I am searching for poems about the great composers I will be teaching about for the next eight weeks, and I had to laugh when I found this one by the acerbic yet often poignant Billy Collins, whom I suspect is as cranky a talent in his own way as Beethoven was. Both artists are prone to a startling mixture of melancholy and mirth, and you can feel hope for humanity and despair in a neck-and-neck a race. The fact that I found this poem while neighbor's dog was practicing his own tenor line made its discovery all the sweeter. Do you have a poem about Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn or Brahms? If so, please write and let me know!
Another Reason I Don't Keep a Gun in the House
by Billy Collins
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.
When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.
This dashing, handsome young man was Johannes Brahms- a far cry from the portly, bearded fellow we usually see depicted in his later years. The 20-something of this photograph was filled with incendiary, volcanic passion for the pianist and composer Clara Schumann, a woman fourteen years his senior who had borne seven children to his mentor Robert Schumann. When Robert attempted suicide and was confined to a mental institution, Brahms was one of the few people allowed to visit, and he carried letters and photographs back and forth between husband and wife. For years, Brahms burned inwardly with an ardor that puts the protagonists of Nicholas Sparks novels to shame. Like all my own heroes, Brahms sublimated the pain and passion of his life into art: the terror of Robert's madness and the tormented longing and exquisite tenderness he felt for Clara found their way into the Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor, which he described as a " portrait in sound" of his lifelong muse. The concerto played to a full house in Leipzig with Brahms at the keyboard, but at the conclusion of the performance, only three people clapped. The rest of the audience hissed the young pianist off the stage. In the face of this public humiliation, isn't Brahms' resilience astonishing? How many of us would ever have taken pen in hand or appeared on a concert stage again? Thank God for Clara's tireless efforts to promote and popularize Brahms' music, which was so much deeper and more thoughtful than the majority of light-weight froth or shallow virtuosity that was the rage during that time. The fascinating story of Brahms and Clara as lifelong friends ( and possible lovers) is one I will share in the upcoming Great Romantics lecture-performance series. Beginning on January 28 in Petaluma from 10:00-11:30, this seven-week class will dive deeply into the turbulent drama and soul-searching pathos of the Romantic era, with live performances of piano gems.
To learn more about the Great Romantics class, go to /great-romantics.html.
Below is a performance of the monumental Concerto No. 1 in d minor featuring Helene Grimaud, who will be performing this towering work with the San Francisco Symphony in February.
As the hours of darkness begin to slowly wane from the winter sky,
So too may the fearful places of your heart unclench their grasp on your life
As the presence of light begins to grow with greater sureness with each passing day
May your own courage blossom to open more brightly to truth and love.
Let this be the year that you turn off the television and silence the talk radio chatter
in order to pick up the writing pen, the paintbrush,
and watch the candle slowly burn.
May this be the year that you delight
in seeing how much joy you can extravagantly spread.
May you discover just how much beauty you can recklessly shower
upon this thirsty world.
May this be the year that you tune both the dusty piano in the corner
and the inner listening of your care-worn heart
So that both can play in harmony with the chorus of creation.
May you break the invisible yardstick of impossible expectations
and learn that just as you are,
you are enough.
May this be the year that you cease trying to march to an imagined ideal
and instead, wrap your arms around the messy wonder your life really is,
hold it close
and do the tango.
Let this be the year you befriend your soul in its radical particularity,
not forsaking it yet again for the bland demands and cravings of the masses.
Instead, may you elope with the wildness of your own true calling,
marry your soul to its deepest longings
and invite the hungry world to the wedding feast.