Musical Mumblings

Clara Schumann is rumored to have had an affair with Johannas Brahms, an idea pooh-poohed by many. Just look at the size and shape of that guy, yes? And yet, he—like many of the rest of us—looked quite different as a young man. He was said to be quite handsome and dashing as a younger. Ah yes, and a musician too. What better than the electricity of sexual attraction to someone who has everything going for him? Add to that that her husband, while a grand musician and composer, was a bit off the beam. Playing at A-flat, so to speak.

Robert Schumann did create many beautiful things, including some of my favorite piano pieces. Perhaps I’ve said this before, if so, apologies: When questioned about where the music or inspiration came from, he replied it was in his mind. He just had to write it down. The questioner said how marvelous that must be. Good God no! He replied. How would you like that *****###### in your head all the time. You can’t get rid of it!

Poor man, it did indeed drive him crazy. And then there’s the incident of the hand. Pianists like to have an octave-and-beyond reach for chords. The farther the better. Robert therefore bound his hand(s?) with his fingers stretched out while he slept in an attempt to improve his reach. In doing so he crippled them. Imagine the horror—a pianist who cannot use his hands to play properly—and at his own doing. Eventually Schumann died in a mental asylum, although he had—again, like more than one musician/composer—attempted suicide more than once.  

Rachmaninoff is reputed to have the largest hands measured with a span of a 12th… C – G’ in easy playing, not just stretching. That explains some of his chord progressions. He too, as with many musicians, went off the beam now and again, especially suffering from depression. To resume his career at one point he consulted a hypnotist who seems to have benefited his return to the concert stage.

I find it puzzling why many people ask creatives—writers, artists, composers,—where they get their ideas. Such an odd question, and one impossible to answer. Let it suffice to say it’s many things, not the least of which is craft—after the inspiration—work, work, work.

And no, not everyone who creates goes crazy or kills herself. The demons land where they must.

Posted by Classic FM

Conductor Marta Gardolinska: Our jobs are similar to those of sports people’s high pressure and physical strength is needed…”

What Are Things About?

Or, What Things Are About, Or, The Identity Of Things, Or…or…or….


The Met: Musical Instruments

Sea Dragon

The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

This image by the Met Museum Art Collection quite attracted me. I’ve seen many marvelous and antic instruments, but this one really struck me as something more unique in its definition of form. Clearly a dragon. In fact, if you look closely at the inside of the dragon’s mouth, isn’t that a fish hook? Is that meant for us, should we dare poke a finger inside?

Is it also that clearly a musical instrument? I don’t think so. It’s there, the tube and the mouth piece, and the thumb place (the gold pad under his neck) so we know it belongs to the horn and flute family. Or does it? There are no holes from which the notes can flow, the air pulsing out from the Dragon’s spine. But maybe they are on the other side, just not visible from this angle of the photo.

In the interest of scientific research, I asked the neighbor’s visiting child—who is eight years old—what the thing was. (Age might matter in this experiment, as does music knowledge, which he has, playing in a school orchestra.)  He studied it quite seriously in a zoomed large photo of a photo. “Well,” he said, “It is a dragon for sure.” “Anything else,” I asked. “Well,” he said again, “You can see he’s still alive, even though he’s been stabbed.” “Stabbed?” I asked astounded. “Yes. See this?” He pointed to the tube extending curved, from the Dragon’s neck. “They tried to kill him with this but his hide was so thick and tough they couldn’t make it all the way through. That’s how they bent it.” He nodded, more to himself than to me. He seemed satisfied with his assessment. He didn’t even ask me if that was correct. (Kids rarely do.)

“And how do you know he is still alive?” “Well, he doesn’t have his head on the ground and he looks like he’s growling. He’s going to start shooting flames any minute.”

“How do you know he’s going to shoot flames?” “Well, see this?” He points to my fish hook. “That’s what his flames come from. When that goes all down, boy watch out! There’ll be flames for sure!”

Well, there you have it.



Writing The Next Note


“For me Beethoven must be the Greatest composer ever Lived. Probably he was the only Composer who never failed to realize what the next note should be.”

Leonard Bernstein

That seems mainly true of all great or fine—or even just purposeful pursuits—yes? Sometimes I know the next note, sometimes not. When not there’s a flatness to it, a lack of energy. But we mere mortals must plod along.

The Descending Scale

From a YouTube video, concerto attention by Classic fm.

This is how a Ludi (Beethoven) concerto should be played. Quite impressive. As an aside, but related: my take on her thin is that of course she is built that way—we have to know she doesn’t eat. There is no time left after all of the practicing. The pianist is Alice Sara Ott.

To check out the pièce de résistance, tune in to the time mark of 9″30. Enjoy!



Posted by NPR

She died some time this week, 47 years ago. Forty-seven years. I was driving down some street in Iowa City on my way to university when I heard the news on the radio. And there it was. The first thoughts are…No…No…what now?…who will sing those songs for us…who will know?…No…

When I got to the classroom it was silent. No one saying a word. The students in their chairs, the prof standing in front, leaning against the desk. In that silence, in that room on a beautiful day in Iowa City, we were struck. In the confusion of loss and sorrow


AP—Janis Joplin, Woodstock

it was as if we all knew, all at once, that words could not—should not—be spoken. There was that current underneath, that whirlpool of something else that made words insignificant. There would never be enough, never enough of anything. No one else spoke Soul to Soul. No one else could sing the Blues. She was lost to us, and it was we, we who could not save her.

Breath, to breathe, to exhale…

And then somewhat returned from the semi-dead. Oof duh!

I have been in a penitent huddle with myself. The misery of Asthma & ever fluctuating temperatures. Between the sofa shuffle and the O2 misery of mind over matter, I breathe. I did not consider pain or inconvenience or emergency rooms when I smoke smoke smoked that cigarette. And maybe it’s not even all my fault. And you know what? I don’t think it matters one whit. It is what it is. The return is slow, but on the way!


Posted by Classical FM

And I also don’t think that Ludie was sloppy, just that he couldn’t quite get it all out quickly enough. (Maybe no one told him to breathe through it?)