Category Archives: The Course of the Year

Im Dorfe. Happy Birthday, Schubert.

It is so fitting, isn’t it, that Schubert should have been born in January? As I’ve mentioned before I love Schubert’s music dearly all year round, but it seems to me especially appropriate for the month of January, and I have, in fact, set up a rule for myself that under no circumstances am I allowed to listen to Winterreise earlier than January 1. That way I have something to look forward to about this the bleakest, coldest month of the year.

Oh, Schubert. It really does make me so weepy every time I think about his much too early death, even more so than with Mozart. The Grim Reeper cheated us out on a lot of undoubtedly great music from both gentlemen, certainly, but at least Mozart got to have a wife and kids. What did Schubert get? Syphilis, that’s what. Or at least something similarly nasty and painful and isolating. To have lived through such misery and then to have maintained the ability to communicate feelings so well through his music, to have insisted on remaining so warm and human deep inside that coldness … It breaks the heart.

Happy 216th, old Franz.  You are missed.


At Tegner's Museum in May

At Tegner’s Museum in May

New Year’s Eve has come and gone, but I inspired by And All Suns Are Darkened I thought I’d do a 2012-themed blog post.

2012 was an awe-inspiring year for me. I met a wonderful man in April, I got a new job in September, I moved in with aforementioned wonderful man in October, and that same month I was published for the first time in a major Danish newspaper, with an essay on Tove Jansson’s moomin books.

Midsummer's Eve

Midsummer’s Eve

Highlights of the year include sitting on a hill at the Tegner Museum in Northern Sealand with my boyfriend on a warm, sunny day in May and feeling quite unbelievably happy (which was admittedly what I was vague blogging about here). Strolling with him along the Vltava in Prague in July.

Death and Mirth at the astronomical clock in Prague

Death and Mirth at the astronomical clock in Prague. July

Happy, rainy day near Vysehrad, Prague. July

Happy, rainy day near Vysehrad, Prague. July

Getting the call on an early September afternoon from the HR manager at my new work place and being told that I was offered the job. Seeing my name in that essay on Jansson, illustrated by Jansson’s incredible artwork. Coming home to my boyfriend on dark blue December evenings, dead tired from a long day of work, to sit down and have dinner with him while watching Christmas specials and movies and looking forward to the holidays with an excitement I haven’t felt for decades.

Moomin sketched in the tapestry of a Copenhagen café by unknown artist. November.

Moomin sketched in the wallpaper of a Copenhagen café by unknown artist. November.

My blog, however, has suffered a little during this very busy past year of mine. When I look back now, all my favourite entries are from early 2012, that is, before all these life-changing events started happening. In January I delivered my few, inadequate words about Schubert, and I stand by those words especially during these January when my usual Schubert craze sets in:

To me the switch to major tonality in the opening lied “Gute Nacht” has always been what solidified the sadness of it, and set the tone for the rest of the lied cycle which, I believe, is a cycle about an infitine, hopeless sadness. To me, the major tonality in this lied, and the rest of the lieder, signifies the recognition of the lost beauty, or love, or happiness without which the sadness would be bearable.

I also did a piece about the cuckold as a comical figure that I had actually completely forgotten about since I wrote it, but there it is:

What is so exceptionally fascinating in Pagliacci is, however, that Leoncavallo examines the tragic aspects of the cuckold man all the while acknowledging the comic potential of the motif. The central aria of the opera revolves around the idea of laughing at the cuckold buffoon (“Ridi, Pagliaccio!”), and in the frantic play-within-the-play ending the opera, the ambiguity of the cuckold as a comical/tragic figure is constantly at play. The audience-within-the-play wants nothing more than to laugh at the buffoon, but cuckold Canio’s very real despair is constantly creeping into the caricatured pantomime grief of the cuckold Pagliaccio.

I also kind of like that I did a blog post in the past year about my appreciation of boy bands:

What the boy bands did with their elaborate dancing routines was to send off the signal of a serious effort being made in order to please a female audience. With their performances they created a piece of irresistible fiction about young men teaming up and going out of their way to satisfy a woman…

And I stand by my criticism of MTV’s Plain Jane (although I have to say that I really miss that show. For some reason I haven’t caught a single episode of it for months now and I gotta hand it to Louise Roe & Co. – it’s a darned entertaining program):

The “learn-how-to-flirt-with-guys” challenges that the Plain Janes are put up to are a little less offensive to me, since these could easily be seen as a way of learning how to get the young women to have fun and let loose a little, and these exercises don’t have the approval of one specific guy as their focus. The actual scenes, however, suffer a great deal from being so obviously staged: The allegedly random guys are clearly hired actors, and if I were one of the Plain Janes the idea that the show had to hire people to flirt with me would not exactly make me feel more self confident.

And reviewing 1998 slasher flick Urban Legend was a welcome opportunity to revisit some of my favourite folklore:

Urban legend characters are traditionally vaguely defined archtypes who don’t need any real introduction: The Babysitter, The Killer, The Ignorant Tourist etc. Since the urban legend-teller will usually insist that these are people he knows or at least knows of, we will usually be able to relate to the characters even if we know very little about them. This aspect is of course lost in a movie, where we’re constantly aware that we’re watching a piece of fiction played out by actors. So an urban legend movie is  dependant on our being able to identify with the characters on screen, and this is a huge problem in Urban Legend. The casting consists almost entirely of secondary actors from 1990s tv-shows. Between Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, Toni from 90210, Gersten from Twin Peaks, and Jordan from My So Called Life the H!ITG-factor  gets kind of distracting …

That review was from April, and I actually don’t think I’ve done much blogging worth mentioning since then. I can’t imagine what 2013 has in store for me, but so far things seem promising: Last week we celebrated my mother’s 60th birthday, and I got to give her a speech for the first time in my life, and to see her surrounded by her best friends, all so eager to pay tribute to this incredible woman who means the world to me. And three days ago, my little nephew was born, a healthy, lovely boy. I have received a photo of him swaddled in a white cloth with blue teddy bears on it that used to belong to my brother and later to me when we were babies. The boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Jutland to see him and his parents, and I cannot wait to hold that darling little boy, my parents’ first grandchild, in my arms.

But I’m getting a little more accustomed to my new life, my new apartment, and life with my boyfriend every day. And among my 2013 new year’s resolutions is definitely: “Blog more”. I’m looking forward to that. So happy 2013, everyone! And thanks for sticking around.

Happy New Year. New Year's Eve

Happy New Year. New Year’s Eve

Advent and Christmas Songs: Fairest Lord Jesus

It’s the 4th Sunday of Advent, the day before Christmas Eve, the snow is falling again outside my parents’ home in a suburb north of Copenhagen. All my presents are ready and wrapped, and I feel so content and happy. I thought I’d share some holiday cheer by posting one of my favorite Christmas carols, the German hymn “Schönster Lord Jesu“, also known in English as “Fairest Lord Jesus“.

Now, this may seem a strange choice for any potential German or English readers out there. In the German and English version, the song is not a carol at all, it is simply a hymn and may be sung all year round. I, however, am mostly familiar with the Danish version by poet B.S. Ingemann, “Dejlig er jorden”.

Ingemann was same poet who did the translation of “Silent Night” (which I mentioned here), and like with “Silent Night” Ingemann took some liberties with the material at hand, but in the case of “Schönster Herr Jesu” he did a much better job, I think. What he did was that he turned the hymn into a Christmas carol, albeit in a very simple, discreet manner. He maintains the essence of the German lyrics, which is to praise eartlhy loveliness and praising the heavenly splendor (the English version is mostly devoted to the praising of Jesus). However, in the last stanza Ingemann links it all to one glorious moment in time, that is, the hour when the lord was born and the shepherds learned of their salvation from heavenly angels. The Danish lyrics go, directly translated:

The earth is lovely, God’s heaven is glorious,
Beautiful is the pilgrimage of our souls!
Through the fair kingdoms on earth,
We walk towards Paradise, singing!

Times shall come, times shall roll over us
Generations shall follow the passing of generations
The tone from heaven shall never cease
In the happy pilgrimage of the soul.

The angels first sang it to the shepherds in the field
Beautifully from soul to soul it rang:
“Peace on earth! Man, rejoice!
An eternal savior is born onto us!”

Effective, yet simple. It is difficult to think of a more striking imagery of heavenly beauty on earth than that of the lowly shepherds being visited by angels, and I like how Ingemann doesn’t try to wrap things up in a conclusive fourth stanza. The words of the angels are allowed to stand alone, along with the image of the shepherds and the angels. “Dejlig er jorden” is a Danish Christmas classic, although the Swedes have embraced the carol as well, using it sometimes as a funeral hymn. It does seem appropriate for such a purpose: Whenever we are singing it, walking around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, joined hands as per Danish custom, the second stanza marks a moment of quiet reflection for me, a reminder of loved ones who have passed away, but also of the life and joy that has yet to come. I am not a Christian, and I cannot truly believe that there is a heavenly note that will sound on earth till the end of time. But I love to be alive in a world that is able to conjure up an idea as beautiful as that – a note ringing from heaven! – and there are plenty earthly things to be happy about. This Christmas Eve, walking around my parents’ Christmas tree, I am sure the verse about the “passing of generations” will make me think affectionately of the baby that my brother’s wife is expecting, a little boy who is to be born early in the new year, making my parents grandparents and me an aunt for the first time. And maybe I will also be thinking a little bit about the little Christmas tree I have waiting for myself and  my boyfriend when we return from our respective families to celebrate our first Christmas together in his apartment, in which I moved in in October this year. The earth is indeed lovely.

My Christmas tree

Advent and Christmas Songs: Singing That Richt Balulalow

Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols has been an essential part of my Christmases for several years now. Annina Teatime first introduced me to it, and she did a lovely post about it back when we were Confidential Attachées here, and I don’t really have much to add. It’s simply a beautiful work, with a quiet, serene Christmas atmosphere to it that’s so much different from the one you find in crowded, loud department stores this time of year. And “Balulalow” is a jewel of a song.

Happy 3rd Sunday of Advent.


Happy 12.12.12, folks.

12 12 12


Edited to add: Ok, so this wasn’t a very inspired post. I apologize. But I have a thing for coincidences like these, and I just couldn’t bear not posting anything on such an attractive date.

Advent and Christmas Songs: The Swedish Edition

Snow 2nd Sunday of Advent 2012

Yes, the snow is still falling. This is what the yard behind my building looked like this afternoon.

Last week I complained about the general sort of bland state of Danish Christmas carols, a blandness that, however, is not paralleled by the carol tradition of our Northern brother country, Sweden. The Swedes are excellent at keeping their traditional music alive, and while genres like ballads and folk songs and folk music are mostly thought of as things of an ancient past in Denmark, in Sweden the likes of Jan Johansson have managed to keep folk music alive and allowed it to evolve and adapt to more recent music. I think this shows in the Swedes Christmas carols as well. Swedish Christmas carols are wonderful, with a unique, old kind of sound to them, and below are a few of my favourites:

Jul, jul, strålande jul

Try listening to that one without getting goosebumps and misty eyes. I dare you! “Jul, jul, strålande jul” is simply breathtaking and ideal for being sung polyphonically by a choir as in the above video. It is at once warm and hearty and grandiose, and the lyrics are beautiful as well: they address Christmas like an apostrophe, asking it to shine over white forests, over the passing of old generations and over the lives of young people, over raging wars and the sighs of young children. I also like how the white forests are a recurring motif in the lyrics – connecting the Swedish wintry landscape with the Christian tradition of Christmas.

Gläns över sjö och strand

I love how this one goes back and forth between a minor and major key, one of the thing that Swedish folk music excels at, in my opinion. There’s an even more folk tone-y version of this carol for the thus inclined, composed by Widéen. I’m usually all about the folk music, but I actually prefer the above original version, by Alice Tegner, for its solemnity. That version was also featured in the excellent TV series based on Astrid Lindgren’s Madicken of June Hill books – sung by Madicken and her family on Christmas Eve (song starts up at 25:25).

Det strålar en stjärna 

This video version is from Lucia Day in Sweden which is appropriate since I first heard “Det strålar en stjärna” on Lucia Day five years ago. I was living  in a student hall that accommodate a lot of Swedish exchange students at the time, and while Lucia Day is also a thing in Denmark, the Swedes have a much more elaborate tradition when it comes to celebrating December 13, so the women among the Swedish students took it upon themselves to wake the rest of us up by way of a Lucia parade (as described by me here), and they sang this beautiful carol about the star of Christmas, shining brighter every day as the holidays approach.

Festive Street Art: Santa-Hatting the River Nile

In central Copenhagen, at Søtorvet, there’s a bronze copy of the marble statue The River Nile from the 1st century, escavated in 16th century Rome. A bearded man is supposed to represent the river itself, and he is surrounded by 16 infants playing on his body,  symbolizing the number of feet (16) the Nile was believed to rise annually, fertilizing Lower Egypt. There’s a similar statue of The River Tiber situated across the street from the Nile sculpture.

Some street artist must have figured that just because one is tasked with representing the flow of a northeastern African river, one should not have to miss out on the festivity of the season. In any case he or she has carefully created Santa hats to fit the sculptural babies. I just spotted this today and was so charmed that I pulled my bicycle out of very heavy traffic in order to snap a few pictures:





Thanks for warming my heart as well as the heads of several bronze infants, unknown street artist.