Connect with us

Midweek Review

Annihilation of UNP et al rips apart civil society project



UNP leader Wickremesinghe with civil society activist Saman Rathnapriya while Ven. Dambara Amila thera and MP A.H.M. Fowzie look on, at a candlelight vigil held at Independence Square in Oct 2019 to mark the failed bid to oust the UNP government in late Oct 2018.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A stunning SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) victory, at the Aug 5, 2020, general election, dealt a debilitating blow to a high profile civil society project meant to challenge President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The project, undertaken by ‘Freedom: People’s Collective,’ with the backing of some political elements, was aimed at thwarting a bid, by the SLPP, to secure a two-thirds majority at the poll.

The success of the scheme, unveiled on July 8, 2020, at the New Town Hall, largely hinged on the UNP, its breakaway faction SJB (Samagi Jana Balavegaya), the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) and the TNA (Tamil National Alliance) winning well over 75 seats, at the recently- concluded general election.

Two-thirds hadn’t been achieved by any political party/coalition, since the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system, way back in 1989, by the JRJ government. The UNP that had won the previous general election with a 5/6 majority in 1977 held under the first-past-post system, put off the parliamentary poll, scheduled for Aug 1983, by way of a sham national referendum, conducted on Dec 22, 1982. Today, the UNP is left with just a solitary National List seat.

‘Forward, Nor Backward’ at a standstill

The latest civil society project, titled ‘Forward, Not Backward,’ was intended to prevent the SLPP from either doing away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution or amending it.

Newcomer to parliamentary politics, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, has been placed in charge of the ‘operation’ to bring in required constitutional changes. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s move to place the high profile mission under Sabry caused quite a stir. Some members of the SLPP were much more surprised than the depleted Opposition. Sabry’s appointment should be examined against the backdrop of ‘Freedom: People’s Collective’ appeal to the voting public. Let me reproduce verbatim the appeal made by the civil society grouping. “…the most crucial political responsibility of the voters of our country at the parliamentary election, on the 5th of August, is to make sure that it will not mark the beginning of the end of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy.”

Former SLFP and then UNP heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera was to play a crucial role in the whole operation. The launch of Samaraweera’s campaign coincided with the releasing of results the day following the election. The Island announced Samaraweera’s project on its front page on Aug 6, 2020 (Mangala launches new initiative to rally masses against SLPP, with the strap line, Radical Centre claims to follow centrist path). The story was placed next to the lead story ‘SLPP confident of securing majority.’

Former editor of Ravaya Victor Ivan dealt with Samaraweera’s role, in a news piece carried on June 21, 2020, in the wake of Samaraweera jeopardizing the SJB’s campaign. Having handed over nominations from the SJB for the Matara district, on March 19, 2020, the former minister quit the contest on June 9, 2020.

There had never been any doubt about the SLPP’s victory, though two-thirds seemed impossible. The SLPP however never expected as many as 145 seats, one more than its 2010 achievement, under war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The civil society grouping, too, clearly realized a comfortable victory for the SLPP, though the level of accomplishment quite stunned them. The Opposition grouping, consisting of the UNP, the SJB, the JVP and the TNA – expected to work with the civil society grouping, post-general election – suffered an irreversible setback.

From 106 seats to 01

The UNP was reduced to just one National List MP, the TNA to 10 (one National List slot) and the JVP to three (one National List MP). The civil society project is now in tatters, with the Sajith Premadasa-led SJB very much unlikely to get involved in such an operation. The SJB is likely to follow a policy, quite contrary to that of the UNP, in respect of the civil society.

In the previous parliament, the UNP had 106 seats (13 National List slots), the TNA 16 (two National List slots) and the JVP six (two National List slots). The SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress), the ACMC (All Ceylon Makkal Congress), the JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya) and the TPA (Tamil Progressive Alliance) were among the 106. Today, all four represented the SJB.

The UNP, now reduced to a solitary lawmaker, is no longer a viable political force. The status quo is unlikely to change for years to come. The heavily depleted TNA, ripped by internal crisis, is unlikely to get involved in the civil society project, though MP elect M.A. Sumanthiran participated at the July 8 launch, at the New Town Hall. President’s Counsel Sumanthiran, too, is struggling on the political front with Raviraj Sasikala, who contested the Jaffna electoral district unsuccessfully, causing quite a stir there. Sasikala is the wife of slain TNA lawmaker

Nadarajah Raviraj. The attorney-at-law was gunned down along with his police bodyguard in Colombo in Nov 2006. The killing was blamed on the then government.

The civil society, too, is struggling to cope up with the situation, against the backdrop of the SLPP securing a near two-thirds majority. The SLPP can easily secure two-thirds with the backing of the sole SLFP MP (Angajan Ramanathan) elected from the Jaffna electoral district, two from the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, led by Douglas Devananda, one from the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) of Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan and one from the National Congress of A L M Athaullah. Pilleyan is still in custody over the assassination of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Dec 25, 2005, inside a church in Batticaloa, during Christmas mass.

A visit to East

Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Pilleyan, held in the Batticaloa prison, on Oct 27, 2019, a few weeks before the Nov 16, 2019 presidential poll, to reach consensus on an arrangement. The TMVP backed Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential poll. Pilleyan is still in prison having being arrested on Oct 11, 2015. The SLPP is now in a position to repeal the 19th Amendment. However, if the ruling party and those who back it abuse their overwhelming power in the parliament for the benefit of selected individuals, the coalition would have to face serious consequences.

Nothing can be as damaging as manipulating the parliamentary process, regardless of the power enjoyed by the SLPP at the moment. In other words, the SLPP will lose public confidence very quickly, if the government resorted to political trickery, in the aftermath of such an overwhelming victory.

Let me put it this way, the SLPP’s real enemy, or Opposition, would be its own power that can cause quite a rapid deterioration of the government, if abuses are allowed to go unchecked. Therefore, it would be the responsibility of the top SLPP leadership to act responsibly, regardless of its superiority in parliament. Those opposed to the new administration would be eagerly awaiting the top SLPP leadership taking a wrong turn.

The National Joint Committee (NJC) issued a statement on Sunday (16) expressing concern over the new government strategy as regards constitutional changes. The Island carried the NJC statement in its Aug 17 edition.

The civil society, and other interested parties, wouldn’t easily give up their efforts to undermine Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration. The event at the New Town Hall underscored their strategy.

Govt. again faulted over alleged Swiss Embassy abduction

Addressing the gathering, convener of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya, of the Sinhala Department of the Colombo University, was like a mercenary in his attack on the interim administration over three incidents. Wijesooriya raked up the alleged abduction of Swiss Embassy employee, Garnier Banister Francis, within days after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election, as the President, at the Nov 16, 2019 election. The academic conveniently refrained from making reference to the current status of the high profile judicial inquiry into Garnier’s abduction. Many an eyebrow has been raised over the alleged involvement of journalist Dharisha Bastian in the Swiss case. The case was last heard on July 21, 2020. It will come up again on Sept 8, 2020. Perhaps, if Prof. Wijesooriya has any decency left in him will he explain why Garnier, portrayed by them as an angel nastily dealt by government operatives, ended up being a suspect in making a false accusation, knowingly. All, including the police, seem to have also forgotten renegade Inspector Nishantha Silva’s sordid involvement in the Swiss matter, and the despicable bid made by the Swiss embassy in Colombo to evacuate Garnier in an air ambulance. The former CID officer took refuge, in Switzerland, soon after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory.

Prof. Wijesooriya also blamed the killing of the Chairman of the National Three-Wheeler Federation (NTWF), Sunil Jayawardena, at Mirihana, on June 10, 2020, also on the Rajapaksa government, in addition to the suicide of Rajeewa Jayaweera (64) whose body was found at Independence Square, on June 12, 2020. Prof. Wijesooriya totally ignored Rajeewa’s brother Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s assertion that there was no doubt as regards his brother committing suicide leaving behind a plethora of clear cut evidence.

Prof. Wijesooriya, and several other speakers, at the event, urged the electorate to thwart the SLPP’s plans. Among the speakers was attorney-at-law Javid Yusuf, one of the three civil society representatives at the Constitutional Council, chaired by then Speaker Karunaratne Jayasuriya. One-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Riyadh, Yusuf had the guts to stand his ground, in spite of criticism over him taking a political stand. Interestingly, except The Island, no other print, or electronic media, took up this issue.

The unexpected outcome of the August 5 poll has dealt a heavy blow to the civil society grouping, opposed to the Rajapaksas’ way of governance. In addition to the NMSJ, Purawesi Balaya, spearheaded by Gamini Viyangoda, campaigned hard for Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election. They played a significant role in the overall political strategy, during that period. It would be pertinent to mention that the yahapalana project went awry from the word go due to sinister objectives, wrong decisions, and lapses, on the part of their political leadership.

Beginning of the end

The yahapalana setup suffered a debilitating setback, in late Feb 2015, within 50 days after the presidential election. The first Treasury bond scam, involving the Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), carried out by Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, handpicked for the top Central Bank job by Ranil Wickremesinghe began the downfall of that government. Then, the second and much bigger Treasury bond scam was perpetrated, in late March 2016. The then President Sirisena delayed the appointment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) till late January 2017. The civil society largely remained silent on the issue thereby giving away their sinister motives. The P CoI that probed the unprecedented scams comprised Supreme Court Judges Kankani Tantri Chitrasiri, Prasanna Sujeewa Jayawardena and retired deputy Auditor General Velupillai Kandasamy.

In a way, the UNP paid a huge price for strategic miscalculations and mistakes. The UNP would never have suffered an irreversible humiliating defeat, it experienced at the August 5 general election, if not for those wrongful miscalculations on their audaciousness to think that they could get away with anything by pretending to be the clean guys backed by the ‘democratic’ West to the hilt. Thereby, the UNP allowed the unprecedented rapid growth of an Opposition movement, led by twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention, in 2016, by way of his own civil society grouping Viyathmaga, initially unsettled some sections in the Opposition grouping. But gradually, the wartime Defence Secretary brought the situation under his control and by early 2019 was in a strong position to secure the Opposition candidature.

A section of the civil society grouping, affiliated with the UNP et al pushed for the then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya nomination as their presidential candidate. They also tried to disqualify SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa by moving court against him claiming highly contentious citizenship issue. They almost succeed. If not for the last minute Supreme Court decision, in Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s favour,

Chamal Rajapaksa would have contested the 2019 presidential poll. The threat was so high; the SLPP had no option but to field Chamal Rajapaksa, in his capacity as a sitting lawmaker.

The NGO cabal played a high profile role in the government strategy. So much so, the government accommodated civil society members, even in the Geneva-led accountability process. Many an eyebrow was raised when Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC) Dr. Jehan Perera accompanied the government delegation to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council sessions.

The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe packed the Consultations Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CRFRM) with prominent civil society activists. Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, functioned as its Secretary. In its report, the CTFRM, headed by Manouri Muttetuwegama, recommended the inclusion of foreign judges in war crimes courts to be established in terms of the 30/1 Geneva Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, in Oct 2015. The CTFRM included Gamini Viyangoda, Visaka Dharmadasa, Shantha Abhimanasingham, PC, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, K.W. Janaranjana, Prof. Daya Somasundaram, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Prof. Gameela Samarasinha and Mirak Raheem.

The writer in the same breath strongly believes that inclusion of foreign judges, as well as participation of foreign personnel, in the accountability process, is a prerequisite for successful reconciliation process.

However, in addition to those unsubstantiated allegations, on which Geneva adopted accountability resolution, subsequently revealed British wartime dispatches from its Colombo High Commission, too, should be examined. Lord Naseby, in Oct 2017, disclosed the hitherto confidential dispatches which disputed the very basis of the Geneva resolution.

Most of those who had been involved in various civil society initiatives, over the years, worked overtime to thwart the Rajapaksas. Sometimes, they contradicted themselves. Many an eyebrow was raised when some members of the civil society, on behalf of the UNP, demanded that Field Marshal Fonseka be appointed the Law and Order Minister. Among them were Ven. Dambara Amila and Saman Ratnapriya Silva, who was lucky to enter parliament several weeks before the dissolution, on March 2, 2020. They quite conveniently and shamelessly forgot how they and those near and dear to them accused Fonseka’s army of war crimes.

UNP down to 249,435 countrywide votes

Whatever the setbacks, the civil society sustained its project. However, the outcome of the general election, close on the heels of presidential election debacle, ripped apart the UNP. The party’s failure to at least do better than the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), and the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), in countrywide rankings, reflected the actual ground situation. Reduced to just one National List Member of Parliament, the UNP lacked even a basic strategy to address the crisis. The UNP at least couldn’t quickly reach a consensus on whom to appoint to its National List slot. The move to bring back former Speaker, 80-year- old Karu Jayasuriya, highlighted the absence of a cohesive strategy. The UNP continued its silly games, with some proposing to continue with Wickremesinghe for six months, pending determination on its new Leader.

Would anyone really want to take over the UNP at this moment? Having lost the presidential, by a staggering 1.4 mn votes, the UNP ended up in fifth position at the Aug 5, 2020 general election. The overwhelming SLPP victory is not really an achievement on its own. The UNP did everything possible to inflict the worst ever defeat on itself. The UNP’s destructive strategy seemed quite deliberate and fashioned to cause maximum possible damage. Shall we call it Divine retribution?

The SLPP should understand why the voting public handed it such a massive victory. The SLPP polled 6,853,693 (59.89%), the SJB 2,771,984 (23.98%), JJB 445,958 (3.84 %), ITAK 327,168 (2.82%), UNP 249,435 (2.15%) and Ahila Illankai Thamil Congress 67,786 (0.58%). There were altogether 353 registered political parties, and independent groups, in the fray. The independent group 9 that contested Trincomalee was placed last in terms of the number of votes obtained. It received just 15 votes.

The new government and political parties need to overhaul the entire political system soon. Outside assistance is not required at all. Quite corrupt continuing practice of fielding proxies by way of independent groups and privilege status enjoyed by former lawmakers to contest presidential poll without hindrance should be done away with. The Election Commission should take the lead in this project. Having repeatedly said that unnecessary large number of presidential candidates, as well as extraordinarily high number of contesting parties and independent groups, increased the burden on taxpayers, the EC should take tangible remedial measures. Thirty-five candidates contested the last presidential election. Of them, 15 were former members of parliament.

Over the years, the number of contestants, at presidential elections, gradually increased as all sorts of people joined the fray. Sri Lanka cannot continue to squander public funds on foolish endeavours. The national economy is in such a mess, unless tangible measures are taken to stop waste, corruption and irregularities, there’ll be far reaching consequences. Hence the annihilation of the political Opposition certainly shouldn’t be a reason for the SLPP to be reckless, under any circumstances. Let us hope the SLPP conducts affairs of the State prudently and attend to the grievances of the public without delay.

Perhaps, the SLPP should be cautious that it wouldn’t do anything to warrant a Presidential Commission of Inquiry in the future. That’ll be a challenge as big as securing a two-thirds majority in parliament. Hope all concerned keep in mind that the SLPP fell short of five seats to reach the magical two-thirds majority, and the target had to be achieved with the support of four parties.


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

Continue Reading

Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

Continue Reading