Dec 042016
 

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Today is the second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love. Now we light the second candle in the wreath and the feeling that Christmas is on its way is getting a little stronger.  In church today the reading will be this famous passage from Isaiah:

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

40:3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

40:6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.

40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.

40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

This passage has several things to note in it. One is that it was used by Mark in his gospel to speak about John the Baptist:

1:2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”

1:3 A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’

The astute among you will note the difference between Isaiah and Mark concerning the voice and the wilderness. Of course, the quotation marks in the English translation here are not in the original Hebrew and Greek. If they were in the original Hebrew, Mark would not have made the fundamental mistake he made in his Greek gospel. My question: where is the voice located that Isaiah and Mark mention? Isaiah does not say. Mark says it is in the wilderness (supporting his claim that John – famous for living in the wilderness – is the foretold prophet of the Messiah, crying out in the wilderness). But Isaiah says that a voice cries out about making the Messiah’s path straight in the wilderness. The voice is not in the wilderness, the path is. This ought to alert you to the fact that the gospel writers liked to twist prophecy to suit their purposes. Nonetheless, the passage gives us numerous pieces from Handel’s Messiah that are brilliant. This is possibly my favorite (and one of my favorite renditions):

The thing I like about certain seasons is the sense of familiarity mixed with newness. That’s the great thing about ritual in one’s life. It provides order, but not necessarily sameness. This year Christmas will be a lot like others I have celebrated for decades, but it will also be fresh in numerous ways.

Let’s talk about spices. Christmas, for me, is very much about seasonal spices when it comes to cooking. I like to follow the seasons in general with my cooking, and I am very careful to avoid eating things out of season. In many countries I have lived – especially the United States – I could, if I wished, eat about anything I wanted, any time of the year. If I had wanted strawberries for Christmas dinner I could have found them. But that’s all wrong. Where I lived in the Catskills, strawberries ripened in May and I bathed in them for the month. Then, when the season was over, I put them aside. I eat lamb at Easter, not just because of the obvious Biblical associations, but also because the new lambs of the year are ready to eat at that point. It doesn’t take a lot of pondering to figure out why lamb is the traditional meal for Passover and how it got tied into the Easter story.

Christmas for me smells of allspice.  Actually, Christmas smells of all the sweet spices – nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger. But allspice stands out for me. Maybe it’s just my personal quirk, but there’s a strong personal connexion for me. I dump it in my mincemeat and puddings, of course, but I also use it to flavor meat dishes. Last year I first had to figure out the Italian – pepe di Jamaica – and then turn Mantua upside down to find it. I did, in the end, but it was touch and go for several weeks. Now I have a big stash. Today I am making dinner for my girlfriend and allspice will be a prominent player. The pasta course will feature a sauce made with goat meat I found at the market yesterday.

Goat is not a popular meat in the West, largely because goats are not common and because the meat can be tough if not cooked properly. I found some nice meaty leg bones which I browned and then gently simmered for several hours in a stock I made with wild mushrooms and liberally spiced with allspice and fresh ground black pepper. The bones and stock have been sitting overnight in the refrigerator ready for stage 2 today. There was no fat to skim this morning because goat is not fatty.  Here’s the image I have from this morning.

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Today I am going to strip and shred the meat. Meanwhile I’m going to reduce the stock, cook some pasta, reheat the meat in the stock, drain the pasta and add it to the meat, swirl around and serve. I’ll post a photo tomorrow.

 

Apr 132016
 

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Messiah (HWV 56) by George Frideric Handel, with a scriptural text compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible, and from the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer, was first performed in Dublin on this date in 1742 and received its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Handel’s reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste. Works such as John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/john-gay/ )signaled a general move away from Italian opera in England. Messiah was Handel’s sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech. Instead, Jennens’ text is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as Messiah. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.

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Jennens

Charles Jennens was born around 1700, into a prosperous landowning family whose lands and properties in Warwickshire and Leicestershire he eventually inherited. His religious and political views—he opposed the Act of Settlement of 1701 which secured the accession to the British throne for the House of Hanover—prevented him from receiving his degree from Oxford University, or from pursuing any form of public career. His family’s wealth enabled him to live a life of leisure while devoting himself to his literary and musical interests. He was devoted to Handel’s music, having helped to finance the publication of every Handel score since Rodelinda in 1725. By 1741, after their collaboration on Saul, a warm friendship had developed between the two, and Handel was a frequent visitor to the Jennens’ family estate at Gopsall.

Jennens’ letter to Holdsworth of 10 July 1741, in which he first mentions Messiah, suggests that the text was a recent work, probably assembled earlier that summer. As a devout Anglican and believer in scriptural authority, part of Jennens’ intention was to challenge advocates of Deism, who rejected the doctrine of divine intervention in human affairs. There is no evidence that Handel played any active role in the selection or preparation of the text, such as he did in the case of Saul.

The music for Messiah was completed in just 24 days. Having received Jennens’ text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of “filling up” to produce the finished work on 14 September. The autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors.

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At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”. The effort of writing so much music in so short a time was not unusual for Handel and his contemporaries; Handel commenced his next oratorio, Samson, within a week of finishing Messiah, and completed his draft of this new work in a month. In accordance with his frequent practice when writing new works, Handel adapted existing compositions for use in Messiah, in this case drawing on two recently completed Italian duets and one written twenty years previously. Thus, Se tu non lasci amore from 1722 became the basis of “O Death, where is thy sting?”; “His yoke is easy” and “And he shall purify” were drawn from Quel fior che alla’ride (July 1741), “Unto us a child is born” and “All we like sheep” from Nò, di voi non vo’ fidarmi (July 1741). Handel’s instrumentation in the score is often imprecise, again in line with contemporary convention, where the use of certain instruments and combinations was assumed and did not need to be written down by the composer; later copyists would fill in the details.

Before the first performance Handel made numerous revisions to his manuscript score, in part to match the forces available for the 1742 Dublin premiere; it is probable that his work was not performed as originally conceived in his lifetime. Between 1742 and 1754 he continued to revise and recompose individual movements, sometimes to suit the requirements of particular singers. The first published score of Messiah was issued in 1767, eight years after Handel’s death, though this was based on relatively early manuscripts and included none of Handel’s later revisions.

Handel’s decision to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arose from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. A violinist friend of Handel’s, Matthew Dubourg, was in Dublin as the Lord Lieutenant’s bandmaster; he would look after the tour’s orchestral requirements. Whether Handel originally intended to perform Messiah in Dublin is uncertain; he did not inform Jennens of any such plan, for the latter wrote to Holdsworth on 2 December 1741: “… it was some mortification to me to hear that instead of performing Messiah here he has gone into Ireland with it.” After arriving in Dublin on 18 November 1741, Handel arranged a subscription series of six concerts, to be held between December 1741 and February 1742 at the Great Music Hall, Fishamble Street. These concerts were so popular that a second series was quickly arranged; Messiah figured in neither series.

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In early March Handel began discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intended to present Messiah. He sought and was given permission from St Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals to use their choirs for this occasion. These forces amounted to 16 men and 16 boy choristers; several of the men were allocated solo parts. The women soloists were Christina Maria Avoglio, who had sung the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who had sung in the second series. To accommodate Cibber’s vocal range, the recitative “Then shall the eyes of the blind” and the aria “He shall feed his flock” were transposed down to F major. The performance, also in the Fishamble Street hall, was originally announced for 12 April, but was deferred for a day “at the request of persons of Distinction”. The orchestra in Dublin comprised strings, two trumpets, and timpani; the number of players is unknown. Handel had his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances; a harpsichord was probably also used.

The three charities that were to benefit were prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter described the oratorio as “… far surpass[ing] anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom”. Seven hundred people attended the premiere on 13 April. So that the largest possible audience could be admitted to the concert, gentlemen were requested to remove their swords, and ladies were asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earned unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crouded Audience”. A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, was so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that reportedly he leapt to his feet and cried: “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amounted to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Handel wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, with optional settings for many of the individual pieces. In the years after his death, the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs. In other efforts to update it, its orchestration was revised and amplified by (among others) Mozart. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the trend has been towards reproducing a greater fidelity to Handel’s original intentions, although “big Messiah” productions continue to be mounted.

Here’s two of my favorite selections from a “period” performance led by Stephen Cleobury who at the time was the musical director at King’s College Cambridge.  The full performance is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTMJVvld9ok&nohtml5=False

Whilst we are in the mood for recreating the feeling of Georgian music recitals, here’s a period piece in food – skirret pie. Sium sisarum, commonly known as skirret, is a perennial plant of the family Apiaceae once grown as a root vegetable. The English name skirret is derived from the Middle English ‘skirwhit’ or ‘skirwort’, meaning ‘white root’. In Scotland it is known as crummock. Its Danish name sukkerrod, Dutch name suikerwortel and German name “Zuckerwurzel” translate as ‘sugar root’. Skirret has a cluster of bright white, sweetish, somewhat aromatic roots, each approximately 15-20 cm in length. They were once commonly used as a vegetable in the same manner as the common salsify, black salsify and the parsnip, but eventually they were surpassed by potatoes. I have no idea if you could ever find skirrets for sale in a market, but you can buy the seeds online.

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I’m giving two period recipes here. They are similar in that they are both quite sweet and laden with sweet spices and candied fruits, as was customary for Georgian savory dishes. The second recipe calls for another obsolete vegetable – eryngo. Eryngium campestre, known as field eryngo, is a species of Eryngium, which was used medicinally. The basal leaves are long-stalked, pinnate and spiny, and can be made into an herbal tea. The roots were usually candied.

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Skirret Pie

Boil your biggest skirrets and blanch and season them with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a very little ginger and sugar. Your pye being ready lay in your skirrets; season also the marrow of three or four bones with cinnamon, sugar, a little salt and grated bread. Lay the marrow in your pye and the yolks of hard eggs, a handful of chestnuts boiled and blanched, and some candied orange-peel in slices. Lay butter on the top and lid your pye. Let your caudle be white wine and sugar, thicken it with the yolks of eggs, and when the pye is baked pour it in and serve it hot. Scrape sugar on it.

Eliza Smith, The Compleat Housewife, (1727)

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A Skirret Pye

Take the largest skirrets you can get & parboyle them & peel them & season them with cinnimon & powder sugar & put them in a dish with a good deal of fresh butter & some sliced citron & candid orange peel & candid eringoroot, 3 spoonfulls of rose water, 4 of white wine, some Jerusalem hartichokes boyled & sliced. Make it with cold butter paste. When it coms out of the oven, have ready a caudle made of half a pint of sack, some sugar & nutmeg & the yolks of 4 eggs & a print of butter poured on it very hot & the lid laid on it again.

Cookbook of Unknown Ladies (c. 1761)

Nov 222014
 

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Today is the feast of Saint Cecilia. She is best known as the patron saint of musicians, but she is also patron of church music, poets, Albi in France, the Archdiocese of Omaha and Mar del Plata in Argentina (a favorite spot of mine and prime vacation destination for porteños). In addition there are many religious sites dedicated to her. Her patronage of musicians is based on the legend that when she sang on her wedding day it was if her heart were speaking to God. Her feast day is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches on November 22. She is one of seven women, excluding Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Cecilia is one of the most famous of the Roman martyrs, even though the familiar stories about her are undoubtedly not founded on verifiable historical material. The main “evidence” of the facts of her life comes from 5th and 6th century collections of tales of the saints which are clearly pious but of dubious credibility as regular readers of this blog will acknowledge. Cecilia perhaps lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (texts vary), fully 300 years before the stories about her were written. Furthermore there is no evidence that these texts were based on anything other than popular folklore. Her feast day has been celebrated since around the 4th century.

It has long been supposed that she was a noble Roman woman who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus, suffered martyrdom in about 230, under the Emperor Alexander Severus. However, Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 600), says that she perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. This discrepancy alone should clue you in to the reliability of the material written about her.

According to the popular story, when the time came for her marriage to be consummated, Cecilia told her new husband,Valerian, that she had an angel of the Lord watching over her who would punish him if he dared to violate her virginity but who would love him if he could respect her maidenhood. When Valerian asked to see the angel, Cecilia replied that he would see the angel if he would go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and be baptized there by Pope Urbanus.

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The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of Valerian and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius. The legend about Cecilia’s death says that after being struck three times on the neck with a sword, she lived for three days, and asked the pope to convert her home into a church.

There is no mention of Cecilia in the Depositio Martyrum, but there is a record of an early Roman Christian church founded by a woman of this name. However, the name “Cecilia” was shared by all women of the Roman gens (clan sharing a common ancestor) known as the Caecilii, whose name may be related to the root of ‘caecus,’ blind. Hence, the church could have been founded by any of hundreds of women from the gens. It was a family name, not a given name. Legends and hagiographies, mistaking it for a personal name, suggest fanciful etymologies. Among those cited by Chaucer in “The Second Nun’s Tale” are: lily of heaven; the way for the blind; and contemplation of heaven and the active life.

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The Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere is reputedly built on the site of the house in which she lived. The original church was constructed in the fourth century; her remains were placed there in the ninth century and the church was rebuilt in 1599, at which time her tomb was opened and her body was reported to be incorrupt (a common claim for saints but this is the earliest).

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The first record of a music festival in her honor was held at Évreux in Normandy in 1570. The National Academy of Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world. It was founded by the papal bull, Ratione congruit, issued by Sixtus V in 1585, which invoked two saints prominent in Western musical history: Gregory the Great, for whom the Gregorian chant is named, and Saint Cecilia.

Her feast day became a regular date for musical concerts and literary festivals that occasioned well-known poems by John Dryden (“A Song for St Cecilia’s Day”) and Alexander Pope (“Ode on St Cecilia’s Day”), and music by Henry Purcell (Ode to St. Cecilia), several oratorios by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (In honorem Caeciliae, Valeriani et Tiburtij canticum, and several versions of Caecilia virgo et martyr, to libretti probably written by Philippe Goibaut), George Frideric Handel (Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, Alexander’s Feast), Charles Gounod (Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile), as well as Benjamin Britten, (who was born on her feast day). Herbert Howells’ “A Hymn to Saint Cecilia” has words by Ursula Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi’s “For Saint Cecilia,” Op. 30, was set to verses written by Edmund Blunden, Michael Hurd’s 1966 composition “A Hymn to Saint Cecilia” sets John Dryden’s poem, and Frederik Magle’s “Cantata to Saint Cecilia” is based on the history of Cecilia. Most, if not all, of these pieces can be found on YouTube if you are interested. Here’s the Purcell and Handel (only so much time I can spend searching on the web for a daily blog !!).

Purcell’s “Hail! Bright Cecilia” (Z.328), also known as “Ode to St. Cecilia,” is a setting of a text by Nicholas Brady composed in 1692. It was first performed at the annual St Cecilia’s Day concert sponsored by the Musical Society of London. Purcell had already written Cecilian pieces in previous years, but this Ode remains the best known. The first performance was a great success, and received an encore.

Brady’s poem is full of references to musical instruments, and Purcell’s work requires a wide variety of vocal soloists and obbligato instruments. Brady extols the birth and personality of musical instruments and voices, and Purcell treats these personalities as if they were dramatic characters. The airs employ a variety of dance forms. For example, “Hark, each Tree” is a sarabande on a ground. It is a duet on a ground-bass between, vocally, soprano and bass, and instrumentally, between recorders and violins (“box and fir” are the woods used in the making of these instruments). “With That Sublime Celestial Lay” and “Wond’rous Machine” are in praise of the organ. “Thou tun’st this World” is set as a minuet. “In vain the am’rous Flute” is set to a passacaglia bass. In spite of Brady’s conception of the speaking forest (English organs of the period typically had wooden pipes), Purcell scored the warlike music for two brass trumpets and copper kettle drums instead of fife and (field) drum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn4_0vKO1F8

The Handel piece (HWV 76) is a cantata that is a setting of the poem by Dryden. The main theme of the text is the Pythagorean theory of harmonia mundi, that music was a central force in the Earth’s creation. The premiere was on 22 November 1739 at the Theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. Much of the instrumentation and use of percussion are exemplars of 18th century style, in great part initiated by Handel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPMqWnTBKlA

Among other things, Cecilia has become a symbol of the conviction that good music is an integral part of liturgy. She is frequently depicted playing a viola, a small organ, or other musical instrument.

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Other images focus on her martyrdom and subsequent crowning, with Valerian, in heaven.

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The Sisters of Saint Cecilia are a group of consecrated religious sisters. They are the ones who shear the lambs’ wool used to make the pallia of new metropolitan archbishops. The lambs are raised by the Cistercian Trappist Fathers of the Tre Fontane (Three Fountains) Abbey in Rome. The lambs are blessed by the Pope every January 21, the Feast of the martyr Saint Agnes. The pallia are given by the Pope to the new metropolitan archbishops on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29.

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St Cecilia’s Abbey, on the Isle of Wight, was founded in 1882. The nuns live a traditional monastic life of prayer, work and study in accordance with the ancient Rule of St Benedict.

Food is not generally associated with St Cecilia given that her feast is celebrated primarily with music. I was able to dig up a couple of related recipes, however. There is a little known dessert sauce called St Cecilia Sauce which seems to me rather uninteresting. It is basically egg yolks beaten with powdered sugar, and then folded into whipped cream to which has been added some flavoring such as vanilla or sherry. Yawn.

There is also a drink known as St Cecilia Society Punch created for the exclusive St Cecilia Society of Charleston, SC, founded in the 18th century as an exclusive club of rich patrons of music. The society still exists, but no longer supports music. As longtime readers know, I very rarely include recipes for drinks. I don’t really think of them as recipes as such. But this one clears the bar, barely.

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St Cecilia Society Punch

Ingredients

2 lemons, thinly sliced
¾ cup brandy
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 bags green tea
¾ cup dark rum
½ small pineapple, peeled, cored, sliced ½ in thick, and cut into small wedges
1 750 ml bottle dry sparkling wine, chilled
6 cups sparkling water, chilled

Instructions

Put the lemon slices in a large bowl and pour the brandy over them. Let macerate at room temperature overnight.

In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining the sugar with ¾ cup water and bringing to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags, and steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the tea bags and let the syrup cool.

Combine the macerated lemons, brandy, syrup, rum, and pineapple in a large punch bowl. Chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably longer.

Just before serving add a block of ice to the bowl. Add the sparkling wine and sparkling water, and gently stir.

Serves 1 (sorry, old joke)