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Monday, May 12, 2008

“Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water” (a.k.a. Sibelius’s Black Punch)

posted by on May 12 at 14:42 PM

(Special Post Listening-Sounds: Finlandia1.)

Look at this guy:


There he is, Old Man Jean.

When this photo was taken, in 1939, Sibelius had almost twenty years of drinking and smoking left in him—and Sibelius loved his wine and cigars. (He died, at 91, of a healthful brain hemorrhage.)

He didn’t write much music once the haze of alcoholic late-middle age set in, but he did write this recipe for a tasty-sounding punch, on the occasion of a christening in 1943.


1 l water + sugar + jam + brandy or spirit.
Add 2 bottles of wine when everything is completely cold.
Add a few drops of Bergamot oil in a lump of sugar, which must be melted in the water.

(Nota Bene: All mineral waters make the punch black.)

Black punch? Neat!

And can’t you taste that black punch in the sounds of Finlandia?

Imagine walking up the garden path to see Old Man Jean. Maybe it’s dusk. Maybe it’s Finland. Maybe there are reindeer nibbling on your pants. You knock on the door. You wait. The old maestro greets you with a glass of ink.

“Try it!” he croaks. “You’ll like it!”

Cue the music:

The initial apprehension of the low horns. (Black punch? What the fuck?!). The resignation in the strings. (Okay, okay—relax, old man, I’ll take a sip) The timpani rolling as you lift the dark drink to your lips. (Deep breath, don’t gag.) The wondering woodwinds as you let the liquid leak into your mouth, and then…

Bam! Dawn! Triumph! Cymbals! Horns blaring excelsior!

Damn, Sibelius! This black punch is fucking transcendent!

And then he laughs and laughs and lights another cigar and laughs some more.


Black punch!

(1: George Bernard Shaw wrote about Finlandia in the Manchester Guardian, in 1938: “Sibelius is unquestionably a leader in the front rank of symphonic composers. He has got out of the ruts worn by his predecessors far more completely than Brahms got away from Beethoven, or even Richard Strauss from Wagner. If someone would only burn Finlandia he would come to our young people as an entirely original inventor of a new art form and a new harmony technique.”)

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I used to live in Korea, and one day on the streets of Seoul I encountered an arcade game that tests your boxing skills. It had a huge picture of a scary black dude on it. It was called Super Black Punch.

Posted by E | May 13, 2008 12:02 AM

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