Wednesday, March 30, 2011

She loves to dance ...

Even in the varied and great photostream of my Flickr friend peggyhr, this one stands out for its sheer uniqueness. A fascinating expressionist study of a dancer. While impressionism is relatively easy to translate to photography, expressionism is far rarer. I love it.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Silk

A fun interactive website, by which you can produce beautiful abstract creations - the one above was one of my first attempts. Give it a try. It is fun - and addictive.

web site

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Time

Another post fitting with today's theme of wintertime to summertime. Pink Floyd's Time is one of the most popular songs from their landmark album The dark side of the moon. Kicking in with a stunning effects loop of various clocks ticking and chiming, this song is all about the pressure of time in our lives. Also added into the mix in the background is the sound of a heartbeat, implying that even our own heartbeat, that which keeps us alive, is also ticking against us, counting down until we die. The images that the lyrics provoke are very forceful indeed (Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time; Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines), and they include one of my favourite lines: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way".
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Precision

A fitting shot for today, since we just shifted our clocks to summer time here in the Netherlands. My Flickr friend word artist shot this special macro still life of clockwork, with wonderfully contrasting golden and metallic tones.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Friday, March 25, 2011

Frosted lake

My Flickr friend cormend is a very accomplished photographer and really should have featured earlier in my blog. This gem is the highlight of an exquisite series of shots documenting his trek through the Himalaya's, bringing him in viewing range of Mount Everest. Wonderful mystic atmosphere in this shot, emphasized by the silhouetted animal. The whole series can be found here.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shanghai stairway to heaven

One of my personal favourites from my recent trip to Shanghai. A shot inside the Times Square shopping mall at Huahei road. The dominating golden colours, the various levels of escalators, and the silhouetted figures as a centre point of attention.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/5.6
Focal Length: 18 mm
ISO Speed: 800
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rhapsody (RIP Elizabeth Taylor)

One of Hollywood's greatest actresses has passed away today, aged 79: Dame Elizabeth Taylor. In her memory, a poster of the 1954 movie Rhapsody. I have selected the Japanese version of the movie poster, because it shows much better than the rather boring US version just how pretty she was. Rest in Peace.

More on this movie in the IMDB article linked to below.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Scrape

A beautiful abstracted image of a fan-shaped palm that I came across on Flickr recently. Excellent combination of colours and shapes - one of those images I could see hanging on the wall of a modern art museum. A creation by fellow Flickrite Robert in Toronto.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Brahms symphonies cycle Gardiner

Maybe it is because of my renewed interest in classical music, but recently I keep coming across good artistic designs in this genre, far more than in the past. A case in point is the set of four CD's released with the beautiful Brahms symphonies in the interpretation of Gardiner. Colourful and stylish, especially when seen as a foursome (such as in the animated gif I constructed).

Amazon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Light and dark

This is such a beautiful poignant image by my dear Flickr friend sannesu. A veritable tornado of light as one commenter remarked aptly, a shimmering light of hope in the darkness of our lives.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Intimacy

High time to feature once more the photographic art of my Flickr friend and regular contributor to my blogs: jenny downing. Wonderful play with depth of field, leaving the main subject blurred in the background. Original and extremely effective.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Liszt's symphonic poems

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the twelfth installment, I re-examine the symphonic poems of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt (1811-1886), the inventor of this particular genre, even though I tend to prefer later composers in this respect (such as Bax, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Dvorak, Smetana and Respighi). As so often with composers from the classical or romantic era, the numbering is not in line with the sequence of creation - I have opted for the latter.

No. 1 Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne (S.95, 1848-1854)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 30 min)
This "Mountain symphony" was inspired by a Victor Hugo poem. Liszt sets out to depict the struggle between man and nature - a more philosophical approach of the mountain theme than Richard Strauss' Alpensinfonie of several decades later. It has its moments, especially in the solo part for violin, but for the material it offers, it is far too long, especially the bombastic finish.

No. 3 Les preludes (1848)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 16 min)
My version: Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig/Masur (EMI, 1981, 15 min)
Liszt' most famous composition for orchestra probably. It is based on an ode by Alphonse de Lamartine, depicting life as a prelude for better things to come. Right from the subdued start, everything comes together in this composition: gorgeous melodies, including the immortal main theme, wonderful orchestration (a rarity in his repertoire) and an almost operatic Wagnerian feeling.  Liszt's best work by far to my taste, and almost getting my "hors concours" stamp of approval,

No. 2 Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo (1849-1854)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 22 min)
My version: Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig/Masur (EMI, 1981, 21 min)
The Goethe and Byron poems on Tasso, an Italian poet, provided the literary inspiration, a Venice gondola song the musical one.It depicts the life of Tasso, including the problem years (the slow Lamento part), a happy minuet, and the triumphant conclusion (the fast Trionfo part). It is a wonderful melodic work, with rich contrasts of mood, great instrumentation, and one of his best efforts in the genre.  

No. 5 Prometheus (S.99, 1850-1855)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 13 min)
Inspired by the Greek legend of Prometheus, this tone poem (with clear orchestration support by Raff) illustrates the imprisonment, pain, hope, and the final triumph of the main character. Right from the dramatic start, heroic themes dominate, with some great melodic interludes. However, there is a sense of discontinuity about the composition, and one can see why it is generally not regarded as one of his best.

No. 8 Heroide funebre (1849–50)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 24 min)
This tone poem is based on the first movement of the unfinished Revolutionary Symphony of 1830. Grief is the main theme of this triple funeral march, inspired by Hungary losing the battle of independence. The continuous pessimistic atmosphere, coupled with rather straightforward instrumentation, and its excessive length, explains the lack of appeal this composition has encountered through the centuries. It does have its grander moments, but they are few and far apart.

No. 6 Mazeppa (S.100, 1851)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 16 min)
My version: Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig/Masur (EMI, 1981, 16 min)
One of the popular romantic tales of the time, which inspired poems by Byron and Hugo, is the story of Ivan Mazeppa, Polish nobleman who suffered defeat, humiliation and subsequent rise to become chief of the cossacks. The tone poem focuses on his punishment, bound to a wild horse, and chased into the steppe, all the way to the Ukraine, and his rescue. Bombast is always lurking beneath (and sometimes above) the surface, but it is still a good piece, and one of his better tone poems.

No. 7 Festklaenge (1853)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 20 min)
Festklaenge (Festive sounds) is basically an extended wedding march for a wedding that was never to be: the one between Liszt and his long-time partner and muse, Princess Carolyne of Wittgenstein. The most remarkable feature of the composition is the use of themes from Polish and Hungarian dances, representing the princess and Liszt. It has its beautiful moments, but it does outstay its welcome somewhat at the rather excessive length.

No. 4 Orpheus (S.98, 1853–4)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 11 min)
My version: Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig/Masur (EMI, 1981, 10 min)
This tone poem was inspired by an Etruscan vase at the Louvre showing the mythological Orpheus singing and playing his lyre, taming the wild animals around him. It is a unique work in liszt's oeuvre: no struggle, no contrast, just a tonal stream of beautiful melody and harmony, yet firmly romantic in its approach. The doubled harp is effectively chosen to represent Orpheus' lute. One of his very best.

No. 9 Hungaria (1854)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 22 min)
In spirit and form, this is in fact an extended Hungarian rhapsody, inspired by the struggle of the Hungarian people, but focusing on hope and joy as well, rather than just despair, which characterized the earlier Heroide Funebre. Even without a clear programme, the changes in moods, pace and rhythms captivate the listener's attention. One of his better efforts in the genre.

No. 11 Hunnenschlacht [Battle of the Huns](S.105, 1856–7)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 14 min)
Inspired by the Kaulbach painting of the same name, depicting a battle so ferocious that the souls of the dead warriors continued their fighting in the sky as they rose to Heaven. The first nine minutes consist of ghostly fanfares and nervous strings to evoke the battle, with subdued organ lines representing the Christian fighters. Then a gorgeous melody finally enfolds, leading to an intense climax supported by organ. Generally seen by classical music experts as one of the best of his symphonic poems, and it is hard to argue with that.

No. 12 Die Ideale [The ideals] (S.106, 1857)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 27 min)
Based on Schiller's poem of the same name, this work was originally intended to be a three-movement symphony. There is no obvious programme to this work which is meant to evoke the philosophical struggle that is at the heart of the poem. Musically, one can distinguish the typical symphonic movements, including and adagio and a scherzo in the middle. Maybe not a very good tone poem, but certainly a good orchestral composition, although its length and the lack of really memorable melodic lines stop it from getting higher praise from me than "Good to have".

No. 10 Hamlet, after the drama by Shakespeare (1858)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 15 min)
Liszt had to wait almost 30 years after finishing this composition before he actually heard it performed - which says a lot about its reception at the time. Also in later years, it has failed to become a staple of the orchestral repertoire, although it is a decent if not brilliant piece of work. Liszt tried to capture the character and mood of Hamlet, rather than his actions: indecisive, grotesque, manic. In the end though it lacks memorable themes, making it one of the "also-rans" in this part of Liszt's output.

No. 13 Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (From the Cradle to the Grave) (S.107, 1881–2)
My version: Budapest Symphony Orchestra/Joo (Brilliant Classics [Hungaroton], 1985, 17 min)
More than decades after his 12th numbered symphonic poem, Liszt composed his 13th and final one. It was inspired by a drawing made by Mihaly Zichy, sent to Liszt, depicting both a cradle and a coffin. Liszt turned this into a three movement symphonic poem. The first part depicts the cradle, in a beautiful serene and fragile andante, uniquely scored for violin, viola, harp and flute only. The second part depicts a struggle for existence, at times violent, at times resigned, with a richer orchestral palette than in most of his compositions. The final part depicts the grave, described by Liszt as the cradle of future life, a slow and solemn piece ending in a prolonged high cello note that depicts death and transfiguration far more movingly than Richard Strauss would do a few years later. My personal second favourite of all of Liszt's oeuvre.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: 
Essential: Les preludes, Tasso (lamento e trionfo), Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe
Important: Hungaria, Hunnenschlacht, Orpheus
Good to have: Die Ideale, Mazeppa
Not required: Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne, Festklaenge, Hamlet, Heroide funebre, Prometheus

Friday, March 18, 2011

Learn composition by example: Leading lines

If you have been following this blog, you may remember a series of short posts about basic composition techniques in the Art-iculations category. These were written for beginners by a beginner (moi). My Flickr friend Rick (word artist), a very accomplished photographer with a brilliant sense of composition, has embarked upon a similar series for the Flickr group Learn Composition by Example, providing far more information and examples than I did. His first post, on leading lines, is a great start of the series, giving numerous examples taken from the members of the group. The illustration above is one of mine (Spiraling), of which he wrote: "The combination of the repeated lines of the stairs all bringing the eye in to the central column, and the sinuous curve of the column itself provides the eye with easy traverse of the whole image: a leading line of intersections." Highly recommended to expand your compositional horizon.

web site

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Requiem for strings

A fitting post to conclude today's theme on the disaster in Japan. A beautiful instrumental Requiem by one of my favourite classical music composers, Japan's Toru Takemitsu. For all those who perished.

YouTube

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shoulder

In the almost 4 years that I have been active at Flickr, this is the first child picture that I faved. In general I do not care too much for the subject, but this is such a gorgeous timeless shot. Who else than my Flickr friend aftab could pull this off? I fully agree with the comment left by another Flickr friend, andy57: "Breathtaking in the best possible way. A moment captured forever, this is why cameras exist and why we use them. This is like a memory made visible. It's hard to look at this picture and not have a twinge of nostalgia for a simpler time".

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Abstracted curves

A rather popular shot of the recent Shanghai trip. It is a close-up of a "76" sign, turning it into an interesting abstract shot, dominated by straight lines and curves. The black and white conversion brings out the abstract quality further.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture: f/13.0
Focal Length: 35 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Freitas Branco, a Portuguese anachronism

A surprise discovery as a souvenir from our days in Portugal last October. I picked up a Naxos CD with the third symphony of local composer Luis de Freitas Branco (1890-1955), and when I listened to it at home I was stunned by its quality. I quickly ordered the other 3 CD's as well, to have his four symphonies and some interesting other orchestral works. His style may be slightly anachronistic (the fourth symphony was written in 1952, but sounds much earlier), but still well worth exploring. The 1924 first symphony, coupled with two shorter orchestral works (the early impressionist Scherzo Fantastique and the nationalist Alentejo Suite), is perhaps the best introduction to his work, but all four are highly recommended. Great playing by the neighboring RTE National Symphony Orchestra under Cassutto.

Amazon

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Evocative

Posted at Flickr without title by its creator, my Flickr friend aftab - so I improvised one, based on a comment on this shot by another Flickr friend, Jenny Downing. Wonderful atmosphere, really poetry captured in a photograph.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

In silent unspeakable memories

Treading on the treacherous crossroads of minimalist classical music, soft jazz, and new age - and managing to come up with a masterpiece against all odds. Gilgamesh, an octet from Vienna, have seen themselves catapulted to the #1 spot in the album charts in Austria and Germany with their very first CD, and the rest of the world will undoubtedly follow. Their music is ingenious yet accessible, with a high emotional content that really strikes a chord with many listeners.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, as well as an imaginary review, following these instructions:

[1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with Gilgamesh.
[2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album. The random quote that came up was by George Eliot: What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined... to strengthen each other... to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, One day I'll fly away, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Arctic 40 White and Colonna MT 70 White, respectively.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Goldfish

Talk about imagination - what a brilliant title for a shot that hovers in our mind between the reality (tulip petals) and the imagination (goldfish swirling in a pond). Even in the fantastic stream of my Flickr friend caeciliametella this one stands out for its originality and awesomeness.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The red violin

As so often, I did not see this 1998 movie - the reason why I came across it is that I got hold of the soundtrack by contemporary classical composer John Corigliano, and the corresponding movie poster really appealed to me. Great weathered look, and though a tad crowded, the overall effect is very pleasing. Plus the Man Ray reference obviously resonates well.

More on this movie in the IMDB article linked to below.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mandarin duck

The first shot I am sharing in this blog from my recent Shanghai trip. I took this one in the Shanghai Zoo. I was delighted to encounter the famous colourful mandarin duck "live" after having seen many shots of them on Flickr. Lots of positive reactions and faves, even if it once more failed to make Explore.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture: f/7.1
Focal Length: 200 mm
ISO Speed: 400
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr