Saturday 4 November 2017


“What’s the definition of a minor second? Two violists playing in unison.” – Viola Jokes Compendium 

Johann Baptist Wanhal (May 12, 1739 – August 20, 1813), also spelled Waṅhal (the spelling the composer himself and at least one of his publishers used), Wanhall, Vanhal and Van Hall (the modern Czech form Jan Křtitel Vaňhal was introduced in the 20th century), was an important Czech classical music composer. He was born in Nechanice, Bohemia, and died in Vienna.

Wanhal was born in Nechanice, Bohemia, into serfdom in a Czech peasant family. He received his first musical training from his family and local musicians, excelling at the violin and organ from an early age. From these humble beginnings he was able to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster. He was also taught German from an early age, as this was required for someone wishing to make a career in music within the Habsburg empire.

By the age of 21 Wanhal must have been well under way to become a skilled performer and composer, as his patron, the Countess Schaffgotsch, took him to Vienna as part of her personal train in 1760. There he quickly established himself as a teacher of singing, violin and piano to the high nobility, and he was invited to conduct his symphonies for illustrious patrons such as the Erdődy families and Baron Isaac von Riesch of Dresden. During the years 1762-63, he is supposed to have been the student of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, even though they were born the same year. Baron Riesch sponsored a trip to Italy in 1769, so that Wanhal could learn the Italian style of composition, which was very much in fashion. To return the favour, Wanhal was supposed to become Riesch’s Kapellmeister.

The details of Wanhal’s journey to Italy are scant, but it is known that he met his fellow Bohemians Gluck and Florian Gassmann in Venice and Rome respectively. The Italian journeys present the only knowledge we have of Wanhal writing operas: He is supposed either to have written operas over the Metastasian operas "Il Trionfo di Clelia" and "Demofonte", either by himself, or as a cooperation with Gassmann, where Wanhal supplied some or all of the arias; these works have been lost. In additions to his documented travels in northern and central Italy, Wanhal was supposed to travel to Naples – arguably the most important centre of music in Italy at the time – but never seems to have gotten there.

After his journey to Italy, Wanhal returned to Vienna rather than to go to Riesch in Dresden. Claims have been made that Wanhal became heavily depressed or even insane, but these claims are likely to have been overstated. During this period he is supposed to occasionally have worked as a de facto Kapellmeister for Count Erdődy in Varaždin, although the small amount of compositions by him remaining there suggests that this was not the full-time employment that would have been expected from Riesch, which may have been why he preferred it. There is no evidence of visits after 1779.

Around 1780, Wanhal stopped writing symphonies and string quartets, focusing instead on music for piano and small-scale chamber ensembles, and Masses and other church music. The former, written for a growing middle class, supplied him with the means to live a modest, economically independent life; for the last 30 years of his life he did not work under any patron, probably being the first Viennese composer to do so.

During these years, more than 270 of his works were published by Viennese composers. In the beginning of the period he was still an active participant in Viennese musical life, as is witnessed in Michael Kelly’s legendary account of the string quartet Wanhal played in together with Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf in 1784. After 1787 or so, however, he seems to have ceased performing in public, but he nevertheless was economically secure, living in good quarters near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He died in 1813, an elderly composer whose music was still recognised by the Viennese public.

Wanhal had to be a prolific writer to meet the demands made upon him, and attributed to him are 100 quartets, at least 73 symphonies, 95 sacred works, and a large number of instrumental and vocal works. The symphonies, in particular, have been committed increasingly often to compact disc in recent times, and the best of them are comparable with many of Haydn’s. Many of Wanhal’s symphonies are in minor keys and are considered highly influential to the “Sturm und Drang” movement of his time.

Wanhal makes use of repeated semiquavers, pounding quavers in the bass line, wide skips in the themes, sudden pauses (fermatas), silences, exaggerated dynamic marks ... and all these features ... appear in Mozart’s first large-scale Sturm und Drang symphony, no. 25 in g minor (K. 183) of 1773. This kind of style also appears in Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 83 in g minor, "The Hen" (1785), and Muzio Clementi’s Sonata in G minor, Op.34, No.2 (circa 1795).

Here is Wanhal’s Viola Concerto in C major performed by the Suk Chamber Orchestra with Joseph Suk playing the solo viola. This concerto was written around 1763 in Vienna. Wanhal wrote several concertos for various instruments, of which two for viola have survived. Both are evidently not original compositions, but arrangements by Vanhal of some of his own works, a common practice of that time. The Viola Concerto in C major is based on Vanhal’s cello concerto in the same key.

Wednesday 1 November 2017


“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity.” - George Bernard Shaw 

The theme for this week’s Midweek Motif at Poets United is “Saints”. Here is my contribution: 

The Saint and the Sinner 

The old man built a hermitage in the desert,
For this was to be his lonely retreat,
His escape from a world gone mad.
Here he would come close to his God,
Leave all sinners behind him
In hellish City populated by devils incarnate.

He prayed day and night, fasted, sang hymns,
All for the glory of a God who expected all,
The old man’s penance genuine, his belief unshakeable.
The desert was harsh, his solitude immense,
His self-delivered punishment great
With snakes and scorpions his only companions.

The old man was proclaimed a Saint,
And his fame grew and people flocked to him,
Craving his blessing…
He sent them all away – annoyed as he was
That his eremitic ways were disturbed
And his prayers were interrupted.

The young man in the City was a sinner,
That he knew, as well as he knew the void inside him;
His shame was unfathomable, his remorse endless.
He stayed there in the thick of it, with others of his kind,
For he knew their weakness first-hand, and felt their pain
Deep in his damaged soul, which was contested by the Devil.

He fought hard, with countless temptations to vie with;
His will (almost all lost), first to be regained
And then to be made of iron – no, of tempered steel.
The belief in himself to be won in an unequal battle
With those who taunted and bullied and harassed him;
And once he believed in himself he could believe in a kind God.

The young man stayed and risked being labelled a Sinner,
As he worked with addicts and ex-cons, pimps and street-walkers,
Giving comfort to those in most need of it.
He welcomed all and shied not away from pain, disease, misfortune;
He endured harsh words and harsher beatings, sometimes,
For violence from great misery is begotten.

The old man lived to be a centenarian, a hermit to the end,
His life devoted to his jealous God who doted on his devotion.
The young man died young as the sick he tended
Gave him a disease for which no cure existed.
You tell me then, once you’ve made your mind up,
Who is the Sinner and who the Saint?

Tuesday 31 October 2017


“I have never yet heard of a murderer who was not afraid of a ghost.” - John Philpot Curran 

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel.

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest of us. Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only.

Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.
Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle (Romanian: Castelul Huniazilor or Castelul Corvinilor; Hungarian: Vajdahunyadi vár), is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara, Romania. It is one of the largest castles in Europe and figures in a top of seven wonders of Romania.

Corvin Castle was laid out in 1446, when construction began at the orders of John Hunyadi (Hungarian: Hunyadi János, Romanian: Iancu or Ioan de Hunedoara) who wanted to transform the former keep built by Charles I of Hungary. The castle was originally given to John Hunyadi’s father, Voyk (Vajk), by Sigismund, king of Hungary, as severance in 1409.

Built in a Renaissance-Gothic style and constructed over the site of an older fortification on a rock above the small Zlaști River, the castle is a large and imposing structure with tall towers, bastions, an inner courtyard, diversely coloured roofs, and myriads of windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings. The castle also features a double wall for enhanced fortification and is flanked by both rectangular and circular towers, an architectural innovation for the period’s Transylvanian architecture. Some of the towers (the Capistrano Tower, the Deserted Tower and the Drummers' Tower) were used as prisons.

The castle has 3 large areas: The Knights’ Hall, the Diet Hall and the Circular Stairway. The halls are rectangular in shape and are decorated with marble. The Diet Hall was used for ceremonies or formal receptions whilst the Knights’ Hall was used for feasts. In 1456, John Hunyadi died and work on the castle stagnated. Starting with 1458, new commissions were being undergone to construct the Matia Wing of the castle. In 1480, work was completely stopped on the castle and it was recognised as being one of the biggest and most impressive buildings in Eastern Europe.

The 16th century did not bring any improvements to the castle, but during the 17th century new additions were made, for aesthetic and military purposes. Aesthetically, the new Large Palace was built facing the town. A two level building, it hosted living chamber and a large living area. For military purposes, two new towers were constructed: The White Tower and the Artillery Tower. Also, the external yard was added, used for administration and storage. The current castle is the result of a fanciful restoration campaign undertaken after a disastrous fire and many decades of total neglect. It has been noted that modern “architects projected to it their own wistful interpretations of how a great Gothic castle should look”.

Tourists are told that the Castle was the place where Vlad III of Wallachia (commonly known as Vlad the Impaler) was held prisoner by John Hunyadi, Hungary’s military leader and regent during the King's minority, for 7 years after Vlad was deposed in 1462. Later, Vlad III entered a political alliance with John Hunyadi, although the latter was responsible for the execution of his father, Vlad II Dracul. Because of these links, the Hunedora Castle is sometimes mentioned as a source of inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula. In fact, Stoker neither knew about Vlad’s alliance with Hunyadi, nor about Hunyadi’s castle. Instead, Stoker’s own handwritten research notes confirm that the novelist imagined the Castle Dracula to be situated on an empty top in the Transylvanian Călimani Mountains near the former border with Moldavia.

In the castle yard, near the 15th-century chapel, there is a 30 meter deep well. According to legend, this was dug by three Turkish prisoners to whom liberty was promised if they reached water. After 15 years they completed the well, but their captors did not keep their promise. It is said that the inscription on a wall of the well means: “You have water, but have no soul”. Specialists, however, have translated the inscription as: “He who wrote this inscription is Hasan, who lives as slave of the giaours, in the fortress near the church”. In February 2007, Corvin Castle played host to the British paranormal television program “Most Haunted Live!” for a three-night live investigation into the spirits reported to be haunting the castle. Results were inconclusive…

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Ruby Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

Monday 30 October 2017


“Thunder makes a loud noise but it’s the quiet sky that lasts.” ― Marty Rubin

Resheph (also Rešef, Reshef; Canaanite ršp רשף; Eblaite Rašap, Egyptian ršpw) was a deity associated with plague (or a personification of plague) in the ancient Canaanite religion. The originally Eblaite and Canaanite deity was adopted into ancient Egyptian religion in the late Bronze Age during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (late 15th century BC) as a god of horses and chariots. In Biblical Hebrew, רֶשֶׁף‎ resheph is a noun interpreted as “flame, lightning” but also “burning fever, plague, pestilence”.

Ršp was an important Ugaritic deity. He had the byname of tġr špš “door-warden of the Sun”. Sacrifices to Ršp (ršp gn) were performed in gardens. Ugaritic Ršp was equated with Mesopotamian Nergal. One of Ršp’s epithets (ḥṣ) is interpreted as “arrow” and identifies Ršp as a plague god who strikes his victims with arrows as Homeric Apollo (Iliad I.42–55), and is therefore seen to be the Ugaritic equivalent of Apollo.

Resheph was adopted as an official deity in Egypt under Amenhotep II during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt as god of horses and chariots. Originally adopted into the royal cult, Resheph became a popular deity in the Twentieth Dynasty while disappearing from royal inscriptions. In this later period, Resheph often appears with Qetesh and Min. In this time, however, most his stelae are found in Deir el-Medina, a settlement of Syrian (Levantine) craftsmen. The theonym is usually written as hieroglyphic ršpw, where the final -w is added in analogy to other Egyptian divine names.

Resheph was invoked for his power to cure ordinary people’s disease. He was thought to be able to repel the ‘akha’ demon, which causes abdominal pains. He also became the approachable deity who could grant success to those praying to him. Resheph was closely associated with the native Egyptian war god, Monthu and with many other deities. He was also known as “Lord of Sky”, “Lord of Eternity”, “Lord of Heaven” or “Governor of all the Gods” and an area of the Nile valley was renamed the “Valley of Reshep”.

Sunday 29 October 2017


“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” – William Shakespeare 

Cornelis Saftleven (c. 1607 in Gorinchem – 1 June 1681 in Rotterdam) was a Dutch painter who worked in a great variety of genres. Known in particular for his rural genre scenes, his range of subjects was very wide and included portraits, farmhouse interiors, rural and beach scenes, landscapes with cattle, history paintings, scenes of Hell, allegories, satires and illustrations of proverbs.

 Cornelis Saftleven was born into a family of artists. He learned to paint from his father Herman, along with his brothers Abraham and Herman Saftleven the Younger. He lived for a time in Utrecht with his brother. After training in Rotterdam, Cornelis likely travelled to Antwerp around 1632. Rubens is known to have added figures in paintings of Saftleven before 1637. When Rubens died in 1640 there were eight Saftlevens in his collection, four of which with figures added by Rubens.

Among his earliest works are portraits and peasant interiors influenced by Adriaen Brouwer. By 1634 Cornelis was in Utrecht, where his brother Herman Saftleven the Younger was living. The brothers began painting stable interiors, a new subject in peasant genre painting. He also made a double-portrait of himself and his brother in the Two Musicians (c. 1633; Academy of Fine Arts Vienna). By 1637 Cornelis had returned to Rotterdam. In 1648 he married Catharina van der Heyden, who died in 1654. The year after her death, he married Elisabeth van der Avondt. He became dean of the guild of Saint Luke of Rotterdam in 1667. His pupils included Abraham Hondius, Ludolf de Jongh and Egbert Lievensz van der Poel.

Approximately two hundred of Saftleven’s oil paintings and five hundred of his drawings still survive. His subject matter covered various subjects, including genre works, portraits, beach scenes, and biblical and mythological themes. His images of hell as well as his satires and allegories are considered to be his most important contributions to Dutch painting. Related in motif to these hell scenes are the numerous versions of the Temptation of St Anthony. Saftleven excelled at painting animals and often portrayed animals as active characters, occasionally with a hidden allegorical role. As a draughtsman, Saftleven is best known for his black chalk drawings of single figures, usually young men, and his studies of animals, which show Roelandt Savery’s influence.

The painting above is his “Witches’ Sabbath”.