Archive for the ‘art’ category

‘The foreign gentleman executes an air upon the Grand Piano’

June 4, 2012


This is a scan of a rather faded print that hangs above my piano – found on a stall at Cambridge Market for 10p (‘Nice picture;  two bob?’) among a pile of Victorian generals, circa 1971.  Having just written an essay on Liszt (for Philip Radcliffe), I knew at once who it was.

The mount is labelled ‘London, Richard Bentley, 1843’.  The print was included in ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ of 1848, but I suspect it was a Punch cartoon first.

The scrawly signature is not, as I first thought, ‘F Liszt’, but ‘J Leech’ – John Leech, prolific and well-known Punch cartoonist.

So… was Liszt in London in 1843?  Any thoughts on whose salon this might be (if not entirely fictional)?

photos of Italy

August 10, 2008

Following my wonderful jaunt to play Rossini’s La Cenerentola in Umbria, here is a photo album for your edification and enjoyment.  Click on the link below:

album by PhotoBox

London Phoenix Orchestra — 17 May

May 13, 2008

Phoenix Orchestra flyer

It’s on Saturday… This is going to be a great concert!  St Cyprian’s, Glentworth Street, is a nice Victorian* church a few minutes’ walk from Baker Street underground station.

Jonathan Dove‘s ‘Airport Scenes’ is a suite of instrumental movements from his amazing opera ‘Flight’ (1998).  Very bright and sparky, ear-catching and very easy to listen to, tricky to play but exhilarating.

Rachmaninov‘s ‘Isle of the Dead’, by contrast, is an atmospherically gloomy evocation of the passage by boat to your final resting-place… inspired by this picture by the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin:

Bocklin -- Isle of the Dead

Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ I don’t need to tell you about – it’s just the most glorious piece of exotic and colourful orchestral music ever written!  And there are some great violin solos from Catherine.

I’m off to practice my diddly-iddlys…

See you there!


*I see from their website that St Cyprian’s is not quite Victorian:  designed by Ninian Comper, 1903.

note:  Böcklin painted at least two versions of ‘The Isle of the Dead’.  The one shown is the later (1886) version, now in Leipzig.  The earlier (1880) version, in Basel, is darker and even more atmospheric, but would be harder to reproduce on here.

a poem for St George’s Day by Brian Patten

April 23, 2008


Today, 23 April, is St George’s Day, a day which the English are notoriously bad at celebrating;  in order to kick-start patriotic interest in England’s Patron Saint, English Heritage have commissioned Liverpool poet Brian Patten to write a poem.
When I heard it on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, read by the inimitable Scouse-voiced poet himself, I knew I had to share it with you.  (I had a devil of a job finding it on line, but that’s another story.  Sort of QED – how much the English care about St George’s Day or poetry or the arts, or anything much at all really. Anyway…)
Brian Patten pointed out that 23 April is also Shakespeare’s birthday.  (Well, we don’t actually know when Shakespeare’s birthday is, but traditionally it’s celebrated today.)  You’re supposed to wear an English rose on St George’s day, but of course it’s the wrong time of year, as they’re not out yet.  Well, I’ll put a picture of one on here instead. 



 St George was out walking
He met a dragon on a hill,
It was wise and wonderful
Too glorious to kill
It slept amongst the wild thyme
Where the oxlips and violets grow
Its skin was a luminous fire
That made the English landscape glow
Its tears were England’s crystal rivers
Its breath the mist on England’s moors
Its larder was England’s orchards,
Its house was without doors
St George was in awe of it
It was a thing apart
He hid the sleeping dragon
Inside every English heart
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
Let’s celebrate St George’s Day,
The dragon in repose;
The brilliant lark ascending,
The yew, the oak, the rose
© Brian Patten 2008


English rose in my garden, oh no actually it's a French one!

You can hear the item from the Today programme — including Brian Patten reading his poem — by clicking on this link:

Radio 4 podcast — poems for St George’s Day

Henry Moore at Kew Gardens

March 21, 2008

Thanks to an invitation from my bro, today I ventured across south London to Kew Gardens, where 28 of Henry Moore’s massive sculptures have been installed, scattered throughout the gardens to form a vast outdoor exhibition (which closes next week!).  Dodging the vagaries of the weather – which changed with amazing rapidity from bright sun to heavy cloud, howling gale to warm sunshine – we enjoyed a happy afternoon among these monsters (and the burgeoning daffodils, magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias – not to mention the restaurants and teashops, gift shops and loos…).

In our youth, as I recall, it used to cost one penny (at a turnstile) to enter the gardens.  (I used to wonder idly whether professional gardeners or horticulturalists could claim their dally penny against income tax, as a business expense.)  It now costs £12.25…  If that was one old (pre-decimal) penny, at 240 to the pound, this represents an increase in admission charge by a factor of 2940, or 294,000 % !  Hmmm.

The name of Henry Moore (1898-1986) is synonymous with ’modern sculpture’ (as Picasso is synonymous with ’modern art’) even for people who would profess to know nothing about it.  So these gigantic but mostly gentle and friendly figures are already icons of our collective consciousness.

The logistics and practical difficulties of borrowing (from all over the world) and installing these mighty objects, mostly of bronze and weighing many tons, do not bear thinking about.  But Moore expressed an affinity for gardens and landscapes, and in this outdoor setting they looked completely at home.

They acted as a magnet to the passing crowds (especially children), who ignored the ’DO NOT CLIMB ON THE SCULPTURES’ signs and flocked all over them, scrambling, exploring, touching, knocking and stroking – particularly fascinated by anything with holes in it!

A wonderful experience, blowing away the familiar grumbles about the inaccessibility of ’modern art’ and confirming Henry Moore as one of the great artistic creators of the twentieth century.

More pictures in my Henry Moore at Kew Gardens’ album on MySpace


December 31, 2007


with all best wishes for lots of wonderful music and experiences in 2008…

picture of a Valkyrie (c) Gerard Hoffnung — thanks!

London — Open House weekend

September 18, 2007

For one weekend a year only, London throws open its doors to let you explore all kinds of buildings, most of which aren’t usually open to the public – for free, and often with guided tours thrown in.

This has been going on for fifteen years, and I can’t believe this is the first time I have actually got myself together to go and look at some!

After some serious homework with the booklet, I whittled the 600 down to 18 possibles… In the end I managed four (plus some extras), and I’m very glad I did.

On Saturday I headed for the old City of London (the ‘Square Mile’) – normally deserted at weekends apart from the odd tourists;  an amazing palimpsest of old buildings and narrow streets overlaid with new buildings in the wake of war damage (and much of the City is still an ongoing building site).  I also had the extra bonus of coinciding with the Hell’s Angels funeral for the biker who was shot on the M40 – floats piled high with flowers, several black limos, and a procession of 1500 Harleys (with hardly a helmet in sight).  When they all revved and hooted at traffic lights it was an awe-inspiring experience.

Anyway… I got to see the ancient Guildhall, seat of City government since the Middle Ages, power base for Dick Whittington and many another Lord Mayor of London. Very informative (not to say refreshingly opinionated) tour guide, too.

Also on the Guildhall site were the Clockmakers’ Company’s Museum – a fantastic unexpected treat for those like myself with a horological bent – and a magnificent (though confusingly laid out) Art Gallery which includes some really famous Victorian paintings (along with some pretty boring ones);  and, down below,  bits of the original Roman arena.

Meanwhile I was dropping en route into any City churches that happened to be open.  No room to describe them here, but all four were fascinating.

Then I searched out Doctor Johnson’s house in Gough Square, hidden down an alley off Fleet Street.  I had to queue and it was quite a crush inside, but it was well worth it (and there was a very helpful talk by a very young volunteer guide).  Wonderful insight into the home life of the great man (and his surprisingly pokey rooms), plus the attic in which his team of Scottish scribes beavered away on the Dictionary which was his life’s work.