Sunday, May 29, 2011

An evening at Le Moulin Rouge

A poppy shot unlike any other - courtecy of my Flickr friend jenny downing. Almost abstract on one hand, and on the other hand, helped by the title, her tags on Flickr and the location indication she faked there, it also recalls a burlesque scene from that Paris night club. Whatever way your mind wanders seeing this, it is a beautiful sensual image.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Links [4]

Once more an overview of interesting links on topics related to the blog, that I encountered recently (some undoubtedly via a Jenny Downing buzz), but that will probably not make the blog as separate entries. The picture above is by myself.

10 Famous Works Of Art That Were Destroyed.
The 15 Most Expensive Pictures Ever Taken.
The 10 Most Amazing Stained Glass Windows.
Is Andy Warhol the Art World's Housing Bubble?
Rare Photographs of Celebrities.
Some of the best children shots ever.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blue light

It has been far too long since I featured one of the masterpieces of my Flickr friend caeciliametella under this heading, also because I have decided to scale down the number of Flickr Favourites I am posting in my blog. It is not for want of candidates, because I have faved several of her shots in recent weeks. This one stood out particularly - a wonderful abstract, playing with empty space in a brilliant way.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mahler Symphonies by Maazel

More Mahler in the month of his centenary. This box of his symphonies by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel is certainly not a recommendation from my side (Kubelik, Haitink, Bernstein and Boulez are far superior to my taste), but it does have the best art work. Beautiful elegant minimalism.

All Music

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jeder's manchmol einsam, net nur du (Happy birthday Bob!)

Today Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, turns 70. Although I don't particularly care for his voice, there is no denying that he wrote some terrific songs - especially when covered by others. By far the best interpretation of his work is also one of the most unlikely: a complete album (Leopardenfell, 1996) by BAP singer Wolfgang Niedecken. Seventeen covers of Bob Dylan songs, translated into German, or to be more precise, into Koellsch, the dialect of the city of Cologne. Niedecken is the singer of BAP, my favourite German band. He achieves the impossible on this album: he makes you forget that these are Dylan songs (even though he takes some of the most famous ones like A hard rain's a gonna fall and Mighty Quinn) and makes them sound like his own work. Absolutely brilliant is his version of It's all over now, baby blue, which translated becomes Jeder's manchmol einsam, net nur du (Everyone is sometimes lonely, not just you). Sandwiched between some of the best sax playing this side of Baker Street, this sensitive ballad unfolds to great effect. A simple video, but worth playing just to explore this beautiful music. Happy birthday Bob!
Art Rock score: 10/10 (brilliant masterpiece, one of 200 best songs of all time)


Stained glass

One of my favourite shots from our recent short trip to Germany. I took this inside a small church in Rheinbach. The beautiful stained glass windows were a treat in themselves, but taking the photograph in a diagonal approach makes for a strong composition - especially because of the counter diagonal effect of the black stripes.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.006 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/7.1
Focal Length: 78 mm
ISO Speed: 800
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0


Monday, May 23, 2011

Chopin's Nocturnes

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 fourteenth installment, I re-examine the 21 nocturnes of my favourite composer for piano solo: Polish grandmaster Frederic Chopin (1810 - 1849). Although the nocturne as a genre was invented by John Field, it will forever be linked with Chopin. The 21 nocturnes span almost the entirety of his career, beginning in 1827, when he was a student at the Warsaw Conservatory, and ending in 1846, when he was suffering from tuberculosis and his relationship with his lover George Sand was falling apart.

Three Nocturnes op.9 (1830-1831)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 17 min)
The first set of nocturnes is also the best in my opinion. The first in the set is simply gorgeous in its rich melodies, the even more melodious and very famous second is a perennial favourite (I used to play this on on the organ), the playful third is bittersweet. All three are great and different, and this set is my all-time favourite amongst compositions for piano solo.

Three Nocturnes op.15 (1833)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 12 min)
A clear change in approach: in the first nocturne, a pensive melodic line is interrupted by a fast emotional middle section, turning dream into nightmare, before the calm returns once more. The second one is far more subdued in its pastoral quality and gives the impression of an extended improvisation. The third brings more melodic richness in a mood that shows a brief hint of seriousness amidst the overall relaxed attitude. A fascinating set, just marginally less than the fantastic first.

Two Nocturnes op.27 (1835)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 11 min)
This set marks the transition from triplets of nocturnes to contrasting pairs that Chopin would use from now on. The first one is amongst the most dramatic and highly regarded of the lot, with a haunting feeling of suspense, thrilling arpeggios, and fascinating mood swings. We are by now far away from the original examples of the genre - an absolute masterpiece. Its companion is based on variations on a single dreamy mood, deceptively simple, and a perfect contrast to the first nocturne in this set. Another combination that has to get the distinction of "hors concours".

Two Nocturnes op.32 (1837)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 11 min)
After the tension of op.27, Chopin returns to a more conventional nocturnal composition, highly melodious without too much contrasts (except for the ending). The second nocturne in this set brings one of his most famous melodies, which was also orchestrated for the ballet Les Sylphides. Some interesting variations in mood, even though it never comes close to the drama of op.27.1. Although not the very best, this is an excellent set, and for me it is essential.

Two Nocturnes op.37 (1838)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 12 min)
The first nocturne is a bit of a step back in time, as its style is more akin to the first two sets than later compositions. Good as it is, it lacks the fabulous melodic lines of the early masterpieces, or the complications of the later ones. Its companion starts as a Venetian barcarole and then transforms into one of his most beautiful melodies, creating an atmosphere of a warm summer evening at the Mediterranean Sea. Taken by itself, this could just be hors concours, as a set, it still qualifies as essential.

Two Nocturnes op.48 (1841)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 14 min)
A very subdued and subtle elongated introduction to the first nocturne, with the mood slowly becoming darker and increasingly more emotional. It is a powerful depiction of grief, even though in the end the lack of a memorable tune works against it. The second of the set is lighter in many ways, and although definitely more melodious, the set is still a small step down from his earlier work in this genre.

Two Nocturnes op.55 (1844)

My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 10 min)
A welcome return to melodious form, the bittersweet lines that open and close the first nocturne are amongst the best in Chopins repertoire. The dramatic short middle section provides a suitable contrast. The second nocturne shuns the use of contrast altogether, the melody meanders from start to finish. It is curiously effective in conveying an atmosphere of oppression and resignation. A beautiful set.

My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 13 min)
His final two nocturnes are accomplished elegant works, which would have made a stronger impression if they had not been in the company of such masterpieces. The first one particularly makes an almost bland impression. The second one is stronger, but as  a whole, this set is the least satisfying to my taste.

Besides these eighteen nocturnes in sets, Chopin composed three separate nocturnes:

My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 4 min)
Actually his very first attempt at the genre, even though it was not published until 1855. It is a moody piece, an accomplished composition and it would not have been out of place in one of the later sets (although definitely not in the first three sets).

Nocturne in C Sharp minor (1830)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 4 min)
His second nocturne, it was only published 26 years after his death. A beautiful, at times playful and at times intimate piece that is as popular as many of the regular ones, getting quite some exposure in popular culture as well (see wikipedia link).  

Nocturne in C minor (1837)
My version: Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 1985, 3 min)
Another nocturne that never made it into a published set during his lifetime. One of his better efforts in the genre, dark, brooding and with a lovely continued melody.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:

Hors concours: Three Nocturnes op.9, Two Nocturnes op.27
Essential: Three Nocturnes op.15, Two Nocturnes op.32, Two Nocturnes op.37; Two Nocturnes op.55
Important: Two Nocturnes op.48, Two Nocturnes op.62; Nocturne in E minor; Nocturne in C sharp minor; Nocturne in C minor
Good to have: none
Not required: none

Taken as a whole, Chopins Nocturnes undoubtedly get my qualification "hors concours".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Catching shadows

A fascinating concept, immaculately executed by my Flickr friend tina negus. I love the way the rigid geometric shadow patterns and the organic shapes of the hands come together. Perfect title as well. One of the best shots I have seen this year at Flickr.

All rights retained by the photographer (tina negus).


Links [3]

Once more an overview of interesting links on topics related to the blog, that I encountered recently (some undoubtedly via a Jenny Downing buzz), but that will probably not make the blog as separate entries. The picture above is by myself.

20 Impressive Moats Around the World.
The 50 Best Infrared Photos created by High Skilled Photographers.
Origami v Morris: When Paper Folders Strike.
Most Expensive Art Photo Ever.
Contemporary Art Will Ruin Your Wedding.
Paul Simon Gives a Fan the Night of Her Life.
Meet Your Bacteria.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Comic relief is not a subject often encountered in this blog (unlike Art's Potpourri), but I have to post this gem of a funny photograph by my Flickr friend aftab. A souvenir from his Namibia trip, this zebra shot, depicting the famous internet shorthand of the title, is simply priceless.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mahler's Farewell

Today it is exactly 100 years ago that one of the greatest composers of all time, Gustav Mahler, passed away at age 50. To honour him, I post an excerpt of what I consider the most beautiful piece of music ever composed, Das Lied von der Erde. The sixth movement, appropriately titled Abschied (Farewell), lasts about 30 minutes, with the final 8 minutes available in this clip. The singer is the incomparable Kathleen Ferrier, herself having passed away shortly after this recording, aged only 41. Life is not fair, or as in the words of this masterpiece "Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod" (Dark is life, dark is death).


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Composition part 14: the golden ratio

Continuing a series on basic composition rules to further enhance the quality of your photographs if you are not aware of them yet. Previous subjects:
So you have absorbed the rule of thirds, which featured in the first post in this series? Good. Now we enter the advanced version: the golden ratio. For an advanced mathematical treatment I refer you to wikipedia, but suffice it to state that the idea is similar to the rule of thirds, in that the composition is divided by horizontal and vertical lines to form a grid - but instead of exactly lying on the thirds, the position is determined by the golden ratio, as shown above. This is aesthetically even more pleasing, when the lines and focal points are used for the most important parts of the composition. In the example above (my Chained), the red nail is positioned on a golden ratio focal point, whilst all three chain parts go through the other focal points. An easy web site to use for this important compositional tool is this one. Maybe less evident and easy to apply than the rule of thirds, but definitely rewarding to explore - and one I am still discovering myself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Al fresco

Bottles and glasses feature prominently in the photostream of my dear Flickr friend jenny downing. Still, this one is absolutely outstanding. Due to the focus and the cropping, this glass is turned into a gorgeous abstract shot. One of her very best.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Griffes, America's might-have-been

The untimely death (from pneumonia) at age 35 of Charles Griffes (1884-1920) robbed the American music scene of one of its brightest talents, long before he had made the impact he might have had. His limited oeuvre is mainly rooted in French and Russian style impressionism. Probably best-known is his tone poem The pleasure dome of Kubla Khan. This Naxos disc of course includes this masterpiece, as well as other tone poems (The white peacock, and Poem for flute and orchestra), the short song cycle Three Poems of Fiona McLeod, and some less well-known but interesting short works. The Buffalo Philharmonic may not have the reputation yet of a world class orchestra, but they play these works with conviction and finesse, under the direction of Jo Ann Falletta. Recommended for those interested in exploring this underexposed composer.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Explored once more

September last year I had my 50th shot in Flickr Explore, the 500 most interesting photographs uploaded worldwide that day. Since then, a very long dry spell, which was finally lifted yesterday, when this abstract shot taken in Leverkusen ("Abstraction in red and blue lines and curves") gathered close to 20 faves within 24 hours, catapulting it into Explore at #169. It was also selected by my Flickr friend Rick (word artist) to feature in his excellent composition blog here with the comment: "Despite its simplicity, this image is powerfully composed. While there is the obvious half-and-half split between red and blue, it is the way that is disrupted in the bottom left corner that makes it work, adding balance through asymmetry. The leading lines of the blades (whatever they really are) draw the eye into the gaping negative space that dominated the image, providing room to circulate until the fine minimal detail is re-acquired for contemplation. That the whole also manages to anchor the sweep of the form into the bottom right corner keeps the scene steady. Simple, yes, but it works wonders. Is there any wonder it is his favourite so far this year?". What is it? I can't even remember, probably a modern sculpture....

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


Sunday, May 08, 2011


After we both resigned from the admin team of the Flickr group Learn composition by example, I had lost track of the photostream of fellow Flickrite lightwelder, until I encountered this gem in Word Artist's blog. One of the most special and moving portraits I have ever seen. Pure art of the highest quality.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Links [1]

A new topic, and a feature that I intend to make recurrent every Sunday or so. An overview of interesting links on topics related to the blog, that I encountered recently (some undoubtedly via a Jenny Downing buzz), but that will probably not make the blog as separate entries. The picture above is by myself.

Dafen Oil Painting Village: Where Fake Art is Business.
International Garden Photographer of the Year 2011 winners.
25 Haunting Shipwrecks Around the World.
Court Throws Out Louis Vuitton’s Copyright Claim Against Artist.
A Floating Ecopolis for the Age of Rising Seas.
Honest Versions of Famous Logos.
The Incredible Magdeburg Water Bridge in Germany.
Indoor Swimming Pool Hosts Underwater Opera Show.
Kate Bush in a Rare Interview.
Colombian Student Asphyxiates to Death in Performance.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

B[r]eak Out

After the Dufy painting posted earlier today I just came across this gem a few minutes ago in the stream of my Flickr friend auribins. They fit so well together that I immediately had to post it. This is such an intensely sad photograph, and therefore intensely beautiful. One of the best in a stream that has many great shots in it.

All rights retained by the photographer.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Shanghai patterns

Recognition of the potential of patterns is one of the virtues of having a good photographic eye - and I have been told that I have that. This is a shot of a gate in Shanghai, transforming it into an abstract composition that is quite pleasing. Shot with a point-and-shooter rather than my mirror reflex.

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.025 sec (1/40)
Aperture: f/3.2
Focal Length: 15.4 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0


Monday, May 02, 2011

Hendrik Andriessen

One of the most impressive classical music CD covers I have seen in recent months: Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen's choral works on Erasmus Records. The cover illustration is based on a sketch by Jan Toorop, a famous Dutch symbolist painter, with art deco overtones. The artist often took his inspiration from the via crucis, the stations of the cross of Jesus Christ, very apt for the themes of these works. I came across this on a download site that I prefer not to link to, so I am linking to Andriessen's wikipedia page instead.