Saturday 11 April 2015


“I am not handsome, but when women hear me play, they come crawling to my feet.” -  Nicolò Paganini

Nicolò Paganini (1782 - 1840) was the greatest violinist of his age, exercising a strong influence on the developing technique of violin playing and, through his virtuosity on the instrument, on the ambitions of performers on other instruments.

Born in Genoa in 1782, he studied there, at first with his father. He spent eight years from 1801 at Lucca, later as solo violinist to the court of Napoleon’s sister, who was installed there as ruler by her brother. From 1810 he travelled as a virtuoso, at first in Italy and then, from 1828, abroad, causing a sensation wherever he went, his phenomenal technique giving rise to rumours of diabolical assistance.

In 1836, Paganini returned to Paris to set up a casino. Its immediate failure left him in financial ruin, and he auctioned off his personal effects, including his musical instruments, to recoup his losses. At Christmas of 1838, he left Paris for Marseilles and, after a brief stay, travelled to Nice where his health condition worsened. In May 1840, the Bishop of Nice sent Paganini a local parish priest to perform the last rites. Paganini assumed the sacrament was premature, and refused.

A week later, on 27 May 1840, Paganini died from internal haemorrhaging before a priest could be summoned. Because of this, and his widely rumoured association with the devil, the Church denied his body a Catholic burial in Genoa. It took four years and an appeal to the Pope before the Church let his body be transported to Genoa, but it was still not buried. His remains were finally laid to rest in 1876, in a cemetery in Parma. In 1893, the Czech violinist, František Ondříček, persuaded Paganini’s grandson, Attila, to allow a viewing of the violinist's body. After this bizarre episode, Paganini’s body was finally reinterred in a new cemetery in Parma in 1896.

Paganini wrote a number of works for violin and orchestra for his own concert use. These include five numbered concertos, the second of which, the Concerto in B minor, contains the movement ‘La campanella’, borrowed later by Liszt. Sets of variations for violin and orchestra include ‘I palpiti’, based on an operatic aria by Rossini, and ‘Le streghe’, based on a theme from an opera by Mozart’s pupil Süssmayr.

Music of another kind is provided in the works for violin and guitar written by Paganini, who also had a considerable interest in the second instrument. These compositions include groups of sonatas and a set of quartets for guitar and string trio. Paganini’s 24 caprices for unaccompanied violin provide a compendium of violin technique and vehicles for dazzling virtuosic display. The last of the caprices was used by Brahms for two books of piano variations on the theme, and by Rachmaninov in his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra.

The Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6, was composed by Niccolò Paganini in Italy, probably between 1817 and 1818. The concerto reveals that Paganini’s technical wizardry was fully developed. Contemporary audiences gasped at the extended passages of double-stop thirds, both chromatic and in harmonics. Paganini intended the Concerto to be heard in E-flat major: the orchestral parts were written in E-flat, and the solo part was written in D major with instructions for the violin to be tuned a semitone high (a technique known as scordatura) so that it would therefore sound in E-flat. This enables the soloist to achieve effects sounding in E-flat, which would not be possible with a normal D tuning.

Paganini’s original published scoring was for 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, and strings. In the years following the original publication of the work, Paganini occasionally expanded his orchestration, writing out some odd parts to add from time to time in performance: 2nd flute, 2nd bassoon, doubled the horns, added trombones 1 & 2 (moving the existing trombone part to trombone 3 basso), timpani, and banda turca (bass drum, crash cymbals, and suspended cymbal). He never added these into the one and only manuscript score.

Here is the Concerto No 1 op. 6 of Niccolò Paganini. Shlomo Mintz (violin solo) Limburg Symphony Orchestra Maastricht directed by Yoel Levi. Mintz plays a violin that belonged to Paganini made by Guarnieri del Gesù in 1743, known as the “Cannone”.
The concerto is in three movements:
Allegro maestoso – Tempo giusto
Rondo. Allegro spirituoso – Un poco più presto

Friday 10 April 2015


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

A recipe for a classic, rich chocolate cake this week. Dark and dense, it gets its name from the dark mud of the great river of the USA, the Mississippi…

250 g unsalted butter, chopped up
150 g dark chocolate, chopped up
2 cups of sugar
1 cup hot water
1/3 cup brandy
1 tbsp dry instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla essence
1½ cups of plain flour
¼ cup SR flour
¼ cup cocoa
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Icing sugar for dusting (or ganache, see below)

Grease a 23cm square slab pan, line base with greaseproof paper. Combine butter, chocolate, sugar, water, brandy, vanilla essence and coffee in double saucepan or in heatproof bowl, stir over hot water until chocolate is melted and mixture smooth; cool to lukewarm.  Transfer mixture to large bowl, stir in sifted flours and cocoa, then eggs.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in moderately slow oven for about 1¼ hours.  Stand 10 minutes before turning on to wire rack to cool.  Serve dusted with sifted icing sugar (or chocolate ganache). Keeping time: 5 days.

This is a dense moist cake, serve with double cream if desired.

1/3 cup (80ml) cream
200g dark eating chocolate, chopped coarsely

Bring cream to the boil in small saucepan, remove from heat, add chocolate, stir until smooth, pour over cake. Or, refrigerate ganache until firm, then beat in a small bowl with electric mixer until smooth and thick, spread whipped ganache over cake.

Add your own favourite recipes below using the Linky tool:

Thursday 9 April 2015


“The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea." - Isak Dinesen (KarenBlixen)

I was born in Greece and my family and I moved here to Australia when I was 10 years old. The political situation in Greece at that time was dominated by the rule of the “colonels”, a military junta that had overthrown the government and had plunged the country into an extreme right-wing totalitarian regime that was exceedingly oppressive and wasted no opportunity in eradicating all forms of ideological opposition. This extended to political parties, organisations, artistic and literary groups and of course to individuals. My parents were situated slightly to the left side of the centre (pink rather than red) in their political ideology. Our house in Athens was thus often full of artists, poets, musicians and actors who visited and regaled us with their latest work. At the time of the junta, many of these liberals and socialists were actively sought out and were exiled, imprisoned (or worse!) depending on their perceived threat to the military junta establishment. We managed to flee and to settle in Australia.

The first time I went back to Greece after living in Australia for 10 years or so, the country had returned to democratic rule and the climate was one of optimism with everyone still drunk with the heady wine of political and intellectual freedom. I was taken for a long drive by relatives and we ended up on top of a mountain, looking down onto a valley and far away to the sea. We had coffee at a café and as I gazed out into the distant azure depths of the sea, a few tears rolled down my eyes. It was all so beautiful: The return to the land of my birth, seeing relatives that I had not laid eyes on for a long time, the beauty of the landscape, the sounds of my mother tongue around me, and the sweeping vista in front of me where land, sea and sky seemed to conspire so as to make a picture of incomparable loveliness.

My companions looked at me and asked if everything was OK. I had to smile and eventually laughed. I said nothing was wrong, all was right, in fact! It was just that something had got into my eye and caused it to tear – I think that was indeed true, a little piece of the landscape in front me had entered into my heart through my eyes and caused me to become sentimental over the experience that I was living through. The beauty of nature that I beheld had become enmeshed with my feelings of nostalgia of the time of my childhood, the joy of seeing my relatives once again, the remembrances of happy times in the past, and the sense of “returning home”…

Yes, I was being sentimental, and was afraid of admitting it… This poor word “sentimental” has been much maligned in recent times and what once could be described as sentimental and raise fellow feelings of sympathy in others, is now more likely to be ridiculed in the person confessing such a weakness in their character. We are losing our innocence of experience as a culture in the West, I think, and what could be interpreted tenderly and with true feeling is often described as romantic nonsense and as living in the past. We have become so modern in our sensibilities…

sentimental |ˌsen(t)əˈmen(t)l|adjective
of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia: She felt a sentimental attachment to the place creep over her.
(of a work of literature, music, or art) dealing with feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way: A sentimental ballad.
(of a person) excessively prone to feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia: I’m a sentimental old fool.
sentimental value the value of something to someone because of personal or emotional associations rather than material worth.
sentimentally |ˈsɛn(t)əˌmɛn(t)li| adverb
ORIGIN late Middle English (in the senses [personal experience] and [physical feeling, sensation] ): from Old French sentement, from medieval Latin sentimentum, from Latin sentire ‘feel.’

If you are moved to tears by a situation that does not necessarily warrant such a response, you’re likely to be called sentimental, an adjective used to describe a willingness to get emotional at the slightest prompting (A sentimental man who kept his dog’s ashes in an urn on the mantel).

Effusive applies to excessive or insincere displays of emotion, although it may be used in an approving sense (Effusive in her gratitude for the help she had received).

Maudlin derives from the name Mary Magdalene, who was often shown with her eyes swollen from weeping. It implies a lack of self-restraint, particularly in the form of excessive tearfulness, often in the context of self-pity.

Mawkish carries sentimentality a step further, implying emotion so excessive that it provokes loathing or disgust (Mawkish attempts to win the audience over).

Although romantic at one time referred to an expression of deep feeling, nowadays it is often used disapprovingly to describe emotion that has little to do with the way things actually are and that is linked to an idealised vision of the way they should be (She had a romantic notion of what it meant to be a “starving artist”).

Mushy suggests both excessive emotion or sentimentality and a contempt for romantic love (A mushy love story).

Similarly, schmaltzy implies excessive sentimentality, a mushiness of feeling especially in music or movies.

I am sentimental. I have always been and always will be, I guess. Only now I am not afraid of confessing it! That would make me a sentimental old fool, according to some people, whereas I prefer to think of myself as a neo-romanticist… What about you? Are you sentimental?

Tuesday 7 April 2015


“If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.” - Ellen DeGeneres

Poetry Jam this week has enjoined participants to think about thing impossible and write a poem about it. Here is my contribution in response to this:

The Impossible

The world is ageing fast
And in its death vision sees
With rheumy, presbyopic eyes,
Its own end in oceans of hellish fire, 
Rain of lambent ash, and rivers of molten metal.

People have hardened hearts
And robbed spirits, hollow souls;
Humanity overcome by brute savagery,
As our basest cannibalistic tendencies
Cause us to tear apart with nails and devour each other’s flesh.

Nature was stunned, killed long ago:
No green leaf budding, flowers but a distant memory;
No animal left to roam the burning deserts;
No bird to fly in poisoned air, no insect to burrow in roasted earth;
No shelter, no safe haven, no refuge left.

And yet, as long as there is one amongst us
With a vision, with a deep well of hope,
With strong belief and endless love,
We shall achieve what seems well nigh impossible:
This bluish-white sphere spinning endlessly in space,
This our only home, to save, and our dying world to revivify…

Monday 6 April 2015


“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” - Martin Luther King Jr

One of the most distressing chapters in the history of WWII is the Holocaust with the mass extermination of millions of people by the Nazis. Not just the Jews, but also gypsies, blacks, communists, homosexuals, and other “undesirables”. As Niemöller said after his epiphany:
“In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me…”

Martin Niemöller was a German theologian and Lutheran pastor, founder of the anti-Nazi Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church) in 1934, and a president of the World Council of Churches from 1961 to 1968. Niemöller was a commander of a German U-boat in World War I. Something that changed his moral outlook, which he related in many public speeches later in his life, occurred when he commanded his submarine crew not to rescue the sailors of a boat he torpedoed, but let them drown instead. His conscience and his humanity woke up in him and he became a chief critic of the Nazi regime so that in 1937 he was arrested because of his outspoken sermons, and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1941 he was moved to Dachau, where he stayed until the end of the war.

The literature that surrounds the Holocaust is considerable and a wide sample of genres can be found within this broad group of writings. Factual accounts, biographical notes (“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank is a prime example), memoirs (e.g. “On Both Sides of the Wall 
by Vladka Meed”), historical treatises, novels (“The Man from the Other Side” by Uri Orlev; “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally), letters, poems, and many more. Literature spawned many films, and some very successful and moving films are:
Schindler’s List” (1993)
Life is Beautiful” (1997)
The Pianist” (2002) and so on...

One of the books in this genre that I found particularly engaging is the 1986 novel “The Musicians of Auschwitz” 
by Fania Fénelon (= Fanny Goldstein 1918?-1983). This is a famous book that describes the amazingly potent effects that music had as an anodyne, a healer and as a means of intellectual escape in Fania Fénelon’s troubled life. Fania Fénelon was one of the Jewish musicians who played in the orchestra at Birkenau-Auschwitz concentration camp. She would play, arrange music and occasionally she would compose music for the orchestra that amused the SS officers who lived in the camp.

The Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, described by Fénelon was created in June 1943 by a Polish music teacher, Mrs. Zofia Czajkowska, by order of the SS. The members were protected from being gassed in the gas chamber, or from being worked to death. Czajkowska was eventually replaced as conductor by Alma Rosé, niece of Gustav Mahler. Rosé had been the conductor of a women’s orchestra in her hometown of Vienna. As well as entertaining the SS, the orchestra played at the gate when the work gangs went out, and when they returned. During the final stages of the Holocaust, when the mass deportations of Jews from Eastern Europe occurred and large numbers of Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers, the orchestra played in order to put the minds of the victims at ease. The music preserved the illusion that the Jews were being transported “to the East”, and allowed the SS to kill more efficiently.

Fénelon’s book describes the horrors of the camp, but at the same time it is a joyous document of survival, of hope and resilience. She maintains that her all-consuming passion in the creation of music emptied her mind, lifted her soul and gave her undying hope. Although Fania and the other musicians played for their SS captors under the most soul-destroying circumstances, their songs were secretly subversive, joyful and hopeful without the German soldiers’ realisation. The orchestra would transform traditional Jewish music and delighted in performing classical pieces that were banned by the Nazis.

Alma Rosé died in 1944 of unknown causes; poisoning was suspected by Fénelon and others, but according to Newman and Kirtley the cause was likely to be either botulism or typhus. After Rosé the orchestra was conducted haphazardly by Sonia Vinogradovna, a Russian prisoner, but in January 1945 Auschwitz was dismantled by the Nazis and the orchestra was sent to Bergen-Belsen. Two members, Lola Kroner and Julie Stroumsa, died there. The rest survived, though Ewa Stojowska was badly beaten and Fania Fénelon nearly died of typhus. Fénelon wrote that remaining members of the orchestra was scheduled to be shot to death on the same day as the liberation by British troops. She was interviewed by the BBC on the day of liberation and performed “La Marseillaise” and “God Save the King.”

Fania Fénelon’s book has also been made into a television show, “Playing for Time” (1980), screenplay written by Arthur Miller, and starring Vanessa Redgrave. I haven’t seen this, but according to the International Movie Database reviews it is an excellent show.

Sunday 5 April 2015


“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.” - Blaise Pascal

For Movie Monday today I am considering a movie that we saw at the weekend, Nosferatu: The Vampyre by Werner Herzog (1979).

This is a famous film and is a remake of an equally famous silent expressionistic classic also from Germany, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors of 1922. Both of these movies are based on the famous 1897 Gothic novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker (which is available in its entirety online).  Stoker’s “Dracula” remains one of the most popular novels ever published and Dracula has been adapted for the stage and screen hundreds of times. It is a typical Victorian Gothic novel of a bloodthirsty vampire whose nocturnal activities are a metaphor for the hidden salaciousness and immorality of a supremely moralistic age. Bram Stoker wrote seventeen novels, but “Dracula” remains his most famous and enduring work.

The German film-maker, FW Murnau wanted to make a film version of “Dracula” but was denied the rights to the book by Stoker’s estate. Murnau proceeded to change the title to “Nosferatu”, the name of Dracula to “Count Orlok”, and then he proceeded to make a classic of the silent film era. It is a prime example of German film expressionism but at the same time a faithful adaptation of Stoker’s story. The film has images that are haunting and horrible, lingering and lugubrious, unsettling and uncanny. Considering when the film was made, even today it is quite disturbing and amazingly effective in the horror genre. I watched this film some time ago in my University years and one can now watch it in its entirety on YouTube.

Werner Herzog in the late 70s reimagined Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, remaining quite faithful to the original version and trying to capture as much as possible the atmosphere of Murnau’s masterpiece, utilising modern technology, equipment, colour film stock and sound. He uses Murnau’s vision and extends it in a logical fashion, attempting to fill in the lacunae of the original. It is not a remake, shot for shot, nor does mimic artistically the original. Herzog was too great a director to slavishly ape his predecessor. He is inspired by Murnau and he creates a beautifully haunting film where even the character of the vampire changes and he becomes strangely sympathetic to us. The vampire is trapped by circumstances in an undead state he loathes (and which he continues to live, by compulsion of fate) and he often meditates on his inability to die and also his yearning for love, the blood-lust being a poor substitute for it.

In case you are not familiar with the plot (which planet are you from?) here it is in a nutshell: Jonathan Harker, an estate agent’s representative is sent to Count Dracula’s castle to negotiate the sale of a house in Wismar, where he lives. Count Dracula is a vampire, one of the undead ghouls who needs human blood to remain alive. Seeing a photograph of Lucy Harker, Jonathan’s wife, Dracula decides to move to Wismar, bringing with him rats, plague and death.

The film has a certain theatricality about it and in certain scenes resembles a patchwork of tableaux-vivants – a stroll through the chamber of horrors of Madame Tussaud. In other scenes, there is a glowing misty light that mimics Vermeer’s paintings. Isabelle Adjani is a beautifully cool Lucy and her acting is rather formalised and detached. Klaus Kinski as the Count is magnificent and his caricature-like face and hands do not detract from the look of the film. Jonathan’s part played by Bruno Ganz is adequate and his rather prissy, narcissistic, ineffectual anti-hero comes across well. The locations are beautiful and brought back memories of my time in Delft, Holland. There is a chilling foreboding throughout the film and suits very well several subtext messages that Herzog is conveying to us.

Watch if you can the German-speaking version with subtitles, rather than the English-speaking version (the film was shot twice) as the acting is better in the German version. Both original version and Herzog’s recent one are definitely worth seeing.


“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” - Salvador Dali

The Google Doodle today highlights an artist I was not aware of before now, so I thought it a good idea to find out a little more about her and feature her on Art Sunday here, as well. Leonora Carrington (British, born April 6, 1917–died May 25, 2011) was an artist and author, best known as one of the leading female figures of the Surrealist movement. Carrington was born in Clayton Green, Lancashire, England, to a wealthy textile merchant family, and received much of her early education from tutors and nuns.

After being expelled from several schools due to her rebellious nature, Carrington was sent to Florence, Italy, to attend her first art school, Mrs. Penrose’s Academy of Art. Her education continued at Chelsea School of Art in London for a year, after which she transferred to Ozenfant Academy, London, for the following three years. In 1937, Carrington met Max Ernst, who is recognised as one of the pioneers of the Surrealist movement. Carrington and Ernst formed a strong bond, and lived in Paris and southern France where they supported each other’s artistic talent and vision. This would result in their collaboration on several pieces of art that they used to decorate their home.

After Ernst’s arrest by the Nazis shortly after their occupation of France, Carrington moved to Spain, where she suffered a complete breakdown that resulted in her being institutionalised. This experience would directly influence both her artistic and written works in the coming years. Examples of this influence can be seen in her novel “Down Below” (1972), and her paintings “Portrait of Dr. Morales” (1940) and “Map of Down Below” (1943).

In 1947, Carrington became extremely well known almost overnight after she showcased her work at a Surrealist exhibition held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. As the only professional female painter represented at the exhibition, she quickly made a name for herself as one of the most prominent female painters of the Surrealist movement. In 2010, Carrington’s work was presented during a show entitled “Surreal Friends” at the Pallant House Gallery in West Sussex. Before her death in 2011, Carrington was recognised as one of the last female painters of the Surrealist movement. She also gained recognition when her painting Juggler (1954) set a new record as the most expensive piece ever sold by a living Surrealist painter. Carrington died on May 25, 2011.

The painting above is a “Self Portrait” from 1937/8. The painter has depicted herself in a vacuous room with three animals: A curious hyena, looking like a pygmy-like striped mare, which she seems to hold at bay with an apotropaic gesture; a rocking horse floating above her head and a white, almost unicorn-like horse galloping away in the landscape seen from the open window. Horses symbolise freedom and power. In some cultures, white horses stand for the balance of wisdom and power. In others, like Christianity, the white horse is a symbol of death. The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings. Also linked with riding horses, they are symbols of travel, movement, and desire.

Carrington spent her childhood on a country estate surrounded by animals and reading fairy tales and legends. She revisited these memories in her adulthood, creating paintings populated with real and imagined creatures. Here, the white horse, which Carrington used as her symbolic surrogate, gallops freely into the verdant landscape beyond the curtained window. The hyena in front of her is a powerful symbol of femininity and maternity, the breasts full of milk. The tail-less rocking horse is perhaps an allusion to childhood, left behind as the artist gallops into maturity, beyond the shackles of convention.