Archive for January, 2018

JP CG 1949


Number 1 1948 Pollock

Number 1 (1948)

POLLOCK_1950_Lavender_Mist

Lavender Mist (1950)

pollock_blue_poles

Blue Poles (1952)

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Kitsch and Kitscher

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

From my private collection.

Readings For February 5th

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Readings

Here is the Rosenberg I promised in class, along with another piece, by Leo Steinberg. We’ll try to discuss the first on Monday and the second on Wednesday.

JP

Jackson Pollock Makes A Painting
(1951)

***

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Harold Rosenberg
(1906 – 1978)
“The American Actions Painters” (1952)

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Leo Steinberg
(1920 – 2011)
“Contemporary Art and The Plight of Its Public” (1962)

The New Hegemonic Medium

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

Propeller (1937)

Rhythm (1938)

Rhythm Color no. 1076 (1939)

Abysmal Hybridity

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Music, Uncategorized

“Something for everyone!”
–Sarah Chang

Below is a promo for Sarah Chang’s performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s beloved “The Four Seasons”. Have a look and a listen. I won’t even bother to ask whether this is Art or Kitsch. What I will ask you instead to consider is why it is so bad. Is this kitsch through and through, or is there actually something genuinely decent buried in all this?


As for the sonnets or poems to which Chang refers, they are the same poems which Greenberg calls “oratorical and frivolous literature of the 18th century,” in “Toward a Newer Laocoön” (1940).

Lessing in his Laocoön written in the 1760s, recognized the presence of a practical as well as a theoretical confusion of the arts. But he saw its ill effects exclusively in terms of literature, and his opinions on plastic art only exemplify the typical misconceptions of his age. He attacks the descriptive verses of poets like James Thomson as an invasion of the domain of landscape painting, but all he could find to say about painting’s invasion of poetry was to object to allegorical pictures which required an explanation, and to paintings like Titian’s “Prodigal Son”, which incorporate “two necessarily separate points of time in and and the same picture”. … It was not realistic imitation in itself that did the damage so much as realistic illusion in the service of sentimental and declamatory literature.

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The Seasons
by James Thompson
(1700 – 1748)
“Winter”


See! Winter comes, to rule the varied Year,
Sullen, and sad; with all his rising Train,
Vapours, and Clouds, and Storms: Be these my Theme,
These, that exalt the Soul to solemn Thought,
And heavenly musing. Welcome kindred Glooms!
Wish’d, wint’ry, Horrors, hail! — With frequent Foot,
Pleas’d, have I, in my cheerful Morn of Life,
When, nurs’d by careless Solitude, I liv’d,
And sung of Nature with unceasing Joy,
Pleas’d, have I wander’d thro’ your rough Domains;
Trod the pure, virgin, Snows, my self as pure:
Heard the Winds roar, and the big Torrent burst:
Or seen the deep, fermenting, Tempest brew’d,
In the red, evening, Sky. — Thus pass’d the Time,
Till, thro’ the opening Chambers of the South,
Look’d out the joyous Spring, look’d out, and smil’d.
THEE too, Inspirer of the toiling Swain!
Fair AUTUMN, yellow rob’d! I’ll sing of thee,
Of thy last, temper’d, Days, and sunny Calms;
When all the golden Hours are on the Wing,
Attending thy Retreat, and round thy Wain,
Slow-rolling, onward to the Southern Sky.

BEHOLD! the well-pois’d Hornet, hovering, hangs,
With quivering Pinions, in the genial Blaze;
Flys off, in airy Circles: then returns,
And hums, and dances to the beating Ray.

. . . (read more, if you can bear it.)

With respect to the painting of the same cultural moment, Greenberg passes a similarly harsh verdict: “The worst manifestations of literary and sentimental painting had already begun to appear in the painting of the late 18th century – especially in England, where a revival which produced some of the best English painting was equally efficacious in speeding up the process of degeneration.” To whom or what could Greenberg be referring here? I will wager that by ‘the best English painting’ he was referring to this (click the image).



William Hogarth
(1697 – 1764)
The Marriage Contract,
from the “Marriage a la Mode” series (1745)
Tate Gallery, London

To what abysses of vulgarity did Greenberg believe such painting inevitably lead? How about the Pre-Raphaelites? What you see below is, at least as far as Greenberg is concerned, just about as wretched as art can possibly get.

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Holman Hunt
“The Hireling Shepherd” (1852)
Oil on canvas – 30″ x 48″
Manchester City Art Galleries

What Is Close Reading?

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

This is my personal copy of our current text.

https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/how-do-close-reading

A great deal of purism is the translation of an extreme solicitude, an anxiousness as to the fate of art, a concern for its identity. We must respect this. When the purist insists upon excluding “literature” and subject matter from plastic [visual] art, now and in the future, the most we can charge him with off-hand is an unhistorical attitude. It is quite easy to show that abstract art, like every other cultural phenomenon, reflects the social and other circumstances of the age in which its creators live, and that there is nothing inside art itself, disconnected from history, which compels it to go in one direction or another. But it is not so easy to reject the purist’s assertion that the best contemporary plastic art is abstract. Here the purist does not have to support his position with metaphysical pretensions. And when he insists on doing so, those of us who admit the merits of abstract art without accepting its claims in full must offer our own explanation for its present supremacy.

– Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laocoon” (1940)

~

The great 20th-century art critic Clement Greenberg, in the passage above, is alluding to three of the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century: Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich. Each of these men wrote a manifesto (see and click the images below) in which he explained the nature, production and effect of abstract painting in emphatically spiritual terms. Greenberg eagerly asserts that the work these abstract artists have produced is indeed the very greatest of the day. However, he insists that, when it comes to these artists’ explanations of what they were actually up to when making their work, they are, sadly, completely mistaken. Rather than resorting to high ideals and spiritual principles, Greenberg insists that abstract art, like all art, must be explained exclusively in terms of the historical and material conditions under which is what produced, and that is must be appreciated in material, not spiritual, terms.

Kandinsky

Mondrian

Malevich

A student in a class I recently taught thoughtfully expressed concern over the fact that Greenberg dismissed the school of painting known as Symbolism, which according to popular understanding, sought to achieve spiritual effects through a return to mythology and a world of pure illusion emancipated from our own. Greenberg exemplified Symbolist painting by referring to the work of Gustave Moreau. Elsewhere, however, Greenberg commended the music of the “symbolist” composer Claude Debussy for its “escape from literature”, its abstract purity.

Music, in flight from the undisciplined, bottomless sentimentality of the Romantics, was striving to describe and narrate (program music). That music at this point imitates literature would seem to spoil my thesis. But music imitates painting as much as it does poetry when it becomes representational, and besides, it seems to me that Debussy used the program [by which Greenberg means attempts to create the effect of stories and landscapes, as in say, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony] more as a pretext for experiment than as an end in itself. In the same way that the Impressionist painters were trying to get at the structure beneath the color, Debussy was trying to get at the ‘sound underneath the note’.”

In your own words, what do you think it is that Greenberg is hearing in pieces such as those below?

Running commentary on all the tropes which comprise a song. Something to consider while reading “The Pasted-Paper Revolution”.

Monuments of The Cubist Struggle

Posted: January 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

Here are images to help you read the ‘pasted-paper’ essay by Clement Greenberg. Good luck!

–Clement Greenberg, “The Pasted-Paper Revolution” (1947)

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In 1910 Braque had already inserted a very graphic nail with a sharp cast shadow in a picture otherwise devoid of graphic definitions and cast shadows, Still-life with Violin and Palette, in order to interpose a kind of photographic space between the surface and the dimmer, fragile illusoriness of the Cubist space which the still-life itself – shown as a picture within a picture – inhabited.

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And something similar was obtained by the structural delineation of a loop of rope in the upper left margin of the Museum of Modern Art’s Man with a Guitar of 1911.

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In that same year Braque introduced capital letters and numbers stenciled in trompe-l’oeil in paintings whose motifs offered no realistic excuse for their presence. The intrusions, by their self-evident, extraneous and abrupt flatness, stopped the eye at the literal, physical surface of the canvas in the same way that the artist’s signature did; here it was no longer a questions of interposing a more vivid illusion of depth between surface and Cubist space, but one of specifying the very real flatness of the picture plan so that everything else shown on it would be pushed into illusioned space by force of contrast.

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It was toward the same end the Picasso and Braque began, in 1912, to mix sand and other foreign substance with their paint; the granular surface achieved thereby called direct attention to the tactile reality of the picture.

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A little later [Braque] made his first collage, Fruit Bowl, by pasting three strips of imitation wood-grain wallpaper to a sheet of drawing paper on which he then charcoaled a rather simplified Cubist still-life and some trompe-l’oeil letters. Cubist space had by this time become even shallower, and the actual picture surface had to be identified more emphatically than before if the illusion was to be detached from it.. Now the corporeal presence of the wallpaper pushed the lettering itself into illusioned depth by force of contrast. . . . The strips, the lettering, the charcoal lines and the white paper begin to change places in depth with one another, and a process is set up in which every part of the picture takes its turn in occupying every plane, whether real or imagined, in it. The imaginary planes are all parallel to the one another; their effective connection lies in their common relation to the surface; wherever a form on one plane slants or extends into another it immediately spring forward. The flatness of the surface permeates the illusion, and the illusion itself reasserts the flatness. The effect is to fuse the illusion with the picture plane without the derogation of either — in principle.

guitar-1912

Sometime in 1912 [Picasso] cut out and folded a piece of paper in the shape of a guitar and glued and fitted other pieces of paper and four taut strings to it. A sequence of flat surface on different planes in actual space was created to which there adhered only the hint of a pictorial surface. The originally affixed elements of collage had, in effect, been extruded from the picture plane — the sheet of drawing paper or the canvas — to make a bas-relief. But it was ‘constructed,’ not a sculpted, bas-relief, and it founded a new genre of sculpture. . . . Not for nothing did the sculptor constructor Julio Gonzalez call it the new art of ‘drawing’ in space.’

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Cubism, in the hands of its inventors achieved a new, exalted and transfigured kind of decoration by reconstructing the flat picture surface with the very means of its denial. They started started with the illusion and arrived at a quasi-abstract literalness.

With [Juan] Gris it was the reverse. As he himself explained, he started with flat and abstract shapes to which he then fitted recognizable three-dimensional images. . . . He used his pasted papers and trompe-l’oeil textures and lettering to assert flatness all right; but he almost always sealed the flatness inside the illusion of depth by placing images rendered with sculptural vividness on the nearest plane of the picture, and often on the rearmost plane too. . . . Instead of the seamless fusion of the decorative with the spacial structure of illusion which we get with the collages of the other two masters, there is an alternation, a collocation, of the decorative and the illusion and if their relationship ever goes beyond that, it is more liable to be one of confusion rather than fusion. Gris’s collages have their merits, but they have been over-praised.

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That point, as I see it, was to restore and exalt decoration by building it, by endowing self-confessedly flat configurations with a pictorial content, an autonomy like that hitherto obtained through illusion alone. Elements essentially decorative in themselves were used not to adorn but to identify, locate, construct; and in being so used, to create works of art in which decorativeness was transcended or transfigured in a monumental unity. Monumental, in fact, is the one word is choose to describe Cubism’s preeminent quality.

Soviet Kitsch in Utah

Posted: January 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

Some of you may be surprised to learn that our beloved Beehive State is home to one of the largest collections of Soviet Socialist art to be found anywhere. What?! Sure, just drive south an hour or so and check out the Springville Art Museum. They have acres of canvas there that might as well have been painted by our friend Repin.

The question arises though: Why would people around here want to collect such works? I’ll leave that question to you to answer. Click the image below to check out the museum’s extensive holdings. Notice that the painters are not referred to as Soviet however, but rather as “Russian” – in fact, at least a few artists are not Russian but Ukrainian. Also, the art is incorrectly called “Social”, rather than Socialist. What up with that?

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Kozhevnikov, Ivan Vasilevich
Election Day on the Collective Farm (1958)
SOCIAL REALISM
OIL ON CANVAS
46-3/8″ x 113-3/8 x 117.7

(Click for link to Utah’s collection of Soviet Socialist art)

Uh, your grade will go up if you listen to this music. I might not even be kidding. If nothing else, you may as well get an education as long as you’re in coolidge. Just saying.

The vast interval separating the “out” and “in” should be self-evident. Just one comparison worth noting is the way that Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #1 sounds as if it were written as a deliberate parody of Tchaikovsky’s very famous concerto. Perhaps listening to Prokofiev’s piece in isolation would not cause many people chuckle. But after hearing Prokofiev’s ironic take on the older composer’s aching pathos and pompous bluster, it’s hard to go back and listen to Tchaikovsky’s piano music without laughing out loud. I laughed anyway. Prokofiev, it must appear to us, is writing quite deliberately to render Tchaikovsky entirely obsolete, indeed ridiculous. What, to make another comparison and contrast, do we hear when listening to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” back to back with Tchaikovsky’s?”

Ugh!

Tchaik

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(1840 – 1898)

“Symphony Pathetique”
“Serenade For Strings”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D Major”
“Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor”
“Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture”

Hot!

Igor Stravinsky
(1882 – 1971)

“Dance of The Firebird”
“Petrouchka (Russian Dance)”
Violin Concerto #1 (Toccata)”

alsop_prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev
(1891 – 1953)

“Romeo and Juliet – Introduction”
“Piano Concerto #1 in D-flat Major”
“Violin Concerto #1 in D”
“‘Classical’ Symphony #1 (Allegro)”
“Piano Sonata #7 in B-flat Major”
“Sinphonietta (Allegro Giacosso)”


Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)

“Jazz Suite #1 – Foxtrot”
“String Quartet #2 in A Minor”
“Piano Concerto #1 (Allegretto)”
“Violin Concerto #1 (Nocturne)
“Violin Concerto #1 (Passacaglia)”

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Piet Mondrian
Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921
Oil on canvas, 39 x 35 cm

Here is our next author, Clement Greenberg. I’m furnishing all four essays we’ll discuss, though imagine we will only have time to get to “Avante-Garde and Kitsch,” and perhaps “Towards a Newer Laocoon,” on Monday. We can discuss the other Greenberg essays later.

For the record Greenberg was an American critic who is widely considered one of the most important theorists of modern art. Just one bit of evidence to support this is the painting of Greenberg, by Mark Tansey, which depicts the critic as a victorious general Patton at the Versailles/Bonn Convention(s). We’ll have an occasion to discuss the complexity of Greenberg’s position of authority (along with Tansey’s depiction of him) very soon. Good luck with a handful of reading which may prove to be a formidable challenge. I hope this challenge will be a rewarding experience however. Again, I don’t imagine we’ll have time to discuss all these material in a single day, but here they all are for anyone wishing to get ahead.

Finally, I really enjoyed our meeting today, and I hope you did too. It’s been a good semester so far and I thank you for the efforts and contributions you’ve made so far. Keep up the good work, and see you soon!




Clement Greenberg
(1909–1994)


“The Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939)
“Towards A Newer Laocoön” (1940)
“The Pasted-Paper Revolution” (1948)
“The Plight of Culture” (1953)

(click here for all four essays)

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Mark Tansey (American)
The Triumph of The New York School
oil on canvas, 74″ x 120″
The Whitney Museum of American Art
New York City, New York

(click image for names of artists depicted)


If so shrewd and sensitive (though so limited) a critic as [Samuel] Johnson failed to define metaphysical poetry by its faults, it is worth while to inquire whether we may not have more success by adopting the opposite method: by assuming that the poets of the seventeenth century (up to the Revolution) were the direct and normal development of the precedent age; and, without prejudicing their case by the adjective ‘metaphysical’, consider whether their virtue was not something permanently valuable, which subsequently disappeared, but ought not to have disappeared. … In the seventeenth century a dissociation of sensibility set in, from which we have never recovered; and this dissociation, as is natural, was aggravated by the influence of the two most powerful poets of the century, Milton and Dryden. Each of these men performed certain poetic functions so magnificently well that the magnitude of the effect concealed the absence of others.

–T. S. Eliot, “The Metaphysical Poets” (1917)

Student: Eliots presented himself as opposed to two poets, Milton and Dryden, instead of just one, because they compliment each other. I think he is trying to make a point of how he disaproves with both of them from both perspectives.

Teacher: I believe T. S. Eliot is saying that Milton and Dryden are opposites. John Milton was a Puritan revolutionary writing under Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the Protectorate (1653–1659). John Dryden, on the other hand, was a Royalist “man of the world” writing under the Restoration monarchs (after 1660). Not that these events should be seen as causes, as far as Eliot is concerned, and even less so for his American successors, the practitioners of the so-called New Criticism. But these historical contexts are highly emblematic of the faults which the respective writers commit.

gustave-dor-the-fall-of-the-rebel-angels-from-john-miltons-paradise-lost-black-and-white-engraving

The Fall of The Rebel Angels
(from Milton’s Paradise Lost)
Gustave Doré


The Puritan is too visionary; in other words, his epic plots and grand visions appear as entirely prior to language. It’s clear in reading John Milton that he thought up all of Paradise Lost in his head first, and then ex post facto sat down to dictate it. The whole schema seems insufficiently to have passed through the crucible of the act of composition, to have been insufficiently submitted to language’s transformational forces, and this because Milton feared that the overarching schema of his epic might be destroyed by the full heat of the creative process. Not that Eliot considered Milton to be entirely useless as a poet – far from it, in fact. Rather, Eliot thought that Milton was too imaginative, letting his vision run loose in flights of fancy, while his language, powerful though it was, struggled to keep up. Because he is not firmly rooted in language, Eliot considers Milton insufficiently traditional. For Eliot there is an all important difference between true abstraction (which lifts an artwork into the Tradition, along with those of Shakespeare, Homer and the artists of Lascaux Cave) and mere fantasy (which consigns an artwork to the scrap heap of literary history, along with Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, and their science fiction-writing progeny).

Not that Eliot necessarily consciously thought this, but it’s hard for me right now not to think of the highly fragmentary Waste Land as a kind of rebuttal to Milton, what Paradise Lost might have looked like if Milton’s own ego, or self-image, as a visionary prophet, hadn’t been so bound up with the poem and he had surrended himself more fully to the depersonalizing power of language. It’s hard not to see Eliot’s reference, in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, to a mock-heroic and tedious Lazarus as an offhand allusion to the visionary Milton.


And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
. . .
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

The Apotheosis of James I
Peter Paul Rubens

The courtier John Dryden, on the other hand, rather than conceiving other-worldly visions and then attempting after the fact to put them into words, writes poetry meant to please the ear and flatter a king. Quite simply, the writer has a political or social goal, or intended effect, well in mind before he ever sit down to inscribe that potential effect’s prior literary cause. Strategic and ambitious ends, along with the ego intimately attached to them, are what the poet is unwilling to sacrifice in the act of composition. Here, the poet, again, does not allow his mind to enter fully into the crucible of language. The metamorphic power of language is always held in check, with the result that Dryden poetry never becomes sufficiently abstract. Rather than excessively other-worldly, like Milton’s, Dryden’s verse is excessively this-worldly, suited to specific sites and situations. Again, not that Eliot had this in mind at all, but it’s hard for me right now not to recall the fatuous Polonius in “Prufrock” as an allusion to Dryden.

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

In sharp contrast to both these writers, Eliot, you will recall, insists that poetry must be utterly without ego: “The progress of the artist is a continual self-sacrifice, and continual extinction of personality.”

Beheading_John_the_Baptist

La Casa Dorada – Dada

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

It might be a bit too early to raise the subject of Neo-Dada. But this is in today’s news. A former student now working on a PhD in Chemistry sent me the link.

Behind The Screen

Posted: January 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

As mentioned in class yesterday, here’s what the blog looks like from my perspective. Lots of code.

Nervous System Angelus


It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw
the nerves in patterns on a screen.

–T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917)

• • •


If we wish to discern whether anything is beautiful or not, we do not refer the representation of it to the object by means of understanding with a view to cognition, but by means of the imagination (acting perhaps in conjunction with understanding) we refer the representation to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure. The judgement of taste, therefore, is not a cognitive judgement, and so not logical, but is aesthetic-which means that it is one whose determining ground cannot be other than subjective. Every reference of representations is capable of being objective, even that of sensations (in which case it signifies the real in an empirical representation). The one exception to this is the feeling of pleasure or displeasure. This denotes nothing in the object, but is a feeling which the subject has of itself and of the manner in which it is affected by the representation.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790), SS 1. The judgement of taste is aesthetic.

Now, I would argue that the same applies to intelligence. To the extent that we believe in such a thing as a “beautiful mind,” the very last way we should ever expect to identify one would be by means of IQ testing or neurological analysis. Of the many areas of research in which the writings of Kant enjoy an enduring influence, one of the most significant is the field of Phenomenology, a branch of philosophy which (along with the Pragmatism of the American psychologist William James) first arises as a critique of Experimental Psychology. Though the very same could be said of Freud: psychoanalysis arose a critical rebuke to the brilliant inanity of Helmholtz, Fechner and Wundt.


But does anyone write today on this stuff, and in a way which combines the very best of Art History and the History of Science? Yes.

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Or, if you were prefer to read the classic text I mentioned in class the other day, have a look at William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, considered by Modern Library to be one of the greatest books of the 20th century. (Pay no heed to the readers’ list, which has been hijacked by morons and zombies.)

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The indoor photos were taken at the grand piano, and in the library, where Sibelius often listened to broadcasts and recordings of his works in the evenings.

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Ingram Marshall
“Sibelius in His Radio Corner” (1974-1980)

Sibelius in His Radio Corner was inspired by a photograph of the Finnish composer during his “forty years of silence,” sitting in an armchair and listening to his own work being performed on the radio. “In his old age Sibelius enjoyed pulling in distant broadcasts of his music off the short-wave. I imagined that with all the static and signal drift, some of these listening experiences might have been proleptically like a modern-day electronically processed kurzwellen piece.” New Albion Records


Yep.