Vitamin D lack linked to Mozart’s death

SAN FRANCISCO, July 4 (UPI) — Classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may have died from a lack of vitamin D, U.S. and Austrian researchers suggest.

William B. Grant of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center in San Francisco and Dr. Stephen Pilz of the Medical University of Graz in Austria say in the 18th century, the health benefits of ultraviolet-B light from sunlight and vitamin D were unknown, and people may have thought infectious diseases were more common in winter.

Low serum vitamin D level is an important risk factor for several types of infection, including pneumonia and sepsis, cardiovascular disease and renal disease, the researchers said.

In an article published in Medical Problems of Performing Artists, the researchers wrote at the latitude of Vienna, 48 degrees North, where Mozart lived, it is impossible to make vitamin D from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance for about six months of the year.

Mozart died Dec. 5, 1791, two to three months into the winter and he is reported to have suffered many infectious diseases, including catarrh, fever and polyarthritis, sore throat, bad cold, vomiting from between mid-October 1762 to mid-May 1783.

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Barry Walmsley MACE reports on the room where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts in this book review

Notepad – Issue 7
Esquith, R., Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, New York: Penguin Books, 2007

Largely constructed from anecdotal material collected from an impressive and extensive career in teaching, Esquith has formulated a document which should inspire and engage any teacher, young or old, who is concerned with high impact teaching strategies.

His accounts are easily readable. This is not an academic research paper. In short grabs, the author reveals his techniques, some proven, some experimental in getting children to learn in his classroom. “Room 56 is one of those cosmic miracles where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts”, writes Esquith. He remains always the optimist, believing in the need to ensure learning is relevant and engaging as he deals with children who would be described as from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, he does admit that success has sometimes been a result of timing, talent and luck.

He stressed the need to create a safe haven for learning. As well, teachers need to replace the child’s fear with trust. Teachers must be dependable and good role models, ensuring that discipline, for example, is always logical. Children are encouraged to display courage, perseverance and passion.

Avoiding trouble, rewards, pleasing superiors, following rules and considering others are other important aspects to a child’s success through school, Esquith states.

Whole chapters are devoted to the skills of learning to read, write and understand maths. In reading, adult mentoring, choosing the most appropriate literature, relevancy of set reading and problems with illiteracy are addressed. Grammar, essays, book reports, and especially a focus on Shakespeare feature in his discourse on writing. The author tackles with imagination all the subject areas he teaches in the primary curriculum: science, art, sport, drama and music.

Perhaps most illuminating are his thoughts on study strategies and test-taking skills, always making sure that the child never encounters humiliation or negative stress. Teaching students to think for themselves is probably one of the greatest things a teacher can help for those in his or her charge. Esquith has turned the love (and sometimes the distraction) of cinematic culture into a positive force, utilising the knowledge of students to leap into subject areas not easily accessed.

The author notes that “teaching can be a humbling and frustrating experience”. A teacher’s shortcomings are always just near the surface. “It’s a thankless job. It’s hard to find a reason to believe. It’s thankless and it doesn’t get easier”, he writes. But, Esquith tries to communicate his life-long belief in what he is doing and how this has made positive inroads into the lives of his students. He has formulated an individual programme of teaching which he has named the Hobart Shakespeareans (see also ). He is clearly a successful educator who has made a huge impact on generations of students, improving their lives in sometimes unmeasurable ways.

Barry Walmsley MACE is Director of Music, The King’s School, Parramatta.


Childhood in Music – Antonietta Loffredo: Piano, Wirripang: Wirr 042

This is an unusual but very welcome addition to the piano repertoire for young people. It caught me by surprise as there were non of the expected names. Rather, the composers (mostly Australian or Italian) chosen for this enticing disc are Sofia Manta, Paul Smith, Holly Harrison, Ji Yun Lee, Adrian Barr, Michael Atherton, Diana Blom, Massimo Priori, Francesco Schqeizer and Stefano Pracoccioli (the first 5 are either currently studying or past doctoral candidates from the University of Western Sydney).

Pianist Antonietta Loffredo, who passionately brings to life this repertoire is dedicated to bringing contemporary music to young children from the earliest moments of their learning.

“Contemporary music has allowed me to share… curiosity for the present, interest for its complexity and pluralism, but above all the pleasure of discovery,” wrote Ms Loffredo.

There have been many composers over time who have written specially for children, not least of whom were Schumann, Bartok and Stravinsky, so a recorded anthology as this, has much merit.

Dissonance, consonance, intricate rhythms, changing metres, chord clusters, gong-like effects, and even the use of piano with CD soundbed (of a cat) are just some of the imaginative ideas found in these pieces which are influenced by childhood reminiscences, Japanese animation, story book characters, Asian spirituality, and even references to Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, Schumann’s Album for the Young, Op 68 and Copland’s The Cat and the Mouse.

Exploring new music is always enhanced by fine recordings and this CD will help teachers and students to enjoy more of the latest in piano repertoire suited for the young. The repertoire has been skillfully chosen and represents a range of styles that will appeal to a broad range of listeners and performers.

Ms Loffredo’s performance has clarity of touch and tone, confidence and emotional depth, making this recording not only one for teaching the young, but also an enjoyable listening experience for piano enthusiasts of all ages.

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Mad Rush: Solo Piano Music of Philip Glass Sally Whitwell ABC Classics 476 4469

The debut album of Sydney pianist, Sally Whitwell is a couragious and landmark recording for the ABC. It shows a pianist of extraordinary skill in re-interpreting the solo piano music of Philip Glass using the equally innovative and powerful Stuart & Sons grand piano (complete with 102 keys).

In the hands of Whitwell, the tonal excursions chosen for this disc, Opening (from Glassworks), Metamorphosis I-V, Mad Rush, Dead Things, and Wichita Vortex Sutra are alive with the pulsating repetitions, sudden shifts in dynamics, and gradual shaping of phrases. There is perpetual movement, but it remains hypnotic.

“The new musical style that Glass was evolving, was eventually dubbed minimalism. Glass himself never liked the term and preferred to speak of himself as a composer of ‘music with repetitive structures’. Much of his early work was based on the extended reiteration of brief, elegant melodic fragments that wove in and out of an aural tapestry. Or, to put it another way, it immersed a listener in a sort of sonic weather that twists, turns, surrounds, and develops.” (retrieved from )

Glass has been one of the most interesting personalities in the composition world, a musician who has revolutionised art music for the past 60 years, describing himself as a Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist. The never-ending spiraling of his sound world encapsulates this spiritual ascension to higher planes.

As much a pop as well as a cult phenomenon, he was trained by some of the great masters in composition from Nadia Boulanger to Darius Milhaud. His music covers film music, opera, chamber works, symphonies and concerti.

The chatty and highly personal insights from the performer allows the listener a glimpse into her sound world and also her own perspectives on this world. “Philip Glass’s music up close is like impressionist pixelations. Step back a little and you see magnificent, undulating, organic shapes,” wrote Whitwell.

Band of Brothers: Slava & Leonard Grigoryan; Joseph & James Tawadros ABC Classics 476 4316

There are a number of aspects which make this disc intriguing. Firstly, it’s exotic musical artistry, as it blends influences of Arabic, Spanish, and world musics with, at times, a sense of classical technique, is an aural delight. Secondly, we hear two pairs of brothers combining their passion for music in an extraordinarily creative outpouring.

This is ground-breaking music as the four cross cultural and stylistic worlds, from world music to jazz, classical and traditional music.

From the captivating opening track, Anubis, there is a youthfulness, vitality and dynamism to the performers’ virtuosity. Ten Ten, Freo and Sahara all display intricate and changing metres, whilst Journey is more contemplative in mood. Moon Beam is hypnotic contrasting with the energetic and assertive Lucca.

Improvisation has been masterfully integrated with carefully structured renderings, such as the arrangement of The Beatles’s Blackbird, which holds the listener for more than 10 minutes.

Slava Grigoryan (winner of 2 ARIA awards for Best Classical Album – Sonatas and Fantasies, and Saffire) has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, BBC Concert, Sydney Symphony and Israel Symphonies. Brother, Leonard has performed with many prestigious orchestras, including the Melbourne Symphony and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, and has collaborated with artists such as Jane Rutter, Darryn Farrugia, and Jeremy Alsop. Joseph Tawadros is a master of the oud, whilst brother, James is a world-class percussionist specialising on the req (an Egyptian tambourine) for which there is a solo (and self-composed) track on this disc.

Not only mulit-cultural, but multi-instrumental, these brothers are heard on classical, electric and 12-string guitars, guitar synth, oud, violin, bendir, cajon and req. Most of the tracks are composed by Joseph Tawadros, with Journey written by Leonard Grigoryan.

All four performers are known in their individual right (all being ARIA nominees), but this is the first time all have appeared together on the one recording. It could be described as one super group as the two pairs of siblings display sibling revelry at its best!

Pages from a secret journal: Orchestral Works by Richard Mills Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Mills ABC Classics 476 4217

This stunning 2 CD set captures the passion of one of Australia’s very finest composers, Richard Mills as he conducts the MSO in four of his major orchestral works from the last 22 years. Distinguished for his operatic output (Batavia, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and Love of the Nightingale), Mills’s engagement of the listener through dramatic and expressive musical statements, reinforced by a brilliant imagination in using orchestral tone colour, demands that he is someone with whom every music educator should be acquainted.

His voice is strong, deliberate and highly thoughtful as he responds (but does not imitate) the transition from the dry season to the wet of a North Queensland summer in Bamaga Diptych, contrasting the rain dances and sparkling qualities with the darkness that is apparent in Tenebrae, a very beautiful orchestral meditation. Coming from within his Catholic faith, the Christian ritual of extinguishing candles is given musical poignancy here. It is also a wonderful testament to two leading figures in Australian music: Stuart Challender and Mary Valentine.

Nature is an important influence in the mind of Mills, as seen in the way he structures Pages from a Secret Journal. In seven sections, he creates surprising effects and shows constant transformation and freedom of melodic gesture to reflect what happens in nature, ending in a pulsating and highly exciting finish.

In the latest work in this set, Symphony of Nature (commissioned by The Australian Ballet in 2008), Mills exploits all the symphonic combinations and wondrous sounds possible through four movements: The Nocturnal Power of Trees; Rustling / Ghost Games / Night Creatures; Astral Journey of Love – Linked Souls; and Archangels’ Trumpet Song for the Majesty of Clouds in Moonlight. The names of each movement give a sense of the vibrancy of the imagination at work in this music.

Realising his own music whilst conducting the MSO must be an incredible experience for any composer. But also for the orchestra, it must realise that it is at the very edge of creation working in such a way. The MSO’s brilliant technical skill and understanding of Mills’s work make these recordings powerful and enduring landmarks in Australian music.

Yvonne Kenny Sings Four Last Songs The Queensland Orchestra; Johannes Fritzsch (conductor) ABC Classics 476 3964

Richard Strauss’ writing for orchestra and soprano is relentlessly passionate. It is a musical palette, which shows the influence of Schumann, Wagner and Liszt. Yet, it is highly personal. He was deeply in love with singing and the human voice. Afterall, he married a soprano, Pauline de Ahna (in May 1894). The three songs Morgen! (the first of which is recorded here), Ruhe, meine Seele (Rest, My Soul) and Heimliche Aufforerung (Secret Invitation) were written in six days just after their engagement. Prior to this however, was a love with a cellist colleague’s wife, which saw the production of eight songs in Opus 10, from which comes Zueignung (Dedication) – also included on this disc.

But it is the Four Last Songs (as Strauss’ publisher named them), which have taken lieder to new heights. First performed in London in 1950 (8 months after the composer’s death), they are now a defining work in the repertory of the world’s leading lyric sopranos. It is indeed a great treasure that at last we have one of Australia’s finest in Yvonne Kenny recorded, with an innate sense of beauty, clarity and expressive nuance. Her ability to show every detail from the text, in her phrasing and tonal colour, is completely captivating.

Ms Kenny’s reputation as a dazzling interpreter of works by Strauss was forged through her interpretations of Strauss’ operatic heroines, principally at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and English National Opera. This disc not only reveals her as a superb interpreter of lied but, with the inclusion of excerpts from Der Rosenkavalier, there is a glimmer of her operatic brilliance in her role as the Marschallin (Act 1 monologue, Act 3 Duet and Trio).

Johannes Fritzsch, as Chief Conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, has brought his complete conducting operatic experience, principally in Europe, to engage with the singer and subsequently on this disc, the listener. He is masterful in drawing every detail from the orchestral timbre to full effect.

Towards Infinity: Birralee Blokes, directed by Paul Holley ABC Classics 476 4133

Sixteen diverse and uplifting tracks of choral music, sung by one of the premier male choral ensembles in Australia, should be in the CD collection of all interested in great choral music.

Based in Brisbane, the Birralee Blokes, directed by the inspiring Paul Holley, is a group which has come to national attention through the Channel 7 programme Battle of the Choirs, and in 2007 the choir was the winner of the ABC Classic FM Choir of the Year competition.

There is a wide range of current Australian music. The title track, Towards Infinity by Paul Jarman is engaging right from the start with its apparent simplicity of thought and musical gesture. Dan Walker’s Mantra for the Y Generation combines highly-charged singing with percussion and piano. Nicholas Buc in Another Song About the Land has a Broadway style blended with Australian sentiments and boisterous humour, making this a great concert piece or encore for an overseas tour. In Plavno Slovo,  Elena Kats-Chernin writes as a new Australian coming to terms with a new language and life (with Russian text), whilst Harley Mead confronts issues of the Stolen Generation in Living with Shadows (complete with some indigenous words in the lyric).

Celtic songs also feature, such as Fergus an’ Molly, Finnan Haddie, and Lament of a Fisherman’s Wife, whilst the British folksong She Moved Through the Fair shows exceptional a capella singing. Robert Burns’s poems And I’ll Kiss Thee Yet, and My Heart’s in the Highlands were given modern treatments by American composers, Jackie O’Neill and Victor C Johnson respectively. The Canadian Carol, Huron Carol captues a celtic flavour with its modality and guitar, fiddle and recorder accompaniment. Another Christmas song is the Nigerian Betelehemu with its chant-like opening and djembe (African drum), breaking out into a more rhythmic energy.

Pop culture is recognised with a stunning version of U2’s MLK, a lullaby to honour Martin Luther King, from the 1984 U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. It is a great arrangement with the simple lyric hauntingly sung.

The great American poet Robert Frost through Randall Thompson’s very poignant setting of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening contains exquisite expressive singing.

Holley’s outstanding direction of this highly focussed choral ensemble has produced a sound of superb blend, tonal colour and engaging singing, the likes of which is perhaps not match in contemporary Australia.

The Top 20 Christmas Carols ABC Classics 480 4624

There is something comforting about singing Carols at Christmas time. It helps to remind us of the true message of the Christmas story. After surveying readers of Limelight magazine, ABC Classics has put together a quality disc of carols, in fact the top 20.

It should come as little surprise then, that Franz Gruber’s immortal carol, composed spontaneously in 1818 as a substitute work when a German church organ broke down, should come in as number one. Here sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and conducted by Stephen Cleobury, it is one of the highlights of this disc.

Other highlights are the very expressive account of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing  (Bach Choir with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble), a really splendid O Come, All ye Faithful (sung by Trinity College Melbourne with the Australian Chamber Brass Ensemble providing an exciting introductory fanfare), and a glorious a capella Away in a Manger (Trinity College Melbourne).

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra comes out shining with its wondrous orchestral accompaniments to Shepherd’s Pipe Carol (sung by the Adelaide Girls Choir) and The Little Drummer Boy (with Sydney Children’s Choir and soloist Yvonne Kenny).

Most of the tracks are are dominated by Cantillation and the Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir (William James’s Christmas Day, Carol of the Birds, The Silver Stars are in the Sky, and Joy to the World, In the Bleak Mid-Winter, Once in Royal David’s City, Veni, veni, Emmanuel, Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, The Angel Gabriel, and Ding! Dong! Merrily on High), but other contributions are by the Adelaide Girls’ Choir (O Holy Night), and The Brandenburg Choir (The First Nowell).

Good choral singing in such classically traditional carols makes this a worthy addition at Christmas for anyone’s stocking!

Scotland the Brave ABC Classics 476 4130 (2 CD set) ABC Classics 076 2795 (DVD)

Attracting large audiences right around the country, Scotland the Brave (the show) has been captured on CD and DVD for enthusiasts to relive the spectacle again and again.

Whilst these recordings were from a live concert at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane last year, the spirit of Scotland is strongly evident, being based on music one might hear at the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo every year.

The origins of the Tattoo has a fascinating story. The word originates from a corruption of a Dutch expression, “Doe den tap toe” or “Turn off the taps”. In the 18th century when drummers used to march through the garrison towns signalling the innkeepers to turn off the beer taps and send the soldiers back to their tents, or to their quarters in private houses (as billets). Over time, this practice was abandoned almost, but grew to mean a show of Scottish musical heritage from the 20th century.

What may surprise some is that the bagpipes are not of Scottish origin, as they were a shepherd’s instrument in the Middle East. Now forming the basis of magnificent pipe bands, the pipers go back to times of warfare. Of course, now Scottish heritage has permeated the world and its songs and dances are well-known to many. In fact, there are more Pipe Bands in the Indian Army than there are in the British Army!

Included in this recording are such gems as Skye Boat Song, Auld Lang Syne, Highland Cathedral, Ye Banks and Braes, O Waly, Waly and a Brigadoon medley. The cast is headlined with a ten times world champion Highland dancer, Colleen Rintamaki, who is the most awarded highland dancer in history.

Under Sean O’Boyle’s direction, the Queensland Pops Orchestra, The Queensland Choir and Victoria Police Pipe Band, as well as a number of fine solo artists not only perform traditional pieces, but there are some surprises along the way. O’Boyle’s charming Scottish Piano Rhapsody is full of hints of Scotland (and even a little of Australia), whilst giving out a cleverly crafted symphonic moment. At times in the melancholic reflections of this piece, the listener can be far rermoved from the stirring marches, stately strathspey, jaunty jigs or the classical music of the pipes. O’Boyle’s stunning orchestrations are incredibly skilled and are seamlessly woven through the existing song lines.

These are truly songs to stir the blood and remember tragedy, but there are also songs of the sea, land and a rich array of love songs.