Introduction and Welcome

Welcome to All Things Bright and Beautiful. If you are new to this site, I would recommend that you read my very first entry - which is an introduction and welcome to this blog. You can view it here

Thursday, February 26, 2015

John Constable - Wheat Field, Felix Mendelssohn - String Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, Elizabeth Barrett Browning - A Child Asleep

This painting by John Constable reminds me of Millet's "The Gleaners" painting. 
The Gleaners - Millet
Harvesting crops is so different today with our huge tractors and combines.  This picture makes harvesting wheat look like quite the social event for the whole family.  How has modernization changed the way we work and relate?

John Constable Wheat Field
This link for an enlarged view of this painting....

String Symphony No. 4 in C Minor by Felix Mendelssohn

For your background listening here is a link to the The Best of Mendelssohn.

I've started a biography of Mendelssohn and would like to recommend it for you and/or your older students.  On Wings of Song A Biography of Felix Mendelssohn by Wilfrid Blunt.  As well as writing beautiful music, Felix Mendelssohn unlike many other composers lived an upright and worthy life so it follows that his biography will make for worthy reading.  I remember some years back reading a book of biographical sketches of composers and being disgusted because so many of their lives were wasted in immorality and folly, many dying early because of their lifestyles.  Felix Mendelssohn's life stands out in contrast to these.  Here is a paragraph from the foreward:
"Yet it seems to me that in this permissive age it may be pleasant for a change to read about a composer who thought music more important than sex and who found his own wife more attractive than his neighbour's.  His life was interesting if undramatic, and his voyage through it not always quite so calm as his earlier biographers, by their well-intentioned but foolish suppression of certain passages in his letters, would have us believe.  He knew Weber, Berlioz, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Wagner; and as a child he was much hugged by the aged Goethe.  He described in delightful letters the musical and social life of London, Rome, Paris, and the principal cities of Germany, and illustrated the accounts of his many travels with competent and sometimes amusing sketches.  In 1829, when he was only twenty, he was responsible for the first performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion since its composer's death in 1750 - a revival that was to have far-reaching repercussions.  As a virtuoso pianist he fell little short of Liszt and Thalberg, and he was generally acknowledged to have been the finest organist of his day.  He was a brilliant improviser, and he had a prodigious musical memory, astonishing his London audiences by conducting without a score and, incidentally by using a baton- both then novelties in English concert halls.  So surely the time is ripe to persuade all but the irredeemably prejudiced and the totally unmusical that Mendelssohn, at his best, was a superb Classical-Romatic composer." 
     This biography is more advanced reading but is interesting and sprinkled throughout are lovely paintings and sketches.

If you're only going to read one biography this semester, however, I still recommend The Silver Answer by Constance Buel Burnett, a romantic biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  It's a wonderful read-aloud for the whole family.

A Child Asleep by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How he sleepeth! having drunken
Weary childhood's mandragore,
From his pretty eyes have sunken
Pleasures, to make room for more---
Sleeping near the withered nosegay, which he pulled the day before.

Nosegays! leave them for the waking:
Throw them earthward where they grew.
Dim are such, beside the breaking
Amaranths he looks unto---
Folded eyes see brighter colours than the open ever do.

Heaven-flowers, rayed by shadows golden
From the paths they sprang beneath,
Now perhaps divinely holden,
Swing against him in a wreath---
We may think so from the quickening of his bloom and of his breath.

Vision unto vision calleth,
While the young child dreameth on.
Fair, O dreamer, thee befalleth
With the glory thou hast won!
Darker wert thou in the garden, yestermorn, by summer sun.

We should see the spirits ringing
Round thee,---were the clouds away.
'Tis the child-heart draws them, singing
In the silent-seeming clay---
Singing!---Stars that seem the mutest, go in music all the way.

As the moths around a taper,
As the bees around a rose,
As the gnats around a vapour,---
So the Spirits group and close
Round about a holy childhood, as if drinking its repose.

Shapes of brightness overlean thee,---
Flash their diadems of youth
On the ringlets which half screen thee,---
While thou smilest, . . . not in sooth
Thy smile . . . but the overfair one, dropt from some aethereal mouth.

Haply it is angels' duty,
During slumber, shade by shade:
To fine down this childish beauty
To the thing it must be made,
Ere the world shall bring it praises, or the tomb shall see it fade.

Softly, softly! make no noises!
Now he lieth dead and dumb---
Now he hears the angels' voices
Folding silence in the room---
Now he muses deep the meaning of the Heaven-words as they come.

Speak not! he is consecrated---
Breathe no breath across his eyes.
Lifted up and separated,
On the hand of God he lies,
In a sweetness beyond touching---held in cloistral sanctities.

Could ye bless him---father---mother ?
Bless the dimple in his cheek?
Dare ye look at one another,
And the benediction speak?
Would ye not break out in weeping, and confess yourselves too weak?

He is harmless---ye are sinful,---
Ye are troubled---he, at ease:
From his slumber, virtue winful
Floweth outward with increase---
Dare not bless him! but be blessed by his peace---and go in peace.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

John Constable - Haywain, Felix Mendelssohn - Elijah, Elizabeth Barrett Browning - Cheerfulness Taught by Reason

Another John Constable painting this week.  He seemed to like painting wagons.  This cottage is attractive and I like the sunlight in the distant field and reflected in the water.  What attracts you in this painting?
Haywain - John Constable -
John Constable - Haywain
John Constable - Haywain (Detail)

Humor me one more week, I don't feel quite ready to move on from Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah Oratorio.... This is a different link than last week and the words seem easier to understand.  Below is a listing of the parts if you want to start part way through and just listen to a particular part.... (I recommend Obadiah's solo at 10:56).

Elijah Oratorio Part 1

Elijah (sung in English) -Elias, an Oratorio after words from the Old Testamnt, Op. 70.

1. Thomas Hampson, baritone (Elijah)
2. Barbara Bonney , soprano (The Widow)
3. Henriette Schellenberg, soprano (Angel)
4. Florence Quivar, mezzo-soprano (Angel)
5. Marietta Simpson, mezzo-soprano (The Queen)
6. Jerry Hadley, tenor (Obadiah)
7. Richard Clement, tenor (Ahab)
8. Thomas Paul, baritone
9. Reid Bartelme, boy soprano (The Youth)

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Ann Howard Jones, assistant conductor for choruses
Conducted by Robert Shaw
Part I
0:00 Introduction (Elijah) - As God of Israel liveth
0:57 Ouverture
4:28 Chorus - Help Lord
7:50 Quartet Recit. - The deep affords no water (3,5,7,8)
8:48 Duet with chorus - Zion spreadeth her hands for aid (3,5)
10:56 Recit (Obadiah) - If with all your hearts
Chorus - Yet doth the Lord see it not
19:00 Recit (Angel) - Elijah! get thee hence (Florence Quivar)
19:55 Double quartet -For He shall give His angels (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,)
23:04 Recit (Angel): Now Cherith's book is dried up (Florence Quivar)
24:22 Air (Bonney): What have I to do with thee - Recit (Elijah, Widow) Give me thy son!
13. 9. Chorus - 'Blessed Are All They That Fear Him'
14. 10 Recitative (Elijah, Ahab) With Chorus - 'As God The Lord Of Sabaoth Liveth'
15. 11. Chorus - 'Baal, Answer Us'
16. 12. Recitative (Elijah) And Chorus - 'Call Him Louder, For He Is A God!'
17. 13. Recitative (Elijah) And Chorus - 'Call Him Louder! He Heareth Not'
18. 14. Air (Elijah) - 'Lord God Of Abraham, Isaac And Israel'
19. 15. Quartet (Angels) - 'Cast Thy Burden Upon The Lord'
20. 16. Recitative (Elijah) And Chorus - 'O Thou, Who Makest Thine Angels Spirits'
21. 17. Air (Elijah) - 'Is Not His Word Like A Fire?'
22. 18. Air - 'Woe Unto Them Who Forsake Him!'
23. 19. Recitative (Obadiah, Elijah, Youth) And Chorus - 'O Man Of God, Help Thy People!'
24. 20. Chorus - 'Thanks Be To God!'

I can't recommend highly enough the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Silver Answer, by Constance Buel Burnett. But I have also been browsing through The British Library Writers' Lives book, Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Robert Browning. It has pictures and lots of interesting information on their lives. I hope to feature Robert Browning's poetry during Spring quarter starting in April.  Today's poem:

      Cheerfulness Taught by Reason

I Think we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God's. Had we no hope
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of yon gray blank of sky, we might grow faint
To muse upon eternity's constraint
Round our aspirant souls; but since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop,
For a few days consumed in loss and taint ?
O pusillanimous* Heart, be comforted
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints ? At least it may be said
' Because the way is short, I thank thee, God. '

* Pusillanimous means - weak and afraid of danger,
lacking in courage and manly strength and resolution; contemptibly fearful

Thursday, February 12, 2015

John Constable - Maria Bicknell or Mrs. John Constable, Felix Mendelssohn - Elijah Oratorio, Elizabeth Barrett Browning - Comfort

I think John Constable's wife was very pretty - I like this painting of her.

Maria Bicknell or Mrs. John Constable

I'd like to take another week on the Elijah Oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn.

I was listening to part of the Elijah Oratorio with my children and couldn't pick out all the words, so I found this site with the words.  Elijah Oratorio Score.
You can follow and turn pages on the bottom right.

Our poem this week by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is called Comfort.  Beautiful!


SPEAK low to me, my Saviour, low and sweet
From out the hallelujahs, sweet and low
Lest I should fear and fall, and miss Thee so
Who art not missed by any that entreat.
Speak to mo as to Mary at thy feet !
And if no precious gums my hands bestow,
Let my tears drop like amber while I go
In reach of thy divinest voice complete
In humanest affection -- thus, in sooth,
To lose the sense of losing. As a child,
Whose song-bird seeks the wood for evermore
Is sung to in its stead by mother's mouth
Till, sinking on her breast, love-reconciled,
He sleeps the faster that he wept before. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Our painting today by John Constable is called "The Harvest Field"  but the harvest field isn't the first thing I noticed with the view he took from back across the creek, with the stumpy tree in the foreground.  I like the reflective water and the person in red in the foreground.  That old tree is very interesting, too.
The Harvest Field - John Constable -
The Harvest Field - John Constable

Our work by Felix Mendelssohn this week is one of his greatest works - his oratorio Elijah based on the life of Elijah the  prophet of the Old Testament.  You and your children may not care for "opera" but I think it is valuable to at least expose them to it.  Think of it as a story put to music.  You might find the second link below a helpful introduction before you listen - it introduces the characters and gives a brief synopsis. 

Here is a link to the Wikipedia article about this oratorio.

This link includes facts, notes and a brief synopsis of the oratorio. 

If you want to listen to just the overture, that is here:
Mendelssohn's Elijah - Overture.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote challenging but beautiful poetry.  Today's poem is historical in nature - I wonder if we realize enough how precious and fragile is our freedom to worship God. 

The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers

The breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods, against a stormy sky,
Their giant branches tost;

And the heavy night hung dark
The hills and water o'er,
When a band of exiles moored their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted, came;
Not with the roll of the stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear,—
They shook the depths of the desert's gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard and the sea;
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free.

The ocean-eagle soared
From his nest by the white wave's foam,
And the rocking pines of the forest roared—
This was their welcome home!

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst that pilgrim band:
Why had they come to wither there,
Away from their childhood's land?

There was woman's fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love's truth;
There was manhood's brow serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of the seas? the spoils of war?—
They sought a faith's pure shrine!

Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod!
They have left unstained what there they found—
Freedom to worship God!