Harry Our King

Without the brilliant Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (look here http://bottlesandbooks.skynetblogs.be/archive/2013/02/16/... for my comments on them) this CD would probably not exist. And if I would not have read the books I would probably not have bought it. But Hilary Mantel created such a vivid picture of Henry VIII that this cd looked to me as a unique opportunity to hear his "voice" and to hear the music he listened too, and I couldn't resist.


Henry VIII, or King Harry, was the perfect example of the Renaissance Prince. He hunted, he played (and wrote) music, he was extremely interested in theology and even wrote a book about it himself, was interested in science, wrestled, looked good, had his friends amongst the nobles, but chose ordinary people like Cromwell as advisor, loved art, held masquerades and balls (when he was young) and was extremely aware of his title and his rights but loved contacts with ordinary people. In our 21st century eyes he was also a ruthless man, an irresponsible spendthrift and a bad general, but certainly in the first decades of his life he was also loved and cherished by many of his people and was quite popular.

It is certain he loved music very much. He employed 25 singers and instrumentalists in The King's Musick, mainly playing secular music, and 44 in the Chapel Royal, for liturgical music. He played some instruments well, wrote some songs  like Pastime with Good Company or Helas Madame, and invited musicians from all over the world to England. Some were Dutch, like the van Wilder's, some came from Venice or Milan, and some were Sephardic jews, expelled by the Inquisition from Spain and Portugal. When he died he possessed "19 viols, 20 regals, 14 virginals, 2 clavichords, 26 lutes, 7 citterns, 5 cornamuses, 15 shawns, 10 sackbuts, 65 flutes and 154 recorders."

The cd contains songs by Henry himself, but also music written by contemporaries like the classic England be Glad, a propaganda song for his French Wars, or Blow thy Horn, Hunter, written for him William Cornysh. The song that touched me the most was Green Groweth the Holly, a song for Christmas that Henry wrote himself and very probably performed for his intimate cercle, as he was also a man who loved friends and family life. For me this music made him even more alive, and it fuelled my imagination even more. if you love Hilary Mantel's books you should listen to it, and you will understand what I mean.

The Capella de la Torre gathers together musicians who specialised in historical music and its performance. In medieval times ensembles of musicians playing wind instruments often performed from balconies or towers and in Spain you find many Torres de los Ministriles that survived. This is a beautiful cd, a mix of history and music, and it gave me great joy.

England be glad !

Pluck up thy lustry heart !

Help now thy king and take his part

Against the French men in the field to fight

In the quarrel of the church and in the right

With spears and shields on goodly horses light

Bows and arrows to put the all to fight. Help now thy King !


For more information bout the ensemble, see www.capella-de-la-torre.de


Colm Toibin: The Testament of Mary.

the testament of mary.png

What an odd little book is this !! 104 pages, Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, and about Mary, the Mother of God, not the most exciting subject these days. But is it about the Mother of God, or is it about the mother of Jesus ? This certainly is the most interesting aspect of the book: did Mary know or realize what was happening ? Or was she just a mother, afraid and perplexed by her sibling ? The book describes her thoughts and feelings, a few years after the death of Christ, with his disciples writing down what happened. She does not like them, she doesn't share their feelings, and that is both an interesting idea and a provocative idea, as they make up stories to make everything sound better.

I have read it twice now, and still don't know what to think of it. You have to be a Catholic to understand it, I think, and it seems like an attack on the Church, but it is so stunningly beautiful that I really wonder what the author meant. To be provocative ? Maybe it is, in Ireland, where Catholics are still a bit more Catholic than in Belgium, but on the other hand, if it all happened, it very probably was a bit like this. To found a religion you need fanatics and people who are a bit unstable and probably some of the key players were not really aware of the importance of what happened.

The love of Mary for her son is absolutely touching, but there are other small things in the book that make her very human. Two things I really loved: her visit to the temple of Artemis and the discussion about the chair. In the first she is taken by a neighbour to the Temple of Artemis, a Roman Goddess, and she buys a religious souvenir, a small statue. At night she finds consolation in talking to it and it makes her so human, because personal religion often is about consolation. Another mother, 1000 or 2000 years later, will probably do exactly the same with a statue of Mary (and so an odd circle is formed when today's personification of consolation seeks it with an ancient one, and you understand they are both in the end the same thing). In one part of the book one of the disciples of Christ wants to use the chair of her dead husband. When she says that the one who used this chair will never return and that she does not want anyone else to use it, they misunderstand her, saying that He will return. When one of them takes it to sit in it, she suddenly reacts very threateningly and you see that Mary was also a wife, and one that missed her husband.

It is a book of a wonderful intensity, with beautiful prose, and I will probably reread it again and again, enjoying the beauty and the purity of its language. In that it reminds me a bit of the works of Timmermans, the Belgian writer, who wrote the most touching books about religious themes that are now outdated but whose language is so beautiful it is timeless. I wonder how long this one will follow me, and I think I'm going to put it next to the two Timmermans.   


Pat Barker: The Regeneration Trilogy

Burns. Rivers had become adept at finding bearable aspects to unbearable experiences, but Burns defeated him. What had happened to him was so vile, so disgusting, that Rivers could find no redeeming feature. He'd been thrown into the air by the explosion of a shell and had landed, head-first, on a German corpse, whose gas-filled belly had ruptured on impact. Before Burns lost consciousness, he'd had time to realize that what filled his nose and mouth was decomposing human flesh. Now, whenever he tried to eat, that taste and smell recurred. Nightly, he relived the experience, and from every nightmare he awoke vomiting. Burns on his knees, as Rivers had often seen him, retching up the last ounce of bile, hardly looked like a human being at all. His body seemed to have become merely the skin-and-bone casing for a tormented alimentary canal. His suffering was without purpose or dignity, and yes, Rivers knew exactly what Burns meant when he said that it was a joke.

PAT BARKER, Regeneration,


I live in Leuven/Louvain. My grandfather was wounded in 1914 in the last Belgian counter-attack before the Yzer. One of the uncles of my mom is buried in Flanders as a soldier, having survived the fighting but not the Spanish flu. An American nurse that fell in love with him paid for his tombstone and my uncle said to me that you can still see it in a small village somewhere in West-Flanders. 100 years ago the Great War passed through Belgium and changed the face of the world.

One of the reasons why I became a historian was my granddad, a farmer and a local politician (responsable for agriculture in a small village, Oppuurs), who spend some time at our home recovering from an operation. He was fond of books and history and I can still picture him reading The Longest Day, and he told lots of stories about his past. Books about the first World War interest me still.

So when Pat Barker won the Booker Price in 1995 with The Ghost Road I deecided to buy all three volumes and start with the first one, Regeneration. It tells the story of an encounter that happened in 1917 in Craiglockhart between an army doctor/psychologist,W.H.R. Rivers, and Siegfried Sassoon, the famous anti-war poet. The stories of the things that happened to soldiers and officers that were so horrible that it drove them mad are described here by a medic, full of compassion, but who's job it was to make them fit to go back, and who believed in what he was doing. We meet several people that are historical, like Rivers himself, and the poets Owen and Sassoon, but also an intriguing fictional figure called Billy Prior.


In the three books (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road) stories start mixing and building up: Rivers working as an antropologist on Eddystone Island amongst the headhunters, Billy Prior working for Intelligence and wrestling with his past, the difficult position of homosexuals (an eye-opener to me when I read it), Britisch society in 1917-1918, the anti-war movement and how society reacted to it... It's curious that where I remembered these books mainly for the stories about shell-shock and homofobia when I read them in 1995, I now seemed to like the parts about Billy Prior most. The books change when you are rereading them, and for me, a fast reader, this is the best giveaway for a really good book. I will probably continue reading it until I die.

2014 is a good year to start.





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