Oct 232015
 

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Today is the birthday (1940) of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, universally known as Pelé,  a retired Brazilian professional footballer who is often regarded as the greatest player of all time. As I have said many times before here, I dislike the term “greatest” or “best” in these contexts. What’s the yardstick? Was he better than Maradona or Messi are now? Maybe. How do you judge? I have loved to watch them all. They all do brilliant things with the ball. When I used to watch Pelé play it was as if the ball were glued to his foot. He would find openings where none existed, and strike at the goal with pinpoint accuracy, beating the keeper by inches. Amazing. In 1999, he was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). The same year, France Football asked their former Ballon d’Or winners to choose the Football Player of the Century; they selected Pelé. In 1999, Pelé was elected Athlete of the Century by the IOC, and Time named him in their list of 100 most influential people of the 20th century. In 2013 he received the FIFA Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur in recognition of his career and achievements as a global icon of football.

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According to the IFFHS, Pelé is the most successful league goal scorer in the world, with 541 league goals. In total Pelé scored 1281 goals in 1363 games, including unofficial friendlies and tour games, for which he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records for most career goals scored in football. During his playing days, Pelé was for a period the best-paid athlete in the world. In his native Brazil, he is hailed as a national hero for his accomplishments in football and for his vocal support of policies to improve the social conditions of the poor. In 1961, Brazilian President Jânio Quadros had Pelé declared a national treasure (although this was primarily to stop him being traded overseas). During his career, he became known as “The Black Pearl” (A Pérola Negra), “The King of Football” (O Rei do Futebol), “The King Pelé” (O Rei Pelé) or simply “The King” (O Rei).

Pelé began playing for Santos at 15 and the Brazil national football team at 16. He played on three winning Brazilian FIFA World Cup teams: 1958, 1962 and 1970, the only player ever to do so; and is the all-time leading goal scorer for Brazil with 77 goals in 91 games. At club level he is also the record goal scorer for Santos, and led them to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores. Pelé’s electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals made him a star around the world, and his club team Santos toured internationally in order to take full advantage of his popularity. Here’s a typical compilation:

Pelé was born in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, the son of Fluminense footballer Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento) and Celeste Arantes. He was the elder of two siblings. He was named after the inventor Thomas Edison. His parents decided to remove the “i” and call him “Edson”, but there was a mistake on the birth certificate, leading many documents to show his name as “Edison”, not “Edson”, as he is called. He was originally nicknamed Dico by his family. He received the nickname “Pelé” during his school days, when it is claimed he was given it because of his pronunciation of the name of his favorite player, local Vasco da Gama goalkeeper Bilé, which he misspoke but the more he complained the more it stuck. In his autobiography, Pelé stated he had no idea what the name means, nor did his old friends. Apart from the assertion that the name is derived from that of Bilé, and that it is Hebrew for “miracle”, the word has no known meaning in Portuguese.

Pelé grew up in poverty in Bauru in the state of São Paulo. He earned extra money by working in tea shops as a servant. Taught to play by his father, he could not afford a proper football and usually played with either a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or a grapefruit. He played for several amateur teams in his youth, including Sete de Setembro, Canto do Rio, São Paulinho, and Amériquinha. Pelé led Bauru Athletic Club juniors (coached by Waldemar de Brito) to three consecutive São Paulo state youth championships between 1954 and 1956. He also dominated Futebol de Salão (indoor football) competitions in the region and won several championships with local team Radium.

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In 1956, de Brito took Pelé to Santos, an industrial and port city located near São Paulo, to try out for professional club Santos FC, telling the directors at Santos that the 15-year-old would be “the greatest football player in the world.” Pelé impressed Santos coach Lula during his trial at the Estádio Vila Belmiro, and he signed a professional contract with the club in June 1956. Pelé was highly promoted in the local media as a future superstar. He made his senior team debut on 7 September 1956 at the age of 15 against Corinthians Santo Andre and had an impressive performance in a 7–1 victory. Pelé scored the first of his record 1281 goals in football during the match.

When the 1957 season started, Pelé was given a starting place in the first team and, at the age of 16, became the top scorer in the league. Ten months after signing professionally, he was called up to the Brazil national team. After the 1962 World Cup, wealthy European clubs such as Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United tried to sign him, but the government of Brazil declared Pelé an “official national treasure” to prevent him from being transferred out of the country.

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Pelé won his first major title with Santos in 1958 when the team won the Campeonato Paulista; Pelé finished the tournament as top scorer with 58 goals, a record that stands today. A year later, he helped the team earn their first victory in the Torneio Rio-São Paulo with a 3–0 over Vasco da Gama. However, Santos was unable to retain the Paulista title. In 1960, Pelé scored 33 goals to help his team regain the Campeonato Paulista trophy but lost out on the Rio-São Paulo tournament after finishing in 8th place. Another 47 goals from Pelé saw Santos retain the Campeonato Paulista. The club went on to win the Taça Brasil that same year, beating Bahia in the finals; Pelé finished as top scorer of the tournament with 9 goals. The victory allowed Santos to participate in the Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious club tournament in the Western hemisphere.

“I arrived hoping to stop a great man, but I went away convinced I had been undone by someone who was not born on the same planet as the rest of us,” said Benfica goalkeeper Costa Pereira following the loss to Santos in 1962.

Santos’s most successful club season started in 1962; the team was seeded in Group 1 alongside Cerro Porteño and Deportivo Municipal Bolivia, winning every match of their group but one (a 1–1 away tie vs Cerro), with Pelé scoring his first goal in a brace against Cerro. Santos defeated Universidad Católica in the semifinals and met defending champions Peñarol in the finals in which Pelé scored another brace in the playoff match to secure the first title for a Brazilian club. Pelé finished as the second best scorer of the competition with 4 goals. That same year, Santos defended, with success, the Campeonato Brasileiro (with 37 goals from Pelé) and the Taça Brasil (Pelé scoring four goals in the final series against Botafogo). Santos also won the 1962 Intercontinental Cup against Benfica. Wearing his iconic number 10 shirt, Pelé produced one of his best ever performances and scored a hat-trick in Lisbon, as Santos won 5–2.

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As the defending champions, Santos qualified automatically to the semifinal stage of the 1963 Copa Libertadores. The ballet blanco managed to retain the title in spectacular fashion after impressive victories over Botafogo and Boca Juniors (hated Buenos Aires rivals of my team in Argentina, River). Pelé helped Santos overcome a Botafogo team that contained legends such as Garrincha and Jairzinho with an agonizing last-minute goal in the first leg of the semifinals and bring the match to 1–1. In the second leg, Pelé produced one of his best performances as a footballer with a hat-trick in the Estádio do Maracanã as Santos crushed Botafogo, 0–4, in the second leg. Appearing in their second consecutive final, Santos started the series by winning, 3–2, in the first leg and defeating the Boca Juniors of José Sanfilippo and Antonio Rattín, 1–2, in La Bombonera, with another goal from Pelé, becoming the first (and so far only) Brazilian team to lift the Copa Libertadores on Argentine soil. Pelé finished the tournament as the top scorer runner-up with 5 goals. Santos lost the Campeonato Paulista after finishing in third place but went on to win the Rio-São Paulo tournament after an impressive 0–3 win over Flamengo in the final, with Pelé scoring one. Pelé would also help Santos retain the Intercontinental Cup and the Taça Brasil.

Santos tried to defend their title again in 1964 but they were thoroughly beaten in both legs of the semifinals by Independiente. Santos won again the Campeonato Paulista, with Pelé netting 34 goals. The club also shared the Rio-São Paulo title with Botafogo and win the Taça Brasil for the fourth consecutive year. The Santistas would try to resurge in 1965 by winning, for the 9th time, the Campeonato Paulista and the Taça Brasil. In the 1965 Copa Libertadores, Santos started convincingly by winning every match of their group in the first round. In the semifinals, Santos met Peñarol in a rematch of the 1962 final. After two legendary matches, a playoff was needed to break the tie. Unlike 1962, Peñarol came out on top and eliminated Santos 2–1. Pelé would, however, finish as the top scorer of the tournament with eight goals. This proved to be the start of a decline as Santos failed to retain the Torneio Rio-São Paulo.

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In 1966, Pelé and Santos also failed to retain the Taça Brasil as O Rei’s goals weren’t enough to prevent a 9–4 routing by Cruzeiro (led by Tostão) in the final series. Although Santos won the Campeonato Paulista in 1967, 1968 and 1969, Pelé became less and less a contributing factor to the Santistas now-limited success. On 19 November 1969, Pelé scored his 1000th goal in all competitions. This was a highly anticipated moment in Brazil. The goal, called popularly O Milésimo (The Thousandth), occurred in a match against Vasco da Gama, when Pelé scored from a penalty kick, at the Maracanã Stadium.

Pelé states that his most beautiful goal was scored at Rua Javari stadium on a Campeonato Paulista match against São Paulo rival Juventus on 2 August 1959. As there is no video footage of this match, Pelé asked that a computer animation be made of this specific goal. In March 1961, Pelé scored the gol de placa (goal worthy of a plaque), against Fluminense at the Maracanã. Pelé received the ball on the edge of his own penalty area, and ran the length of the field, eluding opposition players with feints, before striking the ball beyond the goalkeeper.[53] The goal was regarded as being so spectacular that a plaque was commissioned with a dedication to “the most beautiful goal in the history of the Maracanã”.


Staggering.

After the 1974 season (his 19th with Santos), Pelé retired from Brazilian club football although he continued to occasionally play for Santos in official competitive matches. Two years later, he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the 1975 season. Though well past his prime at this point, Pelé is credited with significantly increasing public awareness and interest in soccer in the United States. He led the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship, in his third and final season with the club.

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On 1 October 1977, Pelé closed out his career in an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. Santos arrived in New York and New Jersey after previously defeating the Seattle Sounders, 2–0. The match was played in front of a sold out crowd at Giants Stadium and was televised in the United States on ABC’s Wide World of Sports as well as throughout the world. Pelé’s father and wife both attended the match, as well as Muhammad Ali and Bobby Moore. Pelé played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for Santos. Pelé scored his final goal from a direct free kick, and Cosmos won 2–1.

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Pelé’s first international match was a 2–1 defeat against Argentina on 7 July 1957 at the Maracanã. In that match, he scored his first goal for Brazil aged 16 years and 9 months to become the youngest player to score in International football. I have to admit that my favorite Pelé moment was watching him head a “certain” goal into the net against England in the 1970 World Cup only to have Gordon Banks make a sensational save, diving backwards to his right. Pelé had turned away yelling “gol” convinced it had gone in. Oh well!!


In that same tournament I watched Pelé try to score from his own half against Czechoslovakia by lofting a long high ball at the goal from behind the halfway line when he saw that the Czech keeper was off his goal line. Just missed. I so hoped it would go in. Oh well, again !!

Here is a recipe for the great Brazilian fish soup, moqueca (mo-ke-ka). It is traditionally made with palm oil, but since palm oil production is devastating the Third World, I use olive oil which is also used commonly.

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Moqueca

Ingredients

1 ½ to 2 lbs of fillets of firm white fish such as halibut, swordfish, or cod, rinsed in cold water, pin bones removed, cut into large portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp lime or lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
palm oil or olive oil
1 cup chopped spring onion, or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped or sliced
¼ cup green onion greens, chopped
½ yellow and ½ red bell pepper, seeded, de-stemmed, chopped (or sliced)
2 cups chopped (or sliced) tomatoes
1 tbsp sweet paprika
pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped with some set aside for garnish
1 14-ounce can coconut milk

Instructions

Place the fish pieces in a bowl, add the minced garlic and lime juice so that the pieces are well coated. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Chill for several hours, rather like a ceviche.

Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer, until the bell pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and onion greens. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, uncovered. Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Use a large spoon to remove about half of the vegetables. Spread the remaining vegetables over the bottom of the pan to create a bed for the fish. Arrange the fish pieces on the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then add back the previously removed vegetables, covering the fish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

Bring soup to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with cilantro. Serve in deep bowls with rice.

Mar 252015
 

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Today is the birthday (1881) of Béla Viktor János Bartók, Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century; and he and Liszt are regarded as Hungary’s greatest composers. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of comparative musicology, which later evolved into ethnomusicology.

Béla Bartók was born in the small Banatian town of Nagyszentmiklós in the old Kingdom of Hungary, (since 1920, Sânnicolau Mare in Romania). Bartók’s family reflected some of the ethno-cultural diversities of the country. His father, Béla Sr., considered himself thoroughly Hungarian, because on his father’s side the Bartók family was a Hungarian lower noble family, originating from Borsod county, though his mother, Paula (born Paula Voit), spoke German as a mother tongue, but was ethnically of “mixed Hungarian” ancestry of Danube Swabian origin. Among her closest forefathers there were families with such names as Polereczky (Magyarized Polish or Slovak) and Fegyveres (Magyar).

Béla displayed notable musical talent very early in life: according to his mother, he could distinguish between different dance rhythms that she played on the piano before he learned to speak in complete sentences. By the age of four he was able to play 40 pieces on the piano and his mother began formally teaching him the next year.

Béla was a small and sickly child and suffered from severe eczema until the age of 5. In 1888, when he was seven, his father (the director of an agricultural school) died suddenly. Béla’s mother then took him and his sister, Erzsébet, to live in Nagyszőlős (today Vinogradiv in Ukraine) and then to Pozsony (today Bratislava in Slovakia). In Pozsony, Béla gave his first public recital at age 11 to a warm critical reception. Among the pieces he played was his own first composition, written two years previously: a short piece called “The Course of the Danube.” Shortly thereafter László Erkel accepted him as a pupil.

From 1899 to 1903, Bartók studied piano under István Thomán, a former student of Franz Liszt, and composition under János Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. There he met Zoltán Kodály, who influenced him greatly and became his lifelong friend and colleague. In 1903, Bartók wrote his first major orchestral work, Kossuth, a symphonic poem which honored Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

The music of Richard Strauss, whom he met in 1902 at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra, strongly influenced his early work. When visiting a holiday resort in the summer of 1904, Bartók overheard a young nanny, Lidi Dósa from Kibéd in Transylvania, sing folk songs to the children in her care. This sparked his lifelong dedication to folk music.

From 1907, he also began to be influenced by the French composer Claude Debussy, whose compositions Kodály had brought back from Paris. Bartók’s large-scale orchestral works were still in the style of Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss, but he wrote a number of small piano pieces which showed his growing interest in folk music. The first piece to show clear signs of this new interest is the String Quartet No. 1 in A minor (1908), which contains folk-like elements.

In 1907, Bartók began teaching as a piano professor at the Royal Academy. This position freed him from touring Europe as a pianist and enabled him to work in Hungary. Among his notable students were Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, György Sándor, Ernő Balogh, and Lili Kraus. After Bartók moved to the United States, he taught Jack Beeson and Violet Archer.

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In 1908, he and Kodály traveled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their growing interest in folk music coincided with a contemporary social interest in traditional national culture. They made some surprising discoveries. Magyar folk music had previously been categorized as Gypsy music. The classic example is Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which he based on popular art songs performed by Romani bands of the time. In contrast, Bartók and Kodály discovered that the old Magyar folk melodies were based on pentatonic scales, similar to those in Asian folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia, Anatolia and Siberia.

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Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of such Magyar peasant music into their compositions. They both frequently quoted folk song melodies verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic songs. An example is his two volumes entitled For Children for solo piano, containing 80 folk tunes to which he wrote accompaniment. Bartók’s style in his art music compositions was a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. His melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and other nations. He was especially fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and powerful harmonies found in Bulgarian music. Most of his early compositions offer a blend of nationalist and late Romantic elements.

Bartók was often criticized for quoting folk songs in his compositions instead of writing his own melodies, to which he responded that Shakespeare used existing stories as the bases of his plays and no one accused him of lack of originality. Besides he was trying to infuse a genuinely Hungarian ethos in his compositions. Furthermore, the scales and rhythms of the folk melodies lent themselves to Bartók’s experimental composition style . I can’t really analyze his compositions without getting too technical, but I’ll give a few hints.

Bartók’s musical vocabulary, as demonstrated in his string quartets particularly, departs from traditional use of major and minor keys, focusing more on the well tempered chromatic scale and attempting to use each note equally. The well tempered chromatic scale has 12 equally spaced semitones which can all be used in a composition, or a subset of them can form a scale such as whole-tone, pentatonic, diatonic etc. His use of these subset scales allowed him to incorporate a wide range of folk music in an expanded harmonic system. Indeed, his original studies and settings of many examples gleaned from his extensive explorations of the Hungarian countryside and Eastern and Central Europe, undoubtedly served as a major influence upon his expanded musical vocabulary.

Bartók held a long fascination with mathematics and how it pertained to music. He experimented with incorporating the golden section and the Fibonacci sequence into his writing. These fascinations aren’t obviously present in his Fourth String Quartet, which I want to focus on, he did incorporate symmetrical structures: Movements I and V are similar, as are Movements II and IV; Movement III is at center, greatly contrasting with the other movements. This is sometimes called an “arch” structure.

Movements I and V share similar motifs (some of it is based on cell z); the second theme in the first movement is prominent in the fifth. Movements II and IV share similar ideas as well, but the ideas present within these two movements can be considered variations on themes presented earlier, expanding and building on ideas presented in the first and fifth movements. Movement III differs from the other four movements in that it is textured and quiet.

Here is a decent recording.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_XNfKk-Qbs

In 1909 at the age of 28, Bartók married Márta Ziegler (1893–1967), aged 16. Their son, Béla III, was born on August 22, 1910. After nearly 15 years together, Bartók divorced Márta in June 1923.Two months after his divorce, he married Ditta Pásztory (1903–1982), a piano student, ten days after proposing to her. She was aged 19, he 42. Their son, Péter, was born in 1924.

In 1911, Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, dedicated to Márta. He entered it for a prize by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, but they rejected his work as not fit for the stage. In 1917 Bartók revised the score for the 1918 première, and rewrote the ending. Following the 1919 revolution, he was pressured by the new Soviet government to remove the name of the librettist Béla Balázs from the opera, as he was blacklisted and had left the country for Vienna. Bluebeard’s Castle received only one revival, in 1936, before Bartók emigrated. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and its culture, he never felt much loyalty to the government or its official establishments.

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After his disappointment over the Fine Arts Commission competition, Bartók wrote little for two or three years, preferring to concentrate on collecting and arranging folk music. He collected first in the Carpathian Basin (then the Kingdom of Hungary), where he notated Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian, and Bulgarian folk music. He also collected in Moldavia, Wallachia, and (in 1913) Algeria. The outbreak of World War I forced him to stop the expeditions; and he returned to composing, writing the ballet The Wooden Prince (1914–16) and the String Quartet No. 2 in (1915–17), both influenced by Debussy.

Bartók wrote another ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, as well as Richard Strauss. He next wrote his two violin sonatas (written in 1921 and 1922 respectively), which are harmonically and structurally some of his most complex pieces. The Miraculous Mandarin, a modern story of prostitution, robbery, and murder, was started in 1918, but not performed until 1926 because of its sexual content.

In 1927–28, Bartók wrote his Third and Fourth String Quartets, after which his compositions demonstrated his mature style. Notable examples of this period are Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Divertimento for String Orchestra BB 118 (1939). The Fifth String Quartet was composed in 1934, and the Sixth String Quartet (his last) in 1939.

In 1936 he traveled to Turkey to collect and study folk music. He worked in collaboration with Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun mostly around Adana.

In 1940, as the European political situation worsened after the outbreak of World War II, Bartók was increasingly tempted to flee Hungary. He was strongly opposed to the Nazis and Hungary’s siding with Germany. After the Nazis came to power in the early 1930s, Bartók refused to give concerts in Germany and broke away from his publisher there. His anti-fascist political views caused him a great deal of trouble with the establishment in Hungary. Having first sent his manuscripts out of the country, Bartók reluctantly emigrated to the U.S. with his wife Ditta in October that year. They settled in New York City. After joining them in 1942, their son, Péter Bartók, enlisted in the United States Navy where he served in the Pacific during the remainder of the war and later settled in Florida where he became a recording and sound engineer. His oldest son, Béla Bartók, III, remained in Hungary where he survived the war and later worked as a railroad official until his retirement in the early 1980s.

Although he became an American citizen in 1945, shortly before his death, Bartók never became fully at home in the USA. He initially found it difficult to compose. Although well known in America as a pianist, ethnomusicologist and teacher, he was not well known as a composer. There was little American interest in his music during his final years. He and his wife Ditta gave some concerts, although demand for them was low. Bartók, who had made some recordings in Hungary, also recorded for Columbia Records after he came to the US; many of these recordings (some with Bartók’s own spoken introductions) were later issued on LP and CD.

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Supported by a research fellowship from Columbia University, for several years, Bartók and Ditta worked on a large collection of Serbian and Croatian folk songs in Columbia’s libraries. Bartók’s economic difficulties during his first years in America were mitigated by publication royalties, teaching and performance tours. While his finances were always precarious, he did not live and die in poverty as was the common legend. He had enough friends and supporters to ensure that there was sufficient money and work available for him to live on. Bartók was a proud man and did not easily accept charity. Despite being short on cash at times, he often refused money that his friends offered him out of their own pockets. Although he was not a member of the ASCAP, the society paid for any medical care he needed during his last two years. Bartók reluctantly accepted this.

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The first symptoms of his health problems began late in 1940, when his right shoulder began to show signs of stiffening. In 1942, symptoms increased and he started having bouts of fever, but no underlying disease was diagnosed, in spite of medical examinations. Finally, in April 1944, leukemia was diagnosed, but by this time, little could be done.

As his body slowly failed, Bartók found more creative energy, and he produced a final set of masterpieces, partly thanks to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner (Reiner had been Bartók’s friend and champion since his days as Bartók’s student at the Royal Academy). Bartók’s last work might well have been the String Quartet No. 6 but for Serge Koussevitzky’s commission for the Concerto for Orchestra. Koussevitsky’s Boston Symphony Orchestra premièred the work in December 1944 to highly positive reviews. The Concerto for Orchestra quickly became Bartók’s most popular work, although he did not live to see its full impact. In 1944, he was also commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to write a Sonata for Solo Violin. In 1945, Bartók composed his Piano Concerto No. 3, a graceful and almost neo-classical work, as a surprise 42nd birthday present for Ditta, but he died just over a month before her birthday, with the scoring not quite finished. He had sketched his Viola Concerto, but had barely started the scoring at his death.

Béla Bartók died at age 64 in a hospital in New York City from complications of leukemia (specifically, of secondary polycythemia) on September 26, 1945. His funeral was attended by only ten people. Among them were his wife Ditta, their son Péter, and his pianist friend György Sándor (Anon. 2006).

Bartók’s body was initially interred in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. During the final year of communist Hungary in the late 1980s, the Hungarian government, along with his two sons, Béla III and Péter, requested that his remains be exhumed and transferred back to Budapest for burial, where Hungary arranged a state funeral for him on July 7, 1988. He was reinterred at Budapest’s Farkasréti Cemetery, next to the remains of Ditta, who died in 1982, the year after his centenary (Chalmers 1995, 214).

The Third Piano Concerto was nearly finished at his death. For his Viola Concerto, Bartók had completed only the viola part and sketches of the orchestral part. Both works were later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly. György Sándor was the soloist in the first performance of the Third Piano Concerto on February 8, 1946. Ditta Pásztory-Bartók later played and recorded it. The Viola Concerto was revised and polished in the 1990s by Bartók’s son, Peter; this version may be closer to what Bartók intended.

Hungarian cooking is heavily dependent on paprika. My (rather lengthy) discourse on the various types of paprika and their use in dishes can be found here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-stephen-of-hungary/

Fisherman’s soup or halászlé is a hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup, originating as a dish of Hungarian cuisine – a bright red spicy soup prepared with generous amounts of hot paprika and carp or mixed river fish, characteristic of the cuisines of the Pannonian Plain, particularly prepared in the Danube and Tisza river regions. With its generous use of hot paprika, halászlé is arguably one of the hottest (spicy hot) dishes native to the European continent.

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The dish is a famous soup, eaten by tourists and locals. An important ingredient in Fisherman’s Soup is the court bouillon, which adds significant flavor. To prepare the soup base, fish trimmings are used: fresh carp heads, bones, skin and fins. These are boiled in water, salt and vegetables (red onions, green peppers and tomatoes) for two hours. When ready, the court bouillon is strained. Hot ground paprika and two finger-thick carp fillets, the roe and coral are added to the boiling soup ten minutes before serving.

Of course there are numerous variations:

Fisherman’s Soup a la Szeged. Four different kinds of fish are used. The usual ratio is 1.5 pound (800 g) carp, 1 pound (500 g) catfish, 0.5 pound (350 g) sturgeon and 0.5 pound (350 g) pike or perch.

Hell’s Pub style Fisherman’s Soup or Drinker’s Fisherman Soup. Ground bay leaf powder, sour cream and a small amount of lemon juice are mixed into the hot soup which is garnished with lemon rings.

Fisherman’s Soup à la Paks. Homemade thin soup pasta called csipetke is added.

Fisherman’s Soup à la Baja. According to traditional recipes 6.5 pound (3 kg) fish is added and approximately 75% is carp. It’s served with homemade soup pasta called gyufatészta.

Traditionally, the soup is prepared in small kettles on open fire on the river banks by fishermen. Fisherman’s soup in kettle is prepared with fresh fish on the place. When prepared in kettles, first, chopped onion is fried in the kettle with some oil until it is caramelized. Then, ground paprika is added and the kettle is filled with water. When the water comes to a boil, other spices (such as black pepper, white wine, tomato juice) are added, and finally the fish, chopped into large pieces. Entire fish, including heads and tails, are often added to the soup. The soup is usually prepared with mixed fish, the most common species are common carp, catfish, perch and pike. Depending on the amount of added hot paprika the soup is mildly to very hot. The Hungarian soup is famous for being very hot and spicy.

The soup is poured directly from the kettle into the plates and eaten with bread (the spicier the soup, the more bread is required).

Many people, especially fishermen, regard the preparation of fish soup as somewhat secretive. Although the recipe is basically simple, the “right” ratio of spices, onion, fish (its quality and variety) and water, as well as timing, affect the soup taste significantly. Many dedicated fishermen regarded their recipes as secret. Competitions in preparing the soup are popular and are usually held at fairs or picnics along river coast. Visitors are offered a taste the soup for money or for free.

The soup is best accompanied by dry white wine (such as Riesling), which may be diluted with soda water. The combination of wine and soda water (a wine spritzer) is called fröccs in Hungarian or špricer in Serbian and Croatian from the German word spritz, which imitates the sound made by soda water as it fizzes out of the dispenser.

Apr 062014
 

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Today is purportedly the birthday (1483) of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance who is better known simply as Raphael. I say “purportedly” because a few sources give his birth date as 28 March, but this is probably a Julian rather than Gregorian usage.  He is one of those rare people who died (1520) on his birthday at the age of 37.  Despite his short life he produced a very large body of work that put him on a par with the other great masters of the era that form a traditional trinity: Michelangelo and da Vinci.  As he developed his own style his work went through several phases, generally called his Urbino, Florentine, and Roman periods during which time he came under the influence of his older peers.  It is related that when he was painting the frescoes in the papal apartments in the Vatican he sneaked into the Sistine chapel to see the first part of Michelangelo’s ceiling right after the scaffolding was being removed to be repositioned for the next panel.  Michelangelo was reportedly not happy to have him emulate his style, but Raphael incorporated all manner of influences in developing his own.  As with so many great masters, I am going to give you a quick overview of his life, and then focus on his master work, “The School of Athens.”

Raphael was born in the small, but artistically significant, central Italian city of Urbino in the Marche region (on the Adriatic coast), where his father Giovanni Santi was court painter to the Duke. The artistic reputation of the court had been established by Federico III da Montefeltro, a highly successful condottiere (military leader) who had been created Duke of Urbino by the Pope (Urbino being one of the Papal States), and who died the year before Raphael was born.

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Raphael was orphaned at age eleven, but his father’s workshop continued and, probably together with his stepmother, Raphael played a part in managing it from a very early age. In Urbino, he came into contact with the works of Paolo Uccello, previously the court painter (d. 1475), and Luca Signorelli, who until 1498 was based in nearby Città di Castello.  Sources are a little unclear about these early years, but it seems that his father placed him in the workshop of the Umbrian master Pietro Perugino as an apprentice “despite the tears of his mother,” that is, by the age of 8 which is when his mother died. He probably worked as Perugino’s assistant from age 12.  He is listed as a “master” by age 13.  Between 1500 and 1504 he worked on commissions in and around Urbino and was apparently much in demand, especially as a draftsman of cartoons (preliminary drawings) for the masters.

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From 1504 to 1508 Raphael spent a good deal of time in various centers in northern Italy, but spent much of it in Florence although he was most likely not a permanent resident. The most striking influence in his work of these years is Leonardo da Vinci, who returned to the city from 1500 to 1506. Raphael’s figures begin to take more dynamic and complex positions, and though as yet his painted subjects are still mostly tranquil, he made drawn studies of fighting nude men, one of the obsessions of the period in Florence. Another drawing is a portrait of a young woman that uses the three-quarter length pyramidal composition of the just-completed “Mona Lisa” but still looks completely like Raphael. He also perfected his own version of Leonardo’s sfumato (toned down) style, to give subtlety to his painting of flesh, and developed the interplay of glances between his groups, which are much less enigmatic than those of da Vinci.

By the end of 1508, he had moved to Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was invited by the new Pope Julius II, perhaps at the suggestion of his architect Donato Bramante, then engaged on St. Peter’s, who came from just outside Urbino and was distantly related to Raphael. Unlike Michelangelo, who had been kept hanging around in Rome for several months after his first summons, Raphael was immediately commissioned by Julius to fresco what was intended to become the Pope’s private library at the Vatican Palace. This was a much larger and more important commission than any he had received before; he had only painted one altarpiece in Florence itself. Several other artists and their teams of assistants were already at work on different rooms, many painting over recently completed paintings commissioned by Julius’s loathed predecessor, Alexander VI, whose contributions, and arms, Julius was determined to efface from the palace. Michelangelo, meanwhile, had been commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

This first of the famous “Stanze” or “Raphael Rooms” to be painted, now always known as the Stanza della Segnatura  was to make a stunning impact on Roman art, and remains generally regarded as his greatest masterpiece, containing The School of Athens, The Parnassus, and the Disputa. Raphael was then given further rooms to paint, displacing other artists including Perugino and Signorelli. He completed a sequence of three rooms, with paintings on each wall and often the ceilings too, increasingly leaving the work of painting from his detailed drawings to the large and skilled workshop team he had acquired, who added a fourth room, after his death in 1520, probably including only some elements designed by Raphael himself. The death of Julius in 1513 did not interrupt the work at all, as he was succeeded by Raphael’s last Pope, the Medici Pope Leo X, with whom Raphael formed an even closer relationship, and who continued to commission him. Raphael’s friend Cardinal Bibbiena was also one of Leo’s old tutors, and a close friend and adviser.

I visited the Vatican 7 years ago as the culmination of a teaching stint in southern Italy.  A crowd of us, mostly art history students from my university, were herded through the endless rooms and hallways of the Vatican by a professor of art history who I managed to ditch early on in the proceedings.  There was just TOO MUCH to see and gaze at in wonder – ancient maps, art treasures, and artifacts galore.  Then, without warning I walked through an arched doorway and was smack in the midst of the Stanza della Segnatura.  It was as if I were enveloped in Raphael and I was absolutely in awe.  I don’t remember how long I stood there completely mesmerized.  Fool that I am, I was not expecting such majesty.  The School of Athens is a fresco I had, of course, known all my life from books.  To be in its presence was overwhelming.  I cannot do justice to it in words: go and see for yourselves.

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The School of Athens is one of a group of four main frescoes on the walls of the Stanza that depict distinct branches of knowledge (given that rooms were intended to house a library). Each theme is identified above by a separate tondo (circular painting) containing a majestic female figure seated in the clouds, with putti (chubby nude babies often mistaken for cherubim) bearing the phrases: “Knowledge of Causes,” “Divine Inspiration,” “Knowledge of Things Divine,” (Disputa) “To Each What Is Due.” Accordingly, the figures on the walls below exemplify Philosophy, Poetry (including Music), Theology, and Law. The traditional title of the main fresco is not Raphael’s, and the subject of the “School” is actually “Philosophy,” and its overhead tondo-label, “Causarum Cognitio” (Knowledge of Causes) echoes Aristotle’s emphasis on wisdom as knowing why, hence knowing the causes.

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Indeed, Plato and Aristotle are the central figures in the scene. However all the philosophers depicted sought wisdom through knowledge of first causes. Many lived before Plato and Aristotle, and hardly a third were Athenians. The architecture contains Roman elements, but the general semi-circular setting having Plato and Aristotle at its center is speculated to be alluding to Pythagoras’ iconic circumpunct (circled dot).

Commentators have suggested that nearly every great Greek philosopher can be found within the painting, but determining which are depicted is difficult, since Raphael made no designations outside possible likenesses, and no contemporary documents exist to explain the painting. Compounding the problem, Raphael had to invent a system of iconography to allude to various figures for whom there were no traditional visual types. For example, while the Socrates figure is immediately recognizable from ancient busts, the alleged Epicurus is very different from the standard type for that philosopher. Furthermore, some of the images are actually of contemporary men, such as Michelangelo as Heraclitus.

Art historian Luitpold Dussler counts among those who can be identified with some certainty: Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Ptolemy, Zoroaster, Raphael, Sodoma and Diogenes. Other identifications he holds to be more or less speculative.

Diogenes

Diogenes

Michelangelo/Heraclitus

Michelangelo/Heraclitus

Pythagoras

Pythagoras

Epicurus

Epicurus

Zeno

Zeno

It is commonly agreed that this image is a self portrait of Raphael.

Raphael (L)

Raphael (L)

In the center of the fresco, at its architecture’s central vanishing point, are the two undisputed main subjects: Plato on the left and Aristotle, his student, on the right. Both figures hold modern (of the time), bound copies of their books in their left hands, while gesturing with their right. Plato holds Timaeus, Aristotle his Nicomachean Ethics.

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Plato is depicted as old, grey, wise looking, and barefoot. By contrast Aristotle, slightly ahead of him, is in mature manhood, handsome, wearing sandals, and adorned with gold. The youth about them seem to look his way. In addition, these two central figures gesture along different dimensions: Plato vertically, upward along the picture-plane, into the vault above; Aristotle on the horizontal plane at right-angles to the picture-plane (hence in strong foreshortening). It is generally thought that their gestures indicate central aspects of their philosophies, for Plato, his Theory of Forms (in the heavens), and for Aristotle, his empiricist views, with an emphasis on concrete particulars (on earth).

Raphael was clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in the course of painting the room. One of the most obvious examples is the image of Michelangelo himself, as Heraclitus, which seems to draw clearly from the Sybils and ignudi of the Sistine ceiling. Other figures in that and later paintings in the room show the same influences, yet are still quite obviously in Raphael’s own style. Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarism and years after Raphael’s death, complained in a letter that “everything he knew about art he got from me.”  Raphael’s friend Castiglione coined the term “sprezzatura” to describe Raphael’s frescoes, which he defined as “a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.”

The cuisine of the Marche region where Raphael was born bears a resemblance to other central Italian cooking styles, but, as ever, has certain classic dishes, such as brodetto, a soup made from leftovers from the fish markets thickened with toasted stale bread. Traditionally, it was the daily meal for port workers and is considered a complete meal. There are four types of brodetto corresponding to the different fishing localities in the region: Ancona, Porto Recanati, ‘Fano’ and San Benedetto del Tronto.  The prime ingredient in the local brodetto is the main fish caught from each port. There is also a version called ‘brodetto delle Marche’ which combines the other four and is (sort of) what I offer you here.

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©Brodetto delle Marche

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs of a mix of firm white fish and crustacea (squid, cuttlefish, shrimp/prawns or langostines, crab claws), cleaned and cut in bite-sized pieces.
1 onion chopped fine
a few strands of saffron
extra virgin olive oil
fish broth (made with trimmings)
white wine
salt and pepper
flour
stale bread slices, toasted lightly, and cut in large pieces

Instructions:

Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion and crustacea (but not shrimp if using them). Cook over a low heat for a few minutes and then add the saffron, salt and pepper to taste, and ½ cup of fish broth.  Simmer gently over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Put the fish and shrimp (if using them) in a plastic bag with a generous amount of flour, seal it, and shake until all the pieces are evenly coated.

Arrange the floured pieces in layers in a large saucepan with the fish that needs the least cooking on top.  Gently pour the contents of the skillet over the fish and add an equal mix of broth and dry white wine to cover.  Simmer gently for about 15 minutes.  Do not stir the soup at this stage otherwise the fish will break apart.

Arrange the toasted bread pieces in large serving bowls and then cover with the soup.

Serves 4

Mar 162014
 

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Today is the feast of St Urho, an invented saint who is supposedly the Finnish version of St Patrick.  I hope you see the humor in it all.The legend of Saint Urho was the invention of a Finnish-American named Richard Mattson, who worked at Ketola’s Department Store in Virginia, Minnesota in spring of 1956. Mattson later recounted that he invented St. Urho when he was questioned by coworker Gene McCavic about the Finns’ lack of a saint like the Irish St. Patrick, whose feat of casting the snakes out of Ireland is remembered on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, the patron saint of Finland is Henry (Bishop of Finland).

According to the original “Ode to St. Urho” written by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson, St. Urho was supposed to have cast “tose ‘Rogs” (those frogs) out of Finland by the power of his loud voice, which he obtained by drinking “feelia sour” (sour whole milk) and eating kala mojakka (fish soup).

Ode to Saint Urho
by Gene McCavic and Richard Mattson
Virginia, Minnesota

Ooksi kooksi coolama vee
Santia Urho is ta poy for me!
He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds.
Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen
Braffest Finn I effer seen
Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes
Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour
Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.
Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles
What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay
On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho’s Tay.

The original “Ode to St. Urho” identified St. Urho’s Day as taking place on May 24. Later the date was changed to March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. St. Urho’s feast is supposed to be celebrated by wearing the colors Royal Purple and Nile Green. Other details of the invented legend also changed, apparently under the influence of Dr. Sulo Havumäki, a psychology professor at Bemidji State College in Bemidji, Minnesota. The legend now states that St. Urho drove away grasshoppers (rather than frogs) from Finland using the incantation “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!” (“Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!”), thus saving the Finnish grape crops. Another version of the modern celebration of St. Urho’s Day is that it was created by Kenneth Brist of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Brist, a high school teacher, was teaching in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early to mid-1950s in an area largely populated by people of Finnish heritage. He and his friends concocted March 16 as St. Urho’s Day so that they had two days to celebrate, the next day being St. Patrick’s Day.

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The designation of St. Urho as patron saint of the Finnish is particularly humorous because 82.5% of the Finnish population is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, which does not recognize Feasts of Saints. Brist promoted the “annual cancellation” of the St. Urho’s Day Parade in Chippewa Falls with advertisements in the Chippewa Herald Telegram and by teaching his high school students about the legend of St. Urho. The “Ode to St. Urho” has been modified to reflect these changes in the feast day and legend. The Ode is written in a self-parodying form of English as spoken by Finnish immigrants known as Finnglish. There is also a “Ballad of St. Urho” written by Sally Karttunen.

Ballad of St Urho
Finnglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of Kuka Sen Saunan Lämmitää

St. Urho was a Finnish lad,
A blue eyed, blond hair poika,
St. Urho, bashful suomalainen
Ate grapes and kala mojakkaa.

He chased those big green bugs away,
“Heinäsirkka, mene pois!”
He said it loudly, just one time —
Tose ‘hoppers had no choice!

And so the Finns are here right now,
To celebrate Dear Urho,
And sing and dance in temperatures…..
It’s always way ‘plo zero!

Then in snowbanks deep and rivers iced,
To our saunas we will go, oh!
Cuz’ Urho is our hero, now,
As all good Finns must know!

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St Urho’s Song
Finglish words by Sally Karttunen to the tune of: Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

St. Urho, little Finnish lad,
A blond haired lad, a blue eyed lad,
St. Urho, bashful Finnish lad,
Chased ‘tos grasshoppers ‘vay,

An tats vhy Finns still ‘member him,
And tans wid him and sing wid him,
An tats why Finns eat grapes wid him,
An haf dat Urho’s Tay!

[Brief note on the Finnish language: Finnish has several fewer consonants than English. Missing are B, C, D, and G. Consequently there are no sounds for those letters, and B becomes P, C becomes S or K, D becomes T, and G becomes K. When Finnish rally drivers talk about transmission problems with their cars, they refer to it as a “kearpox”. There are also no definite or indefinite articles in Finnish sentence structure — “the,” “a,” or “an” are not part of Finnish grammar.]

The selection of the name Urho as the saint’s name was probably influenced by the accession of Urho Kekkonen to the presidency of Finland in 1956. Urho in the Finnish language also has the meaning of hero or simply brave. There were several Finnish names suggested, but Saint Ero or Saint Jussi, or even Toivo or Eino, just didn’t have the correct ring of a saintly name.

There are St. Urho fan clubs in Canada and Finland as well as the U.S., and the festival is celebrated on March 16 in many American and Canadian communities with Finnish roots. The original statue of St. Urho is located in Menahga, Minnesota. Another interesting chainsaw-carved St. Urho statue is located in Finland, Minnesota. There is a beer restaurant called St. Urho’s Pub in central Helsinki, Finland. A 2001 book, The Legend of St. Urho by Joanne Asala, presents much of the folklore surrounding St. Urho and includes an essay by Richard Mattson on the “birth” of St. Urho.

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On March 16, 1999 in Kaleva, Michigan a large Metal Sculpture of a Grasshopper was Dedicated in honor of St. Urho’s day. Kaleva is a community settled by Finnish Immigrants in 1900. In fact Kaleva is named after the Kalevala, the Epic Finnish story about the Creation of the Earth. Many places with mixed populations of Finnish and Irish have an annual St. Urho’s day event on the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Butte, Montana holds such a celebration each March 16.

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Was St. Urho a Failure? According to the website www.SaintUrho.com they recently received a book that indicates the grasshopper population in Finland is thriving. The book is titled Suomen heinäsirkat ja hepokatit (The Grasshoppers and Crickets of Finland) by  Sami Karjalainen. It is 200 pages long full of color photos of Finnish grasshoppers. The book also includes a CD with grasshopper calls.

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Urho grew strong on fish soup so here is my version of the Finno-American classic kala mojakka. It is a fairly generic creamed white fish soup flavored with thyme and dill. I made this today making enough for 2 because I live alone and don’t want to be eating fish soup for a week.

©Kala mojakka

Ingredients:

1 medium sized potato, peeled and sliced
9 ozs/250g firm white fish fillet, preferably perch, pike, or trout
1 tbsp butter
1 leek, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch thyme
salt and white pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsps heavy cream (optional)
1 tbsp fresh dill

Instructions:

Bring 4 cups of salted water to the boil, add the potatoes, and simmer until they are soft.  Use a slotted spoon to remove them and reserve.

Keeping the water on simmer, add the fish and poach until barely cooked through (about 8 minutes).  Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and reserve along with the potatoes.  Reserve the cooking liquid in a bowl.

Melt the butter in the pot and add the onion, leek, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper and sauté until soft. Add the flour and mix well to combine, forming a blond roux. Add one cup of the cooking water, stirring well to avoid lumps. Then add plus 2 cups milk (plus cream if used). Simmer for 15 minutes.

Flake the fish and add it and the potatoes and dill 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Check seasonings and serve with buttered crusty bread.

Serves 2

Nov 282013
 

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Today is the birthday (1757) of William Blake, English poet, painter and printmaker. Blake was largely unrecognized during his lifetime, but is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.  He was considered mad by some of his contemporaries because of his unorthodox views on religion and his, at times, wild imagery, but now is held in high regard for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterized as part of the Romantic movement, or Pre-Romantic because of the era in which he worked. But many historians consider his work to be unclassifiable – it’s just Blake. William Rossetti characterized him as a “glorious luminary” and “a man not forestalled by predecessors, nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable successors.” Blake was devoted to the Bible but actively hostile to all forms of organized Christianity, especially the Church of England. He was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions, though in later life he rejected many of these beliefs .

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William Blake was born 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St.) in Soho in London. He was the third of seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Blake’s father, James, was a hosier. He attended school only long enough to learn reading and writing, leaving at the age of ten, and was otherwise educated at home by his mother Catherine Wright Armitage Blake. The Blakes were dissenters, and are believed to have belonged to the Moravian Church. The Bible was an early and profound influence on Blake, and remained a source of inspiration throughout his life.

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Blake started engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father, a practice that he always preferred to drawing.  As a boy Blake was exposed to classical forms through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Marten Heemskerk and Albrecht Dürer. His father and mother were able to buy prints for him to study  and copy, and enrolled him in drawing classes rather than send him to school. He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During his boyhood Blake made explorations into poetry and his early work shows the influence of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser, and the Psalms.

In 1772 (aged 14), Blake was apprenticed to engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, for the sum of £52.10, for a term of seven years. At the end of the term, aged 21, he became a professional engraver. Basire’s style of line-engraving was of a kind held at the time to be old-fashioned compared to the flashier stipple or mezzotint styles. It has been speculated that Blake’s instruction in this outmoded form may have been detrimental to his ability to find work or recognition.

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In 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the Strand. While the terms of his study required no payment, he was expected to supply his own materials throughout the six-year period. There, he rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school’s first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds’ attitude towards art, especially his pursuit of “general truth” and “general beauty.” Reynolds wrote in his Discourses that the “disposition to abstractions, to generalising and classification, is the great glory of the human mind.” Blake responded, in marginalia to his personal copy, that “To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” Blake also disliked Reynolds’ apparent humility, which he held to be a form of hypocrisy. Against Reynolds’ fashionable oil painting, Blake preferred the Classical precision of his early influences, Michelangelo and Raphael.

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Blake’s first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, records that in June 1780 Blake was walking towards Basire’s shop in Great Queen Street when he was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed Newgate Prison. The mob attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, set the building ablaze, and released the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the front rank of the mob during the attack. The riots, in response to a parliamentary bill revoking sanctions against Roman Catholicism, became known as the Gordon Riots and provoked a flurry of legislation from the government of George III, and the creation of the first police force. Although some historians believe Blake was forced to accompany the crowd, others have argued that he accompanied it impulsively, or supported it as a revolutionary act.

Blake met Catherine Boucher in 1782 when he was recovering from a relationship that had culminated in a refusal of his marriage proposal. He recounted the story of his heartbreak for Catherine and her parents, after which he asked Catherine, “Do you pity me?” When she responded affirmatively, he declared, “Then I love you.” Blake married Catherine  on 18 August 1782 in St. Mary’s Church, Battersea. Catherine was illiterate and so signed her wedding contract with an X. The original wedding certificate may be viewed at the church, where a commemorative stained-glass window was installed between 1976 and 1982. Later, in addition to teaching Catherine to read and write, Blake trained her as an engraver. Throughout his life she proved an invaluable aid, helping to print his illuminated works and maintaining his spirits throughout numerous misfortunes.

Blake’s first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed around 1783. After his father’s death, Blake and former fellow apprentice James Parker opened a print shop in 1784, and began working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson.  Johnson’s house was a meeting-place for leading English intellectual dissidents of the time: theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley, philosopher Richard Price, artist John Henry Fuseli, early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and Anglo-American revolutionary Thomas Paine. Along with William Wordsworth and William Godwin, Blake had great hopes for the French and American revolutions and wore a Phrygian cap in solidarity with the French revolutionaries, but despaired with the rise of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in France. In 1784 Blake composed his unfinished manuscript An Island in the Moon.

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Blake illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (1788; 1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft. They seem to have shared some views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage. In Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love, and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfillment.

In 1788, aged 31, Blake experimented with relief etching, a method he used to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets, and poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and the finished products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid to dissolve the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the name). Blake used illuminated printing for most of his well-known works, including Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.

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In 1800, Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham, in Sussex (now West Sussex), to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley, a minor poet.

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It was in this cottage that Blake began Milton a Poem (the title page is dated 1804, but Blake continued to work on it until 1808). The preface to this work includes a poem beginning “And did those feet in ancient time,” which became the words for the anthem “Jerusalem.” “Jerusalem” has always been a favorite in England.  Here it is from the last night at the proms:

Blake returned to London in 1804 and began to write and illustrate “Jerusalem” (1804–1820), his most ambitious work. Having conceived the idea of portraying the characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Blake approached the dealer Robert Cromek, with a view to marketing an engraving. Knowing Blake was too eccentric to produce a popular work, Cromek promptly commissioned Blake’s friend Thomas Stothard to execute the concept. When Blake learned he had been cheated, he broke off contact with Stothard. He set up an independent exhibition in his brother’s haberdashery shop at 27 Broad Street in Soho. The exhibition was designed to market his own version, titled The Canterbury Pilgrims, along with other works. As a result, he wrote his Descriptive Catalogue (1809), which contains what Anthony Blunt called a “brilliant analysis” of Chaucer and is regularly anthologized as a classic of Chaucer criticism. It also contained detailed explanations of his other paintings. The exhibition was very poorly attended, selling none of the temperas or watercolors. Its only review, in The Examiner, was hostile.

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In 1818 he was introduced by George Cumberland’s son to a young artist, John Linnell. Through Linnell he met Samuel Palmer, who belonged to a group of artists who called themselves the Shoreham Ancients. The group shared Blake’s rejection of modern trends and his belief in a spiritual and artistic New Age. Aged 65, Blake began work on illustrations for the Book of Job, later admired by Ruskin, who compared Blake favorably to Rembrandt, and by Vaughan Williams, who based his ballet “Job: A Masque for Dancing” on a selection of the illustrations.

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The commission for Dante’s Divine Comedy came to Blake in 1826 through Linnell, with the aim of producing a series of engravings. Blake’s death in 1827 cut short the enterprise, and only a handful of watercolors were completed, with only seven of the engravings arriving at proof form. Blake’s illustrations of the poem are not merely accompanying works, but rather seem to critically revise, or furnish commentary on, certain spiritual or moral aspects of the text.

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Because the project was never completed, Blake’s intent may be obscured. Some indicators bolster the impression that Blake’s illustrations in their totality would take issue with the text they accompany: In the margin of “Homer Bearing the Sword and His Companions,” Blake notes, “Every thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost.” Blake seems to dissent from Dante’s admiration of the poetic works of ancient Greece, and from the apparent glee with which Dante allots punishments in Hell (as evidenced by the grim humor of the cantos).

At the same time, Blake shared Dante’s distrust of materialism and the corruptive nature of power, and clearly relished the opportunity to represent the atmosphere and imagery of Dante’s work pictorially. Even as he seemed to near death, Blake’s central preoccupation was his feverish work on the illustrations to Dante’s Inferno; he is said to have spent one of the very last shillings he possessed on a pencil to continue sketching.

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On the day of his death, Blake worked relentlessly on his Dante series. Eventually, it is reported, he ceased working and turned to his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried, “Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me.” Having completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses. At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, Blake died. Gilchrist reports that a female lodger in the house, present at his death, said, “I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel.”

In celebration of Blake I must print, “The Tyger,” long a favorite of mine and clearly indicative of his spiritual vision:

The Tyger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

For a dish to commemorate Blake I have chosen a recipe from A Complete System of Cookery by William Verral, Master of the White-Hart in Lewes, Sussex, published the year after Blake was born, and originating not far from where he lived in Sussex.  Follow the link for the complete text of the book. Water Souchy is a fish soup probably adapted from a Flemish dish, Waterzooi. Its name derives from the Dutch term “zooien” meaning “to boil.” It is sometimes called Gentse Waterzooi which refers to the Belgian town of Ghent where it originated. The original dish is often made of fish, either freshwater or sea, (known as Viszooitje), though today chicken waterzooi (Kippenwaterzooi) is more common. All versions are based on an soup-base of egg yolk, cream and thickened vegetable broth. The stew itself contains fish or chicken, vegetables including carrots, onions, celeriac, leeks, potatoes and herbs such as parsley, thyme, bay-leaves and sage.

Verral’s dish is rather bland in comparison, but it contains parsley root, a much overlooked ingredient which I would like to highlight.  When you can find it, it comes with parsley attached, and makes a wonderful side dish for fish or poultry, sliced and poached, and served in a cream sauce made from the poaching water and chopped parsley tops (or simply buttered).

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Here is the original recipe. It is easy to follow.

Water Souchy

This is rather a Dutch dish, and for change no bad one. To make this in perfection you should have several sorts of small fish, flounders, gudgeons, eels, perch, and a pike or two; but it is often with perch only; they ought to be very fresh; take care all is very clean, for what they are boil’d in is the soup: cut little notches in all, and put them a little while in fresh spring water; (this is what is called crimping of fish in London); put them into a stewpan with as much water as you think will fill your dish, half a pint of white wine, a spoonful or two of vinegar, and as much salt as you would for broth. Put them over your fire in cold water, and take particular care you skim it well in boiling; provide some parsley roots cut in slices and boiled very tender, and a large quantity of leaves of parsley boiled nice and green. When your fish have boiled gently for a quarter of an hour take them from the fire and put in your roots, and when you serve it to table strew your leaves over it; take care not to break your fish and pour your liquor on softly and hot; some plates of bread and butter are generally served up with this, so be sure to have them ready.

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I followed the recipe, but with quite a few changes. I’ll be building a snowman in Hades before I will find parsley root in Buenos Aires. I used mushrooms just to add some variety.  I also think it is better to poach the root and parsley directly in the broth, rather than separately, as Verral suggests.  Otherwise the broth is likely to be weak. I used a ton of parsley.  I also used lime juice in place of vinegar because in most dishes I prefer citrus juices to vinegar (including vinaigrette).  I suppose I could have used Japanese rice wine vinegar, which I quite like. I served additional lime wedges on the side for extra flavor, along with the bread and butter. Verral’s instructions imply he used whole fish; I used fillets and so did not worry about all the pre-cleaning.  The Flemish dish originally used either saltwater or river fish; Verral’s list is mostly river fish.  I used halibut because river fish is popular only in the northern provinces of Argentina.  All in all it proved to be a flavorful dish, which I will try again.