A five-note motive in Rahmaninov’s Ostrov mërtvyh (The isle of the dead, op. 29), which evokes the opening of the Dies irae melody used by Berlioz and Liszt, is strikingly similar to what Bernard Herrmann referred to as the motive of power or fate in his score for Citizen Kane.
Rahmaninov’s work was inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel (above; click to enlarge), and Herrmann’s statements about his creative process suggest that the opening images of the film might have unconsciously reminded him of the painting, which in turn could have aroused an association with Rahmaninov’s symphonic poem.
This according to “The Dies irae in Citizen Kane: Musical hermeneutics applied to film music” by William H. Rosar, an essay included in Film music: Critical approaches (New York: Continuum, 2001, pp. 103–116). Below, the first minutes of Citizen Kane.
William Hogarth explicitly positioned his aesthetic theory in opposition to those of his contemporaries.
He disagreed both with philosophical treatments that viewed beauty and taste in moral terms and with art treatises that relied on exemplification and lacked causal explanation; further, he attacked the mystification of the concept of grace in both approaches.
He argued that understanding beauty did not require initiation into a new body of knowledge: It simply involved exercising a natural reflective vision that finds pleasure in the forms of the human body and related designs and ornamentations.
It was natural, therefore, that—unlike other aestheticians of his time—he drew extensively on dance examples in his treatise The analysis of beauty: Dance, particularly in its use in deportment training, belonged to a sphere of relatively everyday polite culture, as opposed to the rarefied and mystifying culture of art appreciation. Anyone open to dance and deportment could learn how to appreciate them, just as anyone open to Hogarth’s theory could apply its illuminations to their everyday lives.
This according to “An aesthetics of performance: Dance in Hogarth’s Analysis of beauty” by Annie Richardson (Dance research: The journal of the Society for Dance Research XX/2 [winter 2002] pp. 38–87. Above, an illustration of a country dance from Hogarth’s treatise (click to enlarge). Below, an English country dance that he might have seen—or participated in!
Vaughan Williams’s Job: A masque for dancing is based on William Blake’s cycle of illustrations of the biblical tale; but a study of the scenario and of preserved correspondence indicates disparate theological and philosophical arguments and conflicts.
The composer put his own stamp on the story, while accepting the symbolism of Blake’s drawings, and effectively deconstructed the illustrations in favor of his own intentions. Job: A masque for dancing is no ordinary theater piece—it reveals a personal view as individual as that present in Blake’s original illustrations.
This according to “A deconstruction of William Blake’s vision: Vaughan Williams and Job” by Alison Sanders McFarland (International journal of musicology III  pp. 339–371).
Today is Vaughan Williams’s 140th birthday! Above, Blake’s depiction of Job and his family restored to prosperity; below, a complete recording of Vaughan Williams’s ballet.
Related article: Blake and Jerusalem
The beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who died yesterday, was deeply influenced by Western classical music, particularly by the works of Mozart.
“Art has always been my salvation,” he said in an interview, “and my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain. I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.”
Above, Sendak’s Mozart in the garden (click to enlarge). Below, the full interview with Bill Moyers in 2004.
When Mendelssohn Bartholdy was 13 a family trip to Switzerland afforded his first opportunity to devote himself to drawing; subsequently a sketch book was always an indispensable part of his holiday luggage.
Soon the prodigy’s musical career precluded other artistic activities, but after the death of his beloved sister Fanny when he was 38 he returned to Switzerland and completed a remarkable series of watercolors. These were among his final creative activities; he died in November of that year.
This according to the preface by Margaret Crum for Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1972), which reproduces items from the Bodleian Library’s collection.
Above, Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s depiction of Lucerne in July 1847; below, Piero Bellugi conducts the final movements of his sixth string symphony, written around the time he first started drawing.
Insects in rock ’n’ roll cover art is an article and an online database by Joseph R. Coelho, who teaches in the Biology Program at Quincy University.
The article, which can be read online here, was published in American entomologist (L/3 [fall 2004] pp. 142–151). The database (here) is part of a larger project called Insects in rock ’n’ roll music, which also includes lists of insect-related songs, albums, and artist names.
Above, a classic Iron Butterfly album cover. Below, ants dancing to Ant man bee from the legendary Trout mask replica by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (Beefheart plays two saxophones simultaneously on this track).
Many thanks to the Improbable Research blog for alerting us about Professor Coelho’s work!
In 1882 Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi IV, Nawāb of Bahawalpur, anonymously commissioned a bed in rosewood covered with about a third of a ton of chased and engraved sterling silver from La Maison Christofle in Paris. The bedposts were four life-size automatons, nude (though bewigged) female figures representing European types, powered by four crank-wound spring mechanisms in their pedestals.
Wires ran from these springs to a music box under the bed. Downward pressure on the center of the mattress activated the music box and caused the bedpost-women to begin shifting their eyes and fanning and whisking in time to the music (an unidentified excerpt from Gounod’s Faust). The performance lasted 30 minutes. A watercolor and several photos taken in 1882 for the Christofle firm are the only evidence of the bed, whose present whereabouts are unknown.
This according to “Asleep with painted ladies” by Carl A. Skoggard (Nest X  pp. 100–105). Below, Renée Fleming sings “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux” (Jewel song), an aptly themed candidate for the Faust excerpt in question.
Related article: The Sultan’s pipe organ