Sail along silvery moon

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100 years ago on this day Billy Vaughan was born.  One of the biggest selling band leaders of the 1950’s with hits such as La Paloma, Blue Hawaii and this piece of schmaltz.

Sail along Silvery Moon

Vaughan developed a very distinctive and recognisable front sound by pairing saxophones for the lead melody.

He was able to follow his hit successes in the 50’s with world tours in the ’60’s and ’70’s.  The music has not stood the test of time and sounds kitch, hokey and very basic today.  He holds the very dubious honour of being the “Most successful orchestra leader of the rock era”.  A man out of step and out of time.  King of the squares.

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Harun al-Rashid

Sinbad

Born on St Patricks Day, some 300 years after St. Patrick lived, Haroun al-Rashid is considered by many to be the greatest Caliph of the Islamic world.  He presided over the Abassid Caliphate in its golden age when it was the centre of learing, enlightenment, literature, arts and science.

He corresponded with rulers as far away as France, presenting Charlemagne with a clock that was so ingenious the Franks believed it to be possessed, so many and complex were the chimes it sounded.  A good an generous friend he also proved a stern and powerful enemy.  He brought the Byzantine empire to heel and his name was feared throughout his own empire.

His name may translate as the “orthodox” or the “right guided” and for Sunni Muslims he represented a powerful bastion of the islamic faith.  So powerful indeed that the Christian world suffered the crisis of iconoclasm at this period.  Seeing the success of the armies of Islam orthodox christians questioned if religious icons, images and statues were in fact idols.  Heads were smashed from church altars, icons were thrown onto fires and emperors were dethroned based on their belief.

Legend has it that al-Rashid would don a beggars cloak and walk the streets of Baghdad or Raqqa and eavesdrop on the conversations of the ordinary folk to better understand how they perceived him and his rule.

In the West we know of this great Sultan because of a book.  “A thousand and one nights”, or the “Arabian Nights” is a collection of tales from the Asian world, originating in Arabia, India, China and Persia.  They include characters known by every Western child, The seven voyages of Sinbad the sailor, Aladdin and his magic lamp, Ali-Baba and the forty thieves, magic flying carpets and many many more fantastic and magical tales.

At the heart of the tale is the evil sultan, thought to be modeled on Al-Rashid.  Each night he takes a bride from his harem and after taking his pleasure has her killed.  The interlocutor of the 1001 nights is Sheherazade, the wife who beguiles him with storytelling instead of pleasures of the flesh.  Instead of killing her he spares her for one more night, for one more story.  And so the tales unravel over the course of many years until he of course falls madly in love with her.

From this book we have a wealth of art, music, dance and not a few pantomimes.  It was the inspiration for hundreds of childrens authors from E. Nesbit to J.K. Rowling.  Poetry of Yeats, Longfellow, Tennyson and Archibald Macleish stories of O. Henry, James Joyce and Charles Dickens.  Al-Rashid is a thread that runs trough every weave in the fabric of literature.

The man behind the music.

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Samuel Morse portrait of Lorenzo Da Ponte

Who wrote the operas Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni?  Ask that question 100 times and 100 times you will get the answer “Mozart”.  We could as easily say “Lorenzo Da Ponte”.  Born on this day in 1749 Da Ponte wrote the libretti for 28 operas by 11 different composers, including Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Born as Emanuele Conegliano he was a Venetian Jew.  When his father converted to marry a Catholic Emanuele was given the name of the converting bishop, Lorenzo da Ponte.

After converting Da Ponte studied in the semenary, was ordained as a priest and became a teacher.  But he was a bad priest who had children with a mistress and was ejected from Venice for running a brothel.

He found his way to the Italian Theatre in Vienna and bore an letter of introduction to Salieri.  He secured a job translating libretti and secured a patron.  He went on to write the libretti for the greatest operas of his day.

He lost his sponsor in 1790 upon the death of Emperor Joseph II.  Bearing a recommendation letter from Joseph to his sister, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, he headed for Paris.  His timing could not have been worse.  The French Revolution broke out and Da Ponte changed his travel plans taking a diversion to London.  Struggling for a time, forced to work in menial jobs, he evenually secured a job in Kings Theatre.  But unable to clear debts he fled England for America.

In the USA he worked as a grocer, a teacher of Italian and of Italian literature.  He attempted to bring Opera to New York, but was let down by his lack of business skills.  However, the work he began led to the foundation of the New York Metropolitain Opera and the New York Academy of Music.

Da Ponte is buried somewhere in New York.  There is a memorial plaque in Calvary Cemetery Queens, but that is not his grave.

Impi! O nans’impi iyeza

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Stanley Baker, the Welsh Actor responsible for the greatest British war movie ever made was born on this day in 1928.  Zulu was filmed in 1964.  It is Baker’s best remembered role and made a movie star of a young lad called Michael Caine.

Bravery is not the ability to face danger without fear.  True bravery is finding yourself in a hopeless situation, facing certain death, feeling awful cowardice and yet standing up to danger.

There is a moment in the film when the Zulu sing the song of the warriors.  The rag-tag unit of British soldiers listen to the Zulu, their power, their majesty and know that all is lost.  Then Baker asks the lads to sing “Men of Harlech”.

 

 

Happy Birthday George Harrison

George Harrison

While Lennon and McCartney churned out an enormous volume of songs George Harrison wrote less in number but no lesser in quality.  His are some of my favourite Beatles songs;  Old Brown Shoe, Something, While my guitar gently weeps and Here comes the sun.  This one below reads more like a poem than a song lyric, and it is worth listening to to get a flavour for Harrison the Sitar player.  George was the youngest Beatle and was born on this day in 1943.

George was only 15 when he joined the Beatles and was only 16 when they went to Hamburg to play their first residency.  The trip was cut short because Harrison was deported because he was too young to play the clubs on the Reeperbahn.

Within you, without you;  George Harrison.

We were talking, about the space between us all
and the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
never glimpse the truth, then it’s far too late when they pass away.

We were talking, about the love we all could share
when we find it, to try our best to hold it there, with our love
with our love we could save the world, if they only knew.

Try to realize it’s all within yourself, no-one else can make you change
and to see you’re really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you.

We were talking, about the love that’s gone so cold
and the people who gain the world and lose their soul.
They don’t know, they can’t see, are you one of them?

When you’ve seen beyond yourself
then you may find peace of mind is waiting there
and the time will come when you see we’re all one
and life flows on within you and without you.


From Apollo to Pavlova flieth the swan.

Cygnus

When Apollo entered the world, sacred swans circled the island seven times for it was the seventh day of the month. At once Zeus lavished many gifts upon his son including a golden miter, a chariot drawn by swans, and a lyre since legend has it at birth Apollo said, “Dear to me shall be the lyre and bow, and in oracles I shall reveal to men the inexorable will of Zeus.”

Apollo is the Greek God of music and poetry, arts and archery amongst other things.  Swans were held to be sacred to him.  The most common swan in Europe was the mute swan, not quite mute, but not a renowned singer.  But legend held it that at the moment of death the Swan, finding itself moving closer to an afterlife with Apollo, would erupt into a beautiful funeral song.

So it is that we give the term swan song to a final performance.  One last great moment before retiring to anonymity.

The wild swan’s death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear; …
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;

The words of the Poet Laureate of Britain and Ireland, Alfed Lord Tennyson above inspired the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns to write Le cygne which is the central theme to the ballet, The Dying Swan which was performed by Anna Pavlova from 1905.  The Russian ballerina toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920’s and sparked off a 90 year row between the two nations.  The argument was over which country invented the eponymous Pavlova dessert.  Oxford English Dictionary ruled in 2010 that based on analysis of cookbooks the dish originated in New Zealand.

And so to Gernald Stern, who celebrates his birthday today, sharing it with another great American poet; Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Swan Song; by Gerald Stern

A bunch of old snakeheads down by the pond
carrying on the swan tradition — hissing
inside their white bodies, raising and lowering their heads
like ostriches, regretting only the sad ritual
that forced them to waddle back into the water
after their life under the rocks, wishing they could lie again
in the sun

and dream of spreading their terrifying wings;
wishing, this time, they could sail through the sky like
horses,
their tails rigid, their white manes fluttering,
their mouths open, their sharp teeth flashing,
drops of mercy pouring from their eyes,
bolts of wisdom from their foreheads.

Also sprach Zarathustra

The link above takes you the the opening credits from the film 2001 : A Space Odyssey.  The opening title runs to the music of Richard Strauss, a tone poem  inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel which translates into English as “Thus spoke Zarathustra”.  Zarathustra is of course rendered in English as Zoroaster the prophet who converted ancient Persia to Zoroastrianism.  From Zoroaster we get the Wise Spirit:  Ahura Mazda one of the five radiant spirits.  On the dark side is my favourite Angra Mainu which means hostile spirit and seems in English to read “Angry Man You”.

Today is the anniversary of the first performance of the Strauss opus, in Frankfurt 1896.  The famous piece used by Stanley Kubrick to open his film is only one of nine movements from the work.

Now, open the pod bay doors Hal.