Category Archives: Visual art

Afrocubanismo and art music

Afrocubanismo was an early 20th-century Cuban aesthetic movement that focused on the recognition, assimilation, and validation of the African cultural features present in Cuban society.

The new ethos found musical expression in a seminal group of composers whose works reflected neonationalistic musical concerns that emphasized the manipulation of timbral and rhythmic elements in a modern harmonic vocabulary. These experiments marked a significant juncture in the evolution of the Cuban concert repertoire, forging the representation of race and class at the intersection of art/popular and rural/urban music dichotomies and establishing a discursive site for the negotiation of national identities.

Ultimately, afrocubanismo provided a transition from nationalism to cosmopolitanism in Cuban concert music, and mediated between ethnicity and social class to articulate a Cuban national musical identity founded on the hybridity of African and Iberian-derived cultures.

This according to “The rhythmic component of afrocubanismo in the art music of Cuba” by Mario Rey (Black music research journal XXVI/2 [fall 2006] pp. 181–212).

Above, Wilfredo Lam’s La jungla, a celebrated example of afrocubanismo in painting; below, excerpts from Almadeo Roldán’s Ritmicas, one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Black studies, Visual art

Stravinsky and cubism

 

Stravinsky’s Svadebka/Les noces—an assault of nonsense syllables, snatches of conversation, and ritual fragments—is a cubist reconstruction of a Russian peasant wedding. Despite its invocation of Christian saints, the work might be Neolithic or even Australopithicine, so backward-looking is its range of auditory allusion.

All of the action is accompanied by chatter, out of which a whoop or intelligible phrase may emerge—we hear pet names, silly games, much commentary on the wine and beer, and some veiled sexual talk; it is the auditory equivalent of the strips of newsprint that Picasso glued to some of his canvases.

This according to Stravinsky: The music box and the nightingale by Daniel Albright (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989).

This year marks the 110th anniversary of cubism! Above and below, Bronislava Nijinska’s original choreography for the work.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dance, Visual art

Marcel Duchamp, noise, and music

 

Starting in 1912, Marcel Duchamp incorporated musical concepts and structures into his work, thereby promoting the emancipation of noise and confirming composition and music-making as a cottage industry.

Duchamp’s Avoir l’apprenti dans le soleil (To have the apprentice in the sun, 1914) was created at a time when the artist was concerned with the challenges of combining elements of various arts. The cyclist is a symbol of the French avant-garde and the modern spirit; the viewer sees the cyclist’s effort to mount the staff lines as a contrast between silence and noisy corporeality. The battle between the arts is not to be ironed out by means of assimilation, but must be fought out or brought to a détente in the artwork itself.

This according to “Marcel Duchamp, John Cage und eine Kunstgeschichte des Geräusches/Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and an art history of noise” by Michael C. Glasmeier, an essay included in Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst/Resonances: Aspects of sound art (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2002, pp. 49–70).

Today is Duchamp’s 130th birthday! Above, the drawing in question; below, the artist describes his readymade À bruit secret (With hidden noise, 1916): “Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn’t want to know.”

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Filed under Curiosities, Visual art

Swearing on the scepter

At their commencement ceremony, graduates of the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien (MDW) swear to remain forever true to their alma mater with the words Ich gelobe! (I swear!) while touching the university’s scepter.

Designed by the renowned Viennese sculptor Ferdinand Welz, the head of the scepter depicts King David playing his harp. The scrolls under the figure read Universitas rerum musicarum et artis dramaticae vindobonensis and Musica est bene modulandi scientia, the latter drawing on a quotation from Augustine of Hippo.

This according to “Daz zepter der MDW/The sceptre of the MDW” by Christian Meyer (MDW-magazin 2017/2, pp. 22–25).

The MDW celebrates its 200th anniversary this year! Above, three views of the scepter’s head (click to enlarge); below, the anniversary’s official visualization.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography

A pipe organ for a vaudevillian

charles-herbert-barritt-memorial

Charles Herbert Barritt (1869–1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) spent much of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.

Born in Manchester, Barritt was already treading the boards in his early twenties. Local newspaper notices chart a twelve-year career that took him from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham, and all points in between—there seems hardly a pier or stage that did not feature Barritt’s mellow baritone and perfect comic timing at some time between 1892 and 1904. One of his many favorable reviews praised his ability to imitate the styles of various composers, performers, and instruments, adding that he was “always funny, but without being vulgar.”

Barritt remains a notable figure to this day, as his funerary monument in London’s Hampstead Cemetery replicates the form of a life-size pipe organ (he was not known to play the organ at all).

This according to “‘Always funny, but without being vulgar’: Charles Herbert ‘Clifton’ Barritt (1869–1929), Hampstead Cemetery” by David Bingham (The London dead, 25 February 2015). Above, the monument in question.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Iconography, Instruments

Liszt’s Totentanz

holbein-totentanz

The medieval Dance of Death and variation form always belonged together, and Franz Liszt’s Totentanz is a splendid example.

In the European cultural tradition, the Dies irae is closely bound up with the experience of death. Liszt’s use of motive transformation—particularly the practice of modal reshaping—permitted him to unfold this theme in a series of ever new character variations, with their contrasts oriented around a common denominator.

This according to Haláltánc: Variáció, épitkezés, modális transzformáció Liszt Ferenc zenéjében by József Ujfalussy (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1990).

Happy Halloween from RILM! Above, a woodcut from Hans Holbein the younger’s Danse macabre series, one of the visual works that inspired Liszt. Below, a performance by Beatrice Berrut.

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Filed under Romantic era, Visual art

Instrumentarium de Chartres

chartres-cathedral-rose-window

Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Among the cathedral’s precious treasures dating from the 12th through the 16th centuries are the statues of the Portail Royal and its three stained glass windows, the largest collection of stained glass from the 13th century, and several hundred 16th-century bas-reliefs in the choir. These unique elements contain 312 catalogued depictions of 26 musical instruments representing a veritable history of French instrument making from the High Middle Ages through the Renaissance.

Preliminary research led to a 1966 proposal by Julien Skowron to reconstruct some of the instruments depicted in the cathedral’s visual arts; six instruments were built, and in 1977 the Instrumentarium de Chartres was born. Today the collection of some 40 string, wind, and percussion instruments comprises the most complete and most played instrumentarium in Europe; it also serves an important pedagogical function for the curious of all ages who enjoy hands-on experience with the collection. The success of the project attests to the fine medieval and Renaissance artistry that makes modern reconstruction of this rich historical collection possible.

Instrumentarium de Chartres is an open-access online presentation of this collection, presenting images of the original artworks and the newly reconstructed instruments, and many other resources for scholars, performers, and the general public.

Above, a rose window from the cathedral that includes several images of instruments (click to enlarge); below, a brief demonstration of some of the instruments.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance, Resources

Early sources for African instruments

Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes

Among the various musical instruments depicted in early documents (bells and double bells, drums, scrapers, horns, flutes, xylophones, and bow-lute), the double bell is of particular interest because of its relatively good pictorial documentation.

In 1687 a double bell from the Congo-Angola area called longa was first mentioned in print. Even today the Ovimbundu people call the double bell alunga (sing. elunga), and give it an important role in the enthronement of the king.

Early pictorial sources and later reports indicate four types of double bell—those with stem grip, bow grip, frame grip, and lateral bar grip—and of these the stem grip double bell, found in the Congo-Angola areas as well as Rhodesia, represents the older type of double bell and probably has its origin in Benin-Yoruba. It appears that the Portuguese, who got to know the double bell as an important court instrument in the Guinea area, brought this instrument, together with other court appurtenances, to Luanda, their new base of operations after the breakdown of the Congo kingdom.

This according to “Early historical illustrations of West and Central African music” by Walter Hirschberg (African music IV/3 [1969] pp. 6–18).

Above, Le triumphe de la noblissement des Gentilhommes, published by Pieter de Marees in 1605. Below, Nigerian double bells and other instruments.

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Paul Hindemith, visual artist

Apparently Hindemith seized every opportunity to draw, from early childhood until his last December, when he completed that year’s entry in a series of Christmas cards that spanned more than 20 years.

He used any medium that came to hand—including menus, advertisements, and paper napkins—and clearly never considered his drawings to be very important; they were carelessly preserved, and almost never dated or titled.

Most of Hindemith’s drawings are whimsical, often to the point of grotesquerie. He characteristically filled all the available space, often with impossible conglomerations of people, animals, and machines. The richness of his ideas and the skill of their expression bear witness to a truly original talent.

This according to Paul Hindemith: Der Komponist als Zeichner/Paul Hindemith: The composer as graphic artist (Zürich: Atlantis, 1995).

Below, part of Hindemith’s tribute to a great visual artist—the Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald. Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in Grablegung, the second movement of Symphony: Mathis Der Maler.

BONUS: Hindemith must have rotated the above drawing several times as he worked on it; it can therefore be viewed with any edge on top. Copy it into a picture editor and rotate it yourself to see the four different angles!

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Visual art

Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Auditorium

Holloway detail

Louis Sullivan’s interior designs for the theater of the Chicago Auditorium Building (1889) reflect the ideas of Wagner and of the transcendentalist and music critic John Sullivan Dwight.

Especially significant are the murals, supervised by Sullivan, which allude to multiple art forms and to the democratic ideal of the opera house as a social institution.

Albert Fleury designed the murals on the side walls using themes drawn from Sullivan’s prose-poem Inspiration: An essay, which is full of musical imagery. The proscenium frieze, designed by Charles Holloway, depicts a central winged figure holding a lyre, flanked by several other figures and by the words “The utterance of life is a song: the symphony of nature”.

This according to “Louis Sullivan, J.S. Dwight, and Wagnerian aesthetics in the Chicago Auditorium Building” by Stephen Thursby, an essay included in Music in architecture, architecture in music (Austin: University of Texas, 2014, pp. 42 –53 ).

Above, the central figures in Holloway’s frieze (click images to enlarge); below, the frieze in the full proscenium; further below, one of Fleury’s murals, with the quotation from Sullivan’s text “O, soft, melodious spring time! First-born of life and love”.

Holloway proscenium frieze

Fleury spring song

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Filed under Architecture, Iconography