Winners and losers 2014

Here is my  winners and losers  list 2014.

Reviews explain the reasons for my selections.

FICTION:  winners

FICTION:  losers

NON-FICTION: winners


Biography: winners







2015:     The Masterplan List

  • Challenge:    Target: 12 books   Here is my list.     Back to the classics  at  Books and Chocolate
  • Reading project:  Target: 2 tales per month   The Canterbury Tales  ( with Cleo Classical Carousel)
  • AusReadingMonth: Target: 1 book  November 2015  at  Brona’s Books
  • Reading the Nobel Prize winners:   Target 12 books on  my own ‘little challenge’
  • Classics List  nr 2:  I hope to read 10 books in 2015 from this list
  • French books:  Keep reading in French to keep up the skills, but not as many books  as this year (29).
  • Non-Fiction:  Target: 10  books next year. There are so many very good non-fiction books to enjoy!
  • Biographies / Memoires / Letters:  Target: 10 books in this category
  • Book – Film reviews: Target 6 books  with  a short film comparison inspired by Bitter Tea and Mystery

Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


Back to Classics Challenge 2015


  • This will be  an  ‘embedded’  challenge.
  • I am not one to easily commit.
  • Therefore I have made a deal with Cleo at Classical  Carousel
  • Cleo may select the challenge I will  join for 2015.
  • Happily she has decided upon  Back to the Classics  hosted by Books and Chocolate.
  • I am joining only 1 challenge in 2015  and will commit to 12 books.

Here are the categories and rules:

1. A 19th Century Classic — any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1965.  Just like last year, all books must have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify as a classic.

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author.

4.  A Classic in Translation.

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer.

6.  A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages.

7.  A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title.  First name, last name, or both, it doesn’t matter, but it must have the name of a character.  David Copperfield, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote — something like that. It’s amazing how many books are named after people!

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic.

9.  A Forgotten Classic.  This could be a lesser-known work by a famous author, or a classic that nobody reads any more.

10.  A Nonfiction Classic.  A memoir, biography, essays, travel, this can be any nonfiction work that’s considered a classic, or a nonfiction work by a classic author.

11.  A Classic Children’s Book.

12.  A Classic Play. 


 My List:

  1. Portrait of a Lady (H. James)   1800-1899 published
  2. Of Human Bondage (S. Maugham) 1900-1965 published
  3. The Good Earth ( Pearl .S. Buck)  Classic by woman
  4. The Growth of the Soil ( K. Hamsun)  Classic in translation
  5. House for Mr. Biswas (V.S. Naipaul)  very long Classic +500 pages
  6. The Revolt of the Angels (A. France)  Classic novella (162 pg)
  7. Jenny (S. Undset)  Classic with character name in title
  8. Elmer Gantry  (Sinclair Lewis) Satirical  classic
  9. The Atom Station (H. Laxness Forgotten classic
  10. Their Finest Hour (W. Churchill)  Non-fiction classic ( vol 2 History of WW II)
  11. Capitan Courageous (R. Kipling)  Classic children’s book
  12. The Caretaker (H. Pinter)  Classic play



Posted by on December 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Christmas Carol


  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Genre:  novella
  • Title: The Christmas Carol
  • Published: 1843
  • Themes:  memory, generosity, forgiveness and redemption
  • Setting: London
  • Trivia: Charles Dickens was among the first members of The Ghost Club 1862 focusing on paranormal ghosts and hauntings.
  • Trivia: Dickens was thought to have created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge after stumbling across the wealthy trader’s tombstone.He was shocked by the  inscription, “Meanman” Dickens noted  “To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted.”What Dickens failed to realize was that the tombstone actually read “Mealman” in recognition of the deceased  successful career as a corn trader.


  • Published in England in 1843, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol had an immediate
  • and lasting impact on the Christmas holiday.
  • The novel’s  lessons of charity and family spoke directly to a Victorian society.


  • Preface:  “A Christmas Carol in  prose  – you would expect a carol to have rhyme and rhythm
  • Title: A Christmas Carol –   not ONE note of music that you would expect in a carol
  • Structure:  book is divided into 5 staves ( musical term)  – again not one note of music in these staves
  • Preface: Dickens tells us this is a ‘ghostly book’ – yet on page 4 we read “Once upon a time..” sounds more like a fairy tale!

Style:  parable

  • A parable is a short tale that illustrates a universal truth.
  • It is a simple narrative.
  • It sketches a setting, describes an  action and shoes the results.
  • A parable often involves a character who faces a  moral dilemma.
  • Although the meaning of a parable is often not explicitly stated.. if you read the story the the intended message is obvious.

Characterization:   Ebenezer Scrooge:

  • Dickens always uses names of characters to attract the readers imagination.
  • Dickens uses Ebenezer Scrooge to remind us of things we ought not forget.
  • The first name appears  2 x Marley’s ghost. 1 x Fezziwig  1 x on Scrooge’s gravestone.
  • Ebenezer is anglicized version of the Hebrew name eben = stone and ezer = helper
  • Literally = a stone that would offer assistance
  • Metaphor: the gravestone with the name ‘Ebenezer’ offers Scrooge help.
  • It reminds him  (and the reader) how his life might end it he does not become a new man.


Ebenezer Scrooge:

  • Scrooge represents a class of rich Victorians.
  • They refuse to see the plight of the lower working class.
  • They miss the warmth of family that the poor manage to maintain without money.
  • Greed is “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching”  the life out of these Victorian  snobs.


  • Bridge between two worlds: Marley leaves the house by  flying  out the window from world of living –> world of the spirits
  • Transparent barrier: Scrooge may look inside homes yet he is prevented entering, kept on the outside of life
  • Portal for light: Scrooge flings open the window on Christmas morning, lets the light shine in the recesses of his soul, redemption

Coal:      One piece of coal  fire in counting-house:  Scrooge’s miserly ways

Door knocker:  ‘welcome’ symbol but … becomes  the ghostly head of Marley = beware those who enter.


Scrooge at the beginning:

  • Tight-fisted at the grindstone, imposes hard work upon Bob Cratchet without paying him a honest, fair wage.
  • He iced the office in the dog-days and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. = emotional permafrost
  • Even the blindman’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on,
  • would tug their owners into doorways and up courts and then would wag their tails
  • as though they said ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master.
  • ’The dogs say that being blind is better than having an evil eye
  • Scrooge: “…every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’s should be boiled with his own pudding,
  • buried with a stake of holly through the heart.” (pg 6)

Scrooge at the end:

  • No longer. ‘hard and sharp as a flint  showing unfeeling resistance to tender feelings.
  • No longer  secret, self-contained, solitary as an oyster with the occasional bah- humbug or closemouthed
  • No longer a cold heart that affected his appearance – nipped his pointed nose – shriveled his cheek – stiffened his gait
  • On Christmas morning Scrooge  realizes it is not too late to make amends.
  • He is resolved to changing his life by being generous and loving to his family, employees, and the poor.

Ghosts:  take Scrooge on an important journey:

  •  Ghost of the Past –  somber, shows Scrooge his unhappy childhood, poverty, abandonment
  • Scrooge is defiant but agrees to go on the journey with the ghost
  • He revisits scenes of childhood and his first job by Fezziwig
  • Ebenezer has a definite change of heart, an epiphany,  a sudden spiritual flash!
  • Ghost of the Present –  hearty, genial shows Scrooge the joy of companionship
  • Scrooge is now contrite and willing to mend his ways.
  • “I learnt a lesson…Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it“.
  • Ghost of the Future: silent, mysterious shows Scrooge  his tombstone
  • Scrooge is humbled and grateful.
  • Ghost of the future..”I fear you the most. But as I know you your purpose is to do me good.
  • I hope to live to be another man, than I was….Lead on!”

Motive:  (bells)

  • Motive is object image, sound, figure  or idea that repeats itself throughout  the book.
  • It develops the theme.
  • Based on the theme of redemption I choose ‘ghosts’ and ‘bells’ as motive
  • Bells  represent a message being sent. ( arrival of Jacob Marley all the bells shake in the house.)
  • Bells are an alarm to wake Scrooge up and force him on his journey. (clock strikes one when a ghost will arrive)
  • Bells ring to signal the end of an imprisonment and the beginning of freedom.
  • Ringing of the lustiest bells is the first thing Scrooge  hears on Christmas morning after his journey in the spirit world.
  • Bell = Belle  homonym for Scrooge’s long lost sweet-heart

Motive: (ghosts)

  • Ghosts are  deceased  people who have  have unfinished business on earth.
  • Jacob Marley tells Scrooge if he does not change he will eternally regret his selfishness as Marley does.
  • Ghosts bring messages and warnings
  • Jacob Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts
  • All three ghosts try to guide Scrooge instead of frighten him into redemption
  • Ghosts are used in the Victorian novel: to teach a moral lesson
    1. Be generous providing aid to others, be willing to share
    2. If you lead a immoral life,  you will be imprisoned in a self-made hell in the afterlife.


  • I promised Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery to  see the film versions of the books.
  • Here is a list of adaptions of A Christmas Carol  to choose from with score  at  IMDB:
  • I will  place my comments in the days before Christmas.
  1. A Christmas Carol (1951)  Alister Sim ( bad acting and bad teeth!)51fpV-RrALL._SY300_
  • Movie does not deserve 8.1 score!
  • Unbalanced ghost time:past = 36 min, present = 12 min, future = 11 min.
  • Scenes inserted that were not in book  10x = ridiculous
  • Scenes reversed = very confusing
  • Characters added not in book: Mr Jorkin, Miss Flora
  • Character’s name changed: Scrooge’s fiancée was Belle – in the movie  is Alice! why?
  • Soundtrack: Christmas carols and sounds of imminent doom = unimaginative!
  • Scene changing between ghosts:  ‘twirlling hour-glass’ down a dark spiral. Corny!
  • Ghost past: no holly in hand – no cap under arm – no light sprouting from the crown of his head
  • Ghost present: no sheath without a sword – no glowing torch in his  hand
  • Ghost past: exactly as in book = black shroud coverd face and form

 2, A Christmas Carol (TV movie 1984) George C. Scottindex

  • Movie deserves a high score but 7.9 is too high
  • Balanced ghost time:past = 16 min, present = 22 min, future = 15 min.
  • Scenes inserted: only 3.
  • Scenes reversed: 2x = minimal confusion
  • Screenplay was true to the book, more so than 1951 version
  • Ghost looked like book descriptions,
  • This time ghost past was a woman!
  • Ghost present still did not have a sheath without sword
  • Ghost future looked wonderful, terrifying!
  • Soundtrack was much better.
  • Belle = was Belle
  • Still Hollywood likes to add 2 extra characters (Ben en Meg)
  • Both films mention that Scrooge’s mother died in childbirth
  • I cannot find that in the book,  Am I missing something?
  • Polished film, great sense of place; location Shrewsbury UK
  • George C. Scott was very good.
  • Not the top quality acting as in Patton. (Oscar best actor)
  1. A Christmas Carol (1988) Blackadder  8.0 – both films are hysterical; scores deserverd.
  2. Scrooged (1988) Bill Murray 7.0 –  both films are Xmas classics for me now!

Reading along:christmascarol

I am reading A Christmans Carol  along with Brona’s Books

I am reading A Christmans Carol and listening to The Messiah by Handel  with Carol at Journey- and -Destiation.


  • I read the book.  It is a classic.
  • I listened on iTunes to The Christmas Carol as spoken word.
  • I would recommend reading the book then listening to
  • Sir Ralph Richardson and Paul Scofield bring the book alive!
  • Sounds are an important part of the enjoyment.
  • Dragging chains of Jacob Marley, the booming voice of Christman Present and the bells!
  • The Christmas Carol was  one of the first stories that I partially memorized as a child.
  • I would play the LP record  from 1960 and playback the Ebenezer and the ghosts!
  • Last thought:  this is a great Christmas book to enjoy with the family.
  • If you want to bring a bit of holiday spirit into the house than just sit down
  • turn off the IPAD, playstation, IPhone and Netflix  and listen to the spoken words of Charles Dickens.
  • It really is a bit ‘scary’!

 Score: 4

166100-Charles+dickens+quote 2


Posted by on December 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


Game of Thrones


  • Author: George R.R. Martin
  • TitleA Song of Ice and Fire
  • Genre:  Epic fantasy
  • Publisher: Bantam Books
  • Published: 1996


  • A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of epic fantasy novels written by American novelist and screenwriter G.R.R. Martin
  • Martin began the first volume of the series, A Game of Thornes in 1991.


  • The books are divided into chapters, each one narrated in the  third person limited through the eyes of a point of view character
  • The viewpoint characters also serve as  unreliable narrators.
  • What the readers believe to be true may therefore not necessarily be true.
  • The chance that a beloved character could be killed  during the story keeps the readers in suspense.
  • Not every hero….is a hero.


  • I gave the book a fighting chance...but this is not for me.
  • G.R.R. Martin has a  phenomenal success with this series.
  • He has found his voice in a niche market.
  • Good for him!
  • Descriptions of light bouncing off of crystal like swords ….
  • ….black boiled leather cloaks as soft as sin do not take my breath away.
  • The style is a  cross cutting  of view points from different characters to move the action.
  • My mind was so cloudy and confused by all the names Daenerys, Tyrion, Benjen Stark.
  • I had no grip on the narrative.
  • It felt like  a series of disconnected fragments in a story.
  • Just when I accepted the human elements...I was confronted with a bevy of direwolf pups.
  • I do not want to give you an impression that the books in the Thrones series are not worth reading.
  • Millions of fans attest to the fact that they do entertain.
  • My opinion is purely based on my own reading preferences.
  • I am not an epic fantasy fan…it is just not in my DNA.

Score: 2



Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


Le Noeud de Vipères


  • Author:  François Mauriac
  • Genre:  psychological novel, autobiographical confession
  • Title:  Le Noeud de Vipères
  • Published:  1932
  • Table of Contents:  1 part (ch 1-11)   part 2 (ch 12-20)    227 pages
  • Published: Livre de Poche
  • Cover:  L’Après-midi bourgeoise by Pierre Bonnard
  • Quote: St Thérèse d’Avila:
  • “We don’t understand ourselves, don’t know what we want, drift away from what we desire.”
  • Setting: France
  • Theme:  vengeance, redemption, bourgeoisie, religion, marriage
  • Trivia: François Mauriac received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1952. .


  • The reader is confronted with the emotional makeup of the narrator, Louis on page one.
  • He is a  husband, prominent citizen, lawyer, miser who treats his wife and family with utter contempt.
  • He has developed over the years a project of vengeance but we do not know the details.
  • Surprisingly Louis  has abandoned  his ‘plan’.
  • The story starts where it will finish!

Structure:   Reverse chronology

  • Falling Action or Resolution: abandoned ‘plan’ is revealed (part 1)
  • Introduction: – characters and their personality  (part 1)
  • Rising Action:- conflicts of the characters to another character and to himself   (part 1)
  • Climax: – turning point “journal intime” (confession)  that suprises the reader.( part 2)

Title:    Gordian knot  of ‘ serpents’  (Le noeud de vipères)

  • The Goridan knot represents  an exceedingly complicated problem or deadlock.
  • The serpents have entangled Louis.
  • He struggles with his wife, children and in-law’s.
  • He struggles with desire – rejection,   love – hate, belief – doubt


  • The central theme of the book concerns Louis’s search  to solve his problem boldly and decisively.
  • He wants to ‘ cut the Gordian knot’
  • The drama (Louis’s problem)  in this book is reflected in the random coupling of a man and a woman in marriage.
  • How they are harnessed to each other, bent under a yoke till death do us part.

What event set the story in motion?   

  • On page 44 Louis is about to reveal ” la source de cette fureur”.
  • He remembers that fatal night.
  • Yet Mauriac delays this revelation.
  • This is the tension and suspense that Mauriac creates that keeps you reading.
  • We go back to the day he met his young fiancée….

Quote:  These words took my breath  away…

  • I must live long enough to finish this confession, to make you finally listen to me,
  • You, who during our years we shared a bed  you never failed to say when I  approached you….
  • “I’m falling asleep, I’m asleep already, I sleep…”
  • What you pushed away were not my caresses….but  my words.


  • Louis – lawyer in public  versus his slient private life, la parole publique vs le silence privé
  • Isa Fodaudège – stable, steady wife of Louis
  • Hubert – greedy son exact replica of  rancorous, bitter father
  • Geneviève – greedy daughter determined not to be disinherited
  • Janine –  devout catholic, granddaughter, the only person who understands Louis
  • Robert – store clerk, illegitimate son of Louis
  • Luc – son Louis ( died young)
  • Marie – daughter Louis ( died young)

Tone:    religious

Part 1:

  • Louis is a bitter man consumed with hate  and  boldy reveals his cunning plan to destroy others.
  • Yet we get  a ‘ foreshadowing’ of Louis’s change on page 51.
  • He feels a sharp sensation, almost physical,  that there exists another world, a reality of which we only see the shadow.
  • ” la sensation aigue, la certitude presque physique, qu’ il existe un autre monde, une realité dont nous ne connaissions que l’ ombre.”

Part 2:

  • Louis is contrite, burdend with shame and guilt.
  • He pardons others and seeks to be pardoned.

Language:  concept of time

  • Part 1:  Mauriac draws attention to the concept of time:
  • This is a small chest contained my hate for 50 years durant presque un demi-siècle
  • I redid my plan during the years. pendant des années, j’ai refait’
  • Part 2:  Louis realizes that his time is running out.
  • I  must live long enough to finish this confession.
  • vive assez de temps pour achever cette confession


  • François Mauriac was a profoundly Catholic novelist.
  • He had a very strict upbringing and wrestled with many issues that influenced his writing.
  • “Péché de la chair”  sins of the flesh triggered  his personal  spiritual crisis.
  • He revolted against the idea of a christian marriage.
  • It is said during this crisis  1925 -1933 Mauriac wrote his best works.
  • La Noeud de Vipères is considered  to be his novel of ‘ conversion’.
  • Le Noeud de Vipères is his greatest book.
  • Strong point: Mauriac created  on the first pages a ‘ tension’ that kept me reading.
  • The main character speaks directly to the reader and you just WANT to know :
  • Why did he  abandond his plan for revenge?
  • Strong point: the  author has written an autobiographial confession.
  • It starts out as a letter….then slowly becomes an intimate journal in which he lays his soul bare.
  • Strong point: I was completely taken off guard by the reverse structure of the book!
  • The end is the beginning…as T.S. Elliot once said.
  • Last thoughts:
  • This book is a masterpiece by an author who is often forgotten on reading lists.
  • Nobel Prize  for Literature 1952 is well deserved.
  • Coup de coeur!  Must read!

Score 5:



Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Christmas 2014

Madonna with the Child Sandro Botticelli

  • I have never really ‘prepared’ for Christmas.
  • Life was always to hectic, end of the year targets to be met and a feeling of general exhaustion.
  • Now I have the time and want to enjoy the holiday season, but in a different way.
  • I decided to follow the  ‘home schooling’   Christmas plan laid out by Carol at Journey-and-Destination.
  • Each week read a section of The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: (review see link)
  • Follow  Cindy’s Handel’s Messiah  25 day  listening plan
  • I will to add my thoughts during the coming weeks  about the  readings and music.



CD cover Messiah

December 01:

  • Before the listening to the music I read the text Isaiah 40 1:5 closely. I was able to understand certain words and images and connect it to the music.
  • I had to listen to each musical selection at least twice.
  • I used this link to read the text that is being sung:
  • Tomorrow I will start The Christmas Carol and catch up on day  two and three of the  music  selections.

These first four selections are the beginning of a prophetic poem.

1. Synphony: 3:03 sec
Only two movements in Messiah are purely instrumental: this overture, written as “Sinfony” in Handel’s autograph.
The music sounds very Elizabethan as if you are watching a grand procession.  After one  minute the tempo quickens  into a light. and carefree  rhythm. This is a sudden  change and have no idea what Handel is trying to emphasize here.

2. Tenor ( Recitative) 2:51 sec  Isaiah 40:1:3
I had to listen to this 3 times. It didn’t make much of an impression. That is probably because this is a recitative. I never heard of the word but it means this selection has a rhythm of natural speech with slight melodic variation and little orchestral accompaniment. You have to listen carefully otherwise it is finished before you realise it! It sounds very natural. The recitative  begins with an iteration (reptition)  “Comfort, comfort my people…”announcing an important proclamation.

3. Tenor (Air) 3:20 sec  Isaiah 40: 4
This is not an easy selection to sing, the tenor really does his best. It is sung in an exaggerated unnatural manner. The sentence is just 20 words but this tenor sings it, repeats it, warbles it for more than 3 minutes… singing in a trilling manner with many turns and variations. Here we listen to a series of images. Make straight the desert highway, Every valley shall be raised up, mountain and hill made low and the rough ground shall become level,
This is an allusion to the exile of the Jews in the desert. I learned it is a Eastern practice to repair the roads for a royal journey.

4. Chorus 2:52 sec   Isaiah 40: 5
This was the nicest of the selections for today: a group of persons singing  a joyous message to everyone (Jew or gentile)  that when the preparations are complete….there will be a joyous revelation.. I listened to it 2x , it sounded  uplifting

December 02:

  • The Messiah, which premiered in Dublin in 1742, is the story of the life of Christ.
  • Handel wrote this oratorio in less than a month!
  • An oratorio tells a sacred story. There are no costumes, scenery, or dramatic action.
  • The oratorio is in three parts, the first of which tells of Christ’s birth, the second tells the Easter story, and his triumphant return.
  • The music selections are structured in recitatives, airs, chorus, duets and instrumentals.
  • Today the words of the post exile prophets are giving the exiled Jews messages about the future, explaining their current situation and scolding them for not building a temple.

1. Bass ( Recitative) 1:19 Haggai 2: 6,7 and Malachi 3:1
The voice is so deep it is hard to understand the words. Listen and try not to smile when you hear him sing the word ‘ shake’.

2. Alto (Air) 4:05 Malachi 3:2
23 words sung in 4 minutes. The alto repeats the first sentence over and over. The melody is smooth in the beginning but quickly changes tempo. When this happens her voice sounds like the up’s and down’s of a rollercoaster.

3. Chorus 2:30 Malachi 3:3     THE BEST…so far!
This was the most beautiful selection I’ve listened to.  With the words “And He shall purify the sons of Levi”  the sopranos start the chorus with the ‘ theme’ melody and the other voices repeat it in different pitches. The harmonies are beautiful. While listening you can imagine one voice chasing after the other one trying to ‘ catch ‘ the theme and sing together. If you can find this selection on the internet….just listen and see what I mean!

December 03

  • The Messiah is coming.The prophets bring the good news to the Jewish nation.
  • A virgin will conceive a child, and he shall be called Emmanuel.
  • These selections were not very impressive.
  • The alto uses vibrato: the steady pulsation of the voice that is heard on a sustained note.
  • The words mountain and glory  ‘go on forever’ !
  • Handel facts:
  • Born: February 23 ,1685  in Halle, Saxony, in northern Germany.
  • Died: April 14, 1759
  • Buried: Wesminster Abbey, London
  • Legacy: 40 opera’s and 29 oratorio’s
  • 1. Alto (rectitative)  0:23 sec  Isaiah 7:14
    This was quick!  18 words. You hear a rhythm of the tune  but the “singing” sounds more like the speaking voice than the singing voice.
  • 2. Alto (air and chorus) 5:27 sec  Isaiah  40:9,  Isaiah 60:1
    This selection has the longest intro so far ( 24 sec).  The alto begins and the chorus joins in. The melody sounded like a Christmas carole, uncomplicated and full of good tidings.  There was no coherent  text section. Handel combines different biblical sources into  this  movement. Confusing.

December 04

  • Darkness and light have been used as symbols in today’s text.
  • Darkness and light represent two opposing forces of despair and happiness.
  • There is hope for eveyone because “ For unto us a child is born…”

I must not forget to mention the performers:

  • Allan Clayton (Tenor)
  • Alice Coote (Mezzo Soprano)
  • Ailish Tynan (Soprano)
  • Matthew Rose (Bass)

Handel facts:

  • London: Handel moved to London in 1726 and became a naturalized British subject.
  • King George l: Handel was King George’s favorite composer.
  • Permanent disability: Blindness was caused by a unsuccessful operation on his cataracts. Handel continued to compose music in spite of this handicap.
  • Beethoven: considered Handel “the master of us all… the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb”.

1. Bass (Recitative) 2:01 sec Isaiah 60:2-3

  • There is not much you can do with a bass voice.
  • It is deep, dark, heavy and evengood news sounds onminous.
  • The ‘ spoken’ text with a slight melody is bland.
  • This singer is a very skilled.
  • Matthew Rose was awarded in June 2012 the Critics Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent.

2. Bass (Air) 3:07 sec Isaiah 9:2

  • Now the same bass voice ( Matthew Rose) sounds much better.
  • It must depend on the type of music and tempo that is required of the bass voice.
  • His voice here is warm and goes very high for a bass!

3. Chorus: 4:05 sec Isaiah 9:6

  • Just when you think a chorus selection cannot get any better… it does!
  • It is hard to write a beautiful song.
  • It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound even MORE beautiful.
  • Handel uses: melisma: a group of notes sung on one note.
  • The chorus uses 57 different notes on the word ‘born’ in “ Unto us a child is born…”
  • This is a real ‘ toe-tapper’ !! The birth announcement  is bursting with joy!

December 05

  • The central portion of this passage is Luke 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament.
  • The words remind me of the Nativity plays we acted out in school.
  • We memorized the words, did not know exactly what we were saying
  • …. but now this passage brings back many memories.


  • And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
  • An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
  • But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
  • I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
  • Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

1. Pastorale Symphony   2:31 sec
After the jubilant chorus “ For unto us a Child is born…”
the gentleness of the Pastoral Symphony brings us quietly into the stable and the birth of Jesus.

2. Recitative (Soprano)   0:31 sec
3. Recitative (Soprano)  0:31  sec
4. Recitative (Soprano)  0:17 sec
These three very short selections are such by the Irish soprano Ailish Tynan. The melodies are light and bright. Ailish effortlessly reaches the high notes. As with the other recitatives it is a spoken text but sung flawlessly!

5. Chorus   1:52 sec
This was the most disappointing of all the chorus selections.  It  did not ‘ sparkle’ ! Perhaps Handel has used up his creative juices…..but we know  the best is yet to come…The Hallelujah chorus!

December 06

Handel facts:

  • Despite the beautiful ‘aria’s’ the glory of the Messiah is to be found in its choruses.
  • Handel is the finest  composer for chorus that ever lived.
  • During his travels he absorbed different musical styles throughout Europe:
  • the fugue in Germany, the oratorio in Italy and choral composition in England.
  • His greatest triumph is the famous Hallelujah chorus.

Day 6

1. Soprano  (Air)    4:17  sec    Zecharaiah 9: 9-10

  • Ritornello is the opening theme lasting 17 sec for violins.
  • This theme  is repeated in different keys throughout the movement.
  • The soprano launches into a melisma holding the word ‘ rejoice ‘ for 50 notes!
  • The selection shifts key to emphasize a new fase of the song and has a slower tempo.
  • The pace quickens again and in the original key.
  • It feels like a poem built up as ABA.
  • There is a big powerful  ending and the soprano demonstrates her talents!
  • Although the text is taken from scripture the ‘bold’ singing style has a bit of the dramatic
  • …like an Italian opera!

December 07:

  • This challenge has opened my eyes and ‘ ears ‘ to classical music on a different level.
  • I not only enjoy the melodies but am learning musical and vocal terms associated to the music!
  • The Messiah was performed in Dublin 1742.
  • Such a crowd was expected for the work of the famous Handel that the ladies were urged not to wear hoopskirts.
  • The gentlemen were asked to leave their swords at home.
  • In this way an audience of  700 people could be squeezed into a hall of only 600 seats!

Handel fact:
Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750 of a stroke following unsuccessful cataract surgery. The same surgeon operated on Handel at the end of the composer’s life with the same unsuccessful result!

Day 7

1. Alto (recitative)   0:24 sec    Isaiah 35:5-6

  • The alto sings/speaks  in images of a reversal of circumstances: (to receive God’s word).
  • The eyes of the blind be opened, ears of the deaf unstopped, tongue of the mute speak.
  • I read the text but still had difficulty understanding the words sung by the alto, especially ‘the lame leap as a hart’.
  • Recitatives are not my favorites!

2. Alto & soprano   4:35 sec    Isaiah 40:11   Matthew 11: 28-29

  • This selection contains pastoral symbolism: the Shepherd feeding and protecting his flocks and lambs.
  • Beautiful melodies that lumber along without any change in tempo.
  • I had to listen carefully and not be lulled into a sense of  sleepiness….dozing off.

3. Chorus     02:20 sec     Matthew 11:30

  • This is an ‘amuse-bouches’ !
  • It is a bite-size selection of the menu that is coming.
  • If you have heard the Hallelujah Chorus  you will recognize  ‘signature’ harmonies  and the almost biblical ending.
  • These harmonies will give you ‘goosebumps’ !
  • This is all to prepare you for the ‘grand finale’  awaiting you in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ !
  • Another ‘ toe-tapper!   

December 08

Handel fact:

  • The music of the late Baroque period (1710-1750)  represented by the
  • two great figures of Johann S. Bach and George F. Handel.
  • They stands as a high-watermark in Western music.
  • Both men could compose seemingly without effort.
  • No other composers could compete with them and choose other directions.
  • The Baroque style started and ended with the music of these two giants 

1. Chorus  2:22 sec   John 1:29

(This is the offical start of PART II…leading us to the Passion on day 13)

  • This chorus reminded me the way we sing ‘ Frères Jaques’ .
  • One person starts the melody, the second begins  and then third starts his part .
  • All the melodic lines are separate  and independent.
  • The musical term is counterpoint  (polyphony).
  • I was not impressed with this chorus. Slow tempo, no great harmonies…..very average.

December 09

  • Two of Baroque greats  Bach and Handel, both composers were born in 1685 in Germany.
  • Yet the men were so different!
  1. Bach: confined to towns in the region of his birth
  2. Handel: traveled the world ( Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Venice, Dublin)
  3. Bach: stayed at home playing organ fuges and church cantata’s from the choir loft
  4. Handel: musical entrepreneur working in the theater, by training a composer of opera
  5. Bach: fell into obscurity at the end of his life, retreating into a world of counterpoint (see Dec 08)
  6. Handel: stature grew on international stage. His music has NEVER gone out of fashion due to The Messiah! 

1. Alto ( air)   9:51 sec    Isaiah 53: 3 and Isaiah 50: 6

  • Text describes Jesus as a rejected man full of sorrow and  the melody conveys this somber message.
  • The second part of the selection stands in sharp contrast to the first part.
  • Tempo is quick and the singer coveys the defiant Jesus who stands strong despite the shame he must endure.
  • This is another example of ABA form because the selection ends with a repetition of part one.
  • The musical term is ‘ da capo’  (repeat from the beginning)

December 10

  • Reading about Handel’s music  I found it described as ‘ dense’.
  • What is ‘ dense’ music?
  • The musical term is homophonic .
  • Different elements are working together to form an impressive whole.
  • There is a melody line supported by chords  and harmonies that will send chills down your spine.
  • The Hallelujah chorus is the best example.
  • I listen to it next Friday December 19……can’t wait!

1. Chorus  1:43 sec  Isaiah 53:3

  • Tempo reminds me of a march.
  • The singers have a firm tone.
  • The central message is emphasized in the second section with warm harmonies but I’ve heard better.

2. Chorus 1:47sec  Isaiah 53: 5

  • Here we hear the same melody starting with the soporano’s then the alto’s, tenors, and bass voices.
  • This chorus sounds like a ‘rondo’ alternating the principal recurring theme.
  • I heard  a bit of harmony on the last few notes, otherwise a bland chorus.
  • Yes, that is possible even for Handel.

3. Chorus     3:43   Isaiah 53: 6

  • “ All we like sheep..”  starts off with a bang!
  • After the last chorus it is a wake-up call!
  • Yes, this is better.
  • You can imagine the ‘ sheep  ( the nation of Israel) who have gone astray’  dashing over the meadows.
  • Suddenly the tempo slows, it feels like an ominous  cloud approaching.
  • The  the message is:
  • “ the innocent was punished as if guilty (Jesus) , that the guilty (sinners) might be rewarded as if innocent.”

December 11

Surprising what I am learning  with this Christmas challenge.

What is texture in music?

  • There are 5 types.
  • Monophonic  – Taps for a bugle
  • Polyphonic – Stars & Stripes march – FINAL ‘AMEN’ IN HALLELUJAH CHORUS (sounds biblical)
  • Biphonic  – most difficult to understand Bach prelude  851intro
  • Heterophonic  – two voices performing variations of the same melody – gospel ‘ Lonesome Valley’
  • Homophonic  – melody with accompaniment – Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin).

1. Tenor (recitative) 0:40 sec  Psalm 22:

  • The singer has a freedom to emphasize the dramatic delivery.
  • The but the music must keep its shape and rhythm.
  • No two actors speak the narrative of a Shakespeare play exactly the same way.
  • The same thing applies to recitative singing.
  • This was just 19 words.
  • It’s over before you know it, so listen carefully

2. Chorus      2:19 sec   Psalm 22: 8

  • Text is confusing.
  • The words ‘ He’  and ‘Him”  refer to both God the Father and God the Son in the same sentence.
  • I can hardly differentiate  them while reading.
  • …..if you listen it is baffling.
  • This is an example of homonyms with the word ‘ Him’ .
  • Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning.
  • Real tongue -twister.
  • I walked  around the room during this chorus.
  • Nothing, no harmony, no ‘ big ending’ on the last notes stopped me in my tracks.


  • He trusted in God that He would deliver Him;
  • let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him.”

December 12
The tone is somber….we are entering the Passion of the Lord.

Day 12

Tenor (recitative)    1:48 sec   Psalm 69:20

  • It is not advised to put your trust in men, they only increase your sorrows.
  • Reference to the betrayal by Judas.
  • The tenor brings this message in a spoken words and musical rhythm.
  • Allan Clayton (tenor) is one of  the most sought after singers of his generation.

Tenor (air)   1:22 sec   Lamentations 1:12   ( Passion)

Text: Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.

  • The tenor voice is easier to understand than the bass or alto.
  • Diction is clear and sharp.
  • Tenor is derived from the latin word ‘ tenere’  to hold.
  • It is a ‘ holding’ voice because other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor.

December 13

  • We are going to listen to some long sequences  that will bring us in the  ‘tragic’ mood.
  • Selection 1. represents the Crucifixion, 2. represents Death and 3.  is the Ascension chorus.

1. Alto (recitative)  0:17 sec  Isaiah 53:8  (Crucifixion)

  • The message  is very short: He ( the saviour) shall be indeed cut off out of the land of the living (die a violent death).
  • But his name, his race shall not be extinct….just 17 seconds.

2. Alto  (air)  2:20 sec    Psalm 16:10  (Death)

  • Again, the alto is speaking the words with  somber tone to emphasize the Lord’s  suffering.
  • The melody is  dark  but has no ‘ memorable ‘ features. It is just sung very skilfully.

3. Chorus   2:58 sec      Psalm 24:7-10   (Ascension)

  • The somber  sequences finally end with this ‘ uplifting’  chorus.
  • 5 distinct voices ( soprano1 and 2  + alto)  alternate refrains with the low ( tenor and bass) voices.
  • If you listen carefully after 50 seconds….
  • 5 voices  blend into 4 ‘ standard’ voices ( soprano, alto,tenor and bass).
  • This chorus is beautiful but still not ‘ magical’ !
  • Listen to the  magnificent chorus  from day 07
  • ‘ His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.’ after this one.
  • Then you will hear the difference,

December 14
Today:   What is a recitative?

1. Tenor (recitative)   0:19 sec   Hebrews 1: 5

  • Recitative is a method used in opera to move the plot along.
  • There are two types of recitative:
  • secco (dry):  accompanied by clear chords while the singer speaks/sing .
  • The singer can easily  speak….’ get the words out’.
  • Accompagnato:  (using orchestra) this is more song like.
  • This one is definitely ‘ secco’ .

2. Chorus  1:28    Hebrews 1: 6

  • This is a celebratory chorus marking  Christ’s reception into heaven.
  • We hear a characteristic of Handel’s chorusescounterpoint:.
  • It is the relationship between voices that are INTERDEPENDENT harmonically……yet INDEPENDENT  in rhythm.
  • I listened to this chorus  3 x waiting for a sound ‘moment’ that impressed me to the core. Nothing.

December 15

  • Handel was a smart cookie! 
  • He produced  in London opera seria ( serious opera), mostly long 3 acts that chronicled the triumphs and tragedies of kings and queens.
  • 1728 Handel’s academy of music went bankrupt victim of the high fees paid to singers.
  • Handel turned his talents to a more lucrative oratorio.
  • This was less expensive unstaged opera with a religious subject.

Alto (air)    3:12 sec     Psalm 68:18

  • The air is usually an exuberant  repetition of the message we heard in previous recitatives.
  • I listened to an alto and a bass version.
  • I prefer the male voice.
  • We here again  ‘wavy’  singing in certain parts.
  • I discovered  a wonderful clip on You Tube.
  • You can listen to the bass sing and follow the music.
  • Now I know the types of notes ( sharps. flats)  that the bass is singer.

Chorus  1:04 sec  Psalm 68: 11

  • Bass and tenors start and then all the voices join in.
  • This is repeated with the sopranos altos starting and then off the voices go.
  • It was  light cheerful chorus but not ‘ memorable ‘.
  • Nothing really stood out.
  • There is not much you can do in 1 minute and 4 seconds!

December 16

Handel fact:

  • Handel often used the ‘borrowed’  material of other composers to stimulate his imagination.
  • For Handel  borrowing was a deliberate method of working.
  • In only a few instances did Handel include within one of his oratorios an unchanged movement from another composer.

Soprano (air)   2:03 sec   Romans 10:15

  • This is a soprano solo with instrumental assistance.
  • Text and music  is a solo moment of reflection.
  • It is a calm piece of music and perfectly sung!

Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


Merchant of Venice

Al Hirsfeld sketch a971274f7dd3bb3348cae04bdf4b0710

  • Author: William Shakespeare
  • Genre: play
  • Title: Merchant of Venice
  • Published: 15961598
  • Themes:  justice, revenge, antisemitism, love
  • Setting: Venice
  • Structure:  5 Acts
  • Trivia: The Jew of Malta (C. Marlowe) is considered to have been a major influence on Shakespeare´s  Merchant of Venice.


  • Bassanio, a young  noble  wishes to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia
  • He has debts and needs money to be a worthy suitor.
  • Antonio agrees to be a loan’s  guarantor.
  • Shylock will lend Bassanio the money with the hope that he cannot pay it back.
  • Finally Shylock can seek his revenge on Antonio who as abused him for years.
  • What is the agreed payment?
  • One pound of flesh to be cut from the part of Antonio’s body that Shylock chooses!
  • Subplot:
  • Portia bows to her father’s  will  (riddle of the caskets) and suitors must choose a chest of gold, silver or lead!
  • Bassanio and Gratiano vow never to  remove their wedding rings.


  • Antonio (merchant)  –  lends money freely to the one he love, Bassanio,  at great risk.
  • Shylock – runs through the streets crying, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” (Act 2,8) greed  stronger than love for  his daughter.
  • Portia – lives by  father´s rigid rules yet finds ´loopholes´in his will so she can love Bassanio.  She makes the law work for her (court scene)
  • The love interests are Bassanio and Lorenzo.
  • Jovial friends are Gratiano, Lorenzo, Salarino and Salanio ( confusing!)

Type of play:

  • Shakespeare’s 38 plays can be categorized in tragedies, comedies and history plays.
  • Merchant of Venice is considered one of Shakespeare’a ‘problem plays’.
  • The problem plays are characterized by their complex and ambiguous tone.
  • The narrative shifts violently between dark, psychological drama and more straightforward comic material.

Soliloquy:  Shakespeare gives Shylock one of his most eloquent speeches:

  • Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
  • dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
  • the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
  • to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means,
  • warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer
  • as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
  • If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
  • do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
  • If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
  • If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
  • Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his
  • sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
  • The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
  • and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.


  • Repetition and  using direct opposites (antithesis) in concise sentences  give the dialogue a rhythm and is easy for the audience to understandAct 1, 3:  Shylock:
  • I will buy with you,   sell with you,   talk with you,   walk with you,   and so following
  • I will not   eat with you,   drink with you, nor   pray with you.


  • Words with the same sound and spelling yet have  different meanings
  • When I read this text I saw the difference, but when I listened to the play…..I missed it completely!
  • This quote also contains  antithesis,  use of opposite wordsAct 1, 2:  Portia:
  • Neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike; so is the WILL (desire) of a living daughter
  • crushed by the WILL (official decree)  of a dead father.


  • Words in a particular order are reapeated in the reversed order.
  • This was the most difficult  to discover and needed help from the annotated text.
  • Act 1, 3  Shylock:
  • “…there be land-rats  and water-rats, water-thieves and land-thieves…”


  • Trademark of Shakespeare is the use Roman or Greek  mythological figures or other famous characters in literature or history.
  • I have a Wiki list of  god and goddess for quick reference:
  • Sybilla – Diana – Phoebus (= Apollo)  – Portia of Cato –  Portia of Brutus –  Lichas – Hercules – Alcides – Fortuna – Cupid – Pythagoras – Old Testament prophet Daniel -Troilus and Cressid – Dido – Thisbe – Medea – Orpheus – Erebus – Endymion – Argus.

Wordplay:  Bible reference

  • Used to emphasize the difference between a Christian and a Jew.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9  The Grace of God is enough.
  • You ( Bassanio) have the grace of God, sir, and he has enough ($$)   (Act 2,2)

Wordplay: Soul/Sole:

  • This pun is  typical Shakespeare…
  • Romeo and Juliet:  ‘Not I , believe me: you have dancing shoes with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead’ (Act 1,4)
  • Merchant of Venice: ‘Not on thy sole, but on thy soul, harsh Jew…’ (Act 4,1)
  • But if the words are pronounced the same, how does the audience get  the joke?
  • It is up to the actors to make it clear.

Comic relief:

  • Shakespeare often uses simple people for comic relief.
  • In his play we meet a ‘clown’  Launcelot  Gobbo (shylock’s servant)  and his blind father.
  • Then humor is apparent because the son takes advantage of his father’s blindness to tease him.
  • He gives him confusing directions.
  • On stage we would see Old Gubbo mistaking a horse’s tail for his son’s chin whiskers!
  • All in all this is irresistable humor for the Elizabethan audience.  (Act 2,2)


  • Letters: of credit, of love, of bad news and good news (Antonio’s fleet) and of introduction from Bellario of Padua.
  • Ring:  Given to Shylock by Leah (wife) The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in a vulnerable position, view him as a human being.
  • Pound of flesh: Shylock’s  rigid  adherence to the law


  • Young boys playing women’s roles in Elizabethan theater was very common.
  • When a boy playing a girl is  disguised and is a boy again….
  • it enhances the ‘excitement’ and holds the audience’s attention!
  • Jessica  dresses as a male torch-bearer
  • Portia  impersonates a legal advisor dressed in a toga, false beard and moustache.

Sounds like….

  • Romeo and Juliet:
  • Juliet: My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
    Of that tongue’s utterance, yet I know the sound:
    Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?
  • Merchant of Venice:
  • Jessica: Who are you? Tell me, for more certainty,
    Albeit I’ll swear that I do know your tongue.
  • Romeo and Juliet:
    Romeo:  “ She doth teach the torches to burn bright!”
  • Merchant of Venice:
    Lorenzo: “Fair Jessica shall be my torch-bearer.” (is the  object of Lorenzo’s desire)
  • Romeo and Juliet:
    Prologue:  Shakespeare uses  hyperbole to describe the bad blood between the Montagues and Capulets;
  • Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
  • Merchant of Venice:
  • Shylock: If I can catch him (Antonio)  once upon the hip, I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him. (Act 1, 3)
  1. I noticed similar phrases appearing  in Merchant of Venice that I had seen in Romeo and Juliet.
  2. I did some investigation.
  3. It seems the Shakespeare scholars have concluded that
  4. Merchant of Venice is the 3rd play in a  trio including  Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  5. It looks  like my next play to read will be Midsummer….!

Daily Shakespeare:

  • But love is blind, and lovers cannot see.
  • All that glisters is not gold.
  • Cold indeed, and labor lost…Then farewell, heat, and welcome frost.
  • What news on the Rialto?


  • Romeo and Juliet:  Queen Mab speech (skipped it)
  • Merchant of Venice: conversation b/t Launcelot Gobbo and Old Gobbo.  Act 2,2  (read it)
  • Words used: conscience  10x  – fiend 10x – run 8x – say 11x – honest 6x –  Jew 5x  (exhausting…)

Film:   Merchant of Venice ( 2004)

FILM POSTER venedik-taciri-al-pacino-filmleri-izle

  • The characters of Antonio and Shylock  are  powerful.
  • Gestures, glances and sobs of misery  breathe life into the characters.
  • Jeremy Irons and Al Pacino…bravo!
  • Screenplay lacked:
  • the long description of 6 earlier suitors of Portia
  • extended version of comic relief of Laucelot Gobbo and Old Gobbo –  no horse’s tail or chin whiskers!
  • extended version  of Lorenzo and Jessica’s  sentimental scene in the moolight
  • mention of Pythagoras – Troilus and Cressid – Dido – Thisbe – Medea – Orpheus –  Endymion …and  Argus.


  • Each of these plays has a special place in my heart.
  • Romeo and Juliet: 1968 Zeffirelli film version is one of my favorites!
  • Merchant of Venice: First Shakespeare I ever read.
  • Strong point: the character of Shylock, deep, dark seeking revenge for his  years of  ethnic slurs and abuse.
  • Weak point:  lacked many sentences with rhyme and ´lyrical´ metaphors. Romeo and Juliet was filled  with beautiful images.
  • Strong point:  trial scene Portia vs Shylock (Shakespeare thought of a clever loophole!)
  • I would recommend reading this play. It is a classic and should not be missed!

Score 4

sketch with venetian mask Shakespeare1


Posted by on November 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


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