Schubert was a melody machine. Schubert was a tortured human. Schubert as a teenager wrote fresh, engaging music that you can listen to 100 times without getting tired of it. Schubert produced more music in his 31 years than Papa Haydn in his 77 years–Well, maybe not quite. Haydn was successful in the music business, with commissions and patronage from royalty. Schubert never had a patron or a steady income, and didn’t have the temperament or the attention to negotiate with publishers or performance venues. Luckily, he had friends who arranged for publication of music, funneled the proceeds to him and paid the arrears in his rent.


Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. Haydn was often light-hearted and jesting. Schubert never tried to be funny, but so much of his music is joyous, remarkable when we consider the pain he was in and the death sentence that hung over his young life. Schubert wrote 600 songs, 9 symphonies, 6 Latin masses, 15 string quartets, 22 piano sonatas, only half of which were completed. The Unfinished Symphony was actually complete in two movements, but there were many, many other projects left unfinished as he worked feverishly, anticipating death from syphilis. He became expert at enjoying musical and social evenings in the company of friends during the intermittent remissions from his disease. He also spent day after day composing music as fast as it could emerge from his pen. Some of it is pedestrian. Some of it is overblown. But enough of it is inspired to assure his place among the historic masters. Wikipedia list of Schubert’s works.

Today is Franz Schubert’s 222d birthday.

A Mosh Pit for Carnegie Hall

Something was lost in the music of the 19th Century, and that something was laughter. Haydn and Beethoven composed with wit and self-conscious parody. Their audiences–royalty and proletarians–frequently laughed out loud. Some time in the mid-19th Century, the Wagners and Listzs of the world made this into a travesty. Classical music became a solemn affair, and people in concert halls had to pretend they were in church.

Then, in the 20th Century, the witty surprises of the Classical era that made listeners smile were stretched past the point where they were funny. Humor dissolved into intellectual irony, tragicomedy, and then theater of the absurd in musical guise. Audiences stopped laughing and began to wince. I would trace neoclassicism to Mahler, and by the time of the Great War, Stravinsky was no longer breaking the expected classical forms for comic relief, but was slashing and burning. If these composers hadn’t been such superb musicians, they never could have done so much damage to their genre. La vie est une tragédie pour celui qui sent, et une comédie pour celui qui pense. And in the 20th Century, pensé was exactly that on which music was overdosing.

Actually, my thoughts above began with a birthday tribute to Alfred Brendel, 88 years old today. Brendel is a public intellectual, a poet (in English, his third language, or perhaps his fourth), a painter, and one of the great pianists of the 20th Century. Listen to his Cambridge lecture on humor in music.

Brendel plays long excerpts from Beethoven’s Sonata #16, which I had always dismissed as pedantic, overblown writing. He opened my eyes to the obvious–that Beethoven is not so incompetent after all, and the whole sonata is a joke.

Buddhas and Santas, by Alfred Brendel

In front of tourists 
they contrive to keep still 
practising thirty-three varieties of ecstasy 
a thousand aspiring Buddhas 
At night though 
when no one’s looking 
they stretch their limbs 
become restless 
and pant 
a latent powder-keg 
to burn to ashes 
the wooden shrine 

Perhaps they only bicker 
because they all covet the front row 
to be scrutinized in close-up 
But in all likelihood 
they are just fed up 
with standing there like ornamental plants 
lined-up lookalikes 
rivals in the hothouse of holiness 
how they spy on each other 
clandestinely counting up the golden arms 
as befits a true Buddha 
sprout from their bodies 


In the recent football match 
between the Buddhas and the Texan Santas 
the Buddhas 
truly excelled themselves 
With undreamt-of sprightliness 
they laid siege to their opponents’ half 
and scored 
their corpulence notwithstanding 
several magnificent goals 
After their defeat 
the red-capped benefactors of children 
can be heard singing Jingle Bells 
and observed 
out of remorse 
to be scaling the giant Christmas trees 
with which the island 
its pedestrians 
at every turn 
in late autumn 


have of late occupied the temples 
Singing heartily 
they swarm over the balustrades 
wade through the waterlilies 
suddenly silent 
play hide-and-seek 
in the rockery 
Astonished monks 
watch them vanish 
behind the boulders 
There they huddle 
hiding their heads 
little realizing 
that the tails of their red and white cloaks 
shoot into the air like arrows 


As I stepped on stage 
the orchestra played a fanfare 
Then the loudspeakers announced me to be 
the one millionth Father Christmas 
Roared on by the crowd 
I was presented with a clone 
we embraced 
the clone and I 
and sang Silent Night in unison 
At home 
he lives in the attic 
When I travel 
he deputizes for me 
in the marital bed 
Sometimes we talk to each other 
in monologue 
Just once 
when a mouse ran up his leg 
he turned nasty 
Since then we compete in swearing 
he in Hungarian 
I in Croatian 
of course 
not in front of the children 

More poems of Alfred Brendel

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Create your own music with quantum biofeedback

There are a lot of new ideas here.

Start with the suppressed science that tells us that the famous randomness in quantum mechanics is not completely random, but can be influenced directly by human intention.  This was proved by Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne in a 30-year experimental protocol, and has been studied more recently by Dean Radin at Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS).  Unlike every other physical effect, this one doesn’t depend on distance, so it’s just as easy for you to affect a quantum event on the other side of the world as right in front of you.   There is enough data to demonstrate this effect with overwhelming statistical significance, less than a chance in a billion that this could be a random coincidence.

The effects have been small, easily lost in the quantum randomness in which they are embedded, so they have required large databases to see the mental influence.  Part of the problem is that it’s hard to get excited about whether quantum numbers are 1s or 0s.  People don’t have much skin in the game.

Iebele Abel has sought to address this problem by presenting people with music based on quantum random numbers.  People listening to the music can make it more beautiful (according to their subjective preference) by their effect on the quantum random events that drive the parameters of the music.  Abel calls the technology RT-ISMF, and he claims that people have deep healing experiences and even clarity about life purpose from engaging with this music.

You can try it yourself at this website.  (It requires creating a password account, but doesn’t cost anything.) (My browser generates a warning message “not safe” because the login page does not use SHTML in a standard way, but you may safely override the warning.)

The actual random event generator is in Greece, but you’ll find you can control it readily.spiral-kbd

What do we know about Scott Joplin?

Tradition says he was born 24 November 1868, so he would have been just 150 years old today.  The son of a newly-freed Texas slave, how did he learn what he learned about music?

Anecdotes relate that the young Scott Joplin gained access to a piano in a white-owned home where his mother worked, and taught himself the rudiments of music. In support of this story, we note its reflection in details of Treemonisha, an opera that Joplin published in 1911.

In 1896, it appears that he attended music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia,MO. Since the college and its records were destroyed in a fire in 1925, we have no evidence of the extent of Joplin’s studies, but anecdotes suggest that until the end of the 1890s he still lacked complete mastery of music notation.

— from Ed Berlin’s brief biography

Joplin wanted to compose opera.  His 1901 opera, A Guest of Honor, was about Booker T Washington’s invitation to the White House. The topic was too hot to handle in that era, and Joplin could not find a publisher.  He took it on tour, hiring a company of his own, but the box office proceeds were stolen, he couldn’t pay the cast’s hotel bill, and the hotel manager confiscated everything, including the score.  The score was never seen again by Joplin or anyone.

His only published opera was Treemonisha, six years later.