Tuesday, December 11, 2018
I don't know if I will be able to convey what is after all a feeling but I cannot listen to the original version of the great Lutheran hymn "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (A mighty fortress is our God) without being upset.
The hymn is now best known in the marvellous setting by J.S. Bach -- a supreme work of musical art -- so we usually overlook the original hymn. Both the original work and the Bach setting are works expressing Christian triumph over evil and adversity but in the original version you get a feeling for what Christians of hundreds of years ago had to triumph over.
The world they lived in was full of tragedy, hardship and disaster and they attributed it all to demons and the Devil himself. To them the Devil was real and powerful and present in their lives. They saw his cruel deeds all about them on a daily basis -- in sickness and death and disaster. There are few things, if any, more upsetting than the death of a child but they had to endure such deaths often.
So what the hymn conveys to me is both how awful their lives were and how their Christian faith gave them the heart to power on. Their faith was their only rock, their only comfort. They had no power to combat the evils around them. It cuts me up that they had so little power over their lives when we have so much. Their survival truly is a wonder.
But I have said as much as I can. Just listen to the starkly simple words of a very simple hymn and feel for those poor people.
As students of foreign languages always tell you, you cannot adequately translate a poem and that is certainly so here. The song is even more powerful in the original German: Simple punchy words
The words: "Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib: lass fahren dahin" are not well translated above. They say that your possessions, your honour, your child and your wife can all be lost but the Devil still has not triumphed. What tragedies they had to expect!
And now listen to the wonderful things Bach did with that ultra-simple hymn:
Bach had joy in the Christian triumph over the Devil
Footnote: The opening image in the first video above depicts Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. In the background is the Wartburg castle where Luther hid from his imperial pursuers
Saturday, December 8, 2018
I put these two remarkable performers together because they put themselves together. They give joint concerts which they clearly enjoy greatly.
Stepan Hauser, from Croatia, seems to have single-handedly revived interest in the cello as a solo instrument. The great power of the cello is very engrossing and emotionally moving so it deserves more prominence. The great champion of the cello for a time was Jacqueline du Pré but, sadly, she is now long gone -- so it is good to see a successor emerging
American violinist Caroline Campbell: One expects lady violinists to look rather dowdy but Campbell in the opposite. She is a real glamor girl -- who also happens to be mistress of the violin while also being a most expressive interpreter of what she plays. Watching her play is very easy on the eye.
Below are some videos, first a popular duet between Hauser and Campbell. They play the popular song "Return to Sorrento", which just about everyone should be able to get with
"Torna a Surriento" is a Neapolitan song composed in 1902 by Italian musician Ernesto De Curtis to words by his brother, the poet and painter Giambattista De Curtis.
English translation ("Come Back to Sorrento")
Look at the sea, how beautiful it is,
it inspires so many emotions,
like you do with the people you look at,
who you make to dream while they are still awake.
Look at this garden
and the scent of these oranges,
such a fine perfume,
it goes straight into your heart,
And you say: "I am leaving, goodbye."
You go away from this heart of mine,
away from this land of love,
And you have the heart not to come back.
But do not go away,
do not give me this pain.
Come back to Surriento,
let me live!
Then there is a duet in which Hauser and Campbell do a Hungarian Csardas -- which starts out slow and ends very fast. They both handle even the fastest notes effortlessly and with great panache.
I think this performance might be my favourite classical music performance. Both players really live the music and in addition to the lady being both an excellent artist and a good humoured person she is such a dish. We men are allowed to admire the female form. The human race would rapidly grind to a halt if we did not.
The venue for the performance appears to be the Arena Pula in Croatia, the best preserved Roman amphitheatre
There are some good pictures of Campbell in a variety of settings here
And just to show that Hauser takes his cello everywhere:
Note those heels! Lola Astanova is an Uzbek from Tashkent and when you are an Uzbek, you need a gimmick to get attention. She has succeeded. And she is a genuinely gifted pianist as well
Saturday, December 1, 2018
I have recently installed a sub-woofer on my computer so I tried it out with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a work using a lot of bass. It performed faultlessly, to my pleasure. Below is the work concerned.
The organist is the late Hannes Kästner on the great cathedral organ of St. Steven at Passau in Bavaria. The German lands are truly the lands of music. https://youtu.be/ho9rZjlsyYY
Monday, October 1, 2018
The Tilt Train doesn't tilt any more. That's one of the most glaring proofs of how the super cautious bureaucrats at Queensland Rail have totally misused one of the few trains that they could have been proud of. It is one of the few bits of "modern" (it is 20 years old) technology that could have given passengers a modern journey time.
It chugs along at a speed averaging about 80 kmh versus the 160 kmh it is routinely capable of. It goes a little faster than the old "Sunlander" but the "Sunlander" was REALLY slow. You could have walked faster at some points on it.
Do the sums yourself: The Tilt Train does the 615 km from Brisbane to Rockhampton in 7.5 hours -- which averages out at 82 kmh -- or 51 mph in the old money. Highway traffic goes faster than that. Allowing half an hour for stops still brings the average speed up to only 87 kmh
And that slow speed is why the train doesn't tilt any more. The whole point of Tilting technology is so it can go faster. The train does not have to slow down so much as it goes around curves. It leans into curves the way a motorbike would. But the Tilt Train goes so slowly around curves that it has no need to tilt. It handles curves in the track the same way the old "Sunlander" did -- by slowing to a crawl.
On my recent trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton, there were a few spots when the train showed something of what it can do and that was rather exciting but they never lasted for long.
Perhaps the most extraordinary example of excess bureaucratic caution was the way the train slowed to a crawl for an urban level crossing. With red lights flashing and a boom gate down, Queensland motorists can still cross rail tracks at will. In most of the world you risk your life by ignoring crossing warnings but not so in urban Queensland. The train goes so slowly that the driver could probably stop in time rather than run into you. The bureaucrats ensure that NOTHING will generate negative publicity for their train.
On my trip the train even came to a full stop for 15 minutes to deal with an ill passenger. I have no idea how that helped. I suspect regulations again.
So why are Queenslanders in the grip of bureaucrats who completely misuse their best asset? I suspect it goes back to the time when the Tilt Train did tilt. But it can only tilt so far. And in 2004 BOTH drivers were too busy noshing to slow the train down when it entered a curve. So they sent the train through a curve at twice the recommended speed. It of course crashed.
So what was clearly needed were computerized speed limiters. Queensland Rail in fact did install such a system but to be super cautious they just slowed the whole train down forever. A very bureaucratic and unintelligent response. They can now enjoy their coffee breaks without a care in the world.
I must however give credit where it is due. The food aboard is remarkably good for railway food. Their chef clearly knows what he is doing. The hot food came around hot and the cold food around came cold. And the prices are very reasonable, though the portions are rather small. And the food carts come around with great frequency, perhaps to take the minds of passengers off the painful progress of their train. I am guessing that the food supply is the only thing outsourced to private enterprise. What might upset international visitors, however, is that they only take cash. Remember that stuff? Credit cards are not accepted.
Friday, September 21, 2018
I listen to quite as lot of music on video -- mostly classical. And the piano is of course a big part of that. So it is a very pleasant discovery for me to come across a new artist -- new to me anyway. Up until recently my favourite pianist was Yuja Wang, a gift to us all from Beijing. I have just in the last few days got to hear the playing of Alice Sara Ott, from Germany. Her mother was Japanese so she is rather tiny in build but quite pretty.
I have heard quite a few pieces by her but the one that gets to me most is Beethoven's 3rd Piano concerto. https://youtu.be/PM0HqmptYlY Her timing is exquisite. Below she joins with the French national radio orchestra in Paris under a Finnish conductor.
Before her the pianist I was listening to most was Yuja Wang. She is quite amazing playing Schubert. I know the words and story for quite a few Schubert Lieder and listening to Wang play I could swear she has the words in her head too. Her playing exactly reflects the poem concerned. Below is an example of that most dramatic Lied Der Erlkoenig -- set to a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Erl-King https://youtu.be/4_BmRekeJ8A
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Who's riding so late where winds blow wild
It is the father grasping his child;
He holds the boy embraced in his arm,
He clasps him snugly, he keeps him warm.
"My son, why cover your face in such fear?"
"You see the elf-king, father?
He's near! The king of the elves with crown and train!"
"My son, the mist is on the plain."
'Sweet lad, o come and join me, do!
Such pretty games I will play with you;
On the shore gay flowers their color unfold,
My mother has many garments of gold.'
"My father, my father, and can you not hear
The promise the elf-king breathes in my ear?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child, lie low:
In withered leaves the night-winds blow."
'Will you, sweet lad, come along with me?
My daughters shall care for you tenderly;
In the night my daughters their revelry keep,
They'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.'
"My father, my father, o can you not trace
The elf-king's daughters in that gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clear
How grey the ancient willows appear."
'I love you, your comeliness charms me, my boy!
And if you're not willing, my force I'll employ.'
"Now father, now father, he's seizing my arm.
Elf-king has done me a cruel harm."
The father shudders, his ride is wild,
In his arms he's holding the groaning child,
Reaches the court with toil and dread. -
The child he held in his arms was dead.
And before that I was most often listening to Emil Gilels, a Ukrainian pianist from the Soviet era -- playing Beethoven's 5th concerto, "The Emperor". Its beauty still moves me to tears
Friday, June 22, 2018
Have you used that expression? I use it to describe (say) an athletic young woman. But if you Google it you will find it as a description of a lot of things. So where does that phrase come from? I know but seeing nobody else seem to know, I thought I had better put it online.
Back in the 60's, when a lot of people went rather mad (I was there!), there was a washing machine manufacturer in South Australia called Lightburn. Eventually however they got bored with making washing machines and had dreams of making a motor car. And they did -- using their washing machine factory for the purpose. It was called the Lightburn Zeta. It seems to have been inspired by East Germany's Trabant. Maybe Mr Lightburn was a Communist. About 400 of them were made
Any way the Zeta gave the Trabant a run for its money for flimsiness. Though it was at least mainly made of steel rather than the plastic of the Trabant. It was very small and powered by two stroke motors, presumably bought in from some motorbike manufacturer. But it was a very light vehicle so a motorbike motor could push it along.
It's most amazing feature was that it had no reverse gear. To reverse it you had to stop the motor and then start it again. So that gave you four reverse gears. I did tell you this was the 60s!
Anyway, there was really only one good thing about it: The advertising slogan. Somehow their advertising agency had a stroke of inspiration and described the Zeta as everyhing it was not: "Trim Taut & Terrific". And that then took off as a description of many things
Even the Wikipedia entry on the Zeta does not know of its slogan so it is sort of lucky that it has stuck in my aged brain -- probably because I thought it was hilarious from the beginning.
I would add the information to the Wikipedia entry except that they always wipe everything I put up. They have got a whole team of "editors' who seem to spend all their time wiping entries they regard as "unsuitable". I will probably add this post to my personal Wikipedia. My personal Wikipedia has lot of information about operetta that is not elsewhere available in English but it was still not good enough for Wikipedia
A final note: You will find here a description of something that is said to be "Trim Taut & Terrific" but also "small, but perfectly formed". That is a rather weird combination. "Small, but perfectly formed" was originally a description of Alexander the Great -- a Greek King from about 300 BC
Thursday, April 12, 2018
I spent some time listening to some wonderful songs last night
First was Leonid Kharitonov singing "Volga Boatman" with the Red Army Choir. The song is actually a type of shanty. It is not the song of sailors, however. It is a song of men on a towpath dragging boats along the Volga, presumably upstream. It is a song of endurance. As such the words are simple to the point of meaninglessness but the tune is compelling. And when you see Kharitonov -- a most manly looking man -- you get a feeling for Russian power.
Russians are enduring. They have to be -- with both a demanding climate and a demanding government. I admire them and have a feeling for what life must be like in Russia. When you listen to Kharitinov, however, you begin to understand the war on the Eastern front. The Germans were military specialists and killed 4 Russians for every one of theirs that fell. But the Russians just did not give in -- so indomitability triumphed over military brilliance. The clip below is from the Soviet era
A version without the introduction here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNb54rwDQJM
Then I watched an excellent version of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, played by an American army band. It was a very sophisticated performance in my language by people of my ethnicity referring to my religious heritage but I was nevertheless a little uncomfortable with it. I was disturbed by the women in the band, including the very capable woman conductor. In my old-fashioned military mind, we fight to protect our women, not put them in the army. A nation that puts its mothers in danger has lost the plot and endangered its future in my view.
Then I watched a very well done version of Hatikva, the national anthem of Israel. I am hugely pro-Israel so that moved me. When they sing about Jerusalem that is not just their religious capital but it is ours too. Their Bible is our Bible too. So we too have learnt to yearn for Zion.
Then there was a rendition of the simple but beloved Russian folk song: Katyusha. With a lively little Russian girl (Valeria Kurnushkina) drawn in to sing her part. The Choir with their big hats sang happily along with her. She was a charmer.
And then I went to a magnificent rendition in the Albert hall of that great English song "Jerusalem". Blake's magical words and Parry's setting are incomparable. Anybody with English blood in them (and I am one) has to glorify in that song despite it's vast theological improbability. I liked some of the comments left on the video. I felt that way too:
Thank God I was born an Englishman!!
For starters I hardly ever cry, but this almost brought a tear to my eye. Were so proud of you from across the pond, sending lots of love and wishes of luck on your new journey of independence.
I don't give a toss about what people say or think about my country, I'm a proud Englishman and that will never change
Amazing! Wish i was british. In germany it's a crime to love your own country.
Almost cried when I heard Jerusalem today and I'm not even British. I truly wish a bright future and only the best for England and for the whole UK.
God save the Queen from sweden .
If you happen to be a free citizen anywhere on this planet, believe it or not, you are indebted to England. By the way i am not British and not among the fortunate ones.
Being born English is like winning the first prize in the lottery of life.