The Mozart Phenomenon


Goethe said:”A phenomenon like Mozart is difficult to explain.”

Mozart started life as a child protégé. His father fashioned him and his sister as genius musicians. From an early age he toured the whole of Europe with them to show them off. In this way Mozart was exposed to the greatest musicians and composers living in Europe at the time. In that era composers was in service of royalty or the church. As Leopold Mozart displayed his children the European courts, not to be outdone by the visitors, princes and kings showed off the talents of composers and musicians they had at their service. In this way Mozart was exposed to the best of European music.

There is an idea called ‘The 10 000 Hour of Practise Theory’ that I am very fond of. It says that if you practice for 10000 hours you will be an accomplished musician (or artist or whatever your passion might be). In reality it means hard work for almost 10 years. This was certainly the case with young Mozart. Being on display from the age of five years as an already proficient pianist, violinist and composer, it meant that by age 15 he had more than his share of practicing. Add to this a good tutor (that his father certainly was), daily exposure to new and exciting compositions, travel exposure to all kinds of cultures and regular performances, Mozart must have been one of the best qualified composers ever.

With musical genius, training and the exposure that Mozart had it is no wonder that he could perfect the classical style by incorporating musical influences from Italy, France and Germany. He was a prolific composer with more than 600 works in all genres, including chamber music, symphonies, concertos, opera and church music. Talent, genius, guidance and perseverance came together in the phenomenon called Mozart.

But every coin has a flipside: A child deprived of a childhood like Mozart was to become the worlds’ favourite composers must have long term effects. Wolfgang seemed to always have had an irresponsible part to his personality. It is as if the child was lurking below the surface to come out and play. His use of language, love of parties and the way he spent money all reflected this.

Fortunately the playfulness shows in his music as well and that makes it even more enjoyable.

Unfortunately his early death deprived us of a wealth of more heavenly music. Just imagine the richness of musical heritage we would have had if this man could continue composing for thirty or forty more years. Most composers only start doing their best work from their mid thirties (When they finished their 10 000 hours of practicing).

Our phenomenon already died at 33! May his music live forever!

The music of Shubert


I am an amateur music lover.

When getting to know a composers’ music I always try to understand the person behind the music in an attempt to understand the music better. I know about all the different philosophies of how art must exist on its own and that it is about the art, not the artist.


As I an artist myself, I know how many things influence the way the artist think and create. But every individual does have something unique inside of him. His personal “fingerprint” he leaves on his creative work. I do not know if anybody can really define just what it is, but to my mind your personality and your way of thinking must play a major role.


On attending a recent piano recital featuring Shubert sonatas I came away very dissatisfied. The Schubert sonatas are some of my favourite piano works. I knew I heard a note perfect recital with a technical brilliant interpretation. But still something was missing.


I have a mental picture of Shubert. When I listen to the Sonatas I hear the thinker. The works are less planned and structurally organized than say, Beethoven. The melody meanders like a train of thought. On reading biographical work on his life he seems to be an introvert, quiet and shy in larger groups, at home with a circle of friends making music at the local cafe or bar. He liked reading poems and experienced them deeply. From these readings his numerous songs then developed.


Based  on these personality traits I enjoy his chamber music best if it is played without bravado, almost as if it is improvised while playing.


History of Architecture as told by Pillars

History of Architecture explained by pillars

The history of architecture is as old as civilization itself. A subject as big as the history of mankind. I decided to break it down to easier small parts.

A living space has got four elements. Roof (and floor), support for the roof and walls to keep the elements out.

The first supports for primitive roofs must have been tents supported by a pole. Unfortunately history is remembered in more permanent structures. One of our oldest man made structures to survive today is that of Stonehenge. It comprises of vertical free standing stones with a horizontal support . A basic pillar and lintel structure.


This is the basis of a lot of architecture. We see the same pattern repeated in Egyptian architecture. With possibilities of this form of structure is almost limitless and is still mostly used today.

The Greeks perfected the use of pillars in their temples. Lintel and pillar formed the basic of Greek temple design. By looking at the form of the pillar one can more or less determine the period in which the temple was built. It started off as Doric style with a simple fluted pillar crowned by a simple unadorned capital.

As time went on the design of the pillars changed and became more elaborate. The Doric style had a scroll like top, while the later Corinthian pillars was decorated with elaborate carvings of plants like vines.


Why did the capitals look like they did? The initial pillars was probably wooden spikes driven into the ground by force. As the wooden stumps were hit from the top the wood was shortened and that at the side curled over ( as we see with old chisels as well). The curling wood was idealized into the Scroll like capitals. When wood was used a block of wood was placed on top to prevent moisture to seep into the wood when it rained. These were continued to be used when wood was replaced by marble.


The Romans took over most of Greek culture. We see the same architecture in early Roman buildings. But the influence of Roman engineering was much more. The legacy that Rome left the world , and especially architecture, was the use of concrete and the use of the arch. Arches makes it possible to distribute the weight of a building better and allows for bigger interior areas uncluttered by pillars. Concrete helped them to cover over the spaces with permanent roofing. Some of the most impressive buildings built in Rome like the Pantheon still stand almost 2000 years later.

Aqueducts and buildings like the Coliseum shows how building methods was revolutionized by arches.


with the decline if the Roman empire the center of civilization was moved to Byzantium ( modern day Istanbul) the story of architecture continues there. Builders used lots of old Greek pillars from Greek temples to built up the new center of the world. The use of Roman techniques were further developed. The Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is still one of the largest domes in the world today. Pillars in this era changed little.


Romanesque pillars used the Greek pillar and refined it in combination with Roman techniques

Europe grew in strength as the so called “Dark Ages” followed. The description is one of histories bad choices. From the Medieval era flows the worlds most spectacular architecture: Europe’s beautiful cathedrals. The revolutionary building progress from this time is the pointed Gothic arch. With better weight distribution the possibilities became endless. Flying buttresses was added to support the height that walls could now reach. It made pillars thinner and higher so that the illusion of walls of glass and cathedrals of light could realize.

Because pillars supported less weight and of the decorative quality it took on, pillars became sculpted, adding to the other worldly feeling one experiences on entering these spaces.


Renaissance architecture saw a return to “classical” values, while still holding on to new technology. We see a new use of pillar and lintel, especially in windows and doors. The Corinthian style pillar heads was in fashion again, but more slender in the pillars and more dramatic capitals.


Baroque and rococo styles saw the decorative element explode into a show of decorative excess.


In our modern times new developments in materials and technology caused an explosion of developments which is an topic on its own.


Chairs of the Twentieth Century

I am fascinated by the idea of the renaissance man. The kind of person who can do anything. Michaelangelo, who started of as a painter but branched into architecture, sculpture, poetry and architecture. Leonardo Da Vinci, the painter of the worlds most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, was sought after as a war strategist, designer of things ahead of his time like parachutes, diving boats and explosive devices, to name but a few.

In our time with major technological advances on every front it is difficult to be the best in your own field, let alone other fields of expertise. It is hart warming to still find such people. In architects I found some modern renaissance men. Especially in the field of furniture design.

Chairs is one of the most essential of household and interior decorating furniture. The end of the nineteenth century saw a big change in how people saw their surroundings. Changes in social structure caused people to discover their own worth and allowed people of all social levels to surround themselves with beautiful things. The industrial revolution with mass production made costs of many products come down. New technology made designs possible that were previously not even draemt of. All this caused an explosion of design in chairs.

The first development in chair design came from the father of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris. Morris was a designer, artist, poet and novelist. His life motto was that one should surround yourself with objects that is both useful and beautiful. The arts and Crafts movement emphasized the use of handcraft and material of high quality.


The Spinners chair or ‘tub chair’ was handmade and decorated by hand and demonstrated Morris’s ideas.


The turn of the century made people aware of the dawn of a new era. The  Art Nouveau and Art deco styles came into being. Art Nouveau was a florid style with organic appearance and flowing lines. Every country had its own name for their form of Art Nouveau. In Spain it was called modernism.

Antonio Gaudi was an architect in Barcelona. He designed unique buildings in the Catalan Modernism style. Old fashioned furniture looked odd in these organic styled buildings which forced him to design his ownfurniture.


On the forefront of Viennese Jungenstijl was professor of architecture Otto Wagner. The simplicity of his designs was revolutionary.




The idea to design furniture to complement your architecture became a trend with innovative architects of the Twentieth century.

Mies van der Rohe with his modern buildings consisting of expanses of glass, marble and metals, designed chrome and leather masterpieces to furnish his buildings. They are still seen as masterpieces today. His two well known remarks is well demonstrated in the furniture: “Less is more” (with simple lines but well designed)  and “God is in the details” (good quality materials and perfectly  finished).

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The architect Le Corbusier had the same problem with furniture not fitting into his modern buildings. His furniture is highly sought after today and original pieces can fetch the same prices as art masterpieces on international auctions.


Scottish designer Rene Macintosh had a range of chairs with dramatic appearance. Celtic and Japanese influences played a major role in his development as artist and is reflected in his chairs.

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The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, known for iconic houses like Falling Water, complemented his buildings with his own unique style of furniture as well.


Scandinavian design is known world wide for its simplicity, style and craftsmanship. Alvar Aalto, Finish architect started of as furniture designer and branched into architecture later in life.


The iconic harp chair of 1968 is another timeless Scandinavian chair, by Jørgen Høvelskov. The design is based on a Viking ship.


But good design is more than expensive furniture of the best materials available. Real good design is often the well designed chair with simple lines and can easily mass produced. It should be sturdy, strong and stackable, like Robin Day’s 1962 chair that we often see in town halls, schools or restaurants. After half a century they are still popular and comfortable.


Even our contemporary architects like Frank O. Gehry makes time to play at furniture designer. His ” Wiggle chair” is made of corrugated cardboard glued together. It might be tong in cheek and may not be the iconic chairs of Mies van der Rohe, but it is still good original design.


How do you select chairs over a time peried of more than a century to write about. Every new material on the market had the spin off of new furniture design. Every designer has his/her own idea on how a chair should look like. It is a stimulating and entertaining subject to read about. I added drawings of a few more of my personal favourites. I hope it will stimulate to read more on this fascinating subject.



Mont Saint Michel


There are a few names of special places that conjures up magic in my brain. Names like Casablanca and Zanzibar. Mont Saint Michel sound like dreams come true to my ear. As a child I read about this island stronghold surrounded by sea, only reachable at low tide. According to the story the tide came in at the speed of a horse at full gallop. This sounded like true science fiction at the time. I was surprised to learn that the difference between high and low tide can be as much as 14 meters here. From the ramparts one can watch the process of the tide coming in. Over the wide sandbanks one can see the ocean streaming in.

Low tide

Low tide

High tide

High tide

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast.

Because of its  location 600 meters from the mainland on the coast of Normandy and the unique tides surrounding it, the island was a refuge from war since the ancient Roman times. In medieval times the monastery was established here. Low tides made it accessible to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned, would-be assailants. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433.


The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers.

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The beautiful cathedral and monastery with secluded gardens is like a hidden world within the town. from the monastery garden one can see the ocean and tides coming in. Ideal for meditation.IMG_1629 IMG_1633 IMG_1630


One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The town is a good example of Carolingian art and buildings.

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Surrounding the Mount polderisation and occasional flooding have created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavoured meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants that depend on income from the many visitors to the mount

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As an UNESCO site the Mount has been beautifully restored. One get the feeling of being in an medieval dream walking the steep and narrow streets. This place is worth a detour. The rest of Normandy is an ideal holiday destination as well


Jean Novel, Architect

Architecture fascinate me. The city of Paris is heaven for anyone interested in architecture. From Roman ruins up to the most modern, up to date buildings can be seen.

On my last visit the architect Jean Nouvel’s buildings cought my interest. Years ago I was fascinated by the windows of the Instetut du Monde Arabe in the french city. It is located on the banks of the Seine just upstream of the Notre Dame. It was designed by Jean Nouvel.


He used ancient Arabic tile designs to create patterns in stainless steel to form shutters for windows working on the same principal as the shutter of a camera lens to allow more or less light into the building. So clever for climate control.


Close to the little flat we stayed in is the new Cartier Foundation. Between street level and the gardens is a huge glass wall. Behind it is a flourishing garden with more glass walls. As one moves into the garden towards the building the difference between “inside” and “outside” becomes more and more blurred as the walls becomes more protective and roofs start keeping elements out. It is difficult to see where garden stops and building begins. Vertical gardens is part of it all.


The new Museum Quai Branly, Museum of Art from Africa and Oceanea is one of this Parisian based architects’s masterpieces as well. We can see the glass wall effect used here again. The building was partially lifted from the ground to create an amazing garden all around (and under) the museum.

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Before the trip I was very excited to read that the new Paris Philharmonie opened. At the first opportunity I was off to see the new building. Apparently the inside design is spectacular but I could not see it (and I really tried). But the building is beautiful.





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Nouvel’s buildings can be seen in cities around the world. It is worth the effort to find them.



A few years ago I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp, close to the Polish city of Cracow. This was part of a network of German Nazi concentration camps where Jewish people and other ‘undesirables’ were exterminated.

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These extermination camps were built and operated by the Third Reich, outside German territories, like this one in annexed Poland.

The complex consist of three camps: Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau and Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp).

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Auschwitz I was constructed to hold Polish political prisoners and was opened in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took started in September 1941. The Birkenau camp was built and constructed as the Nazi answer to the “Final Solution to the Jewish question”.

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Transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe, where they were killed with the pesticide Zyklon B. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish; approximately 1 in 6 Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp.  Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.

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In the course of the war, the camp was staffed by 7,000 members of the German SS, approximately 12 percent of whom were later convicted of war crimes. Some, including camp commandant Rudolf Höss, were executed here.

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This was one of the most emotional days in my life. One can still experience a deep emotional sadness in the air. Especially in the burnt down Birkenau camp. It is as if the suffering in the war years saturated the buildings and surrounding landscape.

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In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One can visit rooms full of Jewish possessions confiscated by the SS. Toothbrushes, clothes, baskets, even glasses, shoes and other personal belongings. Worst of all was a chamber filled with hair that was shaved from women’s heads.

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How can people be so cruel to one another? And if we look at today’s news we see the same happening again today: People killed and displaced. Will humankind never learn to live in peace?

Art Deco

Art Deco is an art movement that became popular after World War 1. The first appeared with the World Exhibition in 1900 but came popular from 1920 onward. Like most architectural styles it is a combination of styles (Arts an crafts movement, Machine age style as well as Neo Classisism)


The style is characterized by rich colors, geometric shapes and stylized ornamentation. The interwar period was a time of reconstruction of war torn Europe. Industrialisation asked for a new architectural style. Art Deco is known for its bold geometric lines, strong  symmetrical form decorated by bold organic sculpture. Rectilinear rather than curving lines to suit the new machine age and the requirement to be able to mass produce.

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Initially the new faith in world peace and technology, it represented glamour and luxury to the new middle class.

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In South Africa every town will have its Art Deco gems. The mid town of Worcester is no exception. Take time out to explore the Art Deco wonders in your area.

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Fanlights and other windows.

Very often one sees an interesting architectural feature but seldom find the reason why we see this in so many houses. Old houses often features beautiful fanlights. It is so called because it is fan shaped. Usually situated above entrance doors to houses.


The entrance halls to old houses used to be dark places. The window above the doorway let in light into an otherwise dark area. Usually the fanlight had a small little window sill where an oil lamp could stand at night. In that way the lamp will light the entrance hall as well as the stoep (veranda) for nighttime visitors.

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The entrance window was often in square form as well.

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Official buildings and churches will often have very elaborate windows.


Here we can see the built in lamp where the lamp would usually stand.


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Victorian buildings had windows around the door to let in more light.

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Beautiful lead glass and stain glass windows often finish off a perfect invitation to a welcoming home.

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Victorian houses

Victorian architecture means it is buildings built in the United Kingdom and former British colonies, during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). The Industrial Revolution played a big role in the developing of this style, especially in the colonies. Most of the buildings typical of the style was built between 1840 up to the early twentieth century.

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The styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles mixed with the introduction of middle east and Asian influences.

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Products of the Industrial revolution is an outstanding characteristic feature of the Victorian buildings. Roofs, previously with thatch or tiles were now done in imported corrugated iron. In the colonies, like in South Africa, architecture was adapted for the climate. Broad verandas in corrugated iron often surrounded old farmstead houses.

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Decorations and finishes could be ordered by the meter (or foot) from catalogs. These were imported from England.

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The same went for airvents and roof decorations. Even the quaint little roof towers the Victorians loved so much could be ordered.

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Local materials was often substituted into buildings to replace imported stuff like these wood work made to look like wrought iron.

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Local materials like stone was often substituted for bricks.

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Even floor tiles and lamps could be ordered by catalogue.

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Combinations of many styles came to form the Victorian style we love today. In its time the mass produced materials were frowned upon, but today these products is highly collectable. Almost every town is South Africa do have a few of these grand Victorian ladies. Search them out and enjoy the glory of days past.Picture 946 Picture 937 Picture 154

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