Saturday, 24 December 2016


“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” - Dale Evans

The Christmas Oratorio (German: Weihnachts-Oratorium), BWV 248, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 and incorporates music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a now lost church cantata, BWV 248a. The date is confirmed in Bach’s autograph manuscript.

The next performance was not until 17 December 1857 by the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin under Eduard Grell. The Christmas Oratorio is a particularly sophisticated example of parody music. The author of the text is unknown, although a likely collaborator was Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander). The work belongs to a group of three oratorios written towards the end of Bach’s career in 1734 and 1735 for major feasts, the others being the Ascension Oratorio (BWV 11) and the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). All parody earlier compositions, although the Christmas Oratorio is by far the longest and most complex work.

The oratorio is in six parts, each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period. The piece is often presented as a whole or split into two equal parts. The total running time for the entire work is nearly three hours. The first part (for Christmas Day) describes the Birth of Jesus, the second (for December 26) the annunciation to the shepherds, the third (for December 27) the adoration of the shepherds, the fourth (for New Year's Day) the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the fifth (for the first Sunday after New Year) the journey of the Magi, and the sixth (for Epiphany) the adoration of the Magi.

Here it is in a version with director, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Concentus Musicus Wien; Peter Schreier – Tenor’ Robert Holl – Bass; Soloists of the Tolzer Knabenchor and Chorusmaster: Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden.

The illustration is “The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard” by Gerard David (Netherlandish, Oudewater ca. 1455–1523 Bruges) ca. 1510–15.

Friday, 23 December 2016


“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel

As Christmas is fast approaching, a traditional Italian sweetmeat recipe that carries with it all of the flavours of the festive season.

Panforte di Siena
150 g unsalted almonds, roasted and coarsely chopped
75 g unsalted hazelnuts, roasted coarsely chopped
75 g unsalted pistachios, roasted coarsely chopped
100 g candied orange peel, chopped
75 g flour
30 g pure cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
Pinch white pepper
100 g sugar
200 g clear honey
35 g butter
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven on 150˚C.
Mix the nuts with the orange peel.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and spices and mix through the nuts.
Gently heat the sugar, honey and butter in a pan till the sugar has dissolved and let it cook on higher heat for 3-4 minutes.
Quickly mix the syrup through the dry mix, scoop in a round tin (covered with baking paper) and press in in with your fingers.
Let it bake in the oven for 40 minutes and cool down in the tin. Remove the paper and dust with icing sugar.
Serve tiny portions.
Have a Merry Christmas!


“If you’re not the one cooking, stay out of the way and compliment the chef.” - Michael Strahan

Sesame (Sesamum indicum) is a flowering plant in the genus Sesamum, in the family Pedaliaceae. Numerous wild relatives occur in Africa and a smaller number in India. It is widely naturalised in tropical regions around the world and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods or ‘buns’. The world harvested 4.2 million metric tonnes of sesame seeds in 2013, with India and China as the largest producers. Sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops known, domesticated well over 3000 years ago.

Sesame has many species, most being wild and native to sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame indicum, the cultivated type, originated in India and is tolerant to drought-like conditions, growing where other crops fail. Sesame has one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich, nutty flavour, it is a common ingredient in cuisines across the world. Like other nuts and foods, it can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Sesame seed is considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to humanity. The genus has many species, and most are wild. Most wild species of the genus Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Charred remains of sesame recovered from archaeological excavations have been dated to 3500-3050 BC. The historic origin of sesame was favoured by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is also a robust crop that needs little farming support: It grows in drought conditions, in high heat, with residual moisture in soil after monsoons are gone or even when rains fail or when rains are excessive. It was a crop that could be grown by subsistence farmers at the edge of deserts, where no other crops grow. Sesame has been called a survivor crop!

Sesame is an annual plant growing 50 to 100 cm tall, with opposite leaves 4 to 14 cm long with an entire margin; they are broad lanceolate, to 5 cm broad, at the base of the plant, narrowing to just 1 cm broad on the flowering stem. The flowers are tubular, 3 to 5 cm long, with a four-lobed mouth. The flowers may vary in colour, with some being white, yellow, blue, or purple. Sesame seeds occur in many colours depending on the cultivar. The most traded variety of sesame is off-white coloured. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The colour is the same for the hull and the fruit.

Sesame fruit is a capsule, normally pubescent, rectangular in section, and typically grooved with a short, triangular beak. The length of the fruit capsule varies from 2 to 8 cm, its width varies between 0.5 and 2 cm, and the number of loculi varies from four to 12. The fruit naturally splits open (dehisces) to release the seeds by splitting along the septa from top to bottom or by means of two apical pores, depending on the varietal cultivar. The degree of dehiscence is of importance in breeding for mechanised harvesting, as is the insertion height of the first capsule. Sesame seeds are small. Their size, form, and colours vary with the thousands of varieties now known. Typically, the seeds are about 3 to 4 mm long by 2 mm wide and 1 mm thick. The seeds are ovate, slightly flattened, and somewhat thinner at the eye of the seed (hilum) than at the opposite end. The weight of the seeds is between 20 and 40 mg. The seed coat (testa) may be smooth or ribbed.

In 2013, world production of sesame seeds was 4.2 million tonnes, led by India and mainland China/ The most productive sesame seed farms in the world in 2013 were in Greece, reporting the highest nationwide yield of 0.69 tonnes per hectare. A large yield gap and farm loss differences exist between major sesame seed producers, in part because of knowledge gap, poor crop management practices, and use of technologies.

The world traded over a billion dollars worth of sesame seeds in 2010. The trade volume has been increasing rapidly in the last two decades. Japan is the world’s largest sesame importer. Sesame oil, particularly from roasted seed, is an important component of Japanese cooking and traditionally the principal use of the seed. China is the second-largest importer of sesame, mostly oil-grade. China exports lower-priced food-grade sesame seeds, particularly to Southeast Asia.

For a 100-gram serving, dried whole sesame seeds are rich in calories (573 kcal) and are composed of 5% water, 23% carbohydrates, 12% dietary fiber, 50% fat and 18% protein. The flour that remains after oil extraction from sesame seeds is 35-50% protein and contains carbohydrates. This flour, also called sesame meal, is a high-protein feed for poultry and livestock. Sesame seed is a common ingredient in various cuisines worldwide. It is used whole in cooking for its rich, nutty flavour. Sesame seeds are sometimes added to breads, including bagels and the tops of hamburger buns. Sesame seeds may be baked into crackers, often in the form of sticks. In Sicily and France, the seeds are eaten on bread (ficelle sésame, sesame thread). In Greece, the seeds are also used in cakes.

In the language of flowers, a stem of flowering sesame included in a bouquet, indicates: “You have many hidden talents.”

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


“Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.” - Thomas S. Monson 

A poem for the season, which again this year has become  fraught with moredifficulties, discontent, insecurity and much melancholy. The world seems to be on a downhill slide with a cliff fast approaching… 

This Christmas

These days before Christmas:
The tinsel and the trees,
The carols and the candles,
The gift-buying and the gladness…

The Christmas spirit:
Peace and prosperity,
Love and kindness,
Joy to the world…

The Christmas story:
As reinvented by big business,
Where profit rules,
And lip service is duly paid …

And this year’s Christmas:
Trying to bring together family,
Salvage sanity and seek serenity,
Reduce the complex to the bare essentials…

And yet the world becomes more and more insane:
Terrorism and torture,
Murder and mayhem,
Horror and hate,
War and wickedness,
Lies and lovelessness…

This Christmas:
Gather around you those you love,
Seek peace actively;
Give to some strangers what they most need,
Forgive those who have wronged you;
Think of those who have lost all,
Change what you can for the better –
And find Christmas within your heart,
No matter what your religion is…

Tuesday, 20 December 2016


“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” - Thomas Jefferson
Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel!

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest of us!

Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only. Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.  
Cappadocia (from Ancient Greek: Καππαδοκία) is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in the Nevşehir, Kayseri, Aksaray, and Niğde Provinces in Turkey. In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine (Black Sea). Cappadocia, in this sense, was bounded in the south by the chain of the Taurus Mountains that separate it from Cilicia, to the east by the upper Euphrates and the Armenian Highland, to the north by Pontus, and to the west by Lycaonia and eastern Galatia. 

The name Cappadocia, traditionally used in Christian sources throughout history, continues in use as an international tourism concept to define a region of exceptional natural wonders, in particular characterised by geological structures known as 'fairy chimneys' and a unique historical and cultural heritage.

A hoodoo (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney, and earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos, which may range from 1.5–45 metres, typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations. Hoodoo shapes are affected by the erosional patterns of alternating hard and softer rock layers. Minerals deposited within different rock types cause hoodoos to have different colours throughout their height.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme. 

Add your own travel posts using the Linky tool below, and don't forget to be nice and leave a comment here, and link back to this page from your own post:

Sunday, 18 December 2016


“Idealism is like a castle in the air if it is not based on a solid foundation of social and political realism.” - Claude McKay

Maurice Denis (25 November 1870 – 13 November 1943) was a French painter and writer, and a member of the Symbolist and Les Nabis movements. His theories contributed to the foundations of cubism, fauvism, and abstract art. He was born 25 November 1870, in Granville, Manche, a coastal town in the Normandy region of France. Waters and coastlines would remain a favourite subject throughout his career, as would material drawn from the Bible.

For such an avant-garde figure, Denis had a surprisingly broad religious streak, writing in his notebook at age fifteen, “Yes, it’s necessary that I am a Christian painter, that I celebrate all the miracles of Christianity, I feel it’s necessary.” The Denis family was affluent, and young Maurice attended both the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian, where he studied with the French figure painter and theorist Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

At the Académie, he met painters and future Nabi members including Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard; through Bonnard he also met the future Nabis Édouard Vuillard, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Hermann-Paul. In 1890, they formed The Nabis. They chose “Nabi” (Hebrew for “Prophet”), because they understood they would be creating new forms of expression. The group would split apart by the end of the decade, and would influence the later work of both Bonnard and Vuillard, as well as non-Nabi painters like Henri Matisse. After Les Nabis, Denis went on to focus on religious subjects and murals.

In 1922, he published his collected historical and theoretical work as “Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne, sur l’art sacré” (“New Theories of Modern and Sacred Art”. The subjects of his mature works include landscapes and figure studies, particularly of mother and child. But his primary interest remained the painting of religious subjects, like “The dignity of labour”, commissioned in 1931 by the International Federation of Christian Trade Unions to decorate the main staircase of the Centre William Rappard.

Denis was among the first artists to insist on the flatness of the picture plane, one of the great starting points for modernism, as practiced in the visual arts. In his famous proposal for the definition of painting, offered in 1890, he stated: “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”. In 1898, he produced a theory of creation that found the source for art in the character of the painter: “That which creates a work of art is the power and the will of the artist”.

The Ateliers d’Art Sacré were founded on 5 November 1919 after World War I (1914-18) by Denis and Georges Desvallières as part of a broad movement in Europe to reconcile the church with modern civilisation. The Ateliers created art for churches, particularly those devastated by the recent war. Denis said that he was against academic art because it sacrificed emotion to convention and artifice, and was against realism because it was prose and he wanted music. Above all he wanted beauty, which was an attribute of divinity.

Denis, a Catholic tertiary, married his first wife, Marthe Meurier, in 1893. They had seven children, and she would pose for numerous Denis works. Following her death in 1919, Denis painted a chapel dedicated to her memory. Two years later, he married again, to Elisabeth Graterolle, and fathered two more children. Politically, he was close to the monarchist Action Française movement. Denis died in Paris of injuries resulting from an automobile accident in November 1943 (the date of his death is variously listed as the 2nd, 3rd, or 13th).

In 1980, the Maurice Denis Museum was opened in the artist’s home in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A major retrospective was mounted at the Musée Des Beaux Arts de Montréal in 2007; it was the first major Denis show in North America. A similar exhibition took place in 1995 at the UK’s Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The painting above is “Evening in September” and is characteristic of Denis’ work. The flat, use of pastel colour, the theme of motherhood (alluding to the iconography of the Virgin with the Christ Child), the restrained and yet relaxed composition and the multiple figures that weave in and out of the viewer’s view.


“If you put your hand on the piano, you play a note. It’s in tune. But if you put it on the violin, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. You have to figure it out…” -  Itzhak Perlman 

Henryk Wieniawski (10 July 1835 – 31 March 1880) was a violinist and composer, born in Lublin, Congress Poland. His father, Tobiasz Pietruszka (Wolf Helman), was the son of a Jewish barber named Herschel Meyer Helman, from the Jewish Lublin neighbourhood of Wieniawa, when barbers were also practising dentists, healers, and bloodletters. Wolf Helman, also known as Tobiasz Pietruszka, changed his name to Tadeusz Wieniawski, taking on the name of his neighbourhood to blend into his Polish environment better. Prior to obtaining his medical degree, he had converted to Catholicism. He married Regina Wolff, the daughter of a noted Jewish physician from Warsaw, and out of this marriage Henryk was born.

Henryk’s talent for playing the violin was recognised early, and in 1843 he was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire, where special exceptions were made to admit him, as he wasn’t French and was only nine years old. After graduation, Henryk toured extensively and gave many recitals, where he was often accompanied by his brother Józef on piano. In 1847, he published his first opus, a “Grand Caprice Fantastique”, the start of a catalogue of 24 opus numbers. When his engagement to Isabella Hampton was opposed by her parents, Wieniawski wrote “Légende”, Op. 17; this work helped her parents change their mind, and the couple married in 1860.

At the invitation of Anton Rubinstein, Wieniawski moved to St. Petersburg, where he lived from 1860 to 1872, taught many violin students, and led the Russian Musical Society’s orchestra and string quartet. From 1872 to 1874, Wieniawski toured the United States with Rubinstein. Wieniawski replaced Henri Vieuxtemps as violin professor at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles in 1875. During his residence in Brussels, Wieniawski’s health declined, and he often had to stop in the middle of his concerts.

He started a tour of Russia in 1879 but was unable to complete it, and was taken to a hospital in Odessa after a concert. On 14 February 1880, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s patroness Nadezhda von Meck took him into her home and provided him with medical attention. His friends also arranged a benefit concert to help provide for his family. He died in Moscow a few weeks later from a heart attack and was interred in the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.

His daughter Régine Wieniawski, born in Brussels the year before his death, also became a composer. She published her early works as ‘Irène Wieniawska’, but after marrying Sir Aubrey Dean Paul and becoming a British subject, she used the pseudonym ‘Poldowski’. Another daughter, Henriette, would go on to marry Joseph Holland Loring in 1904, who was among the victims of the Titanic disaster. Wieniawski was a player in the Beethoven Quartet Society in London, where he also performed on viola.

Henryk Wieniawski was considered a violinist of great ability and wrote some very important works in the violin repertoire, including two technically demanding violin concertos, the second of which (in D minor, 1862) is more often performed than the first (in F-sharp minor, 1853). His “L’École moderne: 10 Études-caprices” is a very well known work for aspiring violinists. What is commonly called the ‘Russian bow grip’ is sometimes called the ‘Wieniawski bow grip’, as Wieniawski taught his students his own kind of very rigid bowing technique (like the Russian grip) that allowed him to play what he called a ‘devil’s staccato’ with ease. This ‘devil’s staccato’ was used to discipline students' technique.

Here is Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor (violinist, Midori, with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; Conductor: Leonard Slatkin - Live Radio Recording, 1988).
1. Allegro Moderato
2. Preghiera. Larghetto
3. Rondo. Allegro giocoso