Brahms and the Clarinet

Johannes Brahms, always self-conscious about his legacy, closed the book in 1890 and put the entire body of his works in order for posterity. But in 1892, he met Richard Mühlfeld and the soulful voice of his clarinet breathed new life into his creative aspiration. He came out of retirement to write two clarinet sonatas, a quintet for clarinet and strings, and a trio with piano and cello.


Encourage Fear

In the late 1970s I lived in Boston, and was privileged to count among my friends two members of the band called Bright Morning Star. They did political music proud, with barn-stomping rhythms, clever lyrics, superb musicianship and a message that was perfectly in tune with their time.

This song is a perennial but of special relevance this spring. Sung by Court Dorsey with piano by George Fulginiti-Shakar. Music is by Molly Sott, and words by Stephen Wangh.

“They pollinate the grass roots.  They bang away at the walls of indifference.  They celebrate humanity.

The six members of Bright Morning Star do a better job educating people to what’s right and what’s wrong on this crazy planet than a hundred politicians, teachers, and preachers… And they do it all with lightness, laughter, and love.”

Listen or download

Raga Piloo

This recording from 1967 is the best track on a superb album. One melodically inventive motif after another, perfectly coordinated between these two geniuses!

Accoring to Ravi’s daughter, Anoushka Shankar, it was composed by Shankar and taught, presumably to Menuhin. Here she performs a version with Patricia Kopatchinskaja 50 years later.

We get to see that one of the two is working hard, playing brilliantly what is on the page in front of her, while the other plays virtuosically without effort, and seems to enjoy her performance as from a sweet dream.



Jean Francaix was born this day in 1912. He composed this little concerto at age 21.

À 11 ans, il rencontre Ravel, qui l’encourage à poursuivre et à développer sa curiosité. Il remporte, à 18 ans, son premier prix de piano au Conservatoire de Paris avec comme professeur Isidor Philipp et étudie en privé la composition avec Nadia Boulanger. Sa composition de jeunesse, le Concertino pour piano et orchestre (1932) connaît un succès immédiat.

Maurice Ravel said of the young [11] Françaix to the boy’s parents, “Among the child’s gifts I observe above all the most fruitful an artist can possess, that of curiosity: you must not stifle these precious gifts now or ever, or risk letting this young sensibility wither.”[4] They did not, and he flourished: Françaix was a prolific composer, writing over 200 pieces in a wide variety of styles.

— Wikipedia


Allowing ourselves to feel tragedy

The Soviet Arts Council leaned heavily on Prokofiev to create music that was accessible to the proletariat. Fortunately, the Russian people have a sophisticated appreciation of music. And, as far as I can tell, this dicta hardly cramped Prokofiev’s style.

Сергей Прокофьев was born this day in 1891.

Music for a world in turmoil

Our world is going through a cataclysm. The comfort and predictability that we have come to accept as normal are a lie. They are founded on unspeakable cruelty that is hidden from us.

The COVID crisis is not something that happened to happen because of a random mutation in a random virus somewhere in central China. The crisis and the way it is playing out are essential consequences of flaws and contradictions in our culture, in our relationship to one another and to other life forms on Earth.

Structural changes, changes in our attitudes and our relationships, changes in our economics and every aspect of our culture need to happen, and as the need has become more pressing, it was waiting for some trigger. We can hope that COVID Spring is the trigger, because if we put this crisis to bed and go back to business as usual, a larger crisis will have to happen.

So it would be a mistake to regard this as a bump in the road and wait passively for it to be over. Assume your agency. Visualize the world that you want to emerge from this, and act accordingly. But the emphasis is on ‘visualize’. Seek clarity as a foundation, and err on the side of waiting to act until clarity arises.

Seek clarity as if our lives depended on it.

Listen to Da Pacem and Lamentate of Arvo Pärt

I encourage you to set aside a full hour and allow it to wash over you. The first part is an introductory prayer that will help to ground you for the violence that is to come. The violence doesn’t resove, but melts into the quiet of a desert. Let it try your patience. In the desert, there is mystery to be discovered.

But don’t expect resolution. Pärt leaves it for us to choose a resolution.

Seek clarity, and act for our collective deliverance.

Death is a Longer Sleep

Death is a longer sleep
Sleep is a shorter, shorter death
And sleep can sooth, but death removes life’s fretful cares
Death is a longer sleep.

Some time in the last decade of the 18th Century, Franz Joseph Haydn composed a simple 4-part round that is both funny and creepy.

Two hundred years later, the Russian dissident composer Edison Denisov composed an elaborate take-off built on Haydn’s melody, funnier and creeper and geared to a modern audience.

Edison Denisov эдисон денисов was born this day in 1929. His compositional styles were considered a thumb in the eye by Stalin’s regime. He lived to see the end of Soviet communism, but not by long. And yes, he was named after the American inventor.