Monday, April 26, 2010

Everything is Connected

Daniel Barenboim (born 1942 )
Just finished reading Daniel Barenboim's 'Everything is connected', (Phoenix paperback 2009) a collection of essays about music. 

I've long rated Barenboim's performances of Mozart's piano concertos as the most enjoyable and perceptive interpretation of all available recordings, though dating from the late 1960's and 70's, his recordings remain quite simply the creme de la creme. His much later recording of the Bach Preludes and Fugues known as 'The Well-tempered Klavier' is also superb, from the opening bars of the well-known Prelude in C major, at quite a fast tempo; apparently its his usage of the sustain pedal on the piano, a feature which was not available in Bach's day which makes his interpretation of the Well-tempered Klavier refined in phrasing, unlike Glenn Gould's equally revolutionary recordings of Bach on piano.

In any event, upon listening to Barenboim perform one immediately recognizes a musician of infinite sensitivity and profound perception, as well as being technically brilliant, skills acquired from a life-time's professional involvement in music as both a pianist and conductor. And perhaps its in the less common role of pianist/conductor which makes Barenboim's recordings of the Mozart piano concertos particularly fine. Just as Mozart presumably would have performed himself.

I could never articulate anything quite like the wonderful things that Barenboim (born 1942) has stated about music, except perhaps for occasional phrases such as, 'the so-called 'little g minor' symphony by Mozart (K183) is his teenage temper tantrum symphony'. I like his observations upon the laughing, golden boy of Classical music. Here's a few quotations which strike me as worth sharing.

Barenboim On Music

'What is, ultimately, perhaps the most difficult lesson for a human being - learning to live with discipline yet with passion, with freedom yet with order - is evident in any single phrase of music'.

'The availability of recordings and films of concerts and operas stands in inverse proportion to the poorness of musical knowledge and understanding prevalent in our society. The current state of public education is responsible for a population that is able to listen to almost any piece of music at will, but unable to concentrate on it fully'.

'The power of music lies in its ability to speak to all aspects of the human being - the animal, the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual. How often we think that personal, social and political issues are independent, without influencing each other. From music we learn that this is an objective impossibility; there simply are no independent elements. Logical thought and intuitive emotions must be permanently united. Music teaches us, in short, that everything is connected'.

'Music and religion share a common preoccupation with the relationship between human beings, and between man and the universe. Involvement with music requires a permanent search for a whole in spite of the infinite diversity in any particular work; in religion this has its parallel in the individual's striving for oneness with the Creator. Religion, though, is primarily concerned with man's relationship to the universe, whereas Western classical music is more interested in exploring the depth of the individual's existence and , as such, is termed secular. Both music and religion, though, grapple in essence with the paradox of the finite being's attempt to become infinite. the composer with the greatest ability to transcend this paradox was Bach, whose works, sacred as well as secular, are suffused with both piety and a deep respect for the individual'.

Barenboim On Bach

'Why did Bulow describe Das wohltemperierte Klavier as the Old Testament? What is the Old Testament? On the one hand it is the narrative of a people and its experiences. On the other it is a compilation of thoughts about life on this earth, love, ethics, morals and human qualities. Thoughts on the experience of the past provide a statement about the present and also a lesson for the future, showing thoughtful people where and how they can find their own way. That is what the Old Testament means to me, as does every masterpiece, including Das wohltemperierte Klavier . It makes a statement about everything that preceded it in music. It makes a statement about music in the time of Bach. But it also indicates the direction music might take as it develops - as indeed it has developed.....In other words Das wohltemperierte Klavier is not only the sum of everything that has preceded it, but also points the way ahead. In the history of European music there are very few composers to whose works that applies. This is one of the reasons for the towering stature of Bach's music'.

Barenboim On Mozart

'Mozart says, that nothing in life is inherently moral, immoral, amoral, unless the human being makes something moral, immoral, or amoral out of it'.

'Mozart was the first pan-European. He spoke many languages, German, Italian and French'.

'Mozart says greatness, sensuality, what else? Mozart points at us, at you and me. And has a much deeper, much broader, understanding of human nature than we can come up with today. That's what makes him so strange to us'.

'Beethoven strives towards heaven, Mozart is from heaven'.

'If there's something we can learn from Mozart today, then its not to take everything so horribly seriously'.

'Mozart just shows that feelings are fragile. I love you - but I love you as well'.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Crow Road

I recently finished reading Iain Bank's novel 'The Crow Road' (1993) and as an extra treat a friend lent me a DVD film adaption based on the novel (2004). Don't know how this one could have escaped me. I was an avid reader of all kinds of fiction from 1974-1996, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Camus, Hesse and Proust foremost amongst continentals; Dickens, Self, Faulks, etc. among the Brits.

'Crow Road' is a great yarn which works on several levels as regards the role of narrative and story-telling, blurring fact and fiction in a fog of subjective memory and recall. The protagonist young Prentice realises that strange happenings are occurring to his family with mysterious disappearances, notably his uncle Rory, a budding travel writer.

The film adaption is fairly faithful to the novel. Recently someone insisted in discussion that the film of 'Crow Road' was actually better than the novel, indeed the blurb on the DVD quotes the author Iain Banks stating, 'annoyingly better than the book in far too many places'. However a film adaption always places the viewer in the interpretative lens of the director. With a novel one is obliged to use one's own imagination; with a film one enjoys the dubious luxury of employing someone else's imagination, even if an exceptionally talented imagination. A novel may take 15 to 20 hours or more to read, a film will last barely 3 or 4 hours at most. It's just that our modern life-style inclines one to become impatient and lazy, we have no time or application to read anymore. In this respect film has a lot to answer for, contributing greatly to the general illiteracy of our age. Moreover, while film is a social, gregarious activity, reading remains essentially a solitary activity, something few relish for prolonged periods of time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


A second eerie plume in the sky this decade causing grounded planes. One feels for the thousands who are experiencing disrupted travel plans, but this looks bigger on the global repercussions than individual plans thwarted. Vulcanologists are a bit quiet upon the eventual outcome, the last time this occurred in Iceland in 1821 it continued for 18 months, causing a 'year without Summer'.

I can't see this natural disaster improving the fragile British Summer much, just the consolation of spectacular sun-sets, caused by the refraction of dust and ash. I remember being in Sicily in '83 when Europe's largest Volcano, Etna, was stirring. 'Il Volco, fuma'  locals would say, shrugging their shoulders. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Champion Jockey

Champion National Hunt jockey for 15 years, A.P.MacCoy in the silks of J.P.MacManus at Fakenham.

Well I had to post this after MacCoy's win in the Grand National on Saturday riding 'Don't push it' to victory. Many have eulogized on the gritty determination and dedication of top National Hunt jockeys such as MacCoy, but here's the evidence. Whether at a prestigious meeting such as the Cheltenham Festival or at much humbler meetings such as Plumpton or Fakenham, the dedication and commitment to the sport make men such as A.P. MacCoy of legendary status, rider of over 3000 winners, he's been leading jockey for 15 years now! What other sport can be so physically grueling, yet also accommodating to length of years for a sportsman as British Horse Racing ?

June:  McCoy was appointed (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours
December: Tony McCoy was voted BBC Sports Personality 2010 the first jockey ever to be voted BBC Sports Personality in the award's 54 year history.
March 2012 Tony MaCoy wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Synchronized

Sleeping Beauty

Last night I watched a DVD recording of the Swedish choreographer Mat Ek's 'The Sleeping Beauty' performed by the Cullberg Ballet (1999). Modern choreographers like Maurice Bejart, like Jiri Kylian and Mat Ek have re-worked old favourites to a choreography which highlights their distinctive style and choreographic genius. Outrageous in places, I'd always been crazy about Eks re-working of Swan Lake with its prominent role for the Prince, from when I first saw it in 1993. I've now discovered how to share snippets of Video of Classical and Contemporary dance on this blog. Just go to Modern Dance and Ballet Video page to see why I'm so enthusiastic about Ek's radical choreography of perennial favourites such as 'Sleeping Beauty', it's certainly very different from stereotypical perceived traditional ballet and in the vanguard of contemporary choreography.

Friday, April 09, 2010


Rembrandt painted two versions on the Biblical episode of David pacifying the evil spirit of Saul, an early example of the healing power of music in sacred literature. Appropriately, it features the harp, an instrument which is commonly associated with heaven and angels. Perhaps also because the harp readily lends itself to music of a calm and reflective nature.

The Rembrandt painting depicts the aged King Saul overcome by a melancholic, evil spell. He summons his favourite David to relieve his suffering soul. The Biblical episode in 1 Samuel 16 verses 14-17 and 21-23 reads-

The Lord's spirit left Saul, and an evil spirit sent by the Lord tormented him. his servants said to him, "We know that an evil spirit sent by God is tormenting you. So give us the order , sir, and we will look for a man who knows how to play the harp, and you will be alright again". Saul ordered them, "Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me".... ...David came to Saul and entered his service.....From then on , whenever the evil spirit sent by God came on Saul, David would get his harp and play it. the evil spirit would leave, and Saul would be all right again.

The power of the healing properties of harmony is a prominent theme in the philosophy of Pythagoras; developed further by Plato, the ancient Greek philosophers were "re-discovered" during the Renaissance. In particular by the Venetian monk Francesco Giorgio (1466-1540) author of De Harmonia Mundi (1525) in which Pythagorean and Platonic ideas on harmony and music are integrated to the esoteric lore of the Cabala and Christianity. 

In Giorgio's interpretation of the Cabala, music and harmony are central, so much so that by the seventeenth century the Biblical episode of Saul and David had accumulated a wealth of speculative detail. 

Sir Thomas Browne possessed a copy of Giorgio's work of Christian Cabala. He queried the Biblical episode in his Discourse The Garden of Cyrus (1658) thus-

Why the Cabalisticall Doctors, who conceive the whole Sephiroth, or divine emanations to have guided the ten-stringed Harp of David, whereby he pacified the evil spirit of Saul, in strict numeration doe begin with the Perihypate Meson, or si fa ut, and so place the Tiphereth answering C sol fa ut, upon the fifth string:

*    *   *

In modern times the Breton musician Alan Stivell (born 1944) promoted the popularity of the Celtic harp; his father having constructed a half-scale harp for him at the age of 9. I was lucky enough to hear the phenomenal playing and singing of Stivell at UEA in the 1970's. His Suite of folk-tunes Ys depicting a ghostly underwater town, sunk off the coast of Brittany, complete with lapping waves on shore is  a bardic, narrative element of the harp, evoking the recital of accompanying verse in troubadour fashion which sets the scene for this piece.

Many orchestral works, in the Romantic era feature the Harp, especially Tchaikovsky in his Ballet-music. The composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) featured the harp in the role as accompanist to the poet, in his orchestral tone-poem 'The Bard' opus 64 (1913-14). 

The Harp sets the scene in the opening bars of Sibelius's tone-poem, conjuring a lost world of Viking tales of battle and romance. After a long orchestral flurry upon these themes, the harp re-enters to summarily close the tone-poem.

Another great Harp CD is Ludovico Einaudi's (born 1955) Stanze (1992), pure minimalism performed by 
Cecilia Chailly, a quite extraordinary harpist.

Even more recently the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928) composed an extremely modern-sounding Harp Concerto (2000). At times somber, even chilling, its a concerto of emotional depth, which is rewarding for both performer and receptive listener.

Just a kitsch Victorian Sunday school picture of the same story. The harp depicted here has grown into a much larger Symphonic and Concert-Hall sized instrument since the days of Rembrandt's modest sized instrument.

Royal Silks

The champion jockey, Ryan Moore, obliging an autograph hunter at Yarmouth race-track. Note the silks Ryan is wearing, the Royal silks of Queen Elizabeth II, the oldest in English Flat Racing and in use for 250 years. The Queen is the only owner permitted to have gold braid on silks and cap. I'm still hunting for an 18th century painting with these silks, any idea? Stubbs? Gainsborough?


June - Ryan Moore completed the near unprecedented double of winning the Classic races of the Oaks and Derby at Epsom on 'Snow Fairy' and 'Workforce' respectively.

October - Ryan Moore  wins the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on 'Workforce'.


James Gaffarel (1601-1681) was a French scholar of Hebrew and astrology who was appointed as librarian to Cardinal Richlieu. He proposed in his Unheard-of Curiosities (English translation 1650) that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet could be read in the night-sky. Using the stars as a form of geomatria and an alternative to the Babylonian-Greek circle of animals or Zodiac, Gaffarel's cryptography was of sufficient interest to Sir Thomas Browne to not only introduced the word 'cryptography' into the English language in Pseudodoxia Epidemica but also alluded to Gaffarel in The Garden of Cyrus -

Could we satisfie ourselves in the position of the lights above, or discover the wisdom of that order so invariably maintained in the fixed Stars of heaven; Could we have any light, why the stellary part of the first mass, separated into this order, that the Girdle of Orion should ever maintain its line, and the two Starres in Charles's Wain never leave pointing at the Pole-Star, we might abate the Pythagoricall Musick of the Spheres, the sevenfold Pipe of Pan; and the strange Cryptography of Gaffarell in his Starrie Booke of Heaven.

Cabalistical heads, who from that expression in Esay (Isaiah 34:4) do make a book of heaven, and read therein the great concernments of earth, do literally play on this, and from its semicircular figure, resembling the Hebrew letter כ Caph, whereby is signified the uncomfortable number of twenty, at which years Joseph was sold, which Jacob lived under Laban, and at which men were to go to war: do note a propriety in its signification; as thereby declaring the dismal Time of the Deluge. (Bk 1 chap.4)

Thursday, April 08, 2010


I was first introduced to William Blake's visionary art-works via an album cover by the 1970's progressive rock band Atomic Rooster! Somehow Blake's visionary art has not been embraced whole-heartedly as much as, say, his poem Jerusalem ('And did those feet in ancient times, walk upon England's..') annoyingly bleated at the jingoistic Last Night of the Proms every September. Anyway, as ever there's a Sir T.B. connection, this time from his 1658 work of 'active imagination', The Garden of Cyrus. But first, the Bible verses that inspired Blake -

The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar; and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. Daniel 4:33

and here's Browne's take on the scene-

Nebuchodnosor whom some will have to be the famous Syrian king of Diodorus' beautifully repaired that City; and so magnificently built his hanging gardens; that from succeeding Writers he had the honour of the first. From whence over-looking Babylon and all the region about it, he found no circumscription to the eye of his ambition, till over-delighted with the bravery of this Paradise; in his melancholy metamorphosis, he found the folly of that delight, and a proper punishment, in the contrary habitation, in wilde plantations and wanderings of the fields.


At last some decent weather for boating. Went out to Thorpe, Norwich, and when  turning off the river Yare, rowing down the Tas river  I saw the zippy flight of a kingfisher, twice!

I just love getting onto the water by whatever craft available, to slow down to the river's pace, hear that plopping of oar in water; there's nothing, just nothing, like messing about in boats, Ratty! We even had a "Wind in the Willows" "Pan" moment", hearing the sound of a flute from a shady bank!

The photo of a Kingfisher (not taken by me) reminds one how much the combination of patience, luck, skill and good equipment are needed to take the truly jaw-dropping photo. Below is a snap taken today. Note how straight the bank is, that's because its an artificial Cutting, dug to enable large vessels to negotiate a sharpish bend in the river Yare at Thorpe, thus allowing easier access to the port of Norwich.

River Yare at 'New Cut' April 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

10,000 soldiers

This work was recently on display at the Forum, Norwich where it won first prize. I really like the way the artist Jamie Andrews has made an anti-war statement in the shape of thousands of toy soldiers, the beginning of acclimatization and acceptance of war to children, all shaped into one giant tombstone or bullet. Very few people however seemed aware of this connection between the 10,000 soldiers of Nursery rhyme fame (The grand old Duke of York/ he had ten thousand men/ he marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them back down again) and the combined shape they formed, but maybe my interpretation goes beyond the artist's  intentions.

Sir Thomas Browne as ever comes to the rescue with an admirable observation upon the cause of war, the single-most remaining factor threatening humanity's survival.

The cause of this war was that of all wars, excess of prosperity. As wealth arises spirits rise, and lust and greed of power appear; thence men lose their sense of moderation, look with distaste on the prosperity of others, revolve disquiet in their mind, and throw over all settlement, for fear lest their enemies’ wealth be firmly established, they put their own to risk; and finally (as happens in human affairs) fall into slavery when they seek to impose it, and earnestly courting good fortune, experience disaster.

Link to more of  Jamie Andrews Art

Black and White

A scene from Jiří Kylián DVD 'Black and White'

I thought I was onto something with the idea that the music of Mozart embodied the 'spirit of the dance', but a quick rummage through the old DVD library reveals that choreographers have long ago hit upon the same idea that the music of Mozart is eminently danceable. Never underestimate the power of cryptoamnesia!

While the music of J.S.Bach may be satisfyingly geometric and full of deep emotion upon the dignity of man and his relationship with God, it is in Mozart's music, a man who himself enjoyed dancing that 'the spirit of the dance' comes alive best. I wish I still possessed a videotape copy of Maurice Bejart's Tangomozart in which the music of Mozart alternates with Argentinian Tango's, but I do still have, albeit a bit blurry, a recording of Bejart's choreographing the music of Mahler and Ravel with great effect.

Far more rewarding however is the choreography of the Czech Jiří Kylián, ballet-master of the Netherlands Dance Theater. Using music from a set of German dances K571 by Mozart and for Petit Mort, slow movements from two of his piano concerto's namely number 21 in C major K467 and number 23 in A major K488, Jiří demonstrates the potential of Mozart's music in terms of choreographic expression. The German dances in particular are hilarious as Kylián picks up on Mozart's own dramatic sensibility in his music to illustrate the differences and misunderstandings between the sexes; here's what the sleeve notes state-

The piece of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Six German Dances, K 571, (14:00) like all the others , is new and witty. Many of the eight dancers' actions are coarse and speedy, full of threats, unrest and absurdity. the men wear powdered periwigs above their naked torsi; the ladies are clothed in drastic skirts. And in the illumination of the spotlights, scintillating soap bubbles fall from the rigging loft in cascades down upon the dancers. The equally witty and bizarre scene is a winking paen to the Baroque and Rococo ages and their decades of infatuation with splendour and pomp, ending in clouds of wig powder and soap bubbles. Images full of humour and comedy prove once more what an imaginative, charismatic power Jiří Kylián possesses. The delicious humour of the piece moved numerous viewers and reviewers to remark that the Salzburg composer would have enjoyed it. Even if Six Dances appears to be no more than a sparkling witty assembly of nonsense carried out in costumes designed by the choreographer himself, who calls them "Mozartian underwear", there is still a dark, ominous undertone.

The sleeve-notes of the 1996 DVD say it so much better than I ever could-

For the piece Petit Mort, (18:00) Jiří Kylián chose the slowest movements from two of Mozart's most beautiful and best-loved piano concerto's. Although suffused with some humour, the ballet is driven forward with a kind of aesthetic brutality. Aggression, sexual tension, energy, but equally stillness and vulnerability plat the determining roles here. along with the six male dancers and six female dancers, six rapiers are also equal "partners" in the game, as are already the familiar Rococo costumes, which are moved across the stage on tailor's dummies. ..In this "little death" , the six men provide an astonishing performance of sword-play, but not like in the usual kind of cloak-and-dagger film. the blows and parries proceed almost as if in a kind of military discipline. Only after the ladies join them do the couples celebrate Mozart's sensual music. (Above photo)

Labyrinth of Crete

During the seventeenth century many English gentlemen studied antiquities, that is historical artefacts. One of the easiest forms of access for the antiquarian to the ancient world was through the study of numismatics, that is coins from Classical antiquity or early modern Europe. Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) was an antiquarian and an avid collector, of books, bird-eggs, curio's and of coins and medals. Indeed the diarist John Evelyn on a visit to Browne's home observed-

'[the whole house & Garden [is] a Paradise & Cabinet of rarities, & that of the best collection, especially Medails, books, Plants, natural things...
The source of the Greek myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth noted in chapter two of The Garden of Cyrus is from a publication by Leonardo Agostini (1593–1669) an Italian antiquary appointed by Pope Alexander VII as superintendent of antiquities in the Papal States. In 1649 Agostini issued a new edition of Sicilian Medals, with engravings of 400 specimens. He also published a work on antique engraved gems. The book listed in the Library of Sir Thomas Browne is entitled - Ant. Agostini Dialoghi intorno alle Medaglie, Inscrissioni & altre Antichita Romanze tradotti di Lingua Spagnola in Italiana da D Ottav. Sada, e dal Medisimo accresciuti, con Annot. & illustrati con disegni di molte Medaglie &c. Rome 1650 .But I think Browne just enjoyed looking at the engravings in this book rather than improving his Italian! He describes the 'elegant medall of Agostino' thus-

And, though none of the seven wonders, yet a noble piece of Antiquity, and made by a Copy exceeding all the rest, had its principal parts disposed after this manner, that is, the Labyrinth of Crete, built upon a long quadrate, containing five large squares, communicating by right inflections, terminating in the centre of the middle square, and lodging of the Minotaur, if we conform unto the description of the elegant medal thereof in Agostino.

The most famous maze in Classical antiquity was the labyrinth, the Cretan palace in which King Minos stabled the minotaur and from which, according to Greek myth, Theseus was able to escape from, because of the thread which Ariadne gives him. The Cretan labyrinth may well have a solar significance because of the double axe, of which it may have been the palace which is carved on many Minoan remains. The bull shut in the labyrinth is also a solar symbol. Indeed the very name labyrinth which means palace of the axe, reminds us that in the palace at Knossos, the mythical stall of the minotaur was pre-eminently the shrine of the double axe.

The symbol of the Labyrinth occurs once more at the apotheosis of The Garden of Cyrus in which Browne names the combined forces of Reason and Empiricism as the essential tools to aid a successful weaving through the 'Labyrinth of Truth'.

affording delightful Truths, confirmable by sense and ocular Observation, which seems to me the surest path, to trace the Labyrinth of Truth

But is in his companion Discourse of 1658 Discourse Urn-Burial, that great hymn to antiquity and the unknowing of the human condition, that Browne displays his numismatic knowledge most. In particular , his description of an Iceni coin which he describes thus-

Besides, the Norman, Saxon, and Danish pieces of Cuthred, Canutus, William, Matida, and others, some British Coynes of gold have been dispersively found; And no small number of silver pieces near Norwich; with a rude head upon the obverse, and an ill formed horse on the reverse, with Inscriptions Ic. Duro. T. whether implying Iceni, Dutotriges, Tascia, or Tribobantes, we leave to higher conjecture.

Clearly Sir Thomas Browne knew his coins. He's off again a page later-
Nor is it strange to finde Romane Coynes of Copper and Silver among us; of Vespasian, Trajan, Adrian, Commodus, Antonius, Severus, &c. But the greater number of Dioclesian, Constantine, Constans, Valens, ...

Browne acted as a magnet for any curio's or object of antiquity which surfaced throughout the county. In a revealing foot-note to Urn-Burial he acknowledged the source of his numismatic finds thus-

'most at Caster by Yarmouth, found in a place called East-bloudy-burgh furlong, belonging to Mr Thomas Wood, a person of civility, industry and knowledge in this way, who hath made observation of remarkable things about him, and from whom we have received divers Silver and Copper Coynes'.

Click on link for an excellent site on numismatics

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Now it's British Summer Time with longer light in the day and very slowly getting warmer, its great to just get outdoors with a camera. I thought I'd better snap these dafs soon before they disappear for another year. And yes that is a grave-stone in the background, quite appropriately as regards the myth and poetry associated with the daffodil.

The symbolism and stories behind flowers is quite interesting. The Persians named the daffodil "the Golden" and the Turks "the golden bowl". But its in Greek mythology that the symbolism of the flower is most developed. In Greek mythology it was the flower that Venus recommended to Pluto to drop from his chariot to entice Prosperine to the infernal regions. The Daffodil is thus symbolic of unrequited love. Chaucer alludes to the Greek myth of Prosperine and the daffodil in his poem 'The Winter's Tale'.

O Prosperina,
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou lettest fall
From Dis's wagon: daffodils
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty.

The Elizabethan poet Robert Herrick waxed lyrical in his address to daffodils, the flowers themselves replying in the second verse.

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
Ye haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attained his noon:
Stay, stay,
Until the hastening day has run
But to the even-song,
Will go with ye along.

We have short time to stay as ye,
We have as fleet a Spring,
As quick a growth to meet decay
As you or anything:
We die
As your hours do, and dry away,
Like to the Summer's rain.
Or as the pearl of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found again.

General Election called

With the announcement of the date of the General election for May 6th, I recall the one-time Dada artist George Grosz's commentary on the politics of Germany during and after the 'Great 'War'. Okay so things aren't quite so bad in Britain as the returning defeated nation of Germany was with hyper-inflation, social unrest, strikes and failed revolution. But Britain has nothing to be complacent about either. Grosz's satirical picture bluntly states his view of the abilities and crimes of the self-elected and self-serving politicians of the new Weimar Republic. The Banker, the Military General and several headless and therefore brainless, Bureaucrats govern and carve up power for themselves. The blinkered ass standing on a table and eating money in a manager could be a metaphorical message from a medieval morality lesson. Nor forgetting the icon-like presence of the dollar symbol hovering in the background.

Grosz realized that, when push comes to shove, most art serves the bourgeois or increasingly, these days, those that aspire to its values; In Grosz's view most art, especially if with a capital A, unless taking an unambiguous stand-point, maintains the status quo and therefore complicitly accepts social inequality and injustice. Much art even today, continues to serve the purposes of, and upholds the values of consumerism and capitalism.

The Marriage of Figaro

Last night I watched 'The Marriage of Figaro' on DVD. More lingua Italia, thank heavens for sub-titles! The whole art of Opera has been made much more accessible and comprehendable through DVD sub-titles. Nowadays super-text is also projected overhead at theatrical productions. At 140 minutes another marathon viewing session.

Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro (K 492 ) concerns itself with sexuality in relation to social standing. There's some strong social comment going on here, as well as some heavenly harmonies and melodies. The production I watched was from 1993, with the Welsh singer Bryn Terfel in the role of Figaro and John Elliot Gardiner conducting the English baroque soloists . Imagine my surprise when near the denouement or unraveling of 2 hours of intrigue, deception, true love tested and attempted seduction, Figaro sings the following lines-

Fair Venus has gone in,
Her lover Mars will follow in,
Like a modern Vulcan,
I will catch them in my net.

It looks as if the Greek myth of Venus and Mars entangled by Vulcan's net was still in common stock in the eighteenth century, though credit where credit's due, it would have been the dramatist and librettist Beaumarchais who was familiar with the Greek myth, not Mozart. Beaumarchais wrote his scandalous play in 1784, the Mozart adaptation followed swiftly, its premiere was on May 1, 1786 . It was a great triumph for the composer, an instant hit and a box-office sell-out in Vienna. Cherubino's aria and maybe more from The Marriage of Figaro can be found on my Modern Dance and Ballet Videos page.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Leopard

In Luchino Visconti's 1963 film 'The Leopard' Il Gattopardo, the star of the film is the Sicilian landscape, the whole film being a pageant of Sicilian culture. Burt Lancaster acts the lead as a Prince Salina, a Sicilian aristocrat. The highlight of the 178 minute film is a 45 minute ballroom sequence in which the world-weary Prince dances with the bride-to-be. Visually stunning in its photography, Visconti makes a political statement about the era in which the film is set, namely the Italian unification of 1870. 

Invisible Sun

'Life is a pure flame and we live by an invisible sun within us'.

Long, long before the singer Sting's hit song 'Invisible Sun' in 1981, the image of an invisible sun occurs in Renaissance alchemical literature. The above quote can be found in the fifth and final chapter of Sir Thomas Browne's 1658 Discourse Urn-Burial. It became better-known when Penguin books printed it on the cover of a paperback edition of Sir Thomas Browne's Urn-Burial in 2006. The startlingly original image occurs in the fifth and final chapter of the apotheosis of the Discourse -

'But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing Nativities and Deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting Ceremonies of bravery, in the infamy of his nature. Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us'.

Perhaps Sting once read of an 'invisible sun'  which subsequently influenced the imagery of his lyrics? Never underestimate the power of cryptomnesia, a convenient forgetfulness amongst many artists and poets!

 It was the Belgian alchemist Gerhard Dorn (circa 1530-84) who using Paracelsian 'astral imagery' for his own purposes, was the first to claim that within man there is an 'invisible sun', that is, a life-giving force, equivalent to the imago Dei, or image of God within man.

The image of an 'invisible sun' can be found in Dorn's Speculativa philosophia, which was reprinted in the door-stop sized tomes of the alchemical anthology known as the Theatrum Chemicum  (vol.1 1604) an edition of which was once in Sir Thomas Browne's library, and from where in all probability he 'borrowed' imagery of an invisible sun. [1]

C.G. Jung in his Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56) cites Dorn, who is in fact the most frequently quoted alchemical author by C.G. Jung. In his Speculativa Philosophia Dorn declares-

The sun is invisible in men, but visible in the world, yet both are of one and the same sun.

Carl Jung in his own magnum opus on alchemy Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56) cites Dorn's image, commenting-

In Dorn's view there is in man an 'invisible sun', which he identifies with the Archeus. This sun is identical with the 'sun in the earth'. The invisible sun enkindles an elemental fire which consumes man's substance and reduces his body to the prima materia. [2]

In any event the source of what is essentially an 'imago dei', (image of God) continues to attract interest, along with Browne's esoteric associations in general, the physician-philosopher paradoxically to modern sensibilities being equally deeply-immersed in Hermeticism, alchemy and astrology, as well as promoting the 'new science' and the Baconian investigation into nature's properties.


[1] 1711 Sales Auction Catalogue page 25 no. 124
[2]   C.G. Jung Mysterium Coniunctionis Paragraph 49


This hopefully is what will be blossoming in my garden in a few days! Magnolia is only just in bud now. Checking the date this photo was taken to compare how early/late Spring is this year is revealing. This photo was taken 24th March 2006. I thought it feels like Spring is very late this year.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

In the Garden

Rembrandt (1606-1669) found frequent artistic inspiration from the Bible. There's an enormous number of canvases, sketches and engravings by him which can be viewed at the Bible and Art web-site . This Rembrandt for Easter Sunday is appropriately of the Resurrection. Jesus just looks so cool in his gardening togs. Look at the way Rembrandt, the master of dramatic light or chiaroscuro has dramatically lit the whole scene up as the light from a golden sunrise begins to flood onto  Christ. Happy Easter!

The Anatomy Lesson

Anatomy lesson of Dr.Dreyman by Rembrandt

In addition to having an interest in the Bible for artistic inspiration ,Rembrandt (1606-1669) was also interested in the latest advances in medicine and anatomy. One of the biggest obstacles to anatomy and dissection came from religious scruples of the Church. Only the more progressive Universities in Europe in the seventeenth century could encourage the study of anatomy. Leiden University in Holland was in the vanguard of such scientific studies; One contemporary medical student to Rembrandt was the Englishman Sir Thomas Browne.

Its interesting that the American scholar J.S.Finch way back in 1950 speculated upon whether Browne was the sitter for Rembrandt's early work, 'The anatomy lesson of Doctor Dreyman'. Certainly the dates of Browne's Leiden sojourn tally and its recorded somewhere that he owned popular prints by both Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens later in life. Anyway, here it is, you can doubt it or believe it, you decide!

I just can't resist quoting Browne's great line upon his visual aesthetic appreciation- I can looke a whole day with delight upon a handsome picture, though it be but of an Horse'.
R.M. 2:9

Im going to post a couple of Dutch paintings Browne could have viewed when visiting the Paston's at Oxnead Hall and the Bacon's at Gillingham Hall soon.

It was in Rembrandt and Browne's time that Religion and Science began their divorce. Today the claims of Science and Religion are often seen to be in opposition to each other. The harmonious relationship between Science and Religion is however a major theme of Browne's spiritual testament Religio Medici. However even in the seventeenth century the great age of Faith, the first cracks in the edifice of faith appear in the confession in Religio Medici -

There is, as in Philosophy, so too in Divinity, sturdy doubts, and boisterous objections, wherewith the unhappiness of our knowledge too nearly acquainteth us. More of these no man hath known than my self, which I confess I conquered, not in a martial position, but on my knees. R.M.1:19

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Mozart in Paris

When the 22 year-old Mozart arrived in Paris in March 1778 he had high hopes of making a name for himself. However he discovered Parisian society to be fickle, inconsiderate and exploitative; Spring-time in Paris was not a happy affair for the young Mozart. He found himself disrespected, treated indifferently and worse of all, his honour and pride as a musician wounded. He described such treatment in a letter to his father-

A week went by without any news whatsoever. However, she had told me to call after the lapse of a week so I kept my word and presented myself to her. On my arrival I was made to wait half an hour in a great ice-cold unwarmed room, unprovided with any fire-place. At length the Duchess de Charbot came in, greeted me withe greatest civility, begged me to make the best of the clavier since it was the only one in order, and asked me to try it. "I am very willing to play" , said I, "but momentarily my hands are numb with cold," and begged she would at least conduct me to a room with a fire. "Oh , oui monsieur, vous avez raison, " was all the answer I received, and thereupon she sat down and began to sketch, continuing for a whole hour in company with a party of gentlemen who sat in a circle round a big table. The windows and the doors stood open, and not only my hands, but my whole body and my feet were chilled. My head began to ache...I did not know what to do for cold, headache and tedium. I kept on thinking, "If it were not for Monsieur Grimm I would leave this instant". At last to be brief I played the wretched, miserable pianoforte. Most vexing of all, however, Madame and her gentlemen never ceased their sketching for a moment, but remained intent upon it , so that I had to play to the chairs, tables and walls.Under these vile conditions I began to lose patience.....

In the same letter to his father, Wolfgang describes the difficulties of establishing himself socially in Paris and his problems living in the City-

You write that I ought to be assiduous in paying visits to form new acquaintances and revive the old ones. But this is not possible. The distances are too great for walking - or else the roads too dirty, for the filth of Paris is indescribable. As to driving - one has the honour of expending four to five livres a day - and all in vain; people return your compliments and there's an end. ...At first I wasted money enough in this way - and often entirely in vain, for i found the people from home. If one were not here one could not believe how hopeless it is ! Altogether Paris is greatly changed. The French are not as polite as fifteen years ago. Their manners border on coarseness and they are terribly discourteous. Letter dated May 1 1778

Ever hopeful, a month later he breaks some potentially good news to his father-

I am not merely to write an act for an o
pera, but an entire one in 2 acts. The poet has completed the first act. Noverre with whom I dine as often as I please, managed this, and indeed, suggested the 'idea' April 5 1778

Hope of collaboration with Noverre in a large-scale theatrical production was still in the air another month later, as he informed his father-

I shall soon, I believe, get the libretto for my opera en deux acts and shall first of all have to show it to the director Monsieur de Huime, for his approval. there is not a doubt of that, however, for it comes from Noverre and De Huime has Noverre to thank for his new post. Noverre is about to design a new ballet and i am to compose music for it. Letter dated 14 th May 1778

The ballet-master Jean-George Noverre (1727-1810) had already written his major treatise upon dance in 1760. In it he argues that consideration for movement of the dancer is essential. Any costume which restricted the movement of the dancer was discouraged, the ballet d'action was first and foremost to be centred upon displaying the skills of the dancer ; furthermore the story-line was to engage in simple, clear, unambiguous emotions, assisted by appropriate music which empathized with setting, dance and action. Noverre's treatise effectively paved the way for the birth and development of modern ballet as we know it today.

When Noverre met the young Mozart in Paris he was nearly thirty years the young composer's senior and wise to the fickleness of the Parisian audience. Its not improbable that while dining with the young Mozart the well-traveled Chevalier may have recollected his travels, including his years resident in England, 1754-56 when resident at London and Norwich. Noverre may well have witnessed the completion of the latest building by Thomas Ivory, architect of his Norwich home, now the Assembly Rooms and one-time Noverre cinema. Ivory's architectural masterpiece was however, the Octagonal chapel at Colegate, Norwich-over-the-water which was completed in the year of Mozart's birth, 1756. Its Neo-classical facade and geometrical architecture would not be incongruous as the back-drop to a Mozart opera; its Octagonal shape and imposing entrance a fitting setting for the Masonic rituals of Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute.

It's still very much the same tune from Wolfgang in a letter to his father 3 months later-

'Noverre, too is soon to arrange a new ballet, for which I am to write the music. July 3rd 1778

The resultant fruits of Mozart's collaboration with Noverre was a Suite of Ballet-music entitled Les Petit Riens K299b. It was performed just six times without mention of the composer's name in either billing or programme. The Symphony in D major K.297 now known as the "Paris" symphony was a greater compositional achievement and concert-hall success. Written in the festive and civic social key of D major in an easy-pleasing style and scored with the added luxury of 2 clarinets, a pungent air of the flamboyant, the vigorous and athletic pervades its mood. The Wood-wind scoring in particular of a rich harmony due to the addition of a pair of clarinets, the first time Mozart had written for the relatively new instrument. After a successful performance Mozart celebrated with a walk in the park and a Sherbet after having said his rosary.

But it was also during his Paris visit that personal tragedy was to strike the young composer . On the night of the 2nd/3rd July 1778, after a short illness, his mother died.

From this bereavement came the composition marking the emotional rite-de-passage, his Sonata for Violin and pianoforte K 304; the only time Mozart wrote in the key of E minor. There's a real traumatized, heart-wrenching grief of the recently-bereaved expressed in the sobbing opening bars of this sonata; its second movement is calmer, more like grief in reflection upon the memory of his departed mother. Paris had produced fruits in composition, but not how Mozart had imagined in the form of opera. Half a year since his arrival in Paris , Mozart had the measure of how his talent was vulnerable to time-wasting exertion without economic reward, writing to his father-

I ought to write an opera now (having said that I am going away), but I said to Noverre, "If you will guarantee me its production as soon as it is finished and will tell me exactly what you will pay me for it, i will stay another three months and write it". they did not agree to these terms , however, and I knew before-hand that they would not and could not, since they are not according to usage here. Here, as perhaps you know, an opera is examined on its completion, and if the "stupid Frenchmen " do not approve of it, it is not given and the composer has written in vain.. Letter dated 11th September 1778

When Mozart left Paris he must surely have shook the dust from his feet and muttered 'Never again' under his breath; indeed he never returned to Paris. The six month sojourn had produced relatively few compositions, the manuscript of Le Petit Riens was lost, only to be 'rediscovered' in 1873; the Paris symphony marks one more rung climbed in symphonic development for the composer. There were also 4 flute concerto's and an insipid-sounding Flute and Harp Concerto in C major K 299 , composed during his stay, both were instruments Mozart cared little for.

The young composer returned to the service of Archbishop Colleredo in Salzburg. A position of servitude he endured for 3 more years, before a final break. He still however had one last laugh at his would-be Parisian sponsors. His prodigious musical genius shines through in his letter declaration en route to Salzburg to his father-

The result is that I am bringing no finished work with me save my sonatas - for Le Gros bought the two overtures and the symphony concertante . He thinks he has them all to himself, but it is not so - they are still fresh in my head and as soon as I am home I shall write them out again! -Oct 3 1778

There were greater compositions, greater concert-hall and theatrical triumphs awaiting the young composer in Vienna and Prague, but not in Paris.

Jarvis and Robinson

The old firm here! Jockey Philip Robinson in the silks of Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, the 'in-house' jockey for Michael Jarvis, master of Kremlin house Newmarket. Michael Jarvis has been training horses over 40 years. He's won nearly every major race including the Prix d'Arc Triomphe 1989, the Italian Derby and the Topkapi Cup in Istanbul the other year!
Here's jockey with trainer on a cold April day, patiently waiting to mount some exciting 2 year old prospect, early in the Flat season 2009. Had a big thing about following Jarvis' stable; if you want a high-strike rate and quality winners, he's the man.

Cheveley Park Stud

Jockey Richard Hills in the silks of Cheveley Park Stud. What a fantastic season Hills had last year! Wonder if its a bit of a shock to the physical system to return to England after the warmth weeks of heat during the Saudi Arabia Racing Festival at Meydan in March. Think I snapped this at Yarmouth race-track at some point early in the season.

Newton Abbot waterlogged today; where would the bookies or punters be without All-Weather tracks throughout the winter !