Listening to Cornell’s record collection

Music to make by

Published 21 August 2015

In the first of a new Spotify series sharing the music that inspired major artists, listen to some of the tracks owned by Joseph Cornell.

  • For an artist who was as inspired by elastic bands and stamps as he was by ballet, opera and astronomy, it should comes as no surprise that Joseph Cornell had an eclectic record collection. New York’s Anthology Film Archives hold a listing of the tracks that the artist had at his home in Queens, New York – and as you’d expect, it’s everything from Debussy to Honky Tonk.

    Cornell had grown up listening to opera on the family’s wind-up gramophone. When he began wandering the book shops and dime stores of New York, librettos and recordings of French composers such as Debussy and Satie were among the whimsical haul of finds he brought home. As our co-curator Jasper Sharp explains in his catalogue essay, Cornell collected back issues of Opera News – but was equally drawn to the vaudeville sounds of Raquel Meller, a Spanish 1920s star whose fans included Charlie Chaplin, or to the poetic tones of Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer who influenced the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone.

    What he was looking for in all of them, says Sharp, was a form of “authenticity”. “It is a quality that he looked for and identified in a cast of characters drawn from the cultural and scientific landscapes.”

    You can hear a taster of this in our Spotify playlist, all records the artist owned. How do they shape your view of Cornell? Perhaps it helps to conjure the wanderlust and imaginary journeys that the artist pondered at home in Utopia Parkway. Listen and share your reflections with us below or on Twitter.

  • From Cornell's record collection

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