Saturday, 20 July 2013


“If we were all determined to play the first violin we should never have an ensemble. therefore, respect every musician in his proper place.” - Robert Schumann
For Music Saturday today, Luigi Cherubini’s (1760-1842) String Quartet No. 3 in D minor of 1834. Cherubini was born Florence and he studied at the conservatories in Bologna and Milan remaining in Italy until 1788, when he moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life. He made his name as a composer of opera, but by 1805 Parisian tastes had changed and the heavy, serious operas that he, Gluck and others had been writing fell out of fashion. Cherubini then turned to religious and instrumental music. He served as director of the Paris Conservatory from 1822 until his death and was regarded as one of France’s leading musicians.
Beethoven considered Cherubini the greatest living dramatic composer, while Cherubini was perhaps the only important composer in France, who held Beethoven to be the greatest genius of the day. Perhaps no other contemporary composer studied Beethoven’s Middle and Late Quartets as did Cherubini, who both admired and understood them. Most others then living, regarded Beethoven’s Late Quartets as the work of a madman. That Cherubini truly understood and profited from Beethoven’s late work can clearly be seen in his Third String Quartet. No other contemporary chamber music work so closely approaches the profundity of Beethoven’s Late Quartets as  does Cherubini’s String Quartet No.3.
The Quartet was composed in 1834 and is in four movements. From the very opening notes of the Allegro Commodo, we hear the depth of thought. A short recitative in the first violin is answered by the cello before the noble and boldly rhythmic main theme makes its entrance. The second subject is pure Italian melody with an unusual rhythmic accompaniment giving the music an almost Spanish flavour.
The second movement, Larghetto Sostenuto, might be an aria from an Italian opera. The lovely bel canto melody is given a very expressive accompaniment. In the third movement, Scherzo, Allegro, one can tell that Cherubini had Beethoven as his model (and not the Op.18 quartets which was all that Reicha or Onslow could understand) but the Late Quartets. The serious and syncopated main theme is given to the cello and viola to introduce. There is a brash energy to it. The middle section features a polonaise. The finale, Allegro Risoluto, although in the major, nonetheless, maintains the sense of energy of the previous movement and adds to it a sense of powerful struggle.
This quartet is an unqualified masterpiece. Sadly, it has not been available for many years and is rarely, if ever, performed in concert, although, it goes without saying, that it should be. Amateurs who take the trouble to plumb its depths will be richly rewarded. The painting above is “String Quartet” by Jack Levine.

Friday, 19 July 2013


“Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” - Audrey Hepburn
It’s cold, wet and wintry in Melbourne. What better remedy than a rich moist chocolate cake?
Devil’s Food Cake
For cake:
50 g sifted cocoa powder
125 g brown sugar
250 ml boiling water
130 g soft unsalted butter
150 g caster sugar
225 g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 vanilla bean
3 small eggs (or 2 large)
For icing:
125 ml water
50 g brown sugar
175 g unsalted butter (cubed)
300 g dark chocolate (finely chopped)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Line the bottoms of two 20cm round sandwich tins with baking paper and grease the bottom and sides.
Put the cocoa and brown sugar into a bowl and pour in the boiling water. Whisk to mix, then set aside.
Cream the butter and caster sugar together, beating well until light and fluffy.
While the butter is creaming, stir the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate together in another bowl, and set aside for a moment.
Scrape the vanilla bean interior into the creamed butter and sugar – mixing all the while – then drop in 1 egg, quickly followed by a scoopful of flour mixture, then the second egg, more flour and then the other egg.
Keep mixing and incorporate the rest of the dry ingredients for the cake, then finally mix and fold in the cocoa mixture, scraping its bowl well with a spatula.
Divide the chocolate batter between the 2 prepared tins and put in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Take the tins out and leave them on a wire rack for 5–10 minutes, before turning the cakes out to cool.
As soon as the cakes are in the oven, make the icing: Put the water, 30g brown sugar and 175 g butter in a pan over a low heat to melt.
When this mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add the chopped chocolate, swirling the pan so that all the chocolate is heated, then leave for a minute to melt before whisking till smooth and glossy.
Leave for about 1 hour, whisking now and again, by which time the cakes will be cooled, and ready for the icing.
Set one of the cooled cakes, with its top side down, on a cake stand or plate, and spread with about a third of the icing, then top that with the second cake, regular way up, and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides, in swirling patterns.
This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” - Pope Paul VI
I’ve had an extremely busy couple of days with 12 and 13 hour working days and then once home I’ve been quite exhausted, so it has not been much of a time for reflection and blogging… Although I do work about 9-10 hours everyday, once it starts to get above that, my energy levels go right down and it rather difficult to do anything outside work, work, work – even if it is pleasant or for my leisure.
I have a quiet weekend planned, but very often one’s plans are in vain and life surprises us. Hopefully nothing untoward will happen and I will recharge the old batteries at the weekend.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013


“Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.” - Billy Graham

Every so often one reads a snippet in the news, or sees something on the internet and is struck by its contents. This happened to me the other day when I read about the “Landfill Harmonic Orchestra” of Paraguay (La Armonía del Vertedero - Orquesta de Instrumentos Reciclados de Cateura). This was a poignant and inspiring video that made me stop, think and recontextualise my everyday existence and the “problems” I deal with every day.

The Landfill Orchestra is a children’s music group in Catuera, Paraguay, whose instruments are made from rubbish that has been dumped in the landfill.  A cello made from an oil can and pieces of wood, that were thrown in the rubbish; a saxophone made of spoons and buttons, violins made of tin cans and pieces of thrown-away wood. These instruments are made by Nicolas, a “recycler” who has no previous experience making musical instruments. He is like many others in Catuera who live a hand-to-mouth existence, sorting through rubbish and recycling in the slum by the garbage dump in Catuera.

Inspired by this initiative and resourcefulness in the face of adversity, Maestro Luis Szaran, director of “Sounds of the Earth” formed the “recycled orchestra” comprising children living near the rubbish dump. The guiding light of these children is hope and the inspiration to become better people. Making music with their recycled instruments teaches them to be good people not only to be musicians. To work together in order to make order out of chaos, pleasure out of pain, companionship out of isolation, creativity out of destruction and peace out of strife is a means of building a better world for themselves.

This group is worthy of support and encouragement. You can do this in a very real and substantive manner – visit their YouTube channel to find out how.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


“Parenthood...It’s about guiding the next generation, and forgiving the last.” - Peter Krause

A difference in values and attitudes between one generation and another has been called the generation gap. This creates a lack of communication and understanding between parents and children, especially, which can lead to various problems and can cause a great deal of strife. Numerous films have dealt with this theme and the film we watched at the weekend is a typical example of this genre. It can even be classed as a “chick-flick” as it deals with mother-daughter relationships in particular and explores the changing views, attitudes and mind-set of women from the 1960s to the present time.

The film is Bruce Beresford’s 2011 comedy-drama “Peace, Love, & Misunderstandingstarring Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The film is set in Woodstock and makes the most of the “Hippie” connection, but having said that, the place also seems to be quite a delightful one, with magnificent countryside, quaint township and interesting people. While the film is mainly about parent-child relationships and the generation gap, it is also about personal relationships and overcoming and resolving problems that people have when in a relationship or when they are just embarking on one.

The plot centres on the uptight, obsessive-compulsive lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) who lives in New York City. As the film starts, Diane is told by her husband Mar (Kyle MacLachlan) that he wants a divorce. This shocks and hurts Diane, who quickly decides to escape the situation by taking her two teenager children and visit her estranged mother, Grace (Jane Fonda). Diane’s children are the geeky video camera addict, virginal Jake (Nat Wolff) and vegan, opinionated daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen). Diane’s mother is still a hippie and lives in Woodstock. Mother and daughter have not seen each other for 20 years as Grace sold marijuana to Diane’s friends at Diane’s wedding, something which the daughter has never forgiven.  Diane and her children plan to only stay for a couple of days but events and people conspire to keep them there longer. Diane meets furniture craftsman Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); Zoe is attracted to the local butcher Cole (Chace Crawford); and Jake falls for young Tara (Marissa O’Donnell). It’s a tortuous journey to understanding through misunderstanding, peace through strife and love through selfishness and petty hates.

The film is basically a feel-good romantic comedy with some “deep and meaningful” stuff thrown in (well it’s basically pretty shallow popular psychology). There are some funny moments throughout and the film is very polished with good performances by everyone. Bruce Beresford, an Australian film director, is at his best with period pieces and small-scale dramas. Considered one of Australia’s “New Wave” directors, he directs this film with a light touch and gets the most out of the plot, actors and locations, directing with a light touch. The soundtrack complements the action and location and the duet between Keener and Morgan at the town festival is quite cute.

Jane Fonda looks remarkably good for her 74 years of age in this movie and she enjoys playing the ageing hippy, giving it her best, including howling at the full moon in a goddess ritual and negotiating her way in her house amongst the wandering chickens that have run of the place. There is extensive reference to drug use (marijuana) in the film, which is to be expected given the plot. We enjoyed watching this lightweight comedy which required little cerebral activity and was to the brain what fast food is to the digestive system.


“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” - William Shakespeare

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born on July 15, 1606 in Leiden, the Netherlands. Although his family lived modestly his parents took great care with his education. At the age of fourteen he attended the University of Leiden. As his talent became apparent, he soon left university to pursue a career as an artist. He studied under local masters named Jacob van Swanenburch and Pieter Lastman who were known for historical paintings. It was not long before he was a master at his craft. At twenty-two he began taking on students of his own.

In 1631 he moved to Amsterdam to set up his studio there. Three years later he married Saskia van Uylenburgh. Her cousin was a successful art dealer who introduced him to wealthy patrons who commissioned portraits, thus ensuring Remrandt’s financial success. Besides painting portraits Rembrandt’s mythological and religious works were much in demand and in fashion. Nevertheless, his work was innovative and astounding, as well as being popular.

To an outsider, Rembrandt’s life seemed to have it all. He had a great career doing what he loved to do as well as the love of his wife. While he should have been enjoying a prosperous career he and his wife suffered one great personal loss after another. Within a span of five years each of his three children would die in infancy. In 1641 a son they named Titus would break that cycle. However, tragedy always seemed to prevail. Although their son lived, Saskia’s death would come one short year later.

In 1649 after a brief affair with his son’s nanny, Geertghe Dircx, Rembrandt found someone to share his life with. Hendrickje Stoffels, his housekeeper, soon became his partner in love and the subject for many of his paintings. 
Although he was successful in his career as an artist, teacher and art dealer, Rembrandt was living well beyond his means which finally drove him to declare bankruptcy in 1656. Much of his collection of art and antiquities including the sale of his house went to pay his huge debts.

During these times some of his greatest works were created: “The Jewish Bride”, “The Syndics of the Cloth Guild”, “Bathsheba”, and “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”. 
His personal life seemed cursed as again he was robbed of a second chance at love. Hendrickje died in 1663 and two years later his only son would meet the same fate. Within a short year later on October 4th, 1669 at sixty-three years old Rembrandt died. He will always live on through the many masterpieces he left behind as he proves to be an inspiration to many.

While most artists may produce a self-portrait or two during their lifetime, Rembrandt depicted himself in approximately forty to fifty paintings, thirty-two etchings and several drawings. Many scholars agree that a Rembrandt self-portrait reflects his journey of self-discovery. His early self portrait etchings emphasised real fascinating facial expressions which were always cast in shadows. His study with chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark) became a defining trademark. The mysterious nature of his paintings caught the attention of the art world at large as his reputation as an eccentric genius spread among collectors.

During his time in Amsterdam during the 1630s he began to paint himself with more light. He portrayed himself in many different ways; elegantly dressed and adorned with gold chains, as a fashionable middle class burgher donning a wide-brimmed hat and an expensive cloak or in other portraits as a beggar. During his marriage to Saskia van Uylenburgh he portrayed the two of them in different scenarios. A 1636 etching depicts himself as an artist whose loving wife looks on at him while he creates. In another he is the prodigal son and Saskia is a temptress.

In a 1640 Rembrandt self portrait, he portrays himself as the accomplished man of means who can stand alongside great creators of the past. He was at the pinnacle of success during this, not only creating great works of art but also collecting creations of other great artists of his day. During the early 1640s he stayed away from self portraiture. One by one each of his three infant children would die within the first few months of life. His fourth child would to everyone’s surprise survive infancy. The birth and survival of his son Titus was one of the biggest joys of his lifetime.

He returned to self-portraiture in the later 1640s and 1650s with a different style. These portraits were mainly etchings that portrayed more sensitive inward looking images of self. A Rembrandt self-portrait painted in 1652 in which he wears his definitive beret depicts a more serious Rembrandt. In this painting he is facing front with hands on his hips wearing a plain brown robe. This was created during a time when his popularity was fading. He was experimenting with a more elegant Flemish style of painting that was not very popular.

When he was suffering financially he sold a few self-portraits just to keep his head above water. One in particular painted in 1659, a detail of which is shown above, is dark and sombre and the only illuminated feature is the face. This melancholy face and intense gaze seems to indicate how  forlorn he was feeling during this time. The rawness of his expression and each wrinkle painted realistically amplify his life history and the eyes disclose a despair of accumulated sorrows.

In the last year of his life he painted the last of his self-portraits. One shows himself standing in his studio with his palette and brushes in hand, a great painter until the end. He will always be known for being the master of the self-portrait. His legacy is an experience of self-discovery through art that artists and art lovers worldwide have had the privilege to enjoy.