Saturday, 22 August 2015


“A love of classical music is only partially a natural response to hearing the works performed, it also must come about by a decision to listen carefully, to pay close attention, a decision inevitably motivated by the cultural and social prestige of the art.” - Charles Rosen

Jacob Klein (1688-1748) was a Dutch “dilettante” part-time composer who lived from 1688 to 1748. He was known as Jacob Klein the Younger (to distinguish from his dance-master father Jacob Klein) and was related to several musicians and dancers of his time, as well as painters. Klein was a merchant of some sort; details are not known.

Musically, he was clearly a cellist and wrote many works for the instrument. Musicologists feel he substituted the newer cello for the old-fashioned viola da gamba, which was then going out of style. Scordatura is the practice of a work composed for a different tuning of a particular instrument. He wrote and published a total of 36 sonatas for varying chamber combinations: oboe and figured bass, violin and figured bass, cello and figured bass, and for a pair of cellos.

Only three sets of six have survived to the present. Klein didn’t just toss off these cello works as a side interest, as many amateur musicians. He created meticulously-designed works of some imagination, with a clear tonal and metrical plan. His music is lively and flexible, with interesting interweavings of lively dotted rhythms and contrasting cadences. All the sonatas are in different keys – the composer evidently had something in mind like Bach’s WTC, but since we have only part of them Klein’s overall plan is not clear.
Here are six of his Cello Sonatas:
No.5 in A minor 0:00
No.2 in A major 14:08
No.4 in E major 26:04
No.1 in B flat major 37:46
No.3 in G major 47:26
No.6 in C minor 58:46

Instruments used in the recording: Baroque Cello by Leopold Wildhalm Nurnberg 1785; Baroque Lute by Ivo Margherini Bremen 2001; Viola da Gamba by Ingo Muthesius Berlin 1978.
Performers: Kristin von der Goltz (cello); Hille Perl (viola da gamba) and Lee Santana (lute).

Friday, 21 August 2015


“Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.” - Louise Fresco

A recipe from the Greek Ionian island of Lefkas. This cake was often prepared for New Year’s Eve ( with a golden coin hidden in one of the pieces so the lucky finder would have good luck for the whole of the New Year), or alternatively it was baked for festive occasions such as weddings, baptisms and saints' feast days.

3 water glassfuls (900 mL) of vegetable oil
3 water glassfuls (900 mL) of water
2 water glassfuls of sugar
1 kg flour (approx.), mixed with,
1 cup fine semolina
1 stick of cinnamon
Ground cloves and cinnamon to taste
Sesame seeds
Blanched almonds (whole)

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan and once it starts boiling, add the cinnamon stick and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat but keep warm. Discard the cinnamon stick.
Reserve about 1/3 cup of oil and empty the rest into a large saucepan and heat until it is very hot. Reduce the heat to medium.
Prepare a round, 32 cm baking tray by oiling the bottom and sides with the reserved oil and sprinkle all over with sesame seeds. Preheat the oven to 200˚C.
Add the flour/semolina mixture into the heated oil, little by little and keep stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. This will become progressively more arduous as the mixture sets. Keep stirring until the mixture is a golden brown colour.
Add little by little the hot sugar syrup into the oil/flour mixture, taking care as everything is hot and the mixture will bubble up. Keep stirring until all of the syrup is added.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray and press down so that it becomes level. Sprinkle sesame seeds over the surface and with a knife score the surface in a diamond pattern as shown above.
Place a blanched almond in the centre of each diamond.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to 180˚C and bake for a further 40-45 minutes.
Test if it is cooked by driving a skewer in the centre and seeing if it comes out clean. The cake should also be easily dislodged from the sides of the baking tray.
Remove from the oven once cooked and sprinkle the surface with a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves and a couple of tablespoonfuls of caster sugar.
Leave to cool and cut into diamond shapes as scored.

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Thursday, 20 August 2015


“Dark-green and gemm’d with flowers of snow, With close uncrowded branches spread Not proudly high, nor meanly low, A graceful myrtle rear’d its head.” – James Montgomery: “The Myrtle”

The myrtle, Myrtus communis, is the birthday flower for this day.  The generic name is derived from the Greek name for the plant.  The plant was sacred to Aphrodite, but according to one legend, it was named after Myrsine, a favourite of the goddess Athena.  Aphrodite hid behind a myrtle bush to conceal her nakedness from satyrs that disturbed her bathing on Cythera.  Together with the rose, the myrtle symbolised love to the ancient Greeks who planted these flowers around the temples of Aphrodite.

Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, fell in love with her stepson Hippolytus, a passion which was not reciprocated.  While he was riding on his horse, Phaedra watched him under the shade of a myrtle tree, puncturing holes in a myrtle leaf with her hairpin.  A myrtle leaf thus punctured symbolises forbidden love.

Country brides in England had a bouquet of myrtle, rosemary and orange blossom.  On St John’s Eve in the north of England young women would put a sprig of myrtle in their prayer book saying “wilt thou take me to be thy wedded wife?”. They would then place the book under their pillow and if the next morning the myrtle had disappeared, they would marry their present sweetheart.  Somerset people believe the myrtle to be a lucky window box plant (but only if planted by a good woman).  In Wales it was customary for a myrtle bush to be planted on either side of the door, thus keeping love and peace in the house.

The Moslems have a legend in which Adam took three plants with him from Paradise when he and Eve were expelled: Wheat representing all food plants, the date palm representing all fruits, and myrtle, representing all fragrant flowers.  The plant symbolises love, pleasure, victory, virginity and amiability.

In Jewish liturgy, the myrtle is one of the four sacred plants (Four Species) of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles representing the different types of personality making up the community. The myrtle having fragrance but not pleasant taste, represents those who have good deeds to their credit despite not having knowledge from Torah study. The three branches are lashed or braided together by the worshipers a palm leaf, a willow bough, and a myrtle branch. The etrog or citron is the fruit held in the other hand as part of the lulav wave ritual. In Jewish mysticism, the myrtle represents the phallic, masculine force at work in the universe. For this reason myrtle branches were sometimes given the bridegroom as he entered the nuptial chamber after a wedding. Myrtles are both the symbol and scent of Eden

Myrtus communis, the common myrtle or true myrtle, is native across the northern Mediterranean region (especially in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, where it is locally known by the name of “murta”). The plant is an evergreen shrub or small tree, growing to 5 metres tall. The leaf is entire, 3–5 cm long, with a fragrant essential oil. The star-like flower has five petals and sepals, and numerous stamens. Petals usually are white. The flower is pollinated by insects. The fruit is a round berry containing several seeds, most commonly blue-black in colour. A variety with yellow-amber berries is also present. The seeds are dispersed by birds that eat the berries. The shrub is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens and parks. It is often used as a hedge plant, with its small leaves shearing cleanly.

The Common Myrtle is used in the islands of Sardinia and Corsica to produce an aromatic liqueur called “Mirto” by macerating it in alcohol. Mirto is one of the most typical drinks of Sardinia and comes in two varieties: Mirto rosso (red) produced by macerating the berries, and mirto bianco (white) produced from the less common yellow berries and sometimes the leaves. The berries, whole or ground, have been used as a pepper substitute. They contribute to the distinctive flavour of Mortadella sausage and the related American Bologna sausage.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


“Absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of death.” - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Poets United this week has challenged participating poets with the midweek theme of “silence”. Here is my contribution:

The Strength of Silence

“Silence”, says he, “is golden,

Words are silvern
So speak not, for it’s more precious
That way, the speechless way.”
And even in the account book of words,
His mind is on profit.

A strong, silent type, he is,

Or so he would have you believe him be;
A man of few words, silvern – remember?
But more often his is the loud silence
Of hollow ringing as each gold ingot falls on begging ears:
Taciturnity passing off as fortitude.

When evening fell, when night cut cold

When every fibre of your orphan soul
Was crying out for a flood of words,
Brazen, leaden, wooden even –
His silence (precious but empty, golden but hollow)
Met your begging expectancy.

And in the darkness, as your heart froze

His icy golden fortress of quiet
Chilled your being even more.
How strong, the silent type,
How motionless, immovable,
How unmoved, unmoving…

The strength of silence harder than rock,

Sharper than scalpel blade,
Colder than arctic tundra,
More efficient executioner than falling axe.
The strength of silence hides weakness,
Crippled emotion, cowardice, egoism.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


“Nothing endures but change.” - Heraclitus

Today is the anniversary of the birthday of:
Virginia Dare, first American-born child of English parents (1587);
Brook Taylor, mathematician (1685);
Antonio Salieri, Italian composer (1750);
Meriwether Lewis, American explorer (1774);
Fabian Gottlieb von Bellinghausen, Antarctica circumnavigator (1778);
John Russell, British Prime Minister (1792);
Max Factor, cosmetics empire builder (1904);
Shelley Winters (Shirley Schrift), actress (1922);
Rosalynn Smith, former American first lady (1927);
Roman Polanski, director (1933);
Robert Redford, US actor (1937);
Martin Mull, actor (1943);
Patrick Swayze, actor (1952);

Died on this day: In 1276, Adrian V (Ottobuono Fieschi), Pope of Rome; in 1503, Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), Pope of Rome; in 1559, Paul IV (Giampietro Caraffa), Pope of Rome.

Vinca major, the blue periwinkle is the birthday flower for today. It symbolises early friendship. Astrologically, the plant is ruled by Venus.

Harvest is well under way now in the Northern Hemisphere, and harvesters in England were revived by drinking “shot” or harvest drink.

SHOT (Harvest Drink)
1/2       pound (≈ 227 g) oatmeal
1          gallon (≈ 3.8 L) of water
1          pound (≈ 454 g) sugar
2          tablespoonfuls honey
1          orange, juice and peel
2          lemons, juice and peel

Take a quart of the water (≈ 1 L) and add to it the oatmeal, the sugar, the honey, the juice of the orange and lemon, their peel cut finely. Boil together for ten minutes. Add the rest of the water stirring well and cool well. Strain and serve with ice, decorating with mint sprigs and slices of lemon and orange.

Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was Mozart’s contemporary and during their lifetimes, infinitely more popular and more successful. His music nowadays sounds curiously simplistic and devoid of expression of feeling, although technically competent and satisfying in form. He appreciated Mozart’s genius and may have even helped the younger composer. But was he also envious of him? Did he, as one playwright would have us believe, have a hand in Mozart’s untimely death? Who knows for certain?

He wrote over 40 operas, none of which have been revived and his instrumental output although smaller is the only part of his oeuvre that is nowadays available. Some of his works that are entertaining and possibly an illustration of “classical muzak” are his concerti: Concerto for Fortepiano and Orchestra (1773) and Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Orchestra (1774). They are rather light and have no pretensions of being deep and emotionally challenging…

Here is Antonio Salieri's "Concerto for Violin, Oboe, Violoncello & Orchestra in D major", which I am rather partial to.
I. Allegro moderato 00:00
II. Cantabile 09:26
III. Andantino 17:19
Heinz Holliger, oboe; Camerata Bern; Thomas Füri, conductor and violin

Monday, 17 August 2015


“The common argument that crime is caused by poverty is a kind of slander on the poor.” - H.L. Mencken

Sometimes you watch something on TV or watch a movie and you’re puzzled: You don’t know if you liked it or not, don’t know whether it was worth the effort or not… It was precisely in this gray zone we ended up in after watching the first season of the 2011, UK TV miniseries “Mad Dogs” directed by Adrian Shergold and starring Max Beesley, John Simm, Marc Warren, Philip Glenister and Ben Chaplin. Superficially this seemed like a polished black comedy/thriller, but on reflection all that shines is not gold. Thinking about it, it is a sign of our times as it panders to the worse of human nature and covers the basest of behaviours and the worse of characters. Its plot centres on modern mores and deals with easy money, a “crime pays” mentality, and devalues decency and human life. If we take it seriously… Which we didn’t, hence we watched it all, rather than turn it off in disgust.

Cris Cole has written the screenplay and the plot is as follows: Four friends, Woody, Quinn, Baxter, and Rick arrive in Majorca, Spain, to visit their old mate Alvo, who ostensibly is now a retired, wealthy property tycoon enjoying the trappings of an ex-pat lifestyle in a luxury villa in a remote idyllic location. One by one Alvo asks his friends what they’ve done with their lives, whether they’re truly happy, and whether would they rather live like him. The hedonistic mood of the friends soon changes when they realise Alvo isn’t quite the man they thought he was. The luxury yacht Alvo takes them on turns out to be stolen; Alvo’s business is anything but squeaky clean and their friend has dragged them into something exceedingly dangerous. A murder committed in front of their eyes makes them realise that easy money and a jet set lifestyle is quite often supported by a life of crime…

The locations on Majorca are wonderful and it’s worth seeing the series to enjoy that. The acting is also very good and the production values high as one would expect from a BBC series. The success of the first season of four episodes generated another three seasons. It also generated a 2015 American clone of “Mad Dogs” where the four friends visit their old schoolmate in Belize rather than Majorca. Once again, one has to wonder what makes a TV series like this so widely popular…

We didn’t regret seeing this, but we won’t be watching any further seasons/episodes. The characters are rather unlikeable with hardly any redeeming features, their motives suspect and their actions stupid, motivated by base instincts, greed and guilt. The plot is thin and predictable, the situations the characters find themselves in ridiculous. Should you watch it? I don’t know… If it falls in your lap (like it did in mine), then have a gawk at it. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother searching high and low for it.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


“My characters have undergone the same process of simplification as the colours. Now that they have been simplified, they appear more human and alive than if they had been represented in all their details.” -  Joan Miró

Joan Miró Ferrà (April 20th, 1893 - December 25th, 1983) was a Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist. Originally from Barcelona, Joan Miró moved to Paris at an early age, where he began to develop an unconventional style of work. He soon became known in the community as a Surrealist because of his love for automatism and the use of sexual symbols in much of his work.

Joan Miró was very much against the established painting methods of the time, and he is often credited with being the founder of automatic drawing. Automatic drawing is the process of allowing the hand to move randomly on the canvas, leaving the artwork develop by chance. Many Surrealists believed that this form of drawing would reveal something about the subconscious human mind. For Joan Miró, automatic drawing was also a way to breaking free from conventional form.

Miró was very much against bourgeois art, claiming that it was used for propaganda and the promotion of a wealthy culture. Miró referred to his work as the assassination of painting. During the height of his career, Joan Miró experimented with many different types of art form, refusing to commit to any one artistic movement. Later in his career he began experimenting with tapestry. In 1974 he created World Trade Center Tapestry for the newly constructed Twin Towers. This work would later become the most expensive piece of art lost in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th.

Joan Miró also began to delve into other aspects of media, including ceramics and window paintings. Some of his more radical ideas included four-dimensional art, and gas sculptures, though he was never able to put these ideas into practice. Perhaps his most important work of art in the United States is a glass mural titled “Personnages Oiseaux”, which was made for the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University in Kansas. Joan Miró began this large two-dimensional project at the age of 79, and it was not completely until he was 85 years old. The mural is made up of one million pieces of marble and Venetian glass, mounted on a special type of wood, and was attatched to the concrete wall of the museum. It was the first glass mosaic ever attempted by Miró, and though he wanted to make more, his deteriorating health prevented any future attempts of another project.

At the time of his death, Joan Miró was bedridden from heart disease and respiratory complications. He died at his home in Palma, Mallorca on December 25th, 1983. He is buried in his home town of Barcelona, near a museum that is dedicated entirely to his work. Today, his works are displayed in museums and galleries all over the world, and sell for anywhere between $250,000 and $17 million.

When Miró moved into the studio of Pau Gargallo on the rue Blomet in Paris, he came in contact with the poets and artists belonging to a group that had arisen from Dadaism. In 1924, this became the Surrealist group centred on the poet Andre Breton. Miró was never an orthodox Surrealist. However, the movement legitimised the use of dreams and the subconscious as artistic raw material. It thus offered him the possibility of liberating his own pictorial style by allowing him freely to combine the earthly and the magical elements seen in his “detailist” period. “Harlequin’s Carnival” above is good example of this change.

The world of the imagination and subconscious, rather than being an end in itself, was for Miró a way of giving shape in his paintings to his lived experiences and his memories. In spite of the fact that many of his pictures had been sold, Miró led a hard life in his studio in the Rue Blomet. “I used to come home in he evening without having eaten anything”, he reported later, “and I wrote down my feelings. During that year I spent a lot of time with poets; because I felt it necessary to overcome the ‘plastic’ in order to reach poetry.” After “The Farm”, “Harlequin’s Carnival” was to become Miró’s second striking work. In it, painting and graphic elements that run through the picture seem for the first time to be unified.