Saturday 10 October 2015


“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” - Giuseppe Verdi

Joseph Joachim Raff (May 27, 1822 – June 24 or June 25, 1882) was a German-Swiss composer, teacher and pianist. Raff was born in Lachen in Switzerland. His father, a teacher, had fled there from Württemberg in 1810 to escape forced recruitment into the military of that southwestern German state that had to fight for Napoleon in Russia.

Joachim was largely self-taught in music, studying the subject while working as a schoolmaster in Schmerikon, Schwyz and Rapperswil. He sent some of his piano compositions to Felix Mendelssohn who recommended them to Breitkopf & Härtel for publication. They were published in 1844 and received a favourable review in Robert Schumann's journal, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which prompted Raff to go to Zürich and take up composition full-time.

In 1845, Raff walked to Basel to hear Franz Liszt play the piano. After a period in Stuttgart where he became friends with the conductor Hans von Bülow, he worked as Liszt’s assistant at Weimar from 1850 to 1853. During this time he helped Liszt in the orchestration of several of his works, claiming to have had a major part in orchestrating the symphonic poem ‘Tasso’. In 1851, Raff's opera ‘König Alfred’ was staged in Weimar, and five years later he moved to Wiesbaden where he largely devoted himself to composition.

From 1878 he was the first Director of, and a teacher at, the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. There he employed Clara Schumann and a number of other eminent musicians as teachers, and established a class specifically for female composers. (This was at a time when women composers were not taken very seriously.) His pupils there included Edward MacDowell and Alexander Ritter. He died in Frankfurt on the night of June 24/25, 1882.

The Italienische Suite (Italian Suite) for large orchestra in E minor WoO.35 is an extensive work, lasting over half an hour. It is also one of Raff’s sunniest large-scale compositions, melding his usual grateful melodies with seductive and sumptuous orchestral textures. Like Tchaikovsky and Elgar, Raff was inspired to write a work celebrating Italy by his first visit there and this portrait of the country is an eclectic mix of dance, mood pictures and character study, with a rousing general introduction setting the mood for what follows.

Raff was a major force in reintroducing the suite as a musical form and he wrote four of them for orchestra, all in five movements. Whilst the Suite No.1 was an abstract work, the other three comprise what have been called ‘Raff's travelogues’. As well as the Italian, there are the Hungarian Suite (designated No.2, but the third to be written and a very popular work in Raff’s day) and the final From Thüringia.

His daughter Helene, explained the work’s background in her biography of Raff: “The Italian Suite (in E minor, originally called ‘From the South’) was the artistic fruit of the first, even if short, thoroughly enjoyable Italian trip that Raff could allow himself. However, he locked the work in his desk, since he intended another revision”. It was finished in Autumn 1871, but went unpublished and unperformed during his lifetime.

Presumably Raff’s continued withholding of the work until death intervened, meant that he never did get around to revising it - it was eventually premiered in Berlin under Franz Wüllner’s baton on 26 November 1883 and published the next year by Ries & Erler.

The opening Overture is a rousing, if rather German, start but it is followed by a suitably languid Barcarole, a gentle Intermezzo and a highly melodic and generally contemplative Nottorno which Raff reused six years later as an intermezzo in his opera “Benedetto Marcello”. The work ends with a rumbustious Tarantelle into which Raff nonetheless manages to weave extensive use of counterpoint.

I. Overture - 00:00
II. Barcarole - 7:22
III. Intermezzo - 14:01
IV. Notturno - 18:57
V. Tarantelle - 25:15

Friday 9 October 2015


“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” - T. S. Eliot

A sweet treat for Food Friday today. This is a dessert we often have if we go out to dinner in Lygon St, Melbourne's “Little Italy”. There so many Italian restaurants there, that for one to survive it needs to be excellent. This means the food is worth eating in almost any one of them! Tiramisu is on the dessert menu of all of them!

Mascarpone Tiramisu
6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups (250g) caster sugar
300g mascarpone cheese
2 cups (500ml) thickened cream
4 packets (each approx 180g) sponge fingers
4-5 tablespoons coffee flavoured liqueur
1 teaspoon cocoa, for dusting
30g dark chocolate

Combine egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler or bowl over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whip yolks until thick and lemon coloured.
Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.
Split the sponge fingers in half and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the mascarpone filling over the sponge fingers.
Repeat sponge fingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Decorate with cocoa and chocolate curls. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To make the chocolate curls, use a vegetable peeler and run it down the edge of the chocolate.

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Thursday 8 October 2015


“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” - Leonardo daVinci

The ancient Greeks had a host of other gods and goddesses except the well-known twelve Olympian deities, whose names almost everyone knows: Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis Aphrodite, etc.  These lesser gods were not considered less important, but rather their sphere of influence was less and they had to obey the greater gods, who often directed them to do their bidding. These lesser gods were in charge of some of the natural phenomena or by their actions explained some natural occurrences that ancient people found hard to explain otherwise.

Nyx, the daughter of Chaos, being the personification of Night, was, according to the poetic ideas of the Greeks, considered to be the mother of everything mysterious and inexplicable, such as death, sleep, dreams. She became united to Erebus (representing the personification of darkness), and their children were Aether and Hemera (Air and Daylight), evidently a simile of the poets, to indicate that darkness always precedes light. Nyx inhabited a palace in the dark regions of the lower world, and is represented as a beautiful woman, seated in a chariot, drawn by two black horses. She is clothed in dark robes, wears a long veil, and is accompanied by the stars, which follow in her train.

Thanatos (Death) and his twin-brother Hypnos (Sleep) were the children of Nyx. Their dwelling was in the realm of shades, and when they appear among mortals, Thanatos is feared and hated as the enemy of mankind, whose hard heart knows no pity, whilst his brother Hypnos is universally loved and welcomed as their kindest and most beneficent friend. But though the ancients regarded Thanatos as a gloomy and mournful divinity, they did not represent him with any exterior repulsiveness. On the contrary, he appears as a beautiful youth, who holds in his hand an inverted torch, emblematical of the light of life being extinguished, whilst his disengaged arm is thrown lovingly round the shoulder of his brother Hypnos.

Hypnos is sometimes depicted standing erect with closed eyes; at others he is in a recumbent position beside his brother Thanatos, and usually bears a poppy-stalk in his hand. A most interesting description of the abode of Hypnos is given by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. He tells us how the god of Sleep dwelt in a mountain-cave near the realm of the Cimmerians, which the sun never pierced with his rays. No sound disturbed the stillness, no song of birds, not a branch moved, and no human voice broke the profound silence, which reigned everywhere. From the lowermost rocks of the cave issued the river Lethe, and one might almost have supposed that its course was arrested, were it not for the low, monotonous hum of the water, which invited slumber. The entrance was partially hidden by numberless white and red poppies, which Mother Night had gathered and planted there, and from the juice of which she extracts drowsiness, which she scatters in liquid drops all over the earth, as soon as the sun-god has sunk to rest. In the centre of the cave stands a couch of blackest ebony, with a bed of down, over which is laid a coverlet of sable hue.

On this rich couch, the god himself reposes, surrounded by innumerable forms. These are idle dreams, more numerous than the sands of the sea. Chief among them is Morpheus, that changeful god, who may assume any shape or form he pleases. Nor can the god of Sleep resist his own power; for though he may rouse himself for a while, he soon succumbs to the drowsy influences that surround him.

Morpheus, the son of Hypnos, was the god of Dreams. He is always represented winged, and appears sometimes as a youth, sometimes as an old man. In his hand he bears a cluster of poppies, and as he steps with noiseless footsteps over the earth, he gently scatters the seeds of this sleep-producing plant over the eyes of weary mortals. Homer describes the House of Dreams as having two gates: One of ivory, whence issue all deceptive and flattering visions; the other of horn, through which proceed those dreams which are fulfilled.

The names of these gods turn up in English words, whose derivation gives clues as to their origin. Euthanasia, for example, is a “good” (eu-) “death” (from thanatos), while a hypnotic drug makes you sleep. Morphine of course refers to Morpheus and the ability of sleep to assuage suffering.

The painting above is by John William Waterhouse completed in 1874 and is depicting “Sleep and his Half-brother Death”. It is Waterhouse’s first Royal Academy exhibit (submitted from his father's house at 1 Scarsdale Villas), it was painted after both his younger brothers died of tuberculosis.

Wednesday 7 October 2015


“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” - Sir Winston Churchill

Poets United this week celebrates World Teachers’ Day, held annually on October 5 since 1994. Its aim is to mobilize support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers. The challenge is to: “Bring a great teacher memory to life in a new poem. Or, if you don’t have one, use learning as your motif…”

Having been a teacher in my professional life, I can surely appreciate the benefits of good teaching when it generates deep and active learning. However, I have also seen some very bad teaching, which unfortunately can have the opposite result from what it intends to do. Education can happen in the most unexpected and delightful ways – a good teacher can facilitate this process of discovery and learning. A poor teacher shovels education into students as though they were empty vessels to be filled with facts, figures, dates and minutiae to be memorised and recalled parrot fashion. What use is to me to know how far away from the earth the moon is and what its precise diameter is, if I cannot appreciate a poem about the magic of moonlight?


When we shall meet again
Let’s close our eyes, imagining
The moon as it used to be –
Distant, mysterious, full of hidden promises.

Let us forget bitter realities
Taught to us by our experience,
Throw to the winds the empty facts,
Taught to us by our zealous, short-sighted teachers.

Once more let us believe that
All is possible, all may happen;
Let us regain that most precious of things
That we have lost – Moonlight...

Tuesday 6 October 2015


“A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” - WinstonChurchill

The Catholic faith celebrates St Bruno’s and St Faith’s Feast Day today, while the Orthodox faith celebrates St Thomas the Apostle’s Feast Day. The Anglican Church commemorates St Faith’s Feast Day and the Feast Day of the Holy William Tyndale today.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of:
Louis Philippe, king of France (1773);
Jenny Lind, soprano (1820);
Richard Dedekind, mathematician (1831);
George Westinghouse, inventor (1846);
Karol Szymanowski, composer (1882);
Martín Luis Guzmán, novelist (1887?);
Carole Lombard (Jane Alice Peters); actress (1908);
Thor Heyerdahl, anthropologist (1914);
Britt Ekland, actress (1942);
Stephanie Zimbalist, actress (1956).

A split reed, Phragmites communis, is today’s birthday plant.  It stands for folly and indiscretion.  Reeds also signify authority, frailty and instability.  In more learned circles, the reed symbolises music (Pan’s flute was made of reeds) and also literature (reed pens were commonly used before the quill).

St Faith or St Foi was a Christian virgin who was martyred for her faith by being grilled alive over a roasting fire.  In her honour faith cakes are made and these were used in Northern England to divine a girl’s future husband.  The cake was made of flour, sugar, salt and spring water by three single girls.  The cake was turned nine times, each girl turning it thrice.  It was then cut into three sectors, each girl receiving a portion.  Each of these was then cut into nine slivers and each sliver was passed thrice through a wedding ring obtained from a married woman who was married for seven years at least.  All the slivers were then consumed while the following chant was invoked:
            O good St Faith, be kind tonight
            And bring to me my heart’s delight;
            Let me my future husband view
            And be my vision chaste and true.
The girl then went straight to bed after hanging the ring from the bedhead with a string.  They would then dream without fail their future husbands.

St Faith’s Day was traditionally the day when corn sowing for the next year’s harvest was begun.  Plums, damsons and other autumn stone fruit were also gathered at this time, before the winter frosts set in.

St Thomas was one of the Twelve Apostles, and he was a Galilean by birth. His name means “twin”. The twentieth chapter of St John’s Gospel describes how, when he doubted the appearance of the Risen Lord, Christ appeared to him again, saying: “Reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” Thomas cried out: “My Lord and my God!” Through this one event the Holy Scriptures attest that Christ is risen bodily, not merely as a spirit, as some heresies claim; and that He is in fact God. After Pentecost, St Thomas proclaimed the Gospel in the East, and established the Christian faith as far as India, where the small remnant of the ancient Church still traces its foundation to him. According to some accounts he met a martyr’s end; according to others, he reposed in peace. St John Chrysostom mentions that his tomb was in Edessa in Syria; his relics may have been translated there from India in the fourth century.

Died on this day: In 1651, Heinrich Albert (47), German composer famous for his songs Arien oder Melodien; In 1762, Francesco Onofrio Manfredini (78), composer; in 1892, Alfred Lord Tennyson (83), writer and British Poet Laureate; in 1951, Will Keith Kellogg (91), American food manufacturer; in 1976, Gilbert Ryle (76), British philosopher; in 1989 Bette Davis (81), US actress.

Monday 5 October 2015


“The Sophists’ paradoxical talk pieces and their public debates were entertainment in 5th century Greece. And in that world, Socrates was an entertainer.” - David Antin

I was looking through my archive of digital photos at the weekend and came across some of Pireás (Peiraieus for the classically minded) from several years ago when we had visited Greece. Pireás is the port of Athens, 12 kilometres southwest from the centre of Athens, and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf. It has a population of just under 200,000 people and is a lively, colourful, beautiful municipality. The photos brought back some fond memories and a sense of wanderlust and nostalgia. It has been some years since I have travelled to Greece and I am certainly missing visiting the country of my birth.

Most people would be familiar with Pireás from the 1960 Jules Dassin movie “Never on Sunday”, starring Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin, Giorgos Foundas, Titos Vandis and Despo Diamantidou. This was a hit movie worldwide and established Melina Mercouri (1920–1994) as a screen legend, but also typecast her a little as an “independent woman of easy morals”…

Mercouri the now legendary Greek actress plays Illia, one of the good-time girls of the port of Pireás. Every day, Illia swims at the pier, entertaining the dockhands and attracting business. On Sundays she never works and has an open house with food, drink and song for all her friends. Homer Thrace (Dassin), an amateur philosopher from Middletown, Connecticut, arrives in Pireás to investigate why Greece has fallen from her ancient greatness. He meets Illia and immediately decides she is a symbol of that fall, so he sets out to study the reasons behind Illia’s decline and to elevate her to her ancient forebears’ greatness. If he can achieve this, he thinks, Greece can do the same and achieve another period of greatness. Unbeknownst to Illia, he gets the money for the books and all else he gives her from Mr. No Face (Alexis Solomos), the local vice boss who wants Illia retired because her independence gives other whores ideas. Whose spirit will prevail? Homer’s classical ideal or Illia’s earthy and hedonistic reality?

The film constitutes a variation of the Pygmalion plus “hooker with a heart of gold” story. The viewer is gently submerged into Greek culture of the 1960s, including dance, music, and language (through the use of subtitles). The signature song and the bouzouki theme of the movie became hits of the 1960s and brought the composer, Manos Hadjidakis, an Academy Award. It won the Academy Award for Best Song (Manos Hadjidakis for “Never on Sunday”). It was nominated for the Academy Awards for, respectively, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Melina Mercouri), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Director (Jules Dassin) and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay as Written Directly for the Screen (Dassin). Mercouri won the award for Best Actress at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival for her role in this movie.

Having seen this movie again recently, I was amazed at how much Greece has changed since 1960 when the movie was released. Even though I left Greece with my family in 1970, my memories of the place then are vivid and I can say that looking at the film I can recall much of what is depicted as what I left behind when we emigrated. Comparing that to what I saw the last we visited some years ago and what I see now on cable TV, it is definitely chalk and cheese. Some things have changed for the better, but unfortunately much more has changed for the worse. Financial woes notwithstanding, Greece has become less Greek and more foreign – “cosmopolitan” carries a positive meaning (and I would argue that Athens at the very least was very cosmopolitan in the 1970s when we left). I think Greece has become “foreign” in the sense of “globalised”, with every negative aspect of the word “globalisation” you can think of.

Watching the film made me nostalgic for the Greece of my childhood. A place where it was safe to walk the streets at all hours of the night, where neighbours knew one another and cared for each other, where one had many friends, where one could enjoy life while having little, where one’s worldly possessions may have been few, but were certainly of good quality and made locally by craftsmen who had learned their craft from their father or grandfather. Where food was fresh and tasted wonderful because it was brought to the market by the growers themselves, the very morning they had harvested it. A place where national pride was stronger than pressures of global capitalism, and the financial aspirations of the majority of the population were modest. A place where happiness was more widespread…

Much is made in the film of Illia’s sense of morality, which clashes with Homer’s ideal of morality and ethics. In that sense, I can recall my own family’s sense of pride, morality and “filótimo” (sense of honour and social justice). Some things then were never even considered, much less done, because of these cultural and ethical guidelines dictated by “filótimo”. And somehow it was a better, happier society because of that. I think that this Greek “filótimo” is one of the things that is dying a slow and painful death in Greece now, and the country is in a poorer state because of this – economic crisis or not…

Sunday 4 October 2015


“If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” - Vincent Van Gogh

John de Burgh Perceval AO (1 February 1923 – 15 October 2000) was a well-known Australian artist. Perceval was the last surviving member of a group known as the “Angry Penguins” who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included John and Sunday Reed, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Perceval was born Linwood Robert Steven South at Bruce Rock, Western Australia, the second child of Robert South (a wheat farmer) and Dorothy (née Dolton). His parents separated in 1925 and he remained at his father’s farm until reunited with his mother in Melbourne in 1935. Following the marriage of his mother to William de Burgh Perceval, he changed his name to John and adopted the surname de Burgh Perceval.

In 1938 Perceval contracted polio and was hospitalised, giving him the opportunity to further his skills at drawing and painting. Enlisting in the army in 1941 Perceval first met and befriended Arthur Boyd. After leaving the army and moving into the Boyd family home, ‘Open Country’, Murrumbeena, he married Boyd’s younger sister Mary in 1944. Together he and Mary Boyd produced four children. Perceval held his first solo exhibition at the Melbourne Book Club in 1948 and showed regularly with the Contemporary Art Society.

Between 1949 and 1955 he concentrated on producing earthenware ceramics and helped to establish the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery in Murrumbeena. Returning to painting in 1956 Perceval produced a series of images of Williamstown and Gaffney’s Creek. Moving to England in 1963 Perceval held solo exhibitions in London, and travelled to Europe, before returning to Australia in 1965 to take up the first Australian National University Creative Fellowship.

‘John Perceval’, a major retrospective exhibition, was held at Albert Hall, Canberra in 1966. Author Margaret Plant’s monograph John Perceval, was published in 1971. Suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia in 1974 Perceval committed himself to the psychiatric hospital Larundel, Melbourne, where he remained until 1981. ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings’ was held at Heide Park and Art Gallery in 1984.

Perceval was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1991, the year after the National Gallery of Victoria organised ‘John Perceval: A Retrospective’. In 2000 from 19 August to 19 October John Perceval Retrospective Exhibition was held in Galeria Aniela Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park officially opened by Chairman Sotheby’s (included 80 oil paintings and works on paper from 1946 to 1999). It was Perceval last retrospective and shown on the ABC TV Australian National News. Prior to his death ‘Scudding Swans’ (1959) sold for $552,500, a record for a living Australian painter. In March 2010, it was sold for $690,000. Perceval was survived by his four children; Matthew, Tessa, Celia and Alice, all of whom are practising artists today.

The painting above is “Ocean Beach, Sorrento”, exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria. In January 1957 John Perceval visited Portsea and Sorrento as the houseguest of Thomas and Anne Purves, the directors of Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Inspired by the rough and irregular coastline, Perceval painted a small group of works, which he showed in April that year at Australian Galleries, in a joint exhibition with his brother-in-law Arthur Boyd.

‘Ocean beach, Sorrento’, the major work from this series, depicts the rocky Victorian coastline under the dry heat of a summer’s day. Two of the Purves children are shown huddled in a recess in the rocks in the lower right-hand corner of the composition. After making his paintings of Williamstown in 1956, Perceval responded confidently to the subject of water, and in the splash and foam of waves on the shore his calligraphy beautifully matches his subject: paint has been applied frenetically – dribbled and scratched onto the surface – successfully conveying the turbulent water and rugged landscape.

The painting was purchased by Geoffrey Hillas in March 1957. Mr and Mrs Hillas were among the most noted collectors of contemporary Australian art of the period, and their collection included major works by Arthur Boyd, John Brack, John Perceval and Fred Williams.