Filmmaker Keywan Karimi in prison!

4c08417c-d235-42ca-b68b-bc8bb8e636b51. Keywan Karimi is an Iranian filmmaker with Kurdish origins. He is 31 years old and has directed more than 10 films. Initially he directed short documentaries, but now his work includes documentaries and feature films. He received several prices for his films. His documentary “The Broken Border” was awarded a prize for the best short documentary at the 2013 Beirut International Film Festival. His film “Drum”, a fictional film, was produced in 2016. It was premiered at the competition section of the Venice International Film Festival.

2. In 2012 Keywan Karimi began to produce the film “Writing in the City”. It is a 60 minute long documentary film about Graffiti on the walls in the streets of Tehran. On 14 December 2013 Keywan Karimi was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards. One of the charges against him was  “spreading propaganda against the system” with this film. At the time of these accusations no one had seen the film and only a trailer on YouTube was known to the public.

After Keywan Karimi’s arrest he was brought to Tehran’s Evin prison and was held in solitary confinement for 12 days. One week after his arrest he could briefly call his family. He was not allowed to disclose to his family that he was arrested and he could not speak with a lawyer. He was then released on bail.

3. His trial started on 11 May 2014 and ended on 13 October 2015. Each of the seven hearings only lasted 15 to 20 minutes. His lawyer was present during the hearings but he could not present his defence properly. There were generally many irregularities in his trial and several human rights organisations consider it an unfair trial.

On 13 October 2015 Keywan Karimi was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the Islamic sanctities” and 223 lashes for “illicit relations short adultery”. The court saw “illicit relations” in “shaking hands” and “being under one roof” with a woman “who had not covered her head and neck”. In addition he has to pay a fine.

4. Keywan Karimi filed an appeal against this decision on 23 December 2015. In February 2016 he was informed that the appeal court upheld the sentence against him, but suspended five of his six-year punishment for a period of five years. This means that he will have to spend one year in prison. The appeal court also upheld the lashes.

A few days ago Keywan Karimi was  summoned to start his prison sentence on Wednesday, 23 November. He is now required to serve a one-year prison term and it is expected that he will receive the 223 lashes in prison.

5. Please take action for Keywan Karimi. Use social media and other media to spread his story and show your support.

Write to Iran and ask them to quash this harsh sentence and release him. You can find more information about actions you can take and addresses at the EnglishPen website and the Pen International website. There is also an interview with Keywan Karimi with Times of India from February 2016 which is well worth reading: “Keywan Karimi: I am not scared of the 223 lashes”.

“Beyond Caravaggio” at the National Gallery

“Beyond Caravaggio” is an exhibition at the National Gallery, London which I visited on Saturday. I want to give in this post an overview over the exhibition and my thoughts about it. 

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1. The exhibition “Beyond Caravaggio” opened at the National Gallery, London on 12 October 2016 and will close on 15 January 2017. From 11 February 2017 until 14 May 2017 the exhibition will be shown at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and from 17 June until 24 September 2017 at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. The exhibition is dedicated to Caravaggio and his influence on contemporaries and followers. It is the first major exhibition of this kind in the UK. The exhibition focusses on the interest in caravaggesque paintings in Britain and Ireland. Most of the paintings come from British or Irish collections (private and public).

2. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born on 29 September 1571 in Milan (or in Caravaggio). He was a difficult character and reacted with jealousy, if someone copied his paintings or his style. He therefore also did not establish a formal school. Nevertheless, his art became quickly famous and other artists in Italy and further afield were influenced by his subject matters, his composition and his style – so much so that the adjective “caravaggesque” was coined for paintings and artists who painted in a style which imitated Caravaggio’s stylistic innovations. Some of these artists knew Caravaggio personally, like Francesco Buoneri, called Cecco del Caravaggio, and Orazio Gentileschi. Others knew primarily his paintings mainly because they had travelled to Rome or they had only heard about him and his innovations.

3. The exhibition “Beyond Caravaggio” occupies seven rooms in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery, London and contains 50 paintings. 6 paintings are by Caravaggio. The 44 other paintings are by Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch and Flemish artist which were influenced by him.

Room 1 in the exhibition is called “Painting from Life. Caravaggio’s Early Years in Rome”. Caravaggio was about 20 years old when he arrived in Rome. The first room shows two of Caravaggio’s early paintings: (1) “Boy peeling a fruit” (1592-1593) which is now in the Royal Collection. It is the earliest known work by Caravaggio probably painted shortly after his arrival in Rome. (2) “Boy bitten by a Lizard” (about 1594-1594) which belongs to the National Gallery, London. Both paintings were presumably painted for sale on the open market. Caravaggio devoted his art to real life subjects which he considered to be worth painting. This is a characteristic which is evident in his early paintings of musicians and fortune tellers, but also in his later sacred paintings. He always paints nature and real people, particular the “Boy bitten by a Lizard” is a realistic and highly emotional painting. The boy’s face is distorted by surprise and pain and the fruits and the vase with flowers look so real that one might be tempted to touch them. The six other paintings in Room 1 are also paintings which show musicians, gamblers and fortune tellers. For me one of the most interesting paintings apart from the Caravaggios is the painting of a musician by Cecco del Caravaggio who was Caravaggio’s servant, model and presumably his lover. This painting shows that he was also a gifted artist in his own rights.

Room 2 is called “Success and Patronage: Caravaggio’s immediate Circle”. Caravaggio received his first commission in 1599. He painted “Calling of Saint Matthew” and “Conversion of Saint Matthew” for the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi dei Francesci, Rome. The unveiling of the paintings in July 1600 caused a sensation and these paintings were a turning point for Caravaggio. The Mattei brothers Ciriaco and Asdrubale commissioned in the following years three paintings: “Saint John the Baptist” (1602) which is today in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome, “The Supper at Emmaus” (1601) and “The Taking of Christ” (1602). “The Supper at Emmaus” belongs today to the National Gallery, London and “The Taking of Christ” to the Jesuit Community, Leeson St, Dublin, but is on indefinite loan to the National Gallery of Ireland. Both paintings are shown in the exhibition in Room 2. They are stunning paintings. In both cases Caravaggio decided to show exactly the moment which is the most dramatic and most emotional. In  “The Supper at Emmaus” Caravaggio depicts the moment in which the two disciples recognise that the “stranger” at their table is the risen Christ. The composition has great immediacy and the viewer of the painting becomes almost involved in the Biblical scene. Also in “The Taking of Christ” Caravaggio choose the most dramatic moment, immediately before or after the kiss with which Judas betrayed Jesus. There is a great emotional tension between Jesus and Judas and Jesus looks sad and disappointed about the betrayal through a friend. At the same time his face is calm and serene – ready to face suffering and death. A remarkable detail of this painting is that Caravaggio included a self portrait in it in which he holds a lantern and witnesses the whole incident. The five other paintings in this room include two paintings which were also in the Mattai collection and hung presumably close to Caravaggio’s paintings.

Room 3 is dedicated to “Caravaggio’s Close Followers”. Mancini, one of the first biographers of Caravaggio, described a few artists as Caravaggio’s schola (“school” or “following”). These include Bartolomeo Manfredi, Jusepe Ribera, Cecco del Caravaggio, Giovanni Antonio Galli, called Lo Spadarino and Carlo Saraceni. Room 3 shows paintings by some of these artists, but also by Orazio Gentileschi and Orazio Borgianni. The most impressive painting in this room is for me Lo Spadarino’s “Christ displaying his Wounds” (about 1625-1635) which belongs now to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Perth and Kinross Council, Scotland. The risen Christ is depicted presenting the wound in his side. The painting has a striking and almost disturbing immediacy and directness. It seems that  Jesus is directly looking at the spectator of the painting asking him to look at the wound and probably even to touch his wound. The viewer is not longer only an observer, but gets the role of the doubting Thomas who was not present when the risen Christ appeared the first time to his disciples. He only believed in the resurrection of Christ when Jesus appeared a second time and asked him to put his finger in his wound. This painting and all the other paintings in this room follow Caravaggio in their great realism and the use of chiaroscuro (effects of light and darkness in a painting).

Room 4 focusses on “Admirers and Imitators. Caravaggio and his Italian Followers”. Many painters during Caravaggio’s life and after his sudden early death in 1610 travelled to Rome to see his paintings. There was a great demand for paintings in his style and artists produced paintings with naturalistic depiction, strong darkness and light contrasts and subject matters he had painted himself. Room 4 contains six paintings: Guido Reni: “Lot and his Daughters leaving Sodom” (about 1615-1616), a painting by Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri with the same title and subject matter, Artemisia Gentileschi: “Susannah and the Elders” and three paintings showing Cupid asleep (by Giovanni Battista Caracciolo and Orazio Riminaldi) or victorious over Arts and Science (Rutilio Manetti). The sleeping Cupid and victorious Cupid are both clearly influenced by Caravaggio’s famous paintings with the same subjects.

Room 5 is called “In Pursuit of Caravaggio. Painting in Naples”. Caravaggio visited Naples twice: the first time in 1606 – 1607 when he had fled Rome following the murder of Ranuccio Thomassoni and in 1609 – 1610 when he was on his way back to Rome from Malta and Sicily. Artists in Naples would usually travel frequently to Rome and therefore know Caravaggio’s paintings.  In 1607 Caravaggio painted a work in Naples itself which made even easier for artists to see his work: “Seven Acts of Mercy” at Pio Monte della Misericordia. Room 5 shows Caravaggio’s “Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist” (1609-1610) which belongs to the National Gallery, London. Compared with his earlier paintings this is much darker and uses a restricted palette of colours. There are six other paintings in the room, including three paintings by the Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera who lived and worked in Naples. All three paintings by Rivera are stunning. “Saint Onuphrius” (probably 1630) and “The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew” (1634) show both an old saint. Both paintings are very naturalistic with strong contrasts between darkness and light. The also show how well Ribera could paint old people. The third painting is one of my favourites: “Lamentations over the Dead Christ” (early 1620s) which belongs to the National Gallery, London. It shows the dead body of Christ lying on a white shroud. Saint John the Evangelist is supporting the body. The Virgin Mary has joined her hand in prayer and looks full anguish at her dead son. Mary Magdalene is leaning over the feet of Christ with her face close to his feet as if she wants to see the wounds at his feet or probably kiss his feet. The whole painting is dark only the body of Christ and the white loincloth and white shroud are bright. The painting is fascinating through his naturalism and is striking in its directness and lack of idealisation.

Room 6 is dedicated to the “International Caravaggesque Movement: Darkness and Light”. Caravaggio did not only have followers and admirers in Italy but also across Europe. Room 6 contains seven paintings by Matthias Stom, Willem van der Vliet, Adam de Coster, George de la Tour, Henrik ter Bruggen and Nicole Tournier. Even so Caravaggio used strong darkness and light contrasts he usually did not paint the source of the light and never painted a candle. In contrast Caravaggio’s Northern followers depicted often candlelight and were good in showing the specific light of a candle and the effects. This becomes also evident at the paintings in this room, six out of seven contain a candle as source of light.

The Last Room, Room 7 deals with “Caravaggio’s Legacy. The Power of  Storytelling”. Caravaggio was famous for his use of live models, his dramatic lighting, his story telling and his blurring of the line between sacred and profane. His  naturalistic style got out of fashion in the middle of the 17th century and people preferred again idealised and classic depiction of reality and human beings. Room 7 contains nine paintings, including Caravaggio’s “Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness” (about 1603-1604) which belongs to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. The paintings which impressed me most in Room 7 was Gerrit van Honthorst: “Christ before the High Priest” (about 1617). Gerrit van Honthorst who eventually received the nickname Gherardo delle Notti was a painter from Utrecht, The Netherlands, who painted many night scenes. In his painting “Christ before the High Priest” he shows Jesus Christ standing with downcast head before the High Priest. The Hight Priests sits at a table. An open book lies on the table and one finger is raised and points at Jesus. He looks intensely at Jesus. The whole scene is lit by a single candle. Jesus and the High Priest are painted lifelike and naturalistic, the figures in the back are hardly more than shadows. Even so the subject is dramatic, the depiction is calm. The candle light is warm and soft, but the picture still feels unsettling. I am very impressed by the atmosphere and intensity of this painting.

4. I enjoyed my visit to this exhibition very much. Most of the Caravaggio paintings were not new to me. I knew the three paintings which are in the National Gallery, London and the one which is the National Gallery of Ireland. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see them in the context of other artists and to see who widespread Caravaggio’s influence was. It was also interesting to realise that these artists were influenced by Caravaggio and his work in many different ways. Some of them stayed quite close to Caravaggio’s example. The paintings are thematically and stylistically clearly influenced by his paintings. Other artists took certain aspects of his paintings as a starting point, in particular the naturalistic style or subject matters, but then develop it further and went in their own direction.

I am very tempted to visit the exhibition a second time and I can also highly recommend it to everyone who is interested in Caravaggio and generally Baroque paintings.

Brahms: A German Requiem – a Requiem for Humankind

brahmsThe first concert of the HCS concert season 2016/2017 will take place on Saturday 12 November 2016 at All Hallows Gospel Oak, London NW3 2JP. It starts at 7 pm.

The programme has – appropriate for the season of the year – a sombre feeling. In the first half of the concert the New London Orchestra will play two orchestral pieces: Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow and Ronald Corp: The Somme – A Lament. Then HCS joins the New London Orchestra for Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music. Vaughan Williams set in this piece a text from Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice to music.  After the interval follows Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). 

The following blog post is about Brahms.

1. Johannes Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem), Op. 45 is Brahms’ longest and also most popular choral work. It is written for orchestra, baritone soloist, soprano soloist and chorus. It is comprised of seven movements. Movements 1, 2, 4 and 7 are for chorus only. Movement 3 and 6 are for baritone soloist and chorus and movement 5 is for soprano soloist and chorus. A performance of A German Requiem lasts about 70 minutes.

A requiem is traditionally a mass for the dead. It focusses on the repose of the souls of the deceased using a Latin text which is a particular form of the traditional mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Brahms’ requiem is different in many ways. He did not use the traditional Latin text, but rather compiled a German text. He used Luther’s translation of the Bible and combined parts of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Biblical Apocrypha. Brahms had a broad knowledge of the Bible and often put together passages from different sections of the Bible in one single movement. The title “A German Requiem” meant for Brahms only that the text of the requiem is in German. He probably chose it to distinguish his work from well-known traditional requiems, e.g. Mozart Requiem. Brahms mentioned in a letter to Karl Reinthaler, Director of Music of Bremen Cathedral, who was responsible for the first performance of the German Requiem in Bremen the following:

“Was den Text betrifft, so will ich bekennen, dass ich recht gerne auch das “Deutsch” fortließe und einfach den “Menschen” setzte.”
[“As far as the text is concerned, I will confess that I would very gladly omit the “German”, and simply put “of Humankind”.]

This focus on humankind or the human being becomes clear, when one looks at the texts Brahms chose for his requiem. It is not about the souls of the deceased, but rather about the consolation of the living who mourn the loss of loved one.

2. The earliest music material of the Requiem was written in 1854 as a funeral march which was a movement of a sonata for two pianos. 1854 was a difficult time in Brahms’ life. He had moved into the house of the Schumanns in the previous year and was a close friend of Robert and Clara Schumann. Robert Schumann had mental health issues which got worse over time. On 27 February 1854 Robert Schumann tried to commit suicide and was then taken to an asylum in which he died two years later on 29 July 1856. Brahms stayed with Clara during Robert’s illness and he and other friends supported her and tried to divert her mind from the tragedy. Brahms moved out after Robert’s death, but kept in close contact with Clara for all his life.

In 1861 Brahms put the text for the Requiem together and also started composing some of the movements, but then he seemed to have abandoned the work. In February 1865 Brahms’ mother died and he again took up the work on his Requiem. He worked on it through 1865 and 1866 and also sent parts to Clara Schumann and to other friends to get their opinion about it. For Christmas 1866 he sent the complete manuscript of A German Requiem (without the fifth movement which was not yet written) to Clara as a Christmas present.

One year later on 1 December 1867 the first three movements of A German Requiem were performed in Vienna by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (“Society of the friends of music”). It was not a good performance and it was not well received. On 12 April 1868 (Good Friday) Brahms conducted the whole work (still without the fifth movement) in Bremen cathedral. The cathedral was packed and it was an overwhelming success for Brahms. In May 1868 Brahms wrote the fifth movement which he called a “soprano solo with some measures of choir”. The first performance of the complete seven movement requiem took place in Leipzig Gewandhaus on 18 February 1869. It became immediately a very popular work which received 20 performances in 1869 alone. The London premiere took place in 1873 in St. James Hall.

3. The structure of A German Requiem is symmetrical with movement 4 as axis and heart of the work. Movement 4 describes the “lovely dwellings” of the Lord. Movement 1 and 7 share musical elements and also show a parallelism in the text which begins with “Selig sind” (blessed are). They unify the whole work. Movement 2 and 6 are both dramatic movements. The funeral march in movement 2 deals with the transient nature of life and is balanced with the triumphant theme of the resurrection of the dead in movement 6. Movement 3 and 5 are both movements which begin with a solo voice.

Movement 1 takes its text from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.4) and Psalm 126. Brahms does not use the violins for this movement which means that the sound of the orchestra is warm and dark. The movement is divided in three parts (A – B – A). After an introduction by the orchestra the chorus sings hushed and subdued. The music stops each time when the chorus stars singing. The second part “They that sow in tears” is more agitated, but soon the serenity of the first motive returns. In a usual requiem the first movement asks for the souls of the deceased in Brahms Requiem it deals with the consolation of the living.

Movement 2 is in the form of a funeral march and the chorus proclaims the inevitability of man’s fate. The text is taken from different parts of the Old and the New Testament. As in the first movement the sombre funeral march is contrasted with a lighter middle section. After the return of the funeral march the music gets faster and joyful. It is a transformation from darkness to light and Brahms’ music enhances the text. When the choir sings about “Schmerz und Seufzen” (suffering and sighing) one can almost hear the pain and sighing in the music. The chorus ends this movement singing gloriously about “ewige Freude” (eternal joy).

The text of Movement 3 is taken from Psalm 39 and the Book of Wisdom. In this movement the baritone soloist and choir engage in a dialogue. The soloist asks “What is my hope?”. The question is full of grief and doubt. Everything comes to a stop and the chorus answers calm and confident “My hope is in you”. Also this movement ends joyfully in a fugue for the choir and the orchestra.

Movement 4 is one of only two movements which uses text from one source (Psalm 84). The movement is a serene pastoral and has the simplicity of a folk song. The movement provides rest and contemplation after the tumultuous and forceful movement 3. It is probably the most famous movement which is also sometimes used on its own as an anthem.

Movement 5 uses again text from different sections of the Bible. A soprano soloist is accompanied by woodwind, horns and muted strings. The chorus quietly provides a background of harmony for the soloist. The message of the soprano is maternal consolation and comfort. In movement 3 the soloist was the voice of the suffering and the one longing for consolation, in this movement the soloist is the voice of one who gives consolation.

Movement 6 is in clear contracts to movement 5. It has the most dramatic music of the whole requiem. The text is taken from different parts of the New Testament. At the beginning of the movement the chorus sings “Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Statt” (For here have we no abiding city). This sentiment of uncertainty and homelessness is reflected in the music. The tonality is unclear and in the same way as the chorus sings that it does not have a place to stay the music does not stay in a clearly defined key. The baritone soloist then announces the mystery of the resurrection. As he sings about the twinkling of an eye (“in einem Augenblick”) the music stops for a moment and the character of the movement changes. Similar to movement 2 the chorus then gives a passionate and dramatic commentary on the text and sings about the victory over death. Also this movement ends with an elaborate fugue for the chorus on the text “Herr, Du bist würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre” (Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour.)

The final movement (movement 7) is the other movement which uses only text from one source (Revelation 14.13). The chorus sings again “Selig sind …” (blessed are), but this time it does not refer to the mourners, but to the departed. Also the music takes up a motive from the beginning of the work. The Requiem ends with the same word with which it began “Selig” (blessed).

4. A German Requiem was a turning point for Brahms –  financially (he received a fee which was about five times larger than for any work he had sold before) and in relation to his reputation. The Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick compared A German Requiem with Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

But its importance goes far beyond money and fame. Even if Brahms was reticent about his reasons for composing A German Requiem, one has to notice the link of this work to two crucial and tragic events in his early life (his mother’s death and Schumann’s illness and death). Brahms confirms the link with Robert Schumann in a letter to Joseph Joachim more than 15 years after the first performance of A German Requiem. I want to finish with a quote from this letter which gives a glimpse of the huge personal importance of the Requiem for Brahms:

Dächtest du der Sache und mir gegenüber einfach, so wüsstest du, wie sehr und innig ein Stück wie das Requiem überhaupt Schumann gehört. Wie es mir also im geheimen Grund ganz selbstverständlich erscheinen musste, dass es ihm auch gesungen würde.
[“If you were to consider the situation and how it relates particularly to me, you wold know how much and how profoundly a piece like the Requiem is altogether Schumann’s and how, in the secret recesses of my mind, it therefore had to seem quite self-evident to me that it would indeed be sung to him.”]