Saturday 13 June 2015


“A poet is a man who puts up a ladder to a star and climbs it while playing a violin.” - Edmond de Goncourt

A lovely piece by Antonin Dvořák for Music Saturday today. It is the Sonatina for Violin and Piano in G major, opus 100. This was written between November 19 and December 3, 1893, in New York City. It was the last chamber composition Dvořák wrote during his sojourn in America. Dvořák catered the sonatina to the gradually developing musical abilities of his children, especially those of his 15-year-old daughter Ottilie and 10-year-old son Toník. In a letter to Fritz Simrock on January 2, 1894, Dvořák conceived the piece in the following terms: “It is intended for youths (dedicated to my two children), but even grown-ups, adults, should be able to converse with it.” The sonatina was published by Simrock in Berlin in 1894. It also exists in a version for cello and piano.

The piece is in four movements, performed here by Itzhak Perlman (Violin) and Samuel Sanders (Piano):
Allegro risoluto; Time signature: 3/4; Key: G major (0:00)
Larghetto; Time signature: 2/4; Key: G minor (5:58)
Molto vivace; Time signature: 3/4; Key: G major (10:16)
Allegro; Time signature: 2/4; Key: G major (13:13).

The four short movements of the sonatina each exhibit a simple and clear, formal structure (hence the diminutive, cf. sonata). They all contain themes, which, like those already found in his other American chamber works (the String Quartet in F and the String Quintet in E-flat), owe their inspiration to Indian melodies and Negro spirituals, which are characterised by pentatonic scales and syncopated rhythm, among other traits. The mood of the composition is fresh and joyful. Only the second movement and part of the last movement are nostalgic; they are inspired by the composer’s longing for his home country.

The slow movement Larghetto was hurriedly noted down on Dvořák’s shirt sleeve while on a visit to Minnehaha Falls, near Saint Paul, Minnesota. Simrock sold this movement separately, without the composer’s permission, and Fritz Kreisler often performed it as “Indian Lullaby”. It also appeared as “Indian Canzonetta”; such romantic titles were not the composer’s, but were added subsequently by publishers.

Friday 12 June 2015


“I continue to be amazed by our bodies’ ability for self-repair. Our bodies want to be healthy, if we would just let them. That’s what these new research articles are showing: Even after years of beating yourself up with a horrible diet, your body can reverse the damage, open back up the arteries—even reverse the progression of some cancers. Amazing! So it’s never too late to start exercising, never too late to stop smoking and never too late to start eating healthier.” - Michael Greger

A vegetarian recipe today that uses wholesome, nutritious ingredients to produce a tasty, savoury loaf that can be used as a filling main meal.

Rice and Cashew Loaf
1 cup brown rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 and 1/2  cups sliced button mushrooms
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2  teaspoon mustard powder
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons plain wholemeal flour
3/4 cup milk (dairy or soy, your choice)
1 and 1/2  cups cashews
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsp Tahini
4 tbsp yoghurt
2 tsp tomato paste
Juice of a lemon
crushed garlic

Cook the rice and drain, leaving it aside.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for a few seconds more.
Add the mushrooms and celery and cook quickly for 1 minute.
Add the nutmeg, mustard, salt and pepper.Stir in the wholemeal flour and cook gently for 1 minute. Add the milk and cook, stirring until the mixture thickens. Fold in the cashews, rice and tomato paste. Add parsley.
Grease a loaf pan and sprinkle bottom with a few pinches of dried, crushed mixed herbs. Place the loaf mixture in the tin.
Cover the loaf with foil and bake in a moderate oven at 180˚C for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, uncover the loaf and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. 
Mix together all ingredients, keep tasting and add whatever ingredient needs re-enforcement until quantities are right and no one flavour predominates. Serve on the side with the loaf.

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Thursday 11 June 2015


"If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music." - Gustav Mahler

The word of the day today is “luthier”.

luthier |ˈloōtēər| noun
a maker of stringed instruments such as violins or guitars.
ORIGIN late 19th century: from French, from luth ‘lute.’

And this of course bring us to the related words:

lute |lju:t| noun
a plucked stringed instrument with a long neck bearing frets and a rounded body with a flat front that is shaped like a halved egg.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French lut, leut, probably via Provençal from Arabic al-‛ūd ‘oud’ (A plucked instrument resembling a lute)

lutenist |ˌluːt(ə)nɪst| (also lutanist) noun
a lute player.
ORIGIN early 17th century: from medieval Latin lutanista, from lutana ‘lute.’

Here is a lute made by luthier Stephen Murphy, being played by lutenist Valéry Sauvage. He plays “Fortune my foe” - A ballad tune by Elizabethan English composer, John Dowland.


Wednesday 10 June 2015


“Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Poets United this week is looking at the topic of “Time” and Sumana is enjoining participants to think about time and its ambiguous nature. My ideas turned to language, words and grammar and how we perceive time’s vagaries grammatically. A rather academic viewpoint, but one that is required in order to express the subjective nature of time’s passage for even the most romantic and poetic amongst us. Here is my offering:

Grammar Lesson

Past, present, future:
Tense is the sea of time,
That little boat is me.
Past continuous, present perfect,
A storm brewing,
The boat is struggling.
Future and aorist, present continuous,
The battle unequal,
The boat sinks and the waters are calmed.

My world is lost,
Your world is changed,
My boat sunken,
Will never float again.
Past continuous, past perfect,
The wind abates,
The still waters rot.

And yet, if one parts
The glassy surface of the indicative,
If the imperative is to dive
Deep into the sandy bottom
Of subjunctive and conditional,
The boat is there and passively awaits
For one active voice that will command
And raise it from the depths…

Tuesday 9 June 2015


“Personality is to a man what perfume is to a flower.” - Charles M. Schwab

I recently came across a website called “VisualDNA”. According to the blurb on the site, this is why it exists: VisualDNA was started in 2006 in order to change communication between people for the better. By combining the approaches of data scientists, psychologists, creatives and engineers we have crafted new ways of understanding the human personality, allowing people to understand themselves and businesses to serve their customers better. We want to enable a web where people have control of their own data, and where the organisations who they choose to share it with can use it as constructively as possible.”

VisualDNA profiles people using engaging visual personality quizzes, which drill into the deep-lying attitudes, values, actions and behaviours that make us unique human beings. Apparently, over 40 million people have completed these quizzes. They’re free to take and are not incentivised – so quizzes elicit honest responses from participants. VisualDNA’s feedback is built by teams of in-house psychologists and based on internationally recognised principals; including the ‘Big 5′ traits of personality. Furthermore, the quizzes are based on visual cues mainly, with a minimum of text.

There are two quizzes that you can take online and they require relatively little time to complete, without having to register or provide personal details, or even an email address. The results are available to you on screen immediately after the quiz is completed. There is a “Who am I?” quiz and a “Personality Quiz”. They are rather fun and even if not completely accurate, the results provide some food for thought, and you can retake the quizzes at your leisure once you know how they work.

I rather liked the personality quiz especially, as in the results reporting it gave several “books you will like reading” suggestions, based on responses given to quiz questions. The interesting thing was that I had read (and enjoyed) about 70% of these books. I’ve already jotted down a couple of titles I’d like to get and read next!

The quiz webpage (scroll right down) also has some free, downloadable pdf files, which offer practical advice about stressful situations. For example, there is a booklet titled “I Just Lost my Job, What Next”, and another, “I’ve Forgotten How to Have Fun”, and so on. These were quite interesting and offered some sensible advice on how to understand issues and how to set in place strategies and change behaviours in order to overcome problems.

Quite an interesting site with some good content to explore!

Monday 8 June 2015


“I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a painting.” - Andy Rooney

A DVD of the 2007 Pixar animated feature “Ratatouille” came into my hands the other day. I had heard positive things about this film but had not watched it until last weekend. It was directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, the latter having written the original story. Brad Garrett, Lou Romano, Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo and Peter O’Toole provided voices for the animated characters.

Remy is a rat with a great nose and exquisitely sensitive taste buds. He finds that he also has a great talent for cooking and dreams of becoming a great French chef despite his family’s wishes and the obvious problem of being a rat in a decidedly rodent-phobic profession. When Remy is lost in the sewers of Paris, he finds himself fortuitously situated beneath the very same restaurant made famous by his culinary hero, head chef Auguste Gusteau. Remy enters the kitchen and meets young kitchen hand Linguini who has just started work there. Despite being an unlikely - and certainly unwanted - visitor in the kitchen of a fine French restaurant, Remy’s passion for cooking elevates Linguini to the status of a chef and sets in motion some amazing changes in the restaurant and the lives of all who work there.

The winning combination of Disney and Pixar has produced some amazing computer-generated animated films, including “A Bug’s Life”, “Toy Story”, “Monsters, Inc.”, “The Incredibles”, “Finding Nemo”. “Ratatouille” is quite stunning visually, surreal and realistic at the same time, and a joy to watch. The characters are poetic and engaging, and the rats are some of Disney-Pixar’s cutest. The film is definitely not a “children’s only” one, but one that would be enjoyed by the whole family with layers of jokes and meaning that differently aged viewers would each appreciate as appropriate. I would even venture to say that is primarily a film for adults that children can watch and enjoy also.

I have seen “A Bug’s Life”, “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” and consider “Ratatouille” to be superior to all of these. The animation is splendid, the story wonderful, the comedy well-paced, the voice characterisations apt and the message of the film well-stated. Not everyone can do anything, but if you have a special skill or talent, don’t be afraid to use it and stick with it, even in the most adverse of circumstances. There is also a wonderful sequence relating to the food critic Anton Ego (marvellously voiced by Peter O’Toole), full of poignancy and honesty. I enjoyed this film very much and recommend it most highly for a wonderful 111 minutes of good, wholesome, entertaining family viewing.

Sunday 7 June 2015


“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” - Charles Lindbergh

Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1727–1788) was one of nine children born to John Gainsborough, a weaver and woollen cloth merchant, in Sudbury, in Suffolk, England. He was born in the spring of 1727 and christened on May 14. Perhaps due to his mother’s penchant for painting flowers and encouraging her son’s talent with a pencil, Gainsborough assembled a rather impressive portfolio at a young age. By 10, he had drawn some local village landscapes, and added caricatures and other facial studies.

His father was sufficiently impressed with his work to allow him to go to London, England, where he studied at an academy in St. Martin’s Lane under the renowned William Hogarth and other masters known for etching, historical painting and portraiture. During this time Gainsborough fell in love with Margaret Burr, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, and her dowry allowed him to set up a studio in Ipswich by the time he was 20.

When his landscapes were not selling, Gainsborough turned to portraiture for money. He moved his wife and two daughters to Bath, where there was a more bustling influx of upscale clientele, and set to studying the painter Sir Anthony van Dyck for insight into technique. His reputation began to grow. Sending his portraits to the Society of Arts exhibitions in London (his Ipswich friend Joshua Kirby was president), especially those of his more prominent sitters, helped attract attention to his work. Gainsborough’s increasing prosperity allowed him to indulge his passion for music. He learned to play the viola da gamba (a fretted string instrument), the harp and the hautboy (oboe), among other instruments, and employed a houseful of international musicians.

Perhaps because of his lively nature, the tall, handsome and garrulous Gainsborough enjoyed spending time with theatre folk. He painted celebrated actors such as David Garrick and Sarah Siddons, and also lesser-known players, gifting his portraits to them, as well as sketches and landscapes. By 1774, he had become so successful, it was silly not to be in London. He was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy, and not long after moving his family to the capital, he was summoned to the palace and began portraits of King George III and other nobles. Although the king was obliged to name his rival, Joshua Reynolds, as the official court painter, Gainsborough remained the favourite of the royal family.

Thomas Gainsborough died of cancer on August 2, 1788, at the age of 61. He requested to be buried at St. Anne’s Church at Kew, which was the royal family’s primary residence and known for its lush and varied landscape. It was a fitting locale, since Gainsborough had returned to his love of landscape painting in his waning years and become known for his simple settings, elegant brushwork and extraordinary use of light. And yet, Gainsborough’s most recognisable painting today is probably a portrait of the son of a wealthy merchant, known simply as “The Blue Boy”.

Legend has it that Gainsborough tried to reconcile with Joshua Reynolds, his rival, at his deathbed. The two share a reputation as the most famous portraitists of the latter 18th century. Gainsborough is also known one of the originators of the 18th century British landscape school. A later painter with a similar reputation, John Constable, was a huge fan, saying of Gainsborough’s landscapes, “On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them.”

Above is a seascape of his, exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It is “A Seapiece, A Calm” painted around 1783. To render effectively the effects of light Gainsborough painted scenes on glass transparencies and viewed them by means of a “peep-show box”, which still survives (Victoria & Albert Museum, London). The artist’s experiments with such techniques demonstrate his attention to light and atmospheric effects, in preference to mere reproduction of detail. In the painting above (exhibited in London’s Royal Academy in 1783), Gainsborough achieves realistic effects by focusing on the qualities of light, atmosphere and water.