Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)

Chopin at 25 by his then fiancee Maria Wodzinska
Chopin at 25 by his then-fiancée Maria Wodzinska

The unquestionable musical genius of Frederic Chopin is perhaps most remarkable for the extreme narrowness of its focus: he composed almost exclusively for the piano, and none of his music fails to feature the instrument. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-1849)”

Philosopher Profile: René Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes 1648
Descartes, 1648

“I think, therefore I am.” It is probably the most famous statement in philosophy, and René Descartes was the man who wrote it. Born in France on the 31st of March 1596, he was educated at the Jesuit College Royal Henry-le-Grand at La Fleche, and then in canon and civil law at the University of Poitiers at a time when the medieval worldview was giving way to the science of the Enlightenment. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: René Descartes (1596-1650)”

Author Profile: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

 

Virginia Woolf 1902.jpg
Virginia Woolf 1902

Acknowledged along with James Joyce as one of the foremost Modernist writers, and by Simone de Beauvoir as one of the few female writers to have explored what she referred to as “the given” – the assumptions made about what a woman ‘is’ – Virginia Woolf is best-remembered today for a handful of her most prominent novels, but during her lifetime was also a noted essayist and critic.

 

She was born in London on the 25th of January 1882, into an upper middle class family with strong literary and artistic connections. Continue reading “Author Profile: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)”

Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)

 

Plato
Plato

“So,” the Significant Other asked me recently, “now that you’ve finished reading ‘The Republic’ when are you going to do a blog post on Plato?” It’s a fair question: Plato, along with Aristotle, who studied under him, effectively laid the basis for Western philosophy and was also massively influential in the development of Christian theology.

 

And yet in terms of biography we don’t really know a great deal about him. Even his name is only a nickname, meaning ‘broad’, and possibly referring to the shape of his head. His real name might have been Aristocles, but then again it might not. He was born into an aristocratic Athenian family. His family may have expected Plato to enter into politics himself, but instead he became a student of Socrates. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Plato (c.428-348 BCE)”

Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

swan lake image.jpg

Seldom in the history of classical music has a name been linked so thoroughly in people’s minds with a particular style of music than the way Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s name has been linked with ballet. Ask any layperson to name a ballet and the odds are fairly good that their answer will be one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions – ‘Swan Lake’ (this link is to ‘The Dance of the Little Swans’, which is amazing) or ‘The Nutcracker’. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)”

Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

dostoyevsky-by-vasily-perov-1872
Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov 1872

One of the greatest writers not only in Russia but in the world, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote books which reflect a deep appreciation of human psychology, a profound interest in philosophy, and a devout Christian faith. His plots at times seem rambling to the point of chaotic, and his cast of characters extensive, but the reader is never left in any doubt that the author has a point and intends to make it.

Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow on 11th November 1821, to Mikhail Dostoyevsky, a doctor estranged from his family, who had expected him to become a priest, and Maria Nechayeva, who came from a family of merchants. He was raised in the family home in the grounds of the Mariinsky Home for the Poor, where his father worked, an upbringing which was steeped from an early age in the Christian faith and the literature of Russia and Europe: Pushkin, Goethe, Cervantes, Walter Scott, and Homer all joined the Bible in expected family reading. He had a ‘delicate constitution’ but a determined attitude which would see him in good stead in later life. Continue reading “Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)”

Philosopher Profile: Socrates (470-399 BC)

socrates
Bust of Socrates

While to date I’ve read very little actual philosophy – I’m up to Book 5 (‘chapter’. They’re chapters) of Plato’s Republic, and that’s about it – I’ve already read enough about the history of philosophy to know that while there have been many distinguished philosophers in both the Eastern and Western tradition only a small handful of these have been the true giants, the people who shaped the thinking not only of their time but of subsequent generations up to the present day.

These guys, then, deserve special attention, and first on the list is Socrates who, as one book I read on the history of philosophy said, influenced ‘everyone who came after him’. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Socrates (470-399 BC)”

Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

maya-angelouBest known for her 1969 autobiography ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, which detailed the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life as a Black woman in 20th-century America, Maya Angelou was deeply steeped in both the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition of the likes of John Donne and Shakespeare and the contemporary work of African-American women poets like Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset, who are largely unknown today. Perhaps as a result of this, a woman who was an ‘outsider’ by race, sex, and class was able to speak in a way that could reach those who might otherwise have overlooked her, and those like her. In 1993 she recited one of her poems, ‘On The Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of US President Bill Clinton. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)”

Composer Profile: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

wagner-1871
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)”