Saturday 12 September 2015


“I’ve learned to respect the whimsical.” - Michael Leunig

Jean-Philippe Rameau (25 September 1683 – 12 September 1764) was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François Couperin.

Little is known about Rameau’s early years, and it was not until the 1720s that he won fame as a major theorist of music with his “Treatise on Harmony” (1722) and also in the following years as a composer of masterpieces for the harpsichord, which circulated throughout Europe. He was almost 50 before he embarked on the operatic career on which his reputation chiefly rests today. His debut, “Hippolyte et Aricie” (1733), caused a great stir and was fiercely attacked by the supporters of Lully’s style of music for its revolutionary use of harmony.

Nevertheless, Rameau's pre-eminence in the field of French opera was soon acknowledged, and he was later attacked as an “establishment” composer by those who favoured Italian opera during the controversy known as the ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ in the 1750s. Rameau’s music had gone out of fashion by the end of the 18th century, and it was not until the 20th that serious efforts were made to revive it. Today, he enjoys renewed appreciation with performances and recordings of his music ever more frequent.

Here is his complete opera “Dardanus”, which is characterised as a ‘tragédie lyrique’ in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The French libretto was by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère. It is directed by Raphaël Pichon with the Bordeaux National Opera, in quite a sumptuous production.

The original story is loosely based on that of Dardanus of Greek mythology. However, in the opera, Dardanus is at war with King Teucer, who has promised to marry his daughter Iphise to King Anténor. Dardanus and Iphise meet, through the intervention of the magician Isménor, and fall in love. Dardanus attacks a monster ravaging Teucer’s kingdom, saving the life of Anténor who is attempting, unsuccessfully, to kill it. Teucer and Dardanus make peace, the latter marrying Iphise.

Friday 11 September 2015


“And there never was an apple, in Adam's opinion, that wasn't worth the trouble you got into for eating it.” - Neil Gaiman

An old favourite that we have when people come around for afternoon tea. It rarely fails to please everyone. Golden delicious apples tend to bake better.

Upside Down Apple Cake
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
275g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
180ml milk
2 large eggs
130 g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
thick cream, to serve

Preheat fan-forced oven to 160°C.
Melt butter in a frypan on medium heat. Cook apple for 10 minutes or until golden brown all over. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves.
Arrange apples radially in a buttered, 25 cm cake tin and set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Combine milk, eggs, caster sugar, vanilla and cardamom in another bowl; whisk until smooth. Fold into flour mixture until just combined.
Spoon mixture over apples in cake tin.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a flat plate and serve hot with cream.

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Thursday 10 September 2015


"Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence." -  Robert Fripp

If you read my blog, you already know that J.S. Bach is one of my favourite composers. There is always something new to discover in his music, even (or should I say, especially) in the pieces one has heard many times before. As well as the mathematical precision, the elegance of the logic behind each note that this master has written down and its immense musical significance in relation to the other notes around it, there is pure emotion and deep feeling that one cannot help but be involved in and moved by. The cantatas are a beautiful world to explore. Here is a famous tune from one of them.

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645)
(Wake up, the voice is calling us)
Aarnoud de Groen plays the organ of the Bethlehemkerk, The Hague. Enjoy!

Wednesday 9 September 2015


“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” - Henry Van Dyke

This week PoetsUnited is looking at “Boredom” for its midweek poetry motif. My grandfather used to say that “only boring people get bored”, and I could see his point, considering when and how he lived: Time was precious, work tasks never-ending and leisure a rare thing, with the time devoted to it short and sweet – how so to be bored? I must say that I too, have never felt bored in my life. My interests too many, my activities multitudinous and varied, my work relentless and my own leisure time carefully spent, savoured like the last single lemon candy one sucks slowly to make it last.

I read Bukowski’s poems on the Poets United site this week a couple of times. They annoyed me. He may be well regarded, he may be famous, called a master wordsmith, a brilliant writer, but his voice fails to speak to me. I read the introduction again and the theme this week seemed to hint more at writer’s block than boredom. “Boredom” as a theme flummoxed me…

I had to go back in time, think of the idle rich and come up with this, my contribution:


Madame looks at the ormolu clock,
It ticks, it’s working, yet time seems to stand still…
She feels the texture of the Sèvres fine bone china
And sips the fine, hot, blond Oolong tea –
“Je m’ennuie tellement,
que je voudrais mourir maintenant…” She thinks

She feels the fine silk of Shanghai
As it caresses her softest skin,
She touches her carefully coiffed hair, all in order,
And her silver gilt mirror reflects her beautiful face –
“Je m’ennuie, ça me tue”, She says,
“Franchement, je ne sais plus quoi faire de ma vie!”

The diamonds of her necklace sparkle,
Madame’s hands are bejewelled too, rings, bracelets…
A golden platter full of friandises, petits fours, sugar almonds,
And the latest novels lying forlorn, discarded on the fauteuil –
“Je m’ennuie comme un rat mort,
l’ennui est tellement ennuyeux…” She concludes.

And later, when her lovely head is so easily sliced off,
By the sharp and heavy blade of the efficient guillotine,
One could quite truthfully say,
Madame had surely died of boredom…

Tuesday 8 September 2015


“To sleep perchance to dream…” - William Shakespeare, “Hamlet”

“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;”

'Mortal coil' is a poetic term that means the troubles of daily life and the strife and suffering of the world. It is used in the sense of a burden to be carried or abandoned, most famously in the phrase “shuffled off this mortal coil” from “Hamlet”. Apropos, I feature the eighties British pop group “This Mortal Coil”

The track “Song to the Siren”, originally written by Tim Buckley, is sung by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins; it was released as a single and brought the “It’ll End in Tears” (1984) album to prominence. The music is considered Goth, as the songs have been described as haunting and harrowing, yet ultimately uplifting or even timeless.

Song to the Siren

On the floating, shipless, oceans
I did all my best to smile
Till your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving into your eyes.
And you sang
"Sail to me, sail to me,
Let me enfold you.
"Here I am, here I am
waiting to hold you.
Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you here when I was full sail?
Now my foolish boat is leaning,
Broken lovelorn on your rocks.
For you sang
"Touch me not, touch me not,
Come back tomorrow."
Oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow.
I'm as puzzled as a newborn child.
I'm as riddled as the tide.
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Or shall I lie with death my bride?
Hear me sing:
"Swim to me, swim to me,
Let me enfold you.
"Here I am, Here I am, waiting to hold you."

Monday 7 September 2015


“We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.” - BenjaminDisraeli

We watched a quirky, fun film the other day, which we enjoyed quite a lot. It was Luc Besson’s 2005 comedy/fantasy “Angel-A” starring Rie Rasmussen, Jamel Debbouze and Gilbert Melki. Luc Besson also wrote the screenplay, and it seems to have been a labour of love. Although not entirely original, the plot works and hinges on redemption and personal growth of the protagonist to make it appealing for the viewer.

The plot has as follows: André (Jamel Debbouze) is a small-time ex-convict who seems to owe money to everyone in Paris, including a crime boss who threatens to kill him if he doesn’t repay him by midnight. After failing to find protection from the American embassy and the French police, a despairing André scrambles onto a bridge over the Seine, intending to leap to his death. He is surprised to see a tall, beautiful girl (Rie Rasmussen) clinging to a rail on the same bridge, apparently preparing to end her life as well. She jumps, and he jumps too, suddenly resolving to save her life. After scrambling ashore, she tells him her name is Angel-A. Together, they take a cruise on the Seine, repay André’s creditors, visit a Parisian nightspot, and more, as Angel-A helps André. He learns that for this purpose she has fallen out of the sky and into his life. André finds himself falling in love with this mysterious beauty…

We enjoyed in particular the atmospheric black and white-photography by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, who also worked on Besson’s previous films. Autumnal Paris, is beautifully shot with external shots showing well-balanced lighting. Many famous Paris sights make an appearance and one can take it all in, enjoying the sights as well. The lead actors are perfectly cast for their roles and play with verve and gusto. There is a great deal of chemistry between the gangly Angel-A and the ratso André and one can tell that these actors had a great deal of fun while making the movie.

The plot device of angels coming to earth to help humans is not a new one. However, Angel-A is a strange angel, who appears to be quite earthy and not unwilling to gets her hands dirty in order to help her charge. The way that she makes money in order to get André debt-free is quite unangel-like to say the least. There is a lot of clever, funny repartee between André and Angel-A, and no car chases and explosions as one has seen in other Besson films.

The film can be seen as an instruction manual on cognitive therapy, which has a goal to transform distorted thinking. Angel-A is André’s therapist, giving him reasons to love himself, and teaching him techniques to change the way he thinks or speaks of himself. She teaches him to love himself and thus allowing himself to love others too.

Sunday 6 September 2015


“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Sigmund Freud

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682) was the youngest of fourteen children of a Sevillian barber, Gaspar Esteban, and his wife Maria Peres. In 1627, his father died, a year later he lost his mother. Murillo’s elder sisters and brothers were already grown up and could take care of themselves, while the 10 year old Bartolomé was adopted into the family of his aunt, married to a wealthy Sevillian doctor. Murillo was apprenticed early to a painter Juan del Castillo (1584-1640).

When, in 1639, Castillo left Seville for Cadiz, Murillo did not enter any workshop of a known artist, as it was the traditional way of all the beginners, but preferred to stay independent. It is said that to gain a living Murillo started to make sargas - cheap paintings on rough canvas sold at country fairs, and shipped to America by traders. Obviously his paintings appealed to the taste of the public, besides they revealed a certain talent of the young man. That was why the Franciscan monastery in Seville commissioned this unknown artist with a cycle of 11 paintings with scenes from the lives of Franciscan saints, which, after their execution, brought Murillo fame.

The artist dated his works very seldom. The first dated canvas belongs to the cycle for the Franciscan Monastery: One of the paintings is dated 1646, thus the whole series is usually dated 1645-46. But some art historians consider that the work took a longer period, of approximately 1642-1646. The canvases of the cycle are executed in different styles; thus some art historians consider that Cuisine of Angels (Miracle of St. Diego de Alcada) was inspired by Rivera; Death of St. Clara was influenced by van Dyck; and Velazquez had an effect on St. Diego Giving Charity. Even if it is really so, no wonder, the young artist was studying, during this long work his own style of soft forms and warm colours was being formed.

At some point in his life, probably in the late 1640s, Murillo is believed to have visited Madrid. In any case, after 1650 his style changed, which might be the result of his meeting with Velazquez and studying of the works of Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyck in the royal collections in Madrid. On February 26, 1645 Murillo married Beatrice Sotomajor-i-Cabrera; soon their first daughter, named Maria, was born (died 1650).

In 1647-1654 the artist painted a lot of ‘Madonnas’, small in size, the canvases were aimed for home altars: Madonna of the Rosary, Madonna and Child. Already in his early religious paintings for the Franciscans Murillo widely used the genre scenes, which soon became a separate subject in his works: The Beggar Boy (1650), Grape and Melon Eaters. (c.1650), The Little Fruit Seller. (c.1670-1675) etc. Today considered somewhat sentimental, his genre scenes nevertheless represent a new way of perception. Murillo’s ‘children’, as well as his ‘Madonnas’, very soon became popular not only in Spain. Thanks to them he was the first Spanish painter to achieve widespread European fame. To the 1650s, also belong many of his portraits. Unfortunately, we do not know anything about the depicted people, even when they are identified, and we know their names.

With fame and multiple commissions the financial position of the artist became secured. It is known that in 1657 Murillo invested big money in a trade company in the New World, he bought slaves for his household. In 1662, he was admitted to several religious organizations of Seville. These organizations reminded in their structure and activities the later mason loges. Murillo also took an active part in the social life of his city. Thus he was one of the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts in Seville, which was opened in 1660, with Murillo as its first president.

In January 1664, Murillo buried his wife. Though 20 years of his life were still ahead, and during these 20 years he would painted 2/3 of all his known works, Murillo would never fully recover from this blow. During 1664, he could not work, at the end of the year he moved with all his surviving children (Jose Esteban, aged 14, Francisca Maria, aged 9, Gabriel, aged 8, Gaspar Esteban, aged 2, and infant Maria) into the Convent of Capuchins. From 1665 to 1682, he painted many of his major religious works, such as those for the Santa Maria la Blanca (1665), of the Caridad Hospital (1670-74), of the Capuchins (1676), of the Venerables Sacerdotes (1678), of the Augustinians (1680), and, lastly, of the Cadiz Capuchins, together with a large number of pictures made at different times for the Cathedral of Seville or other churches and many devotional works for private individuals.

It was said that the artist died in poverty. This is contradicted by the fact of the many commissions he had had; more close to the truth is the version that he gave away his money as charitable contributions to the religious organizations of which he was the member. The story about Murillo’s death sounds a little apocryphal: Murrilo had accepted a commission from the Capuchin church in Cadiz. For the first time in his life he went to decorate a church in another city. While working on the Marriage of St. Catherine (1682) Murillo fell from the scaffold, he was brought back to his native Seville in critical condition, where he soon died, on April 13, 1682. After his death he left very modest private property, but many pupils and innumerable followers. His works influenced later Spanish painting and anticipated 18th-century European Rococo painting.

Above is his painting “Return of the Prodigal Son” 1667-70 (Oil on canvas, 236 x 262 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington). The Prodigal Son, also known as the Lost Son, is one of the best-known parables of Jesus. It appears only in the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Bible. By tradition, it is usually read on the third Sunday of Lent.

The parable relates the story of a father who has two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance before the father dies, and the father agrees. The younger son, after wasting his fortune (the word ‘prodigal’ means ‘wastefully extravagant’), goes hungry during a famine, and becomes so destitute he longs to eat the same food given to hogs, unclean animals in Jewish culture. He then returns home with the intention of repenting and begging his father to be one of his hired servants, expecting his relationship with his father is likely severed. Regardless, the father finds him on the road and immediately welcomes him back as his son and holds a feast to celebrate his return, which includes killing a fattened calf usually reserved for special occasions. The older son refuses to participate, stating that in all the time he has worked for the father, he never disobeyed him; yet, he did not even receive a goat to celebrate with his friends. The father reminds the older son that the son has always been with him and everything the father has is the older son’s (his inheritance). But, they should still celebrate the return of the younger son because he was lost and is now found.

The father of the parable is an illustration of the Heavenly Father. God waits patiently, with loving compassion to restore us when we return to him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom, restoring full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn’t dwell on our past waywardness, provided our repentance is genuine.

Happy Father’s Day!