Mozart on His Kegelstatt Trio

Quite recently I wrote a little trio
While wasting time at skittles with some friends.
We needed something for the clarinet,

Something not dolorous, but not con brio—
A trifle which, their being at loose ends,
Would keep my buddies occupied and set

Them on an easy course: not one’s a Leo,
A firebrand who quickly apprehends
How music’s higher claims are to be met.

No violin had we—just viola (O Dio!).
For this lack it was tough to make amends,
But try it out. You’ll like it fine, I bet.




Brahms’s First Violin Sonata on the Air, from Its Midpoint 

for Conor Kelly, 1

Just after three breaks in a solemn lay
Of pain, in heavy chords and lines confessed.
How comes this somber song now to protest
Against the brilliance of a summer day?
None hearing it would be inclined toward play,
Nor turning from it would find easy rest.
Endless the weight seems to the hearer pressed
So urgently by all Brahms has to say.

But then at length the laden sorrow lifts,
Replaced by gentle, livelier rainfall:
A dance rife with remembrance, where each cadence
Helps mark a faint path on through cloudy shifts,
Minor to major, back and forth, withal,
Supplying glimpses of the bright sun’s radiance.



Julian D. Woodruff was a teacher, orchestral musician, and librarian. He served for several years as librarian at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. He now resides in the area of Rochester, NY, where he writes poetry and fiction, much of it for children. His work has appeared in Frostfire Worlds and on the websites of Carmina, Parody Poetry, and Reedsy. His GPS poem placed tenth in the last riddle contest of The Society of Classical Poets.

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27 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Julian, what a wonderful poetical and musical treat – thank you!

    I am particularly intrigued by the form of the first poem. It’s abc, abc… rhyme scheme points to a trilonnet but without the dd closing couplet. Trio/con brio/Leo/O Dio! is inspired.

    “Brahms’s First Violin Sonata on the Air, from Its Midpoint” is simply beautiful. I especially like that laden sorrow lifting to produce these lines; “A dance rife with remembrance, where each cadence/Helps mark a faint path on through cloudy shifts”… just lovely!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you for your kind and encouraging words Susan.
      From time to time I find myself using a repeating rhyme scheme, ABC … ABC … It seems to help when my aim is descriptive or contentive/ argumentative.
      If you listen to the Brahms, I hope you can follow my sonnet’s rather vague description of the finale.

  2. C.B. Anderson

    Both the musical and the verbal compositions were wonderful, Julian. Your musical expertise was quite evident in the way you measured out the wry narratives. I suppose we might regard these as ekphrastic poems.

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      C.B., you responded to the question I was about to ask: Can poems about music be classified as ekphrastic? I’ve looked at definitions and have only seen one that includes music with visual art. I’m glad you think they are.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you so much, C.B. Generous words, again from a source whose work I greatly admire and respect. This application of ekphrastic poetry to music is something I’ve tried only one or two other times. It’s easier when, as in the case of the Brahms, there is a story behind the music.

  3. Yael

    Poems on musical compositions, how interesting.
    Thank you for sharing your talents, I enjoyed reading and hearing this.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Yael. I’m glad you enjoyed the poems and especially the music.
      a while back I gave myself the project of listening to all the Beethoven duo sonatas. Now I’m thinking of doing the same for Brahms.

  4. Margaret Coats

    Very nice pair of poems to celebrate Saint Cecilia’s Day! Mozart’s cute conversational invitation to the trio seems a bit tongue-in-cheek. If the clarinet is going to be the featured instrument, it’s far better to have a lower-voiced viola than a violin. The trio gives all three players complementary shares of music, but the clarinet is clearly the high voice.

    The Brahms sonnet is superb, with the weight and the pain in the octave, succeeded by weather clearing in the sestet. Laden sorrow moves to livelier rainfall, through cloudy shifts, and on to glimpses of the sun’s bright radiance. Good use of images in both parts of the poem, to describe the character of the music. Minor matter: it seems line 2 should end with a comma instead of a period.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, Margaret. I feel so honored to have earned favorable comments from writers whose work I so admire.
      You make a good point: the clarinet-violin-piano combination is most unlikely in Mozart. Beethoven used a cello in his clarinet trio, Brahms likewise in his. Schumann, in his Maerchenerzaehlungen, followed Mozart. But in Mozart’s day there were still a large number of treble-bass pieces being produced. All but one of Haydn’s early string trios are for 2 violins and bass (cello), as are most of Viotti’s and Boccherini’s. Mozart himself wrote one such.
      On the Brahms, please see my response to Mr. Anderson. My intent, grammatically, at the beginning of this sonnet, was: declarative sentence, interrogative sentence. If you’d be willing to share your thinking about these lines in detail, I’d be interested in your thinking.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Oops! This comment should read: … treble-treble-bass pieces.
        Scusi and Entschuldigungen,
        My typing is again verstunken!

      • Margaret Coats

        Please find details about the punctuation in a new comment below. Lines are getting short!

  5. BDW

    After reading your Italian sonnet, on Brahms’ “Rain Sonata”, and then listening to it, I composed a tennos on the overall piece, from the vivace non troppo through the adagio più andante to the allegro moderato, From your sonnet, I drew the words “rain” and “play”, as a central motif of the tennos, but the “pain” and “radiance” I held at bay. I must admit that Brahms’ music has not had much of an influence on my poetry, so I was glad to have a chance to think upon another unfamiliar piece of it. Here is my spontaneous reaction to it.

    On a Sonata of Brahms
    by Ewald E. Eisbruc
    for Julian D. Woodruff

    They play together— violinist and the pianist,
    a spraying fountain shooting, splaying airward in a mist,
    so peacefully displaying pools and puddles rip-pl-ing,
    as birds there tipple dewy drops, aslant on supple wing.
    They preen themselves there at the gray edge of the plashing rain,
    and quake and quiver friskily again, again, again;
    they shake and shiver in the splashing, washing thoughtfully,
    a simple, dimpled act, a pause from searching constantly.
    And then enough—it’s time to fly—to go off—fluttering,
    dismounting the sonata, songless, soft, and scattering.

    In retrospect, I could have added more melancholy than “gray” and “searching constantly”, and thought more about the three-note dotted rhythm; but my hearing kept out the tears and a rainbow. Perhaps because I have come from the place I happen to be at, Brahms’ piece worked a subdued magic on me. I know many @ SCP prefer to have no poems in the comments, and though I am liking my prose, more and more as the years pass by, I tend to respond more what? —profoundly, deeply, completely, vigourously? in poesis.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Mr. Eisbric,
      How gratifying to have elicited a poetic response to my own effort! (On your warning about posting poetry in the responses: you may be right and I take your caution under advisement, although I have been defying discretion in this way without finding recriminations tossed my way.)
      Your tennos is resourceful in all its interior rhymes alliteration, assonance, and near rhymes; inventive in its imagery; even unshackled: in your use of “tipple” as a transitive verb.
      The poem stands as a generic, generous reaction to music unspecified except in the title, whereas my poem mentions the rainfall, alluding to the title by which the sonata is informally known. If you haven’t done so, please take a minute or two to read the Wikipedia article on this piece. The circumstances of its composition are rich, and explain my experience when I clicked on the radio after picking up my car from the repair shop. (Not that any of that has anything to do with the quality of your lovely poem.)
      By the way, when I read your poem to my wife, she immediately supposed you were attracted to Hopkins’s poetry. Is she correct?

  6. Margaret Coats

    I suggested a comma for the end of line 2 because lines 1 and 2 do not make a complete sentence. There are three phrases:

    Just after three breaks — telling when
    in a solemn lay of pain– telling where
    in heavy chords and lines confessed — telling where

    There is no subject or main verb. You could say, “the heavy chords and lines confessed,” with “confessed” as verb, but this seems to need a direct object. What did the chords and lines confess? “Confessed” in not quite clear even in the phrase of location, I’ll admit. Perhaps you need to clarify what you mean the initial declarative sentence to say.

    I thought the whole quatrain could be clarified (into one interrogative sentence) with a comma at the end of line 2, because then the three phrases would tell where and when “comes this somber song.” Your question still makes perfect sense, because you are asking “how.”

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Margaret,
      Thank you for your close attention to the sonnet and its grammar. I think it is my vocabulary that is causing confusion.
      “Just after three [o’clock] breaks in (v.i.) a lay of pain (subj.) … confessed (=told or sung; modif. “pain”). … song (subj.) comes to protest (v.) against … (modif.). I hope that makes my intention clearer.
      At the moment I’m going through Paradise Lost, where word order and multiple possibilities of grammatical function often give me long pause. Milton can get away with such things. Perhaps I cannot.

      • Margaret Coats

        Looks fine now, Julian. I would suggest a comma after “three,” to make it clear that “three” does not modify “breaks.” I had no idea that “three” meant time of day. As the immediately preceding title indicates a point in the music, I thought “breaks” might do so as well. In vocal polyphony we sometimes call a long stretch of rests for one voice a “break.” Another way to clarify the poem would be to use a two-syllable verb (such as “begins” or “resounds”) instead of “breaks in.” Or start the poem, “At three o’clock.” This makes it clear at once that there is a story behind the music. Again, you deserve great credit for bringing the stages of the story to life in the poem. Moving from narrative to sonata (Brahms) to sonnet (you) is not an easy task. You are not going back to the story line after the music, but employing the new genre of lyric with the story told through imagery.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Thank you for the suggestions, Margaret. The comma is the most suitable (although I’d sooner do without it): your suggestion of replacing “breaks in” with something else is attractive, but I need to hit on something that conveys the immediacy of the moment that I switched on the radio. “At three o’clock” is very precise, but it violates the acrostic tribute to Brahms in initial letters.
        Anyway, you’ve given me incentive to rethink this opening, and I’m grateful.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Milton got away with a lot of things, including the perpetration of the myth that he was England’s greatest poet. I’ll give him this, though: he was certainly England’s most long-winded poet. If this be heresy, then I will gladly die on the stake of your own choosing. I, too, have found Milton nearly impenetrable, but I am willing to admit that this is due to my own literary shortcomings when it comes to deciphering our great masters, if I would only be presented with a good bit of cogent evidence to support that case. Clarity above all else! I think that Housman summed up the problem rather succinctly:

        And malt does more than Milton can
        To justify God’s ways to man.

        John Milton should have gotten out on the town a bit more than he did, and thereby have overcome his TRUE blindness.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Oh, C.B., he may be hard to put up with, but (as far as I’ve gotten in P.L.) some passages show imagination for the spectacular. With seeing eyes I think he would have loved a good war epic movie. I suppose some of his descriptive passages rely a lot on Homer, Ariosto, Tasso, and other guys I’ve never read. (And of course, it’s the kind of thing that’s rather fun to spoof and ridicule.)

  7. Margaret Coats

    Thanks for pointing out the clever acrostic. I didn’t notice it earlier, which means it isn’t forced, but quite natural.

  8. BDW

    Mr. Woodruff’s wife’s question is an intriguing one to me, because the question leads to so many other questions; but to answer her question: I was profoundly influenced by Gerard Manley Hopkins in my youth. In my early twenties, I walked around with a guitar (which I did not play well) and a copy of the collected poems of Hopkins. I was in awe of his dazzling verbal pyrotechnics. He helped make English alive for me in very real ways. In those days I wrote over a hundred sonnets under his tutelage. What I most liked of his was the dramatic, dynamic tension he discharged between words. At one time I liked every poem I read of his, which must have been close to all of his poems in print.

    But now, since his influence on my work has diminished enormously on my writing, I wonder what Mr. Woodruff’s wife got from “On a Sonata of Brahms” that suggested Hopkins.

    Though Mr. Woodruff could speak to his own literary influences, I would be more interested in his musical influences? tastes? passions? etc.

    In reference to Mr. Anderson’s comment on Milton, these days it is Milton’s poetry’s strength that I go to time and again.
    In some ways his poesis is the most powerful and revolutionary in English.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      My musical leanings are first and foremost to the European court and urban traditions, which engage both amateur and professional practitioner and frequently acknowledges folk an rural traditions. At least as far back as Dufay and as far forward as Prokofiev. The string chamber works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert (1820-28) would form my personal core of all that. (It would be quite different if I played oboe or trumpet )

  9. BDW

    After reading your comment this morning, I listened to some chamber music, Schubert’s “Trout”, Beethoven’s “Archduke”, Haydn’s “Emperor”, and Mozart’s “Gran Partita”. The pieces were very nice. I am not a musician in any sense of the word, unlike my daughter, an aural pianist, my son, a high school trumpeteer, and my wife who played both; but I have been interested for half a century in music of innumerable styles and periods.

    Ah, four from the classical era! While in Germany I fell under the spell of Beethoven and Schubert; but my emphasis then was on the symphonies and various pieces. My best friend in Germany and I would get in heated discussions about Mozart’s and Beethoven’s music. I, too, like yourself, have first and foremost in my mind the European tradition, from Medieval and Renaissance periods, Baroque (particularly Bach) and Classical, Romantic and Modern. It does seem as if after Puccini in opera, and Shostakovich in the symphony, that there was a real falling off; though there are many interesting 20th century pieces.

    There are so many things we writers can learn from the composers. One writer, among many others, who took music serious in his writing was T. S. Eliot in works, like “Preludes” and the “Four Quartets”.

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      Yes! There is so much music in Eliot! I love “Four Quartets” and “Preludes” — and the Choruses from “The Rock” are exquisite!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Dear Ms. Erlanson,
      I am neither literate enough nor possess a strong enough memory to contribute much on this topic. I do find works of Stevens and Roethke very musical (in German, Stefan George in his way, although he was not sympathetic to music or to settings of his work, of which there are many), and thought of setting individual poems.
      There are also writers who are clearly appreciative of music of one sort or another (Sandburg, Walker Percy). More I’m not prepared to say.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      That sounds like a wonderful listening tour, BDW. The Gran Partita is truly a miracle. It, along with Mozart’s piano-wind quintet and serenades for wind octet, are the pieces I’d have been most anxious to play had my instrument been of the reed variety.

  10. BDW

    It is nice to hear Ms. Erlandson highly regards the works of T. S. Eliot. Though I argue with his poetry in my own work, it was to his “Four Quartets” that I turned to as a model in my Spring poem “Coronal” in four sections. It may be through music, as Mr. Woodruff’s poems (as well as those of Mr. Hartley), that some of us may derive our future work. Eliot succeeds in his handling of motif, but he lacks the ear of Tennyson and the grand poetic, musical vision of Shakespeare. Still, he remains, in my mind, the greatest literary critic in English, and he at least attempted, in works, like “Four Quartets”, “Murder in the Cathedral” and his criticism of “Hamlet” to suggest new, undeveloped regions and possibilities for the future of English poetry.


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