Instrument makers’ catalogues can be important sources of iconography: they indicate what instruments people were making and buying at a given place and time, and sometimes they depict rare curiosities like the brass instruments in this 1867 catalogue from the Gautrot firm, reprinted in 1999 by Larigot. The mechanical organ pictured above comes from a catalogue issued by Limonaire Frères around the turn of the twentieth century, reprinted in 2009 by Das mechanische Musikinstrument.
Category Archives: Iconography
Due to the widespread popularity of theories first expounded in Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe by Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801), eighteenth- and nineteenth-century intellectuals viewed portraits as presenting clear information on a variety of aspects of the subject’s personality—qualities that their usual approach to biography, which focused only on verifiable facts, omitted. This aspect of portraiture is largely lost on modern music historians.
For example, in 1871 the English cleric and writer Hugh Reginald Haweis provided this interpretation of George Dance’s portrait of Haydn (reproduced above): “The face of Haydn is remarkable quite as much for what it does not as for what it does express. No ambition, no avarice, no impatience, very little excitability, no malice.
“On the other hand, it indicates a placid flow of even health, an exceeding good-humour, combined with a vivacity which seems to say, ‘I must lose my temper sometimes, but I can not lose it for long’; a geniality which it took much to disturb, and a digestion which it took more to impair; a power of work steady and uninterrupted; a healthy devotional feeling; a strong sense of humour; a capacity for the enjoyment of all the world’s good things, without any morbid craving for irregular indulgence; affections warm, but not intense; a presence accepted and beloved; a mind contented almost anywhere, attaching supreme importance to one, and one thing only—the composing of music—and pursuing this object with the steady instinct of one who believed himself to have come into the world for that purpose alone.”
The 1909 Austro-Hungarian postcard reproduced above wryly depicts two aspects of Franz Liszt’s persona: the devout abbé of his later years and—if you look closely—the libertine of his scandalous youth. (Click to enlarge.)
Related article: Schubert deltiography
Ethnomusicological monographs are often published with transcriptions, photographs, and recordings; the printed texts present the primary information, while the other materials serve a secondary, supporting role. For ethnographic recordings, these functions are reversed: The recordings themselves are the primary concern, and the other materials fill in contextual or technical information.
Some publications occupy the border between these two types, where neither the printed texts nor the other materials can be definitively deemed secondary. The raga guide: A survey of 74 Hindustani ragas, published by Nimbus in 1999, is an example of such a multifunctioning publication. On its four CDs, each rāga is portrayed in a three- to six-minute rendition by a top-ranking performer; this is arguably the primary information, and RILM classified the publication as a sound recording. But the 196-page book in the package is hard to consider merely supportive—it includes analytical and historical notes for each rāga and its performance, including its basic structures shown in both Western and Indian sargam notation; full transcriptions of the ālāp (introductory) sections of each recording; and 40 full-color reproductions of rāgamālā paintings
Caricature is a type of iconography that involves distorting the features of recognizable people to exaggerate some aspect of their demeanor.
Opinions differ regarding the term’s applicability to other than real-life subjects; for example, Walt Disney considered his animated animals to be caricatures because in creating them he blended animal features with human ones, an inversion of the practice of caricaturing people by merging their features with those of animals.
In the caricature reproduced above by Albert Douat (1847–92, signed with the pseudonym J. Blass), Liszt consoles Wagner over the Parisian reception of Tannhäuser in 1861 and Lohengrin in 1891; both productions were disrupted by elements hostile to the composer. Liszt’s imposing stature and paternal attitude—particularly apt since by the time the drawing was produced he was Wagner’s father-in-law—contrasts with the dejected, little-boy look of the creator of Gesamtkunstwerk.
Trade cards, which disseminate advertising by fostering cartophilia, have been issued since the early nineteenth century. Some are sources for music iconography, depicting musicians, composers, or dramatic works; those issued by instrument makers often depict their wares in attractive settings.
The card shown above (recto and verso) is an example of the latter, printed for the Estey Organ Company. Behind the group of music lovers, two children gaze at the Estey factory, which is now a museum. The company revolutionized musical life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by using marketing techniques like this card to place Estey organs in homes and institutions throughout the world.
Technical drawings of instruments are of interest to instrument builders, organologists, and iconographers—they may also be useful for researchers working on performance practice, theory, or aesthetics. Technical drawings may also be found as freestanding publications issued by museums and collections to encourage reconstructions of the historical instruments that they own.
This example from Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia Universalis (1650) shows the inner workings of a claviorganum, which Michael Praetorius described in his Syntagma musicum.II: De organographia (1619) as a keyboard instrument in which strings and pipes “sound together to produce a pleasing sound”.
Below, a claviorganum in action.
Like postage stamps, musical subjects depicted on money represent a type of iconography that is controlled by governmental organizations; their didactic goals are minimal, and their political role is paramount. Most often they involve the celebration of a national composer whose work embodied and enacted a national character—but their symbolism occasionally misfires.
For example, the above Romanian 50,000 lei banknote pictures George Enescu on the front alongside some recognizable musical images, but the depiction of a Bucegi-Mountains rock formation known in Romania as The Sphinx, which appears to be a reference to the character of the Sphinx in the composer’s opera Oedipe, was judged to be sufficiently puzzling to merit a redesign omitting the image.
Related article: Enescu and makam
Record album covers comprise a genre of music iconography that shows how musicians wish to be perceived—or how their producers wish them to be perceived. This type of iconography makes no claim to objectivity; rather, it explicitly presents images meant to arouse specific associations with the recorded music inside.
For example, the cover of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s 1977 album Zombie shows him brightly dressed, singing and gesturing defiantly, facing images of Nigerian soldiers: the zombies of the scathing title song, which satirizes these enforcers of the military government. The singer appears as a vibrant, strong leader, while the soldiers are depicted in a jagged, grey collage—as dehumanized and sinister as the zombies of horror fiction.
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These visual depictions of rāgas involve the various extramusical associations that theorists have assigned to them; for example, this visualization of the Hindustani rāg bhairavī from about 1610 depicts women worshiping at a shrine to Śiva, embodying the ’s association with both Śiva and feminine energy, and evoking the colors of its traditional early-morning context.
Below, the śahnāī player Bismillāh Khān (1915–2006) renders rāg bhairavī.