The Steam Engine

So let’s get the “technical” bits out of the way first! In thermodynamics and engineering, an ‘engine’ is defined as “a system that converts heat to usable energy, particularly mechanical energy, which can then be used to do mechanical work”. The steam engine performs this mechanical work using steam as its working fluid and it uses the force produced by steam pressure to push a piston back and forth inside a cylinder. This pushing force can be transformed, by a connecting rod and crank, into a rotational force for work. Steam engines are external combustion engines where the working fluid is separated from the combustion products. Easy, isn’t it!

An ‘aeolipile’ rotates due to the steam escaping from the arms. No practical use was made of this effect.

Although steam-driven devices were known as early as the above ‘aeolipile’ in the first century AD, with a few other uses recorded in the sixteenth century, in 1606 Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont patented his invention of the first steam-powered water pump for draining mines. Thomas Savery is considered the inventor of the first commercially used steam powered device, a steam pump that used steam pressure operating directly on the water. The first commercially successful engine that could transmit continuous power to a machine was developed in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen, then James Watt made a critical improvement in 1764 by removing spent steam to a separate vessel for condensation, thus greatly improving the amount of work obtained per unit of fuel consumed.

Jacob Leupold’s steam engine.

The first commercial steam-powered device was a water pump, developed in 1698 by Thomas Savery. Small engines were effective, though larger models were problematic and were prone to boiler explosions. Savery’s engine was used in mines, pumping stations and supplying water to water wheels which powered textile machinery. Then in 1720 Jacob Leupold described a two-cylinder high-pressure steam engine and the invention was published in his major work “Theatri Machinarum Hydraulicarum”. The engine used two heavy pistons to provide motion to a water pump, where each piston was raised by the steam pressure and returned to its original position by gravity.

Early Watt steam pumping engine.

The next major step occurred when James Watt developed an improved version, developing his engine further and modifying it to provide a rotary motion suitable for driving machinery. This enabled factories to be sited away from rivers, and accelerated the pace of the Industrial Revolution. But Watt’s designs were low pressure condensing engines and his patent prevented others from making high pressure and compound engines. Shortly after Watt’s patent expired in 1800, in 1801 Richard Trevithick and also (but separately) Oliver Evans, introduced engines using high-pressure steam. Trevithick obtained his high-pressure engine patent in 1802 and Evans had made several working models before then. These were much more powerful for a given cylinder size than previous engines and could be made small enough for transport applications. Thereafter, technological developments and improvements in manufacturing techniques (partly brought about by the adoption of the steam engine as a power source) resulted in the design of more efficient engines that could be smaller, faster, or more powerful, depending on the intended application. The Cornish engine was developed by Trevithick and others in the 1810s and it used high-pressure steam expansively, then condensed the low-pressure steam, making it relatively efficient. The Cornish engine design rather limited it to pumping, so they were used in mines and for water supply until the late nineteenth century. Early builders of stationary steam engines considered that horizontal cylinders would be subject to excessive wear, and as a result their engines were arranged with the pistons in a vertical position, but in time the horizontal arrangement became more popular, allowing compact, but powerful engines to be fitted in smaller spaces. The star of the horizontal engine was the Corliss steam engine, patented in 1849, which was a four-valve design with separate steam admission and exhaust valves and automatic variable steam cutoff. Corliss was given the Rumford Medal, an award bestowed by Britain’s Royal Society every alternating year for “an outstandingly important recent discovery in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter made by a scientist working in Europe”, and the committee said that “no one invention since Watt’s time has so enhanced the efficiency of the steam engine”. In addition to using 30% less steam, it provided more uniform speed due to variable steam cut off, making it well suited to manufacturing, especially cotton spinning.

A steam powered road-locomotive.

As the development of steam engines progressed through the eighteenth century, various attempts were made to apply them to road and railway use. In 1784, William Murdoch, a Scottish inventor, built a model steam road locomotive. The first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was built by Richard Trevithick here in the United Kingdom and on 21 February 1804 the world’s first railway journey took place as Trevithick’s unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway from the Pen-y-darren ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon in South Wales. The design incorporated a number of important innovations that included using high-pressure steam, which reduced the weight of the engine and increased its efficiency. Trevithick visited the Newcastle area later in 1804 and the colliery railways in north-east England became the leading centre for experimentation and development of steam locomotives. Trevithick continued his own experiments using a trio of locomotives, concluding with the ‘Catch Me Who Can’ in 1808 and in 1825 George Stephenson built the ‘Locomotion’ for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. This was the first public steam railway in the world and then in 1829, he built ‘The Rocket’ which was entered in and won the Rainhill Trials. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830, making exclusive use of steam power for both passenger and freight trains and the first experimental road-going steam-powered vehicles were built in the late eighteenth century, but it was not until after Richard Trevithick had developed the use of high-pressure steam that mobile steam engines became a practical proposition. The first half of the nineteenth century saw great progress in steam vehicle design, and by the 1850s it was becoming viable to produce them on a commercial basis, but this progress was dampened by legislation which limited or prohibited the use of steam-powered vehicles on roads. Improvements in vehicle technology continued from the 1860s to the 1920s and steam road vehicles were used for many applications.

An early British horse-drawn fire engine with steam-powered water pump.

By the nineteenth century, stationary steam engines powered the factories of the Industrial Revolution. They also replaced sails on ships, giving us paddle steamers, whilst steam locomotives operated on the railways, with the latter continuing to be manufactured until the late twentieth century in places such as China and the former East Germany. Steam engines remained the dominant source of power until the early twentieth century, when advances in the design of the steam turbine, electric motors and internal combustion engines gradually resulted in the replacement of steam engines, with merchant shipping relying increasingly upon diesel engines, and warships on the steam turbine. The final major evolution of the steam engine design was in the use of steam turbines, starting in the late part of the nineteenth century. Steam turbines are generally more efficient than reciprocating piston type steam engines for outputs above several hundred horsepower, they have fewer moving parts and provide rotary power directly instead of through a connecting rod system or similar means. These steam turbines virtually replaced reciprocating engines in electricity generating stations early in the twentieth century, where their efficiency, higher speed appropriate to generator service and smooth rotation were advantages. Today most electric power is provided by steam turbines and were extensively applied for propulsion of large ships throughout most of the twentieth century. Although the old reciprocating steam engine is no longer in widespread commercial use, various companies are exploring or exploiting the potential of the engine as an alternative to internal combustion engines.

An industrial boiler used for a stationary steam engine.

For safety reasons, just about all steam engines are equipped with mechanisms to monitor the boiler, such as a pressure gauge and a sight glass, which is usually a a transparent tube through which the operator of a tank or boiler can observe the level of liquid contained inside, to monitor the water level. Many engines, both stationary and mobile, are also fitted with a governor to regulate the speed of the engine without the need for any human interference. The most useful instrument for analysing the performance of steam engines is the steam engine indicator. There is much more than can be said on the intricacies of how steam engines work, but I have no intention of detailing them here. Suffice to say that land-based steam engines could exhaust their steam to atmosphere, as feed water was usually readily available. Prior to and during World War I a design of engine dominated marine applications where high vessel speed was not essential, but it was superseded by the British invention of a steam turbine where speed was required, for instance in warships such as the ‘Dreadnought’ battleships and ocean liners. HMS Dreadnought, constructed in 1905, was the first major warship to replace the proven technology of the standard steam engine with the then-novel steam turbine.

A rotor of a modern steam turbine used in a power plant.

A steam turbine consists of one or more rotors (rotating discs) mounted on a drive shaft, alternating with a series of stators (static discs) fixed to the turbine casing. The rotors have a propeller-like arrangement of blades at the outer edge. Steam acts upon these blades, producing rotary motion. Turbines are only efficient if they rotate at relatively high speed, therefore they are usually connected to reduction gearing to drive lower speed applications, such as a ship’s propeller. But in the vast majority of large electric generating stations, turbines are directly connected to generators with no reduction gearing and typical speeds are from 3,000 to 3,600 revolutions per minute, but in nuclear power applications the turbines typically run at half these speeds. Steam turbines provide direct rotational force and therefore do not require a linkage mechanism to convert reciprocating to rotary motion so they produce smoother rotational forces on the output shaft. This contributes to a lower maintenance requirement and less wear on the machinery they power than a comparable reciprocating engine. The main use for steam turbines is in electricity generation and in the 1990s about 90% of the world’s electric production was by use of steam turbines. However, the recent widespread application of large gas turbine units and typical combined cycle power plants has resulted in reduction of this percentage to the 80% regime for steam turbines. In electricity production, the high speed of turbine rotation matches well with the speed of modern electric generators, which are typically direct connected to their driving turbines.

‘Turbinia’ at speed – the first steam turbine-powered ship.

In marine service, pioneered on the ‘Turbinia’, steam turbines with reduction gearing (although the Turbinia has direct turbines to propellers with no reduction gearbox) dominated large ship propulsion throughout the late twentieth century, being more efficient (and requiring far less maintenance) than reciprocating steam engines. In recent decades, reciprocating diesel engines and gas turbines have almost entirely supplanted steam propulsion for marine applications. Virtually all nuclear power plants generate electricity by heating water to provide steam that drives a turbine connected to an electrical generator. Nuclear-powered ships and submarines either use a steam turbine directly for main propulsion, with generators providing auxiliary power, or else employ turbo-electric transmission, where the steam drives a turbo generator set with propulsion provided by electric motors. A limited number of steam turbine railway locomotives were manufactured and some non-condensing direct-drive locomotives did meet with some success for long haul freight operations in Sweden and for express passenger work here in Britain, but were not repeated. Elsewhere, notably in the United States, more advanced designs with electric transmission were built experimentally, but not reproduced. It was found that steam turbines were not ideally suited to their railroad environment and these locomotives failed to oust the classic reciprocating steam unit in the way that modern diesel and electric traction has done.

With all of the above there is the need for safety. Steam engines possess boilers and other components that are pressure vessels which contain a great deal of potential energy. As a result, steam escapes and boiler explosions can and have in the past caused great loss of life. Whilst variations in standards may exist in different countries, stringent legal, testing, training, care with manufacture, operation and certification is applied to ensure safety. The steam engine contributed much to the development of thermodynamic theory, however, the only applications of scientific theory that influenced the steam engine were the original concepts of harnessing the power of steam and atmospheric pressure and knowledge of properties of heat and steam. The experimental measurements made by Watt on a model steam engine led to the development of the separate condenser. Watt independently discovered latent heat, which was confirmed by the original discoverer Joseph Black, who also advised Watt on experimental procedures. Watt was also aware of the change in the boiling point of water with pressure. Otherwise, the improvements to the engine itself were more mechanical in nature. Though thermodynamic concepts did give engineers the understanding needed to calculate efficiency, which aided the development of modern high-pressure and temperature boilers as well as the steam turbine. A modern, large electrical power station, producing several hundred megawatts of electrical output with steam reheat, economiser etc. will achieve efficiency in the mid 40% range, with the most efficient units approaching 50% thermal efficiency. It is also possible to capture the waste heat using cogeneration in which the waste heat is used for heating a lower boiling point working fluid or as a heat source for district heating via saturated low-pressure steam. In the twentieth century the rapid development of internal combustion engine technology led to the demise of the steam engine as a source of propulsion of vehicles on a commercial basis, with relatively few remaining in use beyond the Second World War. Happily many of these vehicles were acquired by enthusiasts for preservation and numerous examples are still in existence. In the 1960s, the air pollution problems in California gave rise to a brief period of interest in developing and studying steam-powered vehicles as a possible means of reducing the pollution, but apart from interest by many steam enthusiasts around the world, the occasional replica vehicle as well as experimental technology, no steam vehicles are in regular production at present.

This week… Empathy.
We can rarely experience things in the same way as another but we can empathise, even in silence, with them. Knowing that you are there, that they are not alone, can be enough. A few have said that to understand another person, you must swim in the same water that drowned them. But I believe that if you cannot swim, you can at least be a lifeline which others can hold on to and trust.

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St. Patrick’s Day

Yes, it is St. Patrick’s Day but today is also a special one for me as I celebrate my seventieth birthday. I am told that when I was born, my parents settled on naming me Andrew David, but other folk thought they ought to include Patrick. Except then I’d need George as well, which would have been far too many! So, Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (in Irish, ‘Lá Fhéile Pádraig’, literally the Day of the Festival of Patrick), is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March each year, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. 385 – c. 461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. These celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, dancing and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically, the Lenten restrictions on eating as well as the drinking of alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (for provincial government employees), and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S.A., United States, Argentina Australia and New Zealand, especially amongst Irish diaspora. It seems that Saint Patrick’s Day may be celebrated in more countries than any other national festival! Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of Irish descent, most particularly those in North America. Sadly however, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations for having become too commercialised and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.

Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and Bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about him comes from a ‘Declaration’ allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to his ‘Declaration’, at the age of sixteen he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. In the Declaration he states that God told him to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home and after making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest. According to tradition, Patrick then returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity, which he successfully did. However, Patrick’s efforts were then turned into an allegory in which he drove snakes out of Ireland, despite the fact that it was already known that snakes did not inhabit the country. Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick and over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.

A three-leaved shamrock.

According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Incidentally, as part of my research I have learned that there is a difference between Shamrocks and Clovers. To start with, shamrocks always have three leaves, whilst clovers can have a fourth leaf. Shamrocks are usually green, but you can find purple, green or white clover. Finally, shamrocks grow in clumps, while four-leaf clovers are rare and grow one at a time. But back to the story. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups and so on. More effort is made to use the Irish language, especially in Ireland, where 1 March to St Patrick’s Day on 17 March is ‘Seachtain na Gaeilge’ or Irish Language Week. Since 2010, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on Saint Patrick’s Day as part of Tourism Ireland’s ‘Global Greening Initiative’ or ‘Going Green for St Patrick’s Day’. The Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland were the first landmarks to participate in this and since then over 300 landmarks in fifty countries across the globe have gone green for Saint Patrick’s Day. Christians may also attend church services and the Lenten restrictions on eating as well as the drinking of alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, the drinking of alcohol, particularly Irish whiskey, beer, or cider, has become an integral part of the celebrations, so as you might imagine the tradition of ‘drowning’ or ‘wetting’ the shamrock was historically popular. At the end of the celebrations, especially in Ireland, a shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It is then drunk as a toast to Saint Patrick, Ireland, or those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck. Irish Government Ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the globe to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland and the most prominent of these is the visit of the Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) with the U.S. President, which happens on or around Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditionally the Taoiseach presents the U.S. President a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks, as this tradition began when, in 1952, Irish Ambassador to the U.S. John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman. From then on it became an annual tradition of the Irish ambassador to the U.S. to present the Saint Patrick’s Day shamrock to an official in the U.S. President’s administration, although on some occasions the shamrock presentation was made by the Irish Taoiseach or Irish President to the U.S. President personally in Washington. But it was only after the meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and President Bill Clinton in 1994 that the presenting of the shamrock ceremony became a recognised annual event for the leaders of both countries for Saint Patrick’s Day. The presenting of the Shamrock ceremony was cancelled in 2020 due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A St Patrick’s Day greeting card from 1907.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, it is customary to wear shamrocks, green clothing or green accessories. Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish and this story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, which may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts. The first association of the colour green with Ireland is from a legend in the eleventh century ‘Lebor Gabála Érenn’, The Book of the Taking of Ireland. It tells of Goídel Glas (Goídel the green), the eponymous ancestor of the Gaels and creator of the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic and [Manx). It is said that Goídel is bitten by a venomous snake, but saved from death by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite, leaving him with a green mark and his descendants then settled in Ireland, a land free of snakes. The colour green was further associated with Ireland from the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s and since then, the colour green and its association with St Patrick’s Day have grown. The Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750, adopted green as its colour. However the Order of St Patrick, an Anglo-Irish chivalric order founded in 1783, instead adopted blue as its colour, which led to blue also being associated with St Patrick. Then in the 1790s, the colour green was adopted by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation, led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members, who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule. Ireland was first called ‘the Emerald Isle’ in “When Erin First Rose” (1795), a poem by a co-founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, which stresses the historical importance of green to the Irish and the phrase ‘wearing of the green’ comes from a song of the same name about United Irishmen being persecuted for wearing green. The flags of the 1916 Easter Rising featured green, such as the ‘Starry Plough’ banner and the Proclamation Flag of the Irish Republic. When the Irish Free State was founded in 1922, the government ordered all post boxes be painted green, under the slogan ‘green paint for a green people’ and in 1924 the government introduced a green Irish passport. The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early twentieth century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was covered with silk or ribbon of different colours, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre.

A St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin.

It seems that as a kind of national day, Saint Patrick’s Day was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries and only in later times did he become more and more widely seen as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick’s feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 1600s. Saint Patrick’s Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland, which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints’ feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint’s day to a time outside those periods and St Patrick’s Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when 17 March falls during Holy Week. This happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick’s Day was observed on 3 April to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and again in 2008 where it was officially observed on 15 March. St Patrick’s Day will not fall within Holy Week again until 2160. In 1903, St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland and this was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. The week of St Patrick’s Day in 1903 was declared Irish Language Week by the Gaelic League and in Waterford they opted to have a procession on Sunday 15 March. The procession comprised the Mayor and members of Waterford Corporation, the Trades Hall, the various trade unions and bands. The parade began at the premises of the Gaelic League in George’s St and finished in the Peoples Park, where the public were addressed by the Mayor and other dignitaries. On Tuesday 17 March, most Waterford businesses, including public houses, were closed and marching bands paraded as they had two days previously. The Waterford Trades Hall had been emphatic that the National Holiday be observed. On St Patrick’s Day 1916, the Irish Volunteers, an Irish nationalist paramilitary organisation, held parades throughout Ireland. The authorities recorded thirty-eight St Patrick’s Day parades, involving 6,000 marchers, almost half of whom were said to be armed and the following month, the Irish Volunteers launched the Easter Rising against British rule. This marked the beginning of the Irish revolutionary period and led to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. During this time, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were muted, although the day was sometimes chosen to hold large political rallies. The celebrations remained low-key after the creation of the Irish Free State, the only state-organised observance was a military procession, trooping of the colours and an Irish-language mass attended by government ministers. In 1927, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick’s Day, although it remained legal in Northern Ireland. The ban was not repealed until 1961. The first official, state-sponsored St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin took place in 1931. On three occasions, parades across the Republic of Ireland have been cancelled from taking place on St Patrick’s Day, with all years involving health and safety reasons. In 2001, as a precaution to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, St Patrick’s Day celebrations were postponed to May and in 2020 and 2021, as a consequence to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic the St Patrick’s Day Parade was cancelled outright. Organisers of the St Patrick’s Day Festival 2021 instead hosted virtual events around Ireland on their SPF TV online channel.

A St Patrick’s Day Christian procession in Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried.

In Northern Ireland, the celebration of St Patrick’s Day was affected by sectarian divisions. A majority of the population were Protestant Ulster unionists who saw themselves as British, whilst a substantial minority were Catholic Irish nationalists who saw themselves as Irish. Although it was a public holiday, Northern Ireland’s unionist government did not officially observe St Patrick’s Day. During the conflict known as ‘The Troubles’ (late 1960s to late 1990s), public St Patrick’s Day celebrations were rare and tended to be associated with the Catholic community. In 1976, loyalists detonated a car bomb outside a pub crowded with Catholics celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Dungannon where four civilians were killed and many were injured. However, some Protestant unionists attempted to ‘re-claim’ the festival, and in 1985 the Orange Order held its own St Patrick’s Day parade. Since the end of the conflict in 1998 there have been cross-community St Patrick’s Day parades in towns throughout Northern Ireland, which have attracted thousands of spectators and in the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick’s Festival, which aimed to offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world, to create energy and excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity, to provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations and to project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal. The first St Patrick’s Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long; more than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade. Overall 2009’s five-day festival saw almost 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks. The Skyfest, which ran from 2006 to 2012, formed the centrepiece of the St Patrick’s festival. The topic of a 2004 St Patrick’s Symposium was “Talking Irish”, during which the nature of Irish identity, economic success, and the future were discussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of ‘Irishness’ rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance. The week around St Patrick’s Day usually involves Irish language speakers using more Irish during “Seachtain na Gaeilge” (Irish Language Week). Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick’s Day and in ‘The Word’ magazine’s March 2007 issue, Fr Vincent Twomey wrote, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival”. He questioned the need for “mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together”. The biggest celebrations outside the cities are in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. The shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world formerly took place in Dripsey, County Cork. The parade lasted just 23.4 metres (25.6 yards) and travelled between the village’s two pubs. The annual event began in 1999, but ceased after five years when one of the two pubs closed.

Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in Trafalgar Square in 2006.

Research shows that celebrations abound elsewhere around the world though. In England, the British Royals traditionally present bowls of shamrock to members of the Irish Guards, a regiment in the British Army, following Queen Alexandra introducing the tradition in 1901 and since 2012 the Duchess of Cambridge has made the presentation. The Scottish town of Coatbridge, where the majority of the town’s population are of Irish descent, also has a Saint Patrick’s Day Festival which includes celebrations and parades in the town centre and Glasgow has a considerably large Irish population; due, for the most part, to the Irish immigration during the nineteenth century. This immigration was the main cause in raising the population of Glasgow by over 100,000 people.

Montreal hosts one of the longest-running and largest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in North America.

One of the longest-running and largest Saint Patrick’s Day parades in North America occurs each year in Montreal, whose city flag includes a shamrock in its lower-right quadrant. The yearly celebration has been organised by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929 and the parade has been held yearly without interruption since 1824. St Patrick’s Day itself, however, has been celebrated in Montreal since as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France. There has been a parade held in Toronto since at least 1863, and many other places in Canada hold celebrations each year. In the U.S.A., whilst not a legal holiday there, the event is widely recognised and observed throughout the country as a celebration of Irish and Irish-American culture. Celebrations include prominent displays of the colour green, religious observances, numerous parades, and copious consumption of alcohol. The holiday has been celebrated in what is now the U.S.A. since 1601. In 2020, for the first time in over 250 years, the parade in New York City was postponed due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Russia took place in 1992. Since 1999, there has been a yearly ‘Saint Patrick’s Day’ festival in Moscow and other Russian cities. The official part of the Moscow parade is a military-style parade and is held in collaboration with the Moscow government and the Irish embassy in Moscow. The unofficial parade is held by volunteers and resembles a carnival. The island of Montserrat is known as the “Emerald Island of the Caribbean“ because of its founding by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis. Montserrat is one of three places where Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday, along with the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The holiday also commemorates a failed slave uprising that occurred on 17 March 1768. In Australia, the first mention of St Patrick’s Day being celebrated there was in 1795, when Irish convicts and administrators in the penal colony, both Catholic and Protestant, all came together to celebrate the day as a national holiday and this was despite a ban against assemblies being in place at the time. But this unified day of Irish nationalist observance dissipated over time, with celebrations on St Patrick’s Day becoming divisive between religions and social classes, representative more of Australian ways than of Irish and therefore held intermittently throughout the years. As a result, St Patrick’s Day is not a national holiday – although it is celebrated each year across the country’s states and territories. Festivals and parades are often held on weekends around 17 March in cities such as Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, but on occasions festivals and parades are cancelled. For instance, Melbourne’s 2006 and 2007 St Patrick’s Day festivals and parades were cancelled due to sporting events, these being the Commonwealth Games and Australian Grand Prix which were booked on and around the planned St Patrick’s Day festivals and parades in the city. In New Zealand, from 1878 to 1955 St Patrick’s Day was recognised as a public holiday together with St George’s Day and St Andrew’s Day. Auckland attracted many Irish migrants in the 1850s and 1860s, and it was here where some of the earliest St Patrick’s Day celebrations took place, which often entailed the hosting of community picnics. However, this rapidly evolved from the late 1860s onwards to include holding parades with pipe bands and marching children wearing green, sporting events, concerts, balls and other social events, where people displayed their Irish history with pride.

St Patrick’s Day is also celebrated in other countries, some perhaps surprisingly. For example whilst Saint Patrick’s Day in Switzerland is commonly celebrated on 17 March with festivities similar to those in neighbouring central European countries, it is not unusual for Swiss students to organise celebrations in their own living spaces on Saint Patrick’s Eve. Traditionally, guests contribute with beverages and dress in green. In Lithuania, although it is not a national holiday there the Vilnia river is dyed green every year on the Saint Patrick’s Day in the capital, Vilnius. In addition, Saint Patrick’s parades are now held in many locations across Japan. The first parade, in Tokyo, was organised by The Irish Network Japan in 1992 and The Irish Association of Korea has celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day since 1976 in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield wearing green in the International Space Station on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2013.

I finish with the International Space Station, where astronauts there have celebrated the festival in different ways. Irish-American Catherine Coleman played a hundred-year-old flute belonging to Matt Molloy and a tin whistle belonging to Paddy Moloney, both members of the Irish music group ‘The Chieftains’ whilst she floated weightless in the space station on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2011. Her performance was later included in a track called ‘The Chieftains in Orbit’ on the group’s 2012 album, Voice of Ages. Chris Hadfield took photographs of Ireland from Earth orbit, and a picture of himself wearing green clothing in the space station, and posted them online on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2013. He also posted online a recording of himself singing ‘Danny Boy’ in space. Where to next, I wonder?

This week…a reminder.
“We change. We have to. Otherwise we spend our lives fighting the same battles” ~ James T Kirk, ‘Star Trek – Beyond’

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The history of chocolate began in an area known as Mesoamerica, which is a historical region and cultural area that begins in the southern part of North America and extends to most of Central America, thus comprising the lands of central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to at least 1900 BC to 1500 BC. The Mexica, an indigenous people of the Valley of Mexico who were the rulers of the Aztec Empire, believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac and to give the drinker strength. Today, such drinks are also known as ‘Chilate’ and are made by locals in the south of Mexico and the north triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. However, in the twentieth century chocolate was considered essential in the rations of United States soldiers during war. The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Classical Nahuatl word ‘xocolātl’, which is of uncertain etymology, and entered the English language via the Spanish language. Cultivation, consumption, and cultural use of cacao were extensive in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree is native. When pollinated, the seed of the cacao tree eventually forms a kind of sheath, or ear, averaging some twenty inches long, hanging from the tree trunk itself. Within the sheath are thirty to forty brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. Whilst the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element to be consumed by humans. Cacao pods grow in a wide range of colours, from pale yellow to bright green, all the way to dark purple or crimson. The skin can also vary greatly. Some are sculpted with craters or warts, whilst others are completely smooth. This wide range in type of pods is unique to the cacao in that their colour and texture does not necessarily determine the ripeness or taste of the beans inside. Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC. But cultivation of the cacao was not an easy process, and part of this was because cacao trees in their natural environment grow to sixty feet tall or more. When the trees were grown on a plantation however, they grew to around twenty feet tall. Whilst researchers do not agree on which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in North America, and scientists have been able to confirm its presence in vessels throughout the region by evaluating the chemical footprint detectable in the micro samples of the contents that remain. Ceramic vessels with residues from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900 to 900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate’s preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokayanan archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. However a study, published online in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made, was domesticated or grown by people for food around 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. In addition, the researchers found cacao was originally domesticated in South America, rather than in Central America. A professor from the department of anthropology in the University of British Columbia wrote that “This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, where harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico, and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier”. The researchers used three lines of evidence to show that the Mayo-Chinchipe culture used cacao between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago, these being the presence of starch grains specific to the cacao tree inside ceramic vessels and broken pieces of pottery, residues of theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao tree but not its wild relatives and fragments of ancient DNA with sequences unique to the cacao tree. In fact, Nature Ecology and Evolution reported what is believed to be the earliest cacao use from approximately 5,300 years ago recovered from the Santa Ana site in southeast Ecuador. Another find of chemically traced cacao was in 1984 when a team of archaeologists in Guatemala explored the Mayan site of Río Azul, where they discovered fifteen vessels surrounding male skeletons in the royal tomb. One of these vessels was beautifully decorated and covered in various Mayan glyphs. One of these glyphs translated to ‘kaka’, also known as cacao. The inside of the vessel was lined with a dark-coloured powder, which was scraped off for further testing. When the archaeologists took this powder to the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition to be tested, it is said they found trace amounts of theobromine in the powder, a major indicator of cacao. This cacao was dated to some time between 460 and 480 AD. Cacao powder was also found in decorated bowls and jars in the city of Puerto Escondido. Once thought to have been a scarce commodity, cacao was found in many more of these jars than once thought. However, since this powder was only found in bowls of higher quality, it led archaeologists to believe that only wealthier people could afford such bowls, and therefore the cacao. These special jars are believed to have been a centrepiece to social gatherings between people of high social status.

‘A Lady Pouring Chocolate’ by Jean-Étienne Liotard (1744).

Until the 16th century, the cacao tree was wholly unknown to Europeans. Christopher Columbus encountered the cacao bean on his fourth mission to the Americas on August 15, 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain, amongst other goods for trade, cacao beans. His son Ferdinand commented that the natives greatly valued the beans, which he termed almonds, “for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” But whilst Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain, it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court. The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. In 1568, Bernal Díaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of the Aztec Empire, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed “From time to time, they served him (Montezuma) in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence. José de Acosta, a Spanish missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later sixteenth century, described its use more generally as “Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, wherewith they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that ‘chili’; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh”. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. In the beginning, Spaniards would use it as a medicine to treat illnesses such as abdominal pain because it had a bitterness to it. Once sweetened, it transformed and quickly became a court favourite. It was still served as a beverage, but the addition of sugar or honey counteracted the natural bitterness. The Spaniards initially intended to recreate the original taste of the Mesoamerican chocolate by adding similar spices, but this habit had faded away by the end of the eighteenth century. At first, chocolate was largely a privilege of the rich whilst the lower class drank coffee, but once the steam engine was invented in the late 1700s, mass production became possible. Within about a hundred years, chocolate had established a foothold throughout Europe.

A 1909 Peter’s milk chocolate advertisement. It seems they were the company who produced the first successful milk chocolate bar.

The desire for chocolate created a thriving slave market, as between the early seventeenth and late nineteenth centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. Cacao plantations spread as the English, Dutch, and French colonised and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely due to disease, cocoa beans production was often the work of poor wage labourers and enslaved Africans. In 1729 the first mechanical cocoa grinder was invented in Bristol, England. Walter Churchman petitioned the king of England for patent and sole use of an invention for the “expeditious, fine and clean making of chocolate by an engine” and the patent was granted by King George II to Walter Churchman for a water engine used to make chocolate. Churchman probably used water-powered edge runners for preparing cacao beans by crushing on a far larger scale than previously. The patent for a chocolate refining process was later bought in 1761 by Joseph Fry, who started the company that was to become J. S. Fry & Sons. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed up production, augmenting human labour. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction. The Chocolaterie Lombart, created in 1760, claimed to be the first chocolate company in France. New processes that improved the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815 a Dutch chemist introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness and a few years after, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation, known as ‘Dutch cocoa’, introduced the modern era of chocolate and was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form. In 1847 J. S. Fry & Sons learned to make chocolate mouldable by adding back melted cacao butter. Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-seventeenth century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter, a Swiss-French chocolatier who founded Peter’s Chocolate and who was also a neighbour of Henri Nestlé, invented milk chocolate by mixing in a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé. In 1879 the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the ‘conching’ machine which evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate. Lindt & Sprüngli AG, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845 as the Sprüngli family confectionery shop in Zurich that added a solid-chocolate factory the same year the process for making solid chocolate was developed and later bought Lindt’s factory. Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868 and in 1893 Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey’s chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels. Due to improvements in their machines, chocolate underwent a transformation from primarily a drink to food, and different types of chocolate began to emerge. At the same time, the price of chocolate began to drop dramatically in the 1890s and 1900s as the production of chocolate began to shift away from the New World to Asia and Africa. Therefore, chocolate could be purchased by the middle class. However, between 1900 and 1907 Cadbury’s fell into a scandal due to their reliance on West African slave plantations. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa-producing countries in the world. Like many food industry producers, individual cocoa farmers are at the mercy of volatile world markets. The price can vary from between £500 ($945) and £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in the space of just a few years. Whilst investors trading in cocoa can dump shares at will, individual cocoa farmers cannot simply ramp up production and abandon trees at anywhere near that pace. Only three to four percent of ‘cocoa futures’ contracts traded in the cocoa markets ever end up in the physical delivery of cocoa and every year, seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on the exchange than exists. But chocolate is something which I think (and hope!) will always be with us.

This week… remember:
Earth without art is just “Eh”…

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Last week I researched tea, so it seems only right that this week I look at coffee, which is a drink prepared from roasted coffee beans. Darkly coloured, bitter, and slightly acidic, coffee has a stimulating effect on us humans, primarily due to its caffeine content and it has the highest sales in the world market for hot drinks. Though coffee is now a global commodity, it has a long history, dating back through centuries of oral tradition. Coffee plants grew wild in Yemen and were widely used by nomadic tribes for thousands of years and Sufi monasteries there employed coffee as an aid to concentration during prayers, but roasting the seeds was not a way to serve coffee until the 1400s. In fact, during the cultivation brewed coffee was reserved exclusively for the priesthood and the medical profession and doctors would use the brew for patients who were experiencing a need for better digestion, also priests used it to stay alert during their long nights of studying for the church. Evidence of knowledge of the coffee tree and coffee drinking first appeared in the late 15th century, where a Sufi Imam is known to have imported goods from Ethiopia to Yemen. Coffee was also exported out of Ethiopia to Yemen by Somali merchants. Apparently Sufis in Yemen used the beverage as an aid to concentration and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God, also using it to keep themselves alert during their night-time devotions. By 1414, the plant was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt and North Africa from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Associated with Sufism, many coffee houses grew up in Cairo and these also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo (then in Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire. But in 1511, it was forbidden for its stimulating effect by conservative, orthodox Imams at a theological court in Mecca. However, these bans were to be overturned in 1524 by an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I, with the Grand Mufti issuing a fatwa (a legal ruling on a point of Islamic law) allowing the consumption of coffee. In Cairo a similar ban was instituted in 1532, and the coffee houses and warehouses containing coffee beans were sacked. It then reached the rest of the Middle East and from there coffee drinking spread to Italy, and to the rest of Europe, with coffee plants transported by the Dutch to the East Indies and to the Americas. Coffee was banned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church some time before the eighteenth century, but in the second half of the nineteenth century attitudes softened towards its drinking and consumption spread rapidly. This was largely due to the Emperor, who himself drank it, and to priests and religious seniors who did much to dispel the belief of the clergy that it was a Muslim drink. Meanwhile in Islam, early practitioners of Islamic medicine and science fought against the notion that the effect of coffee was like that of hashish or alcohol, and instead argued the benefits of the drink, which would stimulate the mind whilst protecting against the allure of alcohol and hashish. Coffee houses in Mecca, Yemen, and Cairo began to explode in popularity, and they become centres of public life within the sprawling cities of the Islamic Empire. The coffee houses sometimes acted like regular meeting places which were centres of Islamic life, arts, and thinking, so it was one of the keys to the economy around the Red Sea. Those of Islam were the primary consumers, ingraining it into the culture of the people within the Muslim faith and from Islam, the rest of the world would go on to experience something that holds influence over the world today.

The Coffee Bearer by John Frederick Lewis (1857).

Coffee was first introduced to Europe when the Turks invaded Hungary in 1526. Later in the sixteenth century, coffee was introduced on the island of Malta through slavery. Turkish Muslim slaves had been imprisoned by the Knights of St John in 1565, the year of the Great Siege of Malta, and they used them to make their traditional beverage. A professor of theology and oriental languages in Rome mentioned in one of his works about “Turks, most skilful makers of this concoction”. Also a German traveller wrote in 1663 “the ability and industriousness with which the Turkish prisoners earn some money, especially by preparing coffee, a powder resembling snuff tobacco, with water and sugar.” Coffee was a popular beverage in Maltese high society and many coffee shops opened. The vibrant trade between the Republic of Venice and the people of North Africa, Egypt, and the East brought a large variety of African goods, including coffee, to this leading European port. Venetian merchants introduced coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage and in this way, coffee was introduced to the mainland Europe. The first route of travel for coffee was through the massive, sprawling Ottoman Empire that enabled the transportation of goods such as coffee to make their way into Europe and the second route of travel was from the port of Mocha in Yemen, where the East India Trading Co. bought coffee in masses and transported it back to mainland Europe. Coffee became a crucial part of the culture in most of Europe, with kings, queens and the general public all becoming extensively enthralled with the product.

Pope Clement VIII, who popularised coffee in Europe among Christians.

Soon coffee shops started opening and became the drink of the intellectuals, of social gatherings, even of lovers as plates of chocolate and coffee were considered a romantic gift. By 1763 Venice alone accounted for more than two hundred shops, and the health benefits of this miraculous drink were celebrated by many. Some representatives of the Catholic Church opposed coffee at its first introduction in Italy, believing it to be the ‘Devil’s drink’, but Pope Clement VIII, after trying the aromatic drink himself, gave it his blessing, thus boosting further its commercial success and diffusion. Upon tasting coffee, the Pope declared: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptising it.” Some say that he later on baptised coffee beans because it appeared better for the people than alcoholic beverages. The race among Europeans to obtain live coffee trees or beans was eventually won by the Dutch in 1616 when a Dutch merchant obtained some of the closely guarded coffee bushes from Mocha, Yemen. He took them back to Amsterdam and found a home for them in the Botanical Gardens, where they began to thrive. This apparently minor event received little publicity, but was to have a major impact on the history of coffee. The beans adjusted well to conditions in the greenhouses there and produced numerous healthy bushes. In 1658 the Dutch first used them to begin coffee cultivation in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later in southern India. They abandoned this cultivation to focus on their Javanese plantations in order to avoid lowering the price by oversupply. Within a few years the Dutch colonies, Java in Asia and Suriname in the Americas, had become the main suppliers of coffee to Europe.

A 1652 handbill advertising coffee for sale in St. Michael’s Alley, London.

The first coffee house in England was opened in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, London. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment. Coffee was also brought in through the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. Oxford’s Queen’s Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. By 1675, there were more than three thousand coffee houses throughout England and during this enlightenment, these early English coffee houses became gathering places used for deep religious and political discussions among the populace, since it was a rare opportunity for sober discussion. This practice became so common, and potentially subversive, so much so that in the 1670s King Charles II made an attempt to crush coffee houses. The banning of women from coffee houses was not universal, for example women frequented them in Germany, but it appears to have been commonplace elsewhere in Europe, including in England. A 1661 item entitled “A character of coffee and coffee-houses”, written by one ‘M.P.’ lists some of these perceived benefits as follows:“’Tis extolled for drying up the Crudities of the Stomack, and for expelling Fumes out of the Head. Excellent Berry! which can cleanse the English-man’s Stomak of Flegm, and expel Giddinesse out of his Head’. Except this new commodity proved controversial among some subjects. For instance, the anonymous 1674 “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” declared “the Excessive Use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE has Eunucht our Husbands, and Crippled our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent as Age”. Meanwhile in France, one writer praised the Muslim association with various drinks, saying “We are indebted to these great Arab physicians for introducing coffee to the modern world through their writings, as well as sugar, tea, and chocolate.” In 1669 an ambassador from Sultan Mehmed IV arrived in Paris with his entourage bringing with him a large quantity of coffee beans. Not only did they provide their French and European guests with coffee to drink, but they also donated some beans to the royal court.

Monsooned Malabar arabica, compared with green Yirgachefe beans from Ethiopia.

Coffee came to India well before the East India company, through an Indian Sufi saint named ‘Baba Budan’. The first record of coffee growing in India is following the introduction of coffee beans from Yemen by Baba Budan to the hills of Chikmagalur, Karnataka, in 1670. Since then coffee plantations have become established in the region, extending south to Kodagu. Coffee production in India is dominated in the hill tracts of South Indian states, with the state of Karnataka accounting for 53%, followed by Kerala at 28% and Tamil Nadu at 11% of production of 8,200 Tonnes. Indian coffee is said to be the finest coffee grown in the shade rather than direct sunlight anywhere in the world. There are approximately 250,000 coffee growers in India, 98% of them are small growers. As of 2009, the production of coffee in India was only 4.5% of the total production in the world and almost 80% of the country’s coffee production is exported. Of that which is exported, 70% is bound for Germany, the Russian federation, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, United States, Japan, Greece, Netherlands and France, whilst Italy accounts for 29% of the exports, with most of the export shipped through the Suez Canal. So coffee is grown in three regions of India with Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu forming the traditional coffee growing region of South India, followed by the new areas developed in the non-traditional areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa in the eastern coast of the country and with a third region comprising the states of Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh of Northeastern India, popularly known as ‘Seven Sister States of India’. Because of this, Indian coffee which is grown mostly in southern India under monsoon rainfall conditions, is naturally termed as ‘Indian monsooned coffee’. Its flavour is seen by some as the best Indian coffee, reaching the flavour characteristics of Pacific coffees, but at its worst it is simply bland and uninspiring. The two well-known species of coffee grown are the Arabica and Robusta. The first variety that was introduced in the Baba Budan Giri hill ranges of Karnataka in the seventeenth century was marketed over the years under the brand names of Kent and S.795. Coffee is served in a distinctive “drip-style filter coffee“ across Southern India.

Café Zimmermann, Leipzig (engraving by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1732).

In Germany, coffee houses were first established in North Sea ports from about 1673. Initially, this new beverage was written in the English form ‘coffee’, but during the 1700s the Germans gradually adopted the French word café, then slowly changed the spelling to Kaffee, which is the present word. In the eighteenth century the popularity of coffee gradually spread around the German lands and was taken up by the ruling classes. Coffee was served at the court of the Great Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg as early as 1675, but Berlin’s first public coffee house did not open until 1721. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig from 1723 to 1750, conducted a musical ensemble at the local Café Zimmermann, and sometime between 1732 and 1735 he composed the secular Coffee Cantata ‘Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht’ in which a young woman, Lieschen, pleads with her disapproving father to accept her devotion to drinking coffee, then a newfangled fashion. The libretto includes such lines as:

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,
Milder als Muskatenwein.
Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,
Und wenn jemand mich will laben,
Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!

Which translates to:
Oh! How sweet coffee does taste,
Better than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscat wine.
Coffee, coffee, I’ve got to have it,
And if someone wants to perk me up,
Oh, just give me a cup of coffee!

A coffee house of culture between Vienna and Trieste.

Meanwhile, the first coffee house in Austria opened in Vienna in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna by using supplies from the spoils obtained after defeating the Turks. A Polish military officer of Ukrainian descent who received the coffee beans opened a coffee house and helped popularise the custom of adding sugar and milk to the coffee. ‘Melange’ is the typical Viennese coffee, which comes mixed with hot foamed milk, and is usually served with a glass of water. A very special Viennese coffee house culture developed in Vienna in the 19th century and then spread throughout Central Europe. Scientists, artists, intellectuals, diplomats and financiers met in this special microcosm of the Viennese coffee houses. World-famous personalities such as Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, James Joyce and Egon Schiele were inspired in the Viennese coffee house. This special multicultural atmosphere and culture was largely destroyed by the later National Socialism and Communism and only survived in individual places such as Vienna or Trieste. In this diverse coffee house culture, different types of coffee preparation also developed. This is how the world-famous cappuccino from the Viennese Kapuziner coffee developed over the Italian-speaking parts of the northern Italian empire.

Over in the Americas, a French Naval officer brought coffee seedlings to Martinique in the Caribbean in 1720. Those sprouts flourished and 50 years later there were 18,680 coffee trees there, enabling the spread of coffee cultivation to Saint-Domingue (now part of Haiti) and other islands of the Caribbean. This French territory saw coffee cultivated starting in 1734, and by 1788 supplied half the world’s coffee. Also, after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, large numbers of Americans switched to drinking coffee during the American Revolution because drinking tea had become unpatriotic. Coffee had a major influence on the geography of Latin America. The French colonial plantations relied heavily on African slave labourers, however the dreadful conditions that the slaves worked in on coffee plantations were a factor in the soon-to-follow Haitian Revolution and the coffee industry never fully recovered there. Coffee also found its way to the Isle of Bourbon, now known as Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. The plant produced smaller beans and was deemed a different variety of arabica. The Santos coffee of Brazil and the Oaxaca coffee of Mexico are the progeny of that Bourbon tree. Then in 1727, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Brazilian army was commissioned by the Portuguese government (who ruled Brazil at the time) to steal coffee from the French, who had several colonised countries nearby growing coffee but had refused to share. So the King of Portugal sent this Lieutenant-Colonel to French Guiana to obtain coffee seeds to become a part of the coffee market. He initially had difficulty obtaining these seeds, but he captivated the French Governor’s wife, and she sent him enough seeds and shoots to commence the coffee industry of Brazil. Except cultivation did not gather momentum until independence in 1822, leading to the clearing of massive tracts of the Atlantic Forest, first from the vicinity of Rio and later São Paulo for coffee plantations. In 1893, the coffee from Brazil was introduced into Kenya and Tanzania (Tanganyika), not far from its place of origin in Ethiopia, 600 years prior, ending its transcontinental journey. In the twentieth century Latin American countries faced a possible economic collapse. Before World War II, Europe was consuming large amounts of coffee. Once the war started, Latin America lost 40% of its market and was on the verge of economic collapse. Coffee was and is a Latin American commodity and the United States saw this, so talked with the Latin American countries and as a result the producers agreed on an equitable division of the U.S. market. The U.S. government monitored this agreement. For the period that this plan was followed the value of coffee doubled, which greatly benefited coffee producers and the Latin American countries. Brazil became the largest producer of coffee in the world by 1852 and it has held that status ever since. It dominated world production, exporting more coffee than the rest of the world combined, from 1850 to 1950. The period since 1950 saw the widening of the playing field due to the emergence of several other major producers, notably Colombia, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and, most recently, Vietnam, which overtook Colombia and became the second-largest producer in 1999 and reached 15% market share by 2011. A recent change to the coffee market are lattes, frappuccinos and other sugary coffee drinks. This has caused coffee houses to be able to use cheaper coffee beans in their coffee but the cheaper coffee beans, called Robusta, contain more caffeine than expensive beans. This makes them more popular as well. The producers, however, receive less money for the production of cheaper beans than they do for the production of higher quality beans. Since the producers get paid less, they are receiving a smaller income, which in turn hurts the economy of Latin America.

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the consumption of coffee. According to one, ancestors of today’s people in the Kingdom of Kaffa, an area located in what is now Ethiopia, were the first to recognise the energising effect of the coffee plant. But it is also said that in the ninth century, an Ethiopian goat-herder who, noticing the energising effects when his flock nibbled on the bright red berries of a certain bush, chewed on the fruit himself and his exhilaration prompted him to bring the berries to a monk in a nearby monastery. But the monk disapproved of their use and threw them into the fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed, causing other monks to come and investigate. The roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world’s first cup of coffee! Since this story is not known to have appeared in writing before 1671, some 800 years after it was supposed to have taken place, it is highly likely to be apocryphal. There seem to be a few accounts of when coffee was discovered as a drink, one involving a thirteenth century Moroccan Sufi mystic who was travelling in Ethiopia. The legend goes that he observed birds of unusual vitality feeding on berries and, upon trying the berries, experienced the same vitality. Yet another attributes the discovery of coffee to a Sheikh’s disciple and according to the ancient chronicle, he was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer so was once banished from Mecca to a desert cave. Starving, he chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be too bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavour, but they became too hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. After drinking the liquid, he was revived and survived for days. As stories of this ‘miracle drug’ reached Mecca, the man was asked to return and was eventually made a saint. Another origin of coffee was described in Homer’s Odyssey and at one point in his Epic, Helena, daughter of Zeus, mixes a drink in a bowl “which had the power of robbing grief and anger of their sting and banishing all painful memories”. It is also said that the Greek gods used coffee for medicinal and spiritual purposes while they lounged at Mount Olympus. Coffee also became associated with Muhammad’s birthday and various legends have ascribed coffee’s origins to Muhammad, who, it is said, brought it to man through the archangel Gabriel to replace the wine which Islam forbade! It fascinates me as to who comes up with these ideas…

This week…
Some films, especially comedies, have great lines. Here is a favourite of mine.
“My mind is aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapour of invention” ~ Hedley Lamarr, ‘Blazing Saddles’.

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The History Of Tea

The history of tea spreads across multiple cultures over the span of thousands of years, with the tea plant Camellia Sinensis native to the southern Himalayan region of north-east India & Burma, flourished in China, and was introduced into Indian subcontinent by the British who acquired this habit from the Dutch. The earliest tea drinking is thought to date back to China’s Shang dynasty, in which tea was consumed as a medicinal drink. An early credible record of tea drinking dates to the third century AD in a medical text written by Chinese physician Hua Tuo, but it first became known to the Western world through Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the early sixteenth century. Drinking tea became popular in Britain during the seventeenth century and the British introduced commercial tea production to India, in order to compete with the Chinese monopoly on tea.

Tea from Yunnan.

Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrub or small tree in the flowering plant family ‘Theaceae’ and its leaves and leaf buds are used to produce the popular beverage of tea. Common names include tea plant, tea shrub and tea tree. White tea, yellow tea, green tea, oolong, dark tea and black tea are all harvested from one of two major varieties grown today, however Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica are processed differently to attain varying levels of oxidation, with black tea being the most oxidised and green being the least. Kukicha (twig) tea is also harvested from Camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves. It seems that Camellia sinensis originated around the intersection of latitude 29°N and longitude 98°E, the point of confluence of the lands of South-west China, Tibet, North Burma, and North-east India. The plant was introduced to more than 52 countries from this centre of origin. There are some myths associated with tea, as in one popular Chinese legend the Emperor Shennong was drinking a bowl of just boiled water because of a decree that his subjects must boil water before drinking it. Some time around 2737 BC, a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the colour and taste. The emperor took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavour and restorative properties. A variant of the legend tells that the emperor tested the medical properties of various herbs on himself, some of them poisonous, and found tea to work as an antidote. A similar Chinese legend states that Shennong would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs. If he consumed a poisonous plant, he would chew tea leaves to counteract the poison. The earliest physical evidence known of tea comes from the mausoleum of Emperor Jing of Han, indicating that tea was drunk by Emperors of the Han dynasty as early as the second century BC. China is therefore considered to have the earliest records of tea consumption, with possible records dating back to the tenth century BC. It should be noted however that the current word for tea in Chinese only came into use in the eighth century AD, there are uncertainties as to whether the older words used are the same as tea. The first record of cultivation of tea also dates it to the Han dynasty when tea was cultivated on Meng Mountain, near Chengdu. From the Tang to the Qing dynasties, the first 360 leaves of tea grown here were picked each spring and presented to the emperor. Even today its green and yellow teas are still sought after. Teas produced in this period were mainly tea bricks which were often used as currency, especially further from the centre of the empire where coins lost their value. In this period, tea leaves were steamed, then pounded and shaped into cake or brick forms. Then the production and preparation of all tea changed during the Song dynasty. The tea included many loose-leaf styles, to preserve the delicate character which was favoured by court society and it is the origin of today’s loose teas and the practice of brewed tea. A powdered form of tea also emerged. Steaming tea leaves was the primary process used for centuries in the preparation of tea.

An illustration of the legend of monkeys harvesting tea.

The Chinese learned to process tea in a different way in the mid-thirteenth century. Tea leaves were roasted and then crumbled rather than steamed. By the Yuan and Ming dynasties, unfermented tea leaves were first pan-fried, then rolled and dried. This stopped the oxidation process which turned the leaves dark and allowed tea to remain green. In the fifteenth century oolong tea, where the tea leaves were allowed to partially ferment before pan-frying, was developed. But Western taste preferred the fully oxidised black tea and the leaves were allowed to ferment further. Yellow tea was an accidental discovery in the production of green tea during the Ming dynasty, when apparently sloppy practices allowed the leaves to turn yellow, which yielded a different flavour as a result. Tea production in China was a laborious process, conducted in distant and often poorly accessible regions and this led to the rise of many stories and legends surrounding the harvesting process. For example, one story that has been told for many years is that of a village where monkeys would pick tea. According to this legend, the villagers stand below the monkeys and taunt them. The monkeys, in turn, become angry, and grab handfuls of tea leaves and throw them at the villagers. There are products sold today that claim to be harvested in this manner, however no reliable commentators have observed this first-hand, and most doubt that it happened at all. For many hundreds of years the commercially used tea tree has been, in shape, more of a bush than a tree. ‘Monkey picked tea’ is more likely a name of certain varieties than a description of how it was obtained. In 1391, the Hongwu emperor issued a decree that only loose tea would be accepted as a ‘tribute’, and as a result, tea production shifted from cake tea to loose-leaf tea and processing techniques advanced, giving rise to the more energy efficient methods of pan-firing and sun-drying. The last group to adopt loose-leaf tea were the scholar officials, also known as literati who were government officials and prestigious scholars in Chinese society, forming a distinct social class and who were reluctant to abandon their refined culture of whisking tea until the invention of oolong tea. But by the end of the 16th century, loose-leaf tea had entirely replaced the earlier tradition of cake and powdered tea.

Japanese tea ceremony.

In China, during the Sui dynasty (581 AD to 618 AD), tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks and the use of it then spread. Tea later became a drink of the religious classes in Japan and it became a drink of the royal classes when the Emperor Saga encouraged the growth of tea plants. Seeds were imported from China, and cultivation in Japan began. Then in 1191 a Zen priest named Eisai introduced tea seeds to Kyoto and some of the tea seeds were given to the priest Myoe Shonin, which became the basis for Uji tea. Green tea became a staple drink amongst cultured people in Japan, a brew for both gentry and the Buddhist priesthood alike. Production grew and tea became more and more accessible, though still a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper classes. The tea ceremony of Japan was introduced from China in the 15th century by Buddhists as a semi-religious social custom and the modern tea ceremony developed over several centuries by Zen Buddhist monks. Both the beverage and the ceremony surrounding it played a prominent role in feudal diplomacy. In 1738, Soen Nagatani developed Japanese sencha, literally ‘simmered tea’ which is an unfermented form of green tea. By the twentieth century, machine manufacturing of green tea was introduced and began replacing handmade tea. Later, tea was introduced by Buddhist monks to Korea, where the ‘Day Tea Rite’ was a common daytime ceremony, whereas the ‘Special Tea Rite’ was reserved for specific occasions.

A conical urn-shaped silver-plated samovar used for boiling water for tea in Russia and some Middle-Eastern countries.

The earliest record of tea in Western world is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveller, that after 879 the main sources of revenue in Canton were the duties on salt and tea. Marco Polo records the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea taxes. In 1557, Portugal established a trading port in Macau and word of the Chinese drink “chá” spread quickly, but there is no mention of them bringing any samples home. In the early seventeenth century, a ship of the Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China. Tea was known in France by 1636 and it enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Paris around 1648. The history of tea in Russia can also be traced back to the same century. Tea was first offered by China as a gift to Czar Michael I in 1618. The Russian ambassador tried the drink but he did not care for it and rejected the offer, delaying tea’s Russian introduction by fifty years. By 1689, tea was regularly imported from China to Russia via a caravan of hundreds of camels travelling the year-long journey, making it a precious commodity at the time. Tea was appearing in German apothecaries by 1657 but never gained much esteem except in some coastal areas. Tea first appeared publicly in England during the 1650s, where it was introduced through coffee houses and from there it was introduced to British colonies in both America and elsewhere. Tea was first introduced to Europe by an Italian traveller, who in 1555 published ‘Voyages and Travels’, containing the first European reference to tea, which he calls “Chai Catai”. Meanwhile Portuguese priests and merchants in the sixteenth century made their first contact with tea in China, at which time it was termed “chá”. The first Portuguese ships reached China in 1516, and in 1560 Portuguese missionary Gaspar da Cruz published the first Portuguese account of Chinese tea, then in 1565 Portuguese missionary Louis Almeida published the first European account of tea in Japan.

A Tea Garden in Assam, India.

Commercial production of tea was first introduced into India by the British, in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on tea and the British, using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, launched a tea industry by offering land in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export. Tea was originally only consumed by Anglicised Indians, it was not until the 1950s that tea grew widely popular in India through a successful advertising campaign by the India Tea Board. Prior to the British, the plant may have been used for medicinal purposes as some cite the Sanjeevani plant as the first recorded reference of tea use in India. However, scientific studies have shown that this plant is in fact a different plant and is not related to tea. Commercial production of tea in India did not begin until the arrival of the British East India Company, at which point large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production. The Chinese variety is used for Sikkim, Darjeeling and Kangra tea, whilst the Assam variety, clonal to the native to Assam, was used everywhere else. The British started commercial tea plantations in India and in Ceylon, only black tea was produced until recent decades mostly in India, except in Kangra (present-day Himachal Pradesh) which produced green tea for exporting to central Asia, Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.

Kangra, a tea-growing region in India, known for its green tea production.

In fact, India was the top producer of tea for nearly a century but was then displaced by China as the top tea producer in the 21st century. It also seems that Indian tea companies have acquired a number of iconic foreign tea enterprises including British brands Lipton, Tetley, Twinings and Typhoo. Most of the Indian tea garden owners have focused on exports to markets like Europe and Russia, whilst very few have focused on building their own brands such as Makaibari, Dharmsala Tea Company, and a few others. Even so, India is the largest consumer of tea worldwide but the consumption of tea in India remains a modest 750 grams per person annually. Recently consumption of green tea has seen a great upsurge across the cities, and regions such as Kangra, which were known for their green tea production historically, have seen a resurgence of their green teas in the domestic market. Other countries also produce tea, such as Iran, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia and Africa. Taiwan is famous for the making of oolong tea and green tea, as well as many western-styled teas. Bubble tea or ‘Zhen Zhu Nai Cha’ is black tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk and tapioca. Since the island was known to Westerners for many centuries as Formosa, short for the Portuguese Ilha Formosa, or ‘beautiful island’, tea grown in Taiwan is often identified by that name. The drinking of tea in the United States was largely influenced by the passage of the Tea Act and its subsequent protest during the American Revolution. Tea consumption sharply decreased in America during and after the Revolution, when many Americans switched from drinking tea to drinking coffee, considering tea drinking to be unpatriotic. It seems Canadians were big tea drinkers from the days of British colonisation until the Second World War, when they began drinking more coffee like their American neighbours to the south. During the 1990s, Canadians begun to purchase more speciality teas instead of coffee. In South America, the tea production in Brazil has strong roots because of the country’s origins in Portugal, the strong presence of Japanese immigrants, and because of the influences of Argentina’s culture. Brazil had a big tea production until the 1980s, but it has weakened in the past decades. The first record of tea in English came from a letter written in 1615 by Richard Wickham, who ran an East India Company office in Japan, writing to a merchant in Macao requesting ‘the best sort of chaw’. But a traveller and merchant who came across tea in Fuji in 1637, wrote, “chaa – only water with a kind of herb boiled in it’. In 1657, Thomas Garway, a tobacconist and coffee-man was the first to sell tea in London at his house in Exchange Alley, charging between 16 and 50 shillings per pound. The same year, tea was listed as an item in the price list in a London coffee house and the first advertisement for tea appeared in 1658. In 1660, Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary: “I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before.” It is probable that early imports were smuggled via Amsterdam or through sailors arriving on eastern boats. The marriage of King Charles II in 1662 to Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza brought the tea drinking habit to court. Official trade of tea began in 1664 with an import of only two pound two ounces for presentation to the king, which grew to 24 million pounds per year by 1801. Tea was traded in significant amounts by the 18th century, when tea was being sold by grocers and tea shops in London. By the 1720s black tea overtook green tea in popularity as the price dropped, and early on British drinkers began adding sugar and milk to tea, a practice that was not done in China. By the 1720s European maritime trade with China was dominated by exchange of silver for tea. As prices continued to drop, tea became increasingly popular and by 1750 had become the British national drink. A fungus reduced coffee production in Ceylon by 95% in the nineteenth century, thus cementing tea’s popularity. The escalation of tea importation and sales over the period 1690 to 1750 is mirrored closely by the increase in importation and sales of cane sugar, as the British were not drinking just tea but ‘sweet’ tea. As a result, two of Britain’s trading triangles converged, the sugar sourced from Britain’s trading triangle encompassing Britain, Africa and the West Indies and the tea from the triangle encompassing Britain, India and China. In China, the Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor wrote to King George III in response to the MaCartney Mission’s request for trade in 1793, saying “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders. There is therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce.” Tea had to be paid in silver bullion, and critics of the tea trade at this time would point to the damage caused to Britain’s wealth by this loss of bullion. As a way to generate the silver needed as payment for tea, Britain began exporting opium from the traditional growing regions of British India (in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) into China. Although opium use in China had a long history, the British importation of opium increased fivefold between 1821 and 1837, and usage of the drug became more widespread across Chinese society. The Qing government attitude towards opium, which was often ambivalent, hardened because of the social problems created by drug use and took serious measures to curtail importation of opium during 1838 and 1839. Tea had therefore become an important source of tax revenue for the British Empire, and the banning of the opium trade and thus the creation of funding issues for tea importers was one of the main causes of the ‘First Opium War’ a series of military engagements fought between Britain and the Qing dynasty of China between 1839 and 1842. The immediate issue was the Chinese enforcement of their ban on the opium trade by seizing private opium stocks from merchants at Canton and threatening to impose the death penalty for future offenders. Despite the opium ban, the British government supported the merchants’ demand for compensation for seized goods, and insisted on the principles of free trade and equal diplomatic recognition with China. Opium was Britain’s single most profitable commodity trade of the 19th century. After months of tensions between the two nations, the British navy launched an expedition in June 1840 and by August 1842 had defeated the Chinese using modern and technologically superior ships and weapons. The British then imposed the Treaty of Nanking, which forced China to increase foreign trade, give compensation, and cede Hong Kong to the British. Consequently the opium trade continued in China. Twentieth century nationalists consider 1839 the start of a century of humiliation and many historians consider it the beginning of modern Chinese history. But, whilst waging war on China was one of Britain’s tactics, it also began to use India for growing tea. After tea plants were smuggled out of China, plantations were established in areas such as Darjeeling, Assam, and Ceylon. As an attempt to circumvent its dependence on Chinese tea, the East India Company sent a Scottish botanist to China to purchase and bring out of China tea plants, which were then taken to India, although it was the discovery of native varieties of tea plant in India which proved more important for the development of production there. Tea remained a very important item in Britain’s global trade, contributing in part to Britain’s global dominance by the end of the 18th century. To this day, tea is seen worldwide as a symbol of ‘Britishness’, but also, to some, as a symbol of good old British colonialism.

This week…
If you ever think mythology is boring…
Just remember that Cerberus, the hellhound and guard dog of the Underworld, comes from the root Indo-European word Ḱerberos, which evolved into the Greek word Kerberos, which got changed to Cerberus when it went from Greek to Latin. Ḱerberos means ‘spotted’.
So Hades, Lord of the dead, literally named his pet dog ‘Spot’.

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The word ‘Chakra’, in Indian thought, refers to each of seven centres of spiritual power in the human body and which are various focal points used in a variety of ancient meditation practices, collectively denominated as Tantra, or the esoteric or inner traditions of Hinduism and the concept of the chakra arose in Hinduism’s early traditions. Beliefs differ between the Indian religions, with many Buddhist texts consistently mentioning five chakras, whilst Hindu sources reference six or seven. Early Sanskrit texts speak of them both as meditative visualisations combining flowers and mantras and as physical entities in the body and within Kundalini yoga, the techniques of breathing exercises, visualisations, mudras, meaning a seal, mark or gesture, as well as mantras which are focused on manipulating the flow of subtle energy through chakras. The modern Western chakra system arose from multiple sources, starting in the 1880s and which introduced the seven rainbow colours for the chakras. Psychological and other attributes, and a wide range of supposed correspondences with other systems such as alchemy, astrology, gemstones, homeopathy, Kabbalah and Tarot were added later. The word ‘chakra’ links to an ancestral Indo-European as well as Ancient Greek, Buddhist and Vedic texts meaning ‘wheel’ or ‘cycle’. The term ‘chakra’ appears to first emerge within the Hindu Vedas, though not precisely in the sense of psychic energy centres, rather as ‘chakravartin’ or the king who “turns the wheel of his empire” in all directions from a centre, representing his influence and power.

An illustration of a Saiva Nath chakra system from the Nath Charit, 1823. Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

The Chakras are part of esoteric ideas and concepts about physiology and psychic centres that emerged across Indian traditions. The belief held that human life simultaneously exists in two parallel dimensions, one physical body and other in a psychological, emotional mind, non-physical which is called the subtle body. This subtle body is energy, whilst the physical body is mass. The psyche or mind plane corresponds to and interacts with the body plane, and the belief holds that the body and the mind mutually affect each other and the subtle body consists of energy channels that are connected by nodes of psychic energy called chakra. The belief grew into extensive elaboration, with some suggesting 88,000 chakras throughout the subtle body. The number of major chakras varied between various traditions, but they typically ranged between four and seven. The important chakras are stated in Hindu and Buddhist texts to be arranged in a column along the spinal cord, from its base to the top of the head, connected by vertical channels. The tantric traditions sought to master them, awaken and energise them through various breathing exercises or with assistance of a teacher. These chakras were also symbolically mapped to specific human physiological capacity, with sounds, subtle elements, in some cases deities, colours and other motifs. Belief in the chakra system of Hinduism and Buddhism differs from the historic Chinese system of meridians in acupuncture, as unlike the latter, the chakra relates to subtle body, wherein it has a position but no definite nervous node or precise physical connection. Chakra and related beliefs have been important to the esoteric traditions, but they are not directly related to mainstream yoga. According to various scholars, the goals of classical yoga such as spiritual liberation, freedom and self-knowledge are attained entirely differently. Chakras have classical traditions in meditation and are often visualised in different ways, such as a lotus flower or a disc containing a particular deity. The classical eastern traditions, particularly those that developed in India during the first millennium AD primarily describe them in a ‘subtle body’ context as to them, they are in same dimension as of the psyche-mind reality that is invisible yet real. In them flow the ‘Prana’, meaning breath or life energy. The concept of this life energy varies between the texts, ranging from simple inhalation-exhalation to far more complex association with breath, mind, emotion and sexual energy. This essence is what vanishes when a person dies, leaving a simple body. Some of this concept states this subtle body is what withdraws within, when one sleeps. All of it is believed to be reachable and able to be awakened, to be important for the health of an individual’s body and mind, also how one relates to other people in one’s life. This subtle body network of chakras is, according to some later Indian theories and many modern speculations, closely associated with emotions. Certain traditions in Hinduism mention numerous numbers and arrangements of chakras, of which a classical system of six-plus-one, the last being the Sahasrara, is most prevalent. This seven-part system, central to the core texts of hatha yoga, is one among many systems found in Hindu tantric literature. Chakra methodology is extensively developed in the goddess tradition of Hinduism called Shaktism is an important concept along with yantras, mandalas and kundalini yoga in its practice. Chakra in Shakta tantrism means circle, an ‘energy centre’ within, as well as being a term for group rituals such as in ‘chakra-puja’ (worship within a circle) which may or may not involve tantra practice. This system is a part of the meditative exercises that came to be known as yoga.

The seven chakra system.

A widely popular schematic of seven chakras which are, from top to bottom, Sahasrara, Ajna, Vishuddhi, Anahata, Manipuri, Svadhisthana and Muladhara. The colours in the image are modern. The more common and most studied chakra system incorporates six major chakras along with a seventh centre generally not regarded as a chakra. These points are arranged vertically along the axial channel (sushumna nadi in Hindu texts, Avadhuti in some Buddhist texts). According to one British scholar of comparative religion specialising in Shaivism and phenomenology but with research interests that span South Asian traditions, this system of six chakras plus the ‘sahasrara’ or centre at the crown first appears in the Kubjikāmata-tantra, an eleventh-century Hindu work. It was this chakra system that was then translated in the early twentieth century by Sir John Woodroffe. The Chakras are traditionally considered meditation aids. The yogi progresses from lower chakras to the highest chakra blossoming in the crown of the head, internalising the journey of spiritual ascent. In both the Hindu kundalini and Buddhist candali traditions, the chakras are pierced by a dormant energy residing near or in the lowest chakra. In Hindu texts she is known as Kundalini, whilst in Buddhist texts she is called Candali or Tummo, Tibetan for ‘gtum mo’ or ‘fierce one’. The following are the common, modern descriptions of these six chakras and the seventh point known as sahasrara but his version incorporates the modern colours of the rainbow not found in any ancient Indian system. The ‘Sahasrara’ is the highest spiritual centre, pure consciousness, containing neither object nor subject. It is said that when the feminine Kundalini Shakti rises to this point, it unites with the masculine Shiva, giving self-realisation and ‘samadhi’. In esoteric Buddhism, it is called Mahasukha, the petal lotus of ‘Great Bliss’ corresponding to the fourth state of Four Noble Truths. Next is ‘Ajna’, a point located between the eyebrows. This is the Guru chakra, or in modern usage the third-eye chakra, the subtle centre of energy, where the tantra guru touches the seeker during the initiation ritual. He or she commands the awakened kundalini to pass through this centre. The next is ‘Vishuddha’, located at the throat and in esoteric Buddhism is called Sambhoga and is generally considered to be the petal lotus of ‘Enjoyment’ corresponding to the third state of Four Noble Truths. Then there is Anahata at the heart, and within it is a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolising a union of the male and female, and the element of air (vayu). In esoteric Buddhism, this Chakra is called Dharma and is generally considered to be the petal lotus of ‘Essential nature’ and corresponding to the second state of Four Noble Truths. After that is Manipura, located at the navel and for the Nath yogi meditation system, this is described as the ‘Madhyama-Shakti’ or the intermediate stage of self-discovery. This chakra is represented as a downward pointing triangle representing fire in the middle of a lotus with ten petals. After that is Svadhishthana, said to be the root of sexual organs and is represented with a lotus within which is a crescent moon symbolising the water element. In esoteric Buddhism, it is called Nirmana, the petal lotus of ‘Creation’ and corresponding to the first state of Four Noble Truths. Muladhara follows, located at the base of the spine. Dormant Kundalini is often said to be resting here, wrapped three and a half, or seven or twelve times. Sometimes she is wrapped around the black Svayambhu linga, the lowest of three obstructions to her full rising (also known as knots or granthis). It is symbolised as a four-petalled lotus with a yellow square at its center representing the element of earth. The seed syllable is ‘Lam’ for the earth element. All sounds, words and mantras in their dormant form rest in the muladhara chakra, where Ganesha resides.

In her book “Anatomy of the Spirit” (1996), Caroline Myss described the function of chakras as follows: “Every thought and experience you’ve ever had in your life gets filtered through these chakra databases. Each event is recorded into your cells”. The chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Modern practices often associate each chakra with a certain colour. In various traditions, chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, an aspect of consciousness, a classical element and other distinguishing characteristics. These do not correspond to those used in ancient Indian systems. The chakras are visualised as lotuses or flowers with a different number of petals in every chakra. The chakras are thought to vitalise the physical body and to be associated with interactions of a physical, emotional and mental nature. They are considered loci of life energy or prana (which modern belief equates with shakti, qi in Chinese, ki in Japanese, koach-ha-guf in Hebrew, bios in Greek and aether in both Greek and English), which is thought to flow among them along pathways called nadi. The function of the chakras is to spin and draw in this energy to keep the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health of the body in balance. It is seen therefore that chakras are vortices of energy which serve as the main points of our life force, and their condition is paramount to how we feel. They affect the nerves and major organs, as well as our emotional and spiritual state. The word ‘chakra’ in Sanskrit translates to ‘wheel’ or ‘disc’. In yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda, this term refers to the wheels of energy throughout the mind-body system. Ideally, all our chakra frequencies would be in balance all the time, but this is rarely the case. Life can knock us off-balance, but there are ways to align our chakras again. I am learning that everything has a certain frequency at which it vibrates, and this is known as an object’s resonant frequency. Some objects have two or more resonant frequencies, just as we have not one, but several chakras that resonate differently. When sound or light waves, which have their own resonant frequency, hit an object it will lead to harmonic resonance if that frequency corresponds to the resonant frequency of the object. That makes sense to me. But at times, in order for harmonic resonance to occur, the amplitude of the vibration of an object must increase due to the corresponding vibrations of the other object and when that happens, they are tuned to one another. Therefore, both of them will synchronise together. Imagine that you are a clock and the universe is also a clock. If you are in tune and your frequencies match, you will start ticking together through harmonic resonance. Each chakra has its frequency of vibration, sound, colour and symbol to which it is tuned. When it is balanced, cleansed and energised, then the chakra is in harmony and plays its most beautiful melody, emitting inherent vibrations. Many aspects of life can affect these chakra frequencies and ruin the harmony, such as chaotic sounds, stress, and unhealthy thoughts and emotions. On the other hand, things like certain people’s voices, beautiful music, positive mantras, and the vibrational energy of colours and precious stones can help to bring our chakra frequencies back into harmonic resonance. Each chakra resonates at a specific frequency. My research shows that these chakra frequencies are, from bottom to top:
Root Chakra – Root – Muladhara – Red – 432 Hz
Sacral Chakra – Sacrum – Swadhisthana – Orange – 480 Hz
Solar Plexus Chakra – Navel – Manipura – Yellow – 528 Hz
Heart Chakra – Heart – Anahata – Green – 594 Hz
Throat Chakra – Throat – Vishuddha – Light Blue – 672 Hz
Third Eye Chakra – Brow – Ajna – Indigo – 720 Hz
Crown Chakra – Top of Head – Sahasrara – Purple – 768 Hz

Chakra Frequencies Chart.

There are a number of different chakra frequency healing methods that may be used to optimise and maintain these chakra frequencies and for hundreds of years scientists have been aware of the effects of sounds on the human body. Research shows that even high-frequency sounds that are imperceptible to hearing affect a person’s brain activity. Also, holistic healers know that different frequencies of sound are capable of manipulating human consciousness and even causing changes in consciousness, demonstrated by trance states resulting from the singing or beating of drums. Music evokes an emotional response in the human body, which can lead to everything from skin itching to a torrent of purifying tears. Vibration instruments such as singing bowls and gongs are used to create light waves of vibrations that are aimed at readjusting the mind. Numerous musical instruments are often used in sound frequency therapy, ranging from striking a cymbal with hammers, singing bowls, gongs, wind chimes, pan-flutes, kalimba, didgeridoo and plain drums. Such frequencies are found in musical cultures all over the world. The form most associated with Western European music is known as solfège (or solfeggio, if you’re feeling especially Italian). The name solfège is self-referential, as sol and fa are two of the syllables found in that pattern: doh-re-me-fa-soh-la-ti. These Solfeggio frequencies have been associated since ancient times with the creation of sacred music, which is believed to promote healing and it is said that when you play sounds at the following frequencies, you can bring your chakras back into resonance with their natural state. In this, several of the main Solfeggio frequencies correspond to the chakra frequencies. It is said that 174 Hz could work as a natural anaesthetic or painkiller. It can help to relieve pain, physically and energetically, it can give the organs a sense of security and love, thus encouraging them to work optimally. Then 285 Hz can help us with healing damaged tissues and organs due to its amazing ability to help us remember our inner spirit. It is said to affect our energy fields in such a way that it ‘sends a message’ about the restructuring of damaged organs and tissues and this makes it extremely useful in the process of healing wounds, cuts, burns, or any other form of damaged tissue you may have. Next is 396 Hz, the ‘Root’ chakra, corresponding to ‘Doh’ and which is said to free us from guilt and fear and is designed to dissolve negative thinking, negative emotions, and destructive behaviour. It looks for hidden blockages, subconscious negative beliefs, and ideas that distort our energy system and lead to adverse effects as well as releasing the energies of courage, strength, resourcefulness, will, and the ability to survive. Next is the 417 Hz frequency, linked to the Sacral chakra and which eliminates blocks, conventions, habits, and opens the mind to accept change. This frequency clears past traumatic experiences and destroys the devastating effects of negative events. This also corresponds to the ‘Re’ tone and can be used to help us dissolve the energies that accumulate in the energy system. These accumulated energies of unfulfilled desires, frustration, and dissatisfaction can become so dense and create such blocks that we lose our sense of interest and ‘freshness’ of life. Then everything becomes boring and meaningless. Solfeggio frequency 528 Hz correlates with the solar plexus and the note ‘Mi’, which comes from the phrase ‘Mi-ra gestorum’, meaning ‘miracle’ in Latin. This tone is seen by many as the frequency of all botanical life on earth. Next is 639 Hz, linked to the heart chakra and which is associated with the sound ‘Fa’ along with its links with communication. It is perhaps possible to use it to ease problems in relationships in the family, between partners, and with friends as this frequency strengthens relationships, tolerance, and love. It can also be used to communicate with the spiritual realms. Perhaps this is where we get the phrase ’speaking from the heart’, meaning speaking truthfully. Next is Solfeggio frequency 741 Hz, which corresponds to the note “Soh” and the throat chakra. It awakens intuition, frees us from all of the superficial, extraterrestrial influences, subordination, and dependence on outside ideas and world views. It can help with our journey to a healthy, simple life. It can assist us with dietary changes. For example, you might begin to subconsciously choose foods that are not poisoned by toxins. This frequency also helps clear the cells of various types of electromagnetic radiation. Another important application of Solfeggio 741 Hz is the possibility to help with purification of infections, whether they be viral, bacterial or fungal. It promotes a pure, stable, and spiritual life, filled with the joy of creativity and true self-expression. Solfeggio frequency 852 Hz is associated with the note ‘La’ and the third eye chakra. This frequency reveals the ability to see through the illusions of your life, restores the original ability to see and communicate with beings from the subtle world, and awakens clairvoyance. The very term ‘Ajna’, which is used to denote the sixth chakra, means ‘Perception’. We become able to perceive the world in a unity of material and spiritual. This frequency opens the ability to perceive and communicate with higher consciousness, helps us connect with our inner light, and returns us to the definition of ourselves as spiritual beings. Finally there is 963 Hz, the Crown Chakra, enabling connection with higher consciousness. The crown chakra is the highest of the seven chakras. It is located above the crown and has the name “Sahasrara” (thousandfold). It is no longer connected to any sense but opens the divine purpose and connection in our body and mind. Transcendence can be awakened.

I have written a bit more than I planned to this time, but finding the links to musical sounds gave me more than I had expected! I hope you have found it interesting.

This week…
Our faith in God is like insurance. We cannot see it, but we know it is there. We benefit from it and sometimes only remember it when we need it.

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J. S. Bach’s Music

I have also found a list of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach, but they are too numerous to list here so for those interested, this is a link to the Wikipedia page: List of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach

A handwritten note by Bach in his copy of the Calov Bible.

The above note, written next to 2 Chronicles 5:13 reads: “NB Bey einer andächtigen Musiq ist allezeit Gott mit seiner Gnaden Gegenwart”, meaning ‘(N(ota) B(ene) In a music of worship God is always present with his grace’. From an early age, Bach studied the works of his musical contemporaries of the Baroque period and those of prior generations, and those influences were reflected in his music. Like his contemporaries Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi, Bach composed concertos, suites, recitatives, da capo arias, and four-part choral music. Some works employed a basso continuo which is used in baroque music as an accompanying part that includes a bass line and harmonies, typically played on a keyboard instrument and with other instruments such as cello or lute. The music of Bach was harmonically more innovative than his peer composers, employing surprisingly dissonant chords and progressions, often with extensive exploration of harmonic possibilities within one piece. The hundreds of sacred works Bach created are usually seen as manifesting not just his craft but also a truly devout relationship with God. He had taught Luther’s Small Catechism as the Thomaskantor in Leipzig, and some of his pieces represent it, in fact the Lutheran chorale was the basis of much of his work. In elaborating these hymns into his chorale preludes. He wrote more cogent and tightly integrated works than most, even when they were seen as massive and lengthy by some and the large-scale structure of every major Bach sacred vocal work is evidence of subtle, elaborate planning to create a religiously and musically powerful expression. For example, the St Matthew Passion, like other works of its kind, illustrated the Passion with Bible text reflected in recitatives, arias, choruses, and chorales. But in crafting this work, Bach created an overall experience that has been found over the intervening centuries to be both musically thrilling and spiritually profound, something I wholeheartedly agree with. Bach published or carefully compiled in manuscript many collections of pieces that explored the range of artistic and technical possibilities inherent in almost every genre of his time except opera. For example, The Well-Tempered Clavier comprises two books, each of which presents a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key, displaying a dizzying variety of structural, contrapuntal and fugal techniques.

“O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden”: the four-part chorale setting as included in the St. Matthew Passion.

Four-part harmonies predate Bach, but he lived during a time when modal music in Western tradition was largely supplanted in favour of the tonal system. In this, a piece of music progresses from one chord to the next according to certain rules, each chord being characterised by four notes. The principles of four-part harmony are found not only in Bach’s four-part choral music, as he also prescribes it for instance for the figured bass accompaniment. The new system was at the core of Bach’s style, and his compositions are to a large extent considered as laying down the rules for the evolving scheme that would dominate musical expression in the next centuries. Some examples of this characteristic of Bach’s style and its influence may be seen when, in the 1740s, Bach staged his arrangement of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater where he upgraded the viola part (which in the original composition plays in unison with the bass part) to fill out the harmony, thus adapting the composition to his four-part harmony style. Also, starting in the 19th century in Russia, there was a discussion about the authenticity of four-part court chant settings compared to earlier Russian traditions and Bach’s four-part chorale settings, such as those ending his Chorale cantatas, were considered as foreign-influenced models. Such influence was deemed unavoidable, however. Bach’s insistence on the tonal system and contribution to shaping it did not imply he was less at ease with the older modal system and the genres associated with it, more than his contemporaries (who had ‘moved on’ to the tonal system without much exception). Bach often returned to the then-antiquated modi and genres. In addition modulation, or changing key in the course of a piece, is another style characteristic where Bach goes beyond what was usual in his time. Baroque instruments vastly limited modulation possibilities, as with keyboard instruments, prior to a workable system of temperament, limited the keys that could be modulated to, and wind instruments, especially brass instruments such as trumpets and horns, about a century before they were fitted with valves, were tied to the key of their tuning. Bach pushed the limits, as he added ‘strange tones’ in his organ playing, confusing the singing. The major development taking place in Bach’s time, and to which he contributed in no small way, was a temperament for keyboard instruments that allowed their use in all available keys (12 major and 12 minor) and also modulation without retuning. His Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, a very early work, showed a gusto for modulation unlike any contemporary work this composition has been compared to but the full expansion came with the Well-Tempered Clavier, using all keys, which Bach apparently had been developing since around 1720, the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach being one of its earliest examples.

“Aria” of the Goldberg Variations, showing Bach’s use of ornaments.

The second page of this Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is an ornament notation and performance guide that Bach wrote for his eldest son, who was nine years old at the time. Bach was generally quite specific on ornamentation in his compositions (where in his time much of the ornamentation was not written out by composers but rather considered a liberty of the performer), and his ornamentation was often quite elaborate. For instance, the Aria of the Goldberg Variations has rich ornamentation in nearly every measure. Bach’s dealing with ornamentation can also be seen in a keyboard arrangement he made of Marcello’s Oboe Concerto, where he added explicit ornamentation, which some centuries later is played by oboists when performing the concerto. Although Bach did not write any operas, he was not averse to the genre or its ornamented vocal style. In church music, Italian composers had imitated the operatic vocal style in genres such as the Neapolitan mass. In Protestant surroundings, there was more reluctance to adopt such a style for liturgical music. For instance Kuhnau, Bach’s predecessor in Leipzig, had notoriously shunned opera and Italian virtuoso vocal music. Bach was less moved. One of the comments after a performance of his St Matthew Passion was that it all sounded much like opera. In concert playing in Bach’s time the basso continuo, along with instruments such as organ, viola da gamba or harpsichord, usually had the role of accompaniment, providing the harmonic and rhythmic foundation of a piece. From the late 1720s, Bach had the organ play ‘concertante’ (i.e. as a soloist) with the orchestra in instrumental cantata movements, a decade before Handel published his first organ concertos. Apart from the 5th Brandenburg Concerto and the Triple Concerto, which already had harpsichord soloists in the 1720s, Bach wrote and arranged his harpsichord concertos in the 1730s, and in his sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord neither instrument plays a continuo part as they are treated as equal soloists, far beyond the figured bass. In this sense, Bach played a key role in the development of genres such as the keyboard concerto. Bach wrote virtuoso music for specific instruments as well as music independent of instrumentation. For instance, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin are considered the pinnacle of what has been written for this instrument, only within reach of accomplished players. The music fits the instrument, pushing it to the full scale of its possibilities and requiring virtuosity of the player but without bravura. Notwithstanding that the music and the instrument seem inseparable, Bach made transcriptions for other instruments of some pieces of this collection. Similarly, for the cello suites, the virtuoso music seems tailored for the instrument, the best of what is offered for it, yet Bach made an arrangement for lute of one of these suites. The same applies to much of his most virtuoso keyboard music. Bach exploited the capabilities of an instrument to the fullest while keeping the core of such music independent of the instrument on which it is performed.
In this sense, it is no surprise that Bach’s music is easily and often performed on instruments it was not necessarily written for, that it is transcribed so often, and that his melodies turn up in unexpected places such as jazz music. Apart from this, Bach left a number of compositions without specified instrumentation. Another characteristic of Bach’s style is his extensive use of counterpoint, as opposed to the homophony used in his four-part Chorale settings, for example. Bach’s canons, and especially his fugues, are most characteristic of this style, which Bach did not invent but contributed to so fundamentally that he defined it to a large extent. Fugues are as characteristic to Bach’s style as, for instance, the Sonata form is characteristic to the composers of the Classical period. These strictly contrapuntal compositions, and most of Bach’s music in general, are characterised by distinct melodic lines for each of the voices, where the chords formed by the notes sounding at a given point follow the rules of four-part harmony. From about 1720, when he was thirty-five, until his death in 1750, Bach’s harmony consists in this melodic interweaving of independent melodies, so perfect in their union that each part seems to constitute the true melody, and here I think Bach excels all the composers in the world. At least, I have found no one to equal him in music known to me. Even in his four-part writing we can, not infrequently, leave out the upper and lower parts and still find the middle parts melodious and agreeable. Bach devoted more attention than his contemporaries to the structure of compositions. This can be seen in minor adjustments he made when adapting someone else’s composition, such as his earliest version of the “Keiser” St Mark Passion, where he enhances scene transitions, and in the architecture of his own compositions such as his Magnificat and Leipzig Passions. In the last years of his life, Bach revised several of his prior compositions, and often the recasting of such previously composed music in an enhanced structure was the most visible change, as in the Mass in B minor. Bach’s known preoccupation with structure led to various numerological analyses of his compositions, although many such over-interpretations were later rejected. The librettos, or lyrics, of his vocal compositions played an important role for Bach. He sought collaboration with various text authors for his cantatas and major vocal compositions, possibly writing or adapting such texts himself to make them fit the structure of the composition he was designing when he could not rely on the talents of other text authors. His collaboration with Picander for the St Matthew Passion libretto is best known, but there was a similar process in achieving a multi-layered structure for his St John Passion libretto a few years earlier.

In 1950, Wolfgang Schmieder published a thematic catalogue of Bach’s compositions called the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue). Schmieder largely followed the Bach-Gesellschaft-Ausgabe, a comprehensive edition of the composer’s works that was produced between 1850 and 1900. The first edition of the catalogue listed 1,080 surviving compositions indisputably composed by Bach. This BWV range of compositions comprised as BWV 1–224: Cantatas, BWV 225–231: Motets, BWV 232–243: Liturgical compositions in Latin, BWV 244–249: Passions and Oratorios, BWV 250–438: Four-part chorales, BWV 439–524: Small vocal works, BWV 525–771: Organ compositions, BWV 772–994: Other keyboard works, BWV 995–1000: Lute compositions, BWV 1001–1040: Other chamber music, BWV 1041–1071: Orchestral music, BWV 1072–1078: Canons and BWV 1079–1080: Late contrapuntal works. BWV 1081–1126 were added to the catalogue in the second half of the 20th century, whilst BWV 1127 and higher are 21st-century additions.

Bach’s autograph of the recitative with the gospel text of Christ’s death from St Matthew Passion (Matthew 27:45–47a).

Bach composed Passions for Good Friday services and oratorios such as the Christmas Oratorio, which is a set of six cantatas for use in the liturgical season of Christmas, whilst shorter oratorios include the Easter Oratorio and the Ascension Oratorio. With its double choir and orchestra, the St Matthew Passion is one of Bach’s most extended works and the St John Passion was the first passion Bach composed during his tenure as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. According to his obituary, Bach would have composed five year-cycles of sacred cantatas and additional church cantatas, for example weddings and funerals. Approximately 200 of these sacred works are extant, an estimated two thirds of the total number of church cantatas he composed. The Bach Digital website lists 50 known secular cantatas by the composer, about half of which are extant or largely reconstructable. Bach also wrote a range of cantatas, both church and secular. His A cappella music includes motets and chorale harmonisations but he is perhaps best known, certainly during his lifetime, as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres (such as preludes, fantasias and toccatas as well as stricter forms such as chorale preludes and fugues. At a young age, he established a reputation for creativity and ability to integrate foreign styles into his organ works. A decidedly North German influence was exerted by Georg Böhm, with whom Bach came into contact in Lüneburg, and Dieterich Buxtehude, whom the young organist visited in Lübeck in 1704 on an extended leave of absence from his job in Arnstadt. Around this time, Bach copied the works of numerous French and Italian composers to gain insights into their compositional languages, and later arranged violin concertos by Vivaldi and others for organ and harpsichord. During his most productive period (1708–1714) he composed about a dozen pairs of preludes and fugues, five toccatas and fugues, and the Orgelbüchlein or “Little Organ Book”, an unfinished collection of 46 short chorale preludes that demonstrate compositional techniques in the setting of chorale tunes. After leaving Weimar, Bach wrote less for organ, although some of his best-known works (the six Organ Sonatas, the German Organ Mass in Clavier-Übung III from 1739, and the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes, revised late in his life, were composed after leaving Weimar. Bach was also extensively engaged later in his life in consulting on organ projects, testing new organs and dedicating organs in afternoon recitals. The Canonic Variations on “Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her” and the Schübler Chorales are organ works Bach published in the last years of his life. Bach wrote many works for harpsichord, some of which may also have been played on the clavichord or lute-harpsichord. Some of his larger works are intended for a harpsichord with two manuals, because performing them on a keyboard instrument with a single manual (like a piano) may present technical difficulties for the crossing of hands. In Books 1 and 2 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, each book consists of a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys, in chromatic order from C major to B minor. As a result, the whole collection is often referred to as ‘the 48’, and the term ‘Well-tempered’ in the title refers to the [temperament, or system of tuning. Many temperaments before Bach’s time were not flexible enough to allow compositions to utilise more than just a few keys. Bach’s best-known orchestral works are the Brandenburg Concertos, so named because he submitted them in the hope of gaining employment from Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, however his application was unsuccessful. In his early youth, Bach copied pieces by other composers to learn from them. Later, he copied and arranged music for performance or as study material for his pupils.

The church in Arnstadt where Bach had been the organist from 1703 to 1707.

In 1935 the church was renamed “Bachkirche”. Throughout the 18th century, appreciation of Bach’s music was mostly limited to distinguished connoisseurs. Then the 19th century started with publication of the first biography of the composer and ended with the completion of the publication of all of Bach’s known works by the Bach Gesellschaft. A Bach Revival had started from Mendelssohn’s performance of the St Matthew Passion in 1829. Soon after that performance, Bach started to become regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, if not the greatest, a reputation he has retained ever since. A new extensive Bach biography was published in the second half of the 19th century. Bach was originally buried at Old St. John’s Cemetery in Leipzig. His grave went unmarked for nearly 150 years, but in 1894 his remains were located and moved to a vault in St. John’s Church. This building was then destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II, so in 1950 Bach’s remains were taken to their present grave in St. Thomas Church and it is sad that later research has called into question whether in fact the remains in the grave are actually those of Bach. I like to think they are his.

This week…remember.
A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumour.

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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer and musician of the late Baroque period. He is known for his orchestral music, instrumental compositions, keyboard works, organ works and vocal music. The Bach family already counted several composers when Johann Sebastian was born as the last child of a city musician in Eisenach. After being orphaned at the age of ten, he lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph, after which he continued his musical education in Lüneburg. From 1703 he was back in Thuringia, working as a musician for Protestant churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen and, for longer stretches of time, at courts in Weimar, where he expanded his organ repertory, and Köthen, where he was mostly engaged with chamber music. From 1723 he was employed as cantor at St Thomas’s in Leipzig. There he composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city, and for its university’s student ensemble, Collegium Musicum. From 1726 he published some of his keyboard and organ music. In Leipzig, as had happened during some of his earlier positions, he had difficult relations with his employer, a situation that was little remedied when he was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus III of Poland in 1736. In the last decades of his life he reworked and extended many of his earlier compositions. He died of complications after eye surgery in 1750 at the age of 65. Bach enriched established German styles through his mastery of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and his adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach’s compositions include literally hundreds of cantatas, both sacred and secular. He composed Latin church music, passions, oratorios and motets. He often adopted Lutheran hymns, not only in his larger vocal works, but for instance also in his four-part chorales and his sacred songs. He wrote extensively for organ and for other keyboard instruments, also composing works for instruments such as the violin and the harpsichord, along with suites and chamber music for orchestra. Many of his works employ the genres of both canon and fugue. Throughout the 18th century, Bach was primarily valued as an organist, whilst his keyboard music, such as “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, was appreciated for its didactic qualities. The 19th century saw the publication of some major Bach biographies and by the end of that century all of his known music had been printed. Dissemination of scholarship on the composer continued through periodicals (and later also websites) exclusively devoted to him, and other publications such as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, a numbered catalogue of his works) and new critical editions of his compositions. His music was further popularised through a multitude of arrangements as well as of recordings, such as three different box sets with complete performances of the composer’s body of work marking the 250th anniversary of his death.

Johann Ambrosius Bach, 1685, Bach’s father. Painting attributed to Johann David Herlicius.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, the capital of the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, in present-day Germany, on 21 March 1685 and was the eighth and youngest child of Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the town musicians, and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. His father likely taught him violin and basic music theory. His uncles were all professional musicians, whose posts included church organists, court chamber musicians, and composers. One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, introduced him to the organ and an older second cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach, was a well-known composer and violinist. Bach’s mother died in 1694, and his father died eight months later. The 10-year-old Bach moved in with his eldest brother Johann Christoph Bach, the organist at St.Michael’s Church in Ohrdruf, Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. There he studied, performed, and copied music, including his own brother’s, despite being forbidden to do so because scores were so valuable and private, and blank ledger paper of that type was costly. He received valuable teaching from his brother, who instructed him on the clavichord. Johann Christoph exposed him to the works of great composers of the day, including South Germans such as Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Jakob Froberger and Johann Pachelbel, under whom Johann Christoph had studied). Bach also learned of Frenchmen such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis Marchand and Marin Marais, even the Italian Girolamo Frescobaldi. During this time, he was also taught theology, Latin and Greek at the local gymnasium. By 3 April 1700, Bach and his schoolfriend Georg Erdmann, who was two years Bach’s elder, were enrolled in the prestigious St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg, some two weeks’ travel north of Ohrdruf. Their journey was probably undertaken mostly on foot. His two years there were critical in exposing Bach to a wider range of European culture. In addition to singing in the choir, he played the school’s three-manual organ and harpsichords. He also came into contact with sons of aristocrats from northern Germany who had been sent to the nearby ‘Ritter-Academie’ to prepare for careers in other disciplines.

The Wender organ Bach played in Arnstadt.

In January 1703, shortly after graduating from St. Michael’s and being turned down for the post of organist at Sangerhausen, Bach was appointed court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. His role there is unclear, but it probably included menial, non-musical duties. During his seven-month tenure at Weimar, his reputation as a keyboardist spread so much that he was invited to inspect the new organ and give the inaugural recital at the New Church (now Bach Church) in Arnstadt, located about 19 miles (30 kilometres) southwest of Weimar. On 14 August 1703, he became the organist at the New Church, with light duties, a relatively generous salary, and a new organ tuned in a temperament that allowed music written in a wider range of keys to be played. Despite strong family connections and a musically enthusiastic employer, tension built up between Bach and the authorities after several years in the post. Bach was dissatisfied with the standard of singers in the choir. He called one of them a “Zippel Fagottist” (weenie) bassoon player. Late one evening this student, named Geyersbach, went after Bach with a stick. Bach filed a complaint against Geyersbach with the authorities. They acquitted Geyersbach with a minor reprimand and ordered Bach to be more moderate regarding the musical qualities he expected from his students. Some months later Bach upset his employer by a prolonged absence from Arnstadt as after obtaining leave for four weeks, he was absent for around four months in 1705–1706 to visit the organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude in the northern city of Lübeck. The visit to Buxtehude involved a 280-mile (450-kilometre) journey each way, reportedly on foot. In 1706, Bach applied for a post as organist at the Blasius Church in Mühlhausen and as part of his application he had an Easter cantata performed at 24 April 1707. A month later Bach’s application was accepted and he took up the post in July. The position included significantly higher remuneration, improved conditions, and a better choir. Four months after arriving at Mühlhausen, Bach married Maria Barbara Bach, his second cousin. Bach was able to convince the church and town government at Mühlhausen to fund an expensive renovation of the organ at the Blasius Church and in 1708 Bach wrote a festive cantata for the inauguration of the new council which was published at the council’s expense.

Organ of the St. Paul’s Church in Leipzig, tested by Bach in 1717.

Bach left Mühlhausen in 1708, returning to Weimar this time as organist and from 1714 ‘Konzertmeister’ (director of music) at the ducal court, where he had an opportunity to work with a large, well-funded contingent of professional musicians. Bach and his wife moved into a house close to the ducal palace. Later the same year, their first child, Catharina Dorothea, was born, and Maria Barbara’s elder, unmarried sister joined them. She remained to help run the household until her death in 1729. Three sons were also born in Weimar. Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara had three more children, who however did not live to their first birthday, including twins born in 1713. Bach’s time in Weimar was the start of a sustained period of composing keyboard and orchestral works. He attained the proficiency and confidence to extend the prevailing structures and include influences from abroad. He learned to write dramatic openings and employ the dynamic rhythms and harmonic schemes found in the music of Italians such as Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli. Bach absorbed these stylistic aspects in part by transcribing Vivaldi’s string and wind concertos for harpsichord and organ, happily many of these transcribed works are still regularly performed. Bach was particularly attracted to the Italian style, in which one or more solo instruments alternate section-by-section with the full orchestra throughout a movement. In Weimar, Bach continued to play and compose for the organ and perform concert music with the duke’s ensemble. He also began to write the preludes and fugues which were later assembled into his monumental work The Well-Tempered Clavier, “clavier” meaning clavichord or harpsichord) consisting of two books, each containing 24 preludes and fugues in every major and minor key. Bach also started work on the Little Organ Book in Weimar, containing traditional Lutheran chorale tunes set in complex textures. In 1713, Bach was offered a post in Halle when he advised the authorities during a renovation of the main organ in the west gallery of the Market Church of Our Dear Lady. In the spring of 1714, Bach was promoted to ‘Konzertmeister’, an honour that entailed performing a church cantata monthly in the castle church. Bach’s first Christmas cantata was premiered in either 1714 or 1715, then in 1717 Bach eventually fell out of favour in Weimar and, according to a translation of the court secretary’s report, was jailed for almost a month before being unfavourably dismissed. The official notice was “On November 6, 1717, the quondam (former) concertmaster and organist Bach was confined to the County Judge’s place of detention for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal and finally on December 2 was freed from arrest with notice of his unfavourable discharge.”

Bach’s autograph of the first movement of the first sonata for solo violin, BWV 1001.

Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, hired Bach to serve as his Kapellmeister (director of music) in 1717. Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach’s talents, paid him well and gave him considerable latitude in composing and performing. The prince was a Calvinist and did not use elaborate music in his worship, so most of Bach’s work from this period was secular, including the orchestral suites, cello suites, sonatas and partitas for solo violin and his Brandenburg Concertos. Bach also composed secular cantatas for the court. Despite being born in the same year and only about 80 miles (130 kilometres) apart, Bach and Handel never met. In 1719, Bach made the 22 mile (35 kilometre) journey from Köthen to Halle with the intention of meeting Handel, however, Handel had left the town. In 1730, Bach’s oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, travelled to Halle to invite Handel to visit the Bach family in Leipzig, but the visit did not take place. On 7 July 1720, whilst Bach was away in Carlsbad with Prince Leopold, Bach’s wife suddenly died. The following year, he met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a young, highly gifted soprano 16 years his junior, who performed at the court in Köthen and they married on 3 December 1721. Together they had 13 children, six of whom survived into adulthood, these being Gottfried Heinrich, Elisabeth Juliane Friederica, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian who both, especially Johann Christian, became significant musicians, also Johanna Carolina and Regina Susanna. In 1723, Bach was appointed Thomaskantor (Cantor) of the St. Thomas School at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, which provided music for four churches in the city, the St. Thomas Church and St. Nicholas Church and to a lesser extent the New Church and St. Peter’s Church. This meant he was “the leading cantorate in Protestant Germany”, located in the mercantile city in the Electorate of Saxony, a post which he held for 27 years until his death. During that time he gained further prestige through honorary appointments at the courts of Köthen and Weissenfels, as well as that of the Elector Frederick Augustus (who was also King of Poland) in Dresden. Bach frequently disagreed with his employer, Leipzig’s city council, which he regarded as “penny-pinching”.

Statue of Bach in front of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Johann Kuhnau had been Thomaskantor in Leipzig from 1701 until his death on 5 June 1722. Bach had visited Leipzig during Kuhnau’s tenure and in 1714 he attended the service at the St. Thomas Church on the first Sunday of Advent. In 1717 he had tested the organ of the St. Paul’s Church. In 1716 Bach and Kuhnau had met on the occasion of the testing and inauguration of an organ in Halle. After being offered the position, Bach was invited to Leipzig only after Georg Philipp Telemann indicated that he would not be interested in relocating to Leipzig. Telemann went to Hamburg, where apparently he had his own struggles with the city’s senate.
Bach was required to instruct the students of the ‘Thomasschule’ in singing and provide church music for the main churches in Leipzig. He was also assigned to teach Latin but was allowed to employ four ‘prefects’ (deputies) to do this instead. The prefects also aided with musical instruction. It seems too that a cantata was required for the church services on Sundays and additional church holidays during the liturgical year. Bach usually led performances of his cantatas, most of which were composed within three years of his relocation to Leipzig. Bach collected his cantatas in annual cycles. Five are mentioned in obituaries, three are extant. Sadly, of the more than 300 cantatas which Bach composed in Leipzig, over 100 have been lost to posterity. Most of these works expound on the Gospel readings prescribed for every Sunday and feast day in the Lutheran year. Bach started a second annual cycle the first Sunday after Trinity of 1724 and composed only chorale cantatas, each based on a single church hymn. Bach drew the soprano and alto choristers from the school and the tenors and basses both from the school and elsewhere in Leipzig. Performing at weddings and funerals provided extra income for these groups and it was probably for this purpose, and for in-school training, that he wrote at least six motets. As part of his regular church work, he performed other composers’ motets, which served as formal models for his own. Bach’s predecessor as cantor, Johann Kuhnau, had also been music director for the St. Paul’s Church, the church of Leipzig University but when Bach was installed as cantor in 1723, he was put in charge only of music for festal (church holiday) services at the St. Paul’s Church. His petition to also provide music for regular Sunday services there (for a corresponding salary increase) went all the way to the Elector but was denied. After this, in 1725, Bach ‘lost interest’ in working even for festal services at the St. Paul’s Church and appeared there only on special occasions. The St. Paul’s Church had a much better and newer organ than did the St. Thomas Church or the St. Nicholas Church. Bach was not required to play any organ in his official duties, but it is believed he liked to play on the St. Paul’s Church organ “for his own pleasure”. Bach broadened his composing and performing beyond the liturgy by taking over, in March 1729, the directorship of the Collegium Musicum, a secular performance ensemble started by Telemann. This was one of the dozens of private societies in the major German-speaking cities that were established by musically active university students; these societies had become increasingly important in public musical life and were typically led by the most prominent professionals in a city. In the words of Christoph Wolff, assuming the directorship was a shrewd move that consolidated Bach’s firm grip on Leipzig’s principal musical institutions. Every week the Collegium Musicum would give two-hour performances in winter at the Café Zimmermann, a coffee house on Catherine Street off the main market square and during the summer months in the proprietor’s outdoor coffee garden just outside the town walls, near the East Gate. The concerts, all free of charge, ended with Gottfried Zimmermann’s death in 1741. Apart from showcasing his earlier orchestral repertoire such as the Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites, many of Bach’s newly composed or reworked pieces were performed for these venues, including parts of his Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice), his violin and keyboard concertos and of course the eponymous Coffee Cantata.

Bach’s seal (centre), used throughout his Leipzig years. It contains the superimposed letters J S B in mirror image topped with a crown. The flanking letters illustrate the arrangement on the seal.

In 1733, Bach composed a Kyrie–Gloria Mass in B minor which he later incorporated in his Mass in B minor and he presented the manuscript to the Elector in an eventually successful bid to persuade the prince to give him the title of Court Composer. He later extended this work into a full mass by adding a Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, the music for which was partly based on his own cantatas and partly original. Bach’s appointment as Court Composer was an element of his long-term struggle to achieve greater bargaining power with the Leipzig council. Then in 1735 Bach started to prepare his first publication of organ music, which was printed as the third Clavier-Übung in 1739. From around that year he started to compile and compose the set of preludes and fugues for harpsichord that would become his second book of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’. He received the title of ‘Royal Court Composer’ from Augustus III in 1736. It was during his final years from 1740 to 1748 Bach copied, transcribed, expanded or programmed music in an older polyphonic style, showing an increased integration of polyphonic structures and canons and other elements. His fourth and last ‘Clavier-Übung’ volume, the Goldberg Variations for two-manual harpsichord, contained nine canons and was published in 1741. Throughout this period, Bach also continued to adopt music of contemporaries such as Handel and Stölzel, giving many of his own earlier compositions such as the St Matthew and St John Passions and the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes their final revisions. He also programmed and adapted music by composers of a younger generation, including Pergolesi and his own students such as Goldberg. Two large-scale compositions occupied a central place in Bach’s last years. From around 1742 he wrote and revised the various canons and fugues of The Art of Fugue, which he continued to prepare for publication until shortly before his death. After extracting a cantata from his 1733 Kyrie-Gloria Mass for the Dresden court in the mid-1740s, Bach expanded that setting into his Mass in B minor in the last years of his life. Although the complete mass was never performed during the composer’s lifetime, it is considered to be among the greatest choral works in history. Becoming blind, Bach underwent eye surgery in March 1750 and again in April by the British eye surgeon John Taylor, a man widely understood today as a charlatan and believed to have blinded hundreds of people. Bach died on 28 July 1750 from complications due to the unsuccessful treatment. The composer’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel saw to it that ‘The Art of Fugue’, although still unfinished, was published in 1751. Together with one of the composer’s former students, Johann Friedrich Agricola, the son also wrote an obituary which was published in Mizler’s Musikalische Bibliothek, a periodical journal produced by the Society of Musical Sciences, in 1754. There is so much more that can be written about Bach, like his musical style, along with detail of his many and varied works, but that may be for another time.

This week… Alternative responses.

Statement: “I’m looking for a lift.”
Response 1: “Walk around that corner and there’s a taxi ahead of you.”
Response 2: “Where is it you want to get to?”
Response 3: “You’re a beautiful person with a wonderful personality!”

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The Royal Albert Hall

This is a concert hall on the northern edge of South Kensington, London. One of the UK’s most treasured and distinctive buildings, it is held in trust for the nation and managed by a registered charity which receives no government funding. It can seat 5,27 and since its opening by Queen Victoria in 1871, the world’s leading artists from many performance genres have appeared on its stage. The hall was originally supposed to have been called the ‘Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’, but the name was changed to the ‘Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences’ by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall’s foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her husband Prince Albert, who had died six years earlier. It forms the practical part of a memorial to the Prince Consort, as the decorative part is the Albert Memorial which situated directly to the north in Kensington Gardens, now separated from the Hall by Kensington Gore, the name of a U-shaped thoroughfare on the south side of Hyde Park. The streets connect the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal College of Art, the Royal Geographical Society, and in Kensington Gardens the Albert Memorial. The area is named after the Gore estate which occupied the site until it was developed by Victorian planners in the mid nineteenth century. A ‘gore’ is a narrow, triangular piece of land, in this case the wedge-shaped piece of land which divides them, and which has been known by this name from Anglo-Saxon times. In 1851 the Great Exhibition, organised by Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, was held in Hyde Park. The Exhibition was a success and led Prince Albert to propose the creation of a group of permanent facilities for the public benefit, which came to be known as ‘Albertopolis’. The Exhibition’s Royal Commission bought Gore House but it was slow to act and in 1861 Prince Albert died without having seen his ideas come to fruition. However, a memorial was proposed for Hyde Park, with a Great Hall opposite. The proposal was approved, and the site was purchased with some of the profits from the Exhibition. The Hall was scheduled to be completed by Christmas Day 1870, and the Queen visited a few weeks beforehand to inspect it.

The first performance at the Hall. The decorated canvas awning is seen beneath the dome.

The official opening ceremony of the Hall was on 29 March 1871, and a welcoming speech was given by Edward, the Prince of Wales because the Queen was too overcome to speak. Her only recorded comment on the Hall was that it reminded her of the British constitution. In the concert that followed, the Hall’s acoustic problems immediately became apparent. Engineers first tried to remove the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concert-goers from the sun, but the problem was not solved, in fact it may have even been jokingly said the Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice”. Initially lit by gas, the Hall contained a special system by which thousands of gas jets were lit within ten seconds. Though it was demonstrated as early as 1873 in the Hall, full electric lighting was not installed until 1888. In May 1877, Richard Wagner himself conducted the first half of each of the eight concerts which made up the Grand Wagner Festival. After his turn with the baton, he handed it over to conductor Hans Richter and sat in a large armchair on the corner of the stage for the rest of each concert. Wagner’s wife Cosima, the daughter of Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer Franz Liszt, was among the audience. I have also learned that The Wine Society was founded at the Hall on 4 August 1874, after large quantities of cask wine were found in the cellars. A series of lunches were held to publicise the wines and General Henry Scott proposed a co-operative company to buy and sell wines.

Acoustic diffusing discs (lit in purple/blue) hanging from the roof of the Hall. The fluted aluminium panels are seen behind.

In 1906 the Central School of Speech and Drama was founded at the Hall, using its West Theatre, now the Elgar Room, as the school’s theatre. The school moved to Swiss Cottage in north London in 1957. Whilst the school was based at the Royal Albert Hall, several famous people graduated from its classes. From the start, the Hall was used for different concerts, meetings and rallies. In October 1942, the Hall suffered minor damage during World War II bombing, but in general it was left mostly untouched as German pilots used the distinctive structure as a landmark. Then in 1949 the canvas awning was removed and replaced with fluted aluminium panels below the glass roof, in an attempt to cure the echo, however the acoustics were not properly tackled until 1969 when large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs were installed below the ceiling. Later the Hall became the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest and from 1969 to 1988 the Miss World contest was staged in the venue. From 1996 until 2004, the Hall underwent a programme of renovation and development supported by a £20 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £20 million from Arts Council England to enable it to meet the demands of the next century of events and performances. Thirty ‘discreet projects’ were designed and supervised, including improved ventilation to the auditorium, more bars and restaurants, improved seating, better technical facilities and improved backstage areas. Internally the Circle seating was rebuilt during June 1996 to provide more leg-room, better access, and improved sight-lines. The largest project of the ongoing renovation and development was the building of a new south porch from door twelve, accommodating a first-floor restaurant, new ground floor box office and subterranean loading bay. Although the exterior of the building was largely unchanged, the south steps leading down to Prince Consort Road were demolished to allow construction of underground vehicle access and a loading bay with accommodation for three HGVs carrying all the equipment brought by shows. The steps were then reconstructed around a new south porch and was built on a similar scale and style to the three pre-existing porches at Doors three, six and nine. On 4 June 2004, the project received the Europa Nostra Award for remarkable achievement. The East (Door three) and West (Door nine) porches were glazed and new bars opened along with ramps to improve disabled access. The Stalls were rebuilt in a four-week period in 2000 using steel supports allowing more space underneath for two new bars. 1,534 unique pivoting seats were laid, with an addition of 180 prime seats. The Choirs were rebuilt at the same time. The whole building was redecorated in a style that reinforces its Victorian identity. 43,000 square feet of new carpets were laid in the rooms, stairs, and corridors and these were specially woven with a border which followed the oval curve of the building. Between 2002 and 2004 there was a major rebuilding of the great organ, known as the Voice of Jupiter, built by “Father’ Henry Willis in 1871 and rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1924 and 1933. The rebuilding was performed by Mander Organs and it is now the second-largest pipe organ in the British Isles with 9,999 pipes in 147 stops. The largest is the Grand Organ in Liverpool Cathedral, which has 10,268 pipes. During the first half of 2011, changes were made to the backstage areas to relocate and increase the size of crew catering areas under the South Steps away from the stage and create additional dressing rooms nearer to the stage.

The Royal Albert Hall as seen from Prince Consort Road.

From January to May 2013, the Box Office area at Door twelve underwent further modernisation to include a new Café Bar on the ground floor, a new Box Office with shop counters and additional toilets. In Autumn 2013, work began on replacing the Victorian steam heating system over three years and improving and cooling across the building. This work followed the summer Proms season during which temperatures were unusually high. In 2017 work began on a two-storey 11,000-square-foot basement extension for use as backstage and archival space to the south-west quadrant of the building. The project was nicknamed the ‘Great Excavation’, in reference to the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was planned to be complete for the Halls 150th anniversary in 2021. In 2018 a Walk of Fame was unveiled at the Hall, with the first eleven recipients of a star including the Suffragettes, who held meetings at the Hall, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein,Muhammad Ali (who had held exhibition events at the venue which he dubbed a ‘helluva hall’), and Eric Clapton, who has played at the venue over 200 times. There are also others, all of whom are viewed as ‘key players’ in the building’s history. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions meant the Hall was closed for the first time since the Second World War. During winter 2020 it reopened for three socially distanced performances but was later closed for a second period.

‘A Triumph of Arts and Sciences’

The Hall, a Grade I listed building, was originally designed with a capacity for 8,000 people and has accommodated as many as 12,000, although present-day safety restrictions mean the maximum permitted capacity is now 5,272, including standing in the Gallery. Around the outside of the building is 800-foot–long terracotta mosaic frieze, depicting ‘The Triumph of Arts and Sciences’, in reference to the Hall’s dedication. Interestingly, below the Arena floor there is room for two 4000 gallon water tanks, which are used for shows which can flood the arena.

The Hall at the opening ceremony, seen from Kensington Gardens.

The Hall has been affectionately titled ‘The Nation’s Village Hall’. The first concert was Arthur Sullivan’s cantata ‘On Shore and Sea’, performed on 1 May 1871. Indeed, a great many events have been held at the Hall which include boxing, the Eurovision Song Contest which was broadcast in colour for the first time and the first Miss World contest broadcast in colour was also staged there in 1969 and remained at the Hall every year until 1989. Between 1996 and 2008 the Hall hosted the annual National Television Awards, all of which were hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald. Benefit concerts include the 1997 Music for Montserrat concert, an event which featured a range of various artists. On 2 October 2011, the Hall staged the 25th-anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ which was broadcast live to cinemas across the world and filmed for DVD. Then on 22 September 2011, Adele performed a one-night-only concert as part of her tour. And this concert was filmed for DVD and screened at cinemas in 26 cities around the world. On 24 September 2012, Classic FM celebrated the 20th anniversary of their launch with a concert at the Hall. On 19 November 2012, the Hall hosted the 100th-anniversary performance of the Royal Variety Performance, attended by the HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Duke of Edinburgh. Then at a press conference held at the Hall in October 2016, Phil Collins announced his return to live performing with a tour which began in June 2017. This tour included five nights at the Hall which sold out in fifteen seconds. Also in 2017, the Hall hosted the 70th British Academy Film Awards for the first time in 20 years, replacing the Royal Opera House at which the event had been held since 2008. Many performances were held at the Hall in subsequent years, right up until November 2020, when One Direction member Niall Horan performed a one off live-streamed show in an empty Hall during the COVID-19 pandemic to raise money for charity. In 2022, Venezuelan comedian José Rafael Guzmán became the first Spanish-speaking comedian to perform at the concert hall. But there are regular events held there too. The Royal Choral Society is the longest-running regular performer at the Hall, having given its first performance as the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society on 8 May 1872 and from 1876 it established an annual Good Friday performance of Handel’s Messiah.

A promenade concert as seen from the Circle.

The BBC Sir Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, known as ‘The Proms’, is a popular annual eight-week summer season of daily classical music concerts and other events at the Hall. In 1942, following the destruction of the Queen’s Hall during an air raid, the Hall was chosen as the new venue for the proms but in 1944, with increased danger to the Hall, part of the proms were held in the Bedford Corn Exchange. Following the end of World War II the proms continued in the Hall and have done so annually every summer since. The event was founded in 1895, and now each season consists of over 70 concerts, in addition to a series of events at other venues across the United Kingdom on the last night. In 2009, the total number of concerts reached 100 for the first time. Interestingly ‘Proms’, short for [promenade concerts, is a term which arose from the original practice of the audience promenading, or strolling, in some areas during the concert. As such, the Proms concert-goers, particularly those who stand, are sometimes described as ‘Promenaders’, but are most commonly referred to as ‘Prommers’. Other events are held here regularly, such as ‘Cirque du Soleil’, the Classic Brit Awards, the Institute of Directors Annual Convention, the Teenage Cancer Trust, the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and the The Salvation Army Christmas Concert. Since 1998 the English National Ballet has had several specially staged arena summer seasons there and The Royal British LegionFestival of Remembrance is held annually the day before Remembrance Sunday. The Hall is used annually by the neighbouring Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art for graduation ceremonies. The venue has screened several films since the early silent days, in fact it was the only London venue to show William Fox’s ‘The Queen of Sheba’ in the 1920s. The Hall has also hosted a great many premières too numerous to mention here. In addition, the Hall hosts hundreds of events and activities beyond its main auditorium. There are regular free art exhibitions in the ground floor Amphi corridor, which can be viewed when attending events or on dedicated viewing dates. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Hall on most days. The most common is the one-hour Grand Tour which includes most front-of-house areas, the auditorium, the Gallery and the Royal Retiring Room. Other tours include Story of the Proms, Behind the Scenes, Inside Out and School tours. Children’s events include Storytelling and Music Sessions for ages four and under. These take place in the Door 9 Porch and Albert’s Band sessions in the Elgar Room during school holidays. ‘Live Music in Verdi’ takes place in the Italian restaurant on a Friday night featuring different artists each week. ‘Late Night Jazz’ events in the Elgar Room, generally on a Thursday night, feature cabaret-style seating and a relaxed atmosphere with drinks available. Classical Coffee Mornings are held on Sundays in the Elgar Room with musicians from the Royal College of Music, accompanied with drinks and pastries. Sunday brunch events take place in Verdi Italian restaurant and feature different genres of music. Consequently the Hall has won many awards across several different categories. It truly is a remarkable place.

This week…

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Friday The Thirteenth

This date combination is considered an unlucky day by many in Western superstition and it occurs when the 13th day of the month in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday. This happens at least once every year, but can occur up to three times in the same year. For example, 2015 had a Friday the thirteenth in February, March, and November; each year from 2017 to 2020 had two Friday the thirteenth’s each; 2016, 2021 and 2022 had just one occurrence of Friday the thirteenth each whilst 2023 and 2024 will have two Friday the thirteenth’s each. In each year they are easy to identify, as Friday the thirteenth occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday. The unluckiness of the number thirteen, also known as ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ originated, according to folklore historian Donald Dossey, with a Norse myth about twelve gods having a dinner party in Valhalla. The trickster god Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the thirteenth guest, and arranged for Höðr to shoot Balder with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. According to Dossey, Balder died and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day. This major event in Norse mythology thus caused the number thirteen to be considered unlucky.

‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

There are Christian associations to the number, for example the story of Jesus and the last supper in which there were thirteen individuals present in the Upper Room on the thirteenth of Nisan (Maundy Thursday), the night before Jesus’ death on Good Friday. However, whilst there is evidence of both Friday and the number thirteen being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to together as especially unlucky before the nineteenth century. It was in France that Friday the thirteenth might have been associated with misfortune as early as the first half of the nineteenth century. A character in the 1834 play ‘Les Finesses des Gribouilles’ states, “I was born on a Friday, December thirteenth, 1813 from which come all of my misfortunes”. An early documented reference in English occurs in a biography of Gioachino Rossini, who died on a Friday thirteenth which states: “Rossini was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday thirteenth of November he passed away.” It is also possible that the publication in 1907 of businessman T. W. Lawson’s popular novel ‘Friday, the Thirteenth’ contributed to popularising the superstition. In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the thirteenth. In fact, similar dates are prevalent in many cultures, although it is unclear whether these similarities are in any way historically connected or only coincidental. For example, in countries where Spanish is the main language, then Tuesday the thirteenth (martes trece) is considered a day of bad luck rather than Friday. The Greeks also consider Tuesday (and especially the thirteenth) an unlucky day. Tuesday is considered dominated by the influence of Ares the god of war, or Mars, the Roman equivalent. The fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade occurred on Tuesday 13 April 1204, and the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans happened on Tuesday 29 May 1453, events that strengthen the superstition about Tuesday. In addition, in Greek the name of the day is ‘Triti’, meaning the third day of the week, adds weight to the superstition since bad luck is said by many to ‘come in threes’.. Tuesday the thirteenth occurs in a month that begins on a Thursday. Some also attribute the origins of fearing Friday the thirteenth to the Code of Hammurabi, one of the world’s oldest legal documents, which may or may not have superstitiously omitted a thirteenth rule from its list. Others claim that the ancient Sumerians, who believed the number twelve to be a ‘perfect’ number, considered the one that followed it decidedly non-perfect.
One of the most popular theories, however, links Friday the thirteenth with the fall of a fearsome group of legendary warriors, the Knights Templar which was founded around 1118 as a monastic military order devoted to the protection of pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land following the Christian capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The Knights Templar quickly became one of the richest and most influential groups of the Middle Ages, thanks to lavish donations from the crowned heads of Europe, eager to curry favour with the fierce Knights. By the turn of the fourteenth century, the Templars had established a system of castles, churches and banks throughout Western Europe. And it was this astonishing wealth that would lead to their downfall. For the Templars, that end began in the early morning hours of Friday, October 13, 1307 when a month earlier, secret documents had been sent by couriers throughout France. The papers included lurid details and whispers of black magic and scandalous sexual rituals. They were sent by King Philip IV of France, an avaricious monarch who in the preceding years had launched attacks on the Lombards (a powerful banking group) and France’s Jews (who he had expelled so he could confiscate their property for his depleted coffers).

A ‘Knight Templar’.

In the days and weeks that followed that fateful Friday, more than six hundred Templars were arrested, including Grand Master Jacques de Molay, and the Order’s treasurer. But while some of the highest-ranking members were caught up in Philip’s net, so too were hundreds of non-warriors. These were middle-aged men who managed the day-to-day banking and farming activities that kept the organisation humming. The men were charged with a wide array of offences including heresy, devil worship and spitting on the cross, homosexuality, fraud and financial corruption. The Templars were kept in isolation and fed meagre rations that often amounted to just bread and water. Nearly all were brutally tortured in ways I do not wish to detail here. Given the extreme conditions, it is not surprising that within weeks, hundreds of Templars confessed to false charges, including Jacques de Molay. Pope Clement V was horrified. Despite the fact that he had been elected almost solely because of Philip’s influence, he feared crossing the extremely popular Templars. The Knight’s coerced ‘confessions’ however, forced his hands. Philip, who had anticipated Clement’s reaction, made sure the allegations against the Templars included detailed descriptions of their supposed heresy, counting on the gossipy, salacious accounts to carry much weight with the Church. Clement issued a papal bull ordering the Western kings to arrest Templars living in their lands. Few followed the papal request, but the fate of the French Templars had already been sealed. Their lands and money were confiscated and officially dispersed to another religious order, the Hospitallers, although greedy Philip did get his hands on some of the cash he’d coveted. Within weeks of their confessions, many of Templars recanted, and Clement shut down the inquisition trials in early 1308. The Templars lingered in their cells for two years before Philip had more than 50 of the them burned at the stake in 1310. Two years later, Clement formally dissolved the Order, though he did so without saying they had been guilty as charged. In the wake of that dissolution, some Templars again confessed to gain their freedom, whilst others died in captivity. In the spring of 1314, Grand Master Molay and several other Templars were burned at the stake in Paris, bringing an end to their remarkable era, and launching an even longer-lasting theory about the evil possibilities of Friday the thirteenth.

An Alitalia aircraft without the row 17.

However, in Italian popular culture Friday the seventeenth, rather than the thirteenth, is considered a bad luck day. The origin of this belief could be traced in the writing of the number seventeen in Roman numerals, it being XVII. By shuffling the digits of the number one can easily get the word ‘VIXI’, meaning ‘I have lived’, implying death at present, an omen of bad luck. In fact in Italy, thirteen is generally considered a lucky number. Due to the effects of superstition from other countries, some younger Italian people consider Friday the thirteenth unlucky as well, but when the 2000 parody film “Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth’ was released in Italy it had the title “Shriek – Hai impegni per venerdì 17?”, translating to “Shriek – Do You Have Something to Do on Friday the 17th?”). Friday the seventeenth occurs on a month starting on Wednesday. It seems that Friday the thirteenth has a social impact, as according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, making it the most feared day and date in history. Some people are so paralysed by fear that they avoid their normal routines in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed. It has been estimated that between eight hundred and nine hundred million dollars is lost in business on this day, but despite this representatives for both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines (the latter now merged into United Airlines) have stated that their airlines do not suffer from any noticeable drop in travel on those Fridays. In Finland, a consortium of both governmental and non-governmental organisations led by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health promote their National Accident Day (‘kansallinen tapaturmapäivä’) to raise awareness about automotive safety, which always falls on a Friday the thirteenth. The event is coordinated by the Finnish Red Cross and has been held since 1995. Back in 1993, a study was made in the South-West Thames region of the UK where its objective was “To examine the relation between health, behaviour, and superstition surrounding Friday the thirteenth in the United Kingdom”. Its design was a retrospective study of paired data comparing driving and shopping patterns and accidents, its subjects were drivers, shoppers, and residents in the region and its main outcome measures were the numbers of vehicles on motorways, the numbers of shoppers in supermarkets and hospital admissions due to accidents. The results they had were that there were consistently and significantly fewer vehicles on the southern section of the M25 on Friday the thirteenth compared with Friday the sixth. The numbers of shoppers were not significantly different on the two days. Admissions due to transport accidents were significantly increased on Friday thirteenth (total 65 v 45). Their conclusions were that Friday the thirteenth is unlucky for some. The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52% and that staying at home is recommended. However, subsequent studies have disproved any correlation between Friday the thirteenth and the rate of accidents. On 12th June 2008 the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics stated to the contrary, that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the thirteenth of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventatively more careful or just stay home. Statistically speaking, driving is slightly safer on Friday the thirteenth, at least in the Netherlands in the last two years, as Dutch insurers received reports of an average 7,800 traffic accidents each Friday but the average figure when the thirteenth fell on a Friday was just 7,500.” Each four-hundred year Gregorian solar cycle contains 146,097 days, with 97 leap days or exactly 20,871 weeks. Each cycle contains the same pattern of days of the week and therefore the same pattern of Fridays that are on the thirteenth. Any month that starts on a Sunday contains a Friday the thirteenth and on average, there is a Friday the thirteenth once every 212.35 days. Equally, there can be no more than three Friday the thirteenths in a single calendar year; either in February, March, and November in a common year starting on Thursday (such as 2009, 2015, or 2026), or January, April, and July in a leap year starting on Sunday (such as 1984, 2012, or 2040). We shall see what the day brings, won’t we!

This week…a request please.
The other day I saw a picture on Facebook of a person I had never seen before with the word GOAT above the image. I considered it to be a disparaging comment against that person, but I was corrected as in fact the one sharing the image meant G.O.A.T., or Greatest Of All Time. So please, with all respect, kindly remember that not everyone watches the same sport to the degree that I know many do.

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