An excerpt from Darryl’s 2007 interview with Yusef Lateef. Here they discuss Lateef’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Of particular interest is the way Lateef used Johannes Brahms’ clarinet sonata, written 100 years earlier, as a launching pad for his compositional ideas.


YL: Well, you know, I look back at composers, but not for the purpose of trying to emulate them, but only to be inspired by them. Because many of those composers, they spent so much time refining their techniques and qualitative methods. I feel it’s educational for me to observe what they’ve done.

DVH: You know, every time I revisit the clarinet sonata- I’ve been really listening to it every day and really studying it carefully, and I’m actually really amazed at how it’s very much your voice. It doesn’t sound anything like Brahms, but there’s still these references present. And that’s basically what I’m writing about is how yes, there are these borrowings, but it’s a different piece, it’s a different context, different meaning, different syntax, different harmonies, different melodies. All of those things.

YL: You’ve discovered what I’ve discovered. My teacher told me that Brahms first symphony was as mature as Beethoven’s ninth, and that was because he was studying music for years before he wrote his first symphony. He played for singers. The accumulative abilities that he aqcuired before he wrote his first symphony showed up. And to say that his first symphony is as mature as Beethoven’s ninth, that’s a big statement, you know? But I think it’s true though.

DVH: I understand that he, he actually put off writing his first symphony. When people asked him “where’s your symphony ? You’re a composer, you have to do a symphony.” But he really put it off until later in his career because he wanted it to be really good. He didn’t want to go through the painful process of writing something that wasn’t quite there.

YL: Right. You know that also, right?

DVH: Yeah, I read that somewhere in the past couple of years. I don’t remember where.

YL: Thanks for telling me that. I never heard it put that way. I like to believe that’s why my piece doesn’t sound like Brahms because I was trying to prepare myself to write it for years.

DVH: That’s a nice parallel, actually. I like that.