Through spring with a dancing clarinet

The clarinet - a spring instrument? © Charles Thibo
The clarinet – a spring instrument? © Charles Thibo

The clarinet,  ah, the clarinet! What a beautiful instrument if mastered by its owner! A few months back, I presented Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, KV 622, but others have used this beautiful instrument. In chamber music for example. Carl Stamitz for example. The son of Johannes Stamitz, member of the Mannheim School*. In 1774, Carl Stamitz composed a set of six clarinet quartets (op. 14) and the one written in D major, a beautiful little piece, reminds me of a joyful walk in the forest with birds shining everywhere and greeting spring. It is full of joy and optimism, peace and hope. I can almost see the nymphs dancing to the gaily tunes.

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A tender look back at a great teacher

After the rain, a new day begins. © Charles Thibo
After the rain, a new day begins. © Charles Thibo

It is hard to imagine, but yes, it is true: Pyotr Tchaikovsky could not stand the sound of a violin or cello accompanied with a piano! Can you believe that? All those trios written by Mozart, Haydn or Schubert, and here comes Tchaikovsky and says: I don’t like it, it sounds awkward. In a letter to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, dated 18 October 1880 he justifies himself after she had teased him why he had not written a trio when she would hear so many of them in Florence, where she stayed in autumn 1880.

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Composing under Big Brother’s eyes

Shostakovich wrote 15 string quartets. © Charles Thibo
Shostakovich wrote 15 string quartets. © Charles Thibo

“The quartet is one of the most difficult musical genres.” The Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich wrote this in 1938, when he had started to compose his first string quartet. “I began to write it without special ideas and feelings.” It didn’t take him long to complete it and when he was done, he wrote to Ivan Sollertinsky, a music critic and a close friend to Shostakovich: “I re-grouped in mid-stream. The first movement became the last, the last the first. […] It didn’t turn out particularly well. But you know, it’s hard to compose well.” What a modest young man we have here. Continue reading!

Pentecost, Pergolesi and the message of peace

The cupola of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. © Charles Thibo
The cupola of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. © Charles Thibo

Explaining Pentecost to a nine-year old child is a challenge. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ followers – how do you explain a concept like the Holy Spirit to someone who struggles already with the notion of God, be it a Christian, Greek or Roman god? And how would that “spirit” descend upon somebody? “And there appeared unto them [the Apostles] cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” –  the Book of the Acts of the Apostles describes Pentecost as a rather disturbing and frightening event. To help get my daughter an idea,  I compared it to a kind of awakening: The Apostles finally understood Jesus’ message and had the courage to spread it through Israel and the neighboring regions. It was the beginning of the building of a Christian community, the beginning of the Christian Church.

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