Poetry and Appreciation of the Seasons: A Winter’s Walk

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
 ~ William Shakespeare from Sonnet 97

We woke to thick flakes of snow falling on Sunday morning, and a white layer soon started to cover everything.

Winter Snow in Louveciennes by Camille Pissarro c. 1872

By the time I had got my act together the snow had turned to freezing rain and the dim light was fading further under a heavy blanket of cloud. Still, I felt the need to suffuse my stale blood with fresh air, clear my mind and stimulate my muscles, no matter the rather unappealing prospect the environment was making it.

It’s amazing how even on the coldest and dullest of days there is inspiration for a muse –  if she looks for it.

The Road From Versailles to Saint Germain by Camille Pissarro

Winter can be a tough time: reality sets in alongside the Christmas credit card bills, piling on worry with the extra woolly layers and the battling of virulent, seasonal germs, whilst rousing sluggish motivation.

Even Tchaikovsky agrees we should be warm and snug in January! Mind you, I’m sure Russian winters must be way more brutal than English ones. By the Fireside is the title of January from his 12 pieces of The Seasons, Opus 37. Richter reflects his sentiments on the ivories:

The days are short days and the nights, long. Everything seems to be focused inward.

It’s like we are curled up in a metaphorical fetal position, taking comfort from an enclosed, but secretly nourishing dark space, all growth shielded from view.

Garden Under Snow by Paul Gaugin c. 1879

We dig deep, perhaps drawing on inner reserves to see us through this forlorn time. Nature too, is hunkering down, despite her wintry displays. It seems to me that the stark scenery and empty trees are a sign of mother nature baring her soul to us, her naked branches giving us a sign that we too will flourish again.

Already I have noticed the days are drawing out in small increments.

All traces of snow were gone today. The sky was blue and the sun hovered like a low, bright disc, surely brightening all ragged spirits.

Effect of Snow at Argenteuil by Alfred Sisley

Winter certainly has its unique charms, when everything is stripped back and thrown into sharp relief, but they remain so because of their temporary time span. That is indeed, the magic of all the four seasons.

A Winter’s Walk  

Trees and birds are silent while relentless rain holds court,

A rhythmic, yet random patting against my hood, hypnotising,

Lazy lungs expand with chilly, desolate air, as breath is caught

Coalescing with mist, hot and swirling: my efforts rising,

Icy droplets numbing face, nerves sparking, fingertips tingling,

Under a darkening, dreary sky, life and death are mingling.

The hushed landscape wears a sparse cloak of glory,

Insulated feet stumble, eyes explore meadows, trees and bracken

To discover pockets of beauty, embellishing winter’s bleak story,

A silvery sheen coats soaked ivy leaves – refusing to blacken,

Precarious droplets of watery diamonds hang, almost suspended

From bare and spindly branches; my hibernating heart is mended.

I feel alive as winter reveals its cool, contrasting shades;

Mulchy leaves decorate slippery, muddy trails and stumpy grass,

Ghostly barks shimmer amid the muted inhabitants of glades,

Translucent pools occupy smooth hollows of holly; green glass,

Wet wings carry birds across exposed clearings; swiftly to go

Beneath nature’s cleansing tears; dimpling patches of snow.

Life holding life in abeyance; abundance in perfect stasis,

As unseen activity unfolds within death’s enveloping hands,

Humans eagerly anticipate spring’s invigorating, energetic kiss,

Warming damp, weary bones and awakening purged lands,

But subtle beauty lingers, in the wild depths of decay,

Winter’s test of faith and spirit never does betray…

I want to lose myself among elevated regal trunks,

Their rough and knotted surfaces standing proud,

Witnesses of earth’s creatures, and striding hikers, lifting funks

Their swaying whispers soothing senses; a welcome crowd,

My body feels cold, but my soul is wandering free…

Home beckons: promising shelter, and a hot cup of tea!

 By Virginia Burges

If we want to embrace winter, both the challenges and the beauty, Vivaldi evokes the musical themes that will eternally embody such sentiments.

‘L’Inverno’, Concerto for Violin and strings in F minor, RV. 297 by Cynthia Freivogel and Voices of Music:

You may like to be reminded of a true romantic bard’s words on the subject with the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ode to the West Wind 

Yours in wintry wonderment! Ginny

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

Photos and Musings on the Beautiful, Pioneering Tintern Abbey

“Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul.
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep layer of joy,
We see into the life of things.”
 ~ William Wordsworth from Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798.

Some places are sacred. Their energy flows through you and fills you with a tangible connection to the past, a gratitude for the present, and a hope for the future.

Tintern Abbey in the Welsh Wye Valley is one of those places.

Arches in the north-east corner

Arches along the south-west transept

It’s customary to map out your goals and plans for the year ahead in January, something I advocate and do myself; but I also think it’s also good to spend some time in contemplation, and to glance back at the positives and negatives of the previous year, especially to share and savour that which nourished your soul.

The timeless tranquility of Tintern Abbey filled me with wonder during our family visit on new year’s eve.

My youngest exploring

After a scenic drive through the Forest of Dean my children were keen to stretch their legs and explore. A heavy rain storm ceased abruptly before we parked, and the sky began to brighten auspiciously for our visit. Equipped with a poor choice of footwear for the muddy and quagmire like ground, we gradually lost ourselves among its crumbling and ascending ruins.

Tintern’s mottled, lichen covered, Old Red Sandstone walls, and lofty symmetrical arches, have housed and presided over numerous beings that lived simply and stoically throughout four centuries of tumultuous history.

There is a sense of nobility and majesty in the fresh air that pervades its spectacular, ruinous spaces.

High walls and arches…

Our eyes roamed over the soaring remains of this 12th century Cistercian settlement, still standing resplendent inside a sweeping bend of the ancient River Wye, which weaves and curves like a silvery snake through the heavily wooded Wye Valley.

Tintern Abbey by Benjamin Williams Leader

Remote, often shrouded in mist, you soon get a feeling of reverence for the architectural brilliance that has defied the elements for over 700 years. It’s not just the complexity and beauty of the buildings either, the surroundings are peaceful, pristine and primal.

The early Cistercian monks could not have chosen a more picturesque and serene setting for their new home…

View towards East window and transept

Sketching the Ruins of Tintern Abbey by Samuel Colman (1780 – 1845)

Any place that has been built for the purpose of devotion and worship of the divine creator carries a pure energy, a high vibration I can only describe as a sort of ‘healing’ vibe.

Even the children were in awe at its impressive design, scale and sheer longevity…

Alignment and height

As I walked from west to east along the water logged great church I could imagine the ghostly chanting of the choir, devout voices floating ever upwards…

A major turning point for Tintern Abbey came when King Henry VIII ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Wales (for both financial and religious reasons), after he broke with the Catholic Church in Rome.

Book repositry and Sacristy

Abbot Richard Wyche and his 12 remaining monks surrendered their dwelling to the king’s men on 3rd September 1536; the defining historical moment of its decline.

Tintern’s lead roofs were removed and sold, and the buildings systematically stripped of all valuable material.

Outside the North window

After 400 years of continuous habitation on the site by Cistercian monks, and with their peaceful home plundered – Tintern Abbey was finally abandoned. Without the attention of its dedicated inhabitants and open to the onslaught of the welsh weather, it fell into disrepair and neglect.

West window and transept

The abbey lay forgotten and slowly decaying for nearly three centuries, until it was rediscovered by fervent artists and poets in search of wild, unspoilt and romantic landscapes to inspire their art and creativity in the early 19th century.

Tintern Abbey – North Window by Frederick Calvert c. 1815

A new road to the area in 1820 made the site more accessible to adventurous and well heeled tourists, and the decaying buildings were eventually saved when Tintern Abbey was purchased by the Crown on behalf of the nation in 1901.

View towards monks’ quarters from the infirmary

There are some wonderful watercolour and oil paintings of the abbey by Turner, Colman, Calvert, Dayes, Leader and van Lerberghe from this time period, during which its sturdy walls and pillars languished under copious ivy growth and masonry lay scattered throughout the transept.

Tintern Abbey – The Crossing and Chancel, Looking Towards the East Window by JMW Turner c. 1794

East window with sepia effect c. 2017

A wonderful recital of the poem ‘Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth:

Or, if you prefer, you can read the lines whilst listening the Moonlight Sonata, which was composed by  Ludwig van Beethoven only 3 years after Wordsworth wrote his poem :

Over the next 27 years an extensive programme of conservation was carried out, as well as in later, subsequent years.

Tintern Abbey took my breath away, and I can only image the splendour it must have exuded in its medieval heyday.

This stunning aerial footage really gives you a sense of the scale of the abbey in its location, accompanied by the celtic lilt of Loreena McKennit (The Mystic’s Dream):

History of Tintern Abbey

The abbey was founded by Walter fitz Richard de Clare, the Anglo-Norman lord of Chepstow, on 9th May 1131.  Tintern was only the second Cistercian house in the British Isles and introduced the order’s pioneering brand of monasticism to Wales.

Looking towards monks’ quarters from north window gallery

The original 13 ‘white monks’ who settled here travelled from the abbey of l’Aumone (Loir-et-Cher), itself a branch of the order’s great Burgundian ‘mother house’ at Citeaux, France. The site at Tintern was chosen in this secluded country location because it was ‘far from the haunts of men’, as was typical of those preferred by the Cistercians.

This newly formed, pioneering religious community needed land to prosper, and Walter de Clare granted the monks a substantial estate on both the Welsh and English sides of the River Wye.

South window and transept

The land was organised into compact farms known as granges, and throughout the site’s growth in the 12th century the land was consolidated into areas for arable cultivation, the construction of farm buildings, cutting down woodland and draining coastal marsh to improve productivity.

Unlike other monastic orders, the Cistercians (who had no Norman links), found much favour in Wales, and could be self-sufficient with generous grants of land from Welsh rulers.

Emily and Will under the West window – the main visitor entrance during Tintern’s Medieval era.

Will chilling outside the great church

It’s thought that at first the monks lived in temporary wooden structures, but by the middle of the 12th century they had built a relatively modest stone church and monastic buildings set around a square cloister. As the community grew the monastic buildings were gradually rebuilt over the first half of the 13th century.

Rick Steve extolling the beauty of the Ruins of Tintern Abbey:

The chapter house and refectory date from this period. Without doubt, the abbey’s greatest glory is the stunning Gothic church which still dominates the site today, built between 1269 and 1301, when it was consecrated under the patronage of Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk (1270 – 1306).

A corner of the cloister

North window and transept

The great church is 228 feet long and 150 feet wide. The tall east window’s original stained glass contained the 5th earl’s coat of arms in gratitude to its benefactor.

Unsurprisingly, the numbers of lay brothers fell during 1348-49 when the Black Death struck England and Wales. We walked around the foundations and low walls of the infirmary, which was almost as large as the church. The infirmary housed the sick from Tintern village and surrounding areas, as well as their own modest population.

Foundations of the infirmary – main hall

Monastic life of the Cistercian Order

The Cistercian way of life began in 1098 when a group of pioneering monks departed from the Burgundian abbey of Molesme with the intention of leading a life of austerity and perfect solitude.

An east facing window

Robert, their abbot, led them to settle in an area of forest and marshland and their ‘New Monastery’ was given the Latin name of Cistercium, now known as Citeaux.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a charismatic French abbot who transformed the Cistercian Order; somewhat of an early trailblazer (and today’s equivalent of religious brand marketer), for his influence on the creation of the Cistercian identity.

By the time of his death in 1153 there existed around 340 Cistercian abbeys across Europe, organised in a network of ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ foundations.

Over time there were upwards of 700 white monk abbeys across the length and breadth of Christendom, with 86 of these living in Great Britain.

Tintern Abbey Interior by Moonlight by Peter van Lerberghe c. 1812

View from North to South

In 1165 Rhys ap Gruffudd, prince of Deheubarth gave his support to Strata Florida, and the daughter houses of Wales flourished. Whitland Abbey in the heart of Wales became a ‘daughter house’ of Clairvaux.

The Cistercian adventure proved to be one of the most successful and remarkable phenomena of the medieval church.

Eastern and northern corner

View of Tintern Abbey by William Havell c. 1804

Cistercian Values

Their main focus was to lead a contemplative life, a strict interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict, with an insistence upon poverty. They shunned wealth and luxury and observed a rule of silence whilst living on a meagre vegetarian diet. It doesn’t sound like much fun, but in many ways it was free of the pitfalls and complications of what we might consider a modern, desirable lifestyle.

They would have been men of virtuous character, living off the land, focused on their inner life and service to God and community.

There was a grand total of three fireplaces in the whole of Tintern Abbey, one in a ‘warming room’ adjacent to the monks’ day room, one in the kitchens, and one in the infirmary, so heaven only knows how cold and drafty it must have been in the winter… or at most times of year come to think of it!

Admiring stranger, that with lingering feet,
Enchained by wonder, pauses on this green;
Where thy enraptured sight the dark woods meet,
Ah! rest awhile and contemplate the scene.
These hoary pillars clasped by ivy round,
This hallowed floor by holy footsteps trod,
The mouldering choir by spreading moss embrowned
Where fasting saints devoutly hymned their God.

Tintern Abbey and the River Wye by Edward Dayes c. 1794

Unpitying time with slow but certain sweep
Has laid, alas! their ancient splendour low:
Yet here let pilgrims, while they muse and weep,
Think on the lesson that from hence may flow.
Like theirs, how soon may be the tottering state
Of man–the temple of a shorter date.
 ~ Edmund Gardner, Sonnet Written in Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is a masterpiece of medieval architecture created in a time when construction methods did not have the benefit of modern technology and machinery, which makes it all the more inspiring.

Arches at the intersection of the transepts

Do go if you get the opportunity, it’s a wonderful, sacred place and you’ll be following in the footsteps of Wordsworth, Turner and countless other admirers…

There are some stunning walks nearby at Symonds Yat Rock, where 300 million years of nature’s patient erosion has formed a breath taking river valley view and scenic woodland trails. We did a short trail as the light was fading and Emily was a tad grumpy, so progress wasn’t as brisk as usual.

It was a wonderful few days to close out 2017 and see in the New Year. All blessings for 2018!

“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity.”  ~ William Wordsworth

Peace, Joy and Love be With You… ✨🙏🎄

“Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Christmas Eve has settled upon us once again, with its magical promise of celebrations, joy and peace, and the prospect of a tasty roast dinner in good company and a present or two for the children…

The Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Altdorfer

As is usual at this time of year I get a tad overwrought at my workload. I do love making my children happy, and spending time with my family, but the preparations are time consuming and stressful. By Christmas I’m usually done for.

I felt this year I was managing better than previous festive holidays, but in my perceived invincibility my body had other ideas.

I convinced myself I didn’t have time to slow down, I was ramping it up another level. I had cards to write, gifts to wrap, the house to clean and tidy and a pile of laundry resembling the north face of the Eiger.

On top of that I was still concerned for my eldest son who had recently had a stint in hospital with a pneumothorax and is having to go back to cardiology for follow up tests. He doesn’t live near us so that proved an added challenge.

So much for super mum – I have been forced to slow down, to stop and take stock.

The two days of being bed ridden with every bone, sinew and muscle aching, my leaden limbs screaming yet listless, as my body was overtaken by a vicious fever, took my mind off everything other than trying not to expire.

My condition alternated between shivering so violently my whole body was shaking and my teeth were rattling in my mouth, and so I would pull on yet another jumper and feel like a yeti, only to find I was sweating for England an hour later and throw all my layers off. In between I tried to breathe through a heavy chest, ceaseless coughing and a burning throat.

You’ve probably guessed I don’t do illness. It’s made me appreciate my health, which has been excellent this year. I just had to get this flu out of the way.  Luckily my girls weathered it better.

So I have emerged from my sick bed sounding like I smoke fifty a day, but grateful to be feeling vaguely human again. The house is still a bomb site, the presents still need wrapping, but the most important thing is being able to share love and goodwill with friends and family.

I’m even resigned to the shenanigans of our recent trip to the cinema with the family to see The Last Jedi. I’m not sure the force was with us that day…

I turned around in a car park adjacent to the cinema, dropping the kids off, only to find a vile individual filming us for the purposes of obtaining a parking fine. We were there for a grand total of two minutes. I commented that a little Christmas spirit wouldn’t go amiss, but it fell on deaf ears. She had chosen to work for a company without any moral fibre or human decency.

So I wasn’t surprised when a £100 fine landed on our door mat yesterday morning. I’ll never understand why people want to make a living from pure meanness of spirit.

Despite mounting bills there is much to be thankful for.

L’adoration des Bergers by Geroge de La Tour c. 1644

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all of you who have either purchased my novel, The Virtuoso, followed my blog, read my posts, liked them and perhaps shared them on social media. It means so much to me that something I have touched on may have proved helpful and worthy of a second thought.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas wherever you are and whoever you are with, and all my good wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2018.

I am excited and bursting with creative ideas for next year. This year is almost over, and I don’t feel as though I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, let alone achieve anything worthwhile. It has been a roller-coaster, probably with more downs than ups, but in hindsight perhaps a vital stepping stone to greater things.

Have you also found 2017 flew by a trifle fast?

The clock is ticking and I must resume decking my small hall with boughs of holly and the like.

My thoughts drift to Mary, who, over two thousand years ago may have wanted a different birth scenario but who had to put up with her unborn infant being hunted by mad King Herod and making do with a draughty stable full of animals to give birth in.

But she probably didn’t complain about her lot. She had a devoted husband who did his best to support her, and instead she gave us the light of the world and his message of eternal salvation.

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

My daughter did her class assembly last week, during which I learnt about the Festival of the Radishes in Mexico. ‘Noche de Rabanos’ as it is known, is celebrated by farmers in Oaxaca on Christmas Eve.

Most of my lot don’t eat radishes on the grounds that they find the taste quite disagreeable, but thought carving them into nativity scenes and traditional Mexican symbols an artistic and an unusual way to celebrate the Nativity.

Over the centuries there have been many images in a multitude of mediums from mosaics to altar panels, murals, stained glass, oil paintings, architectural features and sculptures depicting the Nativity, perhaps the greatest story ever told…and now with radishes!

Oaxaca farmers have celebrated an annual ‘Night of the Radishes’ festival for the last century:

I feel it’s fitting to round off with a little Christmas confusion from Joshua Bell and Igudesman & Joo:

From his album Musical Gifts – Greensleeves with Joshua Bell and Chick Corea:

Peace, joy and love be with you…

“I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to this world.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Massimo Quarta Conjures Paganini’s Diabolical and Divine Daemon on ‘Il Cannone’

Daemon: An attendant or indwelling spirit or one’s genius. An action exhibiting superhuman or diabolical energy or skill.

It was Paganini’s 235th birthday on 27th October, and I thought it was high time I revisited some aspects of the maestro’s life and share the incredible performances of his six violin concertos by Massimo Quarta on Paganini’s beloved violin, ‘Il Cannone’.

Portrait of Niccolo Paganini with ‘Il Cannone’ by the Italian School

For me these concerto recordings are special, not only because are they performed on ‘Il Cannone’, or because of the virtuosity, sensitivity and artistic fervour they are played with, but also for the fact that they are performed and recorded using Paganini’s original autograph score, which differs in quite a few aspects from the printed 19th century versions. Truly authentic! 

This was the first time the Violin Concerto No. 1 has been recorded in the original key of E Flat-Major, with the violin tuned up a semitone as Paganini directed on his autograph score.

It’s hard to imagine the pressure that Massimo Quarta and his orchestral colleagues must have felt in performing such historic and culturally important recordings.

Massimo Quarta was a pupil of Salvatore Accardo and winner of the 1991 International Paganini Violin Competition. His performances with the Orchestra of Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice strike a passionate chord and somehow convey a spiritual affinity with Paganini.

We can listen to these romantic works exactly as Paganini conceived, composed and most likely played them!

“You can feel all the tears and pain from his terrible life, and also the joy in music.” ~ Massimo Quarta

But first, a story…

When Niccolo Paganini was five years old and began learning to play the mandolin and guitar under his father’s tutelage; his mother, Theresa had a vivid dream.

Possibly it was spurred on by knowledge of Giuseppe Tartini’s infamous dream and ensuing composition: the Devil’s Trill Violin Sonata, and it was to have a powerful effect on Paganini’s future as a violin virtuoso of the likes the world had never seen.

Theresa’s dream could well be said to have proved a self-fulfilling prophecy for Niccolo. She saw a theatre in flames, and her son, playing triumphant music and standing tall over the flames, with Tartini conducting next to a red devil with a guitar, competing for Paganini’s soul. An angel then appeared and she asked that her boy become a great violinist, whose name would be immortal in the pantheon of musicians.

It was his mother’s bizarre dream that likely inspired Paganini in his relentless pursuit of glory and gold.

Paganini believed his mother’s dream and carried her vision throughout his astonishing life. This vivid, early association with the devil no doubt contributed greatly to his supreme confidence and later his professional reputation and personal notoriety.

Being the devil’s violinist made an interesting narrative, with drama and furore following him almost everywhere he went. It is incomprehensible how he was able to play beyond the limits of his endurance as a man who constantly struggled with his health, and his energies weren’t just reserved for his music!

Portrait of Paganini by Eugene Delacroix

My first blog about the maestro goes into more detail about his life.

His personality was full of contradictions, many of which Paganini was happy to portray when it suited him. His fame and wealth far exceeded that of any previous violinists.

With an inner strength he battled his physical ailments and tilled his creative, commercial and musical soil with an alacrity possibly still unmatched by modern day soloists.

Paganini’s Violin Concerto’s No. 1 in E Flat-Major and Concerto No. 2 in B minor on Paganini’s violin, ‘Il Cannone’:

He certainly had a significant impact on the young Franz Liszt, a musician who also broke the mould of Romantic era composers and virtuosi, leaving his particular legacy on the piano.

Liszt’s amazing piano composition Grandes études de Paganini, S.14 was his impressive homage to the violinist, performed here by Daniil Trifonov:

“The excitement he caused was so unusual, the magic that he practiced upon the fantasy of his hearers so powerful that they could not satisfy themselves with a natural explanation. All tales of witches and ghosts came into their minds. They tried to explain the wonder of his playing through his past to fathom the magic of his genius by invoking the supernatural. They even suggested that he had dedicated his soul to the devil.” ~ Franz Liszt

I do feel sympathy with Paganini’s childhood. As a frail boy, he was often ill, but was made to play his violin for long hours by his father. I see shades of Mozart and Beethoven in his upbringing. If he didn’t practice enough his father would beat him and deprive him of food. Herr Beethoven wasn’t averse to beating young Ludwig…

Paganini lamented that it was ‘difficult to imagine a stricter father.’

Niccolo had composed his first violin sonata (now lost), at the age of 8, only too aware of Mozart’s achievement in writing his first piano concerto at the age of 6!!

In addition to his rigorous practice schedule the Paganini’s first showcased their son’s talents in a public concert when he was 11 years old.  His parents’ high expectations for their son must also have had a bearing on his beliefs that his destiny was to become the greatest violinist that ever lived; thereby steering him on a path that wasn’t always to make him happy and certainly seemed to possess him.

Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, M.S. 60:

At the age of 19, he had come to the attention of a government minister and was asked to play a short piece during an Easter mass in Santa Croce, Lucca. Paganini brazenly performed a 28 minute concerto!

As a young man approaching the apex of his near miraculous abilities, Paganini began composing his stunning 24 Caprices for Solo Violin.

His immense talent, (possibly overlooked as the result of blossoming skill attained throughout the many years of hard graft as a sickly youth), was a source of jealousy, envy and hostility, but also of intense admiration from his audience and peers alike.

He wrote his music to elevate his prestige as a virtuoso, which sometimes proved too much for the more sensitive listeners, and for those who could not come to terms with his startling innovations on the instrument.

From Project Gutenberg:
Paganini did occasionally play concertos by Rode and Kreutzer, though it was said that in these he was less successful than in his own. The Rev. Dr. Cox heard Paganini play the first movement of Beethoven’s Concerto—in fact it was performed for his special edification. This is what he said of it:
“Never shall I forget the smile on that sad, pale, wan, and haggard face, upon every lineament of which intense pain was written in the deepest lines, when I caught his eye, or the playing, into which a spirit and sympathy were thrown that carried one wholly away. As soon as he had concluded, and before I could rush up to him to express my thanks, he glided away. I never saw him afterwards.”

Paganini’s critics and detractors did not hold back in their efforts to malign him.

Thomas Moore going for the jugular: ‘He abuses his powers. He can play divinely and sometimes does for a minute or two, but then come his tricks and surprises, his bowing convulsions and his inharmonics like the mewling of an expiring cat.’

Wolfgang von Goethe seemed more bewildered, commenting, ‘I can find no base for this column of flame and smoke. All I know is that I heard meteoric sounds that I have not yet succeeded in interpreting.’

Karl Friedrich Zelter pronounced, ‘I find him irritating,’ and went on to describe Paganini as ‘not so much a lunatic as a poseur.’

Another reviewer in Hamburgisches Handelsblatt slated his Vienna performance: ‘I have never been so let down as by this so-called virtuoso’, accusing him of trickery and writing, ‘it was more like a twittering of sparrows than any legitimate musical sound.’

At a concert I ran a nail into my heel and came limping onto the stage, which made the audience laugh. As I was preparing to play, the candles fell out of my music desk, which produced more laughter. When I began to play the concerto, my E string broke, which again provoked laughter. But when they saw me continue on three strings, it caused a furore. ~ Niccolò Paganini

However, no-one remembers or celebrates his harsh critics. Fortunately Paganini also had his ardent fans…

“There was nothing wanting to the greatness of Paganini, not even the failure of his contemporaries to understand him.”  ~ Albert Jarosy
“His never-erring execution is beyond conception. You ask too much if you expect me to give a description of his playing. It would take up the whole letter; for he is so original, so unique, that it would require an exhaustive analysis to convey an impression of his style.” ~ Felix Mendelssohn
“On Easter Sunday in the evening I heard Paganini. What ecstasy. In his hands the driest exercises flame up like pithy pronouncements.” ~ Robert Schumann
“In Paganini’s Adagio I heard the singing of angels. We will not see this fellow’s like again.” ~ Franz Schubert
“Never has an artist caused such a sensation within our walls as this god of the violin. Never has the public so gladly carried its money to a concert, and never in my memory has the fame of a virtuoso so penetrated to the lowest classes of the population. When we say that in his hands the violin sounds more beautiful and more moving than any human voice, that his glowing sound kindly warmth in every heart, that every singer could learn from him, one has still said nothing that illuminates his playing – that is Paganini.
Anyone who has not heard him can have no idea of it. One must hear him, and hear him again – only then can it be believed.” ~ Ignaz Castelli
“It was a divine, a diabolic enthusiasm; I never saw or heard anything to equal it in all my life. People have all gone crazy. But you should see how awkward he was. He is the most magnificent lout that nature ever invented.” ~ Ludwig Boerne
“In a dream, Tartini saw a devil playing a diabolic sonata. That devil was surely Paganini.” ~ Francois Castil-Blaze
What a man! What a violin! What an artist! What suffering, what anguish, what torment those four strings can express! ~ Franz Liszt

One of the supporters firmly on the side of Team Paganini was Carl Guhr, the German violinist, composer and conductor based in Frankfurt. According to Guhr, there were six differences and innovations that set Paganini above the rest of the violin pack:

  1. His method of tuning. Paganini raised the pitch of all strings by a semitone and altered his G string alone when needed to a minor third higher.
  2. His method of bowing. ‘Paganini’s unique bowing gives his playing the greatest vitality and variety. His subtle nuances give his singing melodies a sweetness that words cannot express. But the chief difference is his astonishing staccato. He throws his bow on the strings with a whipping action and plays scale passages with incredible rapidity while the sounds of his violin roll off as smooth as pearls.’
  3. His practise of combining bold notes with left hand pizzicato. This was a device used traditionally by the Italian School, especially in the time of violinist Niccolò Mestrino, and neglected by the French and German Schools. ‘Today only Paganini uses the technique and with the greatest success.’
  4. His use of harmonics. ‘One can say with certainty that much of Paganini’s security and clarity on the violin is directly related to his complete mastery and extended use of harmonics. This enables him to play with astonishing ease phrases that would otherwise be quite impossible on the instrument.
  5. His compositions for the G string alone. ‘In these the G string is tuned a minor third high, sometimes even a major third high, while using a much thinner string, and they have won him the greatest celebrity.’
  6. Paganini’s Tour de Force. ‘I cannot be expected to describe them all, almost everyone who hears him for the first time is astonished and excited by so much that is new and surprising. Paganini can touch the deepest levels of the soul and perform unprecedented feats with dazzling perfection. The effect is far beyond description.

Paganini Violin Concerto No. 3 in E Major and Concerto No. 5 in A minor:

It seemed that public opinion of him went up and down according to whatever rumours and stories were circulating about him at any given time, but despite the vicissitudes of his popularity throughout his career, Paganini had the innate gift of being able to surprise his audience.

Everyone says that such a triumph here (London) is unprecedented. I played, and all the malignant slander changed to ineffable praise. ~ Niccolò Paganini

Even Paganini’s appearance fed the myths and legend of his association with the devil. Heinrich Heine wrote of his physical attributes:

He wore a frock coat of dark grey which reached to his heels and gave him an appearance of great height. His long, dark hair fell to his shoulders in twisted locks and formed a black frame for his pale, cadaverous face, on which sorrow, genius and hell had left their ineffaceable stigmata.

La Comtesse de Lamothe-Langdon described him as ‘a figure that looked almost twisted. His nose and mouth matched the rest of his appearance as did his deep set eyes that burned with a dark fire. All of this gave a look of the Satanic to his whole person.’ However, she goes to state that when he spoke of the violin and when he began to play, she no longer thought him ugly.

In Paris, in the spring of 1831 Paganini put on a gala concert at the Opera House with the help of Rossini, (having declined to give a private performance for King Louis Philippe I on health grounds), where ticket prices were selling at double their normal price.

The refined French School was more concerned with artistic expression than pure technique and blazing virtuosity, but Paganini had both in abundance – plus a generous helping of showmanship.

Paganini by Richard James Lane

In the audience were the musical, literary and artistic icons of the day: George Sand, Eugene Delacroix, Cherubini, Heinrich Heine and Franz Liszt.

Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 6 (aka. No. 0) in E Minor, MS 75, Massimo Quarta:

“Although this work carries the number 6 it is actually the earliest of Paganini’s surviving concertos. For a long time only a version for violin and guitar was available and Federico Mompellio and Francesco Fiore provided the orchestral accompaniment (published in 1973).
Paganini wrote this concerto to flaunt his violinistic virtuosity as no other music of his time could. In and around melodies that are ardently if not profoundly expressive the soloist gets to show off lines in the violin’s highest compass, wide leaps of register, dashing scales and arpeggios, strings of trills, saltando bowing, and passages in double stops . The orchestra accompanies discretely and sometimes speaks up in tutti passages of its own. Much of the music recalls opera, and the tone is predominantly plaintive.” ~ Aaron Rabushka

After 8 concerts in 11 weeks Paganini was 158,000 francs richer, an incredible sum of money for a soloist to earn at that time. Following his stint in Paris he went to London and 151 concerts later made five times his weight in gold, even though his concerts sold at normal ticket prices.

Paganini’s grand tour of Europe made him wealthy beyond all imagining, but sadly, towards the end of his life he made a disastrous investment in a casino that failed and ultimately cost him a fortune in excessive fines.

There is a touching story about his enduring friendship with French composer, Hector Berlioz, and the origins of Berlioz’s Piece for Viola and Orchestra, Harold in Italy (via Gutenberg Press, by Stephen S. Stratton):

It was sometime in January, 1834, that Paganini called upon Berlioz and said he had a wonderful viola, a Stradivari, upon which he should much like to play in public, but he had no music for it. Would Berlioz write a solo for him? Berlioz was flattered by the proposal, but replied that in order to produce a composition sufficiently brilliant to suit such a virtuoso, he—Berlioz—ought to be able to play the viola, and that he could not do. So he thought Paganini alone could meet his own wishes. Paganini, however, pressed his own point, adding that he himself was too unwell to compose anything. Berlioz then set to work. To quote his own words: “In order to please the illustrious virtuoso, I then endeavoured to write a solo for the viola, but so combined with the orchestra as not to diminish the importance of the latter, feeling sure that Paganini’s incomparable execution would enable him to give the solo instrument all its due prominence. The proposition was a new one. A happy idea soon occurred to me, and I became intensely eager to carry it out.”
Paganini was impatient to see the music, and as soon as the first movement was finished, it was shown to him. He did not like the long silences. “That is not at all what I want,” he said; “I must be playing the whole time.” “You really want a concerto for the tenor,” Berlioz replied, “and you are the only man who can write it.” Paganini said no more, and soon afterwards left for Nice.
Berlioz then gave free play to his fancy, and wrote the series of scenes for the orchestra, the background formed from the recollections of his wanderings in the Abruzzi, the viola introduced as a sort of melancholy dreamer, in the style of Byron’s “Childe Harold.” Hence the title “Harold in Italy.” Now, this is the point: “Harold” was inspired by Paganini, who indirectly gave a new art-form to the world. The piece was produced on November 23rd, 1834, but Paganini was then in Italy, and he did not hear it until four years later.
Berlioz: “The concert was just over; I was in a profuse perspiration, and trembling with exhaustion, when Paganini, followed by his son Achilles, came up to me at the orchestra door, gesticulating violently. Owing to the throat affection of which he ultimately died, he had already completely lost his voice, and unless everything was perfectly quiet, no one but his son could hear or even guess what he was saying. He made a sign to the child, who got up on a chair, put his ear close to his father’s mouth and listened attentively. Achilles then got down, and turning to me, said, ‘My father desires me to assure you, sir, that he has never in his life been so powerfully impressed at a concert; that your music has quite upset him, and that if he did not restrain himself he should go down on his knees to thank you for it.’
I made a movement of incredulous embarrassment at these strange words, but Paganini seizing my arm, and rattling out ‘Yes, yes!’ with the little voice he had left, dragged me up on the stage, where there were still a good many of the performers, knelt down, and kissed my hand. I need not describe my stupefaction; I relate the facts, that is all.”

Paganini paying homage to Berlioz after Harold in Italy

In his frenzied state Berlioz went out into the bitter cold, met Armand Bertin on the boulevard, told him what had occurred, caught a chill, and again had to keep his bed.
Two days later, the little Achilles called, the bearer of a letter, and of a message to the effect that his father would himself have paid the visit, but was too ill to do so. The letter ran as follows:
“My Dear Friend,
Beethoven dead, only Berlioz now can revive him; and I, who have enjoyed your divine compositions, worthy of the genius which you are, entreat you to accept, in token of my homage, twenty thousand francs, which will be remitted you by the Baron de Rothschild on presentation of the enclosed. Believe me always your most affectionate friend,
Nicolo Paganini.”

His powerful story became a legend, even in his own lifetime; fuelled by his incredible performances and quirky persona so that it took on a life of its own. Paganini’s legend has not simply endured, it has burgeoned into a mythical tale of tempestuous talent, suffering, greatness and infamy.

It seems Paganini was possessed by his Daemon at the expense of all else, so despite his shortcomings and irrepressible ego, his musical greatness will never be forgotten.

Portrait of Paganini by Maurin

An interesting documentary about the first performance of Paganini’s first violin concerto on ‘Il Cannone’ (not from the original autograph score), by Shlomo Mintz. He gets acquainted with Paganini’s favourite violin at its home in Genoa, before travelling to the Netherlands for his performance in Maastricht. There is plenty of footage of the violin in action:

The recordings with Massimo Quarta and Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova are possibly the closest thing that we will ever hear to what Paganini may have sounded like when performing his violin concertos.

The combination of the original music score, Massimo’s reverent virtuosity and the projection power of Guarneri del Gesù’s 1742 ‘Il Cannone’ is one to be savoured…

The greatness of this genius, unequalled, unsurpassed, precludes even the idea of a successor. No one will be able to follow in his footsteps; no name will equal in his glory. ~ Franz Liszt

Martial Arts: The Best Kick-Ass Cure for Troubled Teenagers?

“A black belt is just a white belt that never quit.” ~ Genesis Martial Arts                            

When my younger son, now 15, hit his early teens my lovely, polite, happy and kind boy transformed into a being unrecognisable to me.

I knew the hormones had hit – big time.

It must have been hard, he had all that testosterone circulating round his still relatively childlike body and it made him antsy, aggressive and confused. At this time his OCD became a real problem and he stopped doing his extra curricular dance and drama. I was worried. I didn’t want him to get sucked into a gaming obsession.

I tried not to pressure him and just let him be, but at times I was pulling my hair out. He wasn’t interested in music, but I remembered Genesis Martial Arts – a local company run by passionate, principled and well qualified instructors, specialising in kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).

I floated the idea to William, who was not keen to do anything his mother suggested at that time. I managed to get him along to a trial session, as I suspected afterwards he might feel differently, and rather than railing against it because of me, he would experience the benefits it could offer him.

Three years down the line I can honestly say it was the breakthrough and blessing he needed in his life. Recently William did his kickboxing green belt grading; a tough, two hour session alongside his fellow Genesis students.

The green belt grading

I watched as they were first asked to stand and have their attire and kit inspected. This is the basic making sure your belt is tied correctly, you are properly dressed and have the appropriate sparring gear to hand.

There is no room for sloppiness in this sport. Attention to detail is key. The physical aspect of the grading began with three bouts of skipping, each for two continuous minutes, mixing up different styles as you see professional boxers so effortlessly doing.

It was like watching a room full of Rockies!

Then they spent time split into two organised rows doing the green belt syllabus moves; a series of kicks and punches in a certain order.

Green belt moves – Will in the middle facing forward.

After some water the group got out their gloves and mits to do some set moves in pairs, then donned the full gear and did several bouts of full sparring, changing partners each time.  When the sparring was completed they were required to each do thirty sit ups, thirty crunches, and set defensive moves.

At this point they all appeared just about done for, but they were asked to hold four minutes of horse-riding stance.  This is the closest thing to torture you can get to!

With legs apart, toes outward, sitting on an imaginary seat with a straight back and arms stretched out front, hands at right angles. The position has to be held without moving for the allocated time.

The lactic acid build up in the quads, hamstrings and glutes is intense. After a couple of minutes it’s sort of mind over matter.  William has gradually built up to that length of time, and when he takes his purple belt next year he will have to hold it for five minutes.

4 minutes of horse-riding stance

Brown belt is six minutes, and when he reaches black belt horse-riding stance must be held for fifteen minutes. Luckily that is a few years down the line… I’m hoping he’ll achieve his black belt by the time he turns eighteen.

I’m glad to say he passed his green belt grading with flying colours! The only segment he failed on was the horse-riding stance!

William sporting his new green belt.

These last three years of regular kickboxing lessons have been instrumental in the amazing young man William is becoming. He has been able to channel his aggression into a worthwhile physical pursuit.

He is laser focused on his school work and is highly goal oriented.

He is doing drama lessons again, he is strong and fit and loves physical exercise, he doesn’t smoke or do drugs, he is respectful (at least to his teachers), as they usually extol his virtues to me whenever I meet them. I rarely have to remind him to do homework.

With ten GCSEs to take in six months time, and a goal of getting into a local Sixth Form, Will is now doing an average of two to three hours of homework and revision a night. He also studies at weekends.

I am in awe at his work ethic.

William is a self-starter, has a healthy self-esteem and is well on his way to a bright future.

He still has has his narky moments (mostly when he’s hungry), but don’t we all?

Sparring

But it could so easily have gone the other way.  I’d rather have an insatiable teenager than a monster who’s smoking, doing drugs, partying all the time and generally slacking.

My love has always been a constant, and indeed that of his family, but I feel what has made a big difference is his overwhelmingly positive involvement in martial arts. He has made massive progress physically, emotionally and mentally since he started.

He is very fortunate to be taught by Corey Cain, who is a black belt (triple Dan). Corey’s titles include: five times world kick boxing champion, World Tae Kwon-Do Champion and British Kickboxing Champion.

Corey has high standards and expects his students to give their best, but he doesn’t ask them to do anything he is not prepared to do himself. He is highly skilled, but more than that, he is able to teach others how to attain that same skill should they desire it.

Corey pushing himself with the 100 Burpee challenge:

Corey is dedicated to his young acolytes and teaches them skills for life. His students listen, because if they don’t they will drop and do thirty or more push-ups. Lateness is the same outcome. Disrespect even more so.

William is translating all of these values into every aspect of his life and has set the bar high for himself.

“Fall down 7 times, get up 8 times.” ~ Japanese maxim

Martial arts is not necessarily for everyone – my daughters did not quite manage a year, but for those who embrace it there are many, many benefits. Kick boxing has invigorated William as it suits his drive and personality.

It has certainly helped to preserve my sanity…

12 kick-ass ways martial arts changes young lives for the better:

  1. Mutual respect – Respect for the teacher, your opponent and everyone is paramount. Students face their teacher and press their left fist into their right hand as they bow. This attitude of respect underpins the entire sport.
  2. Discipline – Students are encouraged to practise their sport, improving their skill and fitness level.
  3. Punctuality – Good time keeping is a lifelong habit that impacts every area of your life even into time management. Lateness is not tolerated and on more than one occasion Will has had to do 30 press-ups.
  4. Stamina and strength – Mental strength is just as important as physical prowess, both are developed in classes.
  5. Definite goals – Working towards each subsequent belt teaches the students to break down the overall goal into smaller steps that they build on progressively.
  6. Patience & perseverance – It can take time to master the techniques required for each belt, plus injuries may delay gradings, (as has been the case with William). He does not want to rush taking his purple belt, but to thoroughly learn and be fully ready when the time comes.
  7. Reward for effort – Even though he appeared physically tired I could see a sense of achievement in Will’s face. The presentation of the belt is a reward, but so is the knowledge you have worked hard and achieved something worthwhile.
  8. Self esteem & confidence – Ever since Will achieved his white belt, then blue, orange, and now green, he has grown in confidence in all areas of his life. The knowledge and the belts are part of his male quest, and being as the teenage years are a particularly vulnerable time for boys and girls, any achievement is a feather in the cap for mental health.
  9. Love of learning – They learn new skills on an ongoing basis, but they don’t run before they can walk. The learning is embedded, and later contextualised into everyday life. They learn that they can do anything they put their mind to.
  10. Focus and fortitude – Single mindedness of purpose is at the forefront of achievement in the sport. Techniques and values are instilled until they are expressed. If a student cannot get a move right they are encouraged and shown time and again to overcome perceived failure and push through mental blocks and barriers.
  11. A form of meditation – Just like playing a musical instrument is a form of meditation for a musician, the form and movement of martial arts quiets the mind to the movement itself, taking the person out of worry and distraction.
  12. An attitude of service – Students not only work to improve their own skill, but also partner with other students to teach and help each other in the process. Lessons are inclusive and everyone’s contribution is appreciated.

A love of martial arts at this crucial time has provided a steady course that has enabled William to steer his teenage ship unscathed on turbulent emotional waters. I’m grateful to Corey for being such a great role model and mentor and for how much he has helped William develop.

Black belts training in the Genesis gym:

Martial arts does not indoctrinate or aim to make students something they are not, but harnesses and encourages positive traits and builds strength (mental and physical), in a structured and supportive environment.

When hormones are raging and things might not be great at home, martial arts is a valuable outlet that channels energy and anger into a more productive pastime.

Anyone who undertakes martial arts with integrity will embody these skills for life and will undoubtedly make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

“The tragedy of life lies not in not reaching your goals, but in having no goals to reach.” ~ Benjamin Elijah Mays

Top 5 Tips on How to Teach Modern Art in Colleges: Guest Blog by John Landrum

Teaching is a noble occupation.

In ancient times, there were few teachers and those who chose this profession were honorable members of society. Now, a lot of university graduates step on the teaching path, and many of them are involved in art education.

Teaching art cannot be easy: modern artists are unstoppable in producing original and extraordinary masterpieces. Sometimes it can be difficult to make students understand modern tendencies and comprehend artsy styles. Thus, we prepared hot five advice on how to teach art classes in college.

  1. Keep it simple

Modern art is complicated to apprehend. Artists tend to use incompatible colors, forms, and patterns to express their energy, thoughts and feelings. Not surprisingly, it is tricky to convey the “message” of the artist to students.

Simplicity is the key to everything. A very confusing idea can be explained in a simple way. To do that avoid creating a story from a single art element. If the painting is all about messy colors and chaotic lines, it means nothing but messy colors and chaotic lines. Don’t imagine additional meaning if there isn’t one. Some masterpieces don’t have to be understood.

  1. Let your students think

Many teachers have an individual approach to explaining art. They tend to dissolve the concept and analyze it thoroughly. But this approach isn’t effective for modern education. To make learning more exciting for students, you should allow them to contemplate and perceive art their way.

Make them think about what they see and how the image affects their conscience. Ask what feelings and emotions they are having when analyzing some modern sculpture or exhibit. Make their mind work and reconsider their opinions.

  1. Visualize

Technologies are great at making any education more apprehensible. Presentations, diagrams, and videos have to be included in your art classroom management. They ease the perception of any concept and make students memorize better.

Browse some art-house films and include them in the plan of your lecture. Ask students to take part in the educational process creating PowerPoint presentations and mini-movies about current culture tendencies. They will enjoy the creative procedure and research new information. Also, provide students with opportunity to choose a topic for a presentation they are interested in. Thus, they will be eager to do the home task and present their personal opinion on the issue.

  1. Leave the classroom

The old standard way to conduct lessons in classroom is a bit old-fashioned. When it is about art, you have to leave the stereotypes behind and break the mold.

There are many places where every person can become closer to modern culture. Make your students visit with local museums, exhibits, and performances. Give classes in artsy places, free spaces, galleries, and antique shops. The unceremonious atmosphere will ease understanding of modern culture tendencies.

  1. Engage students in artsy activities

If students decided to take art or culture classes, they probably have creative personalities. Why don’t use this fact in teaching?

Engaging students in the creation of artsy projects, you can help them reveal and develop their skills. Give them a chance to become part of creation process. Instead of assigning boring essays, make up something different. Bring bright watercolors, charcoals, and Crayola and engage students in a big project.

Make them open their personalities and show their hidden talents.

And the last advice for every teacher: be kind. Kindness opens hearts to the knowledge. Whether it is art or history you teach, give your students opportunity to express their minds and learn freely. Every opinion has a chance to exist.

 John Landrum is an enthusiastic writer for https://essayvikings.com/. Having graduated from Queen Mary University, John keeps in touch with his professors. This successful man has a colossal amount of teaching experience. He loves being a part of the educational system and bringing changes in everyday academic routine. John is an active member of Internet society: he shares his working experience with colleagues. He is a real bookworm and cannot pass any bookshop without getting a new textbook. John is a very inspiring person and his favorite saying is “Out of difficulties grow miracles”. 

What’s in a Painting? Taking a Closer Look at Gerard ter Borch the Younger’s Masterpiece: The Gallant Conversation (c.1654)

“The whole idea of women seen in a moment of contemplation, that stillness we like in Vermeer: they essentially come from Ter Borch. The idea of unresolved social interactions – that’s also very Ter Borch. He invented that.” ~  Adriaan E Waiboer (Art Historian)

Quite by accident I stumbled upon the work of Gerard ter Borch, and I was captivated by his unique and innovative style.  It is perhaps one of the greatest injustices in the history of art that Gerard ter Borch has been a largely overlooked Baroque Master of the Dutch Golden Age.

It’s high time that Gerard ter Borch is awarded the widespread credit he deserves, not just from a select group of specialists and connoisseurs. In my humble opinion he deserves some of the adulation that continues to be heaped on his more famous, younger contemporary, Johannes Vermeer.

The Gallant Conversation (previously Paternal Admonition) c. 1654

Painted when ter Borch was 47 years old, this oil on canvas masterpiece is now housed in the Rijksmusem in Amsterdam and measures 71 x 73 cm.

There are several reasons why I picked this particular painting of ter Borch’s: the main one being it rather mesmerises me…

It also challenges one’s perceptions with its psychological complexity. It is inherently ambiguous.

The first thing my eyes are drawn to is the woman’s sumptuous, silvery satin garment; the incandescent heart of the painting that radiates onto our retinas. The folds, creases and shadows on the long skirt are so exquisitely rendered, I want to stretch my hand out and stroke the silky material between my thumb and fingers.

It is sensual and utterly sublime. The shine, shade and texture of her dress takes my breath away. It looks so real I expect to hear a faint rustle as she moves or walks.

The way the light reflects on the satin fabric contrasts dramatically with the black velvet covering on her upper back and shoulders and lace back, as well as the more muted colours of the other two people and the dark background, forcing your gaze onto the transaction between the three protagonists.

In this way Ter Borch directs our attention to the inner lives of the subjects in their home or another everyday environment.

Ter Borch displayed an admirable ability to capture private scenes of human drama – men and ‘juffertjes’ (young ladies), in their beautiful gowns, captured in typical 17th century bourgeois settings.

The subjects of his genre paintings are usually involved in various activities, such as singing or making music, reading or writing letters, or hinting at more intimate pastimes, (as is the case with The Gallant Conversation). 

Because The Gallant Conversation is painted with such subtlety, and the setting is so cleverly nuanced, it encourages the audience to speculate as to its true subject.

It is believed by Ter Borch’s biographer and other scholars to actually depict an amatory negotiation between a soldier, a prostitute and her procuress inside a brothel.  Probably the large, reddish wooden bed behind the figures is a bit of a giveaway, as well as the objects of feminine beauty on the table to the left of the woman; especially the rather elaborate mirror and the trailing pale ribbon.

I love the way the silver bowl and candle holder glint in the parsimonious light of the foreground.

It is as if Ter Borch is being not only a skillful, but also a rather gallant painter, protecting the woman’s honour by deliberately not showing us her face. Instead he has shielded her identity and hints at her beauty and profession by the splendour of her clothing, her translucent neck, and carefully arranged hair.

Detail of The Gallant Conversation by Gerard ter Borch

The military officer is addressing the courtesan, and the older lady seated next to him appears to be contemplating his words as she sips her wine. Could there have been a coin held in his raised right hand?

Although his uniform is not as dazzling as the woman’s sleeves and skirt it still impressive: the flecks of gold in his ribbed sleeve, the degrees of gold shading of his tunic and the material tassels hanging from his outer trouser, the yellow and blue plumage in his hat that rests on his right knee; down to the detail of the nails on the sole of his right boot placed nonchalantly across his left knee. His sheathed sword is still attached to his belt.

To me his facial expression is rather enigmatic, but perhaps hints at his desire with a self-assured countenance.  The red velvet chair he is sitting also elevates his importance as a customer.

The expression of the mangy cur behind him is pitiful, his dark eyes pining for affection and food.

The dark clothes of the madame and her less prominent facial features and the surrounding sparsely furnished room is of less importance than the young man and woman. The scene, though tastefully done, is reminiscent of the somewhat tawdry task of agreeing and conducting the business end of a supposedly loving, passionate and physical deed.

Ter Borch has shown sensitivity to a ‘transaction’ preceding a sexual act, and leaves you to imagine the old woman placing her glass on the red tablecloth having agreed the price, and silently leaving the room.

The soldier may then remove his sword and outer garments. Perhaps he will undo her corset first, or he may slowly raise her luxurious, satin gown to touch her stocking clad ankles…

Paternal Admonition

The idea that the couple could have been the young woman’s parents originated with Goethe, after he viewed a copy of the painting by the artist on display in Berlin. But to my eye the male figure is clearly too young to be her father.

The Gallant Conversation copy by Gerard ter Borch in the Gemaldegalerie Berlin

In his “Die Wahlverwandtschaften” Goethe notes the delicacy of attitude of the figures. He remarks how the father quietly and moderately admonishes his daughter who is seen from behind. The woman next to him Goethe interprets as the young woman’s mother, who lowers her eyes so as not to be too attentive to the ‘father’s admonition’. This moralising title, however, is without foundation and does not conform with Ter Borch’s usual themes.

That Goethe’s interpretation was possible at all shows the refinement of Ter Borch’s treatment. Even if he made a mistake, Goethe had the right feeling for the way Ter Borch treated his subjects. In the Berlin painting the coin had been rubbed away, perhaps to erase its offending implication?

Psychologically and pictorially he retains a masterful touch and delicacy.

Gesina: model and muse

It is most likely Ter Borch’s beautiful half-sister Gesina, who is posing as the woman in many of his works. He sketched and painted her extensively in the late 1640s and early 1650s. Perhaps his most innovative and stunning painting of her is Woman at a Mirror (c.1650).

Woman at a Mirror by Gerard ter Borch c. 1650

In this remarkable painting we see a simultaneous view of the woman’s front and back:  her soft facial features gaze up from her reflection in the looking-glass, and from behind her expensive dress, embroidered with gold braiding glimmers beneath her alabaster shoulders – a vision of luminosity…

It also contains the two elements of Ter Borch’s typical modus operandi: a beautiful young lady, brightly lit against a dark background, predominantly seen from behind wearing lush, satin garments.

Gesina is also featured in full-length panel, A Young Woman at Her Toilet with a Maid (c. 1650), at home these days in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A Young Woman at a Toilet with her Maid by Gerard ter Borch c. 1650

Perhaps if the Gallant Conversation were painted today it would be titled: Indecent Proposal!

Ter Borch’s skill in creating an image so compelling and yet so ordinary blows me away. He manages to elevate a scene essentially considered carnal in nature: prurient and potentially crude, and elevates it to a work of art, to something that could be hung in front of visitors and relatives in civilised circles.

Copies

Gerard ter Borch made numerous copies of The Gallant Conversation, each similar yet a little different. Aside from Ter Borch’s own copies, it is the most widely copied work by a Dutch artist, with some 24 copies said to have been created by various artists.

Copy of The Gallant Conversation after Gerard ter Borch by Charles van Beveren – Amsterdam Museum

If imitation is a compliment then the work certainly drew many admirers!

“It’s clear that without Gerard Ter Borch, there would be no Vermeer.” ~ Waiboer
Gerard ter Borch (1617 – 81)

Gerard ter Borch the Younger was born in Zwolle, son of a successful painter, Gerard ter Borch the Elder, who naturally taught Gerard junior the rudimentary skills of his trade.

Gerard ter Borch, Self Portrait c. 1668

A precocious talent, his father had proudly kept an early sketch of horseman drawn by his son at the tender age of seven.

In 1635, barely eighteen, ter Borch went to England where he worked in his uncle’s London studio. Artistic talent ran in his family; his uncle, Robert van Voerst, was then the royal engraver to King Charles I.

During his apprenticeship in London his father sent him a chest full of clothes and art supplies, including a mannequin, accompanied by a letter of instructions:

“Use the mannequin and do not let it stand idle. Draw a lot: large, dymanic compositions.”

It seems his father knew what would be in vogue in the baroque European courts. In his lifetime Gerard ter Borch II became one of the most renowned artists of the Dutch Golden Age. Ter Borch’s oeuvre consists mainly of portraits and genre paintings.

In 1640 Ter Borch travelled south and spent time in Rome, and from 1646 he lived for a few years in Münster, Westphalia during the peace congress. His masterpiece from this event, completed in 1648, was The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, (in the National Gallery in London), portrays the delegates of Holland and of Spain assembled to sign the peace treaty.

Ratification f the Treaty of Munster by Gerard ter Borch c. 1648

He was moving in powerful, influential circles by the time he reached his early thirties; his artistic services were in demand by the aristocratic elite of Amsterdam, and commissions came from nobles and monarchs across Europe – including William of Orange and Cosimo III de’Medici.

By 1650 he was paining in Madrid, where it was rumoured he painted a portrait of King Philip IV. An astonishing achievement if it happened – an unknown young Dutchman making a portrait of a Spanish monarch.

In 1655, rather than setting up his studio in the bustling cities of Amsterdam and Delft, Ter Borch finally chose to settle in Deventer, and married his step-mother’s sister.

In his earlier years he painted many guardroom subjects in the manner of Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster, but later, from about the time when he eventually made a home in Holland, he painted stunningly drawn small groups, posed easily and naturally against shadowy backgrounds and imbued them with an almost aristocratic elegance that was unique among Dutch painters of his time.

“Clearly Ter Borch was comfortable dealing with people of elevated status. In that sense, he was a bit of a small Rubens, rather than this artist from the countryside who happened to be amazingly influential. He travelled an enormous amount, knew how to use a knife and fork, had connections. And that must have made a huge impression on Vermeer.” ~ Adriaan E Waiboer

Influence of Vermeer (1632 – 75)

Gerard ter Borch was creative and avant garde in his concepts, he invented the style of pictures that Joahannes Vermeer successfully developed with his own ‘lighter’ style that remains popular today.

Contrary to Vermeer’s paintings, the dim light and the subdued chiaroscuro of Ter Borch do not allow a complete grasp of the whole field of vision. The light comes mostly from the front and stops at the glossy surfaces of the costumes and other textures.

Art historians have discovered compositional sources for almost all Vermeer’s works. It seems he kept an eye on what his peers were producing, and borrowed subjects and poses from the artists he admired and respected. In that way he can be compared to Shakespeare, who built on existing literary subjects with his own brand of genius.

A comparison of ladies writing…

Woman Writing a Letter by Gerard ter Borch c. 1655

A Lady Writing by Johannes Vermeer c. 1665 (National Gallery of Art Washington)

“The big difference between Ter Borch and Vermeer is that Vermeer isn’t an innovator, in terms of subject matter. In fact he’s highly un-original. In our own time, we are obsessed with who came up with something first, whereas these guys (17th century Dutch artists) were interested in who painted something best. Vermeer was no innovator, but he was a synthesiser – and an improver. He looked around, picked the best elements and ideas, and brought them to another level. Vermeer beats Ter Borch at, for instance, painting daylight and spatial illusion.” ~ Adriaan E Waiboer

1654 was an important year for culture: for not only was The Gallant Conversation created, but the violin maker Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri opened his workshop in Cremona…

Despite his lack of universal appeal, Waiboer asserts that should a good genre painting by Ter Borch come onto the market, it would fetch around £4.5 million.

Not bad for a country bumpkin!

Book Review: Ghost Variations – Schumann’s Spirit Communicates from Beyond the Grave 💀🎻🎼

“My name is Jelly d’Arányi. I am the only woman who has ever had my name. I am the only woman who shall ever live my life. And live it I have, and I do, and I shall.” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations

Ghost Variations: The Strangest Detective Story in Music is a perfect book for Halloween.

This book is not a traditional ghost story replete with creepy sounds that go bump in the night; Ghost Variations is derived from an actual occult experience in 1933, during which an important message from a genius musical spirit ‘speaks’ at a private séance conducted with a Ouija board.

An original Ouija board

As I was researching the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, I came across Jessica Duchen’s fabulous novel, which is narrated predominantly from the point of view of the violinist Jelly d’Arányi, a siren Hungarian virtuoso, who as grand niece of Joseph Joachim, made a name for herself as a soloist based in London.

I was totally absorbed in the book from the outset. It is beautifully written,  impeccably researched, as well as being musically and historically authentic. The colourful characters (both real and fictional), come off the pages in high definition life.

It’s hard enough to write fictional characters, but to base a work of fiction on mostly real people and events must be even more so…

I read Ghost Variations in a handful of sittings; it totally drew me in to the fictional tale of this real life violinist – slightly past her prime – living an extraordinary life in the Art Deco zeitgeist.

Based on her character in the novel I would love to have met Jelly d’Arányi. I feel Jessica captured her ‘essence’ perfectly: vivacious, glamorous, gracious, kind, musically brilliant but not a diva, vulnerable, courageous, and paradoxically both naïve and worldly.

She has known love, but is dedicated to her Bergonzi violin and her art: music.

The novel is set in the late thirties; Jelly is unmarried and approaching forty with arthritic joints that hamper her playing.  She finds her own fame fading simultaneously with the rise of the young violin superstar, Yehudi Menuhin based in America.

Jelly lives with her sister Adila Fachiri, her lawyer husband Alex, daughter Adrienne and pet dog Caesar in Netherton Grove. Their home is affectionately dubbed Hurricane House, a warm and bohemian base for Jelly as she travels across the UK for her paid concerts as well as a series of cathedral charity concerts during the depression.

Portrait of Jelly d’Aranyi by Charles Geoffroy Dechaume

The story begins after a concert when Jelly, her secretary Anna and their hosts, play a glass game. Jelly, although skeptical, still takes part, but when the spirit of composer Robert Schumann mentions her sister, she gets cold feet and leaves the room. At first she cannot accept the spirit messages are real, and tries to put the episode out of her thoughts.

However, events conspire and in a glass game with her sister Adila (known for her psychic abilities), and their close family friend and spiritualist, the Swedish Ambassador, Baron Erik Palmstierna, the voice of Robert Schumann comes through to Jelly, telling her to find and play his forgotten violin concerto.  Although still troubled, this time, Jelly cannot ignore it.

The paranormal nature of its emergence adds all the more mystery and conflict to the story, an imagining of what it must have been like for the talented Hungarian sisters in a time when psychic phenomena was frowned upon.

Jelly and Adila start to research the concerto, the last significant composition by Schumann before he descended into apparent madness, written for their revered great uncle Joachim. After Schumann’s death alone in the sanatorium, Brahms, Joachim and Clara decide not to publish the work, and it is placed in the Prussian State Library in Berlin by Joachim’s heirs, with the instruction that it not be performed for at least 100 years.

1850 photograph of Robert Schumann

When Jelly tells her musical companions about the circumstances preceding its rediscovery, she is met with mixed reactions. Donald Francis Tovey decides that the music itself is the most important thing, not its method of discovery, and helps her locate the score with the help of established German publishers Schott.

Baron Palmstierna visits the Prussian State Library expecting access to the suppressed manuscript, only to be told of its strict embargo, which Schumann’s last remaining daughter, the elderly Eugenie Schumann is adamant should remain unplayed…

Meanwhile Jelly is losing another love, Tom Spring-Rice to a fatal illness (after having lost Australian Olympic athlete, pianist and composer, Sep Kelly during the First World War). She is emotionally fragile, and comes to believe that by performing the world premiere of a long lost violin concerto she can also regain her dignity and rediscover herself.

However, in the wake of the baron’s visit to Berlin, knowledge of the concerto has come to the attention of the Nazi’s, who wish to use it for their own sickening nationalistic purposes, and the world premiere of the piece is awarded by Goebbels to a state sanctioned musician, Georg Kulenkampff, after it has been extensively edited by him, and also secretly by Paul Hindemith.

“Sleeping beauty had been awoken by the wrong prince. Could the spirits not see into the future? Could they not have known, when they chose to speak through the glass game, that the first person on whose ear the concerto would fall might be Adolf Hitler?” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations

There is a brilliant and chilling scene towards the end of the novel in which the Strecker brothers, Ludwig and Willy and their colleague Ulli Schultheiss from Schott meet with Goebbels and members of the Reich regarding its publication and performances.

They know that their competitor Breitkopf & Härtel are also angling for first publication of the concerto, and so propose that Yehudi Menuhin also play it in America. Ulli puts his neck on the line to push for Jelly d’Arányi’s moral right to play the London premiere, being the grand niece of its dedicatee.

Being the vile Nazi pig he is, Goebbels is unhappy with his suggestion and threatens Ulli with his demise; but he ultimately agrees, as the music will by then be in the public domain.

Other scenes that reduced me to jelly (if you excuse the pronunciation and pun), is when she receives a visit from Moshe Menuhin, Yehudi’s formidable father. He brusquely asks her to give up the London premiere so Yehudi can be the first to play the concerto in London instead. Jelly refuses.

“Would you save a beloved friend’s life only to see him taken prisoner? I know Yehudi will play it well, but that concerto is not home again until it is here with me.” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations

After the publication of Horizons of Immortality by Erik Palmstierna in conjunction with Adila Fachiri in 1937, in which a whole chapter is devoted to the story behind Jelly finding the ‘lost’ Schumann concerto, there is a media frenzy and backlash against her, and Jelly’s nerves are shredded even before she is due to perform the London premiere with Sir Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

As Hitler ramps up his anti-Jewish activities and propaganda, Jelly is subject to increasing racial animosity in London as her foreign accent is being noticed and commented on more frequently. The pre-war situation becomes more tense, but it is nothing compared to the vitriolic reaction to her revelation of ‘voices from the other side’.

The man she loves is trapped in Germany, sitting in the Charlottenburg Opera House, dreading Kulenkampff’s world premiere on 26th November 1937, at which Goebbels and the Führer are also present; knowing deep down he must somehow escape the abhorrent pall of Nazi Germany.

Opernhaus, Berlin c. 1912

Ulli’s despair is poignant, when in London he had promised Jelly that she would be the first to play the concerto, but power and politics have deemed otherwise:

“If Kulenkampff and Böhm, those most rational musicians could not make sense of the concerto, how could anybody?
And yet… within this musical jungle lay a naked beauty so exposed that it seemed almost indecent. Schumann’s soul might be damaged and suffering, but he still gave its entirety. Could it ever have been right to leave this music unheard?
And yet, and yet… there was madness here, a precipice lying ahead in the fog and snow; a spirit filled with love, but lost, unable to master itself. For the first time Ulli began to wonder what happens when insanity is unleashed through art into the soul of others. What exactly did Joachim and Clara know about this piece that made them put it to sleep?”
The transition sounded and the Polonaise emerged into the daylight. The Führer was smiling.
Ulli forced himself to listen to the detail. Kulenkampff’s version was considerably altered, wheras Yehudi had eagerly declared that he wanted to play every note exactly as Schumann had written it, without even the hushed-up Hindemith adaptations. Kulenkampff, ignoring Schumann’s funereal metronome mark, played it as a true Polonaise; yet though his delivery was graceful and elegant, its triumph felt empty. Everything would be alright, it seemed to say, when Ulli knew full well that it would not: only a few months after creating the blazing conclusion, Schumann threw himself off the Dusselforf bridge into the black Rhine.
Final chord. Kulenkampff, domed forehead shining with sweat, his bow aloft, gaze locked for an instant with Böhm’s. The orchestra standing, tired, inscrutable. The Führer, on his feet. The whole audience rising to ape him. And applause. And… Ulli sensed sensed their puzzlement. This was no triumph. That slow movement, exquisite, yet out of kilter; was this concerto after all an insane work for an insane land? What had they done, letting it out?” ~ Jessica Duchen, Ghost Variations

The Kulenkampff recording:

Sadly there was no recording of Jelly’s London performance. Menuhin’s American recording from 1938:

It is 16th February 1938, the date of Jelly’s London premiere of the concerto, described in a crescendo of emotion which has been building throughout the book; fascinating for musicians and non-musicians alike.

Ghost Variations has a strong literary and musical theme, but it is written like a psychological thriller. This is something I also tried to achieve with my novel, The Virtuoso.

I’m in awe at Jessica Duchen’s deft vocabulary and skill in layering in her protagonist’s emotional and musical challenges against the backdrop of a violent time in history: the two are clearly inseparable for Jelly. The novel leaves you rooting for victory and redemption for our gutsy heroine.

We meet Jelly’s real cohorts in music, the larger than life pianist Dame Myra Hess and the indefatigable pianist and music professor, Sir Donald Francis Tovey.

Jelly and Myra in a BBC studio on World Violin Day in 1928

There are so many wonderful touches in the story, from how the sisters talk to each other in their everyday dialogue, the affectionate terms such as ‘Sai’ and ‘Onkel Jo’, to learning about how Bartók had written his violin sonatas for the sisters, and how Jelly had been muse to French composer, Maurice Ravel, who composed Tzigane, his gypsy themed, Czardas type melodies in his virtuosic showpiece for her. Jelly was also a muse to Elgar and Holst.

Ulli’s greetings to the bust of Wagner at Schott’s headquarters in Mainz are entirely plausible, since the Strecker brothers’ father had actually been a close personal friend of the composer.

Jessica explains more about the title of the novel:

Also in 1939, another previously unknown work by Robert Schumann was finally released to the public. It was a set of solo piano variations on the theme that Brahms had adopted from his own Opus 23 Variations (as played to Jelly by Myra in chapter 5). It became known as Geistervariationen – Ghost Variations – because Schumann believed the melody had been dictated to him in his sleep by spirits. What Schumann, in his disturbed state of mind, seemed to have forgotten is that he had already written the germ of this melody himself, in the slow movement of his violin concerto. He was writing the variations when he made his suicide attempt in February 1854.  The day after his rescue from the Rhine, he gave the manuscript to Clara. She preferred to leave it unpublished.

Score of Geistervariationen.

Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), or Theme and Variations in E-flat major for piano, WoO 24:

The suppression of the concerto after Schumann’s death was probably on balance a good thing, after all it led to a grand unveiling of a piece that may have been more maligned in the direct aftermath of Schumann’s illness, not to mention making a wonderful premise for a modern work of fiction!

It’s as though Schumann’s spirit had re-emerged triumphant after eighty years to right the musical injustice of his unheard violin concerto in D minor.

To put it using Sir Donald Francis Tovey’s vernacular from the novel: there’s no nuff and stonsense in this musical, literary gem!

“She had to be no more tonight than the active component of her violin. No extraneous emotion – and no rustling dress – must upset the flow from Schumann’s mind to the audience’s. A musician is the truest medium there is. She, her technique and the Bergonzi were his channel now from world to world.
She let her sister massage her hands, one at a time. In the hall the orchestra was warming up; some overture was opening the programme, she couldn’t remember which. She tried to blot out all that was extraneous, all that was physical. The concerto existed in sound alone, nothing that could be seen, claimed and owned. Everyone wanted to pierce it with a pin and fix it to a velvet board, but it belonged to everybody and nobody. It was the sum total of all that had passed: imagined by Schumann, nurtured by Clara, fired up by Brahms, twisted by Onkel Jo, guarded by all those gatekeepers, meddled with by Goebbels and Hindemith and even perhaps Ulli. Yehudi, she knew would play it perfectly – so perhaps she and he were allies after all, desiring the best for the work – and whenever it was played, it would be born anew.”

 

Jessica very helpfully elucidates on which characters are real and which are fictional, as well as factual information about Jelly’s life and the fate of her family, friends and colleagues, at the end of the book, plus her extensive bibliography.

It’s well worth reading, and was listed as John Suchet’s favourite read of 2016. Ghost Variations on Unbound.

The Strad 125 Years: Pioneering Female String Players

I’ll bid you a ghostly farewell with a vintage recording of Jelly and Adila playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto:

Poetic Thoughts on the Chemistry of Life

“[T]he atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted poetry, but every now and then the urge takes me to explore the bigger questions of life.

In order to more fully understand the universe we live out our daily lives in, genius, scientific minds delve into and develop Quantum Mechanics; which tends to fry my circuitry. I don’t think I’ll ever get my head round it!

To me it is the ultimate literary theme, how and why we are even here at all…

The Apotheosis of Homer by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres c. 1827

Looking back to the prehistoric swamps of single cell microbes on Earth a few billion years ago, to Darwinian discovery and biogenesis; studying life’s seemingly simple origins and subsequent progress, one might wonder: is creation and evolution one and the same thing?

When I mention chemistry, especially in the title, it is in the broadest sense of the word; not purely a scientific meaning. For the ‘chemistry’ within beings, between souls and all living things in nature has both a real and ethereal quality.

Noun: chemistry

  1. The branch of science concerned with the substances of which matter is composed, the investigation of their properties and reactions, and the use of such reactions to form new substances. the chemical composition and properties of a substance or body.

plural noun: chemistries

“the patient’s blood chemistry was monitored regularly”

2. the complex emotional or psychological interaction between people.

“their affair was triggered by intense sexual chemistry”

To ponder where and what ‘life’ will be in a millennia, let alone another billion years is beyond my comprehension, but maybe not for scientists and Sci-Fi writers!

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” ~ Werner Heisenberg, (Across the Frontiers)

I hope you enjoy my attempt at contextualising random thoughts in prose to arrive at a semblance of understanding of the oftentimes violent and disturbing, but also, profoundly beautiful world we live in…

I find listening to Beethoven puts me in a harmonious state of appreciation to access gratitude, contemplation and reflection…

The Chemistry of Life

Oscillations, multiple compounds and formulas,

Make up even a single, miniscule molecule,

Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen; chemical reactions abound,

Mingling the celestial matter of stars…

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Requisite, smaller parts of a complex, greater whole,

Primordial power creates the alchemy of life;

Diffuse quantum world – coursing through flesh,

Synthesis through eons, seeding infinite heartbeats…

Isaac and Rebecca by Rembrandt van Rijn

Inflating life’s vaporous, continuous, undulating breath,

Sparking billions of neurons; birthing artistry, creativity,

Intelligent, cosmic cellular communication,

Powerful and irrevocable, like a thermonuclear reaction.

The Alpha and Omega of physicality, existence;

Omniscient, spontaneous source; force of the universe,

Spirit – true essence of miraculous transmutations,

Infused with eternity; depleted through neglect.

An Emerald Sea by Albert Bierstadt

No on or off switch, just vibrations, instructions…

Harmful messages disrupt a divine diaspora,

Emotional dams accrue, obstructing ebb and flow;

Signals: benevolent or malevolent, misinterpreted, incomplete…

Interior or The Rape by Edgar Degas

Heavy, dysfunctional intensity, warping actions,

Indelible scars, woven into strands of human DNA,

The One Energy, splintered and diluted into duality:

Light and shadow permeating mind, body and soul.

Sperm and egg unite, ignited through love or desire,

Proliferation of life’s sacred, unique diversity,

Blood, bone and beauty are vital; animated,

Exposed to Gaia’s cycles of destruction and regeneration.

The chemistry of life manifests a zeal for life,

Evolution in flow, obeying its innate laws,

Behold swelling, stormy skies; rays glinting on serene seas,

Marvel at the elemental ardour of the universe!

Electrical pulses compose human symphonies;

Biological orchestras resonating earthly frequencies,

Sounds and rhythm, dissonance and harmony,

Cadences of humanity, expressions of the chemistry of life…

By Virginia Burges

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

Free Your Mind: A Practical Process to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

“PSYCH-K® is a set of principles and processes designed to change subconscious beliefs that limit the expression of your full potential as a spiritual being having a human experience.”
~ Rob Williams, originator of PSYCH-K®

As last Tuesday was #WorldMentalHealthDay it seems timely to talk about a recent experience which has helped me immensely, and I’m certain can help others, especially those struggling with mental health issues.

We all have mental housekeeping to take care of  in varying degrees, from how we face and manage everyday stress, to more serious  conditions such as anxiety, depression and Bipolar disorder.

A few months ago I had a fortuitous meeting with someone who would have a massively positive impact on my life, Lorna Kennard. Lorna is a lady of many talents; she has a treatment room at the Lotus Centre in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, where she sees her many therapy clients.

Her main areas of expertise are sports massage, CranioSacral Therapy and PSYCH-K® facilitation.

Here’s Lorna to tell you more about herself:

During our meeting she told me how her interest in examining her own beliefs and the relationship between them, her subsequent actions and outcomes lead her to learn, practise and train in a system known as PYSCH-K®, which was originated by Robert Williams M.A.

Wise words from Robert Williams on high speed mindset change:

I had never heard of PSYCH-K® before, and was intensely curious. Lorna told me how she had tackled her own self-limiting beliefs with this method, and was teaching others to do the same. I decided this was information I really needed to hear.

I was struggling. I felt overwhelmed (as I’m sure many mums do), juggling various career strands, running my children to various activities and auditions and supporting their studies, all whilst running a home in a sense of increasing chaos and despair. I felt like I was chasing my tail and failing at all of it.

I decided to keep an open mind, but at the same time the unhelpful voice in the back of my head piped up that it probably wouldn’t work for me – nothing ever does.

Well, with friends like that…

I knew I had to silence this inner critic, the one who always makes me feel that I’m never quite good enough once and for all. I realised I had believed her lies too often, and they were keeping me anchored, holding me back from reaching anything like my full potential.

Many of my habitual thoughts were not the type of thoughts I knew I should have running on autopilot…

I have big dreams, I am driven and motivated, but back then I was frustrated, I was stuck. The importance of having a dream is worth another post in itself, but I owed it to myself to continue regardless, even if my ‘voice’ was telling me it would be a waste of time.

Lorna was good enough to give me a PSYCH-K® session and I am happy to report back!

PSYCH-K® has been a balm and blessing for my frazzled and at times, overwrought mind. Physically I’m stronger, leaner, healthier and fitter than I have ever been, which is not bad going for a middle aged mum of four.

In the last twelve months I’ve got my body into gear, but I knew in order to successfully face life’s challenges and overcome self-doubt, my mindset needed to do some heavy lifting and develop more muscle and resilience!

I’m so much more in control of my thoughts a few months down the road. I feel like I’m in the driving seat again. My awareness is continually expanding, so I notice negative self-talk and unconscious behaviour much quicker.

About PSYCH-K®

Ninety five percent of our lives are lived in an unconscious state.  We are making decisions and having thoughts that are derived from experiences since we were born, and this map of reality can get pretty distorted by the time we are adults. Somewhere along the line I developed fears and blocks.

It was that old analogy of the iceberg, with the bulk of its mass unseen underwater, powering everything, and it suddenly clicked in me.

This interview with Lorna and Cazzie Dare completes the picure!

I have done a lot of work on myself, getting over many hurdles, but it seems I needed to keep pulling back the layers of junk from my mind, just like peeling an onion, to get to the core of who I am and what I want out of life.

Lorna was very patient with me. She asked a lot of deep and searching questions that helped me to sort out the psychological jumble that was whizzing around my mind. She really helped me to pin down the areas that I wanted to improve in my life and clarify exactly what I needed by getting to the crux of the beliefs that were holding me back; and therefore perpetuating cycles of unwanted feelings and results in my life.

From this discussion and questioning we wrote down half a dozen core statements and then verified them via muscle testing to ascertain that they were right and ‘true’ for me.

All of them tested ‘strong’ except for one particular statement, which required a resolution balance to integrate the belief. It had not tested strong due to an inner conflict, as both brain hemispheres must be on board…

PSYCH-K® can untilise a variety of ‘Balances’ to integrate new beliefs and the balances are varied and integrate aspects of a variety of both ancient and modern practices and understanding of how the brain works.

Afterwards Lorna retested me on the belief and my muscle response was strong.

Muscle testing and kinesiology talks to your subconscious mind while bypassing your conscious mind. This was really powerful for me, knowing that I’m in alignment with my highest Self.

Lorna was incredibly professional, she followed up our session in writing and with all my statements. The next step was down to me to walk my path,  ensuring I followed through on the agreed action points  that resonated with what was needed to carry my new beliefs forward.

Since then I’ve made good progress on some key projects. I found reading them twice a day, first thing in the morning and at night before bed helped me to integrate the beliefs.

I can’t report that my life is perfect and that my desires all manifested instantly thereafter, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that it has changed me for the better.

I am emotionally stronger, happier, more confident, less stressed, and I think and act differently. It follows that results will come. I have had some small successes and noticed auspicious meetings and circumstances have been coming my way. Before I felt hopeless, now I feel powerful…

I still have challenges; that’s the nature of the cycles of life for most beings in physical form, but I am handling them better. Someone I respect very much has a saying:

Trials and tribulations are mandatory – misery is optional.

I feel I can now better embody the wisdom in this quote. I’d like to thank Lorna from the bottom of my heart for her help and support and would recommend her 100% for anyone in the locale.

If geography precludes a visit to Lorna in person, she also offers remote consultations via Skype.

Lorna and her partner Rachael have also developed amazing ergonomic cushions to help those with back pain who are sitting at a computer for long periods of time, or doing a lot of driving through their brand Sittingwell.

In conclusion, working on our mindset and beliefs is the most important, empowering work we can do. My life has changed for the better in a sustainable way, because my beliefs serve me in a more collaborative and supportive way.

I love this series of PSYCH-K® videos with Rob Williams:

Your Divine Guidance System – GPS:

Catching the wave at the right time:

I don’t know what the future holds, but I intend to do my bit to enrich my own life and the lives of my family and friends, and be of service to others to the best of my ability. Now that the shackles that were holding my mind prisoner have been removed, I am empowered to do that.

The brakes are off!

Until the next time, believe the best in yourself and look up Lorna or a local PSYCH-K® facilitator if there are areas of your life that you want to improve. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t…you’re right!” ~ Henry Ford