Monthly Archives: September 2013

Spotlight: Mozart – a closer look at the GENIUS composer


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791 AD), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era.

Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons.

Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamberoperatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence on subsequent Western art music is profound; Beethoven composed his own early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn wrote that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”

Mozart had great influence on composers of later generations. Ever since the surge in his reputation after his death, studying his scores has been a standard part of the training of classical musicians.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Mozart’s junior by fifteen years, was deeply influenced by his work, with which he was acquainted as a teenager. Some of Beethoven’s works have direct models in comparable works by Mozart, and he wrote cadenzas (WoO 58) to Mozart’s D minor piano concerto K. 466.

A number of composers have paid homage to Mozart by writing sets of variations on his themes. Beethoven wrote four such sets (Op. 66, WoO 28, WoO 40, WoO 46). Others include Frédéric Chopin’s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni (1827); Max Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart (1914), based on the variation theme in the piano sonata K. 331;] Fernando Sor’s Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart (1821); and Mikhail Glinka’s Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s Opera Die Zauberflöte (1822). Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Orchestral Suite No. 4 in G, “Mozartiana” (1887), as a tribute to Mozart.

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Spotlight: Voltaire’s famous satire, Candide, originally censored – just like Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland, and many others. Why?


Candide—a French satire first published in 1759 AD by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment—begins with a young man, Candide, who lives a sheltered life in a Utopian world and becomes indoctrinated with ‘Leibniz Optimism’ by his mentor, Pangloss. The story then describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide’s slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world. Voltaire concludes by rejecting ‘Leibniz Optimism’ outright, and advocates a deeply practical precept, “we must cultivate our garden”, instead of the ‘Leibniz Optimism’— “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

The novel is characterized by a sarcastic tone and an erratic, fantastical, and fast-moving plot. It parodies many adventure and romance cliches, the struggles of which are caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact. Still, the events discussed are often based on historical happenings, such as the Seven Years’ War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.  As philosophers of Voltaire’s day contended with the problem of evil, so too does Candide in this short novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers through allegory; most conspicuously, he assaults Leibniz and his optimism.

As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naivete. However, with its sharp wit and insightful portrayal of the human condition, the novel has since inspired many later authors and artists to mimic and adapt it. Today, Candide is recognized as Voltaire’s magnum opus and is often listed as part of the Western canon—it is arguably taught more than any other work of French literature.

Candide is the most widely read of Voltaire’s many works, and it is considered one of the great achievements of Western literature. As the only work of Voltaire which has remained popular up to the present day, Candide is listed in Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. It is included in the Encyclopedia Britannica collection Great Books of the Western World.

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Spotlight: What is Ukiyo-e? something we could learn from…



Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints (or woodcuts) and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries, featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, the theatre, and pleasure quarters. It is the main artistic genre of woodblock printing in Japan.

Usually the word ukiyo-e is literally translated as “floating world” in English, referring to a conception of an evanescent world, impermanent, fleeting beauty and a realm of entertainments (kabuki, courtesans, geisha) divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world; “pictures of the floating world”, i.e. ukiyo-e, are considered a genre unto themselves.

The novelist contemporary to the time period, Asai Ryōi, in his Ukiyo monogatari provides some insight into the concept of the floating world:

… Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world…

Living in those above moments would make everyone a little happier…

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Spotlight: Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727 AD) is known for what major scientific breakthrough?


Answer: Gravity, along with laws of motion and pre-enlightenment ideology based on natural law

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727 AD) was an English physicist and mathematician who is widely regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, first published in 1687, laid the foundations for most of classical mechanics

Newton formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that dominated scientists’ view of the physical universe for the next three centuries. It also demonstrated that the motion of objects on the Earth and that of celestial bodies could be described by the same principles.

Newton built the first practical reflecting telescope and developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into the many colors of the visible spectrum. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound.

It was Newton’s conception of the Universe based upon Natural and rationally understandable laws that became one of the seeds for Enlightenment ideology. Locke and Voltaire applied concepts of Natural Law to political systems advocating intrinsic rights; the physiocrats and Adam Smith applied Natural conceptions of psychology and self-interest to economic systems; and sociologists criticized the current social order for trying to fit history into Natural models of progress.

The mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange often said that Newton was the greatest genius who ever lived, and once added that Newton was also “the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish.”

English poet Alexander Pope was so moved by Newton’s accomplishments to write the famous epitaph:

  • Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;  God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.

In one of Newton’s memoir, he wrote:

  • I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Newton’s famous monument (1731) can be seen in Westminster Abbey, at the north of the entrance to the choir against the choir screen, near his tomb.  The Latin inscription on the base translates as:

  • Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colors thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!

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Spotlight: Bach (1685 – 1750 AD) – a closer look…


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750 AD) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque period. He enriched many established German styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organization, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France.  His music is revered for its intellectual depth, technical command, and artistic beauty.

Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, into a very musical family; his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the director of the town musicians, and all of his uncles were professional musicians. Bach’s abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognized as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the main composers of the Baroque period, and as one of the greatest composers of all time.

After his death, Bach’s reputation as a composer at first declined; his work was regarded as old-fashioned compared to the emerging classical style.However, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Bach began receiving greater recognition for his work. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Felix Mendelssohn were among his most prominent admirers; they began writing in a more contrapuntal style after being exposed to Bach’s music. Beethoven described him as the “Urvater der Harmonie“, the “original father of harmony.”

Bach’s music is frequently bracketed with the literature of William Shakespeare and the science of Isaac Newton. In Germany, during the twentieth century, many streets were named and statues were erected in honor of Bach. His music features three times – more than any other composer – on the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record containing a broad sample of the images, common sounds, languages, and music of Earth, sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.

Bach’s musical style arose from his skill in contrapuntal invention and motivic control, his flair for improvisation, his exposure to North and South German, Italian and French music, and his devotion to the Lutheran liturgy. His access to musicians, scores and instruments as a child and a young man and his emerging talent for writing tightly woven music of powerful sonority, allowed him to develop an eclectic, energetic musical style in which foreign influences were combined with an intensified version of the pre-existing German musical language. From the period 1713–14 onward he learned much from the style of the Italians.

Bach’s devout relationship with the Christian God in the Lutheran traditionand the high demand for religious music of his times placed sacred music at the centre of his repertory. He taught Luther’s Small Catechism as the Thomascantor in Leipzig,and some of his pieces represent it; the Lutheran chorale hymn tune was the basis of much of his work. He wrote more cogent, tightly integrated chorale preludes than most. The large-scale structure of some of Bach’s sacred works is evidence of subtle, elaborate planning. For example, the St Matthew Passion illustrates the Passion with Bible text reflected in recitatives, arias, choruses, and chorales.

Bach’s compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Mass in B minor, the The Well-Tempered Clavier, his cantatas, chorales, partitas, Passions, and organ works.

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