Sunday, December 13, 2009

A rose

Some of the most moving, beautiful, and touching music has been written for Christmas carols. Many christmas songs and carols have become part of our culture, whether one is religious or not.
And since there are so many good carols, it is difficult to chose a "favorite" one. Still, I will mention one of my favorites: Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen, or, as it is usually known in english, Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. For my greek friends, there is no commonly used translation: this is not one of the carols that have become known in Greece, despite the fact that many other western carols are as popular in Greece as in any other country.

Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen was originally a german chorale, and it probably originates in the middle ages. Michael Praetorius wrote the most commonly used harmonization in 1609. (Look up any hymnal and his name is prominently featured - he wrote many of the hymns that are used up to this day). It is not one of the "top 10" carols, but it is pretty commonly heard in german and english/american churches and carol services. Here is a nice rendition by the Regensburg Cathedral Choir.

One of the most interesting and beautiful settings of this chorale was written by Brahms. It is the eighth of his Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, op. 122, composed in 1896 but published in 1902, after he had died. These were Brahms's last compositions (poignantly, the very last one is the chorale prelude O Welt, ich muss dich lassen, "Oh world, I must leave you now"...).
It is written just for the manual, and thus can be easily played on the piano too. It is a very unusual chorale, as the melody is rather hidden, alternating between the voices and played on the weak beat, becoming rather difficult to discern. The whole effect is sweet and romantic, and a little bit sad I think. It is one of the most cherished pieces of the organ repertoire.

Eleven Chorale Preludes (1896, Published 1902), Op.122: Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen, played by Peter Hurford

I first heard the Brahms setting when I was a child, on BBC short wave radio, and I was immediately captivated by it. Many years later, it was the first organ piece that I learned to play (and one of the very few), at the Bigelow chapel of Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, MA. The organist there let me practice on Tuesday evenings, when the chapel was not in use. He had even given me a key to the place - to a greek, 20-year old kid he had never seen before! God bless him!

Busoni wrote piano transcriptions for six of the Brahms chorale preludes, including Es ist ein' Ros' entsprungen. These are less known than his famous Bach transcriptions, but they are certainly worth checking out.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Always on My Mind, All over the world

The Pet Shop Boys, my favorite group, will be performing in Athens and Thessaloniki in a few days, as part of their Pandemonium Tour. For my friends in Greece and for all the fans of the PSB, here are some of the photos I took during their concert in Boston, on September 5th, at the House of Blues. The pics were all shot with my cellphone. (Click a pic for a larger version.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Athens - Bird's Eye View

Last full day in Athens for this summer....
Looking forward to the fall - one of the nicest things in the Northeast US is that we have four distinct seasons.

I took this pic while flying Athens-Ioannina a few days ago, using my camera's zoom function (click the photo for a larger version). See how many monuments and landmarks you can pick out!
Here is another one, using a wider angle.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Provincetown 2009

Provincetown: Nothing like it in the world!
Photographs taken during the 4th July week, during my annual vacation in Ptown.

Click pics for larger version

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Late Spring in Upstate New York

Summer has almost arrived in Upstate New York. Here are some pictures I took during the last two weeks. (Click the thumbnails for a full size version of each pic).

Young Mallard

Canada Geese

Young Blue Jay

Green Lakes

Niagara Falls

Dark-eyed Junco

Tiger Swallowtail


Taughannock Falls

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bird's eye view, part 2

I recently posted some of the photos I have taken over the years while looking out of an airplane's window. Here are some more.
(Click the thumbnails for a full size version of each pic).
Rio bridge (2004)
Manhattan, NYMiami Beach
Isthmus of CorinthChicago
Windsor Castle

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The island of Sazan (Saseno, Σασων)

One of the standard air routes between Athens and western Europe takes a path just west of the Albanian coast. If you are seated on the right side of the airplane, you can see the city of Vlorë (italian: Valona, greek: Αυλών). The Bay of Vlorë is bound by the characteristic Karaburun peninsula, beyond the tip of which lies the small island of Sazan (it. Saseno, gr. Σάσων - Sáson).

This tiny island, who has an area of just 5.70 km2, is a very fascinating curiosity in modern greek history, as it is one of the rare instances when Greece voluntarily ceded any of its territory (in 1914, to Albania). I first learned about this from my father when I was a teenager, and since then, every time I fly past it I think of the strange fate of Sazan.

Σασώ, as it was known in antiquity, was already mentioned by Polybius in a military episode taking place in 215 BC. Part of the Roman and Byzantine empires, it was captured by the Anjou of Naples in 1279, and was held by Albanian lords in the 1300s, often under the protection of Venice. The Ottoman Turks captured it around 1400, but it belonged to the Venetians by 1696. From then on, it follows the fate of the Ionian Islands, which were eventually given to Britain in 1815 as an autonomous republic under British protection.

In 1864 the Ionian Islands were given to Greece. That's when Sáson/Sazan becomes de jure part of the greek state. However, Greece did not try to make its presence felt on the uninhabited island at that point, and never tried to occupy it. In fact, Ottoman Turkey reestablished its presence there by building a lighthouse in 1871. During the Balkan Wars, the greek navy captured Sáson on 8 November 1912, almost fifty years after it was legally transfered to Greece. In early 1914 though, after the great powers finalized the borders of the newly independent Albania, Greece was asked to cede the island to Albania. The greek government introduced the relevant law proposal (of just two articles) to Parliament, which voted on it on 28 May and published it on 7 June. The greek guard of twenty-five soldiers left the island on 2 July 1914. Thus ends the greek presence on Sazan.

That was not the end of the story, by the way. Italy took possession of the island in 1920 and kept it through World War II. It was formally restored to Albania in 1947, and was used as a base of the Soviet navy until 1961. It is currently used by Albania and the Italian coast guard in their efforts against illegal migration and contraband traffic.

So, next time you fly near Sazan, think of all its adventures, and, especially if you are greek, of its strange fate! (The photo of Vlorë, the Karaburun peninsula, and Sazan was taken during a flight from Athens to London).

Σπυρίδων Λάμπρος, Η νήσος Σάσων, Νέος Ἑλληνομνήμων, τόμος 11, σελ. 57-93 (1914).
Petrit Nathanaili, L’ île de Sazan (Saseno), Balkanologie, vol. VI, no 1-2, p. 41-46 (2002).
L'occupazione dell'isola di Saseno ed i reati commessi sull'isola, Prassi Italiana di Diritto Internazionale.
Wikipedia: Sazan Island (in english), Saseno (in italian).