Composer Profile: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

“Through uninterrupted diligence you will receive Mozart’s spirit through Haydn’s hands.”
– Count Waldstein’s farewell note to Beethoven, 1792

Although his talent had been obvious since childhood, and developed (often with what would today be regarded as excessive harshness) from his early years, Beethoven’s career didn’t really get started until 1792, when he left his hometown of Bonn in Cologne to study with Haydn in Vienna. By that time Mozart was already dead, and those who were familiar with his work viewed Beethoven as his natural successor. Although Beethoven certainly honoured this expectation stylistically in the early part of his career, it is clear that he was possessed of a confidence and determination unknown to his more self-effacing predecessor. Beethoven knew his worth and was unwilling to accept anything less than his due. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)”

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Paintings You Should Know: Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting’, 1638-39

Artemisia Gentileschi Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting 1638to9
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-9

That Artemisia Gentileschi (1590-c.1654) is one of the best-known female Baroque artists is, sadly, due less to her talent as an artist than it is to the scandal which marred her teenage years, when she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a ‘friend’ of her father Orazio Gentileschi. Having initially endeavoured to salvage her honour through marriage to Tassi (a horrifying thought today, but no more than Artemisia’s rights by the standard of the time), Artemisia and her father ultimately took Tassi to court and, impressively, won. Tassi went to prison, and Artemisia’s artistic skill was overshadowed by the drama. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting’, 1638-39”

A Very Short History of Art: The Baroque and Rococo

1 Caravaggio Bacchus 1595
Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1590s

In the seventeenth century the centre of artistic gravity in Europe began to shift away from Italy, leaving the Northern tradition to dominate the art of this period, but not before one of the greatest names in art could leave his mark on the art of Italy for generations to come. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Baroque and Rococo”

Seeing the Old in a New Light: ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’

Christ Crucified Diego Velazquez 1632
Christ Crucified, by Diego Velazquez, 1632

‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ certainly isn’t a new entry into the Christian repertoire. It was written in 1707 by the English Nonconformist preacher Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and has appeared in numerous hymnals since. I first encountered it more than a decade ago and know it by heart. Continue reading “Seeing the Old in a New Light: ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’”

Treasure Trove: Two Women at a Window, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

10 Murillo Two Women at a Window c1655to60
Murillo, Two Women at a Window, c.1655-60

I’ve looked at a lot of paintings since I started the Culture Project. Some have pleased me, some have challenged me, and some have confused me. One or two have offended or disgusted me, which was probably the point. But this one makes me smile. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: Two Women at a Window, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo”

Composer Profile: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Salzburg, Austria, one winter’s night,
Saw the birth by candlelight,
Of a child whose name would stand,
His music know throughout the land.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
Soon the world will hear such joy,
Music of the wonder-boy.

Mozart as a child 1763 possibly by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a child, possibly by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni, 1763

1991 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the great Classical composer’s tragically early death, and in tribute the children at my primary school (or at least, in my class – it’s been a while, so I’m a little hazy on the details) learned a number of songs which told the story of his life. The words above comprise the first verse and chorus of the first song, which is about all I can remember now. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)”

A Very Short History of Art: The Renaissance

Fr Angelico Annunciation 1432
Fr. Angelico, The Annunciation, 1432.

The ‘Renaissance’ (‘rebirth’), which began in Italy in the early 1400s, spread progressively through the rest of Europe, and (from an artistic standpoint at least) ended in the early 1600s, left with us some of the greatest names and most recognisable masterpieces in European art.

After the centuries of intellectual decimation left in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance was a time of increasing enquiry and experimentation in multiple fields. A renewed interest in the workings of the natural world led to the beginnings of modern science. The questioning of old religious assumptions and hierarchies led, in the North, to the Protestant Reformation. The invention of the printing press led to an unprecedented spread of literature, literacy, and literary endeavour. And in art a quest for greater realism led to changes in both technique and subject matter. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Renaissance”

Composer Profile: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Handel by Balthasar Denner c1726
Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner, c.1726

Born in the same year as J. S. Bach and outliving him by nine years, Handel, who was something of a bon vivant, was in many ways the opposite of his somewhat ascetic countryman.

Relatively little is known of Handel’s personal life: he was born in Halle, Germany, and his father, a barber-surgeon of advanced years and considerable reputation, was determined that he should study law. The young Handel was thus forbidden from pursuing his passion for music, but continued to do so on the sly. He did begin studying law at the University of Halle in 1702 but also obtained a position as organist in the local reformed church (previously the cathedral). It seems he never looked back: in 1703 he joined the orchestra in Hamburg, and his first two operas were produced in 1705. Continue reading “Composer Profile: George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)”

Wine Profile: Shiraz/Syrah

Known throughout most of the world as Syrah, this grape and the wine produced from it is called Shiraz in Australia, where it’s long been the mainstay of Brand Australia wine. And for good reason: while I have no experience of French Syrah, which is one of the primary grapes in Hermitage, and am told it’s very different, Australian Shiraz (and New Zealand Syrah, because the grape is taking off here too) is a definite favourite.

Shiraz wine folly
Shiraz/Syrah, (c) Wine Folly

Shiraz is an ancient city in Iran, which was once part of Persia, and while alcohol is officially outlawed in that observantly-Muslim nation rumours persist through the grapevine (ahem!) that villagers in the Shiraz area preserve their ancient wine-making and wine-drinking culture on the quiet. Continue reading “Wine Profile: Shiraz/Syrah”

A Very Short History of Art: The Early Christian to the Gothic

Jesus c375
Early depiction of Jesus, c.375 C.E.

As the Roman Empire fell into decline and collapse another unifying cultural force began to spread through Europe, this time not by a process of conquest and empire-building, but through the gentler methods of persuasion and spiritual transformation. Legalised by Emperor Constantine I in 313 C.E. and declared the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius I in 380 C.E., the rising influence of Christianity and the waning power of Rome had a huge influence on art throughout Europe.

Christianity had inherited from its Jewish roots strong taboos against idolatry and nudity. Moreover, the new religion emphasised the pursuit of spiritual over physical perfection. Where once the athlete’s sculptured muscles and the maiden’s curvaceous beauty had epitomised all that was most desirable in humanity, now the focus was on gaining spiritual enlightenment and eternal life in the hereafter. Continue reading “A Very Short History of Art: The Early Christian to the Gothic”