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

The Great Virtuoso Violinists/Composers of the 19th Century: Joachim

“How often did the master Joachim himself perform the work, how often did he teach it to countless pupils, and yet nowadays what is passed off as the Brahms Concerto no longer bears any relation to that [work].” ~ Heinrich Schenker

The name Joseph Joachim has been familiar to me for a very long time. I was aware that he was a celebrated and hugely virtuosic soloist, for I saw his name on many violin scores of other composers over the years as I progressed with my violin studies.

Joseph Joachim by John Singer Sargent c. 1904

He had either arranged the piece for the violin and piano part, or written a cadenza. His musical pedigree shone from the pages of multifarious scores, but other than that I didn’t know anything else about him.

So here endeth much of my ignorance, as I attempt to shine the light of appreciation on Joseph Joachim’s life and achievements.

Whilst Joachim was much more famous for his playing career than his composing (as many of my revered candidates in this violin/composer series have been), this Austro-Hungarian maestro was an early trailblazer of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, and in a large measure responsible for its current popularity.

I love him for that alone!

His name is firmly established in the pantheon of violin greats; an exceptional talent on his instrument, and like many gifted musicians before him, he branched out into composing, conducting and teaching, where possibly his greatest legacy and influence still thrives.

Joseph Joachim: (28 June 1831 – 15 August 1907)

Joseph Joachim was born the seventh of eight children to Julius (a wool merchant) and Fanny Joachim on 28th June 1831, in Köpcsény, Hungary (present-day Kittsee, Austria). As an infant he survived the European cholera pandemic, which claimed almost 400 lives in the Pressburg region.

When Joseph was two years old the Joachim family moved to Pest, then the capital of Hungary’s thriving wool industry.  His older sister had stimulated an early interest of music in him from her study of guitar and singing, and a toy violin given to Joseph by Julius seems to have been the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the violin.

Family of influence

Joachim’s cousin on his maternal side was Fanny (nee Figdor) Wittgenstein, who served as a surrogate mother to Joachim throughout much of his youth, mother of the industrialist Karl Wittgenstein, grandmother of the pianist Paul Wittgenstein and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Joseph’s sister Johanna married Lajos György Arányi, a prominent physician and university professor in Pest who, in 1844, founded one of the world’s first institutes of pathology.  Their granddaughters (Jospeh’s grand neices) were  the distinguished violinists Adila (Arányi) Fachiri (1886-1962) and Jelly d’Arányi (1893-1966). Both had studied under Joachim’s protégé, the eminent Jenö Hubay.

Jelly d’Arányi is the protagonist of Jessica Duchen’s novel, Ghost Variations, a fictional tale around the true story of Robert Schumann’s long lost violin concerto, composed for her great uncle Joseph. This book is next on my reading list!

Joseph’s brother Henry followed in the same trade as their father, and settled in England, where he married Ellen Margaret Smart, from a prominent British musical family. Their son Harold Joachim (nephew of Joseph) was educated at Harrow College and Balliol College Oxford. A  respected philosopher and scholar of Aristotle and Spinoza, his most well-known book was The Nature of Truth, (1906).

As an Oxford University professor he taught the American poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote: ‘to his criticism of my papers I owe an appreciation of the fact that good writing is impossible without clear and distinct ideas’ (letter in The Times, August 4, 1938).

He was also said to be a talented amateur violinist and married to one of Joseph’s daughters.

Harold’s sister Gertrude, (Joseph’s niece) married Francis Albert Rollo Russell, the son of British Prime Minister John Russell, and uncle of the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Early Career 

Joseph received his first violin lessons from Gustav Ellinger, a competent violinist but not the best teacher for the young prodigy, so Joachim’s parents’ placed young Joseph under the tutelage of Stanisław Serwaczyński, the concertmaster and conductor of the opera in Pest, who gave him a thorough grounding in the modern French School, by Viotti’s successors: Rode, Baillot and Kreutzer.

An early debut in Pest brought Joachim to the attention of an important benefactor: Count Franz von Brunsvik, a liberal aristocrat and a pillar of Pest’s musical community, and also the affection of his sister Therese.

Beethoven had dedicated his Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57 to von Brunsvik, who was among the earliest performers of Beethoven’s string quartets. Beethoven was also fond of Franz’s sister, Therese, to whom he dedicated his Op. 78 sonata, and their sister Josephine von Brunsvik, who I believe to have been Beethoven’s mysterious “Immortal Beloved.”

Vienna

The next stage of his musical development was to be in Vienna, where Joseph’s wealthy grandfather Isaac lived, as did his uncles, Nathan and Wilhelm Figdor.

Joachim had a shaky start with teacher George Hellmesberger senior, who doubted Joachim’s future as a virtuoso due to what he considered weak and stiff bowing. At this point Joachim’s parents (who had been in Vienna for his concert), decided that they would return with him to Pest and seek a new profession for their son.

Luckily for Joachim, the celebrated violinist Heinrich Wilhem Ernst was also in Vienna giving a series of highly publicised concerts, and when Joachim’s parents sought his advice he referred them to his own teacher: Joseph Böhm.

Portrait of Joseph Bohm

Böhm proved to be the best mentor to further develop Joseph’s talent. He was well respected as the father of the Viennese School of violin playing.

Robert W Eshbach writes:
Joseph Böhm played in many historically significant concerts, including a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony under the composer’s direction. He became an early advocate for Schubert’s chamber music, and, on 26 March 1828, he gave the premiere of Schubert’s opus 100 trio.  Together with Holz, Weiss and Linke of the original Schuppanzigh Quartet, he performed Beethoven’s string quartets under the composer’s supervision. For Joachim, this direct personal and musical connection to Beethoven held a great and abiding significance.
Joachim’s training under Böhm was a true apprenticeship. In accepting him as a student, Böhm and his wife agreed to take him into their home just outside of Vienna’s first district, two blocks from the Schwarzspanierhaus where Beethoven had lived and died. For the next three years, for all but the Summer months, they would raise him in loco parentis, and train him in the practical skills of a professional violinist. Though not a violinist, Frau Böhm played a critical role in the Joseph’s musical upbringing, attending his lessons, and taking personal charge of his practicing.

I find it fascinating how the connections emanating from Beethoven’s life through his compositions, fellow musicians, friends, acolytes and protégé’s seemed to go full-circle in the life of Joseph Joachim!

Shortly before his own recital on 30th April 1843, Joseph had the benefit of seeing the Belgian violinist Henri Vieuxtemps perform in Vienna’s Imperial and Royal Redoutensaal, no doubt an inspiring event.

At his own recital to a burgeoning audience in the same venue, of the Adagio religioso and Finale marziale movements of Vieuxtemps’s fourth concerto in D minor, he made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Joachim left Vienna in the summer of 1843 to further his studies in Leipzig, where he was to audition for the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

Böhm relented, as his preference had been for his protégé to go to Paris instead.

In August that year Joachim appeared in a Leipzig Gewandhaus concert, with Pauline Viardot-García and Clara Schumann, playing an Adagio and Rondo by Charles-Auguste de Bériot.

London debut and critical acclaim 

Under the guidance and mentorship of composer Felix Mendelssohn, the thirteen year old Joseph wowed an enthusiastic audience in the Hanover Square Rooms on 27th May 1844, with his performance of the hitherto rather unfairly maligned Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Hanover Square Rooms – A Concert in 1843

Vieuxtemps’s Beethoven performance had taken place in Vienna in 1834, but in London there had been no well received recitals of Beethoven’s only violin concerto.

After what must have been a poor performance in London in April 1832 by Edward Eliason, came this scathing review in Hamonicon:

“Beethoven has put forth no strength in his violin concerto. It is a fiddling affair, and might have been written by any third or fourth rate composer. We cannot say that the performance of this concealed any of its weakness, or rendered it at all more palatable.”

Many great violinists, including Ludwig Spohr, had rejected the work outright. “That was all very fine,” Spohr later said to Joachim by way of congratulations after a performance in Hanover, “but now I’d like to hear you play a real violin piece.”

Ouch! Perhaps it is poetic justice that Spohr’s own violin concertos, which only were popular during his lifetime, never reached the current pinnacle of Beethoven’s much loved and enduring work.

Joseph Joachim’s Cadenza for the Beethoven Violin Concerto

I wonder if Joachim realised all that was riding on his debut. Had he not played Beethoven’s ‘fiddling affair’ in such an outstanding manner, his career may have faltered and Beethoven’s only violin concerto may have forever remained in the shadows. That’s quite a lot of pressure to sit, even on the mature shoulders, of a young teenager.

Joseph Joachim in London in 1844

Mendelssohn had put his own reputation on the line, having been invited over as the guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1843 and promptly suggesting the wunderkind Joseph Joachim to the society; who had a long-standing ban on child performers.

Eventually, after a few high level auditions, it was agreed that Joachim would play the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

A fabulous vintage recording of Beethoven’s VC played at a jaunty tempo, (Joachim Cadenzas) by fellow Hungarian, Joseph Szigeti, with the British Symphony Orchestra and Bruno Walter:

Joseph was paid the sum total of 5 guineas (with a guinea being equivalent to one pound, one shilling). Quite a disparity with today’s performers, (inflation not withstanding), but it was to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Felix Mendelssohn in his elation wrote:
“… The cheers of the audience accompanied every single part of the concerto throughout. When it was over and I took him down the stairs, I had to remind him that he should once more acknowledge the audience, and even then the thundering noise continued until long after he had again descended the steps, and was out of the hall. A better success the most celebrated and famous artist could neither hope for nor achieve.”
The reviewer for the Morning Post enthused:
“Joachim, the boy violinist, astounded every amateur. The concerto in D, op. 61… has been generally regarded by violin-players as not a proper and effective development of the powers of their instrument… But there arrives a boy of fourteen [sic] from Vienna, who, after astonishing everybody by his quartett-playing, is invited to perform at the Philharmonic, the standard law against the exhibition of precocities at these concerts being suspended on his account. As for his execution of this concerto, it is beyond all praise, and defies all description. This highly-gifted lad stands for half-an-hour without any music, and plays from memory without missing a note or making a single mistake in taking up the subject after the Tutti. He now and then bestows a furtive glance at the conductor, but the boy is steady, firm, and wonderfully true throughout.
In the slow movement in C — that elegant expanse of melody which glides so charmingly into the sportive rondo — the intensity of his expression and the breadth of his tone proved that it was not merely mechanical display, but that it was an emanation from the heart — that the mind and soul of the poet and musician were there, and it is just in these attributes that Joachim is distinguished from all former youthful prodigies… Joachim’s performance was altogether unprecedented, and elicited from amateurs and professors equal admiration.
Mendelssohn’s unequivocal expression of delight and Loder’s look of amazement, combined with the hearty cheering of the band as well as auditory, all testified to the effect young Joachim had produced.”

On June 4th 1844, as news of his successful debut had spread, Joseph was asked to play for none other than Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort at a state concert in Windsor, attended by Emperor Nicholas of Russia, Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel.

He performed Ernst’s Othello Fantasy, and de Bériot’s Andantino and Rondo Russe, (the second and third movements of his violin concerto No. 2 in B minor), accompanied by the Queen’s private band, and received a golden watch and chain from the Queen for his efforts.

 The Liszt years, Hanover and touring

Mendelssohn’s sudden death in 1847 deeply affected Joachim, who was teaching at the Conservatorium in Leipzig and playing on the first desk of the Gewandhaus Orchestra with Ferdinand David.

In 1848 the renowned pianist and composer Franz Liszt invited Joachim to Weimar (once home to Goethe and Schiller) to join his circle of avant-garde musicians, encouraging him to compose. Joachim served Liszt as his concertmaster and seemed to embrace the new “psychological music” as he put it.

It was during his time in Weimar that he wrote his Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 3, dedicated to his new mentor.

By 1852 Joachim had a change of heart and eschewed the direction of Liszt’s and particularly Wagner’s music of the ‘New German School’ and moved to Hanover. In 1857 he wrote to Liszt: “I am completely out of sympathy with your music; it contradicts everything which from early youth I have taken as mental nourishment from the spirit of our great masters.”

Under the generous patronage of King George V of Hanover Joachim was well paid and given the freedom to compose and undertake concert tours of Europe.

Performance repertoire and dedications

Joachim not only revived Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, but also championed Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin BWV 1001 – 1006 and the much loved ‘Chaconne’ from the Partita No. 2, BWV 1004. Bach is staple canon for any modern violinist both pro and amateur.

How marvellous that Joachim’s good taste still prevails upon modern repertoire…

The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s.” ~ Joseph Joachim

He studied the Mendelssohn violin concerto with the composer, and famously provided inspiration and composition feedback to Johannes Brahms, who wrote his Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 for Joachim.

A marvellous documentary with violinist Gil Shaham about Brahm’s violin concerto and Joachim’s role in its creation and performance:

Brahms’s Scherzo for Joachim, the third movement of the F-A-E Sonata, a passionate rendition from Vengerov and Papian:

He also performed his own version of Tartini’s Devil’s Trill and Robert Schumann’s dedication, Fantasy in C Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 131, previously unknown to me.

A wonderful 1953 recording of the piece arranged by Joachim for violin and piano, with a rhapsodic performance by Russian virtuoso Leonid Kogan and pianist Andrei Mytnik :

Joachim and Clara Schumann undertook a recital tour in late 1857, performing in Dresden, Leipzig and Munich.  They were also well received in London’s St. James’s Hall. Joachim performed yearly in London from 1867 to 1904.

Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann in Concert by Adolph von Menzel c. 1854

“Then there was a violin solo by young Joachim, then as now the greatest violinist of his time; and a solo on the piano-forte by Madame Schumann, his only peeress! and these came as a wholesome check to the levity of those for whom all music is but an agreeable pastime, a mere emotional delight, in which the intellect has no part; and also as a well-deserved humiliation to all virtuosi who play so charmingly that they make their listeners forget the master who invented the music in the lesser master who interprets it! “~ Excerpt from Trilby, 1894, by George du Maurier

Friendship with Johannes Brahms and the Schumann’s

Through his friendship with Robert and Clara Schumann Joachim was able to introduce them to the twenty year old Johannes Brahms. They would all form a close and lifelong friendship, but not without their disagreements.

Johannes Brahms, German composer with Joseph Joachim.

After many years of friendship and close collaboration, Brahms sided with Joachim’s wife at the time of their divorce. Joseph had accused Amalie of having an affair, but Brahms apparently had thought more highly of her chastity!

Their rift lasted a year, and was mended, at least partially, when Brahms composed his Double Violin Concerto for Violin and Cello.

The King of Cadenzas

Joachim wrote the cadenza as the dedicatee for Brahms’s violin concerto. Joachim’s cadenzas:

  • Beethoven, Concerto in D major, Op. 61
  • Brahms, Concerto in D major, Op. 77
  • Kreutzer, Concerto No. 19 in D minor
  • Mozart, Aria from Il re pastore, K. 208, Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216, Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218, and Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219
  • Rode, Concerto No. 10 in B minor, and Concerto No. 11 in D major
  • Spohr, Concerto in A minor, Op. 47 (Gesangsszene)
  • Tartini, Sonata in G minor (Devil’s Trill)
  • Viotti, Concerto No. 22 in A minor

Recordings of his cadenzas of Brahms and Mozart:

Hilary Hahn playing Joachim’s cadenza for the Brahms VC:

Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major K.218 – 1st Movement – Allegro with Henryk Szeryng, New Philharmonia Orchestra w/Sir Alexander Gibson (Joachim Cadenza at 7.05):

The Joachim String Quartet 

Aside from his illustrious career as one of the most influential solo violinists of his era, Joachim also performed chamber works with his eponymous string quartet.

They gave recitals of Beethoven’s late quartets – high in difficulty and low in popularity, at least until revival by Joachim and his quartet members: Robert Hausmann (cello), Joseph Joachim (1st violin), Emanuel Wirth (viola) and Karel Halíř (2nd violin).

The Joachim Quartet performing in the Sing Akademie zu Berlin in 1903 – engraving based on a painting by Felix Possart

The Joachim Quartet was formed in Berlin in 1869 and quickly garnered a reputation as the finest quartet in Europe at the time. Joachim played in the quartet until his death in 1907.

Joachim’s former teacher, Joseph Böhm had been part of the quartet that had given the world premiere performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127, now in mainstream chamber repertoire:

The legendary music critic and theorist, Heinrich Schenker on his quartet in 1894:
In the course of recent years, since Hellmesberger senior, the great quartet connoisseur and player, we found only one single quartet that could do complete justice to the demands of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann—that quartet was the Joachim Quartet from Berlin.”

Joseph Joachim’s vintage recordings

Please bear in mind that these recordings date back over a hundred and ten years and therefore sound scratchy and hissy by today’s standards, but they are just about clear enough to give you an idea of Joachim’s style.

It’s also worth noting that he was 72 years old at the time of these recordings, playing with swollen fingers and gout, so not in his prime!

Joachim’s Violin Concertos

Violin Concerto in One Movement in G minor, Op. 3 for Franz Liszt:

The so called ‘Hungarian’ violin concerto was composed in the summer of 1857, considered one of the great romantic violin concertos, written in the style of Hungarian folk music, which to Joachim, was inseparable to gypsy music.

Rarely performed, it has been described as “the Holy Grail of Romantic violin concertos” by music critic David Hurwitz.

The concerto premiered on 24th March 1860 in Hanover and was published in Leipzig by Breitkopf and Härtel in 1861.

“The critic Eduard Hanslick recorded Joachim as having been for some ten years the greatest living violinist. His review of the Concerto in the Hungarian Style was more guarded, describing it as too expansive, complicated and striking in its virtuosity to be evaluated at a first hearing.” ~ Keith Anderson

The performance I’m going to share is by Rachel Barton Pine, a musician I admire very much. She recorded the work on the Naxos label in 2003 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to high acclaim.

She was noted as saying that because the concerto is so challenging and lengthy (45 minutes+) practising and performing it was akin to “training to run a marathon”.

Excerpt from Grampohone Magazine:
In 1861, 17 years before Brahms produced his masterpiece in the genre, Joseph Joachim as a young virtuoso wrote his D minor Violin Concerto, In the Hungarian Style. He would later help to perfect the solo part of his friend’s work, but in his own concerto the solo part is if anything even more formidable, one reason – suggested in the New Grove Dictionary – that it has fallen out of the repertory.

Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, with Takako Nishizaki, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Meir Minsky:

Other Compositions

Hamlet Overture, Op. 4 with Meir Minsky and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra:

Overture in C major, performed by Maastricht Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Roland Bader:

The Overture in C major by Josef Joachim, was composed in 1896 for the imperial birthday of the Kaiser of Germany. It was first performed on 3 February 1896 in Berlin’s Royal Academy of Arts.

The delightful Hebrew Melodies, Op. 9 (after Impressions of Byron’s Songs) for viola and piano (1854–1855), with Hartmut Rohde and Masumi Arai:

Schubert’s Piano Sonata ‘Grand Duo in C Major, D 812’ arranged for orchestra by Joachim as Symphony in C:

Teaching Legacy

Probably Joachim’s most illustrious pupil was Leopold Auer, who himself went on teach some of the greatest violinists of the 20th century:  Mischa Elman, Konstanty Gorski, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Toscha Seidel, Efrem Zimbalist, Georges Boulanger, Benno Rabinof, Kathleen Parlow, Julia Klumpke, Thelma Given, and Oscar Shumsky.

“Joachim was an inspiration to me, and opened before my eyes horizons of that greater art of which until then I had lived in ignorance. With him I worked not only with my hands, but with my head as well, studying the scores of the masters, and endeavouring to penetrate the very heart of their works…. I [also] played a great deal of chamber music with my fellow students.” ~ Leopold Auer

Other prominent virtuoso violinists who were tutored by Joseph Joachim included Jenő Hubay, Bronislaw Huberman, Karl Klingler (violinist of the Klingler Quartet and Joachim’s successor at the Berlin Hochschule), Klingler was the teacher of Shinichi Suzuki.

Franz von Vecsey, who studied with Hubay, then Joachim, became the dedicatee of the Sibelius violin concerto.

Andreas Moser (another of Joachim’s pupils), went on to become his assistant, helping to recover the original scores of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, collaborating with Joachim on numerous editions. Moser wrote the first biography of Joachim in 1901.

Joachim’s Stradivarius Violins

From Wikipedia:
In March 1877, Joachim received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Cambridge University. For the occasion he presented his Overture in honor of Kleist, Op. 13. Near the 50th anniversary of Joachim’s debut recital, he was honored by “friends and admirers in England” on 16 April 1889 who presented him with “an exceptionally fine” violin made in 1715 by Antonio Stradivari, called “Il Cremonese”.

The provenance of the ‘Cremonese, Harold, Joachim’ is given in full detail on the intstrument’s listing in Tarisio. Currently housed at the museum in Cremona, here is a 2013 recital of Bach by Antonio de Lorenzi, and it sounds georgeous!

Joachim also played on the ‘Messiah’ 1716 Stradivarius which I have seen on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, on the list of the 12 most expensive violins in history.

He is no longer just a name on a score to me now – rather a fully fledged violin hero…

#TravelTuesday – The Road to Ronda: Reverie and Snapshots of Southern Spain

“I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda. Nothing is more startling in Spain than this wild and mountainous city.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?

My brain is still in Spain… Not literally of course, my body is firmly back in Buckinghamshire; but I find my thoughts often drift back to the vast and passionate land of sangria and siestas that was our base for two weeks this summer.

View towards Gibraltar at sunset.

It was a special time to soak up some much need rest and relaxation, not to mention sunshine, and spend some quality time with my children. Happy childhood memories are so precious, and I’m grateful we had such a fabulous holiday after what has been a pretty gruelling year to-date.

Travel opens you up to new sights, different cultures, history, peoples and foods, so that the places you visit somehow embed themselves into your psyche, either positively or negatively – depending on your experiences.

So it makes sense to write about the land that has a piece of my head and my heart while I’m still on the periphery of my holiday Zen twilight zone.

I feel a strong affinity with Andalusia: it rejuvenated my mind, body and spirit.

I miss the shrill strumming of the cicadas, the dry, sweet scent of pine infused mountain air, majestic mountain ranges stretching beyond the horizon inland, and the breezy Mediterranean Sea with its vivid palette of blues on the other side.

I long for the stout Spanish lemons that dwarf your hand (compared to the puny ones in the UK), and the blazing sunsets that illuminate the sky and warm your retina.

Sunset over Bolonia Beach and sand dune. We walked briskly in the fading light.

Sun-kissed beaches soak up innumerable sandy footprints and picturesque white villages nestle into steep clefts in the surrounding sierras, as the dramatic landscape bakes under a relentless oven-like heat in the summer months.

We saw a few water laden helicopters flying overhead on some days, as forest fires hit the area in soaring temperatures. We drove past this one in Euro Weekly News on the AP7 heading to Malaga Airport.

On the days we weren’t having fun in the pool we did get out from our base near Estepona and visited some amazing places; in particular I thought I would share Ronda with you.

Ronda

The first sightseeing trip we did was a 4-wheel drive adventure to the famed city of Ronda. Oh my, that day will stay with me forever…

We travelled in style: in an open top four-wheel drive, with our driver, Danny, a friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide who let us stand up in the jeep on the small roads and really made our day special.

We headed off down the A7 towards Marbella and then turned left into the Red mountain range (past a new Russian enclave of luxury homes and golf courses said to be the most expensive place to live in Europe), up into the Sierra Ronda, geologically formed from a mixture of marble, clay and limestone.

With the wind in our hair we drove round precipitous mountain bends as we climbed in altitude, stopping to buy melon and wave at a gathering of errant mountain goats running amok; bells tinkling as they made their bid for freedom.

Danny showed us some of the local flora and fauna enroute, as we stopped to pick fresh wild thyme, lavender and fennel flowers. We rubbed the yellow leaves between our hands and sniffed the pleasant, natural odour they left behind.

Bright flowers grew along the roadside, which I was informed was Oleander – a lovely plant to look at but poisonous to ingest.

We came to our first stop, a quaint mountain village with a natural pool of spring water formed after filtration through the mountains. It was a pure and peaceful spot, at least until we arrived!

Jumping for joy at the mountain spring.

Danny was chatting to an elderly local and he kept glancing up to the sky, where mist was forming into low cloud. It hadn’t rained there for three months and they were praying for a shower.

We continued on to Juzcar, famous for its blue buildings that were painted for its role in a Smurf movie. The town quite liked their new look and decided to keep it.

After a traditional lunch we set out on the road to Ronda…having fun and anticipating the views that would greet us in Ronda. They did not disappoint.

The wall of rock on the Southern approach to Ronda.

As you drive down into the valley with the old Moorish city walls and the Church of the Espiritu Santo on your right, the ochre rocky escarpment is what first grabs your attention.

Ronda is a breathtaking and unique city sitting high on a mountain shelf, crowning geological sediments and layers of civilisation and cultures: Celts, Visigoths, Romans, Arab and Christian, fused together by centuries of human habitation.

A virtually sheer face of rock, over 200 meters high towers above the surrounding agricultural fields, and then you see the tall, arched Puente Nuevo, joining both sides of a deep chasm that appears to have been wielded by none less than the mighty hand of God; cleaving the city in two.

From beneath the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), at the end of the Tajo gorge, the new city (El Mercadillo) is on the left, the ancient Moorish (La Ciudad) on the right.

Danny regaled us with some local Spanish history: the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD, but the Catholic Spanish monarchs didn’t win back Ronda city from its Muslim inhabitants for another 700 years.

When you see the geography of the area around Ronda, the remote prized jewel of its eponymous Serrania, it’s easy to see how it would have been impregnable to sieges. The re-conquest was eventually achieved by cutting off the water supply to the Medina quarter. The city came back under Christian control on 24th May 1485.

My brood, posing with our guide, Danny from Monte Aventura.

Located in the province of Malaga, Ronda now has a population in the region of 40,000 people spread over the three districts: El Mercadillo, La Ciudad and San Francisco.

Writers such as George Eliot (Daniel Deronda), Rainer Maria Rilke, (who kept a permanent room at the Hotel Reina Victoria), Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway were visitors, incorporating Ronda’s influence and inspiration in their writings.

Hemingway was said to have based a scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls where Nationalist sympathisers are thrown from a cliff during the Spanish Civil War, on real historical events that took place in Ronda from the cliffs of El Tajo.

Other famous inhabitants include Don Pedro Romero, one of Spain’s best loved bullfighters, born in Ronda in 1754. Romero was credited with elevating bullfighting from a sport to an art, and was immortalised in the paintings of Goya.

Portrait of bullfighter Pedro Romero by Francisco de Goya

It is a magical place – almost mythical…

Ronda’s Bridges

Ronda actually has three bridges: The Moorish Bridge, (built with a single arch on top of the Roman bridge at the low opening of the gorge, close to the Moorish Baths), then further along is the Puente Viejo, (old bridge), built in 1616 and the impressive new bridge, Puente Nuevo.

They call it new, but it has been successfully spanning the gorge for 224 years!

I have a fascination for bridges, so this was a real visual treat. You can only marvel at the feat of engineering they achieved in constructing the Puente Nuevo: built between 1751 and 1793 to link La Ciudad district with the expanding Mercadillo Barrio.

The bridge was designed by José Martín de Aldehuela who was supported in the project by Diaz Machuca of Ronda. Fifty workers were killed during its 42 year construction.

The Puente Nuevo is strong and solid in construction as well as graceful and classical in appearance. Its stone arches are reminiscent of an aqueduct.

The chamber above the central arch was used for a variety of purposes, including as a prison. What a canny place to keep criminals – escape must have been a very un-appealing option!

A long way down!

During the 1936-1939 civil war both sides allegedly used the prison as a torture chamber for captured opponents, killing some by throwing them from the windows to the rocks at the bottom of the El Tajo gorge.

The chamber is entered through a square building that was once the guard-house. It now contains an exhibition describing the bridge’s history and construction.

Looking into the gorge from the top of the bridge almost gave me vertigo, and I’m usually fine with heights. The floor of the canyon sits some 120 meters below, where the Guadalevin River still flows beneath the city.

My munchkins on the seat at the top of Puente Nuevo in Ronda

From the bridge there are stunning views of the hanging houses that overlook the gorge (El Tajo) and across the Guadalevin Valley.

Danny dropped us off at the bridge on the Mercadillo side, where we bought a few souvenirs.

We didn’t have time to see the famed bullring. The Plaza del Toros de la Real Maestranza is one of the oldest and probably the most famous bull ring in Spain and the world, with classical architectural features and the largest diameter.

We walked across the bridge into La Ciudad (the old Moorish city), and crossed the road of Puente Nuevo to see the other side of the gorge and the older, smaller bridges further down.

View towards the Old Bridge, Puente Viejo

We then took a stroll through the cobbled, labyrinth like streets of La Ciudad, past the façade of the beautiful Palacio Mondragon (now the municipal museum), and came out alongside the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria la Mayor at one end of the Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent.

Collegiate Church of St. Mary Ronda

The church was built on the site of the city’s main mosque, constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries. After the Catholic monarchs took back control of Ronda it was consecrated as a Christian Church devoted to Saint Mary of the Incarnation.

The plaza’s garden like square has stunning views out over the valley, and a bust of its most revered historical denizen, Vicente Espinel; poet, novelist, soldier, priest and musician.

Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent

Born in Ronda in 1550, he was an authority on the Spanish language and is considered a key figure of the Siglo de Oro (Spanish Golden Age). He was also credited with adding the 5th string to the classical guitar, boosting its popularity.

View towards El Mercadillo from La Alameda on the Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent

Panning across the valley

La Ciudad contains many Moorish features, as well as monuments from later periods, such as Renaissance and Gothic.

The heat was immense, and the girls were running out of steam, so we passed under the arches of the Puerta de Almocábar, which separates San Francisco district from La Ciudad.

Originally built in the 13th century, it has now been restored and consists of two semi-circular turrets flanking three horseshoe arches. Its name is derived from the Arab al-magabir, meaning cemetery. Just outside the gate is another small square, built over an ancient cemetery.

I was told the larger outer arch was the original Moorish construction, the slightly smaller middle arch the Christian one, and the smallest inner arch was French built from Napoleon’s era.

One day I will return and spend the whole day in Ronda to thoroughly explore this amazing city, incorporating the Paleolithic and Neolithic remains of the Cueva de la Pileta, some 23 km from the city, discovered in 1905, and the ruins of the nearby Roman city of Acinipo.

Gibraltar

We were lucky to have an interesting tour of the Rock of Gibraltar, replete with man-made and natural history. On the steep drive up we saw the large, wrought iron chain links hammered into the rock every hundred yards. They were driven into the rock to give support to the long chains that the British Military used to haul up their canons so that they could be secured at any point on the arduous ascent.

Gibraltar – view towards North Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar

Ruby was particularly excited to see the wild monkeys, who have grown used to the tourists and have a reputation for making a nuisance of themselves.  But when we are on their turf we must respect their habitat. Our guide gave us strict instructions about not interacting with them.

A huge alpha male walked up behind Max, my eldest, and seeing some colourful paper poking out of his shorts pocket nimbly whipped the sweet packet out, opened it, and threw it to the ground, evidently disgusted to find that it was empty.

They seemed to make a beeline for my sons, with two leaping onto William’s back after he crouched to get a photo.

William proved popular with the locals!

Max admiring St. Michael’s Cave – Gibraltar. Discovered by the Romans with impressive stalactites, due to a million years of dripping water.

Another day we drove along the coast past Tarifa to Punta Paloma and Bolonia beach, famous for their unspoilt, white sand and abundant dunes. We spent a windswept day at Bolonia, which reminded me a little of Cornish beaches: long stretches of pristine sand, clear water and decent waves for body surfing, only 20 times hotter!

Sadly the site of the museum and Roman ruins (Baelo Claudia) adjacent to Bolonia beach was closed for the day, so I had to be content with this video:

The kids and I walked along the beach and up to the top of the sand dune at sunset. Now I know how Laurence of Arabia must have felt!

They were equally enthusiastic about a giant water park in Algeciras, with runs like Niagara and Kamikaze.

My sons left Spain a few days earlier as my youngest had an adventure trip in the Alps, climbing the second highest peak, Monterosa, over two days with a mountain guide.

We managed to explore beautiful Casares and also Castellar de la Frontera, home to a wonderful animal rescue zoo and the only inhabited medieval fortress in Andalusia.

The fortress at Casares in twilight.

With my daughters at Castellar Zoo

Beautiful Ocelot cub at Castellar Zoo

Ruby getting acquainted with one of the young lemurs

This photo doesn’t do justice to the huge wingspan of the adult fruit bat. When it stretched it wings out they were massive, and looked like they were made of thin, shiny, rubbery material.

Hotel Castellar, previously the castle of the medieval fortress at Castellar de la Frontera.

Ruby doing her best to out stare the resident hawk at Castellar de la Frontera.

Also on my Spanish bucket list for next time is the Alhambra Palace in Granada, which was fully booked so we couldn’t get in; as well as Cadiz, Seville and (not for the faint-hearted), Caminito del Rey.

This hair-raising video (with swearing) by Brave Dave, shows just how scary Caminito del Rey was for hikers before it was re-vamped for non-climbing tourists. It was dubbed as the most dangerous walk in the world:

Stunning drone footage:

There are plenty of reasons to return, and hopefully find myself back on the road to Ronda…

Since we got back I’ve tried (with limited success) to maintain a less frenetic pace of life, but had the rush of kitting out the kids for school and tackling the chaos that children (especially mine), invariably create when they have long periods at home.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your summer and are feeling ready to face the autumn with gusto!

Hasta luego amigos!

#GOSilverBirch: An Inspiring and Authentic New People’s Opera

It’s not every day that a year 5 primary school pupil has a chance to perform in the world premiere of a contemporary people’s opera – but that’s exactly what my ten year old daughter Emily did this weekend. On Sunday night I had the joy of seeing her take part in Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch, (social media #GOSilverBirch, @GarsingtonOpera ), at its base on the stunning Getty owned Wormsley Estate.

Photography of the performance was not allowed, but I snapped the stage just before the start of the final performance.

The Silver Birch opera was composed by Roxanna Panufnik with a poignant libretto by Jessica Duchen, who expertly integrated excerpts of poetry into its modern text that were written by World War 1 Poet and hero, Siegfried Sassoon (a frequent guest at Garsington Manor in Oxfordshire).

What was also moving was the fact that Siegfried Sassoon’s great-nephew was singing in the opera as part of the community chorus. Through interaction with Stephen Bucknill Jessica was able to also meet other members of Siegfried Sassoon’s family to share living memories of their relative and Great War poet.

“I believe that this War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.”  ~ Siegfried Sassoon

Everything about this project was special. Not least because it was based on certain experiences in 2003 of real life Iraq War veteran, Jay Wheeler (who was in the audience Sunday night), as well as the wartime poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and the participation of so many enthusiastic young people.

Intro into Silver Birch by Garsington Opera (Emily is right at the back of the very last frame):

Silver Birch required the training and co-ordination around 180 people on stage, which in addition to the main characters, comprised of a Primary Company auditioned and selected from 7 local primary schools, a Youth Company of teenagers aged 11 to 18, a small group of dancers, the Foley Company and the Adult and Military Community Company.

Many of the child, teenage and adult participants had never sung or performed in a professional production before Silver Birch.

It’s wonderful that all their names were featured in the programme, and Emily is happy that she is also in the main picture (top far left), on the page where her name appears.

The youngest singer in the opera was the sweet and spirited Maia Greaves, only 8 years old, who co-played the part of Chloe, Jack’s younger sister.

The stand out performances for me were Sam Furness as Jack,  after Mad Jack (nickname of Sassoon from WW1), Bradley Travis who played the ever present ghost of Siegfried Sassoon and Victoria Simmonds, Jack’s mother. I thought the entire cast and crew were just brilliant! I hope Silver Birch is commissioned into mainstream opera repertoire.

Silver Birch Synopsis: 

Anna and Simon plant a silver birch to grow up alongside their children. But later, when Jack and Davey join the army to prove their strength, devastating experiences await the entire family. Spring restores a weather-beaten tree, but can their damaged bonds of love sustain them all through the impact of war?

Interview with Roxanna Panufnik about Silver Birch on BBC Radio 3.

The Humbled Heart by Siegfried Sassoon (sung in Part 1 of Silver Birch)

Go your seeking, soul.

Mine the proven path of time’s foretelling.

Yours accordance with some mysteried whole.

I am but your passion-haunted dwelling.

 

Bring what news you can,

Stranger, loved of body’s humbled heart.

Say one whispered word to mortal man

From that peace whereof he claims you part.

 

Hither-hence, my guest,

Blood and bone befriend, where you abide

Till withdrawn to share some timeless quest.

I am but the brain that dreamed and died.

Even the title of the opera was inspired by a comment from a young boy at Lane End Primary School, who, when asked during a workshop what he would miss most if he were at war, replied that it would be the silver birch his parents’ planted and watched grow up.

Under the auspices of Garsington Opera’s Learning and Participation Programme many individuals of all ages came together for a musical and cultural experience that has changed their lives. My daughter is no exception.

Ruby excited to see her sister perform in Silver Birch.

As a musician and also a passionate speaker about the power of music education, I was keen to get Emily interested in music at a young age. She had piano lessons briefly but didn’t really take to it. She preferred the violin and now the guitar, but it seems her true passion is for singing, and she has a wonderful natural instrument. The only problem was she didn’t believe in it herself – until now.

Performing in Silver Birch seems to have been the catalyst for her confidence to blossom as well as unlocking her creative potential. I have noticed a massive change in her.

I believe her participation in Silver Birch has positively impacted her cognitive abilities, capacity for learning, her emotional and mental wellbeing as well as her social skills and overall self-esteem.  Emily can be quite shy with those she doesn’t know, and being outside her comfort zone has pushed her to higher levels of achievement than she would otherwise have thought possible.

Before the start of the opera Karen Gillingham, the Creative Director of Learning & Participation for Garsington Opera, did a wonderful job of introducing us to key members of the cast and stage crew,  explaining to us (with some fun audience participation), the creative process from inception through rehearsals to the world premiere performance of this compelling, multi-layered opera.

Silver Birch was a truly collaborative effort by many gifted individuals, whose collective efforts produced an emotional and meaningful experience. It was obvious that creativity, talent, love, respect and dignity had been poured into it right from the start, and was woven into every element of the work and its live performance. Silver Birch is a people’s opera on every front.

Douglas Boyd, the conductor and Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, eloquently elucidated in his brief address to the audience how the Silver Birch production had affected not just him, but the whole Garsington company as well as the community participants on a profound level.

His words were completely in alignment with my own ethos about the power of music to transform lives.

Emily auditioned at school in May and rehearsals begin in earnest at the end of June. As she chatted in her animated post performance high, we talked about all the different emotions that she experienced. The times of boredom, how she became physically tired, (the rehearsal schedule was full-on), with no weekend break in the two week run-up to the opening night.

This last week I have been a full-time taxi service. But I don’t mind supporting her in such a worthwhile endeavour! Emily now understands what it means to rehearse when she doesn’t feel like it (a few culinary bribes helped!) along with her lessons in work ethic and commitment to a project.

She certainly felt the euphoria that inevitably accompanies hard work: rehearsing alongside her best friend – culminating in the actual performances themselves, where all the separate companies and the orchestra came together on-stage and were duly rewarded by an appreciative audience. All the bowing and clapping at the end made a big impression on her!

She was standing at the front of the stage singing her heart out in quite a few scenes, and I was able to see her wherever she was on the set. My heart swelled with joy!

Whenever she bursts into song, either in the car or at home, I have noticed how much more powerful and resonant her voice is now. All the singers gave stunning performances. Certain scenes made the hairs on my arms stand on end.

I was so proud of Emily for all she accomplished on her musical journey and and my thanks and gratitude go to Garsington Opera as well as headteacher Miss Mansfield and her colleague Mr Dodd of Millbrook Combined School, without whose support it would not have been possible for Emily to take part in this amazing project.

BBC Arts filmed various aspects of the rehearsals and live performances in conjunction with Pinewood Studios at the Wormsley Estate, which will be broadcast online later this year. I will provide the link in this post when it becomes available.

I can see her love of singing and performance has been ignited, so I hope Silver Birch will be a springboard for future aspirations. Even if it isn’t, it has been worth it for Emily for the experience alone, and I’m sure other proud parents must feel the same way.

Expectant sister and mother in the audience!

Silver Birch certainly seemed to inspire and elevate not only the audience, but all who took part.

After all this excitement Emily can now relax and is  looking forward to our family holiday in Spain, as am I! But she can’t rest for too long – she has her 11+ exam to sit in September…

Happy holidays!

“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” ~ Lao Tzu

Mozart, Music, Lust, Murder: Movie Review of Interlude in Prague

“Prague contains all the people who love my music.” ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Interlude in Prague)

For someone who has “period drama queen” stamped on her forehead you can imagine I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation of seeing the period thriller Interlude in Prague.

The movie was filmed on location and follows Mozart’s brief time in the city as he was writing his immortal opera based on the infamous and inveterate seducer Don Juan: Don Giovanni.

Having missed its release at the cinema I duly bought the DVD and waited for a quiet evening to indulge in my penchant…

I visited Prague for a long weekend many moons ago, so the cinematography brought back a nostalgic longing. The screen filled with panoramic scenery: vibrant pinky sunsets over the city’s ancient spires, the Charles Bridge at dawn and the cobbled streets of the old city.

Not since Miloš Forman’s brilliant film Amadeus (adapted by Peter Shaffer from his stage play) has a movie been made about Mozart.  Hardly surprising, that’s a tough act to follow!

Tom Hulce’s performance of Mozart in Amadeus was the one that was seared into my mind. How would I react to someone else playing the beloved maestro?

However,  I thought the Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard did an incredible job. I had already become a fan of his from his part as the unfortunate Richard III in the television adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s The White Princess.

Compared to Hulce’s performance Barnard’s Mozart has more depth, is more relatable; not as jocular and altogether less flamboyant and hysterical (his baby son has just died and Constanze has retreated to a spa to recover).

Barnard looks like Wolfgang and he portrays a thoughtful, but nonetheless jovial maestro; who comes across as a deeply caring person and passionate about his music.

His passion extends to his beautiful new soprano for the role of Cherubino in Figaro; the young and ambitious Zuzanna Lubtak (Morfydd Clark).

Interlude in Prague (directed by John Stephenson), was wise to focus only on one aspect of the maestro’s iconic and turbulent life: his brief time in Prague in 1787.

Many aspects of the film were historically accurate; they filmed the exterior theatre scenes at the Estates Theatre where Mozart actually premiered Don Giovanni in October 1787. In Mozart’s day it was known as the Nostitz Theatre, built in around two years for the aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck. It is the only surviving theatre in the world where Mozart performed.

The concerts were given by candlelight, the internal workings of the theatre were 18th century, and in rehearsals and the composing scenes Mozart played on an authentic clavichord. The costumes were a sumptuous delight to my aesthetic eye.

Mozart’s last minute completion of his opera is shown at the end of the film in a scene in which the maestro, quill in hand, feverishly completes his autograph score. Constanze immediately hands it to the copyists who then pass the sheets with barely dried ink to the theatre director who distributes it to the orchestra with no time left for rehearsal. They must sight read for the world premiere of Don Giovanni with Mozart conducting.

Interview with the director and members of the cast:

It is December 1786 and soprano Josefa Duchek, (Samantha Barks) is on stage singing an aria from Le Nozze di Figaro.  Whilst her heavenly voice rings out into the hushed auditorium another, less pure act is being committed in a dressing room.  We do not see the participants but we know that the haughty and lecherous Baron Saloka (James Purefoy) is sowing his philandering seeds…

Josefa is the toast of Prague and afterwards in her dressing room, the licentious and predatory Baron Saloka is visiting her with lustful motives. Thwarted on this occasion by the sheer number of fans clamouring outside the door, Josefa’s relief is palpable.

When Mozart arrives and begins composing at his friend Josefa’s residence he tells her about a “diabolically wicked character for one of your operas”.

The plot of the movie cleverly parallels that of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The Baron Saloka is the unrepentant rake – but will he be punished?

The baron reluctantly agrees to offer Mozart his patronage at the behest of the enthusiastic aristocracy, who want nothing more than for the great maestro to conduct the final performance of the Marriage of Figaro and to write his next opera in their city.

Baron Saloka has more than what he states is a “professional” interest in the talented Zuzanna Lubtak, but she has lost her heart to Mozart. Although Mozart clearly adores his wife, he is unable to resist Zuzanna’s innocent charm and pure voice as they rehearse her parts in Figaro.

I really loved the scene where she sings ‘Voi che sapete’ to Mozart. If you know the aria and its meaning it has a poignant effect.

There is no clip of this from the film, so here is a wonderful performance (with the words), by Cecilia Bartoli:

The baron’s flagrant abuse of power and position is entirely befitting the dark D minor key of the opening bars of the Overture to Don Giovanni. He preys on servants and nobility alike, assured of their silence out of fear.  Unhindered in his quest for carnal pleasure, his vanity and promiscuity drive him to commit murder.

“Don Giovanni is beginning to frighten me.” ~ Mozart

He even has a scheming manservant like Don Giovanni’s Leporello. The baron is also in league with an envoy from the Archbishop of Salzburg, allied in their hatred for “the loathsome little peacock” who they aim to disgrace for his relationship with Zuzanna.

I do not wish to spoil the plot other than to say if you like thrillers, or Mozart, or period drama, or even all three, Interlude in Prague is a must watch.

There is a tragic scene in a graveyard where Mozart is transfixed on a large, foreboding dark stone statue wearing a helmet – standing before him as the character of the Commendatore.

My only disappointment was that they didn’t feature my favourite aria from Don Giovanni, ‘La ci darem la mano’.

Interlude in Prague mirror’s Mozart’s life in a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, written and created by Brian Ashby.  In addition to the setting, the story, the costumes and music, the actors are all brilliant. Purefoy’s Baron Saloka made my skin crawl…

A special featurette from behind the scenes of Interlude in Prague:

To write a story around Mozart’s time in Prague and the events that inspired his writing of a darker Don Giovanni than the one he originally imagined, makes for an engaging premise. I wish I had thought of it!

In the 230 years since its world premiere in Prague, Don Giovanni continues to serve as an entertaining yet enduring cautionary tale, being one of the most popular and widely performed operas to this day.

Don Juan and the statue of the commander by Alexander-Evariste Fragonard

I’ll bid you adieu with a vintage recording of Don Giovanni: