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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What happens when a good novel is turned into a film?

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Language, Religion, Society, Theatre | 2 Comments

Every few years I go back and re-read some or all of Jane Austen’s novels, and then watch the filmed versions of the one I have been re-reading. I still think that she was the first great novelist, and that in the form she chose she is yet unequalled. That form is the comedy of manners, enlivened with one or more love stories. I am not allowed to call her work ‘chick lit’, but it has inspired thousands of imitators, and that term can at least be attached to a good deal of their work. Much as I like the…

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Sex, Love and Death — Italian style

By | Books, History, Music, Society, Theatre | 3 Comments

Those three capitalised nouns represent the kernel of very many plots in literature, theatre and opera. Seeing Verdi’s La Traviata in Sydney renewed my interest both in those ingredients of story-telling, and also in the disease, then called ‘consumption’, that causes Violetta’s early death — and also Mimi’s in Puccini’s La Boheme. ‘Consumption’ got its name because the disease was seen to consume the body, and it eventually became renamed as ‘tuberculosis’ when the rod-shaped bacterium that caused the illness was identified in the 1880s. The bacterium loves the human lung, and causes a wasting and most painful illness that finally…

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Film music

By | ABC, History, Media, Music, Other, Society, Theatre | One Comment

Somewhere I came across a statistic whose source I have since lost: ‘serious’ music, including classical music, makes up about five per cent of all music sold. That five per cent also includes jazz and music for films. Those interested in classical music belong to a tiny minority of music-lovers. I don’t want to get into a debate about relative worth, at least on this occasion. This post is about music for films, and I decided on such a post after last weekend’s ‘Countdown’ on ABC Classic FM — the top 100 film music scores, as determined by listeners. I…

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson meets Richard Strauss

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Media, Music, Society, Sport, Theatre | No Comments

My earliest memory of Tennyson’s poetry was my father’s singing lines from The Lady of Shallot to the tune of Mowing the Barley. ‘On either side the river lie, long fields of barley and of rye, and up and down the people go, waving lilies to and fro.’ One or both of us didn’t remember the lines very well, as I discovered at university. He didn’t have many songs, my Dad, but this was one of them. Another was a mildly rude version of Jerusalem, whose text involved a footballer losing his shorts at a match, the chorus beginning ‘You’re…

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An evening of Russian music

By | ABC, History, Media, Music, Society, Theatre | No Comments

What would you offer if you were asked to program an evening of Russian music for your symphony orchestra? Oh, and the major task is to fill your concert hall. Well, Russian music is a pretty good drawcard anywhere, so you would look for the stand-out pieces. The standard concert structure is an overture, a concerto and a symphony, but of course you could vary that. I came up with two quite different imaginary evenings, without much effort. The first started with Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture, followed by Shostakovitch’s 2nd Piano Concerto, with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade as the second half….

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Social justice – or the Arboretum?

By | History, Music, Other, Politics, Society, Sport, Theatre | 4 Comments

In 2003 Canberra suffered through a most destructive bushfire that killed four people and destroyed more than 500 houses, as well as a considerable amount of pine plantation. In the aftermath the ACT Government of Jon Stanhope decided to construct an arboretum that would be a memorial of the fire and the community spirit and resilience that it brought out. The arboretum was to be funded in part through the insurance payout the Government received for the plantations. Opinion was divided. Some liked the idea, while others thought it a dreadful waste of money. Designing, planning and developing the arboretum…

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Pride and Prejudice is 200 — well, sort of.

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Language, Media, Other, Politics, Religion, Society, Theatre | 2 Comments

I first encountered P&P in 1953, as a set book for the Leaving Examination of that year. Since I obtained honours in English, I very likely read it, but I remember Macbeth, the set Shakespeare text, much more vividly. In 1954 I went off to University, intending in the long run to be an English/History teacher in secondary schools (History was my others Honours subject). Guess what! P&P was a set book for first year English Lit. too. I probably didn’t read it then, either, on the ground that I had done it last year. I had been an avid…

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Avoid the madness of the media: advice for the next Prime Minister

By | ABC, History, Media, Politics, Society, Theatre | 3 Comments

The Day of the Great Leadership Challenge, about which I wrote yesterday, confirmed in me that I should offer some candid advice to the next Prime Minister about how to deal with the media. I should make clear at once that I do not know personally who that will be, and doubt that he or she (as we have seen, politics is a funny business) is an ardent reader of this website. I’m not sure that my advice will be heeded, even if it is read, but I will feel better for having discharged my duty. My advice comes from…

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Two ways of doing a comic opera

By | ABC, History, Music, Society, Theatre | No Comments

Last week we saw, on successive nights, Verdi’s Falstaff and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. As always, I thought Opera Australia’s singers, orchestra, chorus and sets were first class, and though I’d never seen either opera before, Offenbach’s music was familiar to me. Verdi’s was not, but then it was written at the end of his life, when the Wagner mode was dominant: singing, drama, comedy and text are fused into one. The result is that there are no tunes to hum as you leave, and that Classic FM is unlikely to play any of it. The current productions of each…

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