Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Great Presentation by BBC on Eroica Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven's pupil and friend recorded his memoirs of Beethoven and explained one of the myths of the cultural history of the nineteenth century - 1804 - Beethoven's ripping off the dedication page of his Eroica Symphony and stripping Bonaparte's importance after learning that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of France. Ries mentions that Beethoven had Napoleon Bonaparte as his ideal when composing Eroica. Napoleon was then the First Consul. Beethoven held him in high regard and compared him to the greatest consuls of Rome. On hearing that Napoleon acted like a common dictator, Beethoven flew into a rage and got disappointed that Bonaparte was after all a common mortal. He knew that he will tread the needs of the common man under his feet. Anton Schindler also mentions this incident in his biographical account of Ludwig van Beethoven. Ries remained as an unpaid secretary and an assistant to Beethoven during the last years of the composer. The dedication of the symphony finally went in favour of Count Lichnowsky.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Legends of the Fall

This 1994 film is a masterpiece by Edward Zwick. Its romanticism against the magnificent hilly backdrop of Montana skies is like a master brush work on the cinematic canvas and truly deserves the cinematography Oscar it got. The entire cast delivers capable performances beginning with Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Julia Ormond. James Horner has surpassed himself in this engrossing drama and has composed a magnificent score. Hopkins has delivered an austere and a melancholy portrayal of his character. As per the ancient fables of Native American Indians, there is a story which is hidden within our hearts; the story of our lives guided by inner voices that some of us hear with greater clarity than the others. Some people live by what they can hear and such people become a little crazy. They also become legends. The story revolves around Colonel William Ludlow (Hopkins and his three sons, his favourite being Tristan (Pitt). Colonel raises his children to escape the imperfections of a society which is ruled by a government he respects no longer. Henry Thomas has also played his part capably as the third son Samuel. This is a tragic tale of the life they all shared and the wounds they suffered, many of which never healed. This is an emotionally engrossing film and the visuals are absolutely stunning. Bronze Wrangler deserves the Oscar. The musical score, once again, is a gem. This film will go down as a Classic! I saw it first on a British Airways flight bound to London from Bombay.

Advanced Apprentice Programme of Mercedes Benz

Mercedes Benz has taken a decision to set up an Apprenticeship Scheme based on the dual education system practiced in Germany. Many companies are now following the model set up in Germany and encouraged by the German government to set up apprenticeship schemes. This scheme lays stress on the blend of classroom theory and training with the hands-on technical experience of the actual workshop. About sixty per cent of the students who complete the high school level of education go on to take apprenticeships. The apprentices can opt for training and select a career as perhaps Parts/Accessories Specialists or Technicians. The student apprentices in the United Kingdom will get a chance to be trained at the new Mercedes Benz National Apprentice Academy in Milton Keynes. Mercedes Benz has provided dormitory facilities with single individual rooms. A practical training course can get the apprentices an NCQ Certificate (Native Command Queuing) which is designed to improve performance in technological studies. The apprentices will get to train on cars and diagnostic procedures with the latest technology. They will be paid a stipend while on training and this is one of the best apprenticeship schemes in the United Kingdom. The economic crisis has motivated a restructuring of the alignment between manufacture and servicing in several countries such as the United Kingdom. Mercedes Benz is extending the apprenticeship scheme even to the United States of America. It has a plant near Tuscaloosa in Alabama. It has actually started building cars there almost fifteen years ago. During this period, the sales in the United States and the evolution in technology became a challenge for Mercedes Benz with the complexities involved and it faced bigger problems in terms of the supply of skilled labour. Yet, Mercedes Benz is now trying to take the sharp aspects of the German dual education system and make it even better in the United States. It is going to start with a class of sixty apprentices or `mecatronic’ trainees, as they are called, beginning this fall. Many apprentices have enrolled in a three year program also at the Mercedes Benz plant at the outskirts of Stuttgart. These apprentices are getting trained in `mecatronics’ which is a mix of electronic and mechanical engineering. The training will set them up for a full time career for life should they opt to stay on with Mercedes Benz and in majority of the cases, they do get themselves confirmed as technicians. This, in turn, solves Mercedes Benz’s problem of looking around for skilled labour which does not come without extra cost. Each year, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes Benz, hires around two thousand apprentices and that is safely about one third of the car sector’s annual intake in Germany. The Mercedes Benz Apprentice Training program has been a priority with the car maker since the past one hundred and twenty years. When the demand for skilled workers had increased sharply in 1888, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler created something that was unique and revolutionary. They decided to train and mould their young recruits and turn them into full-fledged technicians. Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft started the apprenticeship program and trained individual apprentices.

5 Most Dangerous Cars as Rated by IIHS

There are some cars that are good in surviving car crashes and protecting the passengers far better than others. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has done some crash tests on cars to determine the best and the worst. This Institute has always remained dedicated in promoting the reduction of the impact of crashes on the roads in the United States of America. The Institute set up ratings in four categories. The first category was the frontal crash where the cars move at forty miles per hour and collide head-on with a barrier. The second category was the side impact crash in which an SUV-like demo object hits the driver’s side at thirty one miles per hour. The third category was the rollover rating. Here, the corner of the car is hit by a metal plate to check the force it can endure before it rolls over. The fourth category was the rear impact protection rating to emphasize the safety of the seats and the ability of the seatbelts to protect from a whiplash. Five cars that received indifferent ratings and were deemed dangerous were: 1. Dodge Ram 1500 – It received marginal ratings in side impact and rollover categories. It weighs half a ton. It does not have an impressive safety track record. 2. Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab – It received a poor rating for side impact and marginal for rollover and rear impact categories. It is a light truck made by General Motors. Last year in November, there was a recall of over five thousand Colorado units for seat belt safety concern. 3. Mazda CX 7 – It received a marginal rating for rollover and rear impact categories. It has not been considered as a safe car to drive. 4. Mazda CX 9 – It has also received marginal ratings in rollover and rear impact categories. It has the lowest strength-to-weight ratio among all the mid-sized SUVS tested by the IIHS. This ratio tells us about the force impact a roof can endure before it crushes five inches. 5. Nissan Pathfinder – It received marginal ratings in rollover and rear impact categories. The Pathfinder is liable to be thirty per cent more risky at the time of rollover as reported during the tests.

Prince of the Romantics

I have finally read the biography of Frederic Chopin written by Adam Zamoyski. This was initially published in 1979 but was not available in English transcriptions for all these years. In his short life of thirty nine years, Chopin elicited very strong emotions. Very few composers have been cherished like him. Plenty of mushy nonsense has also been written about him. This biography was intended to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Chopin. This compelling account manages to cut through the myths that have sprung around Chopin's life and the enigmatic Parisian personalities who were his contemporaries. This group included Berlioz, Victor Hugo, Franz Liszt and George Sand. Zamoyski has captured the social and historical background of Chopin's native Poland and of Paris where he spent most of his days. You will come across many archives of Krakow, Paris and Warsaw in Zamoyski's pursuit of knowledge. This has resulted in a biographical account of complete authority about a man of sensitive intelligence. He was a genius when it came to musical innovation. Heinrich Heine has labelled Chopin as `a man made for intimacy'. An interesting anecdote in this account is of George Sand. She wrote, "A great piece of news is that Little Chip-Chip is going to give a great concert; He does not want any posters and any programmes; he does not want anyone to talk about it. He is afraid of so many things that I have suggested he go ahead and play without candles and without an audience on a muted piano." This was written in 1841 by a cigar smoking Sand. Chopin was a child prodigy and was an inspired improviser. The extraordinary musicality of Chopin is something that the world needs a constant reminder of. Performance of his music has become a routine now but that cannot blind the world to the revolutionary and its unique qualities. Many of the new piano prodigies can rattle off his etudes with ease and it is in times like these that we need to understand the man behind the music, as brought out poetically by Adam Zamoyski.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Python around the Holy Grail

Masterpiece! I saw this film in the College Town Cinema of Glassboro in 1975 and after thirty nine years, I can safely say that it is indeed a cult classic. It will bust your guts as it is a dynamite of unheard of humour. This group is made up of geniuses. Right from its opening collage of titles in various languages to the arrest of the entire Dark Ages crew by current day bobbies has made this unique in its expression of biting humour. This production comes down hard on English dynasties and reverence of both Protestant and Catholic rituals. The pythons have really put their fangs through the legends of King Arthur with their one-liners and slapstick. The Knights of the Round Table go out in pursuit of the Holy Grail on foot and you will fall off your seat when you hear the sounds of the horses' hooves with lackeys making sound with coconut shells like clippety clop. The plague ridden communities with phrases like `bring out your dead' is extremely hilarious with healthy citizens also being thrown on to the pile of dead bodies. Taunts like `I will fart in your general direction' and `I will wave my private parts at your aunties' are simply mind-blowing additions. The cinematic style is surreal while being outrageously stunning its visuals. The members of the Monty Python Group have to be lauded and acknowledged and they are - John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Terry Jones. Jack Trombey has written the fantastic and epic music to this zany masterpiece.