The Pen as Camera: Finnissy and Overexposure

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Richard Beaudoin


The photographic effect of overexposure is analogous to Michael Finnissy’s well-documented technique of selective musical borrowing. Just as a photographer uses an overabundance of light to wash out visible details in a photographic image, Finnissy uses his transcriptive pen to wash out certain elements of his borrowed source material. Three case studies illustrate Finnissy borrowing phrases by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, and Bruckner in his solo piano works Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein (1992) and The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2001). Excerpted sources, unpublished sketches, and published autograph manuscripts are used to detail precise mechanisms within his compositional process. Measurements of the chromatic distortions and altered functionality enacted on the borrowed fragments prompt a re-examination of source audibility within Finnissy scholarship.

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