The Lives and Opinions of Literary Cats


Left Coast Chamber Ensemble through the Kurt Rohde Commission Fund



March 18, 2017 by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble at the Berkeley Piano Club in Berkeley, CA


piano trio

DURATION: 6 minutes

COVER ART: Emma Ridgway Illustration



I was asked by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble to write a piece that imagines the Brahms’s B Major Trio being heard through the looking glass, and all I could hear were cats.

Let me explain: there was a time when Johannes Brahms signed his musical works with the moniker “Johannes Kreisler,” a fictitious composer found in E.T.A Hoffman’s novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. In this novel, a printer’s error accidentally splices and mixes the Tomcat Murr’s autobiography—yes, an autodidact cat wrote his own autobiography—with a book about the composer Johannes Kreisler, and the reader has a hard time figuring out who is the cat and who is the composer.

And if one cat isn’t enough, at the beginning of Through the Looking-Glass, Alice is playing with her kittens Snowdrop and Kitty, one of which is behaving badly (it’s the black one), right before she steps through that infamous looking-glass.

This ultimately begs the question: is this cat music or composer music? Is Johannes Brahms now Johannes Kreisler, or even Tomcat Murr, Snowdrop, or Kitty?

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© Copyright 2020 by Jennifer Jolley