Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Richard Wagner, 1871

Quite possibly there has never been another composer in the history of classical music as controversial as Richard Wagner. He had a habit of running up debts, running out on debts, and running around with other men’s wives. And that’s before we even begin to talk about his music. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)”


Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)

Several years ago I bought a moth orchid (Phalaenopsis) on sale at a local shop. I brought it home, put it on a shelf and watered it regularly, just as I do with all my thriving house-plants.

But my orchid didn’t thrive, which was entirely my own fault. Even an orchid as accommodating as the moth orchid still has more specialised needs than the average spider plant. So about a year ago I decided to give my moth orchid a little TLC.

Repotted in a special orchid mix, moved to a better location, and watered fortnightly with a special orchid food, which was allowed to drain away once it had soaked into the potting mix (many orchids, including the moth orchid, are epiphytes and hate having ‘wet feet’) it began to put forth new leaves, then a flower stem. About a week ago it unfurled the first of its large, beautiful, glossy white and pink flowers. I was delighted. Continue reading “Orchids”

Ballet on the Sofa: The Firebird

Bright, brief, and action-packed, Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ was the perfect antidote to my underwhelming response to Wagner’s ‘Tristian and Isolde’. Stravinsky composed the score for Firebird in 1910, and the music is so appealing and enjoyable that it continues to be performed regularly even without the accompanying ballet as ‘The Firebird Suite’.

The Firebird subduing Koschei’s minions.

The original ballet itself was choreographed by Michel Fokine. It is based on a Russian folk-tale of the mystical Firebird, who can be either a blessing or a curse to whoever owns her. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: The Firebird”

Treasure Trove: Psalm 139

20160327_133801Recently on a Christian Facebook community page I belong to people were asked to name their favourite psalm. Out of about a dozen responses, something like half cited the 139th Psalm.

Its popularity is perhaps understandable: although towards the end it takes a sharp turn for the vengeful, with a cry to God to ‘slay the wicked’ and the ‘bloodthirsty’, the majority of the psalm is filled with a sense of joy and awe that the God of the universe would know and care for each one of us personally. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: Psalm 139”

Paintings You Should Know: Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’, 1511


The painting of the Sistine Chapel seems to have been one of those projects which got wildly out of hand. The Pope (Pope Julius II) had originally commissioned Michelangelo to design and build his tomb, but handed him a number of side-projects. One of these was to paint the twelve apostles on the triangular pendentives that supported the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and cover the central part of the ceiling with ornamentation. Michelangelo envisaged something rather grander, and convinced Julius II to give him a free hand. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’, 1511”

Composer Profile: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Johannes Brahms

A recent concert in Whanganui featuring Brahms’ Piano Concerto Number 2 inspired me to find out more about ‘the last of the great Romantics’, a man most famous for his eponymous Lullaby. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, to a struggling (to the point of impoverishment) musician, Johann Jakob Brahms, and his much older wife, Johanna. Brahms’ talent was recognisable from an early age although his father refused to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mozart and Mendelssohn by taking his child prodigy on tour. Instead, by the age of 13, Brahms was supplementing the family income with money earned by playing the piano in taverns, restaurants, and the like. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)”

Local Culture: Winter Brahms Concert

Brahms Whanganui posterUntil I started The Culture Project, I honestly had no idea that my town was such a cultural hub. It turns out that in addition to having an opera festival, and the annual Artists Open Studios, and Shakespeare in Schools, and an excellent community choir (Schola Sacra), we also have a small local orchestra, which aims to hold three concerts a year. Their most recent concert, held late last month, featured pianist Matthew Yu, a former Whanganui resident who is now building a career as a nationally-recognised musician. Continue reading “Local Culture: Winter Brahms Concert”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’

Wagner TandI posterI’ll be honest: I did not enjoy Tristan and Isolde. I tried. I really, really did. But I just didn’t like it. By the time it finally reached its conclusion, after four hours which felt like much, much longer, all I could think was ‘for pity’s sake, this would have been over a lot sooner if Brangane had just let you drink the effing poison to begin with.’

Having said that, the little I’ve read about Wagner and his operas, including Tristan and Isolde, has been more than enough to instil in me an appreciation of his work and what he was trying to accomplish. This is Art, with a capital ‘A’. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’”

Treasure Trove: ‘God’s Garden’, by Dorothy Frances Gurney

Dorothy Gurney quote.jpgAs you may have gathered from my recent post on Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, Spring is already nudging its way to the forefront here in Whanganui, and the first sunny Sunday afternoon saw me blissfully out pottering in the garden. Years ago as a child I read the second to last verse of Dorothy Frances Gurney’s ‘God’s Garden’ on a garden ornament and, enchanted, committed it to memory. Those lines return to me frequently whenever I have the chance to get out and enjoy my own little slice of paradise.

The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.

So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.

And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,–
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.

Dorothy Gurney
Dorothy Frances Gurney


Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932) is little known today, and the second to last verse of this lovely poem is often quoted alone and unattributed, but she was the daughter and wife of Anglican clergymen, a convert to Catholicism with her husband in 1919, and a writer of both poems and hymns.



Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)

Little House in the Big Woods first edition
First Edition of Little House in the Big Woods

Having owned, and read repeatedly, the entire ‘Little House’ series as a child, I was already aware that Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived the adventurous childhood of a true ‘pioneer girl’ (the original working title of her memoirs). However, unlike many authors of fictionalised accounts, Ingalls actually downplayed, or omitted entirely, some of the events of her childhood. Like the brother who died in infancy (a particular tragedy at a time when it was still considered important for a man to have a son: Laura had no other brothers), or the time a man in the town where her family was living got drunk and accidentally set himself on fire. Continue reading “Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)”