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Black Square

Lisa Dwan and Peter Marinker present with a programme inspired by the art of Malevich exploring the idea of abstraction.

Lisa Dwan and Peter Marinker with a programme inspired by the art of Malevich exploring the idea of abstraction. The readings include Wallace Stevens, Rimbaud, T S Eliot and of course, Samuel Beckett; the musical counterpoint is provided by, amongst others, Kurt Schwitters, Beethoven, Morton Feldman, Berio, Satie, Parmegiani and Nancarrow.

Kazimir Malevich's Black Square is a totem of abstract art. He said the aim was to free art from the ballast of objectivity... a struggle which would probably seem rather odd to most composers. Music, after all, is effortlessly abstract by nature even when it seems to be insisting on its relationship with the world. Words are another matter altogether. Literary abstraction works sometimes like painting and sometimes like music.

My Black Square is then, necessarily, more of a meditation than a manifesto. It is tentative. It aspires to vivid colour, like Kandinksy, but it includes the minute monochrome shadings of Rothko. In the choices I've made I've left room too for argument. Where does abstraction begin? Is it a feature of the way we experience the world and the way we express ourselves about it? Is it dead and buried, as the erstwhile abstract painter Wyndham Lewis once rather grandly declared. As you might expect from an adventure into the abstract the programme works as a collage in the hope of creating something new.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Dmitry Shostakovich

    Fugue No 12 in G sharp minor from 24 Preludes and Fugues, op.87

    Performer: Vladimir Ashkenazy.
    • Decca 466 066-2.
    • CD1 Tr24.
  • 00:03

    Kurt Schwitters

    Scherzo from Ursonate (1921-32)

    Performer: Eberhard Blum.
    • hat ART CD 6109.
    • Tr3.
  • Arthur Rimbaud translated by Oliver Bernard

    Vowels, read by Peter Marinker

  • 00:05

    Ellington, Miley, Jackson

    Creole Love Call

    Performer: Adelaide Hall and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
    • Conifer.
    • Tr1.
  • Wallace Stevens

    Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:09

    Edgard Varèse

    Ionisation

    Performer: Pierre Boulez and Ensemble InterContemporain.
    • Sony Music.
    • Tr1.
  • Herman Melville

    From Moby Dick (The whiteness of the whale), read by Peter Marinker

  • 00:15

    Anton Webern

    Five pieces for Orchestra, Op.10 - 1. Sehr ruhig und zart

    Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr5.
  • T. S. Eliot

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:17

    Anton Webern

    Five pieces for Orchestra, Op.10 - 2. Lebhaft und zart bewegt

    Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr6.
  • T. S. Eliot

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:19

    Anton Webern

    Five pieces for Orchestra, Op.10 - 3. Sehr langsam und äußerst ruhig

    Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr7.
  • T. S. Eliot

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:21

    Anton Webern

    Five pieces for Orchestra, Op.10 - 4. Fließend äußerst zart

    Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr8.
  • T. S. Eliot

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:26

    Anton Webern

    Five pieces for Orchestra, Op.10 - 5. Sehr fließend

    Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr9.
  • T. S. Eliot

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:29

    Morton Feldman

    Rothko Chapel, 5

    Performer: University of California Berkeley Chamber Chorus.
    • New Albion.
    • Tr5.
  • 00:31

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Suite No.2 in B minor, BW 1067 – Menuet

    Performer: Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman (Director).
    • TELARC CD 80619.
    • Tr23.
  • Paul Celan translated by John Felstiner, read by Peter Marinker

    Todesfuge

  • 00:36

    Luciano Berio

    Sequenza V for trombone

    Performer: Benny Sluchin, Ensemble InterContemporain.
    • Deutsche Grammophon.
    • Tr4.
  • George Herbert, read by Lisa Dwan

    Prayer

  • 00:44

    Arvo Pärt

    Ludus from Tabula Rasa

    Performer: Tamsin Little, Martin Roscoe, Richard Studt and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.
    • EMI.
    • Tr6.
  • William Empson

    Villanelle, read by Lisa Dwan

  • 00:56

    Bernard Parmegiani

    From de natura sonorum – Pleins et delies

    Performer: Bernard Parmegiani.
    • INA-GRM.
    • Tr11.
  • Kazimir Malevich (translated by John Bowlt)

    From Suprematist Manifesto (the square), read by Peter Marinker

  • 01:01

    Conlon Nancarrow

    Toccata

    Performer: Ensemble Modern.
    • RCA Victor Red Seal.
    • Tr13.
  • Raymond Queneau (translated by Philip Terry)

    From Elementary Morality, read by Peter Marinker

  • 01:04

    György Kurtág

    Ligatura-Message to Frances-Marie( The answered unanswered question)

    Performer: Keller Quartett.
    • ECM New Series.
    • Tr22.
  • Samuel Beckett

    From Texts for Nothing IV, read by Peter Marinker

  • 01:10

    Erik Satie

    Vexations

    Performer: Alan Marks.
    • Decca.
    • Tr16.

Producer's Note:

Kazimir Malevich's Black Square is a totem of abstract art but it is often seen as an emblem of the Russian Revolution too.  This is puzzling because it was painted in 1915, two years before that massive upheaval.  True, Malevich seemed to dance to the tune of the Revolution for a while but ultimately he and its political leaders seemed poorly matched partners – abstraction was inevitably out of step with social realism.  And yet the radical re-thinking of every aspect of life in Russia that led to the Revolution also provided some of the impetus for the revolutionary practice of the Russian avant-garde and its embrace of the abstract.  I think it is fair to say that abstraction lies at the heart of this “parallel” revolution and it provides the theme of tonight’s edition of Words and Music.

Malevich said his aim was to free art from the ballast of objectivity... a struggle which would probably seem rather odd to most composers.  Music, after all, is effortlessly abstract by nature even when it seems to be insisting on its relationship with the world.  Words are another matter altogether.  Literary abstraction works sometimes like painting and sometimes like music.

My Black Square is then, necessarily, more of a meditation than a manifesto.  It is tentative.  It aspires to vivid colour, like Kandinsky, but it includes the minute monochrome shadings of Rothko.  In the choices I've made I've left some room for argument.  Where does abstraction begin?  Is it a feature of the way we experience the world and the way we express ourselves about it?   Is it dead and buried, as the erstwhile abstract painter Wyndham Lewis once rather grandly declared.  As you might expect from an adventure into the abstract the programme works as a collage (a technique also used in Russian art and cinema) in the hope of creating something new.


Producer: Zahid Warley

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