June 2008

Virgil Thomson in chaos & bed: defining freedom & fun

the rigidities of the modern world are to be found in the strict application to politics and sociology of Das Kapital of Marx and the techniques of psychoanalysis as practiced by Freud – not by the others. The scientific world has boh the spontaneous discoveries expounded mathematically and mathematics itself, which, in the quantum theories and the relativity equations, has been both rigid and imaginative. So one can approach modernism through the extremes of spontaneity, as in Freudian analytical procedures, or the extremes of planned and preachable explanations, as in Marx, which is closer to the rigidities of Calvinist Protestantism than to the freedom of Catholic confession and repentance procedures.

– Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) interviewed by Peter Dickinson, Chelsea Hotel, New York City, July 1, 1987, in CageTalk: Dialogues with & about John Cage, edited by Peter Dickinson, Uni. of Rochester Press, NY, 2006, p. 119

– Virgil Thomson & Gertrude Stein

He [John Cage] used to sit playing my Hymn-Tune Symphony [1928] at the piano and saying, “Oh, this is so beautiful!” It corresponded to his memories of southern childhood. There is a remarkable sort of praise for my opera Mother of Us All[1947].

– Virgil Thomson, Four Saints

He was much more skeptical about the rigid elements in Four Saints [1934, Thomson’s first opera with Gertrude Stein] because, although he had a certain respect for Gertrude as a modernist, she was far too free for his taste.

Peter Dickinson: We’re talking about Cage as rigid when the impression given to a wide public is that anything goes.

Virgil Thomson: [laughs] Provided it has no intention!

PD: He talks of the pleasure of chaos.

VT: The necessity of chaos, I should say. Pleasure he sort of omits in his theory.

PD: But you don’t find the necessities of chaos in Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez…

VT: Chaos can be a hell of a lot of fun!

PD: Doesn’t it get boring after a while?

VT: Well, anything does. I was a friend of Boulez from the very beginning – I was the first person to write about him. It was in the Flute Sonatina when he was twenty-one. Boulez, by a rigid method, followed a certain French model, which is actually that of Marcel Duchamp. By a rigid application of your method you make, before you’re thirty, a half dozen unforgettable works. Your rigidity gets ahold of you, and you’re incapable of arriving at forty with freedom.

-John Cage & Merce Cunningham

VT [contd.]: A bit of that applies to Cage.

– John Cage & Merce Cunningham, Variations

VT [contd.]: He doesn’t have the freedom in his music writing today that he was sort of promising himself. So he’s been the tail to Merce’s kite – willfully.

PD: The theory is that the freedom comes after the discipline.

VT: It comes after the discipline. There is no freedom unless it’s a freedom from or through discipline. Freedom is not a matter of chaos. It’s an ability to create imaginative compositions in your life or in your work.

– Virgil Thomson

VT [contd.]: Marcel Duchamp, whom I knew extremely well, became a sort of guru of Cage’s later life. He was jealous of the artist who had freedom – very jealous of Picasso. He could do anything he wanted to do and it would always come out. Marcel said to me once, “The trouble with Picasso was that he was sexually excited by the smell of turpentine, so he had to work every day!” Marcel was a pretty sexy guy, with women all over the place, but he was deeply excited by planned chaos. But again, as he said to me very frankly, “There was room for two cubist painters, and those spots were occupied by Picasso and Braque who were five years older than I was.” So Marcel, being deeply ambitious, had to make a kind of theory of how you become an artist by not working. Cage is very close to that, and I still consider it a heresy. It comes from his facile handling of rigid ideas rather than his being a musical natural. Now, Pierre Boulez is: he has a fantastic ear. Cage does not have that ear. Pierre is stymied by his ear: it’s too good. Cage is forced into arithmetic and doctrinaire ideas by his lack of that kind of musical ear. Many of the great composers in history, such as Mozart and Beethoven, have had extremely good ears.

– Virgil Thomson

VT [contd.]: But I like Cage and I like his music. The career has been spectacular, and very probably a good deal of the music will remain.

– Ibid., pp. 118-121

– Virgil Thomson & Orson Welles


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what’s wrong with Branca?

I picked up this book for the John Cage interview. Not that the offer of some kind of vicarious intercourse with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Five, count ’em, Five Generations of American Experimental Composers, didn’t arouse my innerest. No.

And William Duckworth got to talking with John Cage and I heard him say “divine influences,” as in “the sobering and quieting of the mind making it susceptible to divine influences,” or words to that effect, a few more times than I could tolerate and I clicked forward – a sound I was making with my tongue – to Laurie.

She, like John, then like Philip, told me nothing I didn’t already know; which doesn’t mean I don’t recommend you read William Duckworth’s interviews. No.

Then I, out of distraction, leafed through until I struck Glenn Branca, who, having started, in New York, as an artist, in theatre, had things like this to say:

About Boston:

In the theatre, Ionesco and Beckett were about as far as you could go into the avant-garde. We’re talking about the early seventies, and that’s the avant-garde of the fifties. The idea of Richard Foreman, A Living Theatre, Mabou Mines, or Robert Wilson was completely impossible to get a taste of up there.

About his first NY band:

It was an incredibly wild thing. I was into a very anagonistic stage at that point. My work is still considered to be antagonistic, but that was meant to be solely antagonistic – solely meant to throw people off balance, and upset them, and even to piss them off. To go against the grain in every possible way: do everything wrong as much as possible, as often as possible.

To which:

Duckworth: What made you think that taking a stance like that would be successful?

Branca: Because I’m unbelievably optimistic, and because most of what I heard was garbage.

On Theoretical Girls:

No matter how badly we played the song (we didn’t really have to play the right chords!), it sounded incredible.

This was at a flux in the art-world period. It was also at a time when everyone had finally come to New York, because of all the excitement about the pop thing, but the bands were gone – they were all on major labels touring the world. You could only see Patti Smith or the Ramones occasionally.


Duckworth: Do you listen to rock anymore?

Branca: All the time. That’s the only thing that I listen to. I listen to the pop music stations and I think it’s become so sophisticated now that it’s incredible. As far as modern music is concerned, without a doubt, it is the most sophisticated music that’s happening today. Period.

Duckworth: What makes it sophisticated?

Branca: Manipulation of actual technique, plus the development of the song form itself. … Some of the new stuff that’s being done with rap music could have been so-called avant-garde music in 1971 and people wouldn’t have known the difference! I’ve been into rock for so many years that I don’t even think about it most of the time. You know how it is: “They suck; they’re great.” You just know what’s good and what’s not. So that’s the level I’m on with rock.

On his tunings for Instrumental for Six Guitars and ‘acoustic phenomena’:

I first started calling it ‘field of sound.’ I had been using a kind of double strumming technique to get a very fluid, continuous sound out of the instrument. This was the kind of sound I had been working with even in the Bastard Theatre – the rich field of changing colours. Subtle changes, where you’re not really noticing chord change or key change. The ideal was to figure out a way for sound to change without it being perceptible. That goes through all of my work. I completely succeeded in this piece, except I also succeeded in some other things, too. What I later called ‘acoustic phenomena’ was occurring. You could hear voices and choruses and horns and strings. All of this happening completely separately from anything I had written, conceived, or even knew was there. I became obsessed with that immediately.

‘Sound fields’:

Working with extreme harmonic density; massive cluster groups moving around in a variety of ways.


music spiraling in on itself. That’s certainly what it sounded like it was doing, that’s for sure. … there was no physical explanation to describe what was happening. …

It’s a kind of an interpenetration of chords that then results in this acoustic phenomena of hearing voices, strings, choirs brass, and all of that. To simply hear these thing is not interesting, because I can go to the Philharmonic and hear that. It was the way that it was superimposing on top of itself to create an incredibly frenetic but, at the same time, seemingly homogeneous field. … It had an incredibly beautiful sound


It was by accident that I saw that when I changed the dynamics I could get the pot boiling a little harder.

By this name shall you be known:

Branca: So it was calling the things symphonies…

Duckworth: … that caused you to become known?

Branca: Right. Immediately. It was ridiculous.

Rock or serious music:

I wasn’t trying to make a change or a transition at that time; I was still trying to say that this was rock. I didn’t want to say that this was a rock symphony; that was the last thing in the world I wanted it to be. I was saying, “This is a symphony, but it’s also rock.”


I actually began this project to somehow derive a compositional system based on natural growth itself [e.g. the harmonic series]. That’s when I started studying physics and mathematics. I was looking for mathematical descriptions of natural growth. That’s when the problems started with my own work, because that slowed everything down to a snail’s pace. …

It was all meant to return to music in the end, but I saw that it didn’t return. What had happened was that I had written three symphonies based on the harmonic series, and in none of them did I come anywhere near where I was trying to get.


I understand the vertical chord relation as well as you could possibly understand it. Now I’ve got to get the horizontal down. … Music is linear; I’ve finally reconciled myself to that. There’s no way out of it. I was one of those fools who tried to get out of it, but you can’t.

What to do when your music is fascist:

Duckworth: Were you surprised when John Cage called the piece you performed at New Music America in Chicago fascist music?

Branca: Yes …

But what am I supposed to do, slit my wrists? So it puts me in a problematic situation. I happen to like Cage’s work …

His music, it is becoming clear to me, is not about music at all. …

… it is the most vague, ambiguous work that anyone’s ever done. Period. On that level, my work is the antithesis of what he’s doing. I can see that He would have a problem with my work, because everything that his generation tried to do – everything they tried to tear down – me and a bunch of other people are trying to build back up again. …

From their point of view we are just reconstructing the orchestra all over again; reconstructing the tonal system all over again; reconstructing fascistic, despotic, centralised-oriented music. It’s antihumanistic music, you might say. Antiholistic. It’s appealing to the most base instincts in the human being. Reactionary … political on every level. …

Basically, we’re saying that … we’ve got to take the word to the people instead of sitting in our ivory tower. It’s not as though we are going to pander to the masses, but we like rock music. too. And we also like Beethoven. What’s wrong with Beethoven? It’s like saying, “We not only understand what you’re doing, Mr. Cage, and we not only agree with it, but we also no longer have to feel defensive about it. We can be strong; we know what we’re doing.” … I’ve always been very political, but I’m not going to pick up a gun, run for office, or start a religion. My approach is to show by doing, by being. And I think that’s the strongest way to do it. That’s what Cage did, too.

Scary things:

My music was scary back in the days of the Bastard Theatre and I didn’t realise it until a friend of mine who heard a tape I was playing (and enjoying) said she couldn’t stand to listen to it. Not because she didn’t like it, but because it scared her.

Volume, simplicity and fucking:

I saw at high volumes that it was absolutely necessary to keep certain ideas, if you want to have certain kind of impact. Consonant things have to make a very clear statement of a certain kind of chord; they have to be written as simply as possible. … I imagined them [my pieces] at a club packed with hot people who wanted to get off. I knew what was going to do that – the most exciting possible music. It was theatre, really. I was writing the most densely dissonant stuff I could possibly imagine and every single bit of it sounded absolutely consonant and transparent to me. I guess I’ve listened to this guitar stuff too long, but it sounded like silk!

Duckworth: Do you think that you have to listen to loud music differently? Must your listeners bring a different kind of ear to your performances?

Branca: You have to go to the concert and be ready to have sex with the fucking music!

– all quotes from William Duckworth’s Talking Music: Conversations with John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Five Generations of American Experimental Composers, Schirmer Books, New York, 1995, pp. 420-443

Branca in The New York Times, Thursday, June 5, 2008:

or, April 3, 2007, 9:07 pm [http://thescore.blogs.nytimes.com/author/gbranca/]

The 25 Questions

By Glenn Branca

I got the idea for this piece from mathematician David Hilbert’s well-known list of 23 “Paris Problems” (1900) that he hoped to see solved in the new century. Of course there is not the slightest connection between Hilbert’s list of problems and this list of questions. Not to mention the fact that many of these questions contain the answers simply in the asking.

1. Should a modern composer be judged against only the very best works of the past?

2. Can there be truly objective criteria for judging a work of art?

3. If a composer can write one or two or more great works of music why cannot all of his or her works be great?

4. Why does the contemporary musical establishment remain so conservative when all other fields of the arts embrace new ideas?

5. Should a composer, if confronted with a choice, write for the musicians who will play a piece or write for the audience who will hear it?

6. When is an audience big enough to satisfy a composer or a musician? 100? 1000? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? 100,000,000?

7. Is the symphony orchestra still relevant or is it just a museum?

8. Is micro-tonality a viable compositional tool or a burned out modernist concept?

9. In an orchestra of 80 to 100 musicians does the use of improvisation make any sense?

10. What is the dichotomy between dissonance and. tonality and where should the line be drawn?

11. Can the music that sooths the savage beast be savage?

12. Should a composer speak with the voice of his or her own time?

13. If there’s already so much good music to listen to what’s the point of more composers writing more music?

14. If Bach were alive today would he be writing in the baroque style?

15. Must all modern composers reject the past, a la John Cage or Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares If You Listen?”

16. Is the symphony an antiquated idea or is it, like the novel in literature, still a viable long form of music?

17. Can harmony be non-linear?

18. Was Cage’s “4:33” a good piece of music?

19. Artists are expected to accept criticism, should critics be expected to accept it as well?
Audio Excerpt from “Freeform” (1989) performed by The New York Chamber Sinfonia conducted by Glen Cortese. (mp3)

20. Sometimes I’m tempted to talk about the role that corporate culture plays in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs throughout the United States and the world, and that the opium crop in Afghanistan has increased by 86 percent since the American occupation, and the fact that there are 126,000 civilian contractors in Iraq, but what does this have to do with music?

21. Can the orchestra be replaced by increasingly sophisticated computer-sampling programs and recording techniques, at least as far as recordings are concerned?

22. When a visual artist can sell a one-of-a-kind work for hundreds of thousands of dollars and anyone on the internet can have a composer’s work for nothing, how is a composer going to survive?
And does it matter?

23. Should composers try to reflect in their music the truth of their natures and the visions of their dreams whether or not this music appeals to a wide audience?

24. Why are advances in science and technology not paralleled by advances in music theory and compositional technique?

25. Post-Post Minimalism? Since Minimalism and Post-Minimalism we’ve seen a short-lived Neo-Romanticism, mainly based on misguided attempts to return to a 19th century tonality, then an improv scene which had little or nothing to do with composition, then a hodge-podge of styles: a little old “new music,” a little “60’s sound colorism”, then an eclectic pomo stew of jazz, rock and classical, then a little retro-chic Renaissance … even tonal 12-tonalism. And now in Germany some “conceptual” re-readings of Wagner. What have I left out? Where’s the music?


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the devil’s work

It used to be that a University Dean could stand before the student body and espouse the view of the University as a check and balance to a well-functioning democracy. He or she could, if the need arose, as it did in the late 1980s, with the threat posed by NZQA to the political independence of NZ universities, both engage politically with the State and side with students against the State.

And then it came to pass that the perceived threat materialised in a wave of revolutionary proportions and put the economic pincers onto the tertiary sector – at the same time as liberalising the field to include polytechnics and technical institutes.

And nevermore would universities be able to claim political independence for this notional independence having been compromised economically.

And nevermore could a University Dean arise and side with students against the government or really have a distinct political voice, having been rendered permanently complicit. As long as the funding to the tertiary sector from governmental sources holds out.

And really what this is about is the Friedman-fueled New Zealand experiment’s economic silencing of politically independent voices (i.e., using money as the gag). And, more than this, its muting of any and all critical voices in our putative democracy.

In the previous post, I called art the devil’s work. It is, where the critical faculty of a nation is dissolved by forces and bodies acting with the best of intentions; where democracy itself is destroyed through lack of critical checks and balances; and where those whose job it is to eradicate independent critical thinking and the political power it needs to be heard (now magically transmuted into economic power, or, gold) congratulate themselves on having the moral determination to see the job through. Such silence as is now visited upon us is indeed golden. Or, what is it that the Wanganui suicide-bomber wrote on the loo wall? (Yes, New Zealanders are pioneers, even in the art of suicide-bombing.)

I say that the arts have a political responsibility and that this political responsibility demands they claim independence from the State. Why? Because ain’t nobody else around to do the devil’s work with those ivory towers in rubble. And that artists’ independence now must be defined in economic terms, given the State’s overt prescription that political be based on economic power. To the imagination, Money! And with the money, Au pouvoir!

There is no other role for CNZ but to side with the arts against the government so that the devil’s work gets done. And is seen to be done.

I was looking for material to support the notion that the SDP in the preceding and following post does not refer to any Socialist Democratic Party and I found this, which seems to support the contrary view:

Over the past two decades, across western democracies, parties that were established as socialist, social democratic or labour have gradually dropped the statist elements of their programmes. Some have distanced themselves from labour unions. None of the major socialist parties advocates more public ownership; most accept market principles even in areas of the economy that were formerly nationalised, such as transport, telecommunications and utilities. The great breach between progressive socialisation of the economy and laissez-faire has narrowed into a debate between regulated capitalism and neo-liberalism. At issue is the character and degree of regulation of the economy, not the future of capitalism.

Just how general this shift has been is evident from expert studies of social democratic parties in the European Union. Every such party (except Pasok in Greece) moved from left to right between 1984 and 1995 (as evidenced by growing support for market liberalism), and the UK Labour Party moved most of all. From being the most left-wing social democratic party in Europe in 1984, Labour became one of the most right-wing in 1995, with only Italy’s PSI, Austria’s PSO and Greece’s Pasok further to the right. Put another way, the most left-wing European social democratic party in 1995 (Germany’s SPD) was further to the right than 12 out of 14 such parties in 1984.

– excerpt from Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks’s essay “Social democracy in the 20th century,” published in New Statesman, Monday 26th June 2000 [www.psa.org.nz/library/other/miscellaneous%20papers/social%20democracy%20in%20the%2020th%20century.doc]


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is strategic social investment another way of saying charity?

I don’t know. Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose?

From one meeting with a CNZ representative at the Auckland offices and a cursory reading of the Creative New Zealand, Arts Council of New Zealand’s Strategic Development Plan and Statement of Intent 2007-2010, I know that the rhetoric has changed. Whether this entails an intrinsic change to the thinking behind the profligate image-making which seems to be CNZ’s primary occupation remains to be seen; or, not seen, but experienced. Because it is the CNZ experience in which putative change is being promoted. And, as usual, The Arts Council of New Zealand is first commending and promoting itself to the New Zealand Government, the true target of its boosterism, since its role of advocacy for the arts largely involves self-advocacy by way of the arts.

From February 2009, Creative New Zealand will be adopting a new model, on the basis of the SDP (Strategic Development Plan). CNZ’s Auckland rep, Claire Richardson, invoked the image of strategic social investment to describe in one broad stroke what this means: longer-term funding than previously; the setting of ‘milestones’ for those funded to achieve; the setting of ‘benchmarks’ for success. To the latter, I should add, and beg to be corrected, that a particularly innovative category has been added to the analysis of success in the sphere of the arts, quality, and not just any quality, high quality.

I tried to upload a diagramme showing the ‘vision’ and ‘purpose’ of the SDP but this is all I got; somewhat appropriate given its situation. Here, then, again, and as they have fortuitously been cut and pasted, are the four goals, outcomes or purposes, (two and three have, interestingly been Burroughs-ed) in order that you may note the emphasis on quality:

New ZeAlANDerS
To HiGH-qUAliTy

ArT iS

New ZeAlANDerS
Are eNGAGeD iN

Claire indicated that the SDP would be entering a pilot phase in 2009, at the end of which, presumably, its meeting of its own benchmarks will be assessed. As to what they might be, qualitatively, is anyone’s guess. Or no one’s. CNZ’s stated goals, under the SDP, make a qualitative assessment if not impossible than improbable. Where I believe it has always failed is in high-quality advocacy to government on behalf of the arts, making the following a strategic interpretation:

It is difficult to assess the impact of our work when many of the outcomes are diffuse and because Creative New Zealand is often just one of a number of investors that contribute to outcomes.

SDP, Statement of Intent [www.creativenz.govt.nz/files/stratplan-07.pdf], p. 42

Where Claire sees CNZ adopting a model of strategic social investment, in line with the practice of the IMF and its support of micro-loans for the achievement of desirable outcomes over the long term, or with the UN’s policy as regards the alleviation of world poverty, again long term, I read ‘strategic investment’ without the qualifier, ‘social.’ It’s not simply that the words ‘strategic’ and ‘investment’ recur with surprising frequency throughout the SDP, it’s more that both notions, investment and strategy, are contingent on the ideologically inflected metaphor of industry.

Industry is no bad thing. Idle hands do the devil’s work. But this particularly moral reading of industry is where the actuality of artistic creation parts company with the ruling metaphor: art is the devil’s work; it is idleness and not industry. Why is there still popular outcry over money going to lazy artists if this is not the case? Why is there such emphasis on the consequentiality of artistic creation if this is not still the case? To which can be added CNZ’s apologism, as against advocacy, in view of the arts; and the SDP’s declaration that it is outcome-based.

CNZ’s vision consists in strategic investment in the arts for these purposes,

New ZeAlANDerS
To HiGH-qUAliTy

ArT iS

New ZeAlANDerS
Are eNGAGeD iN

The industrial reading of arts practices is, to my mind, the skeleton rattling in CNZ’s closet who, if he hasn’t done so already, will bone its Strategic Development Plan and Statement of Intent. It is especially the desired outcome of high quality that is destined for abuse, especially if it is considered an outcome only achievable over the long term.

I encourage the idea that CNZ funding ought to allow artists and groups and companies to plan ahead. That it ought not to be project by project. However, planning ahead need not involve projects at all. In sharing Wilde’s aestheticist programme that all art is quite useless (a great song by A House), I reject the idea of uses, outcomes and purposes for art, even to rejecting the elementary building-blocks of CNZ’s policy-making, projects. (That said, I will be applying to CNZ for project funding; saying which, in turn, is not to show or show off my own contrariety, but, exactly, to demonstrate the ill fit between government policy re the arts and the desire to create and the creation itself: the lust to tell, the urge to love, etc.)


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Cf. theatre of terror: insofar as our relationship to capitalism, negotiated by consumer items, involves a similar inflationary principle to that between the mother and infant in Melanie Klein’s ‘theatre of terror’

As Daniel Harris concedes at the beginning of his excellent book on the aesthetics of consumerism, Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic, it is ridiculous to “single out corporations as the source of all that is crude, manipulative, and mercenary in our society, while … whitewash[ing] the consumer as a helpless victim. … If there is a conspiracy, we ourselves are its tacticians, as well as its beneficiaries. The aesthetics of consumerism are not foisted upon us; they emerge out of a rich and imaginative collaboration between the forces of capitalism and our own fears and desires. If there is kitsch in our daily lives, it is because there is kitsch in our minds.” One has only to visit Reverend Billy’s amusing and informative Web site (www.revbilly.com), with its sincere invitation to “confess your shopping sins” via e-mail, to appreciate his grasp of this complicity.

– Jonathan Kalb, Play by Play: Theatre Essays & Reviews, 1993-2002, Limelight Editions, New York, 2003, p. 113


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Gustave Moreau explains The Life of Humanity (1884-6) to his mum

I have designed a decorative and monumental work as a group of subjects representing the three ages of sacred and profane mythology: the Golden Age, the Silver Age and the Iron Age. I have symbolised these different ages by dividing each one into compositions representing the three phases of the day: morning, noon and evening. The Golden Age comprises three compositions (Adam and childhood):

1. Prayer at sunrise.

2. A walk in Paradise or the ecstasy before nature.

3. All nature asleep.

The Silver Age. The second phase is taken from pagan mythology (Orpheus and youth):

1. The dream nature is revealed to the senses of the inspired poet.

2. The song.

3. Orpheus in the forest, his lyre broken and he longs for unknown countries and immortality.

The Iron Age (Cain and the maturity of man):

1. The Sower making the earth productive (production).

2. The Ploughman (work).

3. Death (Cain and Abel).

Fourth panel:

The Triumph of Christ.

These three periods of humanity also correspond to the three periods in the life of a man:
The purity of childhood: Adam –
The poetic and unhappy aspirations of youth: Orpheus –
The grievous sufferings and death of mature age: Cain with the redemption of Christ.

D… thought it was an extremely ingenious and intelligent device to have used a figure from pagan antiquity for the cycle of youth and poetry instead of a Biblical figure, because intelligence and poetry are far better personified in these periods which were devoted to art and the imagination than in the Bible which is all sentiment and religiosity.

The Golden Age: the beginning of the world, naïveté, candour, purity. The morning: prayer. Noon: ecstasy and evening: sleep. No passion, nothing but elementary feelings. –

The Silver Age, corresponding to the civilization of humanity, already begins to feel emotion; it is the age of poets. I can only find this cycle in Greece. The morning: inspiration. Noon: song. Evening: tears. –

The Iron Age. Decadence and fall of humanity. I shall represent Cain ploughing and Abel sowing. Noon: Cain rests while Abel tends the altar of the Lord from which smoke, a symbol of purity, rises straight to the heavens. The evening: death at the hands of Cain.

The first death corresponds to the other deaths in the two other paintings: sleep and death of the senses; tears and the death of the heart. Do you understand the progression?

Sleep, though sad, is gentler than tears which, though painful, are gentler than death. Ecstasy is more delightful than song, which is gentler than work. Prayer is superior to dreaming which is more elevated than manual work.

– Gustave Moreau’s notes to his mother about The Life of Humanity (1884-6), quoted in Gustave Moreau, Jean Paladilhe and Jose Pierre, trans. Bettina Wadia, Praeger, New York, 1972, pp. 48-9


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