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Ten music pieces for ten paintings

In order to understand the art, maybe a necessary thing is to find a way to “communicate” with its creator. Very often though, different fine arts “unite their forces” in order to be able to reveal to the big audience the power and the essence of every work. Thus, I decided to take advantage of this technique in my effort to observe in a more analytical way an artistic form on which I don’t have any special knowledge, painting.

The methodology was simple: in order to be able to observe the detail of some “classic” works of the world visual artistic heritage, I decided to combine my approach with another art that I know better, music. I think that the procedure helped me, I appreciated it and afterwords I took it one step forward, to share it in this article. This small collection contains some works of art monsters, of both the presented forms and therefore it’s easy to raise any kind of discussion on my choices.

As anyone can understand, my aim is not to present my knowledge as a specialist on art, but to share a personal experience, which can be useful. Its utility is based on the fact that very often art isn’t so easily perceived with a first approach, there is the necessity of some kind of friction to achieve it and in order to do this someone should open a door which opens the way of communication with the artist. This experience shows that the combination of two different forms of art can be this key and the compass in the mean time, to lead us in a higher level of communication than the one of the initial observation.

1. Wassily Kandinsky, Zarte Spannung (Delicate Tension) – George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

I’ll be honest: the motivation to do all this process was this Kandinsky work. In one of my infinite researches on the internet, one day, I started observing his works and I was literally “stuck” with this piece. It’s a painting which spiritually calms me, giving me the opportunity to get lost in its complex perspective, whereas the simpleness of its aquarelle background gives an impression that all this complex thought or construction is flying somewhere. I could say that all the composition reminds me of something spatial, with stellar objects around it and numerous functions on it. Although, the painting was created at 1923, many years before the first space programs and I think that this was something out of the creator’s mind.

I needed a music to combine this observation, a piece which could complete the “voyage” of my sight in every corner of the canvas. The one that came and excellently suited was George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. The “Rhapsody” of the American composer is an equally modern work of the same period, as Kandinsky’s painting, and maybe this is an element that links them both and creates to my senses the feeling of the existence of a relative harmony between them. The work which was initially written for piano and consequently was adapted to the presence of a symphony orchestra (with the epic clarinet glissando in the intro) is a concert containing a continuous discussion, in more calm or intense tone, although not separated in parts, between the soloist and the orchestral ensemble. These phases can lead the sight on the painting, in apparently more simple parts, mostly the “accompanying” external ones, to the more complicated, situated mainly in the core of the central complex. The melodic slow orchestral parts add a kind of movement to all the two-dimensional elements of the paper, who seem ready to rotate around a well defined central axis and thus, in a counter-clockwise way to prepare their course in a greater dimension, out of the light aquarelle.

After this first experience, I felt that I can see more deeply every other great work of painting (maybe you will feel it, too) and therefore many other examples followed, some of them presented here!

2. Vincent van Gogh, La Nuit étoilée (The Starry Night) – Antonín Dvořák, Serenade for Strings in E major

The artwork doesn’t need any special recommendations, as it concerns one of the most known paintings in every corner of our planet. Its creator, too, is some kind of a pop star, a legend linked with his schizophrenic life. Therefore, it can be some kind of a stereotype to say that this painting is the one who impressed me more than any other, when I had the chance to see it closely. The truth is that the interaction with van Gogh’s works through books’ pages, posters or in the digital world and the feeling of observing them in real, consist two totally different experiences, something happening for most artworks, but I feel that in this case this difference is greater.

When I visited MoMa in New York, where “Starry Night” is exposed, I’ve been stressfully entered the down town of the american metropolis, only a few hours before my flight back to Europe. Getting into the museum I was directed straight to the floor where this painting stands, in order to start from there my journey. In front of the magnificent view, any kind of sense of time didn’t exist anymore, nothing mattered. I don’t know how much time I stood in front of this masterpiece, staring the van Gogh brush which is alive until today to all of his works, making someone to think that the artist is just there, creating in front of us. The intense capture of the artist’s impression of the captured image, who gave its name to impressionism, is clearest than ever in this painting. It’s very easy, while being in a room of a New York museum, to think that you stand on the ground of a french field, at a time when human-made lights weren’t able to decrease the shine of the sky objects and the dance of our galaxy is captured on the space which is perceived as a dome by human brain.

This feeling needs its own music to be complete. Even if this work has its own “soundtrack”, the song named “Vincent” of Don McClean with the lyrics “Starry starry night” to begin each verse, this melody doesn’t belong to this scenery, but describes in a bigger time scale van Gogh’s life. The feeling of the observation of night starry sky, with the movement of the objects and the presence of all the elements who excite all the five senses in a night rural experience is captured by a music which is written exactly for this hour, a serenade! One of the best of its kind, with intense tender sentimental elements in its second movement, is the one written by Dvořák at 1875 for a string ensemble in E major.

The melody seems like slipping on an idyllic space, as is the sky, it has the power to capture the magical phenomena of nature that the painter saw 14 years later and got emotional and gave them to us in order to get emotional as him and have goosebumps for centuries. The combination of these two works, in my opinion, makes every word to lose its importance, compared to their ability to create visible sentiments, through the effects on the body of the observer, something that I very often try!

3. Joan Mirò, Personajes y Perro ante el Sol (Figures and Dog in Front of the Sun) – Arturo Márquez, Danzon No.2

Mirò’s work can easily be misunderstood because of its “childish” style, its “dabbling” and curved lines, its intense abstraction and its evenly intense, often non matching, colors, who remind a child’s palette. This misunderstanding is even more dangerous to happen if someone has a Mirò over the seasonal bed of his childhood, the case of the author of this article with the work presented in this section. It’s difficult to judge things related with our childhood, as they contain by default an intense dose of nostalgia and tenderness, many times without being the aim of their creator. Although, a scene presenting two human figures and a dog under an huge shining sun, given its size, is something that surely creates a feeling of mental relief.

This Mirò painting plays with the intense contrast of colors of the mediterranean summer, or any other place in the world where someone can be in an equal state thanks to the climatic conditions. The intense red color of the sun gives the heat that the whole scenery needs, it’s not like the sun of other works, of other artists, of another geographical origin, where the color of our star is much more pale. The intense color that approaches the red shades more at the end of the day is the one that creates the most intense shadows, the deeper shades, often the most intense impressions. These shades and shadows are visible on the sketch of the Spanish painter, even if they are randomly mixed into the weird silhouettes who define the figures of the three living objects of the painting.

In order to combine these elements with a melody of the world repertory, it’s difficult to do it with a piece from the classic western european music. The climate into which each one of it was evolved is captured in its rhythm, its scales and the pace of its melodies. There is a necessity for something more “playful”, strictly in major scale, with sweet passages and a lot of staccato, in the dominant or supporting melody. These elements can all be found in “Danzon No. 2”, not by chance, the work of a Mexican composer, Arturo Marquez. This said, a composer originated from a country where all these pictures aren’t unknown, neither in nature, nor in humans, nor even in dogs!

The combination of this extraordinarily sentimentally powerful music and the style of Mirò who makes everything to seem familiar, create a wonderful match, which is so easy to assimilate that everybody can feel able to recreate it from their own thoughts, if he not confused, thinking whether they have already done so!

4. Pablo Picasso, Guernica – Joaquín Rodrigo, Concierto de Aranjuez: 2. Adagio

Pablo Picasso was a genius! I know, nothing new so far, but it’s difficult to express the thoughts after the aphasia generated by the interaction with one of the most symbolic artworks of 20th century, linked explosively with one of its most important historical events. In April 1937, after the call of Spanish nationalists, german and italian nazi-fascist airplanes fly over the basque city of Guernica and they literally flatten it, creating one of the most terrible crimes that stigmatized the ideology of hatred and the human history. A communist painter decided to put his stigma as well, in order to make this cruelty a map for the universal human conscience and he took his paint brushes to give his answer to the monstrosity.

Picasso’s genuine concerns the way he achieved it. The enormous dimensions of the Guernica painting put the observer into the scenery, the dystopia created by the absolute dominance of death in every corner of the canvas, as happened in every corner of the small basque city. The scenery is almost cinematic, with an intense scene, where the absolute insult against humanity is happening, passing slowly as a torture in front of the spectator’s eyes, who thinks that they can stop it, but then feel more unable and sad, finding out that they cannot. This cinematic “slow motion” becomes even heavier in the literal frozen frame of a painting that has, however, such an intense mixture between of all the tragic living elements, that anyone can easily understand that things are happening at this very moment when you cannot stop the monstrosity in front of your eyes. This is deeply emotive.

In films, very often, these scenes are supported by a calm, slow music, unless if it’s Hollywood, where all the winds of the planet scream in order to make the surround effect. In the painting something similar is needed, an absolutely sad, minor scale melody, with the total absence of any kind of optimistic essence, respective to a continuous cry, poignant cry that follows the mute cry of the victims, which accompanies the conscience of the irreversible character of the catastrophe. This music, in a total spanish style, is Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, where guitar becomes the narrator of the saddest story ever told.

Rodrigo composed the concert two years later and linked it with a medieval royal story, as this was the only way to avoid any problems with the winners of the civil war, the fascist Franko’s state. However, for some reason, in the collective conscience of Spanish people, it remained as an artistic souvenir of the monstrosity and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I had the same impression, combining the piece with Picasso’s painting. The match of these two, in my opinion, is not only artistically didactic, but through the prism of the world history, too, as the ideological conscience is formed in every place of our planet, not in just a moment, but through the pass of the time.

5. Giorgio de Chirico, The Song of Love – Manos Hatzidakis, Gioconda’s Smile: Portrait of My Mother

De Chirico’s painting is exactly what its title is about, even more, not just a song but a hymn to love. Personally, for some reason, I find that the love captured on it isn’t erotic love, but one of the most powerful feelings that follow humans from the time of their birth and during their whole journey at their voyage of life, love for the mother. There’s no person who can symbolize better the total devotion, the infinite affection, than the parents, with mother to have the “privilege” of the tender hug, even if it comes to put you in her warm place, or when there is the necessity to put her in your hands, in order to protect the protection you get from her. The presence of the nailed glove on the wall is shaping, even if someone thinks that it’s a stereotype, the presence of this maternal figure.

For someone who is grown up in Greece and thus the maternal figure is linked, as well, to the past before his own life, the symbolism of the classic ancient greek statue can be in bond with the common everyday’s object nailed just next to it, whereas the ball, symbol of the childhood is in front of them, at the ground, that the observer defines, not on the wall which is there to have projected on it all these that others have made for him. De Chirico took care and put all these under a deep blue summer mediterranean sky, with sun’s presence to dominate at the shadows of the objects and the absence of doors and windows at the surrounding structures creates the feeling of heat, coherent with the scenery and the created feelings. Personally, as my mother is born in the same city as de Chirico, it was easy to think that all these above could be combined in a higher level, even thinking that the painting is made for her.

Such a mediterranean scenery needs a respectively mediterranean music in order to get perceived. The best example of such an instrumental music, which reminds more than everything these sceneries, is made by Manos Hadjidakis. Even if he named his work “Gioconda’s smile” it’s bound with pictures much more familiar to us (Greeks) as the pale enigmatic da Vinci’s work. The piece “Portrait of My Mother” is made as if he wanted to put it on this painting, in a point that I was thinking to myself “he couldn’t think of anything else” as he composed it, with coincidences to be a lot when someone finds out that the painting is exposed in New York, the same city where Manos wrote his top class music work.

6. Michelangelo Meriti da Caravaggio, Presa di Cristo nell’orto (The Taking of Christ) – Antonio Vivaldi, The Four Seasons: Summer, III: Presto

Caravaggio is one of the most characteristic representatives of Italian medieval painting. The perfection that a “god inspired” work must have, in order to give the necessary respect to the religious subjects, as the light is coming from an indefinite place to lit only the faces of protagonists of every scene, hiding anything not necessary to the narration, is the fundamental characteristic of every one of his paintings. My personal contact with his paintings was very probably one of the first I ever had with works of world class artists and this fact has an importance for the inspiration who led my choice to put it in this list, as well as to the way I combined, since then, his paintings with a precise music school.

This first contact happened in 1997, when, in the context of “European Capital of Culture”, one of the three most important events in Thessaloniki, was the host of an exposition of Caravaggio’s works to the “Little Palace”. It’s a fact that as I grow up I realize that the artworks I consider to be on the top, are made in an era closer to ours, living with the hope that before the end of my voyage in this world I will be able to enjoy the one of “today”. Although, then, Caravaggio’s paintings seemed to me unsurpassed, with the main characteristic that impressed me to be the perfection and the fidelity on the human figures capturing, which many times makes the paintings to seem as photographs.

The same period, because of my music studies at the conservatory, the music that I listened to was Baroque and the composer I considered as the best was Vivaldi, with the objectively easiness to admire creation of “Four Seasons”. I think that this is the reason that for this painting, narrating a very well known religious story, was very nicely combined to one of the most popular parts of “Four Seasons”, the well known “Storm” or 3rd movement of “Summer”. The almost anxious presence of continuous short beats can represent the panic of the moment, when in the crowd, under the Roman soldiers’ and Christ disciples’ presence, Judas is making a complicated movement to reach his teacher and kiss him, in an action who defined the supreme religious crime, the betrayal of God by the humans, an action that in other historical circumstances, without the oppression of the Christian Church for centuries, could be an excellent subject for theatrical tragedies. Music is following the feelings of every person, being negatively excited by what is happening, except of Jesus himself, obviously, who must be in a notable serenity and thus to attract our attention only in the passages of longer beats.

The painting, and Caravaggio’s work as a whole, is maybe the most Baroque form of art I ever had the chance see in painting and I couldn’t observe it with the work of any composer but his compatriot’s, Vivaldi.

7. Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory – Edward Elgar, Cello Concerto in E minor

Dalí is an oneiric painter. Everything he puts on his canvas, as they represented real objects of real life, or even approaching but clearly shaping them, are put in a way that the reason of their position and their difference from real world aren’t easily perceived. The first contact may seem as an experiment, as a game with material dimensions, but the attitude of living or inanimate objects, even sentimental grimaces, are the elements that the painter is giving in order to walk around his thought, which finally isn’t abstract at all. Maybe the most symbolic of his works is “The Persistence of Memory”, known to many people for the “melting clocks”.

In a relatively empty and totally dead scene, on purpose, with only living presence of the little insects, usually linked with the decay, time is inflected over everything dead, either a tree or an imaginary figure of a human face. Trying an abstraction, lead by the title, too, someone could say that time, considered pandamator (all-subduing), cannot stand the competition with memory, is melting in front of the presence of the dead object, that he managed to subdue, but never achieved to make disappear. For someone who analyzes life and death in depth – Dalí being one of them – this is an optimistic scenario, given with an excellent cynicism, characterizing his work as a whole.

On this subject I had a personal experience, where a classic work of 20th century music is involved. After listening the Cello Concerto of Elgar, considered as a summital work for Cello, by specialists or not, a story formed in my mind, which could be the plot of a roman or scenario of a movie. The story has a couple to live and enjoy life, until the moment when one of them leaves this world, spreading the sadness to the other half. Him, stays back there, although, doesn’t accept the fate and puts himself in a psychological state of continuous, conscious and pretentious denial, trying to continue his life in a same way, as it happened with the presence of his beloved person. He is living in a paranoia, for example he orders for two in a restaurant, keeps space next to him in a bank, where he is observing people passing or a sunset, sharing every moment with a presence that is no longer there. The title I found for this story, which obviously couldn’t have a happy end, was “Duetto Solo”, as the protagonist was the soloist in a work written for two.

Trying to find out if there was a similar title for an artwork, as it wasn’t so original, I found a 1986 film, “Duet for One”. The impressive coincidence was that this movie is telling the story and tragic life of Jacqueline du Pré, who is considered to have given the best and unsurpassed performance of Concerto and died by multiple sclerosis in 1987. This weird “circle” of events bound very tight the music piece with my story and this story is totally linked with this “Persistance of Memory” presented on Dalí’s painting. What else could be combined better with these two works? The only question is which one was made to support the other…

8. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Femme à sa toilette – Georges Bizet, Carmen Suite No.2: 2. Habanera

Toulouse-Lautrec puts on his paintings one of the periods when there were leaps in sexual liberation. The non-companion erotic excitation wasn’t a sin in 19th century France, consequently the deep erotic feelings could get in a different, more pure and free basis, where their enemy was ourselves and not any social stereotypes and prejudice. The same people, though, who participated in a luxuriant and superficial process, had in the mean time the deepest passions that characterize the pure feelings. This contrast is difficult to be understood even today, because of the residues passing through generations and a peculiar puritanism, which appears under special economic situations.

The painting “Femme à sa toilette” (with toilette to mean either the bathroom or the dress – with various translations in disagreement) is showing exactly this. The woman, sat on the floor, clumsily on her dress, with a sight that seems more with the abstract sight of a thinking person, without moving on to get dressed or undressed, is the incarnation of the contrast provoked by this liberation. She is a young dancer, with beautiful body analogies, whose role is to entertain the crowd and because of her analogies we can suppose that she manages to achieve this goal easily, although she has a lot of troubles in her life, a longing that makes her sit on the floor, put her hands on her legs and by looking in nowhere in front of her, get lost in her feelings. Toulouse-Lautrec puts such a woman, from the “common” to a higher level and drives her to a modern situation, where she’s not anymore property of any father or husband and she’s drawn in her thoughts, passions and feelings, seeming confused by all these.

Almost the same period, a tragic figure, independent, legendary handsome, sinner and victim of her feelings, enters the worldwide cultural tradition. Spanish Carmen becomes an Opera and Bizet extracts his own regret for his boring erotic life by her passion. The emblematic Habanera is, in my opinion, the most characteristic foreshadowing of the following drama and for this reason it’s not a light song (I’ve been in fights for the style of Habanera, true). There’s no better way to say this, than with its own lyrics: “Love is a gypsy’s child, it has never, never known what law is, if you do not love me, I love you, but if i love you, then beware!” (“L’amour est enfant de BohêmeIl n’a jamais, jamais connu de loi, si tu ne m’aimes pas, je t’aime, mais si je t’aime, prends garde à toi !”).

The drama, the words and thoughts of Carmen can easily put in the mind of the redhead dancer and the rhythm of her dance can excellently follow a Habanera. Sinner and victim simultaneously, instantaneously vulnerable, she fights herself and in the next performance she will perform Carmen.

9. Robert Delaunay, Champs de Mars: La Tour Rouge (Champs de Mars: The Red Tower) – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor

Delaunay is a quite peculiar painter, as he was in the core of a small group who created a short in duration artistic current in Paris, for which the poet Guillaume Apollinaire found the name “Orphism” (from the Greek mythological hero, Orpheus) and is considered as a part of Cubism. In a series of his paintings he captured one of the most symbolic monuments of humanity, symbol of an era, of a passage to a more improved stage of material and technological evolution, the Eiffel Tower. The Tower, considered in the past and present by many people as an ugly iron structure is, in my opinion, one of the most aesthetically nice human creations, giving a character to a whole city, pointing its contribution to the world.

In this painting, named, “Champs de Mars: The Red Tower”, Delaunay gives a view of the Tower as it can be seen from many different points of the french capital, projecting the edge of the streets, between the buildings. The buildings create the outline, always in an abstract way with natural and simple geometric forms, whereas the lighter background with pieces of green and curves is the huge Champs de Mars, the field who has at its end the creation of Gustave Eiffel.

This picture needs its own music and it’s true that at the period of the construction of the Tower, french music was in an extremely romantic phase, expressing other things that characterized the Parisian society of the end of 19th century, but not the tremendously revolutionary and innovative engineering, or the revolutionary scientific leaps made in french institutions. Although, this new element exists in the music of that era, even if it came from another country, which, back then – in contrast to today – conserved excellent relations with France, giving to the City of Light one of its most wonderful sightseeings, the Pont Alexandre III.

Obviously, this country is Russia, whose culture isn’t considered purely European by some “new-smart-ass-French”. Someone with elementary knowledge, though, cannot doubt for the origin of this complex, which is completely irrelevant with the contribution of France to the culture of the world. Nevertheless, if there is a representative of Russian culture who forbids any kind of these doubts, this is Tchaikovsky!

Tchaikovsky’s Concert for Piano No.1 is one of his marvelous works, whereas, in my humble opinion, is the best Concert for Piano ever written. This work suits brilliantly with the picture, or better the ensemble of pictures, presented by Delaunay in his paintings. “Modern Paris” of a golden era, 100 years after the French Revolution, giving its lights to the world, is a legendary city, as legendary as Tchaikovsky’s music, without any exaggeration in romance, with everything on it being on top, absolutely real, material and accessible for someone who participates to everything happening in this place and becomes in the mean time observer, creator and contributor. Paris of that period gave Eiffel Tower, created the basis for the artistic leaps expressed by Delaunay and changed the world in such a way that Tchaikovsky was able to write his marvelous work! All together in a composition give us an intense sense of this orgasm and the 20 minutes of the Concerto’s 1st movement are enough if we want to make a travel in time.

10. Eugène Delacroix, La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People) – Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No: 9 in D Minor, «Choral»: IV. Presto

Last but not least, I left a magnificent moment of human history. One of the events that marked not only the history, but our evolution as a species, the process of our thinking and the shaping of the social relations in Earth, was the French Revolution. If someone doesn’t know, French Revolution was a process that lasted more than a year, it started in 1789 and it happened again and again for almost a century, until the Parisian Commune in 1871. The artist who achieved, better than anyone, to describe this eternal process on a canvas was Delacroix, who, in 1830, created the painting “Liberty Leading the People” as a tribute to July Revolution of the same year, which has its legendary monument in Bastille.

The painting is something more than epic. Liberty dominates, in the shape of a woman, to whom, the romantic French, not only gave her a name, Marianne, but made her one of the symbols of their Republic. Behind her, upstanding, the armed people, but also under her feet, among debris, people who gave their life in order to put her on their bodies, waving the tricolore flag, symbol of the democratic coexistence of different classes in a society, the true meaning of the bourgeois democratic revolutions. Even if some figures are more visible, bourgeois, peasants, workers, a child, with two arms in his hands, and also the figure of someone who gets over the corpses looking to her presence the hope, Liberty has an arm in her hand whose many similar are seen in the background, disappearing behind the dust. The scene reminds of the setting of historic events around Hôtel de Ville and Delacroix makes this clear, as he puts Notre Dame in such a way and perspective, as it’s seen from that place.

This magnificent scene of human history could be combined only with the best ever music work that our species achieved to create up to today. To define the least, many specialists have expressed themselves, finding me in agreement and with no doubts. Beethoven Symphony No. 9 is the best ever happened to the musical creation through time, whereas its last choral movement, known also as “Ode to Joy”, no matter if some consider it banal, no matter if many used it with so many unsuitable ways, committing artistic crimes, is the absolute tribute to one feeling, among the most difficult to describe. The joy of the realized hope not of one, not of a people, but of all peoples on Earth, symbolized by this painting, sounds through this Beethoven melody, who spoke with “daughter of Elysium” and she told him her secrets.

As an afterword…

The process of writing of this article wasn’t an easy task. The described experiment, after the decision to share, was finally only the basis onto which the thoughts that are briefly referred were developed. The process to capture this with words and not in a general way, was something that helped me understand something more than the will of every work’s creator, but what I could take from it, based on my memories. For this reason, as I said in the introduction, the reason of sharing it is to motivate others to do the same. In the end I can say that if someone goes a step further, trying to express their thoughts on them, they will feel that they will extract a part of themselves – and maybe this is the deep meaning of artistic communication, the ability of both the creator and public to be expressed through an artwork. This is the power of great, eternal art!

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