Post for the Christmas Season, 2021

December 25, 2021 at 3:50 am (Art, Christmas, Music)

So, this year is not ending on the upbeat, carefree note we were all hoping for. Nevertheless, there is still beauty in the world to be thankful for. I would like to share several of my favorite art works and musical performances with you.

I’ve taken several art courses over the past year, and they’ve given me many precious images to contemplate. A course in the Harlem Renaissance served to remind me how many terrific African American artists deserve a closer look.

Jacob Lawrence:

                                         Steel workers

 

This Is Harlem

Faith Ringgold:

We Came To America

 

Jazz Quilt

I was also introduced to some artists whose work was well worth getting to know.

Elizabeth Catlett:

                                               Homage to Black Women Poets

 

Playmates

Kara Walker:

Black out Silhouettes Then and Now

In May of 2014, Kara Walker created a work of public art entitled A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. It is so…well, I’ll let this video do the explaining:

I also took a class entitled “Gustav Klimt and the Viennese Secessionist Movement.” It was a revelation. All I knew about Klimt was the The Kiss:

and Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, also known as The Woman in Gold or The Lady in Gold:

This painting was the subject of the famous legal battle that was fought between the Austrians, claiming that the work was rightfully theirs, and Maria Altmann, a niece of Adele’s husband Ferdinand. Maria, who was living in California at the time, claimed that the Nazis had stolen the painting during the war and that she was its rightful owner.

The story is told in the book The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor. There’s also a film, Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann. Worth watching, especially to see Helen Mirren doing her usual superb work:

 

Our instructor took us beyond Klimt’s so-called gold period, to his later work which consisted primarily of landscapes. These I found utterly enchanting:

Apple Tree One

 

Farm Garden with Sunflowers

 

Slope in a Forest on Atterslee Lake

Sebastian Smee is a journalist whose writing about art combines insight with a rare eloquence. He absolutely outdid himself in a recent article in the Washington Post in which he analyzes and rhapsodizes on the subject of a painting attributed to the great Jan van Eyck: Saint Francis receiving the Stigmata:

To read Smee’s article, click here.

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And now, for music and ballet.

This performance of Mozart’s  final symphony, the Jupiter (No.41) knocked my proverbial socks off the first  time I heard it. I shall always love it. For a new kid on the block – it was founded in 1992 – the Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia has become a major player, especially under the baton of conductor Dima Slobodeniouk. This performance is a knockout. The final movement rises to a tremendous crescendo of pure joy. The audience went wild. I don’t blame them.

 

A performance of rare perfection: the Adagio from Spartacus by Aram Khatchaturian, danced by Anna Nikulina and Mikhail Lobukhin of the Bolshoi:

 

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This performance takes place in Gloucester Cathedral. This is the same venue where the piece was first performed in 1903 and conducted by the composer. A writer who was present on that occasion had this to say:

The work is wonderful because it seems to lift one into some unknown region of musical thought and feeling…one is never sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new. The voices of the old church musicians are around one, and yet their music is enriched with all that modern art has done, since Debussy, too, is somewhere in the picture. It cannot be assigned to a time or a school, but it is full of visions.

 

I think many people feel that they could use a blessing at this time. (I know I do.) Here is an especially beautiful one, a Gaelic blessing entitled Deep Peace, written by John Rutter and sung by Libera:

 

At this Holiday Season, I wish everyone the best.

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Christmas 2020, in Art and Music

December 25, 2020 at 8:07 pm (Art, Christmas, Music)

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Associates streaming service, I recently had the great good fortune to attend via Zoom a webinar entitled ‘The Nativity in Art: Centuries of Storytelling.’ Our speaker was art historian Elaine Ruffolo.

Here are some of the images she shared with us:

Domenico Ghirlandaio

Taddeo Gaddi

Jacopo Tintoretto

Gentile da Fabriano

Lornzo Monaco

 

Federico Barocci

Hugo van der Goes (from the Portinari Altarpiece)

And my favorite of all these gorgeous works of art – I can’t say exactly why: Giorgione’s Adoration of the Shepherds:

Elaine Ruffolo was speaking to us live, in real time, from Florence, Italy, where she resides.

And now, some music:

 

 

 

 

 

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My Chicago family, at Thanksgiving. They’ve been a model of resourcefulness and buoyancy. Hopefully, I will be seeing them again, before too long. I am starved for hugs!

This has  been a tough year for many of us. I believe that next year will be better. Love to all. And to my British friends: Hang in there, as you always have, with courage and resilience.

 

 

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Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia

July 4, 2020 at 12:31 pm (Music)

Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia came into existence in 1992. It is based in A Coruna, Spain. Since the orchestra’s 2013-2014 season, its conductor has been Dima Slobodeniouk.

Quotation is from the Baltimore Sun

Here is a lovely gift to us from the chorus:

 

This performance of Mozart’s 41st Symphony, the Jupiter, is positively breathtaking. All the joyous affirmation of this work is bodied forth, especially at the very end, Here is exultation unbound!

 

 

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‘And what is so rare as a day in June….’

June 14, 2020 at 1:14 pm (Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Music, Weather)

Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;

From The Vision of Sir Launfal by James Russell Lowell

This is a happy, even joyous poem, for a decidedly not joyous time. Yet it may  be a worthy consolation.

Yesterday, when I stepped outside to retrieve the paper, I was greeted by a day of almost unearthly beauty: shining sun; cool, still air; intense  blue sky…perfect. And yet, of course, it was very much of this earth, this very earth, which at this moment is so torn by grief and pain.

[O have mercy on us, Great Creator….]

Meanwhile, I attempted to capture the sound of the neighborhood woodpecker plying his trade. You have to strain most awfully to hear him:

Of  course, I have never seen one. I would  be the world’s worst birdwatcher. Neither of the following photos were taken by me. They  are ‘possibles’ for woodpeckers here in the Free State:

Downy woodpecker

 

Red-bellied woodpecker

 

Pileated woodpecker

(At times, these feathered creatures may be heard rat-a-tat-tatting on the house. In those moments, we refer to them as Aluminum-siding peckers, or just Siding peckers. When they choose to engage in this activity when one is trying to nap, they are called Clueless peckers, or possibly Annoying peckers.)

Anyway, one is eternally grateful for clear, dry mornings, rare as they are in these parts. Just a few mornings ago, I was greeted by this, on our west-facing windows:

Has anyone written a poem about humidity? Probably, but I don’t know it. Music has certainly been written about spring and summer:

 

 

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Solace in Beauty

June 1, 2020 at 7:18 pm (Art, Current affairs, Music, Poetry)

I am deeply sorry for the pain being felt by many people right now in this country.

I fear that the beauty of this first day of June little avails aching hearts. So I would like to offer some words, sounds, and images of  beauty, as possible solace.

Willem Kalf (1619-1693), Pronk Still Life with Holbein Bowl, Nautilus Cup, Glass Goblet and Fruit Dish

About the chambered nautilus, Wikipedia tells us this:

Nautilus shells were popular items in the Renaissance cabinet of curiosities and were often mounted by goldsmiths on a thin stem to make extravagant nautilus shell cups, such as the Burghley Nef, mainly intended as decorations rather than for use. Small natural history collections were common in mid-19th-century Victorian homes, and chambered nautilus shells were popular decorations.

Here is a cutaway view showing the configuration of the shell’s chambers:

In his eponymous poem, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrests a deeper meaning from this curious artifact:

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
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Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
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Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
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Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
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Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
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To return to Wikipedia, the above entry led me in turn to an entry on goldsmiths. On that page, I found this image, which greatly appealed:
Entitled The Bagdadi Goldsmith, it is a creation of Kamal-ol-molk, This  artist was from Iran; he lived from 1848 to 1940.
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This encounter brought to mind a haunting work by the great Russian composer Alexander Borodin. It is called In the Steppes of Central Asia. (The quality of this video is not great, but the visuals are arresting and the music…well, just listen:
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Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony, final movement

May 10, 2020 at 9:15 pm (Music)

I was working on something else when I came upon this. By the time it was over, I was in tears, and not fit for much else, for a while.

Thank you, Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony musicians, for this rare and precious gift.

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‘If you’re lookin’ for a miracle open your eyes; There was one this morning just about sunrise…’

May 2, 2020 at 10:51 pm (Current affairs, Music)

We’ve had day after day of wet, sunless, raw weather – suitable to the current mood of the world, I guess you could say. And then, this morning, this:

 

And this beauty, everyday yet extraordinary, unfolding against a  clear blue sky:

The title of this post comes from the lyrics to “This Island Earth.” Sung bt the Nylons, this has long been one of my YouTube favorites:

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Music, to bring beauty and solace into your day

April 11, 2020 at 6:47 pm (Music)

The “Romanza,” (third movement) from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony

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The Adagietto, from Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony:

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Requiem, by Gabriel Faure:

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony No.41, “Jupiter”:

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Good Friday Music from Parsifal, by Richard Wagner:

 

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Music, for lifting the spirit

March 26, 2020 at 7:09 pm (Music)

Two sisters sing the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach:

This has long been one of my favorite YouTube videos. In case you’re wondering, this entire opera is filled with gorgeous melodies. The Barcarolle may be the most beautiful; it is the most famous, at any rate.
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The Pie Jesu from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. This is one of the most consoling, transcendent musical works that I know. The beloved Pie Jesu  is sung here by the Norwegian boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin. (Due to the fact that time marches on, Aksel is currently performing as a baritone.)


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This was a real find: Avinu Malkeinu, performed by the cantors of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City:

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Peregrinations and ruminations, for sustenance in tough times

March 19, 2020 at 3:01 pm (Art, Music, Nature)

Two days ago, a walk around the neighborhood was most salutary. While I didn’t take these pictures, I did see these flowers!

Narcissi

 

Vinca

 

Crocuses

 

Daffodils

 

Forsythia

But then you go inside and the same grim news awaits you… Or, rather, more and different grim news. But no, mustn’t dwell on it. Instead, be grateful for what we still have to sustain us:

Great books, like this one:

I just finished it, and I loved it. Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau is a character I will cherish going forward. It’s been a long time since I fell so completely in love with a character in a novel as I did this time.

I continue to enjoy the Darko Dawson series by Kwei Quartey. Dark is a many-sided, fully three dimensional creation. I cherish him also, as well as his world in Ghana.

Kwei Quartey and Louise Erdrich have both created worlds for me to lose myself in. Much needed at this time. I am deeply grateful to both these gifted authors.
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I am always finding new paintings that amaze me. I mean, look at this!

Scenes from the Passion of Christ by Hana Memling, ca1470

My post of March 12 featured this work by Annibale Carracci:

 

Boy Drinking – a show piece for Carracci’s technical expertise –  resided at the Christ Church Picture Gallery at Oxford University until approximately 11 PM on Monday, March 16. That is  the estimated time at which it was stolen, along with two other priceless paintings, one by Salvator Rosa and another by Van Dyck. Click here  for more on this theft.

Let’s hope for a speedy recovery of these priceless works of art.

As if the world doesn’t have enough to worry about right now, I know…

Finally, there is always music, as with this gorgeous Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, whose sonatas I recall playing on the piano many years ago. (The visual, this achingly poignant Pieta, is by, once again, Annibale Carracci.)

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