Posted in book review

Rembrandt is Jacob and the angel

There is something about Rembrandt’s (15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669) paintings that are fascinating, like Bach’s Baroque musical pieces that are profound and elegant. Rembrandt was Northern European art’s answer to Italian Renaissance art. Then there is more to this wonder of genius that touches humanity’s universal hearts and minds.

What distinguished Rembrandt from his contemporaries was his choice of subjects that were both common and profound in the everyday setting, tinged with a religious theme. Although he was as Protestant as Bach and Handel in terms of his birth of origin being the proud Dutch, he had a Catholic cast of mind regarding the scale and ambiance of the biblical scenes he chose to express. His paintings are an exquisite admixture of sweet simplicity and magnificent sanctity communicated to the eyes then lingers in the heart. It is also realistically factual and mystically imaginative, producing a powerful pathos and awesomeness as though to play a great drama across the canvass in which the actions of the figures, even in still positions, give the impression that they are not suspended in the silence but caught in moments of action.

To illustrate, one of Rembrandt’s most celebrated paintings, ‘ Jacob wrestling with the angel,’ epitomizes such fine moments of vigor and sereneness altogether, sensuously wrapped around in the forces of life of this world and the meaning thereof. Jacob represents our human life full of highs and lows, loaded with energies that fuel the muscles of desires and the heart of will. Jacob looks coarse, plebeian, and sturdy, simultaneously faulty and confused, whereas his angelic opponent is slender, patrician, and imperturbable. The angel of heaven is supra-meaning, the meaning of life, the refinement of life itself, the beauty of life that we strive to find through trials and foils. If Jacob is the Strength of the Human, the angel is the Spirit from within.

Rembrandt is a kind of Artist who has the sense and sensibilities particular to Artist with heart, which matches the spirit of enlightenment that mind without humanity is not genuine intelligence that nourishes our mind. So Rembrandt deserves his constellation of stars shining bright in heaven’s dome in all brilliance.

Posted in Miscellany, Music/Guitar

Academy of Ancient Music: “Baroque Journey” with Lucie Horsch – review

img_0202-1The recorder is a wonderful woodwind musical instrument: light in weight, affordable in price, delightful in timbre, and easy to learn, it has been adopted as a part of music curriculum at many elementary schools, just as ancient Greek schools necessitated students to learn an aulos or a lyre. However, this seemingly insouciant musical instrument was the centerpiece of Baroque music because of its florid and vivacious sound that strikes the chords with busy, sophisticated, delicate melodies of Baroque, the term which originally means irregular shapes of pearls in Portuguese. So much so that Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach had composed music just for the recorder long before the cello, the violin, or even the harpsichord came into the scene and outclassed the lovely recorder.

Ergo, the wanting of its significant contribution to the history of music and of its tainted beauty of the timbre has recently been brought to light, especially in Europe. The heroine of this jubilant revival of the Baroque recorder music is Lucie Horsch, a young Dutch recorder player whose musical finesse characterized by her vivaciousness of technicality and instinctive understanding of baroque music makes her exquisite musicianship look effortless and seamless. That classical music is not for the old conservative snobs but for anyone who has an ear for beautiful music is a tenet of the Arts on the grounds that the standard of taste and reason is universal in all humans as regards the principle of sentiment and judgment is common in humankind.  As illustrated in this music video, Horsch and her musician friends represent the democratizing of classical music in general, making it accessible to enjoy for all, not a prerogative of a few fortunate in a stuffy concert hall.

If you are a novice in Baroque music, then Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey is a choice introduction to the world of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. She will be your Beatrice who will guide you to Paradise of the music, as she did for Dante in the Divine Comedy. In my opinion, the best number is The Arrival of the Queen of Shiba by Handel, for it best shows Horsch’s dexterity of playing the recorder flawlessly, delivering the best of her musicality with a burst of pep like a vivacious sprite.

Author’s Note: You can download Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey from your iTune on your iPhone to enjoy the delightfully whimsical world of a Baroque Recorder. The music will cast out from you a momentary vertigo of worries and anxieties and elevate your mood to an instant jolly caprice 🙂

Posted in Film Review

‘After the Storm’, by Hirokazu Kore-eda – review

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Life reminds me of a Baroque fugue; it begins with the exposition of a short melody, then develops into busy melodies and finally reaches a dramatic final entry in tonic. It is a continuous surrendering of the old and a trust in new beginnings with lots of in-between episodes, intricately interwoven by multiple strands of occasional chances called “luck,” failed expectations, and grace of hopes that creates a curiously riveting toccata. In this film by Kore-eda, Ryota’s life is a ballad of a soft troubadour, who wants to sing a happy song with his fractured but beautiful family.

Ryota, once a promising novelist, now a divorced middle-aged struggling writer, makes a living as a part-time private detective under the pretext of enriching his writer’s imaginativeness for his next best oeuvre. He loves his ex-wife and his son dearly, so he always hangs around them surreptitiously. But he does not understand that how he feels about them is unrequited because he is not in their lives any longer. In fact, Ryota is even unsure of himself, of his reason for writing, and of what he wants to become amid his dwindling writing career and growing distance from his already fractured family. There is a sense of drift in his life, that feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and disappointments, all fragmented in the detritus of broken wishes, unpaid dues, and lost dreams. He has nonetheless a heart of gold, and his humor is his saving grace that helps him get going. Ryota’s life has been in the doldrums for so long that he forgets he has to move forward to get out of the stasis binding him in the longing for bygone days. A stream of pathos oozes out to see Ryota thinking, ‘Who would have known my life would turn out like this?’

Director Kore-eda uses the storm, more accurately a typhoon, as a medium to free Ryota from the memories of the past, from the obsession of his past, in order to give him a new meaning of life, will to meaning. Kore-eda does a beautifully nuanced job of capturing the innermost feelings of the characters without elaborate lines or super-abudance of emotions throughout the scenes. It is a Japanese film, but the sentiments and judgments of the characters are rendered communicative to the hearts of the universal audience.

Posted in book review, Miscellany

coffee sonata

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There’s nothing like a cup of freshly brewed hot black coffee in the morning to start a day. So much so that the Father of Music Johann Sebastian Bach even wrote “The Coffee Cantata” and announced: “Without a cup of hot coffee in the morning, I am like a roast goat.” It also reveals us the following historicity: (1) coffee had already established itself as a popular refreshing beverage in domestic as well as social firmament; and (2) the standard of taste as regards the principle of sentiment is universal in humankind beyond a divide of times and places. What a sense of connectivity to those living in the days of yore it is by the love of coffee!

The ubiquitous presence of Starbucks all over the world may be an cultural artifact of the 21st Century, signifying sleek urbaneness sometimes translated as being “uber cool,” belonging to our own time only. That is to say, anything out of different times is regarded as anachronistic, crude, or primitive if the divide of time gets bigger, whereas the counts of years on an evolutionary scale amounts to a microsecond on a twenty-four hour clock. Such example is illustrated in the diary of Samuel Pepys, an interesting English diarist who recorded the details of the 17th century everyday London life with wits and gusto that strikes the chords with the modern readers. Pepys commented on how he was being hooked on coffee until the inordinate consumption of the liquid caffeine made him feel sick. In fact, coffee shops are not the advent of our Internet Age. The first coffee shop in London was established in Oxford in 1652 with the proliferation of subsequent coffee houses where men of education and literary proclivities discussed business and social affairs. Beyond the British Isles into the grand continent of Europe across the Channel, coffee houses were burgeoning with artistic scenes in which musicians, writers, and painters commandeered their most favorite seats to proclaim them as their elbow rooms.

Pitchforked forward in time, I am back at my regular Starbucks store, sitting at my favorite table with pen to paper writing this essay. I look around and see people in modern attire but doing essentially same as their ancestors in a coffee house in days of yore: conversing, reading, and writing with coffee that seem to relax the constraints of everyday life in their respite. The whole scene brings me back to universal truth that something never changes, and that is what continues the humankind – through the love of coffee, as it were.

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