Monthly Archives: March 2015

Frederic Chopin 1810-1849

Why does some music become stale and impossible to listen to? I no longer enjoy Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker or Swan Lake or even Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. I get a powerful urge to turn off the radio when I hear them. They have lost their potency and are merely annoying. Chopin, on the other hand, seems to live eternally. Is it because the composer died early and his music remained young with him?

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Piano music is intimate and seems to have been written for you alone. Chopin’s genius was in making the instrument perform like a whole orchestra while seeming to reach out from across the room. It is in turn passionate, tender, moody, exalted and stormy. It flows without any hint of sentimentality. This is romantic music in the original sense of the word rather than the pallid “candlelight and roses” meaning it has acquired in popular culture. It is pure sound without a story to prop it up.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_0umDHCfSE

Chopin created or reinvented new musical genres like the ballad, nocturne, prelude and dance music like the mazurka, waltz and polonaise. Many lent themselves to adaptation into popular music without any loss of originality or vitality. The ballet “Les Sylphides” evolved from the Grande Valse Brilliante.” I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” comes from a fantaisie-impromptu. “No other Love” from an etude. They have migrated easily and there are more.

Chopin’s music is also infused with patriotic fervor and nostalgia. He was born in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1810. His mother was Polish, his French father taught in the local lycee. Chopin moved to Paris in 1831 and never returned to Poland but always retained a strong attachment to a country that disappeared from the map several times during the 19th century. For 123 years there was no sovereign country called Poland. On three separate occasions it was partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria and became a phantom country. This only reinforced Chopin’s fierce patriotism and fueled his music. He never ceased to mourn his native country. In France Chopin had a troubled and tormented relationship with the author George Sand. In his and her writings their relationship is often expressed in petty and acrimonious complaints but this too was sublimated and found an outlet in his music.

Chopin died of tuberculosis in 1849 and was buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. His tombstone features the muse Euterpe weeping over a broken lyre. Later his sister took his heart back to Poland where it is preserved.

Editor’s notes: Pictures by Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer.  Your comments and responses to Simone’s posts are deeply appreciated.

 

 

 

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Is the Two-State Solution in Palestine Still Alive?

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Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1970’s

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Benajamin Netanyahu Today

What does Netanyahu’s big election win mean for the future of Arab-Israeli coexistence? It is a right-wing success, a challenge to liberals and a victory of fear over hope. There is fear of Hamas militants in Gaza, fear of Iran’s nuclear potential, and fear of Obama’s utopian objectives and his lack of understanding of Middle East realities.

Netanyahu is convinced that Mahmoud Abbas is not capable of heading a viable Palestinian state. So is the two-state solution dead and buried? It certainly seems to be, even as Netanyahu is now soft-pedaling his earlier pessimistic statements. This has been a masterful performance on his part, a skillful tap dance while juggling many balls in the air. This fancy footwork means that he has had to convince the Israeli people that he alone could provide security while at the same time trying not to alienate the rest of the world by adopting a hard line stance.

How can there be a Palestinian state when Jewish settlers are occupying much of the land that was to be part of that state? How can there be a Palestinian state as long as Israel will not consent to the division of Jerusalem? How can there be a Palestinian state when the Palestinian Authority is threatened by Hamas militants? How can there be a Palestinian state when Iran-supported Hezbollah continues to fire missiles at Israel or when ISIS (which calls itself DAESH) is only waiting for an opportunity to march into Jerusalem?

The disintegration of the Middle East as a whole is posing a threat to Jordan, Egypt and Israel and certainly to any future emerging state. A Palestinian state would end up being governed by groups who have sworn enmity to Israel. This common threat has brought Israel closer to Jordan and to Egypt.

At the same time, the risk of Israel finding itself isolated from the European Community and at the mercy of sanctions adopted by the U.N. Security Council is very real.

That is why Netanyahu has had to tread carefully to appease the United States. It alone can veto any anti-Israel resolutions. It is also the United States that contributes to Israel’s safety by helping finance the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Now Netanyahu needs to make things easier for both the Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel’s own Arab minority population (about 20%) which is suffering from discrimination, marginalization and restrictions. They need more work opportunities, easier check-point crossings, help in rebuilding Gaza after the recent war and in general a softening of the harshness of their daily existence. Will he do that?

Where Have All The Daughters Gone?

Where have all the daughters gone
Long time missing
Where have all the daughters gone
Long time ago
Where have all the daughters gone
People killed them one by one
Oh when will they ever learn
Oh when will they ever learn

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In Hunan Province an elderly woman placed the following ad:

Wanted: Kind-hearted daughter under 40 to take care of me in my old age, if satisfactory will inherit my fortune.
What exquisite poetic justice! China introduced the one-child policy about 30 years ago. It was a population control measure and it worked so well that China now has a nightmarish gender imbalance. That is because girl infanticide was a long established custom in China for centuries. Killing baby girls or allowing them to starve to death was commonplace. Drowning was another favorite method. Girls were expendable. Girls were more expensive to raise than boys and eventually left the family. It is hard to imagine such callousness but it was universally accepted.

In 2003 the one child policy was relaxed and families were allowed to apply for the right to have 2 children if one of the parents was an only child. It is too early to tell how effective this will prove to be.
In many early civilizations the same male bias existed. In Greece of 2000 BC the murder of female infants was so common that no more than 1% of families had two daughters. In India the custom of getting rid of girls is also embedded in the culture, especially in poor families who cannot afford dowries and lavish weddings. Sons on the other hand, are insurance. I read that in Karachi, Pakistan, nine out of ten newborns thrown on the dump are girls. Aborting female fetuses occurs regularly in India.

A few years ago I saw a film by Deepa Mehta called Water. It tells the story of young Indian widows rejected by both the husband’s families and their own who live in an ashram in Benares are made to shave their hair and are forced into prostitution to provide money for the temple. One of the widows was seven years old.

I have read that we should not force our own moral values on other cultures. I think this is called cultural relativism. I believe this is wrong. Some concepts are universal and if some societies have cruel traditions that cause suffering and death this should not be excused on the grounds that we should show tolerance toward cultures that are different from ours.