Dance in Music: the Bourrée

Like many of my generation, I was introduced to the bourrée through my study of violin. I came across it as an exam piece, a simplified version for violin and piano of the Bourrée from George Frideric Handel’s Water Music Suite no. 1 in F major HWV 348.


In the early 1970s, the only access to recorded music was through the record-player (45s and LPs), and cumbersome spool tapes; the audio-cassette changed all that a few years later. But it was still difficult to get hold of classical music, especially to specific works. But fortunately for me, in my dad’s record collection that he brought back from Germany, there was an LP, containing Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks and the Water Music Suites, Lorin Maazel conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, recorded on the Philips label, 1966.

Image result for lorin maazel handel wassermusik

So I recognised the Bourée melody, and it gave additional impetus to my wanting to learn to play it.

The bourrée appears in music for students today as well; one common example that comes to mind is the Bourrée, also by Handel, in the Suzuki Violin Book 2. It is a simplified arrangement of the bourrée from his Flute Sonata no. 5, opus 1 in G major, HWV 363b.

(The Bourrée commences at 6:21 in the above video)


And in Suzuki Violin Book 3, one encounters   Bourrée I & II, arranged for the violin from the fifth movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s third Cello Suite in C major, BWV 1009.

And of course, there’s the famous Bourrée from Bach’s Partita no. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 for solo violin,

and also in his first Partita in B minor, BWV 1002. The bourrée appears also in his fourth cello suite (E flat major, BWV 1010).

The Bourrée is a lively dance of French origin, dating to at least the mid-sixteenth century.


It is in quadruple time, with a characteristic upbeat. In this sense, it is similar to the gavotte in that both are French in origin, and both have an upbeat. But the bourrée is quicker, and has a quarter-bar anacrusis (upbeat or ‘pick-up’), whereas the gavotte has a half-bar anacrusis.

Let us look more closely at Bourrées I & II from Bach’s third cello suite. A suite is a loosely structured collection of dance movements. Bach begins all his six cello suites with a dramatic, virtuosic prelude, followed in sequence by (as the name suggests, German in origin) allemande, and then two French dances the courante and the sarabande. The fifth movement varies from suite to suite, but they are either of the following three French dances: minuet, gavotte or bourrée. These are sometimes also called galanterie movements of a Baroque dance suite. They are considered “not vital” to the composition of the suite, but optional, and included to add variety. And all Bach’s cello suites end with a gigue. We shall examine all these dance movements in turn in future columns, but let us return to this galanterie movement, the bourrées in this suite.

The Bourrées I & II have asymmetry, in the sense that both have two unequal sections. The first section in both cases is an eight-bar phrase. The second section is twenty bars long in Bourrée I and sixteen in Bourrée II. Typically each section is played twice, except when returning at the end to Bourrée I, when each section is played just once. So the sequence is Ia (x2) Ib (x2) IIa (x2) IIb (x2) Ia Ib.

The contrast between the two Bourrées is well-established; Bourrée I is in a major key (C major in the original cello suite, G major in the transposition for violin), while   Bourrée II is in the minor key (C minor in the cello suite, G minor in the violin transposition).

Bourrée I opens with an energetic 2-quaver upbeat figure, ascending up the scale to a crotchet G (D in the violin transposition) on the downbeat of the first bar and setting the rhythmic pattern that unifies the movement: the alternation between double quaver on the ‘weaker’ beats (second and fourth) and single crotchet on Bourrée the ‘stronger’beats (first and third), interspersed with flowing bars of ‘dancing’ quavers between these rhythmic figures. Bourrée I has brightness and verve, all the hallmarks of a dance tune.

Bourrée II, although it begins with the same rhythmic figure, has a completely different character, introspective and sombre. And the longer quaver passages are much more eloquent phrases. Together,   Bourrées I & II complement each other perfectly.

The bourrée has entered popular culture as well. The British rock band Jethro Tull released its second studio album, ‘Stand Up’ (1969), containing a track titled ‘Bourée’, (with a single r) which is in fact a jazzy reworking of the  Bourrée from J. S. Bach’s Suite no. 2 in E minor for Lute, BWV 996.

That same year, the English heavy blues-rock trio Bakerloo released their single, ‘Drivin’ Bachwards’,

an arrangement of the very same Bourrée. Coincidence? But for some reason, this particular melody is a particular favourite for jazz improvisations. And although you wouldn’t guess the origin from the finished version of the Beatles classic ‘Blackbird’, there is video footage of Paul McCartney demonstrating on his guitar how the first few bars of this Bach Bourrée morphed into the opening riff of the song as we know it today.


(An edited version of this article was published on 16 September 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)


R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

What does one do when the King of the high Cs of Opera is suddenly indisposed, almost literally at the last minute before a major performance? Getting the Queen of Soul to step in might not seem the most likely resort, but it worked, and how!

In 1998, Luciano Pavarotti abruptly had to cancel a performance at that year’s Grammy awards at the Radio City Music Hall. Aretha Franklin, a personal friend of Pavarotti, agreed to sing in his place. However, rather than performing one of her own hit songs, Franklin opted instead to sing Pavarotti’s own signature aria ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Puccini’s Turandot that he was scheduled to sing, and about which I had written just a few columns ago.

With just twenty minutes to spare, there was certainly no time to rehearse with the live orchestra. However, she used the time to listen twice to a recording of the orchestral accompaniment, and then, quietly, confidently, said “I can do it.”

Her “cross-over” performance was watched by more than a billion viewers on television in addition to the Grammy audience, which included several other artists such as Celine Dion. At the aria’s climax, she hit the top note, a high B gracefully and effortlessly.

As her biographer David Ritz put it, “It was as though Puccini had been brought up in the black Baptist church.”

She would sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ again in 2015 at an event for Pope Francis in Philadelphia.

Since her passing on 16 August at the age of seventy-six, through to her elaborate funeral on 31 August, lasting over seven hours, much has been written and said about her extraordinary career spanning several decades.  The Queen of Soul – who sold over 75 million records worldwide – became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

As music historian Paul Gambaccini said in an interview “Four Top 10 albums, and nine Top 10 singles, in just a year and a half! What a thrill it was, to be young and listening to music in that eighteen month period!”

But it is her track record of civil rights activism, her lending a voice to the oppressed, which impresses me even more than her enormous singing voice.

Franklin was quite literally born into activism, the daughter of prominent African American preacher Clarence LaVaughn “C.L” Franklin (who organized the 1963 Detroit Walk to Freedom ahead of his close friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington) and his wife Barbara Siggers.

It was her father (a very good singer himself, who Aretha would later say could have been a professional singer himself had he wanted) who encouraged her to sing, as he recognized her potential. She began singing at the New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was pastor.

When her biographer David Ritz asked her to describe what was going through her mind when she stood in for Pavarotti, she replied ““I thought of church. When I was a little girl and asked to sing in front of a big congregation, I was never afraid. I felt everyone pulling for me. I felt the support of my father. I felt the support of God almighty.”

C.L. Franklin was nicknamed “the man with the Million-Dollar Voice” for his emotionally charged sermons, the most famous ones being “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” (the recording of which was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2011) and “Dry Bones in the Valley.”

In her youth, Aretha was mentored by “Queen of Gospel” Mahalia Jackson, also a noted civil rights activist and also good friends with Dr. King.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, a great single by Otis Redding, was transformed by Franklin into an anthem for women’s rights and African-American civil rights.

Released by her in 1967, it became her signature song. In her memoir “Aretha: From these Roots”, she wrote: “It [reflected] the need of a nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher—everyone wanted respect…..It was also one of the battle cries of the civil rights movement. The song took on monumental significance.”

“You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” similarly became another emblem for justice.

Her championing of the civil rights movement dictated her professional and personal life, touring several cities in the US with Dr. King and Harry Belafonte, performing without charging a fee.


In 1968, Detroit mayor James Cavanagh declared 16 February Aretha Franklin Day. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. flew in to attend the ceremony. While Dr. King was leader of the civil rights movement in America, Aretha Franklin had become the inspiring symbol of Black Equality.

That evening in Detroit, when King and Franklin were together on the same stage, was a moment of inspiring history. It would also be the last time she saw Dr. King. Two months later, she sang for him one last time, at his funeral. She sang a gospel hymn made famous by Mahalia, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.”

When revolutionary activist and scholar Angela Davis was arrested in 1970, Franklin offered to post bail for her.  “Angela Davis must go free,” she said at the time. “Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people — they’ve made me financially able to have it — and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”

Franklin also strongly supported Native American rights, First Nation cultural rights and indigenous People’s struggles worldwide.

Would that more of us, all over the world, took a leaf out of her book, and had the courage to risk everything to speak up for what we believe to be right and just and true, in the face of the might of the establishment. God knows we need people with her grit and guts, certainly here in India today.

(An edited version of this article was published on 09 September 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)


Grave Matters

A relative from Mumbai had once recounted this to me: her father had passed away suddenly and tragically, in the prime of his own life, while the children were extremely young. They grew up with a close bond to their parish church, members of the church youth group, and the parish priest knew the whole family extremely well.

Some years later, they were horrified to find a portion of the cemetery completely dug up, crosses askew, and bones being unceremoniously packed into garish blue plastic bags. She asked the parish priest what had happened to her own father’s mortal remains, and why the family hadn’t even received a courtesy telephone call (there were no mobile phones then) giving them at least some advance notice. No satisfactory explanation was forthcoming.

The personal effects they were handed didn’t match those they had buried their father in, and judging from the messy way the excavation work had been done, there had almost certainly been no sensitivity in ensuring that each grave had been exhumed systematically.

A breakdown of the crucial bond of trust between the church and the parish was unfortunately forever broken as a result.

1990s Bombay is very different from 2018 Panjim, but I couldn’t help remembering this when a meeting of the faithful was organised at the St. Inez parish hall on a Sunday morning, 19 August 2018 regarding the ‘redevelopment and beautification’ of the cemetery.

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It was packed to capacity. This in itself was an indication of the importance the community places on the resting place of their ancestors, and on any plan to ‘redevelop and beautify’ the historic St. Inez cemetery. The Freudian slip on the part of the architect in his presentation, when he inadvertently used the word ‘demolition’, and then quickly corrected himself, did little to allay genuine concerns.

The bombshell for me was the ‘window’ (nay, a tiny chink within any window) of less than two weeks for the public to offer their feedback, suggestions and concerns regarding the proposed plans. Crowded as the meeting was, it still represented a mere fraction of the populace that has loved ones buried in the cemetery, in graves and niches. Surely something as sensitive as this requires much more time, to first reach as many people as is possible, both in Goa and beyond, and to allow time for it to sink in, and then offer suggestions (or even objections)? I would have thought that a rational time-scale would have to be at least a year. Why the hurry? Could an impending election next year be just a coincidence, or have anything to do with it?

Yes, the ravages of time have certainly taken their toll, on the retaining wall, and placed a premium on space in an increasingly crowded cemetery. But that still doesn’t explain the tearing haste in the timeline: tender issued on 15 August, public meeting convened on 19 August, and the deadline for responses 31 August!  Quite understandably, this was vehemently rejected. An extension was sought, but what the new deadline will be is anyone’s guess. There was a clipboard where some of the public wrote down their contact details; I did too, but so far there has been no update.

Several thoughts come to mind:

  1. Comparisons were made by some people to cemeteries abroad, to how uniform, neat and tidy they are in contrast to the uneven widths and breadths of our graves, and the heights of some mausoleums here. Well, that’s only partly true; I’ve been to cemeteries in some English villages and European cities, and their unevenness is just as gloriously chaotic as ours.
  2. Going by the heated differences of opinion in that parish hall alone, could there ever be a consensus that will satisfy everyone in the wider community? And if no consensus is arrived at, how does one then make a decision? Based on what a majority want? Or what some bureaucrat eventually deems to be the best course of action? What if the majority opts for a course that over time turns out to be disastrous? Whatever the decision is, it cannot be reversed. This is why we should all think it through very carefully indeed. Speaking for myself, the track record of the Corporation of the City of Panjim is far from confidence-inspiring, and the hasty timeline only heightens my sense of dread.
  3. What will be the fate of the exhumed remains of those in graves and niches that are unclaimed, for whatever reason, either that word didn’t reach their next of kin here or perhaps in some remote corner of the globe? Can we depend on the authorities to painstakingly label these remains, and shelve them somewhere, but with dignity? It is a fond hope.
  4. The decision to demarcate one section of the cemetery as ‘Portuguese-era’, and therefore ‘heritage’ and to be left untouched, makes only partial sense. Graves and mausoleums on the other side fit that description too.
  5. One reads of the funerals of expat Goans, in the UK, the US, Canada, wherever. In the majority of cases, to my recollection, they are laid to rest, not six feet under, but in an electric crematorium. Isn’t it time we had this option? I say this knowing the vagaries of our electricity supply, but surely there must be ways nevertheless? This will take a lot of pressure off the need for burial plots and shrinking space. My own father often expressed his wish to be cremated (and the ashes then strewn in the Ganga, Himalayas, and I can’t remember where else) in his many “When I die” monologues, several years before his passing. But then he’d also contradict that by wanting his body to be offered up for dissection in anatomy class. On more than one occasion, I exasperatedly said to him “Daddy, if you don’t make up your mind and write it down, I promise you I’ll give you such a Christian burial that you’ll wish you had never died.” And that’s precisely what he got, may his soul rest in peace. But in light of this development (or ‘re-development’ as it’s now being called), I can’t help wishing we had cremated him. We wouldn’t have needed to disturb his eternal rest.

His brother lies in a cemetery in Valencia (Spain) since 1968, and it was my father’s wish that he be brought back to be laid to rest in Goa with the rest of the deceased family. He tried unsuccessfully to bring him home in the 1970s, and after my dad’s passing in 2000, bringing my uncle’s remains home has been on my mind as well, because I knew it meant so much to my dad. But perhaps it was all for the best that he didn’t return home. But who knows? Maybe the Valencian civic authorities have beautified that cemetery and moved him somewhere, unbeknownst to his next of kin? I’ll wait for the dust to settle on our own cemetery first before I try to bring him back.

(An edited version of this article was published on 02 September 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The Confessional, the Consulting Room and the Casino

Scenario 1: You are a GP (general practitioner or ‘family doctor’). A patient you’ve known for several years walks into your consulting-room and reveals s/he has suicidal thoughts, and matters have come to such a head that s/he has made elaborate plans to act upon those thoughts later that day.  S/he listens to all your advice, but is unmoved in his/her decision, and swears you to secrecy, entreating that you do not contact the mental health support network. What do you do?

This was a common scenario presented to those of us appearing for our MRCGP (Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners) qualifying exam, either as a written essay, or an OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination), with an actor role-playing the part of the patient. It was meant to test whether the candidate could recognise the conflict between the doctor’s legal and ethical duty of confidentiality to the patient, but also a duty of care to that patient if his/her life is at risk, even if a self-inflicted one. The challenge is to negotiate a path bearing these in mind, without loss of life or trust from one’s patient.

Scenario 2: You are a Catholic priest, and the same person, your long-standing parishioner, comes to you for Confession, and tells you the same thing. What do you do?

I’m not a priest, of course (although I did think seriously about it in my boyhood years, but that’s another matter altogether), so I can pass on that one.

I happened to watch an episode of the six-part television drama series ‘Broken’ where  scenario 2 unfolds. The actor Sean Bean plays Fr. Michael Kerrigan, Roman Catholic parish priest in an unspecified northern English city who struggles with his own inner turmoil while still trying to counsel his flock. The series skillfully brings together themes of religion, social unrest and mental health, making for powerful, thought-provoking TV drama.

In this episode, Roz, a parishioner, is driven to the brink after being caught out embezzling money running into hundreds of thousands of pounds from her workplace to fuel a gambling addiction.

broken sean bean roz

It turned out to be gripping, nail-biting drama, with the tension ratcheted to almost breaking point. I won’t spoil it for you (in case you manage to catch a repeat broadcast) by revealing more, but suffice it to say that when it first aired in 2017, it left viewers deeply moved and brought to the fore issues around both mental health and gambling addiction, something we can relate to very much in the sordid Casino City that Goa has degenerated into.

You could dismiss it as “just television:, but the screenplay pulls no punches in unmasking the evils of gambling. “If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I’d end up here, I’d have laughed in your face,” Roz tells Father Michael. “I suppose everybody has their thing, where they want to feel nothing, to disappear…… Those machines were my thing, and if my boss hadn’t found out, they’d still be my thing.”

Do we even know what toll the gambling industry has had on our own social fabric, what it has done to individuals and families that have fallen prey to it? How many unbiased, comprehensive wide-ranging epidemiological studies have even explored this? There are statutory health warnings on tobacco products, and it is impossible to watch even a fleeting shot of a character smoking, on film or television, without this warning appearing as well, and quite rightly so.

There is exhaustive clinical evidence demonstrating the hugely addictive potential of gambling and its deleterious effects on individual, family and community health and well-being.

The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition) has reclassified ludomania (also termed compulsive or problem gambling, or gambling addition) as an addictive disorder, with sufferers exhibiting many similarities to those who have substance addictions. Studies have compared pathological gamblers to substance addicts (comparable to such highly addictive substances such as cocaine) concluding that addicted gamblers display more physical symptoms during withdrawal. A common feature shared by people who suffer from gambling addiction is impulsivity. Problem gambling is an addictive behavior with a high comorbidity with alcohol problems and other addictive drugs. Problem gambling is often associated with increased suicidal ideation and attempts compared to the general population. Early onset of problem gambling increases the lifetime risk of suicide.

And just in case one thinks “Oh, that’s just those with a gambling problem; it doesn’t apply to me”, the slope from casual to problem gambling is a very slippery one indeed. This is why Roz’s character in ‘Broken’ rang so true.

Why isn’t it mandatory for such health warnings to be issued in the public interest on every hoarding and advertisement for a casino, at the very minimum?

Back in the early 1990s, I made a trip to Kathmandu, which then (as now?) was notorious for its gambling industry. My travel companions wanted to have the casino experience, and I went along with them. They lost all their money, and had to borrow from me for the rest of our trip. A wise man learns from the experience of others. I haven’t been inside a casino in Goa, and plan to keep it that way.

The ‘Broken’ episode also took me back to my GP years in England. For the most part, the practice would see a seemingly-endless procession of coughs, colds, and other minor illness and requests for repeat prescriptions. But there would also be a sizeable number of patients who “just wanted to have a chat”; the receptionists would tell us this with some eye-rolling, as if to say “another time-waster.”

However, on “just having a chat”, one would often unearth issues that strayed into the realm of the moral and ethical, which strictly speaking are outside the remit of a medical consultation.

Infidelity in marriage or other relationships; probity in professional and public life: can a physician really weigh in on a patient’s decision-making, apart from lending a sympathetic ear and offering symptom-directed support? But you’d be surprised how often a GP is put in such a position, or the number of times a home visit is requested, on some contrived ailment, because the often-elderly or incapacitated patient is just lonely and wants someone to talk to and who will just listen to them.

It struck me then, that the traumatic experience and disillusionment of two World Wars seemed to have taken Britain and a lot of Europe away from God and religion, and quite often the GP (and the psychologist and psychiatrist) in the consulting room was taking the place of the priest in the confessional. I don’t wish to apply any equivalence to these situations, but am merely making the observation. I don’t remember who it was that coined the phrase “Pills, Prayers and Promises” to describe the medical profession, but the parallels between priest and physician are many: both relationships are built on faith and have a duty of confidentiality enshrined in them.

(An edited version of this article was published on 26 August 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Jacques be nimble, Jacques be quick!

One of my violin students has just begun to work on the famous Mazas studies for the instrument, and is quite excited about it.

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Many students and teachers of the violin will be familiar with these studies. A closer look at the author of these études would be worthwhile.

Mazas 2

Jacques Féréol Mazas (1782-1849) was a French composer, conductor, violinist and pedagogue. He is remembered in history for his technique-building studies, etudes and duets for young string players of all abilities that constitute methods for both violin and viola.

Further information about him is rather sketchy, but one gets a fair idea of his ‘musical tree’, by which one is able to trace his pedagogical lineage all the way to Corelli and before; his music is therefore the distillation of the French school of violin playing and teaching.

To elaborate this lineage: Mazas was the pupil at the Paris Conservatoire of French violinist-composer Pierre Marie François de Sales Baillot (1771-1842),

contemporary of two other great French violinist-composers Jacques Pierre Joseph Rode (1774-1830)

and Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831),

also professors at the Conservatoire de Paris; the études of Kreutzer are just as familiar and revered to advanced violinists and deserve examination in their own right in another column. All of these three were in turn taught by Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824),

O compositor y vriolinista italián Giovanni Battista Viotti, en una litografía d'Antoine Maurin.

influential Italian violin virtuoso, teacher and composer whose twenty-nine violin concertos were an influence on Beethoven. Beethoven was in personal contact with all three of Viotti’s famous pupils Baillot, Rode and Kreutzer which acquainted him with the high standard of violin virtuosity of the French school, and with the style of the so-called French Violin Concerto.

Baillot was one of a handful of violinists who played Beethoven’s violin concerto publicly before its revival by Joseph Joachim.

Beethoven dedicated one of his violin sonatas (no. 9, opus 47) to Kreutzer, who haughtily expressed a dislike of the work and refused to perform it. Yet ironically, if posterity remembers Kreutzer at all (apart from the violin fraternity for the afore-mentioned studies), it is because of the nickname “Kreutzer” that has still stuck to this Beethoven violin sonata, a formidable work. Some of you will remember it played here some years ago by the excellent violinist Hadar Rimon.

But to continue with the pedagogical lineage: Viotti was the pupil of Italian violinist-composer Giulio Gaetano Gerolamo Pugnani (1731-1798)

and toured Europe with him. Viotti was one of the first great violinists to begin usage of the newly-designed Tourte bow, which obviously had an impact on the type of sound he produced from his instrument and the compositional style that resulted from it. The Tourte family was in the bow-making profession, among whom François Xavier Tourte le jeune (1747-1835)

has often been referred to as the ‘Stradivari’ of the bow for his significant contribution to the development of the modern bow, not just for the violin but for all bowed stringed instruments of the orchestra. In particular the concave stick now allowed more expressive bowing by making it easier to control dynamics and execute a wider variety of bow strokes, especially “off the string” bowings. We find all manner of these bowings in the Mazas études.

Pugnani in turn was taught by Italian Baroque violinist-composer Giovanni Battista Somis (1686-1763),

himself the founder of the Piedmontese school of violin playing. Somis also taught other famous violinist-pedagogues, among them Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder (1697-1764),

Portrait of Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder by Alexis Loir

considered by many the founder of the French violin school. Somis is thus seen as the connecting link between the classical schools of Italy and France.

And Somis was the pupil of Italian Baroque violinist-composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713),

Arcangelo Corelli

a key figure In the development of the sonata and concerto as we know them today and in the development of violin technique, even though his works never ranged beyond the third position.

It is possible to trace the lineage back even further, to Corelli’s teacher the Italian composer, organist and violinist Giovanni Battista Bassani (c. 1650-1716).

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His two sets of violin sonatas, though rarely played, are admired for their dignity of style and “excellent musical basis.”

Bassani was the pupil of Giovanni Legrenzi (1626-1690),

one of the most influential composers of his time in Venice. Here the pedagogical trail gets a little blurry, although it is thought that Bassani was taught at home by his father, a professional violinist.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how much history is embedded in even a book of violin études and instill a sense of awe in everyday practice.

Such a huge debt is owed to this “French School” of violin playing.  The Franco-Belgian School of Belgian violinist-composers Charles-Auguste de Beriot (1802-1870)

Soubor:Charles-Auguste de Bériot by Henri Grevedon 1838.jpg

and later Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881)

is an offshoot of the French School—indeed even the Russian School is related to the French School, as both Rode and Baillot spent years in Russia, Rode from 1804 to 1808 and Baillot from 1805 to 1808.

Sadly, although the violinist-composers of the French School wrote so much music, especially concertos, posterity has not been kind to them: scores of their music are relatively hard to acquire, and their concertos seldom receive public performances or recordings, with the possible exception of Viotti’s Concerto no. 22 in A minor,

even though so many of his other concertos have equal, if not more, merit.

Playing études or studies are vital to the development and maintenance of technique. Too few violin students or even those more advanced devote much attention to them, sadly.

Mazas opus 36 consists of 75 progressive studies divided into three parts. The first part (Special Studies) includes 30 studies suitable for the intermediate students.

The second (Brilliant Studies) and third (Artists’ Studies) parts get progressively harder and resemble the concert etudes for advanced violinists.

As the preface to the first part, written by German violinist and conductor Walther Davisson explains, “The fundamentals and technical requirements of violin technique have been handled with distinct musical charm and sense of melodic shape….The study of these pieces will be found to be of immense benefit in matters of tone and technique; power and impetus of bowing should develop side-by-side with ease and grace of performance.”

My trusty personal copy of Mazas is well-worn from decades of use, and I still dip into it “to stay in shape.” Just as at the gym, one should undertake weight training with a clear idea of which muscle group(s) you wish to develop, these studies can help tone up areas of violin playing and technique, and “ease and grace of performance” to fit one’s current requirement. May the study of the studies never ever stop!

(An edited version of this article was published on 19 August 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Carmen for children, and Wind-Up Penguin!

It’s been two weeks since our annual Child’s Play ‘Take a Stand’ Monsoon concert on 28 July, and the heartwarming messages of appreciation continue to pour in.

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As many of you will be aware, we restarted our children’s choral project earlier this year with choral director Claire Hughes (UK); in a few weeks we will be joined by a choral director from Portugal, and we all look forward eagerly to welcoming and working with her.

Currently we have Abigail Kitching, also from the UK, who has got our children, in the Child’s Play project and in the wider community, all excited about opera.

The opera she has chosen is Carmen by the French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875). To call it a groundbreaking work would be an understatement. Carmen must have shocked its audience at its first performance at the Opéra-Comique Paris in 1875. What would they have made of its fiercely independent, extremely ‘un-lady-like’ eponymous leading lady, tossing social conventions contemptuously into the air and scandalizing purists in the process?

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Perhaps understandably for its time, the four-act opera was not well-received initially; the chorus and orchestra of the Opéra-Comique after a few rehearsals threatened to go on strike, deeming it “unsingable and unplayable.” The reception in general threw Bizet into a deep depression, and he would die just three months after the premiere performance, on the day of its 23rd performance, of a massive heart attack, aged just thirty-six. Carmen would only achieve international fame in the decade that followed Bizet’s death, and today ranks among the most often-performed and popular operas of all time.

Its libretto, in French, was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, and is based on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. Set in southern Spain, it is the story of the moth-to-flame attraction of naïve soldier Don José to femme fatale Carmen. José jilts his childhood sweetheart and deserts from his post to follow her, but in vain; she is drawn instead and unapologetically to the charismatic matador (toreador) Escamillo, filling José with such jealous rage that he stabs Carmen. Love, jealousy, death… all potent operatic ingredients.

Bizet, who had never been to Spain, admirably imbues the opera with Spanish flavor and a host of memorable tunes, which along with the sizzling sexual tension between the two leading roles, have ensured its immortality.

That tension obviously has to be sensitively handled in a production for children. And the lyrics have been translated into English. Kitching chose three scenes and arias from the opera: the Habanera (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle; Love is a rebellious bird) from Act I;

and the Toreador song

and the Flower song (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée; The flower that you threw at me), José’s plaintive love song from the second Act.

The children are thoroughly enjoying the over-the-top drama of it all as they sing and enact the scenes. Opera when being described to an Indian audience has often been likened to Bollywood, as there’s the same exaggeration of emotional highs and lows, and the breaking into song and dance at the drop of a hat (or a flower, as in Carmen). When the children were introduced to the character of Carmen, someone who can light up a room and make heads turn and jaws drop at her mere presence, were asked to name a contemporary icon who would have such an effect today, almost all chose some Bollywood star or the other, with just a few citing a pop sensation as well.

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It is the children’s first introduction to opera, and will hopefully dispel the fuddy-duddiness that usually accompanies the genre. They will ‘stage’ their three scenes as part of the opening act to our next concert featuring the Wind-Up Penguin Theatre Company (UK) on Saturday 18 Augut 2018 at 6 pm, Menezes Braganza conference hall. Passes are available at Furtados Music stores and will be available at the door just before the event.


Several of you will have attended our past presentations of the Wind-Up Penguins. Child’s Play has partnered with them every year since 2015. Wind-Up Penguin Theatre Company is a children’s musical theatre company, made up of a group of creative people, musicians, singers, actors and technicians from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), London.

“We come together to create pieces of children’s musical theatre and then take our shows to developing countries, where we perform to children in schools, hospitals, orphanages and slums, or anywhere we can find them! We then work with the children, showing them the instruments and giving them the chance to experience live music, an opportunity many have never had before”, wrote Abi Heath, one of its members to me during our initial correspondence.

It was founded in 2012 by Elisabeth Swedlund and her classmate at the Guildhall School from Romania, Ioana Macovei-Vlascceanu. She had been running a summer camp for children in a very poor, very isolated village in Romania for five years, and had always profoundly wished to be able to bring something more artistic to children who lived in places where they have practically no access to culture, art, and multiculturalism – often in less affluent parts of the world. Ioana’s parents run a school which is in contact with many charities, and they organised their first project – performing in hospitals, orphanages, and rural schools around Bucharest. The experience was life-changing for the nine students involved – they went back to Romania (with eight extra Guildhall students, so seventeen of them), the next winter. Once they realised it was relatively easy, in this day and age of internet communication, to arrange performances around the world, they started to extrapolate to countries they really wanted to work and perform in. Several years later, they have conducted more than 13 projects, and performed to over 10000 children in more than 150 different places all over the world. The Wind-Up Penguin theatre company has so far visited Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Lebanon, India, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. They create professional-standard musical theatre performances which they have then taken into refugee camps in Europe resulting from the current crises in the Middle East, and to hospitals, schools, orphanages and special needs centres in the countries they have visited.

If their past performances are anything to go by, we are assured of a high-class interactive entertainment act for children (of all ages!),  incorporating a cappella singing, musicians, comedy theatre, balloons and puppets.

So let the show begin. Just don’t let Carmen flutter her eyelashes at you. You’ve been warned, José!

(An edited version of this article was published on 12 August 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

What would Jesus do?

How many of you remember the WWJD fad back in the 1990s? I certainly remember meeting a young American visitor and asking her what those letters on her bracelet meant.

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It stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” The slogan was coined by some adherents of Christianity “as a reminder of their belief in a moral imperative to act in a manner that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions.”

This idea of the “Imitation of Christ” goes back even earlier. It seems to have been topical even in Portuguese Goa, judging from the reams of literature on the subject I found in our family library, dating back to 1955. “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380- 1471) is thought to be the most widely read Christian devotional work after the Bible.

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“What Would Jesus Do?” was the title of a 2010 American film whose plotline readers might find interesting: A pastor of a small town in rural America that is going through hard times  galvanizes the people into action to prevent a ruthless politician and his wealthy real-estate tycoon cronies from setting up a casino there. By asking a simple question at every step and of every town resident “What Would Jesus Do?” they valiantly “fight off the temptation of money and the easy path.” I am sure any resemblance to any situation familiar to us is (cough, cough) is purely coincidental. But it does provide food for thought.

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WWJD has been a rallying cry all over again in Donald Trump’s America, especially following the heart-rending separation of immigrant children from their parents. It has largely arisen as a riposte to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoting chapter and verse from the Bible, and admonishing believers to “obey and follow the law.” He had said in a speech to law enforcement officials: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”


This abuse of the Scriptures was roundly condemned by several prominent leaders of the black clergy in the US, notably Rev. Jesse Jackson among many others.

Rev. William Barber II reacted, “Twisting the word of God in defense of immoral practices was a tactic used to justify keeping Black people in chattel slavery, committing genocide against Native Americans and segregating people under Jim Crow.”

Jackson agreed: “The government tolerated lynching just like they tolerated slavery.”

But WWJD question has been on my mind for a long time before this, with particular reference to the Holy Land. Perhaps understandably, my fascination with that part of the world began very early, given my Catholic upbringing. Ever since Bible stories were read to me as a child, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Holy Land. I’ve imagined going to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee and Jerusalem. I’ve listened breathlessly to accounts of relatives and friends who’ve been there.

But the more I’ve learnt about the brutal oppression of Palestinians in their own land, the more I’ve been asking myself this: What would Jesus have done, had He walked the earth in 21st-century Palestine, instead of 2000 years ago?

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Image result for israel forcefully bulldozing palestinian villages

Many of you will have heard of Daniel Barenboim, whom Wikipedia rather laconically sums up as “a pianist and conductor who is a citizen of Argentina, Israel, Palestine and Spain.”

But that description, while factual, hardly does him justice. He is a humanitarian with a firm belief in music as a vehicle for social change, and perhaps even more crucially and directly, for bringing peace to a troubled land and its people. Together with the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, he founded the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, made up of young Arab and Israeli musicians. Their very presence on the same stage makes a powerful point, and their high musical standard proves that great things can be achieved even when people whose histories are inimically opposed to each other are able to look past that and work together.

Barenboim is a resolute critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and he wrote a strong op-ed in The Guardian on 23 July, titled “This racist new law makes me ashamed to be Israeli.”

He was referring to the most recent “nationality law” passed by the Knesset in Israel, which states that “only the Jewish people have the right to national self-determination in Israel.”

Reacting to the same legislation, expatriate Israeli historian and activist Ilan Pappé wrote a piece in The Hindu, “Israel’s new law is a form of apartheid.”

He reminds the reader that “For those of us who struggle for justice and equality in Palestine, India symbolised the way forward in its anti-colonialist liberation campaign and its resistance in being drawn into Cold War imperialist politics.” And he warns: “The nationality law should remind Indian politicians who their new bedfellows are.”

Barenboim uses the same word “apartheid” in his condemnation of this new law: “We have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It follows that this is a very clear form of apartheid. I don’t think the Jewish people lived for 20 centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to become the oppressors, inflicting cruelty on others. This new law does exactly that. Therefore, I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.”

It leads one again to ask: What would Jesus have done in today’s Holy Land? How would He react to so many of us, from Goa, from the rest of India, continuing to turn a blind eye to injustice, while visiting the landmark sites on pilgrimages that urge us to tread His path and recall His life on Earth? But can we in the bargain turn a deaf ear to His message?

What about Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

For that matter, What Would Jesus Do here in India, where lynchings have become so commonplace that they’re not even front-page news anymore? Where they can be dismissed by politicians under the most ridiculous pretexts, even legitimized, with perpetrators garlanded by politicians, far from any punitive action taken against them?


Image result for politician garlands lynch convicts

What Would Jesus Do? It’s a hypothetical question, of course. But I think the answer can be found in the quiet corners of our hearts, minds, souls and conscience.

(An edited version of this article was published on 05 August 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)


“Behind every successful man….”

A recent soprano-and harp concert on 19 July 2018 at Menezes Braganza showcased, as the performers titled it, “A Musical Marriage”, the compositional output of a husband and wife.

Many of us will have heard of the husband-and-wife composer pair Robert and Clara Schumann; equally many will know of the Italian operatic composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), probably one of the most popular opera composers in history. But few will have heard of his first wife Isabella Angela Colbran (1785-1845), opera singer and composer of four collections of songs.

isabella colbran

As her name might suggest, she was Spanishby origin, born in Madrid. She studied with voice teacher Girolamo Crescenti in Paris, and by the age of twenty had caught the attention of most of Europe with her singing.

Some accounts describe her as a dramatic coloratura soprano, while others peg her as a mezzo-soprano with a high extension, a soprano sfogato.

Her career spanned the Teatro della Scala Milan, the Teatro Comunale Bologna, and the Fenice Venice, before arriving in 1811 at Naples.

Naples then was the centre of the opera world, and Colbran quickly established herself as prima donna of the Bourbon monarchy’s Real Teatro di San Carlo, home to all the famous singers of her generation, including the celebrated castrato Farinelli.

Her fan base included the King of Naples, Charles VI himself; she was believed to be his mistress as well of the theatre’s impresario Domenico Barbaia. Her romantic dalliance with the latter was her introduction to, and her fatal attraction for gambling, as Barbaia was also in the gaming parlour business.

Her addiction to gambling would eventually see her squander off not just her enormous professional income, but her sizeable family inheritance as well.

Perhaps it is a good thing she never got into a time machine and teleported herself into 21st century Goa; she would probably have spent all her time literally ‘out at sea’ at gaming tables in offshore casinos rather than actually hitting the high Cs on land for us. Which would have been unfortunate, as her vocal range in her prime is documented as extending from F-sharp below the treble staff to the E above the staff, sometimes extending to the high F as well. Some accounts even credit her with a range of three octaves at the height of her powers.


It was with Colbran’s prowess in mind that Barbaia signed Rossini onto a seven-year contract in 1815, to compose operas for his company. The position would make him musical director of two Neapolitan theatres, the Teatro di San Carlo and Teatro del Fondo, with the proviso that he would write an opera each year, for each of them. Oddly enough, in addition to his salary of 200 ducats each month, he was also to receive “a share” from the gambling tables set in the Teatro di San Carlos’ ‘ridotto’ (private room), amounting to an impressive 1000 ducats each year. If Rossini too fell prey to the temptations of chance, posterity hasn’t recorded it well.

But the composer certainly was taken by Colbran, who was seven years his senior. In 1815, he wrote the title role of ‘Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra’ (Elizabeth, Queen of England) especially for her. She sang the role of Desdemona in his next opera, ‘Otello, ossia il Moro di Venezia’ (Othello, Moor of Venice, 1816), which turned out to be particularly popular.

Other roles written by Rossini in his Neapolitan operas with Colbran in mind: Armida (in the eponymous opera, 1817); Elcia (Mosè in Egitto; Moses in Egypt); Zoraide (Ricciardo e Zoraide); Ermione (Ermione); Elena (La donna del Lago); Anna (Maometto II); and Zelmira (Zelmira).  The lines that he wrote for her hint at the vocal acrobatics she was capable of: trills, half-trills, staccato, legato, ascending and descending scales, octave leaps.


Somewhere along the way, the two got romantically involved, and were married in 1822 after their move to Bologna. Colbran’s voice was beginning to show signs of strain and decline; in Venice the following year, Rossini created the title role of his opera Semiramide for her, writing her part so as to camouflage the deficiencies in her capabilities. Nevertheless, although the opera itself was a success, the audience could hear that Colbran was past her prime. Rossini wrote a total of ten operas for her voice.

Her reprise as Zelmira in the eponymous opera in 1824 was also a disappointment, and Colbran perhaps prudently retired from the stage aged just 42.

The couple separated in 1837. Around the same time, Rossini began seeing Olympe Pélissier, an artist’s model, in Paris. She had sat for the painter Émile Jean-Horace Vernet for his picture of ‘Judith and Holofernes’. Was she the cause of the separation? Some accounts indicate that they became close after Rossini and Colbran separated, not before.

Whether it was out of consideration for Colbran’s feelings, or for appearances, Rossini and Pélissier were only wed in 1846, a year after Colbran had died in Bologna, aged 60.

That Rossini genuinely respected Colbran is indisputable. All his life, he maintained that she was the greatest interpreter of his music. Indeed, one of Rossini’s nicknames was ‘Signor Colbran’. In their heyday, they were the ‘power couple’ of opera.

When she was devastated by the death of her father, he commissioned an elaborate sculpture for the Colbran family mausoleum, depicting a woman weeping at the foot of her father’s tomb.

In her final years, Colbran’s health declined (some speculate that this was almost certainly due to pelvic inflammatory disease contracted from venereal diseases from her flagrantly unfaithful spouse) and her finances dwindled, compelling her to sell off parts of her family estate. Rossini sent her monetary support to the end.

Although Colbran’s compositional output seems to have been four song collections (with text by the librettist Pietro Metastasio and scored for voice and piano or harp, and dedicated one each to the Empress of Russia; her teacher Crescenti; the Queen of Spain; and the Prince Eugène de Beauharnais), elements of her style were emulated by the likes of Vincenzo Bellini.

Although the actual marriage between Colbran and Rossini could perhaps itself constitute the plotline of a tragic opera, their “musical marriage” left us an enduring legacy, with some of the greatest operas in the repertory that might never have seen light of day had it not been for the inspiration embodied in Isabella Colbran, perhaps one of the most ‘unsung’-about singers in music history. Her story deserves to be better known.

(An edited version of this article was published on 29 July 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Bach in the saddle again!

From the time I heard Winston Collaco’s violin pupil Anthea Luna-Marie Dias when she played in our ensemble Camerata Child’s Play India at our Christmas concert in 2016 (she was just ten then), I’ve wanted to give her an opportunity to make a concerto debut. And I’m glad to announce that the moment is finally here: on Saturday, 28 July at Menezes Braganza hall, at Child’s Play India Foundation’s annual monsoon concert, she’ll be playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s lovely violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, leading from the violin the musicians of Winston’s Escola Amadeus String Ensemble (E.A.S.E.) and Camerata Child’s Play India, as part of Child’s Play’s ‘Young Performers’ series. This is literally music to Goa’s ears, and a huge milestone in Goa’s music history. I don’t think a 12-year old home-grown, locally-trained Goan child has ever played a whole concerto in public here ever before. My only regret is that we didn’t do this even earlier.

I have myself been Winston’s student back in the 1980s (it seems like another lifetime!) even though I am younger than him by only just a couple of years, and watching him work with Anthea and the rest of his students took me back to those days. My own students think I’m a bit of an intonation policeman, but he’s even fussier about intonation than me, which validates my own obsession even further. And he will persevere for ages at rehearsal to clean up the minutest details, sometimes in just a bar or two, until it is sorted.

And there was another surprise for me: the return to musical action of another old friend, taking up double-bass for the demanding basso continuo line that runs right through the concerto: Edgar Mendes, whose musical history with me precedes even my friendship with Winston, going back to our days together, first at St. Cecilia musical school, and later at Academia da Música (today’s Kala Academy department of Western Music). All three of us have played in the orchestra led by Fr. Lourdino Barreto in Goa, and were in the Goan contingent of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra in the 1980s and 1990s.Today’s generation get paid airfares for such excursions, but you really haven’t lived if you haven’t hurtled down the Goa-Bombay highway in an interstate Kadamba bus that is trying hard to cross the sound barrier (and sometimes succeeding!), while you hug your instrument-case in your lap for dear life!

What a difference a double-bass makes, especially in this composition! It gives the whole work so much more body, texture and grounding.   For the most part, our Camerata Child’s Play India has largely performed without double-bass since its inception in 2013, so it is really wonderful, and gives a delicious vibration to the core of one’s being to have it on board.


It feels so good, the three of us from an earlier generation reuniting to make music and create opportunities and platforms for GenNext that we didn’t ourselves always receive.

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If one considers that Johann Sebastian Bach fathered twenty children (he became a daddy for the first time aged 23, and the last was born when he was 57! Sadly only ten survived into adulthood), one wonders how he ever found the time for his duties as an employed musician and teacher, let alone his prodigious output of compositions. It also left the thorny issue of how his musical legacy would be divided among his heirs after his death. Most of his compositions were divided between his two oldest living sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. While the latter son took good care of his share of the legacy, Wilhelm Friedemann, despite showing great musical promise, fell into hard times and sold some of his father’s masterpieces to pay off debts, and these are deemed ‘lost’ to posterity. Bach almost certainly wrote many more than the three violin concertos we know about today; some still survive in other forms, such as harpsichord concertos, while individual movements have probably been incorporated into the body of Bach’s cantatas. One lives in constant hope that an exciting discovery could still be made on some dusty library shelf or attic. Stranger things have happened; if works by Vivaldi could surface in our time, so could those by Bach.

Musicologists aren’t unanimous about when this particular concerto, in A minor, was written: while it was “generally thought” that Bach wrote it while he was Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Köthen (1717-23), it now seems more likely he wrote it during his Leipzig period, sometime in the 1730s.

In his Weimar years (1708-1717), Bach encountered concertos by his Italian contemporaries such as Albinoni and others, but Vivaldi proved the biggest influence upon Bach’s own concerto writing. This ‘Venetian’ or Vivaldian model gives this concerto its three-movement (fast-slow-fast; Allegro – Andante- Allegro assai) formal layout, the basic ritornello (the “little return”) structure of an alternating pattern of solo and tutti (ensemble) episodes, seen most strikingly in the first movement.

But although the mould may be Vivaldian, Bach transcends it, taking it to a completely new level as only he could: the ostinato (insistent, persistent) bass motif in the beautiful second movement is a particularly Bachian fingerprint, something that he seems to use in some shape or form in the second movements of all his violin concertos. The final movement is in the metre and rhythm of a gigue, the lively Baroque dance which was inspired by the Irish jig. Even here, Bach innovates by introducing subtle counterpoint in the accompaniment, with the main theme presented by the first violins, then followed in turn by the seconds, violas and bass. He writes a virtuosic bariolage passage for the soloist in its climax. The term bariolage comes from the French ‘barioler’, “to streak with several colours”. It is a term easier demonstrated on the instrument than explained in words; but essentially involves rapid alternation of a static note (usually an open string) with changing notes on an adjacent string above or below, that form a dazzling melody. The device exploits the contrast between the timbre of the open string and the stopped string.

Johann Sebastian Bach is associated so much with the keyboard because of his formidable legacy for that instrument that it is easy to forget he was a highly skilled violinist as well. This is amply evident in his sublime writing for solo violin in the six works (three sonatas and three partitas) for solo violin, and another good example of bariolage is to be found in the Preludio to his third Partita in E major.

The monsoon concert will also feature the Child’s Play Chorus with an array of songs ranging from Africa to Hollywood; and the junior Camerata Child’s Play with a Latin American orchestral suite, a medley of Goan dulpods, and a kaleidoscope of other works by our violin, viola, cello and flute students. Donation passes at Furtados Music stores in Panjim and Margão.

(An edited version of this article was published on 22 July 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

A Colonial History and other lessons from Football

I’m hardly the football expert, and would fare terribly in any quiz on football history, league football or player stats. But I do get excited by the Beautiful Game every four years at World Cup time.  It’s just too seductive, the match upon match, the nail-biting misses, the soul-uplifting, often balletic poetry in motion when a player slams the ball into the net against impossible odds from the most unexpected angle, and the intoxicating procession of sometimes tongue-twisting names from every corner of the globe.

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Over the last few World Cups I’ve realized that the composition of the team squads of the former colonizing nations often betrays their colonial past.

Take Portugal for instance: Bruno Alves has Brazilian ancestry; Pepe was born and raised in Brazil; Manuel Fernandes and Ricardo Pereira are of Cabo Verdean descent; William Carvalho was born in Luanda Angola and Gelson Martins in Cabo Verde.

Moving on to France: Presnel Kipembe has a Congolese father and Haitian mother; Samuel Umtiti was born in Yaoundé Cameroon; Paul Pogba has Guinean parentage; Thomas Lemar was born in Baie-Mahault, Guadeloupe; Kylian Mbappé’s father is from Cameroon and mother from Algeria; Ousman Dembélé’s mother is of Mauritanian and Senegalese descent, while his father is from Mali; N’Goto Kanté’s parents are also emigrés from Mali; Blaise Matuidi has a Congolese mother; Steven Nzonzi has a Congolese father; Steve Mandanda was born in Kinshasa, then Zaire, today the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Adil Rami was born to Moroccan parents.

I am sure there are others, but this is what a cursory search revealed. But this is true of other former colonizing nations as well: Spain, Italy, Belgium, England, Germany.

At first glance, one could conclude that this is a reflection of how multi-cultural the world in general, and Europe in particular has become; one could therefore argue as an extrapolation from that line of thinking that the significantly high colonial representation in these team squads reflects how much emigrés from former colonies have been assimilated into contemporary European society. Also, if people from former colonies are entitled to citizenship rights of the colonizer country, then technically speaking, they are not even emigrés, but equal citizens, and so it is perfectly natural to see such representation.

But scrape a little beneath this façade, and some truths are less palatable. I came across a paper on the Taylor & Francis Online website taken from ‘Soccer and Society’ journal (volume 8, 2007 – Issue 4: Globalised Football) titled “African Football Labour Migration to Portugal: Colonial and Neo-Colonial Resource” by Paul Darby, University of Ulster at Jordanstown. It makes the case that the process of African player migration to Europe has involved varying degrees of neo-colonial exploitation and impoverishment of African football. In exploring the place of Portugal in broader migratory patterns between African and European football, it looks at “the extent to which Portugal has used football talent from its former colonial ‘possessions’ such as Mozambique as a colonial and neo‐colonial resource.” It further argues that while “those players who have ‘made it’ in Portuguese football have benefited hugely economically and in terms of access to improved training conditions,” “their migration to Portuguese football is part of a wider process that has under‐developed African football.”

Another aspect is how non-white players are regarded in Europe, both in their home country and abroad. This 2018 FIFA World Cup got off to an unpleasant start when racist chants were hurled at French players Dembélé, Kante and Pogba by Russian fans during an international friendly match, just months before the games. Russia was fined by FIFA for the incident.

The French right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has gone on record to say that there were too many “players of colour” on the national team, to the extent that France “cannot recognize itself in the national side”. He also criticized some players (sound familiar anyone?) for failing to sing the national anthem.  Le Pen’s remarks invited a strong response in particular from Lilian Thuram-Ulien, France’s most capped player, denouncing the National Front leader as being ignorant of the make-up of his country’s society and history.

What would Le Pen have to say to Kylian Mbappé’s stunning two powerhouse goals that secured France’s win over Argentina on 30 June at Kazan, “leaving Lionel Messi in his wake as a World Cup changing of the guard unfolded before our eyes”, as the sports page headline of the Independent so poetically put it?

Or to Samuel Umtiti’s decisive solitary goal against Belgium on 10 July, catapulting France into the finals?


Mais non. When such players bring victory, they are fêted. But woe betide them if they don’t. As long as Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is on a roll, he’s “Belgian”; if he doesn’t deliver for whatever reason, the national press feels it necessary to mention his “Congolese descent”.


Belgium’s chapter of colonialism in the Congo still haunts them despite attempts to air-brush the period from their school history books. Monuments to King Leopold II abound, even though during his reign, an estimated 10 million people in the then “Congo Free State” were put to death, with horrific abuses, including mutilations and amputations inflicted even on little children. Yet, the tag of crimes against humanity (the “hidden Holocaust” as it is sometimes called today) conveniently eluded them until fairly recently.

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The legacy of this colonial past in Belgium is a condescending attitude to non-whites, particularly on the football pitch. The Belgium Football Association receives about 25 racism-related complaints a year, but the problem must be much more widespread.

Such attitudes unfortunately extend across Europe as well. Look at the abuse hurled at Swedish midfielder Jimmy Durmaz (who was born to Assyrian parents, who migrated from Midyat, Turkey) conceding a late free-kick against Germany at Sochi on 23 June. This was his response: “I am a footballer at the highest level so I have to accept that I am criticised for what I do on the pitch. That’s part of the job – and I am always willing to accept that. But there are limits….When someone threatens me, when they call me darkie, bloody Arab, terrorist, Taliban … then that limit has been passed. And what is even worse, when they go after my family and my children and threaten them … who the hell does that kind of thing?”


Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho got similar racist vitriol after his unfortunate own-goal in the crucial match against Belgium on 6 July.

This is something that Portuguese footballer Ricardo Quaresma (of partial Romani descent, and therefore nicknamed ‘O Cigano’, ‘The Gyspsy’) knows well. In a 2014 interview, he said: “When I hear people say there is no racism nowadays it makes me laugh. When something happens in Portugal it’s always the fault of gypsies, blacks, immigrants. It’s tough to live with this.”

This is the ugly side of the Beautiful Game that so many players face even today.

(An edited version of this article was published on 15 July 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

19 July 2018: Came across this video which I thought I’d share here:

And now this (23 July 2018):