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Archive for the ‘Music I love’ Category

In search of an artist . . .

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Painting by Julius Schmid (1854 - 1935)

Painting by Julius Schmid (1854 – 1935)










Last night I received an inquiry from a lovely reader regarding an image of Beethoven I used to illustrate  a Corner View blog post called ‘Joy‘.  She asked me where the image came from and despite having been a Beethoven fan since the age of eight and having seen this image many times in books and online I didn’t actually know. So I set off to find out. A google image search revealed that the image was taken from a black and white postcard reproduction of an oil painting by an Austrian artist called Julius Schmid (1854 – 1935) and was probably painted in 1920 – well after Beethoven’s death.   Here’s the postcard :-

Postcard reproduction of Schmid's painting

Postcard reproduction of Schmid’s painting

Reproduced in black and white like this it looks almost like it is  a photograph of Beethoven – and indeed I found a few people online claiming that it was. Sadly Beethoven died in 1827 when photography was only in it’s infancy. According to Wikipedia, French inventor Nicéphore Niépce created the earliest surviving photograph of a real-world scene (the View from the Window at Le Gras) in 1826 or 1827.

According to Janet Wasserman, the artist who painted the original image – Julius Schmid – was an academic artist of his era.  He was a landscape, historical, and genre painter as well as a very successful portraitist of the Austrian Imperial family, the nobility, and of the Vienna haute bourgeoisie.

Schmid also painted a very famous painting of the composer Franz Schubert – called the Schubertabend (or Schubertiaden) – my apologies but I couldn’t seem to find a better image than this online . . .

Schubertabend - by Julius Schmid

Schubertiaden – by Julius Schmid







Despite being quite successful in his own lifetime Schmid has all but disappeared from the canon of art – overtaken by the new art movements which were developing in the early-to-mid 20th Century. His main legacy to the world are these two paintings – and their continued currency owes more to the ongoing fame of the two composers than to any regard for Schmid as an artist. I have to say though that I really like these paintings – I feel  the artist must have admired both composers and that he must have gone to some lengths to familiarise himself with their personalities and habits. These two paintings give us a very affectionate and quite intimate glimpse into the worlds inhabited by Beethoven and Schubert – as interpreted by a very fine painter with a photographic eye. Thank you Julius Schmid  🙂

Music I love – Sacrificium by Cecilia Bartoli

Sunday, April 8th, 2012


This album is currently one of my absolute favourites . . . a fabulous cornucopia of obscure Baroque gems brought stunningly to life by one of the world’s best singers – Cecilia Bartoli. Cecilia has become quite famous for unearthing music that has lain forgotten for many years, sometimes for centuries and I, and many other opera fans, love her for it.

Sacrificium is full of arias written for the castrato voice during the 18th Century.  A castrato is essentially a male adult soprano whose voice had been prevented from breaking normally by castration prior to puberty.  Because of the popularity of the castrato voice – the soaring beauty of a woman’s soprano voice coupled with the lung capacity and vocal power of a man’s body – by the 18th century as many as 4,000 boys were castrated in Italy alone.

As Cecilia makes clear in her promotional material for the album this is pretty stomach-turning stuff.  Nevertheless, music of quite exceptional beauty was created for these male-female voices and Cecilia has made it her mission to bring this music back to life while at the same time paying homage to the terrible sacrifice made by the castrati for whom it was created.

There are very few singers around today who could actually sing these arias – which probably rate as among the most virtuosic ever written – but Cecilia is definitely up for the challenge. There’s a lovely mix on the album of fast and furious arias, full of breath-defying coloratura runs, leaps and trills, and slow, achingly beautiful arias which – because of their long arching phrases, long-held notes and soft passages – also require incredible breath control and technical skill. For me it’s one of the most exciting – and the most moving –  albums I’ve ever listened to.

I was lucky enough to hear Cecilia singing a lot of these arias live at the Sydney Opera House last year and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a concert so much. I nearly had to be carried out at the end – I kid you not – I was just so absolutely moved (to tears and to great joy) by the beauty of her voice, and by the sheer intensity of her embodiment of the music.  I felt like she was channelling it from some sort of divine realm. It sounds over the top but that’s how it felt at the time. I would so love to see her in concert again – sadly she doesn’t visit the Southern Hemisphere very often.

Here’s a couple of links to Cecilia singing two of the arias from the album – one  ‘fast and furious’ and the other  ‘slow and achingly beautiful’. This music won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – but just have a listen and give it a chance 🙂


This second clip has been mis-titled – it is actually ‘Parto, ti lascio, o cara’ by  Nicola Porpora.  And it is beautiful.

Corner View – Joy

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Ode to Joy

Probably one of the most powerful evocations of joy for me  is the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, commonly known – appropriately enough – as the Ode to Joy (and set to the words of a poem by Schiller of the same name).  When Beethoven wrote this beautiful – and utterly rapturous – music his health was failing, his hearing was almost completely gone, and his personal life was in tatters. Yet, despite this, he retained an incredible capacity for joy, and a deep faith in the ability of his fellow human beings to join together for the greater good. I have adored Beethoven’s music since I first discovered him at the age of 8 . . . but as well as adoring the music I have always loved and respected the man who wrote it. He was – for all his faults – a deeply compassionate person with a huge capacity for love and a real faith in humankind and, for me, his Ode to Joy reflects those virtues and inspires them in others.

Here’s a link to a YouTube clip to a scene from the film Immortal Beloved which really encapsulates the astonishing power of this music. It is only towards the end that the choir takes up the theme and the joy really takes flight but it’s worth the wait.  For those who might be wondering – the scenes that are interspersed with shots of Beethoven standing on the podium are supposed to be flashbacks to his very difficult early life. The words the choir are singing, by the way, are:

  • Joy, fair spark of the gods,
  • daughter of Elysium.
  • Drunk with fiery rapture,
  • goddess, we approach thy shrine.

  • Thy magic reunites those
  • whom stern custom has parted
  • All men will become brothers
  • under thy gentle wing.

Wishing you all much joy 🙂


Corner View is a weekly appointment – each Wednesday – created by Jane and currently curated by Francesca, where bloggers from all corners of the world share their view on a pre-arranged theme. If you’d like to join in, please leave a link to your Corner View post in the comments at, and be sure to visit other participants too. This week’s Corner View is ‘Joy’.

A musical discovery – Noel Mewton-Wood

Monday, November 7th, 2011

I have just finished reading a wonderful novel  – The Virtuoso – inspired by the life of the prodigiously gifted Australian pianist Noel Mewton-Wood who, at the peak of his fame and aged only 31 years, tragically took his own life. The author, Sonia Orchard (a pianist herself), writes with a deep understanding of music and musicians and sometimes when I was reading this book I could almost hear the music she was describing.

As soon as I finished the book I googled Noel Mewton Wood and found, on YouTube, some amazing recordings. Being a huge Beethoven fan I, of course, went straight to his recording of Beethoven\’s Fourth Piano Concerto.

Beautiful, just completely beautiful. What an incredible pianist. I can’t believe I have never heard of him. He was, apparently, very famous during his life time, but he seems to have sunk, almost without a trace, since his death. Thank you Sonia Orchard – your beautiful book has brought him to light for a whole new generation to discover.