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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Clarinet Quintet in A major by Mozart & Clarinet Quintet in B minor by Brahms

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

In the comments to the post of the Grieg Piano Concerto last week, Mr JOB and I had a brief exchange about the musical value of the 12 tone scale. For JOB, Schoenberg and his followers are engaged in a perversion of music, while I did my best to defend Schoeberg and especially others who, to my ears, have made good use of dodecaphony, and then some——Bartók and Lutosławski in particular.

I thought about posting something especially modern and outré, but then I realized that would be churlish and decided to take another route instead.

This week I’m offering two of my all-time favorite pieces of music, named above. The Mozart Quintet (K. 581), was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler, who famously helped invent the basset clarinet to play in the same range as a basset horn. Mozart wrote both this quintet and the (incredibly beautiful) clarinet concerto with this lower register clarinet in mind.

Similarly, Johannes Brahms wrote his Clarinet Quintet in B minor for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. It was published in 1891 as Opus 115 (of 122 total) and bears a number of similarities to Mozart’s quintet from a century before. There are very fine descriptions of the piece at Wikipedia and at The Clarinet Pages, but one thing I’d like to point out is that the Brahms is as much a prototypical minor key piece as the Mozart is of a major key. While the different keys obviously reveal much different moods, I think it would be a mistake to assume that the choice of key/mood is somehow historical. Obviously Mozart (and Bach and Handel) wrote works in minor keys, Brahms wrote in major keys (although it makes a kind of obvious sense that towards the end of his life, Brahms would write a work frequently described as “autumnal” in a minor key). And though he was composing in the latter half of the 19th century, I have a hard time seeing Brahms classified as a Romantic. I suppose this is to ever-so-slightly denigrate composers I would classify as Romantic: Chopin, Liszt, Wagner—”excessive”, as JOB wrote. Brahms emphasizes classical forms (sonata, symphony, etc.) far too much, as well as something I can’t quite name in his style. Lutosławski once called him “a reactionary composer”, and maybe there is something to that.

The two quintets make an obvious pair, but the reason I chose them after last week’s exchange with JOB is that I think they also reveal something about the history of music. I may not be a musicologist, but I’d like to play one on this blog, and what I hear in the Brahms quintet is a much thicker or denser chromatic array than what I hear in the Mozart quintet. I think this is evident in the first bars of the Mozart, which begins with the strings before the clarinet comes bubbling up and then descends on steps that are remarkably beautiful imitation of the rhythm already established by the violins. As far as I can tell, the Brahms achieves an entirely different effect: yes, the strings begin and the clarinet follows, just as in Mozart’s quintet, but the clarinet then proceeds to pull the strings into it’s own melancholic tones. There are more glissandi and less stability all the way around. The three note motif Brahms uses repeatedly to interrupt the musical argument strikes me as a vain attempt to pull back from the gloominess and instability.

As for the place of each piece in the history of music, I think it’s fair to say that Mozart’s quintet might well be the zenith of the classical era, Brahms’ obviously towards the end. The tonal system established by Bach (or in that era) was the flowering of many centuries of tradition. Truly, it was a great and beautiful achievement. But this development couldn’t simply stop there. Composers developed a kind of game in which they found ways and reasons to use notes outside the key in which any given piece of music was written. There was kind of destiny at work between the Baroque of the 17th Century and the Serialism of the early 20th. For all I know, future history will reveal that the tonal system of the Classical era really was the greatest way that sound can and ever will be organized. Given the monumental nature of St. Matthew’s Passion or The Messiah or Le Nozze Di Figaro or Beethoven’s String Quartets, it doesn’t at all seem like an unreasonable prediction.

It’s certainly hard to find anything resembling “the sensuous in its elemental originality” in anything by Stockhausen or Babbit. But I find it hard to fault Schoenberg and his followers for trying something new. Not because the diatonic scale was finished, but because the diatonic scale was itself developed by musicians who were trying something new.

‘The Poems You Write Up at Night’: Compulsive Versifying

A few excerpts from that article ‘Compulsive Versifying after Treatment of Transient Epileptic Amnesia’ in Neurocase that everybody’s talking about:



Compulsive production of verse is an unusual form of hypergraphia that has been reported mainly in patients with right temporal lobe seizures. We present a patient with transient epileptic amnesia and a left temporal seizure focus, who developed isolated compulsive versifying, producing multiple rhyming poems, following seizure cessation induced by lamotrigine. Functional neuroimaging studies in the healthy brain implicate left frontotemporal areas in generating novel verbal output and rhyme, while dysregulation of neocortical and limbic regions occurs in temporal lobe epilepsy. […]

[Read more…]

Sideshow Bob Raises a Fundamental Question…



More discussion here.


“Too, I found emotionally-charged debates between writers of reviews and their readers, who would fire off vituperative rebuttals of the ignominious stance the reviewer had taken earlier in the pages of the magazine or journal. These rebuttals fairly smoked with high dudgeon, and I could see that the readers had read Walker Percy’s books as if their very lives depended on it (which, of course, in one important sense, they do). These exchanges took on a real-life, win-or-lose significance for me.”
— from the author’s Foreword to Walker Percy: A Comprehensive Descriptive Bibliography, by Linda Whitney Hobson



12 July 2012

A slipper hangs from tiny toes: Our Lord –
A little child – has seen His cross and spear,
Has sped to her whose heart will know a sword.
She holds Him close. Her gaze is dark and clear.
They hang in golden silence…. Twitterings
Of careless birds bring day. Dawn fades the dark.
The clockwork clicks. The hammer hangs, then rings.
The planet turns, and swings along its arc….
The morning sun glides silent up the sky.
The moments pass beneath its sightless ray.
Some few hang solid like an ambered fly;
The rest, like Polaroids, fade fast away….
The noonday sun hangs high. Three things are all:
The point, the palm, the hammer poised to fall.

The many selves of Krista – or, things to discuss with ourselves over drinks as we watch a sunset/sunrise on Guemes Island

alpha cent

I thought this an interesting read, worth some discussion, especially since Walker Percy haunts the margins of the piece but never quite makes an appearance:

The Romantic conception of self-knowledge as a quest for “authenticity,” to some extent a revolt against the rigidity of the Enlightenment model, is still very much with us, particularly in the argot of the New Age and self-help movements. More importantly, one must point to the rich tradition of Christian thought and praxis, which assumes that each person is the unique creation and image of a loving God, a duality of body and soul destined for immortality. There are many variants of the Christian discourse on the self, but none of them has ever posited a purely autonomous paradigm of selfhood. Indeed, one might suggest that the postmodern, decentered self is simply the all but inevitable outcome of a process of secularization that began in the 17th century. Robbed of its metaphysical foundation, the Enlightenment or, later, the Romantic self has grown increasingly attenuated and subject to disintegration.

Located: Source of clown dearth


Just in case anyone was wondering where all those pesky clowns went

The American Catholic Church, which emphasizes property rights and the integrity of neighborhoods, retained the Latin Mass and plays The Star-Spangled Banner at the elevation of the host.

In a tent! On a boat! In a field! On a haybale! On a suitcase! Liturgical dancers! Rainbow stoles! Superman vestments! Dogs! Magicians! Pig roasts! More Rainbow stoles! Sit-down/lay-down Mass! (Did we mention rainbow stoles?) Light Sabers! Puppets! Giant Puppets! Life-sized Puppets! Monster Puppets! Liturgically dancing puppets! Oh, and look, even Masons! Yes, all of it and more at …. Missa Whatshappeningnow!

Ah, yes, the times they are a changin’.

Rally, Korrektiv, rally?

Oh, how all occasions do inform against us…the dark word has reached us that, besides Expat and Nguyen, Ryan Charles Foster Kane has been waylaid and will not be in attendance in New Orleans this weekend.

But he did make this awesome broadside for the occasion, and everyone should buy one.


Classic Fiction, New Fiction, Wiseblood Fiction

Elsewhere in the rough-and-tumble cyberspace of new publishing, Wiseblood Books has been moving some books. By my count they’re getting close to two dozen classic titles, with an original novel on the way.

Wiseblood Books is a newly-launched publishing line particularly favorable toward works of fiction, poetry, and philosophy that render truths with what Flannery O’Connor called an unyielding “realism of distances.” Such works find redemption in uncanny places and people; wrestle us from the tyranny of boredom; mock the pretensions of respectability; engage the hidden mysteries of the human heart, be they sources of either violence or courage; articulate faith and doubt in their incarnate complexity; dare an unflinching gaze at human beings as “political animals”; and suffer through this world’s trials without forfeiting hope. We seek contemporary fiction in the vein of such popular classics as Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, Graham Greene’s “entertainments,” Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Cather’s O Pioneers!, and P.D. James’ The Children of Men or as demanding as Dostoevsky’s Demons, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Melville’s Moby-Dick, Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Although we’ve already produced a small library of classics, which includes Notes From Underground, The Sickness Unto Death, and Three Detective Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Wiseblood Books will release its first work of contemporary fiction, The Unfinished Life of N., on October 1st, 2013. You can learn more, follow the blog, buy books, submit manuscripts, or donate here:

The Unfinished Life of N. by Micah Cawber (Coming October 1st, 2013): In the tradition of Flannery O’Connor, The Unfinished Life of N. scrutinizes the quiet ambitions of normal people, their everyday fictions concerning others’ and their own humanity and goodness, as it follows Nafula, the innocent but not naïve protagonist, from the backwoods of Wisconsin to AIDS-stricken regions of Africa, and, after a rehabilitation program at a Mental Health home, through an encounter that, paradoxically, catalyzes hope and an openness to the terrible speed of mercy.

Thought Experiment

Imagine Walker Percy in place of Norman Mailer here.

That’s sort of what my Still Lost in the Cosmos paper (co-authored with Read Schuchardt) will aim to do.

Rumor has it, McLuhan’s library (now in his son’s possession) contains several heavily annotated Percy titles.

See Also.

See you in New Orleans.