Saturday, 26 February 2011

On conversation - some good advice from Jonathan Swift

Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood
William Shakespeare

Good conversation is one of the things that makes life enjoyable. Regrattably it also seems to be a vanishing art. The conversational deterioration may be linked to the ever faster lifestyle of ours - there seems not to be enough time for good conversation - and perhaps also to the new  communications media, which occupy so much of our time now.

Be it as it may, it is interesting to note that there were voices lamenting the lack of good conversation already much before our time. Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St. Patrick´s Cathedral in Dublin (and, of course, the author of Gulliver´s Travels) noted a number of of these deficiencies in his "Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation".

Below is a selection of the observtions and comments that Swift makes in his essay. I think also you will recognize that not so many things have changed from Swift´s time (1667 - 1745):

"For instance: nothing is more generally exploded than the folly of talking too much; yet I rarely remember to have seen five people together, where someone among them has not been predominant in that kind, to the great constraint and disgust of all the rest."
"Another general fault in conversation, is that of those who affect to talk of themselves; some, without any ceremony, will run overr the history of their lives; will relate the annals of their diseases, with the several symptoms and circumstances of them; will enumarate the hardships and injustice they have suffered in court, in parliament, in love, or in law."
"Where a company has met, I often have observed two persons discover, by some accident, that they were bred together at the same school or university; after which the rest are condemned to silence, and to listen while these two are refreshing each other´s memorey, with the arch tricks and passages of themselves and their comrades."
"I know a man of wit, who is never easy but where he can ber allowed to dictate and preside: he neither expects to be informed or entertained, but to display his own talents."
"It now passes for raillery to run a man down in discourse, to put him out of countenance, and make him ridiculous; sometimes to expose the defects of his person or understanding; on all which occasions, he is obliged not to be angry, to avoid the imputation of not being able to take a jest."
"There are two faults in conversation, which appear very different, yet arise from the same root, and are equally blameable; I mean an impatience to interrupt others; and the uneasiness of being interrupted ourselves."
"There are some men excellent at telling a story, and provided with a plentiful stock of them, which they can draw out upon occasion in all companies, and, considering how low conversation runs now among us, it not altogetherr a contemptible talent; however, it is subject to two unavoidable defects, frequent repetition, and being soon exhausted; so that, whoever values this gift himself, has need of a good memory, and ought frequently to shift his company."
"The degeneracy of conversation, with the pernicious consequences thereof upon our humours and dispositions, has been owing, among other causes, to the custom arisen, for some time past, of excluding women from any share in our society, farther than in parties at play, or dancing, or in the pursuit of an amour. I take the highest period of politiness in England (and it is of the same date in France) to have been the peacable part of King Charles I´s reign; and from what we read of those times, as well as from the accounts I have formerly met with from some who lived in that court, the methods then used for raising and cultivating conversation were altogether different from ours; several ladies, whom we find celebrated by the poets of that age, had assemblies at their houses, where persons of the best understanding, and of both sexes, met to pass the evenings in discoursing upon whatever agreeable subjects were occasionally started; and although we are apt to ridicule the sublime platonic notions they had, or personated, in love and friendship, I conceive their refinements were grounded upon reason, and that a little grain of the romance is no ill ingredient to preserve and exalt the dignity of human nature, without which it is apt to degenerate into everything that is sordid, vicious, and low." 

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This article on the art of conversation, published in the December 19 2006 issue of The Economist is well worth reading.  

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Old Russian romances

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Sometimes it is so nice to discover something quite new for oneself. Like today, when I explored the world of beautiful old Russian romances. They all share the wistful, melancholic feeling that is so appealing. And the beauty of the Russian language - although I do not speak Russian - makes the songs even more enjoyable. Fortunately there is YouTube, a wonderful resource for locatíng many old "friends", but particularly if you want to explore something you have never heard before. I hope you will also enjoy my small selection of songs:

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Monica Groop - a great mezzo soprano

Of the classical female singing voices the mezzo soprano has always been my favourite. I have nothing against sopranos, but the the best mezzos have it all, both the high AND the beautiful, warm lower register.Among the still performing mezzos, Finnish Monica Groop comes in my opinion closest to perfection. She has everything that makes a truly great singer. And I do not know of any other singer who masters all genres of music like Ms. Groop. She is equally at home with baroque, romantic, opera, lieder and contemporary music. It is easy to agree with this characterisation of Ms. Groop´s artistry :

Finnish singer Monica Groop has ALL the goods. A truly complete singer who defies categories or labels-though billed as a mezzo-soprano, she has no fear of the heights, sailing easily to high B's, beautifully, without effort. This woman is a true artist and should have the publicity and career that many LESSER singers have achieved.
Not since the celebrated artistry of the likes of Sutherland, Tebaldi, Callas, to name a few, have I been this taken with a singer. Groop's extremely varied and complete repertoire defies categorizing this singer as yet another "early music girl." She has complete vocal fluidity and ornamentation in all the right places-indeed her ornamentation and coloratura are accurate, impeccable and clear with a beautiful legato. No huffing and chugging here! Yet one can hear her other recordings: of Bach, Grieg, Sibelius, Brahms and Schubert lieder and song, and understand this is a voice full of beauty and tone, no "paring down" to wisps of flight and fancy for the Baroque and early music! Monica Groop sings with a warm, full and creamy tone that has golden shimmer and excitement.
P.R. Marchesano
(Review of Monica Groop´s Arie Amorose CD)

If you are interested in learning to know more about Monica Groop, I suggest that you visit her home page, and e.g. this page at Kirshbaum Demler & Associates, who represent her in the US.

Monica Groop´s versatility is also reflected in her extensive discography (not updated after September 2009), which so far includes over 60 critically acclaimed recordings. She has recently recorded her last CD in the Complete Grieg songs series consisting of over 170 songs on seven CDs. Clicking this link gets you a list of over 500 items related to her recordings.

For those who would like to listen to samples of Ms. Groops performances and recordings, click this link.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Ocean force

I don´t know whether this video can be called enjoyable, but it certainly shows what a mighty force the ocean can be. Don´t watch if you easily get seasick ...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

February birds

Today we had a glorious, sunny - although a little bit chilly - winter day here in the Øresund region. That´s why I decided to spend most of the afternoon on a long walk along the beach. The familiar sea birds - and a crow - where also there, trying to find clams to eat:

(click pics for a larger image)

And, of course, the ships were there, too. This one, the 176 m long cargo ship Bulknes passed through Øresund on its way from Polish Gdynia to Jelsa in Norway.