Her utter technical command and her ability to unerringly find emotional truth resulted in a legendary career garlanded with landmark recordings and never to be forgotten stage performances.
Her performance of, ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ will live with me always as I make my journey through the dark wood.
Spirit refreshing music courtesy of Bach one of the supreme artists.
His works will enter your consciousness like a pebble dropped into a pond with ever widening circles of effect.
Julian Bream is another musician with, ‘The Touch’.
Music played by Bream flows purely and naturally from his fingers to our hearts.
Devotees of Chopin and his piano works, especially The Nocturnes, can spend long hours debating which great pianist has searched their depths most successfully.
I have never wavered in my conviction that the magical recordings made by Claudio Arrau must wear the crown.
His version of The Nocturnes has the quality of meditative prayer.
Herbert Howells music has an English reticence which belies the oceanic depths of feeling it can summon from the listener.
His, ‘A Spotless Rose’ especially when sung with the aching purity of The New College Oxford Choir tenderly ushers the cosmic into our mortal consciousness.
For music to take you away from the daily tumult I offer you a precious work of the heart.
‘A Stor mo Chroi’ as performed by The Voice Squad (Phil Callery, Fran McPhail and Gerry Cullen) insists that we each attend to what is truly important in all our lives; the love we offer and the love we share.
Where else is your treasure to be found?
This is the last Post of 2017.
Many thanks to all my readers and followers and especially those who take the time to comment.
I was touched by so many good wishes at Christmas and for New Year and such kind words about The Jukebox.
When I started The Jukebox I little thought I would find so many kindred spirits!
‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ is a work of blazing, visionary brilliance by El Greco who had the artistic bravery characteristic of genius in all ages.
El Greco depicted the human body and used colour and perspective in a manner that was wholly individual.
The awe inspiring intensity of his vision breaks down any conventional, ‘tutored’ response.
To my mind his art is a true veil shredding glimpse into a co-existing reality : present then and present now.
This painting, more than any other I know, captures the enormity of the event which took place some two thousand years ago.
It is a peerless hymn of exultation and adoration.
Peter Paul Rubens – ‘The Adoration of the Magi’
A painting, more accurately the the modello (a sketch shown to a patron for approval of the composition) for the altarpiece painted by Rubens for the convent of the Dames Blanches, Louvain now in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.
There is a wonderful humanity in this work.
Though the event depicted was of universal importance it was witnessed, experienced, by, ‘ordinary’ men and women (and let us not forget animals as the peering camels here humorously demonstrate) on a day when the sun rose and set like any other.
Miracles take place (far more often than, ‘common sense’ will allow) against the background of every day events.
Rubens manages to make each of the individual characters in the scene vividly present.
I feel as if I could walk directly into this company and be made welcome.
Andrei Rublev – Nativity
Andrei Rublev’s Icons and Frescos are supreme works of devotional art.
They are works to be still before.
If you surrender to these works they will work in your soul.
Rublev, following the Orthodox tradition, sees the events of The Nativity not as historical episodes but as living events the faithful community participated in as they celebrated the liturgy.
The calm and peace of the image contains immense and complex feeling.
The birth of The Saviour is shown as a cosmic event which is yet an acceptance of human mortality and frailness.
Duccio Di Buoninsegna – Nativity
From the great Master from Sienna, Duccio Di Buoninsegna.
Since I first discovered the work of Duccio as a teenager I have been in thrall to the luminous beauty of his works.
His paintings seem to me to have been deeply pondered in his heart which gives them qualities of stillness and humility which I find overwhelmingly moving.
In particular, something about, ‘Duccio Blue’ sets my heart aflame.
To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’.
Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist.
I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time future bloom before us through his music.
When Kathleen Ferrier recorded, ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ the shadow of death was looming over her.
This is music making of the very highest order.
Here Kathleen Ferrier does not so much perform a song as become the song.
The rare emotional reach of her extraordinary voice bringing flesh and spirit to Mahler’s masterwork touches something very deep and unnameable within humanity.
Bill Evans was the supreme lyric poet of the piano.
Listening to Bill’s unique sense of musical time and weight I find my spirit awakened, refreshed and released.
‘Blue in Green’ showcases the amazing precision and delicacy of his touch as a musician.
He is always instantly recognisable – the hallmark of true greatness.
This version of what has become a Jazz standard is from the Christmas 1959 session issued as, ‘Portrait in Jazz’.
You have to believe in telepathy when you hear Bill Evans play with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motion (drums)
This trio remains the benchmark for all piano trios.
From the Hebrides.
The Christ Child’s Lullaby or Taladh Chriosda in Scots Gaelic is full to the brim with maternal feeling for the vulnerable new born.
Mother and child, once one, now two, create together a sacred space where love and mutual regard dwells.
The standing stone vocals of Mae McKenna and Mairi Macinnes, switching fluently between languages, supported by the pellucid instrumental playing of William Jackson and Tony McManus casts a timeless spell.
Now Heart stilling music composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).
Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.
I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.
The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.
Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.
Music by Bob Dylan, Judy Garland & Shostakovich conducted by Rostropovich, played by Maxim Vengerov.
Our painting today is by Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.
There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.
The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.
Our first music selection today is one of the great works of the 20th Century.
Shostakovich lived through dark times yet, perhaps because of this, his work while never denying the darkness always returns to the light.
Maxim Vengerov is a musician to his fingertips and urged on by Rostropovich he wrings every scintilla of emotional power from the work.
So, at last – the twelfth day of our Sleigh’s journey and it’s Christmas Eve!
I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.
I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).
But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.
First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.
It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!
Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.
The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.
Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.
It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring Sinatra covers CDs).
The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!
And, indeed he recently assumed, in a typically enigmatic way, the mantle of a Nobel Laureate.
The man never known to make a foolish move managed by not attending the investiture ceremony to harvest more publicity than all those who did!
In his nicely judged acceptance speech he managed to be both filled with humility and unblinkingly directly compare himself to Shakespeare!
Now that’s the one and only Bob Dylan!
Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.
It’s as if her singing really came from the secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.
No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.
Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.
Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.
‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?
‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’ ‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’ ‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’
‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’
Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.
‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.
May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!
And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?
So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.
Last month I went, for the fourth time, to see Conor Macpherson’s modern masterpiece Play ‘The Weir’.
It’s a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.
The whole action of the Play takes place on a single evening in an Irish rural bar.
As the drinks flow the four characters tell, in sequential monologue form, riveting stories imbued with puzzled pain, aching regret and unending longing.
Strings break in Heaven.
As each story unfolds more is revealed by the tale than the teller had ever expected.
By the end of the play though they are raw from the experience there is a shared sense of catharsis and, almost miraculously, a feeling that the surrounding darkness is pierced by rays of light and fragile hope.
The search for that fragile hope is one of the main reasons we tell stories – both to others and to ourselves.
As I drove home a song began to play in my head.
A song that is a comic tragedy or a tragic comedy depending on your point of view.
A song of puzzled pain that tells more about the teller than ever anticipated.
A song filled with aching regret and unending longing.
A song that breaks strings in Heaven.
A song that has achieved a sense of catharsis by its conclusion.
A song that, almost miraculously, ends on a note of fragile hope.
A song that takes place at Christmas Time when even the most cynical like to believe in Hope – however faintly it glimmers.
A song by a supreme storyteller.
‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’.
Now, aint that just Grand!
Tom Waits, in this freewheeling pre Swordfish Trombones period, wore a baggy coat with pockets stuffed with the works of John Fante, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bukowski and Alan Ginsberg.
Playing in his head were the recordings of Lenny Bruce, Lord Buckley, Howling Wolf, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.
He had pretty much taken up residence on the Lost Highway.
Because, of course, it’s the best way to see the Moon and Stars clearly and to find out what kind of storyteller you might become.
Tom Waits became the kind of storyteller who could make you gasp, make you laugh out loud and then cry hot tears as his crazy lyrical stories unfolded.
A Tom Waits song makes you relish the details.
I love the way while the piano rolls meanderingly along the lyric seems to spontaneously emerge out of thin air.
The use of ‘And’ and, ‘Hey’ to kick off each exhalation of thought and invention gives the song a tremendous immediacy.
Hey Charley I’m pregnant
and living on 9-th street
right above a dirty bookstore
off Euclid avenue
It’s important that the song is addressed to a specific person.
It’s thinking of that person, that one person, who might, just might, make it all right again, that makes a person put pen to paper.
And you should always kick off with the news that’ll make the reader sit bolt upright and want to read on.
And I stopped taking dope
and I quit drinking whiskey
and my old man plays the trombone
and works out at the track
You want to convince Charley and yourself that things have changed.
They really have changed.
Those vices you shared are memories now.
And, you found a guy.
A guy who plays the trombone and brings the dollar bills home.
And he says that he loves me
even though its not his baby
and he says that he’ll raise him up
like he would his own son
And, hey .. a guy who won’t let you down.
Not like all the other Guys.
A guy who will raise up your unborn son – even though he’s not his own son.
And, he gave me a ring
that was worn by his mother
and he takes me out dancin
every saturday nite.
Now, Charley knows somewhere in his heart that there’s no woman who ever lived who doesn’t want their Darling to give them a ring that was worn by his Mother.
And, Hey, whatever anyone tells you there ain’t no feeling better than goin’ out dancin’ on a Saturday Night – just the two of you.
Just the two of you.
And, I still have that record
of Little Anthony & The Imperials
but someone stole my record player
how do you like that?
When you’re lost and you think you’re going out of your head and your heart’s about to jump right out of your chest you can’t help but remember those old songs.
There are some songs you’ll never get out of your head.
Little Anthony with the soaring voice.
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you, you
If we could start anew, I wouldn’t hesitate
I’d gladly take you back, and tempt the hand of fate
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, caused by you
Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
hey Charley … I went back to Omaha to
live with my folks
Charley knows, like you do, that you can never really go back to the home you grew up in.
If you ever had a reason to leave you’re never going to be happy back in Omaha.
And, hey, you had so many reasons to leave.
Reasons to leave.
and I wish I had all the money
that we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
and I wouldn’t sell any of em
I’d just drive a different car every day dependin on how I feel.
You and Charley, his hair all slicked back with grease used to drive with the top down at ninety miles an hour on the two lane blacktop.
And, hey, wouldn’t it be great if you had all that wasted cash and could roll down the highway every day in a different car.
Just the two of you.
You can almost feel the warm air caressing you both.
Dreams are like that.
Dreams are like that.
Sometimes dreams are all that can keep you going.
All that can keep you going.
do you want to know
the truth of it?
I don’t have a husband he don’t play the trombone and I need money to pay this lawyer
But. But. It takes a lot of energy to dream.
And, hey, sometimes you just don’t have the strength anymore.
Just don’t have the strength.
So, you breathe deep and let it out.
Let it out.
All of it.
The blood and the guts and the tears.
And, hey, you find yourself saying the thing you promised yourself you’d never say.
The thing you promised yourself you’d never say.
and Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
come valentines day.