Why does Puccini’s la Bohème make me cry?

By | History, Music, Society | 28 Comments

I think I’ve seen this opera five times, in Newtown in Sydney before there was a functioning opera house, once in London, twice at the Opera House and once in Kansas City. In that American performance  the conductor and director delayed the last gut-wrenching chord for what seemed like forever. Rodolfo finally turned around, and realised what everyone else on stage already knew, that Mimi had died. ‘Mimi!’ he almost screamed, and then the orchestra battered us with the chord. The tears from both my eyes jetted towards the neck of the lady in front. It happens every time I see the…

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On ‘musicality’

By | History, Music, Society | 7 Comments

It seems to be the case that concert organisers these days are determined, above all else, to fill the concert hall, and that appeared to be the case with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s recent Tchaikovsky/Rimsky-Korsakov offering. The Tchaikovsky was the Piano Concerto No.1 in B Minor, while Rimsky was there with his Scheherazade symphonic suite. The hall was full, the band was in excellent form, and the audience responded to the virtuosity of the young soloist, Vietnamese Australian Hoang Pham. It was the fifth or sixth time I had heard the Tchaikovsky concerto live, and I have a few recorded versions….

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The last essay for this year

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, History, Humour, Indigenous, Language, Media, Music, Other, Politics, Religion, Research, Road Safety, Society, Sport, Theatre | 26 Comments

Even websites need a holiday, and mine starts tomorrow. I’m back at work in the week beginning 12 January, and wish all my readers a relaxing, safe and enjoyable holiday break too. I started this website in June 2012, so it is now two-and-a-half years old. Over that time it has attracted about 27,000 unique readers, who have in total visited the site more than 70,000 times, and read nearly 150,000 pages. Readers have made nearly 3,700 comments to my 608 posts, and of course to one another’s comments. Before I get carried away with such success, I should mention that my…

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Cuts and the ABC

By | ABC, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Music, Politics, Society | 23 Comments

The announced cut to funding for the ABC has yet to be translated into actual job-losses and program departures, but we will know the result soon. Two themes have been prominent since Malcolm Turnbull spoke about the issue last week. The first is that there was a promise, which has been broken, not to impose cuts on the ABC. The second is that there is something special about the ABC that makes it a kind of icon of Australian life, so it should be protected against anything and everything. There is no doubt that Tony Abbott made a specific promise that…

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What sort of political system do we have? I

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Media, Music, Politics, Religion, Research, Society, Sport, Theatre | 11 Comments

This the first of a two-part essay on the current Australian political system. When I was first interested on politics in the 1950s, it all seemed pretty simple. There was Labor and Anti-Labor, with the Country Party serving as the rural tail of the Liberals. You were Protestant or Catholic. You left school at fifteen,  or you went on (in consequence you were blue-collar or white-collar). You were probably a union member if you were a worker. Your sympathies were to the Left or to the Right. Republicans were just about invisible. You probably inherited your family’s political sympathies, as…

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Who was the best composer ever?

By | ABC, History, Music | 5 Comments

I’ve written about ABC Classic FM’s Countdowns before (here, for example), and it has just concluded a Countdown in which listeners nominated music that came from’Baroque and Before’ — which is essentially all music prior to 1750, when Johann Sebastian Bach died. What exactly is ‘Baroque’, and when did the period begin? Conventionally, the period is 1600 to 1750, and its art is characterised by ornament, expressiveness and sometimes exaggeration. The use of ‘Baroque’ to define the period  comes later, a linguistic fiat of art historians, notably the Swiss master, Jacob Burckhardt, whose work I encountered as a history undergraduate. The musicians…

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Here comes the Sun

By | Climate Change, Environment, Media, Music, Politics, Religion, Research | 12 Comments

To get the music out of the way at once, I first heard this George Harrison song when Nina Simone sang it. In fact, this post is about the influence of the Sun on the climate of the Earth, a subject I wrote about at the end of the year. The post received a good deal of comment, and some of the comments forced me to go and do much more reading and thinking. And the more I read the richer the subject became. So what I have written here is only a short and superficial guide to a major…

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And a Merry Christmas to all

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, History, Humour, Indigenous, Language, Media, Music, Other, Politics, Religion, Research, Road Safety, Society, Sport, Theatre | 7 Comments

This is my last post for the year — a phrase my wife says needs a trumpet call, which would be the case had I capitalised the phrase. Ordinary transmission will resume on Monday 6 January. What a year it has been. What other year saw Australia have three Prime Ministers within a few months? The last was 1945, when John Curtin died, to be followed in an interim way by his Deputy Frank Forde, before the Labor Caucus elected Ben Chifley as the new PM. And there were two similar earlier years in my lifetime, 1941, when Menzies, Fadden,…

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John Howard and the ‘contest of ideas’

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, History, Indigenous, Language, Media, Music, Other, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 6 Comments

Former Prime Minister John Howard was the guest speaker at a dinner held a couple of months ago to celebrate the 500th issue of the magazine Quadrant. In his speech, which you can read in the current issue of the magazine, he said this: In the end, politics is not a public relations contest, it is a contest of ideas. I think he is right, and I wondered, as I read, what he thought the contested ideas were. Some examples came later. There were people of unsound thought [who] have preoccupied themselves with other causes [than communism]: the causes of radical environmentalism,…

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Is Tchaikovsky really for 18-year-olds?

By | ABC, Education, History, Media, Music, Society | 2 Comments

This is another autobiographical essay about composers and music. You can read the earlier ones by going to ‘Music’ in the categories above. A short intro for newcomers tells you that I discovered classical music at the same time as the LP became available, in the early 1950s, and since there was no FM radio at the time, radio stations simply had not broadcast long pieces of music of any kind. Pop music and country and western I knew well, and a bit of jazz. I played the piano at pubs, was putting together a band, and starting to write…

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