered treasures, new worlds of discovery. I would rather risk reading many mediocre books in order to find a new gem, than to read only gems that others recommended to me. The thrill of discovery is even more acute if one treads the new paths oneself.

The Harry Potter books is an example of “best sellers” and they have become so because they follow a successful formula. They also capitalise on the “New Age” craze and they have behind them an enormous modern marketing machine. They are easily consumed, digested and promptly forgotten. Fashionable books rarely become classics. Compare to these Harry Potter books the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. These were a favourite of mine during my childhood, but they were a pleasure to re-read as an adult. I classify them as classics of the genre and underlying their “fantasy” is a deeper philosophical underpinning, which is latent when they are read in childhood, but becomes so much more obvious when an adult reads them.

Now that I have mentioned them, I guess this book Tuesday I shall dedicate to these Narnia books. C(live) S(taple) Lewis, was born November 29, 1898, Belfast, Northern Ireland and died November 22, 1963, Oxford, England. He was a scholar, novelist, and author of about 40 books, most of them on Christian apologetics, the most widely known being “The Screwtape Letters”. He also achieved fame with a trilogy of science-fiction novels and with the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven children's books that have become classics of fantasy literature. He fought in WWI and when he returned home he achieved an outstanding record as a classical scholar. From 1925 to 1954 he was a fellow and tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford, and from 1954 to 1963 he was professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge.

The Chronicles of Narnia are extremely English books, in that they conform with that English characteristic, the reluctance to say goodbye to childhood… However, it is this character of the books makes them universally loved by people the world over who still have the child in their heart. The Narnia books are not only exciting, often humorous, highly inventive, but also many-a-time deeply moving. Lewis has utilised several archetypal images and characters but has woven them with threads of his own devising, making for a highly satisfying read.

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels written by Lewis between 1949 and 1954, illustrated by Pauline Baynes and originally published in London between October 1950 and March 1956. The Chronicles of Narnia sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages and have been adapted several times, complete or in part, for radio, television, the stage, and film.

The series of books are set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals. Various ordinary children from Earth are transported into Narnia one way or another and as they have adventures, they play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. The children are magically transported to Narnia, where they are called upon by the lion Aslan to protect Narnia from evil and restore the throne to its rightful line. The books span the entire history of Narnia, from its creation in “The Magician's Nephew” to its eventual destruction in “The Last Battle”.

Inspiration for the series is taken from multiple sources; in addition to adapting numerous traditional Christian themes, the books freely borrow characters and ideas from Greek and Roman mythology as well as from traditional British and Irish fairy tales. The books have profoundly influenced adult and children’s fantasy literature since World War II. Lewis’s exploration of themes not usually present in children’s literature, such as religion, as well as the books’ perceived treatment of issues including race and gender, has caused some controversy.

Despite the criticism about the books’ racist, sexist and religious subtexts, for me they still are satisfying reads, especially if one places them in the context in which they were written and the cultural background of the author. We may not burn a book from another age simply because it no longer agrees with our own more “enlightened” times. We read it and glean from it the best it has to offer and we attempt to understand the author’s intentions and the perspective it was written.

Monday 29 December 2014


“Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” - Mark Twain

We watched Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film “Noah” at the weekend. It was based on a screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and starred Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman. Aronofsky is no novice to film-making, he has directed a good lot of movies, just to remind you: “Black Swan” (2010); “The Wrestler” (2008); “The Fountain” (2006); “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Pi” (1998). Some of these were very good, however, I am afraid “Noah” falls into the dud category…

The film was controversial and many people became furious as it was not in line with Biblical teaching and there were numerous discussions on religious grounds, with many objections raised to the film bandying about with the word of God. For me more objectionable was the terrible mish-mash of the story with fragments all strewn together to try and make of it something that would succeed at the box-office. There was something there regarding the environment and vegetarianism, violence and pacifism, religion and obeying God, but there was also a lot about fanaticism and downright madness…

Noah is portrayed as a religious nut who is dooming a world of men to death because of something he believes God communicated to him in a dream. Noah becomes obsessed with saving all of the animals and of ending man’s time on Earth. He sits and watches many terrible things happen and then he also commits terrible acts simply because he wants mankind’s time to end on earth. This is surely something that must have rankled greatly with the believers of biblical teachings as divine truth.

The script is loaded with ridiculous baggage, not the least of which is the bad guy Tubal-Cain and the action-hero petrified disobedient giant angels turned into good guys. There were battle and action sequences to please the young crowd who expects them and there was populist environmental messages that were thought would please the greenie organic crowd that loves animals and thinks “meat is murder”.

The acting is annoyingly “straight” and it’s not only Ham that hams his part up (sorry, pun intended!). The CGI special effects look fake and the direction is turgid. Did I mention that we did not like this film? However, the movie had a budget of $125 million and made $359 million. I guess that means there was a profit. If it were a better film, I am sure that the profit would have been double or triple that. Noah’s story is a vivid episode of the Old Testament and most cultures have a deluge myth, beginning with the Mesopotamians, the Ancient Greeks and Native Americans. This indicates the universal appeal such a story has and how much more popular a well-made such modern film would have been.

This was a portmanteau movie designed to cash in on as much as possible of the public’s irrational viewing demands. It lacked humour, although it scored high on the ridiculometer. It lacked piety although it abounded on religiosity. It lacked good acting and good direction, although it had good actors and a competent director. It wasted a couple of our hours and entertainment it certainly wasn’t…

Sunday 28 December 2014


“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve

Piero di Cosimo (January 2, 1462 - April 12, 1522), sometimes known as Piero di Lorenzo, was born in Florence, son of a goldsmith, and apprenticed under the artist Cosimo Rosselli (1439 – 1507), from whom he derived his popular name. He assisted Rosselli in the painting of the Sistine Chapel in 1481.

In the first phase of his career, Piero was influenced by the Netherlandish naturalism of Hugo van der Goes (1440 – 1482), whose Portinari Triptych (now at the Spedale of Santa Maria Novella in Florence) helped to lead the whole of Florentine painting into new channels. From him Cosimo acquired the love of landscape and the intimate knowledge of the growth of flowers and of animal life. The manner of Hugo van der Goes is especially apparent in Cosimo’s Adoration of the Shepherds, (Berlin Museum).

He journeyed to Rome in 1482 with his master, Rosselli and proved himself a true child of the Renaissance by depicting subjects of Classical mythology in such pictures as the “Venus, Mars, and Cupid”, and “The Death of Procris”. This also includes his Perseus and Andromeda series, of which the painting “Perseus Frees Andromeda” (see above) is now at the Uffizi. Cosimo’s mythical compositions show the bizarre presence of hybrid forms of men and animals, or the man learning to use fire and tools. The multitude of nudes in these works shows the influence of Luca Signorelli (1445 – 1523) on Piero’s art.

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity; reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food. He lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574), "more like a beast than a man”.

If, as Vasari asserts, he spent the last years of his life in gloomy retirement, the change was probably due to the religious reformer, Savonarola (1452 – 1498), under whose influence he turned his attention once more to religious art. The death of his master Rosselli may also have impacted Piero’s morose elder years. “The Immaculate Conception with Saints”, (or Incarnation) at the Uffizi, and “The Holy Family”, at Dresden, best illustrate the religious fervour to which he was stimulated by the stern preacher. Cosimo enjoyed a great reputation as a portrait painter: the most famous of his work being the portrait of a Florentine noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci (1453 – 1476), mistress of Giuliano de Medici (1453 – 1478).

According to Vasari, Cosimo excelled in designing pageants and triumphal processions for the pleasure-loving youths of Florence. Cosimo exercised considerable influence upon his fellow pupils on Rosselli’s workshop, such as Albertinelli (1474 – 1515) and Fra Bartolomeo (1472 – 1517). He was the master of the influential Florentine Mannerist, Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1531).

Perseus, in Greek mythology, was the son of Zeus and Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius of Argos. As an infant he was cast into the sea in a chest with his mother by Acrisius, who knew of a prophesy that said he would be killed by his grandson. The chest grounded on the island of Seriphus where Perseus grew up. King Polydectes of Seriphus, who desired Danaë, tricked Perseus into promising to obtain the head of Medusa, the only mortal among the Gorgons (winged female creatures of a terrible beauty, whose hair consisted of snakes).

Helped by the gods Hermes and Athena, Perseus pressed the Graiae, sisters of the Gorgons, into helping him by seizing the one eye and one tooth that the sisters shared and not returning them until they provided him with winged sandals (with which he could fly), the helmet of Hades (which made him invisible), a curved sword, or sickle, to decapitate Medusa, and a bag in which to conceal the head. Because the gaze of Medusa turned all who looked at her to stone, Perseus guided himself by her reflection in a shield given him by Athena and beheaded Medusa as she slept. He then returned to Seriphus and rescued his mother by turning Polydectes and his supporters to stone at the sight of Medusa's head.

On his way to Seriphus, Perseus rescued the Ethiopian princess, Andromeda. Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, had claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids (sea nymphs), so Poseidon had punished Ethiopia by flooding it and plaguing it with a sea monster. An oracle informed Andromeda's father, King Cepheus, that the ills would cease if he offered Andromeda to the monster as a sacrificial vicitm, which he did. Perseus, passing by, saw the princess and fell in love with her. He turned the sea monster to stone by showing it Medusa's head and afterward married Andromeda.

Later Perseus gave the Gorgon’s head to Athena, who placed it on her shield, and gave his other accoutrements to Hermes. He accompanied his mother back to her native Argos, where he accidentally struck her father, Acrisius, dead when throwing the discus, thus fulfilling the prophecy that he would kill his grandfather. He consequently left Argos and founded Mycenae as his capital, becoming the ancestor of the Perseids, including Heracles. The Perseus legend was a favourite subject in painting and sculpture, both ancient and Renaissance. The chief characters in the Perseus legend, Perseus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and the sea monster (Cetus), all figure in the night sky as constellations.