Sunday, February 28, 2010

Frédéric Chopin, born 1. March 1810

Frédéric François Chopin was born 200 years ago on 1 March 1810 and died 17 October 1849. He was a Polish composer and pianist and one of the great masters of Romantic music. Chopin was born in a village in the duchy of Warsaw, his father was French and his mother Polish. At age twenty, he left Warsaw for Austria, intending to go on to Italy. The outbreak of the Polish November uprising a month later, and its subsequent suppression by Russia led to his becoming one of many expatriates of the Polish Great Emigration. He moved to Paris, where he made a comfortable living as a composer and piano teacher, while he also gave some public performances. From 1837 to 1847 he had a turbulent relationship with the French novelist Aurore Dupin, better known by her pseudonym George Sand. He suffered from poor health most of his life, and he died in Paris in 1849 of pulmonary tuberculosis, aged thirty-nine.
Chopin's compositions were written primarily for the piano a solo instrument. Though technically demanding they emphasize nuance and expressive depth rather than sheer virtuosity. Chopin invented musical forms such as the ballads and was responsible for major innovations in the piano sonata, mazurka, waltz, nocture, polonaise, étude, impromptu and prélude. He formed friendships with many authors and composers like Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Eugène Delacroix etc.
In 1835 Chopin went to Carlsbad where, for the last time in his life, he met with his parents. He went through Saxony on his way back to Paris, where he met old friends from Warsaw, the Wodzińskis. He had met their daughter Maria, now sixteen, in Poland five years earlier, and fell in love with the charming, artistically talented, young woman. The following year, in September 1836, Chopin proposed marriage to Maria. She accepted, and her mother Countess Wodzińska approved in principle, but Maria's tender age and Chopin's tenuous health (in the winter of 1835–1836 he had been so ill that word had circulated in Warsaw that he had died) forced an indefinite postponement of the wedding. The engagement remained a secret to the world and never led to the altar. Chopin finally placed the letters from Maria and her mother in a large envelope, on which he wrote the Polish words "Moja bieda" ("My sorrow") His feeling for Maria is shown in his waltz in A-flat-major "The Farewell waltz", Op. 69, No.1. On his return to Paris he composed the Étude in F minor, the second in the Op. 25 cycle, which he referred to as "a portrait of Maria's soul." He sent Maria seven songs he had set to the words of Polish poets.

In 1836 at a party hosted by a countess, a mistress of his friend and fellow composer Franz Liszt, Chopin met the French author and feminist Amandine Aurore Lucille Dupin, the Baroness Dudevant, better kown by her pseudonym George Sand. One of her former lovers was Alfred de Musset. Chopin felt at first an aversion for Sand. He said to a friend:"What a repulsive woman Sand is? But is she really a woman?" Sand sent a letter to a count, friend of both her and Chopin, in which she expressed her strong feelings for the composer.

In the summer 1838 Chopin's and Sand's involvement was an open secret. In their time together they had a winter on Majorca, where they - with Sand's two children - had gone, hoping to improve Chopin's bad health. Caused by peoples' inhospitality when they discovered that the couple was not married, they took lodgings in a cold, former Carthusian monastery in Valldemosa. During that winter the bad weather had a serious effect on Chopin's health, and in order to save his life they left the island. They first went to Barcelona and then Marseille , and in May 1839 they went to Sand's estate at Nohant. In autumn they returned to Paris where Chopin soon left his apartment at 5 rue Tronchet to move into Sand's house at 16 rue Pigalle. Here they lived together with the children from October 1839 to November 1842, in most summers they were at Nohant. In 1842 they moved to rue Taitbout living in adjacent buildings. During the summers at Nohant Chopin composed many works, which include his great Polonaise in A-flat major op. 53.

As his illness progressed, Sand gradually became more of a nurse and less of a lover to Chopin. She called him her third child. In 1845 Chopin was even worse of health, and a serious problem came up in his and Sand's relationship. In 1847 Sand published a novel Lucrezia Floriani , which could be interpreted as Sand and Chopin, the story was not a compliment to Chopin . In 1847 he did not visit Nohant. Mutual friends tried to reconcile them, but Chopin was unyielding. The year 1847 brought to an end the relations between Sand and Chopin that had lasted ten years, since 1837.

On April with the revolutions of 1848 on its way in Paris, he left for London. He performed several concerts and had receptions in great houses. Toward the end of the summer he went to Scotland, where he stayed in a castle in Renfrewshire of his former pupil and great admirer Jane Wilhelmina Stirling and her sister. In late October 1848 in Edinburgh at the home of a Polish physician, Chopin wrote out his last will and testament. He made his last public appearance on a concert platform at London's Guildhall on 16 November 1848, when he played for the benefit of Polish refugees.

At the end of November Chopin returned to Paris. He was very ill that winter , but he was still seeing his friends, yet he no longer had the strength to give lessons, but was still keen to compose. He was in lack of money for essential expenses and for his physicians, so he had to sell his valuable furnishings and belongings. He felt even more poorly and wanted to have one of his family with him, and in June 1849 his sister Ludwika agreed to come to Paris. He had taken up residence in a beautiful sunny apartment at place Vendome 12. Here, a few minutes before two o-clock on the morning of Wednesday 17 October 1849, Chopin died. He was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. At the graveside the Funeral marh from his Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35 was played.
Chopin's grave with its monument attracts numerous visitors and is consistently decorated with flowers even in winter.
Source: Lademanns Lexicon and Wikipedia

photo: grethe bachmann

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bacchus on the Barrel

Fastelavn/ Carnival

In February when it's Fastelavn it is still common to beat the cat out of the barrel, in the old days it was a real cat, but now the barrel is filled with candy and other good stuff. Each Kindergarten has a celebration on our Fastelavns-Monday, where the children are dressed out and "beat the cat out of the barrel". And a cat-king or a cat-queen is elected.

But earlier were more customs around Fastelavn in Denmark, although most of those customs could not be compared to the customs in Mid- and South Europe, where a whole district or town is celebrating the carnival. A special custom was "Bacchus on the Barrel", especially celebrated in the Danish "South Sea" islands Lolland, Falster, but also at Sjælland, Funen and in South Jutland. This custom had many European common features. Everyone took part in this feast in the village, parish or town, but the custom died out in the late 1930s.

The archives can tell us about it.It was an impressive arrangement, this procession with a fat "Bacchus on the Barrel" . Everyone in the procession had a certain role and was dressed out for this. The rest of the people were busy in treating them with food and drink, when they went from farm to farm to collect money for the great Fastelavn's feast, the great finish of the day. A description of a day like this tells us that they visited 32 farms and then held this great feast, where they danced until sunrise.

In front of the Bacchus- procession was the leader in his officer's uniform with a sabre. After him came the Master of Ceremonies. After them two standard bearers dressed in white tie and tails. Then followed the musicians, the singers and the carriers with garderhuer (like the Queen's Guards), they wore white shirts, decorated with red and blue revenue labels. The carriers had a ladder upon which sat Bacchus, all dressed in white and stuffed with hay to make him look real fat. He sat upon a small barrel with water and splashed water on people, if they came too close.

After this all the other figures came, and all with certain roles to play. "The Summer" was a man dressed in summer-dress and with sun-glasses. When the procession came indoors, he at once opened all the windows, claiming that it was too hot. But "the Winter", who was dressed in fur coat and wooden-soled boots, closed the windows again very quickly and went to sit in the chimney corner because he froze. In the meantime the wheat farmer with his meerschaum-pipe and a long coat with silver buttons bargained about the harvest of the year, and he smoke so much that he was almost covered in tobacco-smoke. The clowns removed all kinds of domestic utensils and gave them back - in return for payment. There was also a knife-grinder and his madam, both in old, ragged clothes. He sang his knife-grinder-song.

When the procession came to a farm the Master of Ceremonies went inside and asked if they might come in, which he said in a special jingle. When they came into the yard, they played music and sang a Fastelavn's-song. The whole company came into the living room and was treated with food and drink, and the Master of Ceremonies thanked host and hostess in a verse. The jester with fool's cap and bell told him to ask if they might come back next year. "Yeah, yeah! mister Barrejads!" said the MC, "let's see, if we live that long". And the company sang another song.

Some of the customs like the man in officer's uniform and the standard bearers belong to rather new customs from the 1800s, but there are variations, which remind about a medieval fool's play. The jester made all kinds of tomfoolery, he hid pots and pans in the most incredible places. There was Jerusalem's shoemaker dressed as a very old man with long white hair; he went along and measured the girls' legs in order to make them high boots. He received money in advance, but they never got any boots. The knife-grinder's madam stole as a raven as soon she came inside. Two people wore a straw-doll named Ole Lukøje (Sandman) ; one of the persons was dressed as a man in top and as a woman in bottom and number two was dressed the other way round. When they came near a water-hole people tried to push the waggon with the straw-doll into the water to make him drown.

In return for the fine treating with food and drink from the people on the farms everyone was invited to the Fastelavn's-party which was held on the last farm, a total-feast, in which the whole village took part. A total-feast like this is characteristic for traditional, primitive societies. When modern times arrived it became difficult to carry through a feast with everyone taking part - so the custom died out.

The rituals in such a feast can be mysterious, but earlier sources make it possible to see dimly the outline of a heathen carnival, which survived up to the present time. The figures from "Bacchus on the Barrel" are all repetitions from the European Carnival traditions. They were all representatives of the local society, of the world around which they depended on, and of outcast-groups, which was neither this nor that. The straw-doll Ole Lukøje (Sandman) shows signs of relations to various personifications of the old year, which has to be drowned or burnt. And the wheat farmer walks around selling his wheat. A sign of spring to come.

Source: Archaeological Magazine SKALK, Nr. 1, Gustav Henningsen: Det Danske Karneval, February 2006; Lis Paludan & Ulla Dietl, Bo Bedre, Børnenes Idébog 1972.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Common Chicory/Almindelig Cikorie

Cichorium intybus

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a bushperennial plant with blue, lavender, or occasionally white flowers.It grows as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe and in North America and Australia where it has become naturalized. Common chicory is also known as Blue Daisy, Blue Sailors, Coffee Weed, France endive etc. The cultivated forms are grown for their leaves , or for the roots , which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. Some beer brewers use roasted chicory to add flavor to their stouts.

Chicory is also the common name in the US and in France for curly endive (Cichorium endivia). There is considerable confusion between Cichorium endivia and Cichorium intybus.

Culinary: Chicory was used as a salad plant since ancient times, first by the Egyptians, then by the Greeks and the Romans, and it was imported to Denmark by the monks; in Denmark is only found the imported medicinal herb Cichorium intybus, common chicory. Chicorium intybus is not common in Danish kitchen gardens, but it is considered an indispensable salad plant to Italy and France. The flowers are eatable and decorative in a salad with their fine blue colour. Shots of Common chicory, which has grown in darkness, are in Denmark sold in late autumn as Julesalat (Christmas salad).

Medicinal: Since ancient times chicory was used against liver, kidney and bilious diseases, dropsy, consumption, bubonic plague, gout, haemorrhoids, indigestion, melancholy and hypochondria. Already Plinius recommended it as a means against indigestion. A dekokt of the flowers was used as an eyewash.The medieval physician Henrik Smid recommended the herb to treat the eyebrows or else they could fall off. Chicory was also considered an aphrodisiac and used against poisoning.

Medicine today: Tea of flowers and dried leaves are good in stomach, liver and spleen problems and for haemorrhoids. Chicory root extract is high in inulin and used as a high-fiber dietary supplement. Dekokt of the herb is appetizing, good for the stomach and the bile.

Caution: If allergic to ragweed or other members of the Compositae family approach use of chickory with caution. In rare cases contact with the fresh plant can cause allergic skin reactions.

Coffee substitute: In the Napoleonic Era in France, chicory frequently appeared as either an adulterant in coffee or a coffee substitute; this practice also became common in the United States and the United Kingdom, in England (and Denmark) during the second world war and in Camp coffee, a coffee and chicory essence, which has been on sale since 1885. In the United States chicory root has long been used as a substitute for coffee in prisons.

Superstition: A young girl was sitting by the road, crying because her lover had disappeared, and where her tears fell, the chicory grew up. If a girl (Eastern Europe) had chicory in her boots and put the chicory in a pair of man's trousers under her pillow, she would see her husband-to- be. A legend tells about a girl ,who denied to give Christ something to drink, and as a punishment she had to stand by the road in the shape of a chicory. A variation of the legend: The pretty blue flowers of Chicory turn and follow the sun - and a German legend tells that Chicory is a transformed virgin, who was left by her boyfriend. She is now standing in the roadside looking for her lover, turning her head in order to look for him. The plant's German name wegwarte means 'she who waits by the road.' Chicory was believed to be able to open locked doors, according to European folklore.

Literature: The chicory flower is often seen as inspiration for the Romantic concept of the Blue flower. The chicory plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: "Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea, memalvae" ("As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance")Lord Monboddo describes the plant in 1779 as the "chicoree", which the French cultivate as a pot herb.
Fodder: Chicory is well known for its toxicity to internal parasites. Studies indicate that ingestion of chicory by farm animals results in reduction of worm burdens,which has prompted its widespread use as a forage supplement. Research results from 2005 also showed that the taste and smell of boar disappears in the slaughtered pigs, if they had chicory in their fodder before slaughtering.

Source: Annemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, 2001

Use the root or the flowers, fresh or dried. Pour with neutral snaps and let it draw for some weeks. Filter and thin according to taste.

photo Gl. Rye August 2007: grethe bachmann


"This drink is a happy and lovely drink for old people - especially in winter. It warms the cold stomach and is good for all cold diseases of the heart and the sinews. Young people should not drink it because of its heat," wrote the physician Henrik Smith in his herbal book in 1546 about a drink called Hypokras, a drink which was probably named after the Greek physician Hippokrates (ab. 460-377 B.B.), who supposedly delivered the recipe: Red wine added fine oriental spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, etc. These ingredients were of a warm nature according to the principles of the Greek medicine.

A similar drink was named Klaret (the clear drink), instead of red wine was used white wine sweetened with honey and added spices almost like in the Hypokras, but often also added the costy saffron.This gave the drink a fine yellow colour and a special scent and aroma. Those two drinks Hypokras and Klaret are described in English and German medical books from the 1300s, and they emerged in similar Danish works, which were strongly influenced and often copied from foreign works.

From a period in the late Middle Ages were pharmacies in Denmark, where people could buy ingredienses for medicaments, also the imported spices. Those expensive spices were reserved the upper class; poor people could not afford such costy herbs, but the physician Henrik Smith had not forgotten common folks in his medical book. Instead of oriental spices he recommended Danish herbs like dill, caraway, coriander, fennel and parsley - the monks had those herbs in their herb-gardens. The seeds had to be pounded, beer or mead should be added, the portion should draw for one day, then sieved out, and the drink was ready for use - a kind of of poor man's Hypokras. But although the poor man could not afford to buy the books with the recipes, the parish priests and the monks have probably passed on their advice and instructions.

Since Henrik Smith calls it a happy and lovely drink, it might indicate that it was not only enjoyed beause of its healing qualities. In the 1500s and 1600s Hypokras and Klaret became common social drinks - very popular for a period, until new drinking habits removed the old ones.

A recipe from Skalk nr. 2, 1997:
2 x whole cinnamon
15 x whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon sliced nutmeg
1 teaspoon sliced ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom-seed
60 g dark sugar
1 liter red wine.

Pound cinnamon and cloves in a morter, put all spices and the dark sugar in a jug and pour over the wine. Cover the mixture and let it stand for one day and night, sieve it through a cotton/linen bag into a bottle. Let the drink be for one day before use.

Source: Bente Leed, Hypokras: SKALK, Archaeological Magazine, nr. 2, 1997.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Southern Hawker/Blå Mosaikguldsmed

Aeschna cyanea

The Southern Hakwer/Blå Mosaikguldsmed is one of Denmark's largest and most elegant colourful insects with huge compound eyes. It is also known as the Blue Darner. It is a colossal predator both when nymph and grown-up. Southern Hawker is a fine representative for the dragonflies, which include about 50 species of dragonflies and water nymphs in Denmark.

It is large, with a long body (7-7,5 cm and wing span 9,7-11 cm). It has green markings on the black bodies, and the male also has blue spots on the abdomen.The Southern Hawker breeds in still or slow-flowing water, but will wander widely, and is often seen in gardens and open woodland. This is an inquisitive species and will approach people. The adult eats various insects, caught on the wing. The nymphs feed on aquatic insects, tadpoles and small fish ambushed in the pond they frequent until they emerge as adults in July and August after three years’ development.

photo Vokslev Kalkgrube: grethe bachmann