Richibi’s Weblog

Just another weblog

Month: July, 2012

Chopin: “Études”, opus 10

if I haven’t brought up Chopin much in this series
it’s that I think of him more as a decorator than
as an innovator, he was developing a sensibility
that had been defined by the earlier Beethoven,
adding texture and style, form instead of function,
the wheel had been invented, now it remained to
be artfully applied
some break new ground, others decorate it, make
it enchanting, Chopin makes things enchanting 
he is also the first composer we think of when we
think of Romanticism, which says quite a lot about
the quality, the universality, of his gift 
here are his opus 10, “Études”, or “Studies”, 12 of
them, they are not sonatas, for not having more
than one movement, they are “études” , “studies”,
called by that name for being what they are, then
given numbers to differentiate them, also their
key, the convenience of universally attributing
titles not having quite caught on yet though a
couple of these do have them, the 5th, the
“Black Keys”, for obvious reasons, and the last,
the “Revolutionary”, again for reasons you’ll find
obvious once you’ve heard it 
tonality however remains, no apparent discords,
that’ll come later  
note that in comparison to Mozart the notes are
a shimmer, the same alphabet is used, the one
set up by Bach, but where Mozart made these
into narratives to follow, and even sing along to,
with Chopin the same flurry of notes becomes
a wash of sound you could never vocally keep
up with, a texture rather, an enveloping caress,
prefiguring incidentally the Impressionists, the
lush soundscapes of for instance Debussy 
though you’ll find the same prerequisite opening
musical statement as in Mozart, followed by the  
contrasting one, often these will be in altogether
constrasting rhythms as well, tempi, compared
to the single strict beat throughout of the 
foundational Classical model    
the tempo itself is also much more lax, some
passages surrendering formal rhythmic strictures
to greater emotional content, more self-expression,
less attention to rules, in accord with the newly
installed ideal of individual human rights 
hence Romanticism, the fruit of the Revolution 
note also that the musical argument is no longer
in the Mozartean playground but of a more mature
understanding, Chopin has known love 

How to Listen to Classical Music: Beginner’s Manual

How to Listen to Classical Music: Beginner’s Manual    
                                     (after Pamela Spiro Wagner
            First, forget everything you have learned,
            that Classical Music is difficult,
            that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
            with your high school equivalency diploma,
            your steel-tipped boots,
            or your white-collar misunderstandings.    
            Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
            the best Classical Music means what it says and says it.
            To listen to Classical Music requires only courage
            enough to leap from the edge
            and trust.
            Treat Classical Music like dirt,
            humus rich and heavy from the garden.
            Later it will become the fat tomatoes
            and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.
            Classical Music demands surrender,
            language saying what is true,
            doing holy things to the ordinary.

            Listen to just one Classical work a day.

            Someday an irresistible composition may open in your heart
            like a daffodil offering its cup
            to the sun.
            When you can identify the Mozart fantasia 
            among the four of his sonatas I’ve included here in this gentle message,
            close this manual.
            You are now hearing 
            as opposed to listening to Classical Music 

XlX. The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XlX The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize

The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandize;
I barter curl for curl upon that mart,
And from my poet’s forehead to my heart
Receive this lock which outweighs argosies, –
As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes
The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart
The nine white Muse-brows. For this counters part,…
The bay crown’s shade, Beloved, I surmise,
Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!
Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,
I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,
And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Elizabeth in the last poem has just given a
lock of her own hair to her “poet”, now
Robert returns his own tonsorial favour

this exchange, this particular instance of
“mechandiz[ing]”, would baffle merchants –
“counters”, she calls them, somewhat
derisively – would render deliberations
moot whereby a curl “outweighs” very
argosies”, flotillas – see Jason and the
Argonauts, their golden cargo, for an

Pindar is one of the nine lyric poets of Greek
antiquity, whose brows were touched by the
nine Greek muses, Clio, Thalia, Erato, Euterpe,
Polyhymnia, Calliope, Terpsichore, Urania,
Melpomene, may they forever inspire

the “bay crown” is the laurel her victor still
may wear to honour his celebrated literary

“purpureal” is another word for purple

Elizabeth‘s love is unquestionably erudite,
perhaps a little indeed too “purple” were it
not for the beauty, and piercing sincerity, of
her vaunted sentiment

as it is she overcomes her own arcane even
references to deliver staunch and poignant,
I think, relevance, enough to be moved and

long live Elizabeth


XVlll. I never gave a lock of hair away – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XVlll. I never gave a lock of hair away

I never gave a lock of hair away
To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully
I ring out to the full brown length and say
“Take it.” My day of youth went yesterday;
My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,
Nor plant I it from rose- or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more: it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified, –
Take it thou, – finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


with her one word, “this”, peremptory and indicative,
Elizabeth anchors us to a common present, making
us witness to the scene, a scene of the most tender

these effortlessly transcend by their apparent
urgency and truth the usual meter of a sonnet,
leaving in the dust however always only perfect
rhymes, like wooden sentinels left twirling in too
strong a wind

enough of them however to constitute a poem

or what’s a poem

the same kind of thing happens in the history
of music, where notes skip deftly over a bar
without even the semblance of an
acknowledging curtsy, caught up in the more
compelling reality of their vivid and impetuous
imagination, like children who haven’t learned
quite all the rules yet

in Mozart, his piano sonata in D major, K576,
here for instance, the incorrigible child is
ever even present, even ever evident

both poets reflect a search for greater
authenticity, challenging established ideas
of beauty in its unending deliberation with
truth, see Keats on this irreducible dichotomy


XVll. My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from “Sonnets from the Portuguese

XVll. My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes

My poet, thou canst touch on all the notes
God set between His After and Before,
And strike up and strike off the general roar
Of the rushing worlds a melody that floats
In a serene air purely. Antidotes
Of medicated music, answering for
Mankind’s forlornest uses, thou canst pour
From thence into their ears. God’s will devotes
Thine to such ends, and mine to wait on thine.
How, Dearest, wilt thou have me for most use?
A hope, to sing by gladly? or a fine
Sad memory, with thy songs to interfuse?
A shade, in which to sing – of palm or pine?
A grave, on which to rest from singing? Choose.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it is to be remembered that Robert Browning at the
time was considered a poet of growing authority
though Elizabeth herself had not been of no
consequence, and her star was not to lose its
brilliance in the literary firmament throughout her
lifetime and beyond, but Robert was a man and
benefited therefore from greater consideration
than would’ve then a woman, a not unfamiliar
situation even now

the institutional role of women was pretty well
the one that Elizabeth naturally took on, when
women had no other recourse but to be
dependent, if not graced with comfortable
independent means, which in fact Elizabeth

with such an unmistakable gift as hers, however,
I can’t imagine that beyond the genuine love she
manifests for her husband throughout her poems
she would have been unaware of her own
considerable worth, ever granting that love can
be even ever so blind, my own love for instance
riding each morning for me preternaturally and
however improbably the very chariot of a
blinding, mesmerizing, sun

“Choose” though, she at the very last commands,
striking again a telling imperative

note the elision of the rhyme through several
verses in the poem giving the lines a momentum
that lets the poem fly, making the matter
compelling, urgent

compare Mozart soaring above the bar lines
when the piano is comparably unleashed, to
let the music make a similar irrepressible magic

prose is finding its way into poetry here, poetry
conversely into prose


XVl. And yet, because thou overcomest so – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XVl. And yet, because thou overcomest so

And yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow
Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone. Why, conquering
May prove as lordly and complete a thing
In lifting upward, as in crushing low!
And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
Even so, Beloved, I at last record,
Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


by the very fact of being king, she says, you elevate
me to the status of being queen, be I ever so humble

therefore I cede, and duly accept, however mightily
encumbered, thy proferred crown

long live, I say, Elizabeth

and, morally as well as aesthetically inspired, I
proclaim, wow


XV. Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XV. Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
Too calm and sad a face in front of thine;
For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.
On me thou lookest with no doubting care,
As on a bee shut in a crystalline;
Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,
And to spread wing and fly in the outer air
Were most impossible failure, if I strove
To fail so. But I look on thee – on thee –
Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
As one who sits and gazes from above,
Over the rivers to the bitter sea.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


having been flung into the maelstrom of love Elizabeth
Barrett Browning
has now conceded that her condition is
a fact, she might as well deal with it

and deal with it she does, in imperatives, “Accuse me not”,
she orders, after the many other stipulations she musters
in the last, her XIVth of these poems, where “… love me
for love’s sake”,
she demands after a string of other, albeit
precautionary, edicts

there are parameters to this involvement, she insists, you
must love me for who I am if we are to share destinies too
profound, and too fraught, to squander

in this I suspect she will be a woman of steel


XIV. If thou must love me, let it be for nought – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XIV. If thou must love me, let it be for nought

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of speaking gently, – for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day” –
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, – and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry, –
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


with this poem Elizabeth has written her way, I think,
along with “love’s”, into her own immortality, not only
has she acknowledged her lover’s love, taken a practical
stance about it – straightforward, no circumlocutions –
but touches also upon a truth of love, one of its
inextricable conditions, love is, she affirms, as an
article of very faith, forever

compare Shakespeare on the subject, an interesting
juxtaposition I picked up from another astute observer
on the Internet

Sonnet CXVl

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

the implicit debt to Shakespeare in Barrett Browning
is worth noting, they sound very much alike, unlike
alone, it would at first appear, in gender


Xlll. And wilt thou have me fashion into speech – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

Xlll. And wilt thou have me fashion into speech

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
Between our faces, to cast light on each? –
I dropt it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirits so far off
From myself – me – that I should bring thee proof
In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
Commend my woman-love to thy belief, –
Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


there are circumlocutions in Romantic poetry
that are often hard to follow, and the work of
sorting these out just as often will lead to
giving the poem a pass, how pertinent can
a poem be, you ask, as you cursorily lay it
to rest

unless a line or two, a phrase, a cadence, an
arresting truth you find, becomes enough to
probe it further, to read again with a magnifying
glass this time, checking the entrails, the parts
of speech, the punctuation, their interactions,
the chemistry

this alone is good for your head

the word “rend” upended me here, who, I
wondered, rent, the text is clear but “however
interjects to sow confusion, a comma
after “wooed”, rather than a hyphen, confirms
that she herself is breaking up inside for fear
of speaking out her anguish, a hyphen
would’ve led us to him

still a bit convoluted, but the underlying
sentiment remains incontrovertibly raw
and clear

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a mess, but
has found a solid anchor in the refuge of
her manifestly masterful, mistressful, if you’d
rather, poems, though I suspect she’ll never
attain belief in her own connubial validity

van Gogh was also so existentially rent

and also Goethe’s Werther, the premier Romantic
hero, who famously foregos his even life for lack
of validating love

Elizabeth Barrett Browning remains to bear it,
live it, for us, iconically

go, I would think, though ever so distraught,
dear and magnificent Elizabeth


Mozart – Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581

there are several reasons for which Classical music
is called Classical, the word itself suggests a standard – 
austere, concise, clear, rigorously authoritative – nearly
like mathematics 
and such is the music of Mozart, and most others, even
into Romanticism
despite the flurry of iridescent notes filling vaults of
effervescent atmosphere, like the apparent serendipity
of so many flights of birds that describe music for us in
our own heavens, you’ll hear a tune, then another
constrasting one, then you’ll hear both of them all over
again, not much different from a song’s refrain and verse,
except that the verse is not new but like the refrain a
both repetitions usually will have some embellishments,
and sometimes the repetitions are in a divergent order,
but the idea remains the same, you’ll always hear again
what you heard at the beginning no matter how far away
you’ve strayed
this foursquare structure is at the basis of music
nearly like mathematics
beat remains also essential, a peremptory component of
what it means to be music in the Classical Age, despite
the leeway now given by a revolutionary it would turn
out fortepiano  
Mozart doesn’t sway from the tempo he imposes on a
movement, does so even categorically, otherwise would
be louche, disruptive, in an age of order 
in the last movement of his Clarinet Quintet in A major,
however, K581, he has his way with that proscription by
making the movement a set of variations, which allow
him, of course, to on a theme display an array of melodic
options, irrelevant of coherence of pace, to test the
boundaries of what it means to be within the larger
musical structure one of its movements 
a path is thereby forged to a new understanding
he gives us also here another new invention, the
addition of a clarinet to the usually set quartet – two
violins, a viola and a cello – that was then the staple
of chamber music essentially 
nor can I think of an earlier Clarinet Quintet 
you’ll find this unassuming, usually more reclusive, 
wind instrument to be an utterly inspired addition
to even the most vaunted sounds of even this most
silken string quartet