Posted by: jkirkby8712 | November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day

In Flanders fields

The poppies blow

Between the crosses

Row on row,

That marks our place;

And in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid

The guns below.

One of today’s newspapers described the Red Poppy as growing “wild across northern France and Belgium, the bloodiest battleground of WWI. The poppy became the symbol of remembrance after a Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, had spent 17 hellish days in 1915,  treating Canadians, British, Indians, French and Germans maimed by artillery fire. McCrae was distraught when he saw a close friend killed. He jotted down a poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance.  In Flanders Fields describes the poppies blowing between rows of crosses, marking the dead, and is one of the most famous wartime poems ever”.

Yes, today is Remembrance Day – in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – at 11 am this morning, marked one minute’s reflection in silent tribute marking the anniversary of the end of World War I [1914-1918] – the exact time that the guns stopped firing,  after years of terrible fighting, and millions of lives lost. Suggested by some that this ‘was the war to end all wars’ but sadly that was not to be, and wars continue to plague humankind, and even today, the Australian Defence Force is active in conflicts throughout the globe.

From today’s ‘Age’ newspaper, e read that ‘The fighting began when Britain and Germany went to war in August 1914. Australia was eager to help. From a country of less than five million people [at the time], 416,000 volunteered for service. Most were young men who were keen to see the world [my grandfather on my mother’s side was one of them] and defeat the enemy. [and most had no idea what they were getting into!].  By the end,  more than 60,000 were dead, and 156,000 wounded, gassed or prisoners of war. More than 45,000 Australians had been killed on the Western Front alone, a battle line of muddy trenches stretching from Belgium to the Swiss border. At Gallipoli in Turkey, more than 8,000 died”.  Terrible statistics, and of course, those kind of statistics didn’t end with World War I.


I actually wasn’t very well today, well more overnight actually – woke after only about an hour’s sleep, and soon began to wonder whether I was coming down with some element of food poisoning, after last night’s pub meal with the Heritage Society. Couldn’t really imagine that was the case however, as what I’d eaten had been fairly harmless I thought, a bit of fish with salad, after a rather spicy pumpkin & herb soup. However over the next couple of hours, that is certainly what I was feeling – quite ill in fact, and for a while wondered if it was something to do with the heart [one of the many advertised symptoms of heart problems], although more likely, simply a diabetes related problem!  Anyway, I adjourned to the loungeroom, where I reclined in one of the chairs there – was still there at 2am, when daughter Susan went to bed [her normal time!!], and eventually must have dosed off, woke about 4am, feeling slightly improved, enough to encourage a return to bed. Certainly, at that point, a trip to work seemed unlikely for Thursday, although there was a commitment that I really needed to be there for [as usual]!  Alarm at 6.15, ignored that and went back to sleep, waking again at 8.30 [at which time I would normally be at the office!].

We eventually did get to the office, not feeling perfect, a bit light headed but at least the nausea  feelings had subsided, my main concern was the drive in the traffic – the late departure eased that a little, and we had no problems. Not quite so easier on the early afternoon return, very tired, and didn’t enjoy the trip at all. Obviously needed some more sleep, which the early return home allowed.

Unfortunately, by being unwell today, I’ve missed the 3rd Concert performance for the year by the Australian String Quartet [ASQ]. Despite having a ticket, as usual,  I felt it would be unwise to try and sit through  a classical concert of ‘strings’ music, feeling as tired and lethargic as I was. Luckily, this particular concert was to be broadcast direct, by ABC Classic FM, so I was in fact able to listen to the music, and feel comfortable at the same time.

Long time readers will be aware that I’ve be listening to, and attending the concerts of the ASQ for some years now – four girls – Sophie Rowell and Anne Horton [on violins], Sally Boud [on viola] and Rachel Johnston [on cello]. Tonight, Sally would be missing, apparently a minor medical procedure meant she couldn’t travel, so she was ‘back home’ with her little she gave birth to last year. In her stead for tonight’s performance was  Irina Morozova, on the viola.

ASQ2010 CON3 sm.jpg

I rather enjoyed ‘listening’ in tonight –  Beethoven began the program – the ASQ played his String Quartet in B Flat Major,  written between 1798 and 1800, it was published initially between 1800-1801 when it was presented to the saloons of one Count Lichnowsky. Traditionally with Beethoven’s quartets, it was in four movements beginning with a very robust opening movement, followed by a traditionally slow and beautiful adagio, an extremely short 3rd movement, followed by what has been described as a delicate tender introduction to the finale with it’s famous ‘malinconia’ [or the melancholy]. Interestingly listening to the audience noise coming through the ABC microphones during breaks between movements, don’t generally pick those up so clearly as a part of the audience oneself.

Peter Sculthorpe [the 80 year old Australian composer] wrote his String Quartet No. 6 between 1963-1965, the earliest of the 18 quartets of his that are generally played these days – earlier ones were written in his student days.   It  was first performed in Sydney by the Austral String Quartet during the 1965 Musica Viva Subscription Series.  Sculthorpe was born in Launceston, Tasmania on the 29 April, 1929, and began composing at the start of 1938, after his first piano lesson, aged just 9 years!

This quartet also introduces a bit of a melancholy aspect though of a more searing nature. It was described in the following manner by one critic: –   “The intact No. 6 is an occasionally harsh but predominantly lyrical, if melancholy work. It has three movements, with lento being the frequent and operative word used to describe most of its duration. This is austere but not forbidding music, revealing at this stage a profound spiritual element that pervades all Sculthorpe’s greatest works (of which there are many). The closing bars of the piece are a truly cathartic listen”.  Perhaps a reason for that closing remark can be attributed to the fact that the final movement was dedicated to Sculthorpe’s mother, Edna. Meanwhile, the descriptions applied to the work of austere, spiritual, and a hint of dark and forbidding thoughts, come over rather well, particularly during the 3nd movement.  But then, as a contemporary composer, one can expect much of Sculthorpe’s music to contrast sharply with many of the traditional composers – I’ve played many of his works on a Sunday morning, through the radio. Tonight’s composition was written when he was aged about 35, in his ‘younger’ days!

During the interval. It was great to hear an interview with cellist, Rachel Johnston – the cello players don’t usually get a great deal of prominence, yet are an essential part of any string quartet – I think she described her role as the ‘engine room’ of the quartet!   I’ve never even heard Rachel speak on stage during a concert – that task was generally left to Sophie or Sally – so I was pleased to learn more  about and from this ‘quiet’ member of the quartet [as far as on stage was concerned]. She’s been with the ASQ [originally the Tankstream Quartet] for 6 years, joined about 4 years after the other three girls.  She was highly praiseworthy of the guest viola player for tonight’s concert.

The third and final selection for tonight’s concert Mozart’s  String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, which has been allocated the nickname ‘Dissonance’ on account of it’s perceived unusual slow introduction. It  is probably the most famous of Mozart’s quartets [completed in January 1785], and the  last in the set of six quartets composed between 1782 and 1785 which he dedicated to the composer Joseph Haydn [who once told Mozart’s father that his son was the greatest composer he’d met!]. Now, I’m no expert on the technical and compositional side of classical music, I just enjoy listening to it –  but the opening of this work, described as a ‘mix of extraordinary harmonic colours’ has apparently astounded musicians and musicologists since it’s premiere, even baffling Haydn himself. Described in one sense as the moment of chaos been converted to order! Well, my listening of it, didn’t really depict all of that – yes, the music seemed to be going off in different directions from one moment to the next, but you get that between movements, and occasionally within movements. But as I said, I’m no expert, but I quite enjoyed the so-called ‘chaos’.  I wonder what those critics would think about the ‘literally chaotic’ music of modern day Polish composer, Penderecki  [whose unusual, and at times, quite violent music, I have played of a Sunday morning, and been subsequently told by a couple of fans of the traditional composers, that ‘that was a bit too much to take’ after listening to Mozart, etc]. Anyway, Mozart’s quartet was in his normal four movements, and the longest of the quartets played tonight by the ASQ.

The other advantage of listening to tonight’s concert, rather than being there – when it finished, I was already home, had just managed to eat a meal,  and could relax in the absence of a one hour drive home.



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