Saturday 11 July 2015


“Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once.” - Robert Browning

Francesco Saverio Geminiani (baptised 5 December 1687 – 17 September 1762) was an Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist. Born at Lucca, he received lessons in music from Alessandro Scarlatti, and studied the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati in Milan and afterwards under Arcangelo Corelli. From 1707 he took the place of his father in the Cappella Palatina of Lucca.

From 1711, he led the opera orchestra at Naples, as Leader of the Opera Orchestra and concertmaster, which gave him many opportunities for contact with Alessandro Scarlatti. After a brief return to Lucca, in 1714, he set off for London in the company of Francesco Barsanti, where he arrived with the reputation of a virtuoso violinist, and soon attracted attention and patrons, including William Capel, 3rd Earl of Essex, who remained a consistent patron.

In 1715 Geminiani played his violin concerti for the court of George I, with Handel at the keyboard. Geminiani made a living by teaching and writing music, and tried to keep pace with his passion for collecting by dealing in art, not always successfully. Many of his students went on to have successful careers, such as Charles Avison, Matthew Dubourg, Michael Christian Festing, Bernhard Joachim Hagen and Cecilia Young.

After visiting Paris and residing there for some time, he returned to England in 1755. In 1761, on one of his sojourns in Dublin, a servant robbed him of a musical manuscript on which he had bestowed much time and labour. His vexation at this loss is said to have hastened his death. He appears to have been a first-rate violinist. His Italian pupils reportedly called him Il Furibondo, the Madman, because of his expressive rhythms.

Geminiani’s most well-known compositions are three sets of concerti grossi; his Opus 2 (1732), Opus 3 (1733) and Opus 7 (1746), (there are 42 concerti in all) which introduce the viola as a member of the concertino group of soloists, making them essentially concerti for string quartet. These works are deeply contrapuntal to please a London audience still in love with Corelli, compared to the galant work that was fashionable on the Continent at the time of their composition. Geminiani also reworked his teacher Corelli’s Opp. 1, 3 and 5 into concerti grossi.

Here are his 6 Concerti Grossi Op.II, performed by the Auser Musici:
“Concerti Grossi con Due Violini, Violoncello, e Viola di Concertino obligati, e Due Altri Violini, e Basso di Concerto Grosso ad arbitrio il IV. V. e VI. si potranno suonare con Due Flauti Traversieri, o Due Violini, con Violoncello. Opera Seconda” [London, 1732]

I. Concerto Grosso No.III [Presto/Adagio/Allegro] 0:08
II. Concerto Grosso No.II [Adagio/Allegro/Adagio/Allegro] 6:57
III. Concerto Grosso No.V [Grave/Allegro/Adagio/Allegro] 16:20
IV. Concerto Grosso No.VI [Andante/Allegro-Adagio/Allegro] 23:35
V. Concerto Grosso No.I [Andante/Allegro/Adagio/Allegro] 30:10
VI. Concerto Grosso No.IV [Andante/Allegro/Adagio/Allegro] 37:27

Friday 10 July 2015


“I said to the almond tree, ‘Friend, speak to me of God’, and the almond tree blossomed.” - Nikos Kazantzakis

A traditional Greek sweetmeat today, which although simple is delicious. These sweets are traditionally offered to guests when they arrive at one’s house, together with a glass of iced water. They are also popular in wedding feasts to symbolise the joys (sugar) and sorrows (bitterness of almonds) that the couple will live through together.

2 cups of roasted, freshly ground blanched almonds
1 cup of caster sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup ground, plain corn flakes
1/2 cup amaretto liqueur
1 teaspoonful almond essence
Glacé cherries
Whole cloves (optional)
Icing sugar, orange flower water

Mix the almonds, caster sugar and cornflakes well and then add the beaten egg whites, flavour and liqueur.  Knead well to form a soft dough.  Take a glacé cherry and a tablespoonful of the dough and shape into a pear, enclosing the cherry in the centre of each petit four.  Bake in medium hot oven for 15-20 minutes. It is important to get the outside quite firm while maintain the middle softish (do not overcook). Brush with orange flower water while still hot and dust liberally with icing sugar. Place a whole clove on the top of each little “pear” to resemble a stem.
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Thursday 9 July 2015


“If you enjoy the fragrance of a rose, you must accept the thorns which it bears.” - IsaacHayes

July 9th is St Zeno’s Feast Day (Roman Catholic) and St Pancratius the Bishop’s Feast Day (Greek Orthodox).

It is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Ann Ward Radcliffe, novelist (1764);
Thomas Davenport, electric motor inventor (1802);
Elias Howe, sewing machine inventor (1819);
Nikola Tesla, Serbian physicist (1856);
Ottorino Respighi, Italian composer (1879);
Enid Lyons, first woman in Australian parliament (1897);
Barbara Cartland, English novelist (1901);
Edward Heath, British prime minister (1916);
Ed Ames, singer (1927);
Hassan II, king of Morocco (1929);
James Hampton, actor (1936);
David Hockney, artist (1937);
Brian Dennehy, actor (1940);
Karin von Aroldingen, ballerina (1941);
Tom Hanks, actor (1956);
Kelly McGillis, actress (1957).

The dog rose, Rosa canina, is the birthday flower for today.  The Greeks are responsible for the name of this flower, calling it kynorhodon (“dog rose”) because its root supposedly was cure for the bite of rabid dogs.  Others say that it is derived from koinon rhodon (“common rose”), the name “dog rose” implying contempt because of its small size and insignificance when compared to the damask rose. It symbolises pleasure and pain.

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) was an Italian composer well known for his symphonic poems, such as “The Fountains of Rome” (1917) and the “Roman Festivals” (1929).  He revived the Italian instrumental tradition, which was overshadowed by the operatic work of the likes of Verdi and Puccini.  Respighi used the modern symphony orchestra but was always aware of the past, often being inspired by melodies a few centuries old.  His “Ancient Airs and Dances” are a great favourite of mine. In these, he has taken several 16th and 17th century lute pieces and freely transcribed them for symphony orchestra, thus making them very accessible to many.

Died on this day: In 1747, Giovanni Battista Bononcini, Italian church and operatic composer.

Wednesday 8 July 2015


“Absence from whom we love is worse than death, and frustrates hope severer than despair.” - William Cowper

This week, Poets United has as its Midweek Motif, the theme of “Night”.

Here is my offering:

A Winter’s Night

A Winter’s night:
And the chill pervades
The dark, dank air
And knocks insistently
On my frosty window.

The moon descends
And kisses the diamond stars goodbye,
While bare branches shake off
Little pieces of loneliness –
Ice, falling down on frozen earth.

My heart still beats,
And each muscle contraction
Reminds my frigid body
That it must keep on living
Though hope is long lost.

A Winter’s night:
Time grinding to a halt,
As tremulous candlelight
Attempts to tear the endless darkness
But my clock finally stops…

Tuesday 7 July 2015


“Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.” - D. H.Lawrence

The pre-Roman ancient Greek calendar comprised 12 lunar months, lasting for 29 and 30 days alternately.  The Greeks were aware of the discrepancy between the lunar year and the solar year and made allowances for this through leap years, correcting the inconsistency.  The megas eniautos, or “great year” was a cycle lasting eight years of twelve months each into which were fitted an additional three months of 30 days to bring the lunar and solar years back into concord.  This practice of calculating time spread from the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi to all parts of Greece.  The Greeks regarded the sun-god Apollo as the timekeeper of the gods, this being the reason why many months’ names honoured the festivals of Apollo or of his twin sister, the moon-goddess Artemis.

The Greek lunar year began in summer, with Hecatombaeón, the month in which the great festival of Athens, the Panathenaea, was celebrated.  Other Greek city-states celebrated the main protector deity of their city in the first month of their year.  The names of the months varied accordingly in each city-state, as they commemorated festivals of particular local importance.  There are approximately 300 recorded names of pre-Roman ancient Greek months.  Ionians, Aeolians and Dorians had many names of months in common and this has been of importance in dating certain pan-Hellenic events in antiquity. The best record of the ancient Greek calendar and its festivals is that of the Athens and Attica.
The Olympic Games and the Great Panathenaea, both of which had pan-Hellenic significance, occurred every four years, which was half the great year.  The importance of the Olympics led to certain events being remembered in the context of the “so-and-so Olympiad”, which also had the advantage of being of pan-Hellenic time-keeping relevance and was therefore independent of regional calendrical differences.  The ancient Greek months of the Attic year are given in the table below, where they are correlated with the months of the Gregorian year.

When the Romans conquered Greece they imposed the Julian calendar on the Greeks.  The Greek calendar was still used, however, to calculate the occurrence of local religious festivals.  The Julian Calendar completely ousted the Greek calendar in Hellenistic times.  In Byzantine times the ancient Greek calendar was entirely forgotten and the Julian calendar became entrenched because of the continuing ties with Rome and the Christian tradition.

The photo above is “Apollo served by the Nymphs” by François Girardon (March 17, 1628 – September 1, 1715).

Monday 6 July 2015


“The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination.” - Richard Wright

Today, I’m reviewing a movie I didn’t finish seeing. The reason being, I’d had enough of it midway through and felt I had something better to do with my time. It was the Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla” starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, and Bryan Cranston. The disastrous script was the work of Max Borenstein (screenplay) and Dave Callaham (story).

When I was young I remember seeing the original Japanese Godzilla movies (e.g. “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” of 1956) and being extremely impressed with it, as bad as it was… It had plot, action, suspense, a great villain and gave warning about mankind’s destruction of the planet. As well as that it was a fantastic movie in terms of death, devastation and destruction, all appealing to my youthful self of 13 years…

There have been a huge number of sequels and remakes of Godzilla, many (if not most of them) mediocre to very bad. Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and Maria Pitillo was tolerable, especially when one compares it to the Edwards’ 2014 version.

The latest Godzilla offering is quite terrible. The plot has holes big enough for Godzilla to crawl through, the acting is wooden, the action leaving a lot to be desired for, and generally a movie that one digest. Considering this was a film that cost $160 million, one could imagine that better care would have been taken with fundamentals – the script, for example?

Sunday 5 July 2015


“Originality depends only on the character of the drawing and the vision peculiar to each artist.” - Georges Seurat

John [Arthur Malcolm] Aldridge (26 July 1905 – 3 May 1983) was an accomplished oil painter, skilled draftsman, wallpaper designer, and esteemed art teacher in the United Kingdom. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) in 1954 and a Royal Academician (RA) in 1963.

Born in Woolwich, England, Aldridge grew up in a comparatively wealthy military family. After attending Uppingham School in Rutland, Aldridge studied ‘Greats’ at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University and graduated in 1928 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After finishing university, Aldridge settled in London, taught himself to paint and held his first mixed exhibition in 1931.

From 1928 to 1933 he lived in London, making frequent visits to Holland, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. In 1933 he moved to Essex, settling in Great Barfield. At the time he was one of a group of artists including Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden who found inspiration in the Essex countryside. They later collected together an exhibition of their own pictures, which toured the villages of Essex.

His first one-man show was at the Leicester Galleries, London in 1933, he later exhibited with the Seven and Five Society alongside artists such as Ben Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, David Jones and John Piper. Although he never went to art school, Aldridge became a remarkable and valued part-time teacher at the Slade School of Fine Art.

Besides painting in oils, Aldridge designed textiles and wallpapers, and illustrated books. His pictures are built up out of the commonplace ingredients that any observant person could have found in the villages and fields and back gardens of Essex. Aldridge proved again, what so many artists have proved before him, that subject matter is no more than a starting point for adventure.

Aldridge’s art work is with the British Council and in the London collections of the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Royal Academy. The major holding of Aldridge’s work is in the North West Essex Collection of the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex. In 1999, the Fry Art Gallery presented a show of his oils and in 2000 an exhibition of his drawings and prints. An exhibition of his landscape oils and other works from across his career was held at the Fry from 7 September to 27 October 2013.

The painting above is “Autumn” (1946) and shows Aldridge’s style well. Fine composition, a good sense of space, carefully applied colour, which can sometimes be surprising brilliant, or studiously understated and muted. There is a good underlying draughtsmanship and a well-rounded pleasing whole that invites the viewer into the work.