The image of an orchestra on stage was a preoccupation in the early 1940s and Spruance pushed this subject further towards abstraction with compressed space, and angular, highly stylized figures. The Spruance catalogue raisonné includes reproductions of some 8 drawings with revisions Spruance made leading up to the final composition of his celebrated lithograph, Arrangement for Drums. Several elements (e.g., the clefs) edited out of Arrangement for Drums, are included in our gouache Mural Study. Spruance resisted intense color choices and the limited, quietly modulated palette allows the cadence of shapes to sing clearly.
The subsequent mural itself was commissioned by Willavene Sober Nelson, wife of Herbert Nelson who was the founder and owner of Philadelphia’s Tastykake Company. It was painted by Spruance and housed at the Academy of Music, an opera house that was built in the 1850s and was home to the Philadelphia Orchestra until 2001. It hangs in the music director’s dressing room and is some 7 feet tall. It is believed that the sheet music seen in the work is for a Symphony in D Minor by Belgian composer Cesar Franck (1822-1890), which had its debut in Paris in 1889. The Philadelphia Orchestra recorded this work in 1927 and in 1977. Spruance also quoted the image in the background of his 1942 lithograph, Self Portrait at the Stone.