Friday, 9 January 2015


“The music of the people is like a rare and lovely flower growing amidst encroaching weeds. Thousands pass it, while others trample it under foot, and thus the chances are that it will perish before it is seen by the one discriminating spirit who will prize it above all else. The fact that no one has as yet arisen to make the most of it does not prove that nothing is there.” - Antonín Dvořák

The Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, is the last solo concerto by Antonín Leopold Dvořák. It was written in 1894–1895 for his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan, but was premiered by the English cellist Leo Stern.

Dvořák wrote the concerto while in New York for his third term as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 one of the teachers at the Conservatory, Victor Herbert, also a composer, finished his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30, and premiered it in a series of concerts, commencing on 9 March. Dvořák heard at least two performances of the piece and was inspired to fulfil Wihan’s request in composing a cello concerto of his own. Herbert had been principal cellist in the orchestra that premiered Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony on 16 December 1893, and wrote his concerto in the same key, E minor. Herbert’s middle movement was in B minor, which may have inspired Dvořák to write his concerto in the same key.

It was started on 8 November 1894 and completed on 9 February 1895. After seeing the score, Hanuš Wihan made various suggestions for improvement, including two cadenzas, one at the end of the third movement. But Dvořák accepted only a few minor changes and neither of the cadenzas. The third movement was a tribute to the memory of his recently deceased sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Čermakova. Specifically, the slow, wistful section, before the triumphant ending, quotes his series of songs “The Cypresses”, Čermakova’s favorite piece.

The large-scale sonata-form first movement starts with a lengthy introduction by the orchestra, which states both themes and allows the soloist to expand on each. The first theme is played throughout the movement and during the last part of the third movement, giving the concerto a cyclic structure. The solo cello begins with a quasi improvisando section stating the theme in B major followed by triple-stopped chords. The cello then plays the theme again in E major. This concerto requires a lot of technical ability, especially in the coda, where the cello plays octaves and many double stops. The solo cello ends with trills then a high B octave. The movement ends tutti with the restatement of the first theme marked grandioso and fortissimo.

Following this opening essay is the lengthy Adagio, a lyrical movement which features a cadenza-like section which is accompanied mainly by flutes. The cello plays double stops accompanied by left-hand pizzicato on open strings. The movement ends with the cello playing harmonics very quietly.

The final movement is formally a rondo. It opens with the horn playing the main theme quietly. A gradual crescendo leads into a dramatic woodwinds and strings section. The solo cello enters by playing the modified main theme loudly which is marked risoluto. The orchestra plays the new modified theme again. Then the cello enters with a melody played on the A string played with thirty-second notes on the D string. This fast section leads into a section marked poco meno mosso, dolce, and piano. A crescendo and accelerando leads into a fast arpeggio played in sixteenth-note triplets. A fast scale leads into a loud tutti section presenting new material.

The cello enters and a gradual decrescendo to another restatement of the theme marked piano. This is followed by a contrasting, loud restatement of the theme played by woodwinds accompanied by strings and brass. This is followed by a moderato section in C major and eventually meno mosso which slowly modulates from A major to C-sharp major to B-flat major and finally goes to the original tempo in B major. This is followed by another quiet and slow section which uses material from the first movement and second movement. The concerto ends allegro vivo presented by full orchestra.

Here is Antonín Dvořák’s “Cello Concerto in B minor”, Op. 104, B. 191.
1. Allegro 0:00
2. Adagio, ma non troppo 16:05
3. Finale: Allegro moderato - Andante - Allegro vivo 28:25

It is played by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Järvi, with soloist Gautier Capuçon. One of the world’s leading young cellists, Gautier Capuçon was born in Chambéry in 1981 and began playing the cello at the age of five. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and in 1999 won both the first prize of the Maurice Ravel Music Academy of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the André Navarra Competition in Toulouse. The following year he was awarded the Paris Conservatoire’s Cello and Chamber Music Prize and has since attended Heinrich Schiff’s masterclasses in Vienna. In 2001 the Victoires de la Musique, France’s top music awards, named him New Talent of the Year and in 2004 he received an award from Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

A keen chamber musician, Gautier Capuçon recently undertook a tour of Italy in a trio with Katia Labèque and Victoria Mullova, while his other chamber partners include Martha Argerich (with whom he made a tour of Japan), Daniel Barenboim, Yuri Bashmet, Gérard Caussé, Myung-Whun Chung, Hélène Grimaud, Stephen Kovacevich, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Lilya Zilberstein and the Ysaÿe Quartet. His closest musical relationship is with his violinist brother Renaud, with whom he notably made a critically acclaimed US recital tour. He has also given solo recitals across Europe, and appears regularly at major European music festivals.

Thursday, 8 January 2015


“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” - Lewis Grizzard

We have had some quite hot weather in Melbourne lately and we have been having lots of salads, sometimes this being our main meal. Here is a Summer salad that we enjoy with freshly baked crispy bread.


Ingredients (for 2 persons)
3 ripe beefsteak tomatoes
2 Lebanese (i.e. baby) cucumbers
4-5 sprigs of fresh purslane
2-3 sprigs of parsley
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large fresh Spring onion
1 tbsp baby capers
A pinch or two of dried oregano
Salt, pepper to taste
70 g of blue vein cheese
Vinaigrette Dressing
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp Italian “balsamico” vinegar


Cut and slice the tomatoes and put in a salad bowl. Peel and slice the cucumbers on top of it.  Pluck the tender leaves of the purslane and add to salad. Chop up the parsley and thyme and add to salad.
Add the chopped Spring onion and capers. Add the oregano, salt and pepper. Dress with the vinaigrette, tossing thoroughly, and add the cheese cut in small cubes.

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015


“Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.” - Ecclesiastes 8:15

Champagne is a lovely drink and there are so many occasions on which to enjoy it and so many ways to drink it! I am sure that most readers of this blog would have had a glass or two over the Festive Season. The best way to drink it may be to share a bottle with one’s partner on a special occasion, but champagne is also drunk in numerous cocktails and mixed drinks. I enjoyed it one Winter’s day for New Year’s brunch in Amsterdam with some friends in a concoction known as ‘Kir Royale’.  A little Crème de Cassis liqueur in a chilled champagne flute and then topped up with ice-cold bubbly - very nice!

The name “champagne” is used very specifically and describes the classic sparkling wine named for the site of its origin and exclusive production, the traditional region of Champagne in northeastern France. The term champagne is also applied generically, with restrictions, outside France, to many white or rosé wines that are characterised by effervescence – France has become extremely indignant with the indiscriminate use of this term and the preferred appellation outside France is now “sparkling wine” or wine made by the “méthode champenoise”.

In Australia we produce excellent sparkling wines, some up there on par with the best champagnes France is producing. Moët et Chandon have recognised the potential of some countries in the world as excellent wine producers of sparkling wines and have invested heavily in these. About 55 km away from central Melbourne is the beautiful Yarra Valley, a prime wine-producing area. Domain Chandon (owned and run by Moët et Chandon) produces some excellent sparkling wines.

The region that produces the authentic French champagne includes certain parishes in the départements of Marne, Aisne, Seine-et-Marne, Aube, and Haute-Marne. The best champagne comes from vineyards along the Marne River from Château-Thierry eastward to Épernay and on the plain from Épernay stretching north to Reims, which is dominated by a hill called the Montagne de Reims. Champagne is made from only three grape varieties: Pinot and meunier, both black, and chardonnay, white. Characteristic of champagne is a crisp, flinty taste, sometimes ascribed to the chalky soil in which the vines are grown. A small amount made from green grapes only is called blanc des blancs. Pink champagne is made by adding a little red wine, or by leaving the crushed grapes in contact with their skins for a time.

Champagne is initially fermented in stainless steel vats, after which the wine is blended. If the year has been excellent, only wines of that year are used and the product is vintage champagne; if not, a blend with wines of different years will be made, improving and strengthening the wine and producing a non-vintage champagne. After blending, a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast is added to the wine before it is transferred to pressure tanks or to strong, dark bottles for a second fermentation that yields carbon dioxide and effervescence. This second fermentation is completed after a few weeks or months.

Wine thus fermented in tanks is then transferred to another tank, where it is chilled, sweetened, and bottled. Wine in bottles is left to mature; during this period the bottles are shaken daily and gradually turned and tipped until they are upside down and the impurities (sediment) have settled onto the bottom of the cork. This procedure, called riddling (remuage), has been largely mechanised since the 1970s. When the wine is mature and ready for the market, the deposits are removed in a process called dégorgement. In this process, the cork is carefully pried off, allowing the internal pressure in the bottle to shoot the sediment out; this is sometimes done after the neck of the bottle and the deposits have been frozen. After dégorgement, a small amount of syrup melted in old champagne is added to the bottle and the wine is recorked.

Champagne to which little or none of this sugar is added is labelled ‘brut’ (extra dry); somewhat sweeter is ‘sec’, and wine with larger quantities of sugar is ‘demi-sec’. All of these are sweeter than the words indicate.

And as I started with a biblical quotation extolling the virtues of good drink, let me end with another one. The proviso of course is to always drink responsibly! “And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.” Isaiah 22:13

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


“Look to the end of life.” Chilon - One of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece

Sickness is but a reminder of the transience of our existence and of the ultimate fate of all living things – death.  How far from our mind is our own mortality when we are young and healthy and feeling full of vigour, ready to overcome all obstacles in our path? On the other hand, how our mind dwells on morbid thought when our body becomes assailed by illness and our vital reserve is diminished… Disease has always been with us, and it is doubtful whether we shall ever be able to completely eradicate it from our life.

Advances in medicine, public health and knowledge in the 19th century have done a lot to decrease the incidence of many diseases that were scourges of the past, but as soon as we eliminate one such enemy, a new one takes its place. In the West, infectious diseases were the major cause of death until the early twentieth century, but as we conquered those, we became victims to cancers and degenerative disease such as atherosclerosis and heart attacks. The advent of AIDS, SARS and new deadly forms of influenza have created panic on a world-wide scale as they claim their victims. New viruses lurk in Africa and will, no doubt, cause many epidemics in the near future, as the recent Ebola epidemic has shown.

There is nothing more distressing than to see a loved one being tortured by an illness. Especially a chronic disease without a cure that one is powerless to do anything against. How to deal with that suffering is a conundrum that has no answer. The pain that our loved one feels hurts us also, but our incapacity to help them causes even more anguish. We try to deal with this torment of every-day existence, if for nothing else, to give strength to the ill person whom we love. However, at the same time we have another reality to deal with – we are confronted with the mortality of our loved one. Someone whom we have always considered as strong, healthy, young, invincible is suddenly reduced by disease to shell, a shadow of their former self.

It is inevitable that once we have wrestled with the morbidity and mortality of our loved one, we should start to question our own health, wonder about our susceptibility to disease and ponder our own death. This may be easier to do on the personal level, once we have dealt with these matters in the face of our loved one.

The saddest thing that one may have to cope with in terms of mortality is the death of one’s child. Children are meant to bury their parents, not vice-versa. No parent is prepared for a child’s death and it is important to remember that how long one’s child lived does not determine the size of one’s loss. Parents are intimately involved in the daily lives of young children, and death changes every aspect of family life, often leaving an enormous emptiness.

The death of an older child or adolescent is difficult because children at this age are beginning to reach their potential and become independent individuals. When an adult child dies, one not only loses a child, but often a close friend, a link to grandchildren, and an irreplaceable source of emotional and practical support. If one loses an only child, one may also feel that one’s identity as a parent is lost, and perhaps the possibility of grandchildren.

In addition to grieving the loss of a child, bereft parents may find that they grieve the loss of the hopes and dreams they had for their child, as well as the potential that will never be realised and the experiences they will never share. The pain of these losses will always be part of these unfortunate parents. Yet, as is the case with even the greatest tragedies, the greatest pain, with time, most parents find a way forward and begin to experience happiness and meaning in life once again.

Death is part of life and the sooner one confronts one’s own mortality, the better our life will become. Without death there is no life, and while there is life we must live it to the full so as to make the most of it before we die. The sooner we accept our eventual demise, the more meaningful and fulfilling out life will become.

The painting above is: “Memento Mori - To This Favour”, oil on canvas, by William Michael Harnett, 1879, Cleveland Museum of Art.


“Baptism is not only a sacrament of our union with Christ; it is also a sacrament of our communion as the body of Christ.” - Michael Horton

January the 6th celebrates, The Epiphany (also called Theophany) which marks three important events in the Christian calendar:

  • The first is the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem and the adoration of the Christ Child.
  • The second is the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist
  • The third the miracle at Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, when there was no more wine for the guests at the wedding Jesus was invited to.

In the Western church, the adoration of the Magi is the most important of these celebrations while in the Eastern church, Christ’s baptism is the most important.

The word “epiphania” in Greek means “manifestation” and refers to the appearance of the Christ child to the Magi. The winter jasmine (yellow jasmine), Jasminum nudiflorum, is a flower symbolic of the Epiphany and is also an attribute of the Virgin Mary.

In Greece the traditional Blessing of the Waters takes place on this day. As part of the religious ceremonies on this day, the priest and his congregation make their way to a body of water (usually the sea) and the priest throws a crucifix into the waters after uttering the blessing. Young people dive into the waters, competing to retrieve the crucifix. The lucky person who recovers the cross and hands it back to the priest receives a special blessing and a gold cross to wear around the neck.

Schemenlauf is a noisy Austrian festival celebrating the approach of Spring on this day. In villages all over the country mummers dressed in traditional costumes made of mossy green and wearing masks parade around, dancing, singing and shouting to scare winter away. Bells are rung and drums are beaten, the day often ending with communal feasts where much wine and beer are consumed.  A similar festival is celebrated in some parts of Switzerland on January 13th.

Monday, 5 January 2015


“O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming.” - William Shakespeare ‘Twelfth Night’ (2.3.39-40)

January the 5th is the 11th Day of Christmas and the Twelfth Night of Christmas: Tradition has it that Christmas celebrations are to end today and decorations should be taken down on this day.  However, a sprig of holly should be retained in the house to protect the occupants against lightning.

Twelfth Night celebrations were once very popular and traditionally, this night was one of the merriest in the Christmas season.  Twelfth Night parties were held everywhere, ostensibly to celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, however, many of the traditions surrounding the Night’s celebrations were pagan in origin.

A Twelfth Night cake was baked and a single bean was hidden in it.  The person who found it in his piece became the Bean King for the Night.  This tradition hails back to the Roman Saturnalia where a King was chosen by lot.  The bean was a sacred seed in ancient times.  A pea was sometimes baked in a cake in order to choose a Twelfth Night Queen, also.  These cakes have now merged with the tradition of the Christmas Cake and the Christmas Pudding (the latter which may contain the silver sixpence to determine the lucky one amongst its consumers: Compare this with the Vasilopitta the Greek New Year’s cake that contains the lucky coin).

At the Twelfth Night party, it was customary to draw cards, on which were represented certain stock pantomime-like characters, exemplifying humorous national traits, for example, Farmer Mangelwurzel, François Parlez-Vous and Patrick O’Tater.  People had to act out the part of their chosen character and also submit to the humorous “commands” of the Bean King. Much laughter, good humour, fine food and drink were expended on these occasions.

Twelfth Night

Snow-happy hicks of a boy’s world –
O crunch of bull’s eyes in the mouth,
O crunch of frost beneath the foot –
If time would only remain furled
In white, and thaw were not for certain
And snow would but stay put, stay put!

When the pillar-box wore a white bonnet –
O harmony of roof and hedge,
O parity of sight and thought –
And each flake had your number on it
And lives were round for not a number
But equalled nought, equalled nought!

But now the sphinx must change her shape –
O track that reappears through slush,
O broken riddle, burst grenade –
And lives must be pulled out like tape
To measure something not themselves,
Things not given but made, but made.

For now the time of gifts is gone –
O boys that grow, O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill –
Here is dull earth to build upon
Undecorated; we have reached
Twelfth Night or what you will... you will.
Louis Macneice (1907-1963)

Illustration is: David Teniers the Younger: “Twelfth Night (The King Drinks)”. c. 1634-1640. Oil on canvas. 58 x 70 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Sunday, 4 January 2015


“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” - Ernest Hemingway

Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) is a tragic figure in the history of art, and he is associated with Paris and Montmartre more than any other painter, perhaps. He was born in Paris on December 26, 1883 and was the illegitimate son of Suzanne Valadon, the model and painter. She was only 18 when he was born and even she had very little idea of the father’s identity. It seems that it could have been any one of several artists in Montmartre, though the strongest evidence seems to point to a young artist/wanderer by the name of Boissy, or perhaps to another artist, or Puvis de Chavannes.

Suzanne adored her son, but in his infancy he inconvenienced her lifestyle and so she often neglected him. His maternal grandmother, Madeleine, raised him. She lived with them and took in washing to add to her daughter’s income. At that time, Suzanne was one of the most popular models in Montmartre. Madeleine started giving wine to baby Maurice to put him to sleep, thus forming his future penchant to drink excessively. He was known as a drunk from before the age of thirteen. Boissy, his supposed father, was also an alcoholic.

Utrillo got his name from Miguel Utrillo, a friend of his mother’s, who agreed to adopt Maurice so that the boy would appear to have a father. Maurice became “Maurice Utrillo” on April 8, 1891. At first, Maurice resented this change terribly and he refused to use the name, adopting it only when he was 27, finally settling on “Maurice Utrillo, V.” Maurice, was untrained as an artist, like his mother, but he had a raw, natural style. He almost always painted Montmartre and often it was from memory or from picture postcards. In his painting, Suzanne did all she could to encourage him, and he gradually developed his own style.

For most of his life, Maurice would be in and out of hospitals and institutions for drunkenness and mental illness due to drinking. His mother, herself an alcoholic, was a great contributor to the problem. For many years they lived together in Montmartre and in Brittany (where they later had a large country house), the elderly Madeleine, Maurice, Suzanne, and her lover and then husband, André Utter. They drank and fought and scrounged for money, living from the sale of a painting here and there. Utter began to act as agent for both Maurice and Suzanne, and gradually they both became respected artists in Montmartre and with this new found success, life became slightly easier for Suzanne and Utter. Maurice, however, would never lead a stable life. He drank and painted, and when it was very bad would ask his friends to lock him up and not let him drink. He would scream until someone let him out or he could escape.

The finest examples of this are shown throughout his White Period (≈1909-1914). In his paintings of the White Period, calm and serenity reign, enhanced by the colour white that Utrillo, better than any other painter, could modulate to such poetic effect. He made lavish use of zinc white pigment, which he sometimes mixed with plaster. In heavy, rich pigment, he depicted ageing, cracked walls, sometimes covered in inscriptions.

Utrillo was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1928. In 1935 he married Lucie Pauwels, a widow who was herself an amateur painter, and they settled in Le Vésinet, a fashionable suburb of Paris. In his later years, his painting declined sharply in originality and vigour. Utrillo was notably prolific; he produced thousands of oil paintings. First-rate paintings by Utrillo are few, but critics have linked him as a landscapist with such 18th- and 19th-century masters as Francesco Guardi, Hubert Robert, and Camille Corot. Unfortunately, countless crude forgeries have interfered with Utrillo’s good reputation.

Utrillo is one of the few contemporary painters whose works please sophisticated as well as simple tastes. Despite changing fashions and fluctuations of the market, his canvasses bring higher and higher prices with each year (good Utrillos of the “white period” are sold for thousands of dollars). Now universally respected, he has been challenged in the courts twice and emerged victorious each time: Once when American customs officials had denounced his work as dutiable products because they had been done with the aid of picture postcards; and another time when a catalogue of a London museum stated that the artist had long since perished, a victim of excessive drinking. In the second case, the squire of Le Vésinet was able to convince a British court that he was very much alive and was dividing his time between work and religious devotion…

Above all, Utrillo had an eye for Montmartre - the old, picturesque, and relatively quiet artists’ quarter as it existed before the First World War. He was fascinated by the sad little streets and miserable bistros of the industrial suburbs. It is true that he also painted some of the great cathedrals of France and panoramas of Brittany and Corsica, as well as a few flower pieces, but it is as the painter of the unheralded sights of the French capital that he will be known forever. A celebration of the romantic view of Paris as imagined by the keen tourist is what Utrillo’s paintings invoke.

The painting above is “Sacre Coeur de Montmartre, et rue Saint-Rustique”, oil on canvas, 49.8 x 61 cm, in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. And here is Edith Piaf singing “Sous le ciel de Paris”, a Parisian ditty that goes so well with this painting!