Saturday, October 18, 2008

Once upon a time I had plenty of admiration for Thérésa. It seemed as if, in that huge voice with its low-pitched notes, there vibrated the soul of the people. She stirred me and made me shiver; more than once she brought tears to my eyes. In the last two years I have gone to her comeback performances as if to visit an old friend, searching for that impression of the past which she cannot reawaken. Her fine diction, so strong and clear, is spoilt now by pretentiousness, pomp, and solemnity. No doubt she imagines she is now a social force, and that each word she drops will have repercussions in the world. She adopts without discernment songs which are inept, and tries to colour their empty words with a redundant sentimentality and a false picturesqueness. Instead of the brutal and sincere art which used to delight me, the singer displays a procedure which has grown uniform and a search for violent effects.

[An anonymous Parisian newspaper columnist in 1886. From "The Bar at the Folies-Bergère" the last chapter in T.J Clark, The Painting of Modern Life.]
Earlier in the chapter Clark writes: "The songs Thérésa sang, and the general run of the entertainments which the calicot enjoyed, could best be described as 'popular.' The best discussion of this word in a comparable context is the one provided by T.S. Eliot in his 1923 obituary of Marie Lloyd"

Jump ahead for a discussion of Eliot and Clement Greenberg.

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