Saturday 3 October 2015


“Music is the best means we have of digesting time.” - W. H. Auden

Franz Xaver Hammer (1741 – 11 October 1817) was a German gambist, cellist and composer. Hammer was born in Oettingen in Bayern. He is another of the composers that have become obscure even if during his lifetime he enjoyed prestige and renown.

There is an anecdote that Hammer started his career at the Esterháza estate, where no less a personage than Haydn himself helped him out of a jam when he gouged out an oboist's eye, supposedly unintentionally, in a tavern brawl. From 1771 to 1778, he worked under Joseph Haydn as cellist of the Esterhazy court ensemble in Eisenstadt and at the Eszterháza palace. It is thought that Haydn composed three cello concertos for him. His salary rose (from his already high 100 ducats and 30 kreuzers) a few times suggesting his extraordinary qualities as an instrumentalist.

At the premiere of Haydn's oratorio “Il Ritorno di Tobia”, Hammer played his own cello concerto. During 1776–1813, he was member of the Viennese musicians’ society. From his works have survived sonatas for viola da gamba, viola d’amore and violoncello with basso continuo and also manuscript collections of instructive pieces and solo concertos for violoncello or viola da gamba and orchestra.

Here are five viola da gamba sonatas as well as one by another late gambist, Carl Friedrich Abel. They are played by Simone Eckert (viola da gamba); Dorothee Palm (violoncello); Ulrich Wedemeier (theorbo) and Karl-Ernst Went (harpsichord and pianoforte).

Some of the movements are distinctly old-fashioned in style, raising the question of how and to what extent the instrument for which they were written forced them in that direction. Hammer was clearly capable of writing natural, Classical-style vocal-oriented melody. These pieces are accompanied sonatas, but the nature of the accompanying group is not always clear; two of the works are simply marked “basso”, which is itself an old-fashioned concept. The performers of the Hamburger Ratsmusik opt for a variety of solutions, using both harpsichord and fortepiano, as well cello and theorbo. This is a good option as it points up the odd mixture of musical thinking present in these works.

Friday 2 October 2015


“Let the stoics say what they please, we do not eat for the good of living, but because the meat is savory and the appetite is keen.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When entertaining we often make this savoury brioche, which can be served at lunch, teatime or even as part of dinner. If prepared well, it is light, tasty and morish.

500 g of plain flour (sifted)
2-3 tablespoons extra flour (for kneading)
35 g of sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
60 g butter (melted)
2 tbsp oil
180 mL warm milk
7 g dry active yeast
200 g of ham (diced)
150 g tasty cheese (grated)
Chopped chives
Ground pepper
Ground nutmeg
Pinch of paprika

Put the warm milk in a mixing bowl and add a teaspoonful of the sugar, a pinch of salt and the yeast. Mix well to dissolve the yeast and add two tablespoonfuls of flour, mixing well to make a gruel. Leave aside in a warm place to rise (10-15 minutes).
In a large bowl, sift the flour, add the sugar, salt and spices and mix well. Reserve one egg yolk and beat the remaining eggs, adding the oil and butter. Pour the egg/butter mixture into the flour and add the risen yeast gruel and the chives.
Knead the dough until it becomes light and elastic. Leave to rise in a warm place, until it is doubled in bulk (about 60-90 minutes).
Once risen, punch down and knead on a floured board. Open dough into a rectangle 40 x 30 cm, about 1 cm thick. Sprinkle the ham and cheese onto the surface of the dough and roll lengthwise, quite tightly.
Twist and fold to shape into a ring-shaped couronne and place in a baking tray (you may make two smaller ones, if desired). Allow to rise again until double in bulk.
Preheat oven to 180˚C. Mix the egg yolk with 2 tsp milk and brush the surface of the ring well. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

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Wednesday 30 September 2015


“Science and technology revolutionise our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” - Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr

Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to shed light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilisation, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

Greek mythology is known explicitly from a large collection of narratives, and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as vase-paintings and votive gifts. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world, and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition; today the Greek myths are known primarily from Greek literature.

The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer’s epic poems “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, focus on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Two poems by Homer’s near contemporary Hesiod, the “Theogony” and the “Works and Days”, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.

Today, a myth about the Greek goddess Eos, whom the Romans later called Aurora. Eos, the goddess of Dawn, was the sister of Helios, the sun god, whose advent she always announced. Like Helios, she too had her own chariot, which she drove across the vast horizon both morning and night, before and after the sun-god. Hence she is not merely the personification of the rosy morning, but also of the evening twilight, for which reason her palace is placed in the west, on the island of Ææa.

The palace of Eos was said to be a magnificent structure, surrounded by flowery fields and velvety lawns, where nymphs and other immortal beings, danced, whilst the music of a sweetly-tuned melody accompanied their graceful movements. Eos is described by the poets as a beautiful maiden with rosy arms and fingers, and large wings, whose plumage is of an ever-changing hue; she bears a star on her forehead, and a torch in her hand. Wrapping round her the rich folds of her violet-tinged mantle, she leaves her bed before the break of day, and herself yokes her two horses, Lampetus and Phaethon, to her glorious chariot. She then hastens with active cheerfulness to open the gates of heaven, in order to herald the approach of her brother, Helios, the god of day, whilst the tender plants and flowers, revived by the morning dew, lift their heads to welcome her as she passes.

Eos first married the Titan Astræus, and their children were Heosphorus (Hesperus), the morning (evening) star, and the Anemoi (winds). There was Boreas, the North wind; Zephyros, the West wind; Notos, the South wind; Euros, the East wind; Kaikias, the Northeast wind; Apeliotes the Southeast wind; Skiron, the Northwest wind; and Lips, the Southwest wind.

She afterwards became united to Tithonus, son of Laomedon, king of Troy, who had won her affection by his unrivalled beauty; and Eos, unhappy at the thought of their being ever separated by death, obtained for him from Zeus the gift of immortality, forgetting, however, to add to it that of eternal youth. The consequence was that when, in the course of time, Tithonus grew old and decrepit, and lost all the beauty which had won her admiration, Eos became disgusted with his infirmities, and at last shut him up in a chamber, where soon little else was left of him but his voice, which had now sunk into a weak, feeble quaver.

According to some of the later poets, he became so weary of his cheerless and miserable existence, that he entreated here to be allowed to die. This was, however, impossible; but Eos, pitying his unhappy condition, exerted her divine power, and changed him into a grasshopper, which is, as it were, all voice, and whose monotonous, ceaseless chirpings may not inaptly be compared to the meaningless babble of extreme old age.

The painting above is by Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée (1724-1805) “Aurora’s Take Off”. Eos is ready to mount her chariot and scatter pink roses on the horizon. The elderly Tithonus looks longingly at her, while on the left Nyx (night) takes her leave as day breaks.


“The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” - Hubert H. Humphrey

The theme for this week’s Poets United poetical challenge is “Healing”. To heal is the desired outcome of much treatment, but often nowadays modern medicine is cure-focussed and the patient may suffer much during the attempts at the restoration of health. I remember when at University and later in hospitals, we were told that “to care is the primary objective of the healer, to cure a secondary one.” This I think is often forgotten in modern medicine, which seeks magic bullets, efficacious remedies, wonderful cure-alls and powerful panaceas that cure all ills. Such fantastic treatments may have dire side-effects and often the cure they bring about may exact a terrible price on the patient’s health – one disease cured, but its place taken by another, caused by the medication…

Sterile Moonlight

The moon tonight, stronger than absinthe,
Sharper than broken glass,
Softer than mossy ground;
More powerful an aphrodisiac than ripe figs,
Intoxicating, like new wine,
More tantalising than wild strawberries.

The moon at midnight both a lover and a rapist,
A tender paramour and a loathsome abuser,
Caresses, titillates, empowers – cuts, lashes, lacerates;
Engages more violently than a barbaric conqueror,
Touches more tenderly than a mother’s kiss,
Feels and strikes, wounds and heals concurrently.

The moon last night, an elixir of paramount efficacy,
Honey and poison mingled into a potent potion, a panacea –
It cures, it kills, and saps my spirit.
Fertile, like a newly rained-upon ploughed field,
My body gathers moonbeams to weave into cloth
Covering my fecund, protuberant belly.

The moon some night watches the agony of my birth pangs,
It gently assists like an experienced midwife,
The joy of motherhood a remedy exquisite.
Mooncloth of moonbeam woven, turns from raiment into shroud:
My newborn snatched by the moon’s fury,
And in its place, a lifeless changeling by my side.

Tuesday 29 September 2015


“I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is; I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.” - William Faulkner

Inspiration is a curious thing. The artist ever in search of it, may find it in the most unusual place, or it may be frustratingly elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp. Any writer can recount many an occasion when the ominous shadow of “writer’s block” has darkened his existence. How many authors lose their ability to produce new work or experience a creative slowdown! The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a well documented problem.

On the other hand, how many great works of art have been inspired by the most unusual muses! How many great works of literature have begun in strange circumstances… How many poems written after quite adverse life experiences? But then again, how many works of art or poems have been created out of nothing?

Today, I am sharing with you such a curious thing. It is a poem of the Middle Ages by Guillaume IX, Duke of Aquitaine and VII Count of Poitiers (yes, the grandfather of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine).  He is the first troubadour that we know by name. His songs are typically ribald, full of puns and jests, but his verses display the deeply artistic and eloquent art of later troubadours. His granddaughter, Eleanor, was the one and only heir to the wealth and the vast lands of Aquitaine.

Guillaume’s “Ferai un vers de dreit nïen” is an interesting poem about “nothing”, but in fact it is about everything… It proves that inspiration can come from nothing and result in a poem that is meaningful and filled with the poet’s existential questionings.

The Song About Nothing

Here’s a song about absolutely nothing:
It’s not about me,
It’s not about anyone else;
It’s not about love.
Not about being young,
Not about anything else either.

It came to me while I was asleep,
Riding along on a horse.
I don't know exactly when I was born.
I’m not happy,
I’m not angry.
I’m not a stranger here,
Yet I don't belong here.

I can’t help being like this,
I was made like it by a fairy upon a mountaintop.
I don't know if I’m asleep or awake
Unless someone tells me.
My heart’s almost broken,
It’s so sad…
And all this doesn’t matter a mouse to me
I swear it by St Masha.

I love someone – I don’t know who she is
Because I’ve never seen her;
She hasn’t done anything to please me or upset me,
And I don’t care.
I’ve never seen her, but I love her truly.
She is not yet done what she should to me, or what she shouldn’t.
When I don’t see her, then I’m happy.
She’s not worth a cock to me
Because I know someone who’s gentler and prettier,
And richer as well…

I don’t know where she lives,
Whether up in the hilltop or down in the fields.
I daren’t tell you the wrongs she does me,
It hurts me too much
And it hurts me to stay here,
So I’m leaving!

I’ve made the poem, I don’t know what’s it about
I’m going to send it to someone
Who’ll send it with someone else,
To someone over in Anjou:
Perhaps he’ll be able to send me the key from his little box
To unravel this riddle.

(22 October 1071 – 11 February 1127)

Monday 28 September 2015


“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” ― Thomas Mann

We watched an old movie the other day and enjoyed it quite a lot as it was a tense psychological thriller with two sterling performances. It was the 1990 Rob Reiner movie “Misery” starring James Caan, Kathy Bates and Richard Farnsworth. William Goldman wrote the screenplay, based on a Stephen King novel. Although Stephen King often writes novels on supernatural themes, this one is a believable, “real-life” scenario, which is quite entertaining and keeping the reader/viewer guessing as to what is going to happen next.

The plot revolves around author Paul Sheldon (Caan), who has made his fame by writing best sellers, especially his series of novels called “Misery”. The books are about a woman in the old days who goes through difficult times and shares her pain and strength with the readers. When Sheldon finishes his last “Misery” book, he decides to celebrate and heads back home for his daughter’s birthday. On the way there a terrible blizzard cause him to have a nasty car accident, from which he is saved by Annie (Bates). He wakes up in a bedroom with his legs badly broken, but hears a soft, charming voice reassuring him: “You're going to be just fine. I’m your number one fan!”.

Annie tells Sheldon she is a nurse and she will look after him until the storm abates and an ambulance can come for him. Annie is the perfect nurse until she reads Sheldon’s last “Misery” book, which infuriates her as she finds out that he’s killing off Misery and continuing onto new, more dramatic stories. She forces the author to write a new “Misery” book where the heroine is resurrected. Sheldon finds he now has to satisfy every whim of his captor if he is to stay alive. It becomes apparent that Annie is quite paranoid and he tries to escape. However, Annie seems to be a step ahead of him every time…

Rob Reiner directs this film at a brisk and taut pace, with tension and jim-jams kept at a high level throughout, making it an excellent thriller. Reiner also directed another Stephen King novel made into an excellent movie, “Stand by Me” (1986) so this was a good follow-up.

What makes the movie are the stellar performances, especially the one by Kathy Bates as the paranoid Annie. She won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in “Misery” at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991. And a very well-deserved win it was too! This must really be one of her finest performances, displaying her acting talents to perfection and giving a performance with the nuances of a very complex character. James Caan work well with Bates and manages to be convincing as the powerless injured author at the mercy of his captor.

The film contains some really nightmarish scenes and can shock some sensitive viewers because of the violence it depicts, but even in the most horrible such scene, we found ourselves chuckling as there is humour there as well. Nevertheless, be warned if your liver is tinged lily-white. Great film to watch with a big tub of popcorn!

Sunday 27 September 2015


“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” - Doug Larson

Naïve artists can often reach a tender place in the viewer’s heart that other artists fail to do so spectacularly. And it is not always a wave of cheap sentimentality that their art evokes. The feeling can be genuine, deep, spiritual and complex. Henri Rousseau’s art often does that for me and I can lose myself in one of his paintings, especially since I saw some of them with my own eyes when I was visiting France many years ago.

Folk art is another example of such art that is created by ordinary people and whose simple function is to beautify everyday objects or adorn an otherwise simple home. The folk artist can be extremely talented and some examples of folk art are exquisite and not necessarily naïve nor simple. The artist for today’s Art Sunday is such an artist whose paintings are both beautiful and can also evoke an immediate emotional response from many viewers.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961), known by her nickname Grandma Moses, was a renowned American folk artist. Having begun painting in earnest at the age of 78, she is often cited as an example of an individual successfully beginning a career in the arts at an advanced age. Her works have been shown and sold in the United States and abroad and have been marketed on greeting cards and other merchandise.

Moses’ paintings are among the collections of many museums. The “Sugaring Off” canvas (shown above) was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006. Moses has appeared on magazine covers, television, and in a documentary of her life. She wrote an autobiography of her life, won numerous awards and was awarded two honorary doctoral degrees. The New York Times said of her: “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed homely farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter's first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring... In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.”

Starting at 12 years of age and for a total of 15 years, she was a live-in housekeeper. One of the families that she worked for, who noticed her appreciation for their prints made by Currier and Ives, supplied her with art materials to create drawings. Moses and her husband began their married life in Virginia, where they worked on farms. In 1905 they returned to the Northeastern United States and settled in Eagle Bridge, New York. The couple had five children who survived infancy. Her interest in art was expressed throughout her life, including embroidery of pictures with yarn, until arthritis made this pursuit too painful.

Moses painted scenes of rural life from earlier days, which she called “old-timey” New England landscapes. Moses said that she would: “Get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live.” She omitted features of modern life, like tractors and telephone poles, from her works of art.

Her early style is less individual and more realistic or primitive, despite her lack of knowledge of, or perhaps rejection of, basic perspective. Initially she created simple compositions or copied existing images. As her career advanced she created complicated, panoramic compositions of rural life. She was a prolific painter, generating over 1,500 canvasses in three decades. Initially Moses charged $3 to $5 for a painting, depending upon its size, and as her fame increased her works were sold for $8,000 to $10,000.

Her winter paintings are reminiscent of some such of the known winter paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, although she had never seen his work. A German fan of her work said, “There emanates from her paintings a light-hearted optimism; the world she shows us is beautiful and it is good. You feel at home in all these pictures, and you know their meaning. The unrest and the neurotic insecurity of the present day make us inclined to enjoy the simple and affirmative outlook of Grandma Moses.”

Grandma Moses died on December 13, 1961 at 101 years of age in Hoosick Falls, New York at the Health Center. She is buried there at the Maple Grove Cemetery. President John F. Kennedy memorialised her: “The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.” After her death, her work was exhibited in several large travelling exhibitions in the United States and abroad.