Images from a Closed Ward

Images from a Closed Ward

Musical etchings on the mind
Michael Hersch
Blair String Quartet
Catalog Number: 
new classical
string quartet

Baltimore, MD

Release Date: 
Feb 25, 2014
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

In Images from a Closed Ward, composer Michael Hersch has crafted a tone poem for string quartet inspired by the haunting images of Michael Mazur (1935–2009). By turns harrowing and uneasy, the work gives instrumental voice to something voiceless, finding a genuine grain of human experience in a dark, difficult place.

Art critic John Canaday, writing on Mazur’s etchings and lithographs of inmates from a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s, said the subjects “have the terrible anonymity of individuals who cannot be reached, whose ugly physical presence is the only symptom of a tragic spiritual isolation.” It was these images that resonated with Hersch, leading him to compose his first string quartet in almost twenty years. The highly regarded artists in residence at Vanderbilt University, the Blair String Quartet, who gave the work’s premiere and for whom it was written, deliver a definitive accounting on his innova Recordings release.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said, “Much of the piece uses the string quartet medium to create sonorities that might be paradoxically described as vividly pale, against which there are dabs of more bold colors or short themes, vaguely pointing in several possible directions that are left unpursued. Rarely is there a completed thought: All movements end inconclusively, often with several seconds of designated silence that freezes the musical idea in suspended animation. … Emphatic, fortissimo dissonance suggests unsolvable crisis. One movement tosses and turns, like an ill person trying to find a position without pain. … This isn’t at all what W.B. Yeats had in mind when coining the term ‘terrible beauty,’ but it fits.”

“It is the sound of a string quartet playing with rage and inconsolable sadness.” —ArtNowNashville


"[W]renchingly sad in corresponding ways to the bleak imagery Mazur so movingly puts before us. Tempos are mostly quite slow, dirge-like at times. There are strident assertions well beyond perceived tonality and there are quieter, more tender, regretful and a bit more tonal landscapes, both ends capturing the shifting moods of the inmates and Mazur's portrayals. … This is extraordinarily expressive High Modern music, perhaps something like Morton Feldman on an overdose of Belladonna. … It is masterful music and the Blair Quartet tackle the extremes of expression with excellent artistry. Surely this is some of the darkest string quartet music to be found. Nevertheless the kind of transcendence that well-composed music contains makes it not just bearable, but rather extraordinary, a music filled with humane compassion as well as despair. … Michael Hersch is a phenomena." [FULL ARTICLE]
Greg Edwards

"Images ... finds ways of using a sparse texture to open up an extremely dissonant aural vocabulary as a means to let us inhabit this space in a meaningful way. Even melodies exist in this world, like small bits of coherent thought wedged between paranoid repetitions of the base material. It’s music for people and I find myself being drawn into its language more and more after every listening. ... This music stands very much on its own and I hope that Mr. Hersch can provide us with more human experience moving forward." [FULL ARTICLE]
Rron Karahoda

"An exercise in total logic and success ... The dark images of this ward poured out from beginning to end! ... So good!" [FULL ARTICLE]
Collin J. Rae