When I lived in England, everyone loved and talked about the music of Edward Elgar (1857-1934). Elgar is right up there with George Frideric Handel among the island’s musical luminaries. So imagine my surprise when I moved back to America and found that very few people–even classical music lovers–had ever heard of this remarkable composer.
Elgar was a product of his time, with a career that straddled the twilight of romanticism with the dawn of modernism. Technically he falls within the period of twentieth-century music, but his style leaned more to the nineteenth-century for inspiration.
In Elgar there is a juxtaposition of innocence and pride characteristic of pre-WWI Britain, combined with the masculine beauty of the Edwardian period. Even when his music is at its most heart-breakingly sweet, it never loses the sense of manly stature. It is romanticism without gush, beauty without sentimentalism, manly pride without bravado.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, written in the aftermath of the Great War, seems to embody a painful longing for a bygone age. It is a complex amalgam of melancholy and triumph, surrender and imperialism, longing and acceptance, lyricism and dissonance, ostentation and innocence. In this work, it is almost as if we can hear the mature composer longing for a return to the simplicity of an earlier era (an era that embodied the innocent charm in a work like Salut d’Amour), but with a wisdom that has been wrought through pain–a wisdom that knows that the disasters of century’s second decade can never be reversed.
I have listened to this work dozens of times (including two live performances), but it is still full of surprises me, and it still brings tears to my eyes.
In 1994, Yo-Yo Ma performed this work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. This was Yo-Yo Ma at his best. Enjoy!
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I came across this video of a performance Itzhak Perlman gave in Tokyo of Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor. Perlman’s sensitivity makes this performance not just a joy to listen to, but also a joy to watch.
I recently discovered the recording of Itzhak Perlman playing Brahms Violin Concerto in D major. I was even more delighted to discover a video of this amazing performance. Perlman brings a sensitivity and passion appropriate for one of the most beautiful musical works ever composed.
These two videos of Nick Vujicic are really inspiring. He is a man born without any limbs (no arms, no legs), yet he has trained his mind to exist in a constant state of gratefulness through focusing on the blessings he does have. He has an amazing ministry as an evangelist and motivational speaker, constantly reminding people to focus on the things they can be grateful for.
Often when people say “Count your blessings” it sounds kind of Hallmarky and sentimental, but when Nick gives this message it has substance because he really knows what it means to suffer (he tried to commit suicide at age 10) while still rising above suffering by being grateful to God.
His message is particularly relevant with Thanksgiving approaching. Every year at Thanksgiving many families have a tradition of giving each person a turn to put a piece of corn in a basket and saying something they’re grateful for. Often someone will say they’re thankful for an ordinary thing we take for granted, like air, or arms or life itself, and when someone says this it is usually interpreted as a joke, or assumed to be something the person thought of at the last moment because they couldn’t think of anything else. But if Nick Vujicic is correct, these are precisely the types of things we ought to be thankful for all the time. It’s easy to be grateful for the out-of-the-ordinary blessings God sends our way; but the real test of gratefulness is whether we can be thankful for the ordinary things in life that most of us take for granted, like limbs. Watch these amazing videos and pass them on to a friend.
Below is a fascinating Ted Talk about cognitive reframing, presented by the psychologist Alison Ledgerwood. She explains how the human mind naturally finds it easy to reframe positive events in negative terms, and how it requires more effort to convert negatives into positives.