Top 10 Greatest Violinists of all Time

By request of BKhon – I hope he wasn’t working on the same list. I had been considering this subject for a while, and I’m thinking of one for classical pianists, as well. This list looks at the ten greatest violists in the entire history of western classical music. Note the notable mentions at the bottom and be sure to add your own to the comments.

He lived from 1908 to 1974, and, because he was born the same year that #2 died, he was referred to as his reincarnation. He was Russian and became world famous for his recordings and recitals of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, as well the standards by Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn. He was friends with several prominent Russian composers, including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian and Glazunov, all of whom wrote works dedicated to him, and which he premiered.

Tchaikovsky’s Concerto was his favorite work, and some say he made the best recordings of it, which is a huge feather in any violinist’s cap. He described the last movement of it as the violin equivalent of running a 3-minute mile.

One of the first true masters of the pre-recording age to make his mark in the sound studio. Kreisler lived from 1875 to 1962, and was known for a very polite, charming tone quality, not bombastic or forceful, but technically perfect, as if he were asking the audience’s permission to show off now and then. He is typically contrasted with #5, whose technical abilities were just as perfect, but whose tone was much more aggressive, even in slow passages.

Kreisler was one of the few classical musicians to die wealthy back then, having been struck by cars twice, once in 1941, which fractured his skull and put him in a week-long coma, and again a few months before his death, a traffic accident which left him blind and deaf. He was known to be supremely polite and gentlemanly to everyone he met, and this has been noted as an abiding quality of his playing. He wrote what is, today, the most popular cadenza for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D.

His admirers and the virtuosos today consider him to have been one of the greatest in the age of recording, along with #5. He had a pristine technique and a tone quality that #5 described as “a photograph of my painting.” The emotion he could express via his instrument was rich, full of passion and yet very refined, though lacking, perhaps, a little of the intensity and verve #5 expressed.

He lived from 1891 to 1967, and #2 recommended him for the Imperial Academy of Music in Odessa, Ukraine. He could already play, at 11 years old, some of the most difficult pieces ever written, including Wieniawski’s 2nd Concerto. He was quite short, at about 5 feet 3 inches, and, along with his wide fingers, this hindered his ability to hit the very high notes. He practiced for years until he perfected his technique, and would bend over a bit during performances in order to play properly. It worked for him, and he used to say that he didn’t care what he looked like while he played.

He is also the progenitor of the famous joke, when walking home one evening in New York City, from a poorly received recital, he was stopped by a passerby who intended to go to his performance, but was late. The passerby asked, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Elman winced and said, “Practice, practice, practice!” as he walked on.

Tartini lived from 1692 to 1770, and his origins on the violin are fun. His parents wanted him to be a friar, since that was one of the few careers that would guarantee he didn’t starve. All monasteries taught basic music as part of their schooling. He took up fencing at the University of Padua, where he studied law, and after his father died, he married Elisabetta Premazone, whom his father would not have liked because she was of a lower class. But she was a mistress of Cardinal Giorgio Cornaro (there was more of a Cardinal in the bird than in him), who promptly accused Tartini of making off with her. So he fled, rather than be caught and excommunicated or killed.

He went to the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi, and began studying the violin. He had a lot of talent for it, and the story goes that when he considered himself a master, he went to a performance of Francesco Veracini, whose playing made Tartini flee to Ancona and practice a lot more. By 1821, he was the primary performance rival of #3, famous all over Europe for his impeccable trills and tremolos.

His most famous work makes extensive use of trills: the Devil’s Trill Sonata for solo violin (played above by notable extra Itzhak Perlman), in which the performer must play rapid, grueling double-stop trills. Many professionals today cannot handle it. Some say that Tartini heard the devil play it in a dream, and his composition the next morning was terrible compared to what he remembered.

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He is not an American Indian, as his name seems to suggest in English. He was Norwegian, and lived from 1810 to 1880, during which time he toured Europe concertizing with the likes of Franz Liszt, Clara (and Robert) Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and others.

Back then, the public didn’t have TV to distract them until 7:00 in the evening, so they showed up at noon, with their lunch and supper, and the recitalists had to wow them for up to 6 hours. No one person can be expected to do this, of course, so various great performers would collaborate when passing by each other’s home towns.

Robert Schumann considered Bull to have an uncommon clarity and precision in his technique, to the point that, no matter how fast the music got, Bull never missed a note, and you could hear them all just fine. Clara loved him more than any other violinist she heard in person. Not an easy virtuoso to outmatch, but as so often happens when ranking great performers before the recording age, at some point the rankings begin to split hairs. That is the case, save one or two entries, with this list.

By far the greatest performer of the modern recording age. Born in 1901, died in 1987, he is one of the very few, if not the only one of, players who can hit the high note at the end of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and give it vibrato in the fifth of a second or so of its playing time.

He became legendary with his recording of Zigeunerweisen, written by another performer on this list, which showcases almost every technique a violinist par excellence should have. It became Heifetz’s signature piece. After a slow segment, the fast part incorporates hair-raising pizzicato and bowing passages at the same time. Heifetz was more than equal to the task. His admirers have all expressed wonderment at his marvelous tone quality, however difficult the piece of music he was performing.

7-7 Arcangelo Corelli

He was born in 1653, and his spot on this list may make you ask, “How do you know how well he played?” Well, even today, almost every violinist can trace his or her performance training back to Corelli. The techniques you hear performers using, fingering, bowing form and posture are all thanks to Corelli. He was famous throughout western Europe in his own day as a performer of the highest order.

He did not like the idea of playing very high notes. Not to say he couldn’t, but he thought it always sounded screeching, however well anyone played. His own music almost never goes above D on the highest string. The story goes that Handel wrote an A above this in one of his oratorios, which the visiting Corelli refused to play. He thought it sounded terrible. Handel, an organist, proceeded to play it on his own violin, and Corelli was offended. “I didn’t say, Herr Handel, that I couldn’t play it. I said it shouldn’t be played.” Handel himself remarked at the “voracity” with which Corelli could run through scales, faster than anyone else he had heard, and strike the perfect leaps, from octaves to 12ths, 15ths and more.

Vivaldi- Antonio

Vivaldi was 25 years Corelli’s junior, and became his primary virtuoso rival during Corelli’s latter years. Vivaldi’s music faded into obscurity after his death, until Fritz Kreisler and Alfred Casella revived it in the 20th Century. Today he is one of the three most popular Baroque composers, with Bach and Handel. He seems to have had asthma, and this prevented him from learning wind instruments, but not the violin, and by his twenties, he had become well known in much of Italy and France as a virtuoso of nearly unrivaled technical artistry.

Even without that virtuosity, he would have landed a spot on this list for introducing the idea of “tone painting,” or representing images through music. This he did marvelously with his “Four Seasons,” which are four concerti intended to depict, in four movement each, the appearances of nature throughout the year. With the solo violin, which he played in their premieres, he depicts birds singing, lightning and thunderstorms, frozen lakes, etc. The technical demands in these pieces are quite high.

George Bernard Shaw once said of Sarasate that “he left criticism gasping for miles behind him.” He lived from 1844 to 1908, and we should consider ourselves supremely lucky to have some of his wax cylinder recordings, from around 1904, including his own piece, Zigeunerweisen (recording above). The recording capabilities back then were terrible for anything other than percussive sounds, like a piano or drums, unless the sound was directed straight into the megaphone. A violin can do neither very well, and it is difficult to hear all the passages of the piece, but they are there, and he doesn’t miss a single note.

His technique is actually a little more crystal clear than Heifetz’s, without so much as one fuzzy or scraped note, but with all the emotion and speed up to par and brilliant. Any violin virtuoso is inevitably compared with the next entry, and almost always somewhat unfavorably, but Sarasate was one of the rare exceptions whom people can actually hear perform.


They say he sold his soul to the Devil to be able to play so well. Some like to say that the Devil was sure to have been in attendance at every one of his recitals. On a list of violin virtuosity, no one is allowed to top Paganini. Robert Schumann once said, “Who is most responsible for the foundation of Christianity? Paganini must stand on the same rung of the violin’s ladder.”

He lived from 1782 to 1840, and traveled Europe leaving the public in abject awe after every recital. He practiced 10 hours a day, by his own admission, and, coupled with his talent, he had no choice but to become as fluent on the violin as he was in Italian.
He became rich by his performances, of course, but did not have a special violin made for him. In the field of violins, the extremely rich are able to acquire an instrument made by the most famous two luthiers in history: Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri.

Paganini owned several fine instruments, but his favorite, and the one on which he played for most of his career, was made by Guarneri, in 1743. Paganini endearingly referred to it as his “cannon violin,” and the nickname has stuck. It is Il Cannone Guarnerius, and is housed in the town hall of Genoa, Italy, Paganini’s home town, and is taken out now and then to be played on by the best in the world.

Il Cannone has an extremely shallow bridge under the strings, enabling the player to play 4 notes at once with ease, but at the price of an extreme demand for technical precision. Paganini never missed a note. He wrote what remain, by far, the most difficult pieces of violin music of the world’s repertory. His very first opus number is comprised of his 24 Caprices for solo, the 24th of which, in a minor, is the most well known, having been transcribed for other instruments, and set to variations, by many great composers.

Paganini could, according to Mendelssohn, who went to several of his recitals, play this caprice on one string. A violin has four strings, and the performer is supposed to use any one of them to facilitate scale runs, octave leaps, etc. Otherwise, very long fingers, and extraordinary dexterity and accuracy are required. Paganini would walk out, take his bows, then ask a random lady in the front row to pick a string. He would then play the 24th Caprice, which was very popular, on that string. He could also play his Moto Perpetuo, or Perpetual Motion, on one string.

His influence on modern violin technique is more profound than any other such influence in music, save perhaps Liszt on the piano.

He boggled so many minds with his breathtaking wizardry, that, on his death, doctors dissected his hands and wrists to see if he had been born a freak: they expected to find more cartilage than usual, but actually found less, because he had played so much he had worn it down, just like a marathon runner’s knees. His fingers were quite long, but there had been no cheats or tricks of any kind. He was simply well practiced.

Honorable mentions: Eugene Ysaye, Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman, Francesco Maria Veracini; Joseph Joachim; Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Anna-Sophie Mutter, Wolfgang A. Mozart (yes, he was that good).

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Top 10 Art Thefts of the 20th Century

The theft of treasure is nothing new – it is one of folklore’s most persistent themes – but thanks to novels, films and the newspaper headlines, art theft has captured the public’s imagination like few other types of crime have. Below is a list of the top 10 (plus a bonus) post-war art thefts.

1. The Duke of Wellington – Goya

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In 1961, Charles Wrightsman, the oil-rich American collector, bought Goya’s “Portrait of the Duke of Wellington” for $392,000 and planned to take it to the United States. There was such a public outrage that the British government raised the necessary matching sum. Less than three weeks after its triumphal hanging in the National Gallery, it was stolen. The thief demanded a ransom of the same amount and said he was going to devote it to charity.

In 1965, the thief sent a claim ticket to London’s Daily Mirror and the painting was picked up by police in a railway baggage office. The thief, an unemployed bus driver named Kempton Bunton, gave himself up six weeks later. He had planned to use the money to buy TV licenses for the poor, serving three months in jail for his offense.

2. The Flagellation of Christ – Piero della Francesco

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Italy, the home of art, has also been the home of art theft. When two paintings by Piero della Francesco, “The Flagellation of Christ” and “The Madonna of Senigallia” and a Raphael, “The Mute,” were cut from their frames and stolen from the Ducal Palace, Urbino, it was described as “the art crime of the century.”

The crime was wholly driven by profit. It was committed by local criminals who planned to sell the work on the international market and would not be the last to discover that much-reproduced masterworks are hopelessly illiquid. The paintings were recovered undamaged in Locarno, Switzerland, in March 1976.

3. Various Paintings – Renoir, Monet, Corot

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The theft of nine paintings, including Renoir’s “Bathers” and Monet’s “Impression, Soleil Levant,” which gave Impressionism its name, from the Marmottan Museum, Paris, took place in 1985. The police at first theorized that the radical group Action Direct had committed the crime. But several paintings stolen from a provincial French museum in early 1984 were recovered in Japan after a tip-off from a fence. The paintings–including Corots–were in the hands of Shuinichi Fujikuma, a known gangster. He had been behind the Marmottan heist too. Indeed, he had circulated a catalogue of the nine soon-to-be-stolen paintings.

Japan’s short statute of limitations on stolen art was notorious, and rumors became rampant that the Japanese mob, aka the Yakuza, had penetrated the art world. The truth was on a smaller scale. Fujikuma had been arrested in France with 7.8 kilos of heroin in 1978. During a 5-year sentence, he came to know Philippe Jamin and Youssef Khimoun, members of an art theft syndicate. They pulled the job for him. But the paintings were recovered in 1991–in Corsica.

4. Pacal’s Burial Mask – Historical

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In December 1985, guards from the National Museum of Anthropolgy in Mexico arrived at work to discover that sheets of glass had been removed from seven showcases. The 140 objects that were taken included jade and gold pieces from the Maya, Aztec, Zapotec and Miztec sculptures. The curator, Felipe Solis, estimated that one piece alone–a vase shaped like a monkey–could be worth over $20 million on the market–if a buyer could be found.

Most of the pieces were an inch or so in height. The entire haul would have fitted comfortably into a couple of suitcases. It is still accounted as the single largest theft of precious objects. The Burial Mask was recovered.

5. Rayfish with Basket of Onions – Chardin

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The break-in at the Manhattan branch of the London dealer, Colnaghi’s, on East 8th Street was sophisticated. It involved a break-in through a skylight and a maneuver with a rope that could have sent the robbers plunging down the stairwell. Once inside, however, the perpetrators became bumblers, treading on a couple of canvases, and by no means choosing the best on the walls. That said, the 18 paintings and ten drawings they made off with included two paintings by Fra Angelico–insured at $4 million–and “Rayfish with Basket of Onions” by Chardin. Only 14 of the works were ever recovered.

The loot had an estimated value (then) of $6 million to $10 million, making it New York’s biggest art heist. It underlined that pickings at private galleries can rival those at museums–with higher insurance and (usually) lower security.

6. Dried Sunflowers – Van Gogh

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Three Van Goghs, including “Dried Sunflowers,” “Weaver’s Interior” and an early version of “The Potato Eaters,” were stolen from the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Holland. The wave pattern of art theft generally mirrors that of the art market itself and here it did so specifically. Just two weeks before, a list had been published of the top prices paid for art at Sothebys and Christie’s. It listed five Van Goghs among the top ten, including the $53.9 million paid for “Irises,” then the highest price ever paid for a painting.

The thieves returned and asked for $2.5 million for the other two. The police got them back on July 13, 1989. No ransom was paid.

7. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee – Rembrandt

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At 1:24 A.M. on the morning after St Patrick’s Day, two men in police uniforms knocked on a side door of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, mentioning a “disturbance” in the grounds. The guards let them in and were swiftly handcuffed and locked in a cellar. The work the thieves made off with included “The Concert” by Vermeer, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”–which is Rembrandt’s only marine painting–”Chez Tortoni” by Manet, five pieces by Degas and some miscellanea that includes a Chinese bronze beaker and a fitment from a Napoleonic flagstaff. Untouched were the Renaissance paintings, including Titian’s “Europa,” which is arguably the most valuable piece in the collection.

The current dollar figure attached to the stolen work is $300 million. In 1997, with the investigation moribund, the museum raised the reward from $1 million to $5 million. Tipsters understandably emerged, amongst them a Boston antiques dealer, William P. Youngworth III. Youngworth was a shady character but gained attention by telling Tom Mashberg, a reporter on the Boston Herald, that he and a colorful character named Myles Connor could procure the art’s return. His price: immunity for himself, the release of Connor from jail and, naturally, the reward. Connor was behind bars at the time of the Gardner heist–for another art heist–but claimed he could locate the art if released. Credibility soon began to leak. Then Mashberg got a telephone call that led to a nocturnal drive to a warehouse, where he was shown–by torchlight–what may or may not have been Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” He was later given some paint chips, supposedly from that painting. Doubts sprang up (the chips were not from the Rembrandt). The U.S. Attorney demanded that one of the paintings be returned as proof that the works were on hand. This didn’t happen. Negotiations petered out. Connor is now out of jail, but the art is still missing.

8. Portrait of a Persian Painter – Unknown

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The Kuwait National Museum and the Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya (the House of Islamic Antiquities) were looted during the seven-month occupation by Iraq. The buildings were then torched. The two museums housed a collection of Islamic art–one of the world’s best–put together by Kuwait’s al Sabah family in the ’70s and ’80s. Some 20,000 pieces–including arms, armour, ceramics, earthenware, seals and decorative arts from ancient Persia, Mamluk Egypt and the Mughal emperors in India and Kuwait of the Bronze Age–were packed in crates and driven to the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad in a 17-lorry convoy.

There was pessimism about prospects for getting anything back, except by buying it in bits and pieces on the black market, but a small team of curators arrived in Baghdad six months after the ceasefire. Between Sept. 16 and Oct. 20, 1991, some 16,000 pieces had been returned.

The massive state-sponsored art theft recalls the behavior of conquerors in earlier wars, including European monarchs and Napoleon. And the intention of Saddam–like that of Hitler–went beyond plunder. He wanted to erase Kuwait’s historic and cultural identity.

9. Wheatfield with Crows – Van Gogh

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Four Dutchmen were arrested for robbing the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam of no fewer than 20 Van Goghs. They were recovered within an hour. The police were of the opinion that had the robbery been successful; no ransom would have been demanded. The canvases would simply have become financial instruments in the global black economy.

Three of the canvases were badly damaged, including one of Van Gogh’s visionary last paintings, “Wheatfield with Crows.” The fact that most works get back to where they belong in pretty good shape can make one overconfident. But, as shown here, art works are frail and luck can run out.

10. Young Parisian – Renoir

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A few minutes before closing time in late December, a man walked into the National Museum in Stockholm toting a submachine gun. He pointed it at an unarmed guard in the lobby while two accomplices who were already inside seized a 1630 Rembrandt self-portrait and two paintings by Renoir, “Young Parisian” and “The Conversation,” on the second floor. They made a caper-movie getaway, sprinkling nails on the ground to ward off pursuit and zooming away in a motorboat.

The thieves then approached a lawyer who relayed their ransom demand: $10 million per painting. The police officer in charge of the inquiry asked for photographs. The photographs were convincing, and the police promptly demanded that the lawyer reveal the identities of the thieves. The lawyer refused, citing confidentiality, and insisted he had “done nothing wrong,” telling the robbers he wanted no go-between fee. He is nonetheless being treated as a suspect. Eight men have been arrested in this case and there is a warrant out for a ninth. But at the time of writing the paintings are still missing.

Bonus: The Scream – Edvard Munch

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On August 22, 2004, the Munch Museum’s Scream was stolen at gunpoint, along with Munch’s Madonna. Museum officials expressed hope that they would see the painting again, theorizing that perhaps the thieves would seek ransom money. On April 8, 2005, Norwegian police arrested a suspect in connection with the theft. On April 28, 2005, it was rumored that the two paintings had been burned by the thieves to conceal evidence. On June 1, 2005, the City Government of Oslo offered a reward of 2 million Norwegian krones (about 250,000 euro) for information that could help locate the paintings.

In early 2006, six men with previous criminal records were scheduled to go on trial, variously charged with either helping to plan or execute the robbery. Three of the men were convicted and sentenced to between four and eight years in prison in May of 2006. Two of the convicted art thieves, Bjørn Hoen and Petter Tharaldsen, were also ordered to pay 750 million kroner (US $122 million) to the City of Oslo, which is where the paintings were previously located.

Both paintings were recovered slightly damaged.

Source: Forbes Magazine

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Top 10 Female Artists Who Were Institutionalized

In a society dominated by men, it took a long time before women could be heard or even seen. And it is neither a secret nor a surprise to say that many women’s voices remained closely guarded inside the walls of psychiatric hospitals. Few women that were institutionalized had a powerful enough voice or talent that enabled their works to resonate outside of those walls. The few that did are still echoing in society today.


Emma Santos might be the least popular on this list but I think her voice and her writing are so powerful that she deserves to be here. In the 1970s, she was frequently passing in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Her doctor, Roger Gentis, asked her to write about her life, which she did. One book after the other (she published 8 books) document her experience inside the walls of the asylum – walls which never ceased to haunt her.


Valerie Valere was hospitalized in an asylum at 13 years of age for anorexia. Her treatment lasted a few months, which was long enough to traumatize her deeply. A few years after she left the hospital, she wrote a biography about her experiences (Le Pavillon des infants fous). Writing about her traumatic and involuntary imprisonment allowed her to finally talk about things she had locked away; she was one of the lucky ones who had a chance to be heard for the first time. When her book was published she became very popular in France (she is still quite popular today). For the first time, someone was listening to her voice. She published a few other books before dying at the age of 21. The causes of her death is still unknown today (though there are rumors of medication overdose).

Janet Frame is a New Zealand writer. Her childhood was marred by the drowning of her two sisters. In 1945, at the end of her teens, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and interned in an asylum. Inside its walls, she received hundred of electroshocks. It is also during this period that she started writing. This writing saved her from a lobotomy because she received a literature price just prior to the surgery. In 1961, her novel about her experiences in the asylum, “Faces in the Water,” was published – making her very popular. She continued to write all her life. She died in 2004 of leukemia. She is one of New Zealand’s most prized writers and there is even a movie about her “An Angel at my Table” by much lauded director Jane Campion.


Mary Barnes was a British painter who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She voluntary admitted herself to Kinsley Hall in London, which was an experimental and anti-psychiatry community created by Ronal Laing. The object of this community was to cure patients without the use of psychiatry. She eventually recovered completely from her schizophrenia and became a successful painter. She became popular after the publication of her book about her experiences in Kinsley Hall that was written in collaboration with her psychiatrist at that time, Joseph Berke.

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Unica Zurn was a German writer. She came from a rich family but was emotionally very unstable. She met the artist Hans Bellmer and he introduced her to the surrealist artistic movement that was popular at the time. She created anagrams and drawings and she was talented enough to be published in Berlin’s gallery, Springer. A few years later, she met Henri Michaux, the surrealist writer, and her new friendship with him had a profound effect on her emotional well-being. She wrote “Der Mann I’m Jasmin,” a beautiful, poetic and profound book about the man that she loved. Soon after, she would be hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic because of depression and psychosis. She tried to kill herself. It was to be the first of multiple stays in psychiatric clinic – in Berlin and France. She killed herself in 1970.

Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel was a French sculptor. She is known for her tumultuous relationship with Auguste Rodin. At first, he was her teacher, but quickly, as he became aware of her talent, he began to consult her for every piece of art he was making. They started to create sculptures together but Anguste Rodin got all the media attention and Camille Claudel was still seen only as his student. Eventually, she took off on her own but didn’t get the recognition she deserved. In 1913, she was interned in a psychiatric hospital in France and stayed there for the rest of her life. She was miserable there and stopped sculpting – receiving only a few visit from her brother (the other members of her family just ignored her). In 1943, she died of malnutrition, alone and depressed in the hospital.


Aloize was a Swiss artist. She was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital during the first World War for schizophrenia. It was only after 1920 that she started drawing and painting. When Jean Dubuffet, the theorist that created the concept of Art Brut, included her work in his collection, she became a major representative of the movement.

220Px-Zelda Fitzgerald Portrait

Zelda Fitzgerald was married to the famous writer Francis Scott Fitzgerald in 1920. They were both regular members of the most prestigious literary clubs in the USA and in Europe. Their glamorous life where champagne was easily accessible had a perverse effect on the couple: Scott slowly became a paralyzed alcoholic and Zelda’s emotional instability led her to multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. In 1930, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1932, in Towson psychiatric clinic, she wrote “Save Me the Waltz,” an autobiographic novel about her life with her husband. In 1948 she died in a huge fire in the psychiatric hospital where she was staying (Highland Mental Hospital).

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Suzanna Kaysen wrote “Girl, Interrupted” in 1993. It is a memoir of her hospitalization in MacLean Psychiatric Hospital in 1967. She stayed there for eighteen months for depression and borderline personality. In 1999, James Mangold created a cinematic adaptation of her book in which she is portrayed by Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie interprets brilliantly another patient.

Sylvia Plath was a writer and American poet who was married to the poet laureate Ted Hughes. Soon, her talent as a writer was uncovered. She published her first poem at the age of eight years-old and she never stopped publishing. In her life, she published a dozen books (all but one were poetry); her only novel was The Bell Jar (1963). Her life was a dark and heavy struggle against her bipolar disorder that she lost when she killed herself in 1963 at the age of 30. In the clip above Plath reads her own incredible poem “Daddy.”

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10 Ways Pornography Shapes The World

Pornography is often associated with deviant behavior and sexual violence. Many people at least assume it has a negative effect on those who view it, especially young people. These individuals, then, may be surprised to hear that pornography has helped guard the Constitution, redefine art, and even keep young women safe.

10Pornography Protects The First Amendment


Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine is known for its ribald sense of humor along with its explicit photos. However, one person thought they took the former too far in 1983. The magazine created a parody ad in which the minister Jerry Falwell describes his first time having sex—in an outhouse, with his own mother.

Falwell slung lawsuits at both Flynt and his magazine and was initially awarded $150,000 in damages for emotional distress. Flynt appealed this decision, which led to a historic ruling in 1988 by the Supreme Court. The court unanimously ruled that public figures are never entitled to compensation for emotional distress from satirical depictions. Holding writers liable for such damages would create a chilling effect on speech.

Therefore, the robust protections that writers, artists, and filmmakers enjoy regarding their parodies of popular figures is largely due to a man who got rich selling porn to the masses.

9Art And Pornography


One alarming legal decision for purveyors of pornography came from 1973’s Miller v California. The Supreme Court decision definitively ruled that the First Amendment does not protect obscenity. Legally speaking, though, this created a new batch of problems. What is obscenity? How should it be prosecuted? And where is the line between obscenity and art?

These questions were partially answered in 1974, when a theater owner named Jenkins was arrested in Albany, Georgia for screening Carnal Knowledge, an Oscar-nominated film featuring sex and nudity. The state court assumed that this fell under the definition of obscenity. The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that nudity alone did not constitute pornography, nor did it constitute obscenity.

While imperfect, this ruling would help to protect countless films, photographs, and paintings featuring nudity, helping to ensure that art could flourish without being trampled by the zealous righteousness of the law.

8Video Birth Control

Perhaps the oldest assumption about pornography is that it encourages sex among young people. However, according to research presented by Ronald Bailey to Reason magazine, the exact opposite is true. With the increased prevalence of porn has come an increase in the amount of time that teens delay having sex. Teen pregnancy has dropped by over 40 percent compared to its peak rate in 1990.

Some psychologists believe that porn may demystify sex, allowing individuals to understand sex in a way that their education and upbringing may not. In that sense, pornography helps ensure that teenagers don’t rush into sex simply to see what it’s like. It’s also possible that viewing realistic, unsimulated sex shows teens the importance of using protection.

7Sex Education

Obviously, anyone whose entire idea of sex comes from pornography will end up with some odd ideas on the subject. However, due to the spotty quality of sex education in certain parts of the world, pornography may very well be one of the only ways some people can learn about sex. Those whose knowledge comes primarily from a textbook or a chaste talk with parents may learn something valuable from watching porn.

Research supports this. Martin Hald and Neil Malamuth surveyed over 600 Danish men and women aged 18–30 and found something surprising. The majority of participants claimed that hardcore pornography had helped them with everything from sexual knowledge to attitudes toward the opposite sex to their overall quality of life. The majority reported little to no negative effects from their consumption of pornography.

There you have it: Porn may very well make you happier and more understanding.

6It Fights Rape

One of the most common claims leveled against pornography is that it engenders negative views of woman. Pornographic actresses act as sexual objects for the gratification of men. Men consume so much pornography that they perhaps internalize this objectification and therefore treat women disrespectfully or even violently.

However, Clemson professor Todd Kendall disagrees with that assessment. He notes that areas with more Internet access have less rape—a 10-percent increase in Internet access yields a 7.3-percent decrease in the number of reported rapes.

We can suggest various explanations for this correlation, but Professor Kendall believes that young, would-be rapists—those aged 15–19, whose rape rates drop most with Internet access—benefit from having easy access to pornography online. They are much less likely to rape someone as a result.

5It Combats Repression


Some countries, most notably America, present a kind of paradox to their citizens. While sex is seemingly everywhere—computers, movie screens, magazines, and TV—older religious and moral traditions force a public view of pornography as shameful or harmful. Hence, the old stereotype of the lonely smut consumer who is repressed and alone.

However, research by Utah State University psychologist Michael Twohig suggests we have been looking at the situation the wrong way. His survey of nearly 300 students revealed that those who tried hardest to avoid pornography actually both experienced an increased desire for it and suffered exacerbated sexual problems.

He found that porn itself is harmless—the individual’s mentality matters more than the material. In fact, his research highlights potential positive aspects of porn. Those who freely enjoy it not only desire it less than those suppressing the urge but have healthier and less-repressed sex lives.

4It Liberates Women

Over the years, many feminists have decried pornography as misogynistic and demeaning to women. Much of it is created for men, and it promotes male interests, including the male climax as the be-all and end-all of sex. However, according to sex blogger Dr. Anne Sabo, pornography offers a medium through which women can change the cultural conversation about sex.

Part of her argument is something rather fundamental. Pornography is not inherently degrading, sexist, or otherwise misogynistic. It is simply whatever its makers want it to be. She believes porn can be (and, in limited amounts, already has been) “re-visioned” by women into something that lets them explore their own sexuality with realism and honesty.

Sabo concedes that misogynistic porn will always exist, but re-visioned porn can counterweigh it. It lets women speak in the predominately sexual language of the world while changing the focus. Ultimately, Sabo sees pornography as a way women can portray a world of sexual equality and pleasurable intimacy—the kind of feminist tool that Andrea Dworkin could never have imagined.

3It Breeds Acceptance Of Homosexuality

One of the other prevalent myths about pornography is that it fosters intolerance among straight men toward gay men. Pornography feeds a sense of ultra-masculinity, making viewers less likely to tolerate those unlike themselves.

A 2014 Communication Research article by Paul Wright and Ashley Randall, however, asserts that porn makes men more tolerant of homosexuality and other so-called alternative lifestyles. Even the most casual viewer of pornography will be exposed to sexual ideas, activities, and props they would not otherwise think of. This person eventually internalizes the normalcy of others’ attraction to things the viewer doesn’t understand. Viewers can acknowledge this without diminishing themselves in any way.

That, combined with men’s unabashed fascination with lesbian pornography, helps make purveyors of porn a part of men’s growing acceptance of homosexuality.

2It Reduces Abortions And STDs

Along with assuming porn encourages sex, people assume it leads to abortions for unwanted pregnancies and disease for those having unsafe sex. However, these are two more arenas where pornography may be making the world a safer place.

Mass access to pornography, which came with the rise of the Internet, may have reduced the amount of abortions and STDs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, abortion has fallen by 41 percent since 1990, gonorrhea has fallen by 57 percent, and syphilis has plunged by a staggering 74 percent.

The explanations for this vary, but one thought is that by increasing masturbation, pornography has reduced the number of people seeking sex with others as their primary avenue of pleasure.

1It Makes Sex Better

On face, most mainstream pornography does not represent the realities of intimate intercourse between human beings. However, the prevalence and availability of pornography helps start conversations between couples about sex, and the clips themselves can assist in foreplay.

According to New Scientist magazine, pornographic clips can help both men and women reach their peak levels of arousal within 10 minutes. This is perhaps especially surprising because of the prevalent stereotype of women needing more foreplay. Porn can not only assist in this area, but it makes foreplay quicker and more efficient.

Furthermore, Colorado psychologist David Snarch claims that sharing fantasies fosters emotional connections between couples. Those emotional connections can lead to better physical connections as well.

All in all, porn is good for both mind and body and helps unify those aspects in the lives of couples.

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10 Symbols That Lost Their Original Meanings

An image that has a specific meaning today needn’t have always symbolized the same thing. Many symbols have existed for centuries, so their connotations evolved significantly over time. Conversely, other symbols simply fade away into obscurity until they are brought back with a different meaning entirely.

10The Star Of David

The Star of David is the most identifiable symbol of Judaism. However, unlike items such as the menorah or the shofar, the star is not uniquely Jewish. Before it was a Jewish symbol, it also appeared in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. It appears that Hinduism has used the star the longest; for Hindus, it represents the Anahata, the fourth primary chakra, an energy point of the body.

It is not known if these symbols share a common origin or, more likely, were conceived by multiple people independently of each other due to the design’s basic nature. It’s a simple hexagram, a shape where equilateral triangles interlock into a six-pointed star with a hexagon in the middle.

Even though its use by the Jewish people dates back centuries, it was not officially adopted as a symbol until 1897.

9The Ichthys

Most people recognize the ichthys, although possibly not by name. The “Jesus Fish” is a common, strong Christian symbol. You’ll often find it on bumper stickers and similar items, which is appropriate considering its history. Back when Christians were persecuted by the Romans, they would often use the ichthys as a secret symbol to identify one another as Christian. Supposedly, when two strangers were meeting for the first time, one of them would draw the symbol’s first arc. The other person, if Christian, would know to draw the second one.

However, various pagan cultures used the symbol before Christianity even existed. It took on many different meanings, most prominently an association with fertility. The symbol belonged to the “Great Mother,” and some say that the shape symbolized her womb.

For Christianity, the fish actually disappeared from common use after the rise of the early church. It only became popular again a few decades ago thanks to parodies, such as the “Darwin fish,” which has legs.

8The Petrine Cross

Speaking of Christian symbols, the Petrine or upside-down cross is probably the most powerful anti-Christian symbol in the world. However, before that, it was one of the most powerful pro-Christian symbols in the world.

It’s also known as the Cross of St. Peter. When Peter was crucified, he felt that he was unworthy to die the same way as Jesus Christ. He asked to be crucified upside down. After that, the Petrine cross became a symbol of humility. You can still find the inverted cross on various churches, which doesn’t imply that people worship Satan there.

The inverted cross has only recently been used as an anti-Christian symbol. It was featured in horror movies such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, and it was also incorporated into the punk and heavy metal movements, where it connotes antiauthoritarianism.

7The Skull And Crossbones


This symbol has two well-established meanings that most of us know today. First, the modern meaning: poison. The symbol is placed on chemicals and other harmful substances so people know not to drink them. The other symbol is a historical one—that of pirates. The Jolly Roger, the flag of the pirates, is usually depicted with a skull and crossbones on it, even though most pirates actually had their own personal design.

However, the Spanish earlier used the symbol to label cemeteries. Today, you can still find old churches and missions with the skull and crossbones on them. In fact, pirates adopted the symbol because it was already so known and feared for its association with graveyards.

6Barber Poles

The traditional design of the barber pole is a helix of red and white colored stripes. The red stripe is meant to symbolize blood—specifically, bloody bandages.

For much of history, barbers were expected to do a lot more than just cut hair and shave beards. Many were also surgeons, and their number one procedure was bloodletting. People thought they could relieve themselves of sickness by bleeding the illness away, and the technique was just as messy as you might imagine.

The barbers sopped up the blood with clean bandages or towels. Afterward, they’d often hang the bandages outside as a form of advertisement. If it was windy outside, the bandages would wrap themselves around a pole, and that’s how we got the symbol.

5The ‘Okay’ Sign

For most Americans, the above hand signal says “okay,” meaning “I’m all right” or “I agree.” However, you should avoid using this gesture abroad because very few other countries view this sign positively.

In most other countries, it won’t mean anything. In many European countries, the symbol is offensive because it indicates that the person it’s directed at is a “zero.” Even worse, in several Mediterranean and South American countries, the sign is a symbol for the anus.

Even so, the gesture does have another positive connotation and a very old one at that. It is a mudra—a ritual gesture in Buddhism and Hinduism. Specifically, it’s the Vitarka mudra, which literally translates to “mudra of discussion.” The sign symbolizes teaching and reason. Many Buddhist artifacts, old and new, depict the Lord Buddha making this sign.

4Devil Horns


Nowadays, the devil horns are a staple at any heavy metal concert, and they’ve been that way for decades. Ronnie James Dio popularized the use in relation to metal. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that such a gesture goes back centuries, but you might expect it to be satanic in some way. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

The sign is beneficial—it is a superstitious gesture originally named the “Corna.” Ronnie knew the true meaning of the symbol, which he’d learned from his grandmother.

Like the okay symbol, the devil horns represent an ancient mudra—karana, or “gesture of banishing,” used to ward off evil. Also like the okay symbol, you will want to be careful to whom you direct this gesture, because it has taken on an unconnected vulgar meaning. If you go to countries in the Baltics and point the devil horns at someone, you are telling them that you engaged in intercourse with their spouse.

3The Caduceus

The caduceus, also known as the staff of Hermes, is frequently used by medical or healthcare organizations. It is pictured as a staff with wings and two snakes coiled around it. However, whenever you see this, you’re looking at a mistake.

The staff of Hermes, in medical contexts, is being confused with the rod of Asclepius, a staff with no wings and just one coiled snake. Asclepius was the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing, so it makes sense for his symbol to be used for healthcare.

Blame the US Army Medical Corps. It chose the staff of Hermes as its insignia over 100 years ago, based on the decision of a single officer who mixed the two staffs up. Because of this, the new meaning for the caduceus is mostly prevalent throughout North America. In other parts of the world, the caduceus is more frequently used as a symbol for commerce since Hermes was the patron of tradesmen and merchants.

2The Peace Symbol

Most of us firmly associated this symbol with the counterculture and hippie movement of the 1960s. Unlike the other symbols on this list, the peace symbol has no ancient origins. But the man who designed it, Gerald Holtom, created it for a specific, now-forgotten message: British nuclear disarmament.

According to Holtom himself, the drawing represents a man—himself, actually. He is in deep despair with hands “outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad.” He came up with it by combining the semaphore letters for N and D, for “nuclear disarmament.” Afterward, he stylized it using a few lines, drew a circle around it, and the job was done.

The symbol remained popular through the decades because Holtom never copyrighted it. It became a way to symbolize freedom and eventually came to stand for peace.

There have been attempts to associate the symbol with older and darker origins, such as satanic broken crosses or Nazi insignia, but these similarities are coincidental.

1The Swastika


Many people in Western nations have trouble associating the swastika with anything but the Nazis. This is a shame, as the swastika (also known as a gammadion cross) is truly a universal symbol and one of the most ancient ones in the world. It has been featured in old religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism and was used by ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Celts. It even appears on ancient pottery that predates recorded history.

Some of the older depictions of the swastika appear in Hinduism, where it is a symbol of the god Vishnu. In fact, the swastika is still commonly used in Hinduism and Buddhism. It can have different meanings depending on which way it rotates: Clockwise swastikas are a symbol of Vishnu, and counterclockwise swastikas represent Kali.

In modern times, the swastika enjoyed a variety of uses before its association with the Nazi movement. It’s been used by everything from an old laundry in Ireland to Danish brewer Carlsberg and even the Finnish and Latvian Air Force.

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Top 10 Tortoises and Hares

Possibly the most well-known fable is Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare, which dates back more than 2,500 years. The story goes that a swift and self-sure hare is challenged to a race by a slow but wise tortoise. The hare gains a large lead against the turtle and certain the outcome is no longer in doubt, decides to rest by the wayside. The hare subsequently wakes up only to realize that the tortoise in his limited yet determined pace has surpassed and defeated him, illustrating the value of steadiness and the foolishness of overconfidence.

The Tortoise and the Hare as been interpreted, retold, and referenced by many different people and in numerously different ways. This list looks at ten instances.


In classical architecture, a pediment is a large, flat isosceles triangle that rests on the top of stone columns. The form is characteristic of ancient temples and, somewhat incongruously, modern civic buildings. The east façade (the back) of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C. boasts such a feature, which was sculpted in marble by Hermon Atkins MacNeil in 1933. It is here you will find, above the inscription “Justice, the Guardian of Liberty” a depiction of the tortoise and the hare.

The two animals are peripheral elements in a broader, more complex portrayal that includes at its center Moses holding the ten commandments, so they can be easily missed – the tortoise tucked into the far right corner and the hare into the far left. Yet they are there, reminding onlookers in a subtly assuring way that justice, like the steadfast tortoise, is indeed firm and true.


In the original cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Season 3 (1989), episodes #50 and #52 “Usagi Yojimbo”/“Usagi Come Home,” the turtles meet a rabbit ronin (master-less warrior) from another dimension. His name is Miyamoto Usagi and he’s the main focus of his own series of comics by Stan Sakai. Besides the obvious allusion, this relationship has very little to do with Aesop’s fable, but is list-worthy on the grounds that it is a prime example of how enduring and pervasive the allusion is. Usagi toys were sold as part of the Ninja Turtles collection, and the character became a regular in the second batch of TMNT cartoons that began in 2003, appearing in several episodes throughout the series.

Usagi Yojimbo is not to be confused with Hokem Hare, another much lesser character from Season 5 of the original series who in episodes #106 and #107 “The Turtles and the Hare”/“Once Upon a Time Machine” accompanies the turtles as they travel into the future to team up with their future selves to defeat the future Shredder.


Aesop’s fables got a nice retelling in 1668 from the French poet and fabulist Jean de La Fontaine. La Fontaine’s “Le Lievre et la Tortue” was one part in a hefty volume he wrote and presented as a gift to Louis XIV’s six-year-old son Louis, Le Grand Dauphin. This version is 36 lines long and has been translated into English many times, rhyming with varying degrees of success. It is noteworthy in that it has the tortoise challenging the hare outright, without any instigating at all on the hare’s part. The tortoise also, rather unnecessarily, mocks the hare at the finish.

La Fontaine’s version of Aesop’s fables got their own boost in popularity when they were later illustrated by 19th century French caricaturist J. J. Grandville. Grandville’s colorless drawing of the race depicts the tortoise sprinting across the finish oddly on his two hind legs like a person (oddly because the creature isn’t anthropomorphized in any other way at all), with the naturally-styled hare in close pursuit.

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Lord Dunsany, an Irish dramatist, fantasist, and satirist, had his own adaptation of the story called “The True Story of the Hare and the Tortoise,” published in his Fifty-One Tales in 1915. In it, the hare is at the outset very unwilling to race while it is the tortoise who exhibits all of the confidence in victory. The hare only agrees to do it because all the other animals are on the verge of starting a war over the question of which is faster. Midway though the race, the hare, with an enormous lead, decides the contest is pointless and quits, allowing the tortoise to win.

When the other animals determine the tortoise to be the champion, it is only to their downfall as they later send him to retrieve help for a forest fire in the belief that he’s the fastest animal. This interpretation, while keeping the outcome the same, reverses the two roles. The hare now appears as the more dignified figure as he refuses to plainly defeat a vastly inferior opponent, and it seems as though he falls asleep out of pure disinterest as opposed to stupidity. The other animals thus become the oblivious and unwise ones, to their unfortunate demise.

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Ray Harryhausen was a special effects artist who pioneered in the technique of stop-motion clay animation. Among his most renowned creations are the octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea, the Cyclops in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and the skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, before he made a big name in Hollywood, he sharpened his teeth as an animator by producing short-subject, low-budget, seemingly (to us now, but not then) amateur-quality animations based on assorted nursery rhymes and fairy tales. One of the projects he started in those days but couldn’t finish was The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare. It wouldn’t be until 2003, more than 50 years after its conception, that it would be finally completed with the help of Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero. These individuals, out of sheer admiration for Harryhausen, initiated the revival, even going as far as restoring his original puppets, insisting on using a vintage camera from the era, incorporating what remained of Harry’s old original footage, and submitting to Harryhausen’s direction in all other aspects of production.

Their version, while very traditional in most respects, is also fairly peculiar as only the hare walks upright and wears clothes while the tortoise remains on all fours – like Grandville’s depiction only the opposite. As a side note, this curiosity is also true of an illustration by Arthur Rackman from his Aesop’s Fables, published in 1912.

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The Tortoise and the Hare Algorithm is another name for Floyd’s cycle-finding algorithm, named after Robert W. Floyd, its inventor. Neither computer science nor mathematics is the strong suit of this author, so an extremely unsophisticated explanation of it will have to suffice.

The general idea with the algorithm is that the tortoise and the hare are names given to two pointers which move and different speeds through a sequence of values, the hare moving two steps through the sequence for every one step the tortoise moves. The purpose is to detect a loop, if one exists, in any iteration or list.

The inspiration behind it, or at least behind half of the imagery involved in its name, goes back to an ancient paradox about Achilles and a tortoise. The paradox goes as follows: Achilles gives a tortoise a head start in a race, but even though he can run faster than the tortoise he can theoretically never surpass it because every time he reaches a point where the tortoise once was, the tortoise will always have advanced farther in the meantime, thus remaining in the lead forever.

In 1941 Bugs Bunny was a still evolving cartoon character, not yet having arrived at exactly how we recognize him today, but feisty nonetheless. His appearance in “Tortoise Beats Hare” marked the first of three showdowns he would have against Cecil Turtle, a character known exclusively for these three races against Bugs, none of which he wins fair-and-square.

To summarize, in “Tortoise Beats Hare” Cecil outright deceives Bugs and creates only the illusion that he has defeated him (which we might suppose contains a lesson of its own; that brains overpower brawn). In the 1943 sequel “Tortoise Wins by a Hare” Bugs gets bested at his own game yet again and in the third meeting, which is sort of a reboot as both characters seem to be unaware of the previous two races in this one, Bugs finally emerges the victor but with a twist ending. Of course, each of these represents a less-than-traditional take on the fabled race, but they’re fun and funny, if for no other reason than they give us the bizarre prospect of a turtle taking off his shell as if it were clothes.

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Jan Wildens was an early 17th century landscape painter from Antwerp, modern-day Belgium: hub of the Flemish Baroque style of that period. His oil-on-canvas titled The Tortoise and the Hare, from Aesop’s “Fables” gives us a serene and pastoral scene consisting of a path and a brown hare dashing in from the bottom left corner. The tortoise is absent – in fact one might not even know the subject matter were it not for the title – and therein lies the genius. At the twilight of the race, the tortoise is already far and gone, and it is too late for the frightened hare.

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Nancy Schön is a world-class sculptor who specializes in the zoological and the literary. Her public art is the type people are welcome to touch, feel, lean on, and sit on, which most people find it difficult to resist doing, particularly children.

In 1993 she unveiled her bronze “Tortoise and Hare” in Boston (her hometown) in tribute of the Boston Marathon, then in its 97th year. The piece is more correctly two separate sculptures as the smiling tortoise is trudging along about fifteen feet ahead of the hare who has stopped to scratch his ear. It is located in Copley Square between Boylston, Huntington, and St. James, near the finish line of the annual marathon. It is an elegant work, much more shrewd and unpretentious than the Tortoise and Hare sculpture found at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York City, a couple hundred miles to the south.

“The Tortoise and the Hare” was an 8-minute animation created by the Walt Disney company as part of their Silly Symphonies brand from the 1920s and 1930s. The cartoon introduced the characters eponymous Max Hare and Toby Tortoise, sporting a white sweatshirt and red necktie respectively. The film won the 1934 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

To a very small extent the story diverges from the standard tale in that the hare doesn’t get caught behind because he stops to rest, but rather because he is preoccupied with flaunting his great ability to a group of female bunnies. It remains loyal to the fable in all other critical ways, however, keeping the moral in tact while still adding its own unique and vintage attributes. It’s almost a little too archaic in its pure form. Almost, that is, not quite. It’s perfect the way it is.

Even though this production predates Bugs Bunny by nearly decade (actually, Max Hare is considered to be a primary influence, if not the direct forerunner, to Bugs), the animation is far superior and the race’s finish, somehow, manages to be a lot more thrilling than expected.

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Top 10 Easy Piano Pieces That Sound Great

Hopefully no one is coming to this looking for something they can sit down and play brilliantly in one sitting. There is no such thing as a great-sounding piano piece that can be learnt in seconds, but these are some of the simpler ones, that, if mastered, could convince everyone you’re a true pianist. Bear in mind though, the key to this, like anything, is practice. If you want something to sound good, you have to be prepared to work on it, but these are the top ten pieces, in my opinion, that sound amazing, and can be performed with not too much difficulty on your behalf. If you disagree with any of these, by all means, give your opinion in the comments.

This is far and away the most difficult piece on this list, and I’m sure there’ll be lots of criticism about the level of this piece, but when you really break it down, it’s based on quite simple arpeggios and very repetitive hand movements. The right hand theme is also relatively simple, presenting only a small challenge to someone with a particularly small hand. Chopin’s music wasn’t about creating technical difficulties for the pianist (that’s more Liszt’s field of work, some reasoned that Liszt was the world’s first three-handed pianist), but about creating flourishes and runs that are based upon the basics of piano playing. The hardest part of this piece by far is the speed factor, but even played slowly, this is sure to blow everyone away, if you have the discipline to learn it as a slow piece, and avoid the temptation of running away with it.

While not one of my favorite pieces, this constantly crops up time and time again amongst lists of the all-time classics of piano. One thing everyone seems to always overlook though, it’s dead easy! If played at a moderate speed, there are no excessively challenging passages in the entire piece. There are some slightly tricky runs in the last half, but nothing that can’t be done without a little bit of practice. This is a must-have on any dinner party list, and given how well-known it is, people will immediately recognize this piece.

This is one I taught myself to play – and I am not a great pianist. Some of the stretches are wide – so wide hands are helpful, but it is actually a very simple piece. It manages to sound more complex than it is through unusual harmonies but it is well worth the go. You might notice that the theme Ives uses here is the same as Beethoven’s 5th symphony – Ives is well known for his use of pastiche in his writing. The end is particularly cool.

If you are familiar at all with John Cage, you will be very surprised by this piece. Cage is well known for his 4’33 in which the musician does not make a sound (the music is the ambient noise). He is also known for extremely jarring and dissonant music. This item, however, is quite the opposite – it is a beautiful slow melodic piece that you can’t help but love. It also uses the sustain pedal throughout (without lifting your foot) so you can concentrate on the fingerwork not the footwork.

This piece has been used countless times in advertising and it is no wonder – it is a beautiful piece of music by one of France’s most talented composers. This set of three pieces (number 1 is the one we have here) are considered to be precursors to the modern ambient music movement. Satie himself referred to much of his music as “furniture music” – implying that it should be background music.

A relatively slow piece, and yet another very popular piece, this song will forever remain remarkable to your audience if you can pull it off. Debussy’s slightly irregular harmonies combine in this piece to a gentle consonance, that creates a gentle, flowing image. The only tricky thing in this is to avoid heaviness, and maintain fluidity throughout. This will without a doubt be one of your most impressive pieces if executed correctly.

One of the masterworks from the film “The Piano” Michael Nyman’s piece draws together arpeggios and a simple melody to create a haunting, echoing theme that lasts for long after the piece is finished. While not a mainstream piece, this small gem is an astounding portrayal of emotion through music. The simple melody, interspersed with the accompaniment, is simply beautiful. I’ve chosen a rather different video than usual, because this shows the emotional side of the piece much more succinctly than a performance video.

Everyone will know the opening of this piece, it’s one of the most famous pieces of all time (it’s the alphabet song for god sake’s!) but few people know the entire thing. Mozart adapted the theme of a well known French folk song into 12 different variations, each of which focus on a different aspect of the piano. When played in it’s entirety, it is a stunning piece. It’s especially good for confusing people who don’t know what you’re playing, because when you start off, they expect something a whole lot different to where you end up. I promise you, this piece is not too difficult, but it will sound amazing if treated right. And for added benefit, here’s a video of a 7 year old playing it.

One of the most beautiful pieces of film music in years, from the French film Amelie, Yann Tiersen weaves simple melodies and accompaniments to create a gradually building, yet wholly simplistic melody. This piece is technically very simple, but it takes a certain emotional maturity to play it as more than just notes. This may well prove to be one of the more challenging on the list, simply because there is a tendency to play it too fast, or too heavily, which will utterly destroy the piece. If perfected, this will be one of the most emotional pieces in your repertoire, I know many people who have actually been driven to tears by this piece. This animation is a perfect summary of the piece.

There is no doubt (in my mind at least) that this belongs on the top spot. This is a remarkably simple piece that is potentially among the most recognized pieces of all time, and remains one of the favorite piano pieces ever written. Nothing needs to be said, just listen. [JFrater: if you like this, expand your knowledge of the piece by listening to the awesome second movement here. And for completion, here is the virtuosic talent of Glenn Gould playing the incredible third movement.]

Contributor: carpe_noctem (1 – 5, 9 – 10), JFrater (6 – 8 )

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10 Amazing Pieces of Art Made By One Person

Many artists are hindered by the idea that they need other people’s cooperation to make their masterpieces. But the people in this list were not held up in such a way. In fact, in some of these cases, they actually needed to be the only person working on their pieces of art, for practical or philosophical reasons. The artists vary greatly in nature, levels of success, and appeal—but what they all have in common is an immense amount of heart.


Starting in 1958, road inspector Nek Chand of Chandigarh, India, spent eighteen years keeping a surprisingly visible and beautiful secret. Using only discarded pieces of masonry and other garbage he found in a nearby dump, he developed his “rock garden” from a small pile of trash into a twelve acre array of statues, walkways, and walls.

The act was completely illegal, because it was on a public nature reserve—but it was such a winning display that following its 1976 discovery, people used themselves as human shields to prevent bulldozers and the like from demolishing it. The park still stands today, having been essentially adopted by India as a national treasure (and being visited by an average of 5,000 visitors a day.)


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Nina Paley was a New York-based animator going through an ugly divorce, when she stumbled upon the Ramayana, a Hindu epic. The unhealthy relationship of the gods Ramaya and Sita resonated with Paley, and so she spent five years writing, animating, and directing her eighty-two minute, private epic—all from her home computer.

Despite myriad copyright problems that came up with the music, and considerable anger from both left- and right-wing groups in the Hindu community, the movie managed to get worldwide distribution and a positive critical reception which included such celebrity opinion-makers as Roger Ebert.

Inspired by the copyright problems, Paley has made the movie free to view online.


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Dean Dodrill devoted three-and-a-half years to animating this gorgeous 2D RPG platformer. The game drew generally positive reviews, and sold tens of thousands of copies in its first year at $15 each.

Some took issue with the fact that the characters were all anthropomorphic animals (feeling that it made them part of a fetish group called “furries”), or with the fact that the second lead character, Fidget, was annoying—but there was little denying that the animation and fight programming was top of the line, even without bearing in mind that it was all done by one guy.

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Claiming divine inspiration from thirty years of dreams, beginning in 1959, Aba Defar has constructed four churches in Ethiopia. Well, he hasn’t so much constructed them as … carved them. Out of rock. With pick axes. They’re definitely austere in design, measuring about sixteen by thirty-two feet (5m by 10m) with four pillars—but they will easily outlast many conventionally-made, more decorative churches.

Salvation Mountain

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Speaking of more decorative pieces of religious art, check out Leonard Knight’s massive painting in Niland, California. It’s three stories tall, one hundred feet (30m) wide, and came into existence in 1985. After four years, the first attempt collapsed—but 100,000 paint gallons later, it managed to remain standing, despite public protests that a religious work should not be allowed on public land. In recent years, Leonard Knight has become too feeble to maintain the installation, and a public effort to preserve the many sayings and murals of Salvation Mountain is underway.


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While Nina Paley’s feature length Sita Sings the Blues used some clever and corner-cutting flash animation for her story, former Disney animator Phil Nibbelink went with much more old-fashioned cel animation for his retelling of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

With 112,000 frames drawn on his home computer, the movie more or less captures the feel of a lesser Don Bluth film—right down to the fact that critics hated it, while audience reaction was lukewarm. Still, being a one-person project from an era which saw the release of the likes of Doogal and Delgo, its $463,000 gross makes it seem like a relative gold mine.


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As Scott Weaver describes in the above video, his toothpick sculpture—which he personally spent thirty-five years working on—might not be the world’s largest; but the others don’t exactly allow a ball to be rolled through them. Including an international array of 100,000 toothpicks, Scott Weaver will be putting it on display in San Francisco in April 2013.


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Stop-motion, an extremely dated and time consuming but still somewhat popular technique, was director Christine Cegavske’s method of choice for thirteen years when she made this 2005 film.  It’s a dialogue-free story about a collection of small crow-rat hybrids whose doll is stolen by villainous white mice.

It’s every bit as odd—and quietly creepy—as that implies. Nevertheless, it received very favorable reviews from such publications as the New York Times and Variety. One anecdote from behind the scenes that simply must be told is that Cegavske once walked into her studio only to find all of her dolls gone; eventually she learned that her mother had thrown them all away. Mothers never do quite understand.

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This array (built by James Hampton) was—like the churches in Ethiopia—inspired by dreaming. Hampton was a janitor, who made this secret tribute to God during his off-hours over the course of fourteen years. The enormous art collection discovered after Hampton’s death was subsequently judged to be worthy of a Smithsonian Display.


The subject of a 2011 documentary, Simon Rodia’s seventeen towers—which took thirty-three years to build—might merely seem to be dangerous pieces of junk. In fact, Rodia did build them partly from junk, like Nek Chand did his rock garden.

The towers were for a time marked by the city of Los Angeles for demolition; they were considered unsafe, especially since the tallest of them reaches one hundred feet (30m). But stress tests were performed, and these revealed that the towers were more than strong enough to be allowed to remain standing—and so they were. In 2011, the New York Times reported that there had been trouble raising the support needed to maintain the towers, tourism and public support being limited both by their eccentric nature and by the fact that they’re in the L.A. equivalent of an obscure area.

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10 Words of Phrases Derived from Falconry

I know practically nothing about falconry – although I can see the appeal of the sport; it’s sort of like having a flying dog. Despite my lack of knowledge on training raptors, I am interested in how words are derived and falconry, has sourced several words and expressions in common use today. One has to ask why? One reason may be that Shakespeare used quite a few falconry based expressions and words in his plays (“haggard,” “hood” and “bated breath” for instance) and lots of Shakespeare’s phrases became widely used. However, for whatever reason, here are 10 words and expressions believed to have derived from falconry.

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When a hawk has eaten its fill (in falconry speak, when it’s “crop is full”) it won’t want to hunt. Of course, another way of saying it’s eaten its fill is to say it’s “fed-up.” The phrase has moved from a bird who doesn’t want to hunt anymore to a person who doesn’t want to do something anymore.

Falcon In Hood

The “hood” is used in falconry when the raptor is being trained as it calms it down, but continues to be useful throughout the bird’s “career” (not that it’s paid). The hood is a leather “hat” that covers the raptor’s head – and most importantly its eyes. A raptor’s eyesight is around 10 times as good as a humans (more in my case as I wear +5 dioptre glasses; I wouldn’t last 2 days as a falcon). So a hawk will spot things that the handler won’t and get excited about targets that the handler can’t see. To force the bird to concentrate on the target that the handler wants, he “hoodwinks” the bird by putting the hood on its head. The expression “hoodwinked” has moved from covering a bird’s eyes to blindfolding a person to tricking someone.

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Along with “codger” this is slightly less certain – although there’s nice circumstantial evidence; a chaperon (often spelt, apparently incorrectly, as “chaperone”) derives from an old French word meaning hood, in particular, a hood for a bird of prey. In English, we took the object and derived a word meaning conned or tricked (“hoodwinked”), the French took the same object and derived a word meaning “protector,” it’s come to mean a protector for a young person, usually a young woman.

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Callow is a wonderful word; it means “inexperienced” but it also carries the meaning of youth. It’s almost always used in the expression “callow youth,” hardly ever in the expression “callow old bloke.” The word originally meant “bare” or “bald” – so at first it seems hard to explain how a word meaning “bald” came to mean “youthful inexperience,” however in falconry it describes a young bird – without feathers. So it’s quite an easy journey to move to meaning someone without experience.

Perrier Jouet

Depending on who you ask, a “house” or “bows” is either a raptor’s drinking bowl or describes the way a bird drinks. Apparently, given the chance, raptors tend to eat or drink to excess (and thus become “fed-up”). Obviously, humans would never do anything like that, but nevertheless “house” has been re-spelt over the years to “booze” and has taken the meaning of drinking too much (particularly alcohol) and has also been “nouned” to become a generic term for alcoholic drinks.


This doesn’t quite carry the certainty of other derivations, however, a falcon’s perch used to be known as a “cadge” and when a falconer became too old for hunting, they were given the task of carrying the cadge into the field. These people would have been called “cadgers” – which became “codgers.” “Codger” carries the implication of wisdom so it has nice association that being ex-falconers, they would have passed suggestions on to younger falconers (or “been a pain in the neck” as I suspect it was known). There’s a theory that “cadger” – meaning someone who tries to get freebies also derives from this as the original cadger was an unpaid position and they had to beg for tips to get any money.


A “haggard” is a falcon caught in the wild as an adult. Haggards were often caught at the end of migration when they were thin and bedraggled after their long journey. The expression has, of course, migrated itself to mean someone who looks thin and tired and is also related to “hag” meaning a bedraggled women.

An unrelated fun fact: birds don’t get jet-lag when they migrate because they fly south and north, not east or west.

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Not in the “Grand Canyon” sense, but meaning to overeat; “gorge” is another word for “throat” (so it’s easy to see how a deep valley could be thought of as a “gorge” from this meaning), but “gorge,” in particular, came to mean a bird’s throat – the feathers on a bird’s throat are called a “gorget” (from which we get the name of throat armor).

Birds have an extendable crop (part of it’s alimentary tract can be expanded to store food) – so they can appear eat a very large meal in one go – although, the bird is actually storing some food to eat later. From this, to “gorge” came to mean overeating (another animal related word is “wolfing” food down – wolves eat food very quickly).


From the Old French expression for hawks shaking their feathers (“shake a tail feather” is still used to ask someone to wake-up), “rouse” has moved from birds shaking their feathers to people waking up or (more annoyingly) being woken up by someone else.

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Also “wrapped around his little finger.” Two for the price of one! A falcon has a leash (called a “jess”) to stop it from flying away. When the bird is on the falconer’s arm, he’ll put part of the jess “under his thumb” or “wrap it around his little finger” to keep control of the bird.

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“Bated” is one of those words that only appears as part of a phrase (“with bated breath”). It first appears in the Merchant of Venice:

Shall I bend low and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness, Say this;
‘Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn’d me such a day; another time
You call’d me dog; and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much moneys’?

So what does it mean? When a hawk is tethered it’s called “bated” – it’s a contraction of “abated,” meaning “restrained.” So to listen with bated breath means to listen whilst restraining, or holding, your breath.

Occasionally, the phrase is erroneously written as “baited breath” (including, it’s alleged, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) – clearly that makes practically no sense.

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Top 10 Greatest Ballets

As I was browsing through the many lists of listverse, i realized something. There has never been a list on Ballets. And I felt this was such a shame. Ballets have fallen off the cliff when it comes to popularity, especially here in America, where I live. The music in ballet is just as, if not more beautiful, than any piece of music ever written. When put together with flawless, graceful movements and wonderful spectacle, Ballets can be a sight and a sound that will move you to tears, to laughter and to emotions you have never felt before. Here is a list of the Ten Greatest Ballets.

Many different versions of this ballet exist, but the original was performed in 1945, in Moscow, Russia. Prokofiev is one of my favorite composers, with fantastic composing skills, and his Cinderella is no exception. Based on the fairy tale, the ballet is noted for its fantastic score and very humorous tone. The very beginning of the ballet, I think, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music and it’s virtually unknown.

Originally Performed in 1869, in Moscow, Russia, this beautiful ballet is based on the book “Don Quixote de la Mancha” by Miguel de Cervantes. The story follows Don Quixote on his quest of chivalry and the slaying of mythical beasts. Originally staged in 4 acts and 8 scenes, it is an immensely charming and fun ballet, with some great music.

No, not the Disney movie, but this beautiful ballet has some of the most beautiful music of all time. Originally performed in 1890, in St Petersburg, Russia, and based on Charles Perraults “La Belle au bois Dormant”, The story tells of Princess Aurora who is cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and sleep for 100 years. This, indeed, comes to pass until she is awoken by a Princes’ kiss. They are married at the end of the ballet. With soaring, beautiful musical numbers, this one jumps onto the list

The most recent ballet on the list, originally performed in 1962, most of the credit to this ballet actually goes to Balanchine, who put the whole thing together. Mendelssohn didn’t write the music to the ballet knowingly, it was mostly background music to the play version that was reworked into ballet music. The story is obviously based on the play of the same name, by the late great William Shakespeare, and has quickly become one of the most popular American Ballets of all time.

I admit, it took every fiber of my being to not put this one higher (closer to number 1). It is my personal favorite ballet, but I kept it low due to the fact that it is only about 30 minutes in length, but the importance, beauty, and emotion behind this ballet is enormous. It Premiered in Paris, in 1913, and it started a riot. When they went to see the performance, they were not prepared for the…ungrace of it? Being used to soaring melodies of Russian Ballet, audience members were shocked to find gritty harmonies, and less than graceful, and jarring movements. It is much better received by todays audiences. The story is that of a sacrifice of a young girl to the god of spring. She is killing herself through dance.

Originally performed in 1877, in St. Petersberg, Russia, this ballet in four acts is considered to be Petipa’s greatest work, by some. The story tells of Nikiya and Solor, who have sworn to be faithful to each other. In his jealousy, the High Brahmin wishes to have Solor the warrior killed, but his plan does not come to pass. Instead, Nikiya is killed by a snake set forth by a man named Rajah, who believes Solor should be with his daughter rather than Nikiya. Solor is about to marry Rajah’s daughter, but the gods, in their anger, kill everybody in the temple. Yes, that was a VERY short version of a rather deep plot line, but nonetheless, it has some of the most celebrated movements (such as the Kingdom of Shades scene) of any ballet.

This piece was almost universally panned when it premiered, in 1892, in St. Petersberg, but has since grown to be one of the most popular ballets of today, due to its ties with Christmas. Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, the story tells of a young girl, Clara, who gets shrunk to the size of a mouse, and her beloved nutcracker who goes to war, with other toys, against the evil Mouse King. He is later transformed into a beautiful prince and they go to the kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Confiturembourg) to rule forever after. With cherished music and wonderful dance, it has become the staple of poplar ballets in the 20th century.

One of the most sought after roles of all time for a ballet dancer is the title character in this classic. Based on the poem of Heinrich Heine, it is about a young peasant girl named Giselle, who meets a nobleman dressed as a commoner and falls in love with him, not knowing that he is of noble birth. When another man who loves Giselle, named Hilarion, outs the nobleman, Giselle realises that she cannot be with him, upon which she goes mad and dies of a weak heart. In the second act, when Hilarion goes to grieve at Giselles’ grave, he is greeted by spirits of dead women called Wilis, who throw him into a river and kill him. When the nobleman comes, the Wilis sentence him to death as well, but the spirit of Giselle saves his life, and she then departs at peace to the afterlife. A Ballet filled with emotion and beautiful dance, it is considered a classic among all forms of entertainment.

Another Ballet based on the works of William Shakespeare, the story is well know. Originally performed in 1938, in Czechoslovakia, it was significantly reworked and revised, and opened anew in 1940, in Leningrad, Russia. This Ballet is considered to be a the epitome of music and movement, and the masterpiece ballet of Prokofiev. This is a ballet that is truly too beautiful to be talked about, but must be seen and heard to be fully understood and loved. The movement, and the music, and the colors, I weep just thinking of it now.

Premiering in 1877, in Moscow, it was originally titled “The Lake of the Swans” but was shortened to just “Swan Lake” after it was drastically reworked by Marius Petipa and Riccardo Driggo in 1895, and this is how it is known to audiences today. When it first went up it was viewed with harsh criticism, it was believed to be too difficult and unmemorable. However, it has grown to be Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece work, and was also his first ballet. The story is that of Odette, a princess who is cursed by Von Rothbart to become a swan by day, but is human by night. A prince, named Siegfried, sees the swan form of Odette transform into a beautiful woman and falls in love on the spot. They go to a ball together, until morning when she leaves to transform back into her swan alone. The prince looks for her and finds another woman, named Odile (played by the same woman who playes Odette) who looks the twin of the swan queen Odette. This is planned, of course, by Von Rothbart, and when Siegfried falls for Odile, Odette is cursed to be a swan forever. Realizing his mistake Siegfried seeks forgiveness, but Odette is eternally bound to be a swan, so the Prince and the Princess kill themselves and ascend into heaven together. The powerful story is seen by modern day audiences in more ways than just the Opera. An Academy Award movie called “Black Swan” was released in 2010, and it is also the base of the story Shrek, the Disney movie “The Swan Princess”, and many other stories and legends. It is a true masterpiece of ballet, and is always considered one of the, if not the, greatest ballet of all time.

Notables not listed: Paquita, Coppellia (so badly wanted to put it in there), Spartacus, Peter Pan, Anastasia, and Firebird.

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