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Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Painting of the Month (74) Sept 2017: Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, 1872-1944, was a Dutch painter born as Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, He worked in Paris and was heavily influenced by the work of Picasso and Braque who were developing cubism. Mondrian's early work shows influences of impressionism, post-impressionism and pointillism. The first picture below shows strong influences of Paul Cezanne; although clearly three dimensional the picture surface is beginning to break into two-dimensional shapes. There are recognisable objects such as books, glasses and some cheeses in a cloth. The top right of the painting clearly suggests some depth of field.
Piet Mondrian, Still Life with Gingerpot I, 1911
However, in the second slightly later picture analytical cubism has begun to be seen. That is the early stage of cubism as distinct from the later synthetic cubism which was where Picasso and Braque had begun to make collages from newspaper and other items applied to the picture surface. In the second picture, books and glasses can just about be made out but the painting is virtually two-dimensional (of course, the painting is two-dimensional but the point is that no attempt to create any depth is made). The surface, apart from the Gingerpot itself, is really just a series of shapes. The range of colours is very limited and the style is geometric.

Piet Mondrian, Still Life with Gingerpot  II, 1911-12
Mondrian is more well-known for his later work using only horizontal and vertical lines and black plus the primary colours. He rejected references to the outside world pushing toward pure abstraction. His use of asymmetrical balance and of simplification were crucial in the development of modern art, and his iconic abstract works remain influential in design and familiar in popular culture to this day.
Composition in Blue, Yellow and Red. Piet Mondrian 1942
"...forbidding, ascetic, pure, impersonal, ideal, clear beyond the mess of an ordinary life...."
I'm listening to Mozart's Symphony No.40 K550)in G Minor, 
the familiar first  movement - Allegro. Listen here.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Spotlight on a Website (9): Brilliant Maps

I think it has been four years since I was moved to post anything in this series but Brilliant Maps is such an interesting website that I decided to make this post. Thanks are due to my friend Curtis Gallant who has a Cambridge Degree in the History of Cartography, for directing me to this site.
From the Whicker's World Foundation website: 
"Curtis Gallant is a Cambridge classics graduate who has a specialist interest in the history of cartography. As a lover of documentaries, particularly those shedding light on cultures around the world, he was very keen to work for the Whicker’s World Foundation as Jane Ray’s researcher. It’s rumoured that the Whicker’s World Foundation decided to employ Curtis as their researcher having seen him correcting Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge on a question about African coastlines."
Brilliant Maps beautifully illustrates what the function of a map can be. Of course, primarily they tell us where things are especially in relation to each other. But they can also tell us lot about history, geography, travel, politics, populations and humour (eg, see European Food According to Italians).

 Here is a selection of some their interesting maps. Clink on the links to see the page:

1. Percentage of Young Adults In Europe, aged 25-34, Who Still Live With Their Parents

2. How North Londoners View The Rest Of The UK Or Why The Rest of The UK Hates London

3. The Genetic Map Of Europe

4. European Food According to Italians

Take a look at their site for yourself!

I'm listening to Tom Rush's original 1968 version of his song No Regrets which later became a big hit in the UK for the Walker Brothers. Listen here

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Chigwell Village

“Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world.....”  Charles Dickens, in a letter to a friend in 1841.
Chigwell is right on the edge of the Green Belt on London's north-west boundary with the county of Essex and had been around for a long time. It was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1080AD and the Romans were known to have been in Chigwell from 300AD. From further back in time Iron Age flints and a bronze axe have been found. The British Iron Age is usually dated as from around 800BC until the Romans came in 43AD.
(If you happen to be unfamiliar with the term 'Green Belt', it is defined as a ring around a city on which new building is generally prohibited. In London this has the affect of inflating property prices within it while preserving the pleasant countryside around it.)
There are at least two theories as to the origin of the name Chigwell. One is that it is from Chicca's Well, referring to an Anglo-Saxon chief, Chicca meaning King. There are many natural wells in the area so another theory claims the name simply refers to that fact.
A thousand years after the Romans were there, in 1391, there were just 72 dwellings in the area.
The Kings Head pub in Chigwell Village
One of the most famous buildings in Chigwell is the Kings Head pub, much beloved of Charles Dickens. He actually based The Maypole pub in Barnaby Rudge upon this one. Each floor overhangs the one below and there is a story that King Charles I hid there when he was on the run. While quite possibly being true, that claim is made by many other places as well! The building is now owned by local resident, Lord Sugar. Former patrons include the highwayman Dick Turpin and Sir Winston Churchill.

Chigwell School is famous for many things, one of which is that a former pupil William Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania. Other former pupils include the actors Sir Ian Holm and Ken Campbell and the TV presenter Ben Shepard. Harsnetts House built in the late 1500s was purchased for the school in 1627.

Chigwell School today
The finest building in Chigwell is Grange Court which lately was used as a residence for boarding pupils at the school. However when I saw it recently it looked empty and neglected. It is a Grade II* listed building  so would be an expensive undertaking for any purchasers - and there have been many famous ones in the past.
Grange Court, a late 18th century house in Chigwell Village
St Marys church in Chigwell High Road was founded in the 12th  century. The view below shows the only Norman parts remaining. The door way is completely original but the bell tower is 15th century and there was extensive 19th century enlargement of the building. The church is also Grade II* listed.
St Mary the Virgin, Chigwell
Two other local features are Rolls Park, a former Stately Home that was once the lifetime residence of  Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey who fought alongside Admiral Nelson as one of the key figures in the Battle of Trafalgar. He was the Captain of The Fighting Temeraire in Turner's famous painting.
JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire
The other local feature worth seeing is Chigwell Meadows Nature Reserve,  a 21 acre park land with hard paths providing a circular route around the tree and flower lined walkways. Among others Poplar, Oak, Walnut and Willow trees provide shade while a plethora of indigenous wild flowers such as bluebells, creeping cinquefoil, red and white clover, cow vetch and yarrow  provide colour and texture to the landscape. 

Chigwell Meadows

If you tread carefully among the log piles you may witness the beetles, wood lice and other insects that help to balance the meadows delicate eco system. At night the site come alive with owls, bats and other nocturnal animals. The swale that runs through the centre of the meadow is a man-made water feature and is part of a sustainable urban drainage system connected to the tranquil pond. It is of special scientific interest as its ecological development can be studied from construction through to maturity. The reeds within the Swale help to filter the water and they also create valuable habitat for wildlife.

Postscipt: When I led my walking group through Chigwell Village a couple of weeks a go I told them as we entered a field through a Kissing Gate that I would like their opinion on whether or not a recent excavation on the far side of the field was a Roman bath. What I knew was that there was an abandoned modern bath-tub in among the long grass. When we came across it there was hysterical laughs all round. I don't know how long the bath had been there but you can just make it out on Google maps!
I'm listening to the magical Granada from the Suite Española by Isaac Albéniz, possibly my favourite composer. You can hear it here.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Great Popular Songs (1): Roll Over Beethoven

Chuck Berry (1926 - 2017) wrote Roll Over Beethoven in 1956 and it became one of the definitive songs of rock 'n roll and one of the most recorded songs of all time. Cover versions include those by Cliff Richard, ELO, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chas & Dave, Status Quo and most famously, The Beatles.
Three of the many recordings of Roll Over Beethoven
The song contain many references. The title itself points us to the fact that a new brand of music is going to unceremoniously replace the old classics. Beethoven is prompted to roll over in his grave and "tell Tchaikovsky the news"! There is a story that his sister played classical piano and he wanted to use the family piano to play rock and roll which is how the song was born.
Several contemporary song titles are incorporated into Chuck Berry's always poetic lyrics; Early in the Morning is a title from both Louis Jordan and Buddy Holly, Blue Suede Shoes was a classic written by Carl Perkins and also a hit for Elvis Presley. The familiar guitar intro to Roll Over Beethoven, which became a Berry trademark, is in fact lifted from Louis Jordan's 1946 song Ain't That Just Like a Woman. Berry never made a secret of that.
Arthur Alexander lifted the title of A Shot of Rhythm and Blues from this song although it's not really a rhythm and blues song. 
The title of the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle (The Cat and the Fiddle) is a reference to Bo Diddley, who was actually an accomplished violin player.
The original musicians on the Chess Records session when the song was recorded were:
Chuck Berry, guitar and vocals
Willie Dixon, bass guitar
Johnnie Johnson, piano
Fred Below, drums
All of them were top musicians in their own right. Johnnie Johnson played with Berry on very many of his famous recordings and Willie Dixon was a famous blues singer and songwriter.
Chuck Berry was always took care to write intelligible lyrics and to make sure they could be heard properly. He wanted to avoid the fate of Little Richard's records which were covered in sanitised versions and provided bigger hits for Pat Boone.
      Roll Over Beethoven lyrics:
Well I'm-a write a little letter,
Gonna mail it to my local DJ
It's a jumpin’ little record
I want my jockey to play
Roll Over Beethoven, I gotta hear it again today

You know, my temperature's risin'
And the jukebox blowin’ a fuse
My heart's beatin' rhythm
And my soul keeps a-singin' the blues
Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

I got the rockin' pneumonia,
I need a shot of rhythm and blues
I caught the rollin' arthritis
Sittin' down at a rhythm review
Roll Over Beethoven, they’re rockin' in two by two

Well, if you feel it an’ like it
Go get your lover, then reel and rock it
Roll it over and move on up just
A trifle further and reel and rock with one another

Roll Over Beethoven and dig these rhythm and blues

Well, early in the mornin' I'm a-givin' you my warnin'
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes
Hey diddle diddle, I am playin' my fiddle,
Ain't got nothin' to lose
Roll Over Beethoven, tell Tchaikovsky the news

You know she wiggles like a glow worm,
Dance like a spinnin' top
She got a crazy partner,
You oughta see 'em reel and rock
Long as she got a dime the music won’t never stop

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,

Roll Over Beethoven, Roll Over Beethoven,
Roll Over Beethoven, dig these rhythm and blues
      Listen to Roll Over Beethoven HERE
And you can hear the Louis Jordan song where the famous guitar riff originated HERE