Friday, December 30, 2016

Sibelius - Sixth Symphony in D Minor

This is the first ever recorded version of this symphony Finnish National Orchestra directed by Georg Schneevoigt in 1934 Sibelius wrote on his Sixth Symphony: "Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water". Benjamin Britten also commented, "He must have been drunk when he wrote it." There is an irony when Sibelius describes his sixth symphony. It cannot be ignored that he had a predilection for liquor. There is no doubt that Sibelius has used strange kind of polyphony in his writing but this definitely ads to its distinct flavour. The whole symphony has to be played in the mezzo forte range and it cannot be too loud or too soft. Whatever the case may be, this is indeed a strange symphony coming out of the year 1923. It is a work that takes you back to an age before tonality and it uses strange modes and scales that can be termed ambiguous. The symphony involves heavy tension between C Major scale and D minor that has an inflected mode. It ends without an emphatic statement and this is what makes this symphony unique. Lorin Maazel with Vienna and Karajan with Berlin Philharmonic have brought this symphony out very well but my personal favourite is the performance by Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. This could be described as music that may be self-effacing. The symphony intentionally does not leave any mark; it is like going or a walk in the snow and trying to cover up your tracks. Music critics have observed that Sibelius wrote this symphony without using markers of time and he left the musical imagination wide open. The rhythm is suspended while the strings play and in the flow of play by woodwinds. The rhythm is actually picked up and energised by repeated rhythm in the harp. In the second movement too, there is a strange layer of different kinds of time being kept. The scherzo generates some structural expectations. The finale picks up ferocious speed before subsiding in an uneasy calm in the final bars.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A History of the Parsi Community in India

More than a thousand years ago, Zoroastrian refugees fled out of Persia on account of persecution. They went to India and settled down mainly in the Gujarat region. They sought refuge from the local king there but did not meet with a favourable response. One of the priests among the refugees asked the king for a cup of milk that was filled to the brim. The priest then took a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it into the milk without spilling a single drop on the ground. He then told the king that if the refugees were taken into his kingdom, they will be like the sugar in the cup of milk and that they would blend in the land with the Gujaratis, while making the kingdom even more prosperous and sweeter. The king liked the analogy and allowed them refuge in his kingdom. All other groups of refugees that followed later were allowed to stay there. They went on to become India's `Parsi' community. Even after thousand years have passed, the Parsi community is still not large in number owing to the fact that they marry late and the average number of children per family unit is very small in number. Today, there are not more than seventy thousand Parsis left in India and that is just about 0.005% of the total population of the country. India has 1.2+ billion people and after China, it is the most populous place in the world. Whatever their number may be, the community has earned a good reputation for itself. You will not find a single beggar from this community and Parsis have left an unquestionable mark on the country's progress after independence. Just take a look around - The Tatas, The Godrejs, Homi Bhabha, the Wadias, Gen. Manekshaw and a list of many other eminent personalities.You will have to still come across a single Parsi who has been criminally punished for any major offence in India. My favourite personality is Zubin Mehta who has made a great impression on the international scene as a music conductor and director of several music associations and training schools along with his father, Mehli Mehta. Over hundreds of years, the Parsi community has done well in almost every field. To name a few, we can start again with Zubin Mehta, the world famous music director, the Solicitor General of India and the Chief Justice of India, General Sam Manekshaw, India's first Field Marshal, Farokh Engineer, the great Indian wicket keeper and Freddie Mercury of the band Queen. In terms of achievement wen measured per capita, the Parsi community has been the most successful so far. They have not looked after their own community members but they have also put back a lot in the wider community. They believe not only being the best in the world but that are also best for the world. The Parsis follow the Zoroastrian faith that was brought into this world by Prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra. It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world with an Ahura Mazda or a supreme being or God. It maintains the concepts of heaven and hell and good and evil. This religion established itself in the Persian Empire. It was followed by Emperors Xerxes, Darius and Cyrus the Great. Cyrus is credited with the composition of the first Bill of Rights in this world. It was called the Cyrus Cylinder and it is more ancient than the Magna Carta whose eight hundredth anniversary was celebrated recently. The very basis of the Zoroastrian faith is exemplified by three words - Humata, Hukhta and Huvarshta. They mean good thoughts, good words and good deeds. The motto of Parsi businessmen has been integrity in industry. Jaguar and land Rover has now been taken over by Tata Motors in the United Kingdom. The Tata Group was started by Jamshedji Naoroji Tata with his steel empire in Bihar. Today, Tata Steel owns the British Steel-Corus and is now one of the largest manufacturers in the world.