Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

— W. H. Auden, born this day in 1907

Life Immitates Art

When J.S. Bach was challenged by King Frederick to compose on a subject of the King’s devising, he rose to the occasion with a spectacular Offering, applying his inventiveness in 2 fugues, 10 canons, and a four-movement sonata for flute and violin.

One of the pieces he offered is a single line of music  (beginning with a variation on the King’s theme) that is to be played both forward and backward simultaneously, engineered so cleverly that it harmonizes with itself along the way and both begins and ends convincingly.

As we marvel at the mathematical/musical mind that could have created such an invention, consider a virus, whose complete DNA is a perfect palindrome, so that it can be read either forward or backward. “Reading” DNA means translating each triplet of letters (A,T,G,C) into an amino acid and linking them together to make a big, complicated protein molecule that does a particular job. In this virus, the three-letter codes are reversed, and their order is reversed , and the protein is the same, and the protein is not only functional, but adaptive and competitive enough to create a niche for the virus.  Article in Quanta Magazine

Illustration of an RNA sequence, with an arrow pointing from one end to the other, and a sequence of complementary nucleotides, with an arrow pointing the other way.


Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev – Islamey, played by Boris W. Berezovsky Ми́лий Алексе́евич Бала́кирев – Исламей, играет Борис Березовский

Perfection is the enemy of spontaneity

(In honor of Beethoven’s 249th birthday) : Improvisation in music, past and present

Leonard Bernstein, in 1959, got it exactly wrong when he proposed to define classical music as music whose every detail is written down. Bach, of course, wrote many accompaniments as figured bass, (a kind of language on which the keyboard player can improvise). Indian classical music is all derived from improvisation.

As Nahre Sol mentions above, today’s consummate master of classical improvisation is Gabriele Montero. Listen to her improv on Guantanamero

Nobody ever accused Beethoven of being patient when confronted.

“Find friends who can jam with you”


Concerto for Orchestra

A concerto is a piece for a virtuoso soloist with a whole orchestra to accompany her. What is a concerto for orchestra? Bela Bartok invented the idea, creating a piece that is virtuosic for every instrument in turn. Other composers have been inspired by his example.

At a time when music was becoming abstract and academic, Morton Gould, born this day in 1913, wrote music that is friendly for the listener. His Concerto for Orchestra is virtuosic, jazzy, and a lot of fun.