Barbara – France’s best-kept secret

Iconic French singers tend to be known worldwide. Virtually everybody is familiar with the names, if not the music, of Édith Piaf, Juliette Gréco, Mireille Mathieu and Serge Gainsbourg. But who has ever heard of Barbara? In France she was, and still is, a legend. Alongside Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens, she was one of the pillars of chanson française in the 1960s, as well as the first … Continue reading Barbara – France’s best-kept secret

Agi Jambor: a nearly forgotten pianist

The first time I came across her name was in 2009. A gentleman called Stephen, a friend of Ms Jambor’s, had uploaded some of her recordings on YouTube. I was stunned by the beauty and sensitivity of her playing, and fascinated by her life story – worthy of a Hollywood movie. Born in Budapest in 1909, Agi Jambor [pronounced: Yambor] made her debut with a symphony orchestra … Continue reading Agi Jambor: a nearly forgotten pianist

Chopin and the Tarantella

This is probably Chopin at his most untamed. None of the melancholic melodies or refined embellishments that characterise the composer’s music is to be found in this piece. The great composer Robert Schumann described it as: Chopin’s most extravagant manner; we see before us the dancer, whirling as if possessed, until our senses reel. In her live performance of Chopin’s Tarantelle, Maria Perrotta manages to … Continue reading Chopin and the Tarantella

Chopin and Dalida: two migrant stars

In an era of indifference, intolerance and downright hostility towards external and internal migrants across this supposedly civilised Europe of ours, it is important to remember how much a foreigner can contribute to the cultural life of his or her adopted country. Yet it seems ironic that while most migrants are marginalised and rejected by societies at large, when a non-native happens to be loved by … Continue reading Chopin and Dalida: two migrant stars

Rimbaud and Verlaine in London

London is renowned for attracting rebellious, hedonistic characters (in one word: dropouts) from around the world. But two former inhabitants definitely top the bill. Their decadent lifestyle makes the hipsters of today look like Boy Scouts! As a teenager I was fascinated by their story, and spellbound by their poetry. Rimbaud and Verlaine were highly influential poets of the 19th century. Paul Verlaine was 27 when … Continue reading Rimbaud and Verlaine in London

The Quarrel of the Buffoons

When thinking of Baroque music, it is Bach that immediately springs to mind. Indeed, Johann Sebastian is the indisputable King Supreme of the musical style. But Handel, Scarlatti and Vivaldi are probably just as well known. Another great, if slightly less familiar, Baroque composer is Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). Now widely regarded as one of the leading French composers of his time, his music lost popularity … Continue reading The Quarrel of the Buffoons

Les Enfants du Paradis

Often described as the greatest French film of all time, this legendary epic is where cinema and poetry merge into one. Written by Jacques Prévert, Les Enfants du Paradis was made during WWII, in spite of the restrictions imposed by the Vichy regime, and premiered in Paris in 1945, a few months after the Libération. The film had a huge impact on France because it was so … Continue reading Les Enfants du Paradis