Music and the visual arts have inspired each other for centuries.In the 19th century Mussorgsky, Liszt and other Romantics virtually created a separate genre of music inspired by art. In 1909 Rachmaninov's The Isle of the Dead had its origins in Arnold Boecklin's painting of the same name (above), and this was followed by Respighi's Botticelli Tryptich (from The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli) and Martinu's Frescoes of Piero della Francesca (from Piero Della Francesca's Discovery of the True Cross).
Although less common there are also examples of art works inspired by music. The French artist Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) created both a painting (L'Anniversaire. Souvenir de décembre 1875) and a set of fourteen lithographs inspited by Berlioz's musical output. Probably the most famous example of art based on music is the so-called 'Chagall Ceiling' in l'Opéra Garnier in Paris where Marc Chagall's famous paintings are inspired by nine musical works.
And visual art inspired by music is still very much alive today. My recent article 'L'Orgue Mystique' - the music paid homage to Charles Tournemire's extraordinary cycle of fifty-one organ pieces covering the whole Catholic liturgical year. Artist Tom Walker went considerably further in his homage to Tournemire's masterpiece, as he describes in his own words:
'The mystical radiance, tenderness and majesty of this music inspired me to respond visually with The Mystic Image, a corresponding cycle of 51 5-part pastel triptychs (each 100x125 cms) laid out in the order introit, offertory, elevation, communion and postlude. To reflect Tournemire's encompassing theme of light overcoming darkness I worked on black paper, each mark thus representing light. My intention was to evoke the atmosphere of the music within the context of the words of the chants whilst referring to elements of the composer's life and faith. Thus, the sea and rocks of his island retreat, Ouessant; the cathedrals he loved and his belief in the manifestation of God in Nature play essential parts in the image sequences.'
The two images above, and the one below, are from Tom Walker's cycle The Mystic Image. He has worked in almost all the different types of two-dimensional media since the mid 1960s, although he has specialised in pastel work since the mid 1980s. Most of his work between 1985 and 1995 was related to music. As well as the The Mystic Image other works from this period relate to the music of Jehan Alain, and Olivier Messiaen, and between 1991 and 2000, he painted a large mural (120’ x 12’) inspired by Claude Debussy's music.
All fifty-one of Tom Walker's The Mystic Image triptychs can be viewed on his excellent web site. They were created in the late 1980's, and were displayed in Minneapolis in 1989 and 1990 in conjunction with a complete performance of L'Orgue Mystique in its liturgical context. This cycle was played by some 50 different organists at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis. The organists included Timothy Tikker, Michael Ferguson, Lawrence Archbold and Kathy Handford, the latter was one of the main organisers and responsible for arranging the exhibition of the triptychs there. The Mystic Image has also been exhibited in numerous other churches and cathedrals in the UK, France, Holland, Germany and the USA.
Tom Walker has also created seven large paintings inspired by Tournemire's Sept Chorales-Poèmes pour les Sept Paroles du Christ of 1935. These can be seen at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Islington, London, where they are on permanent loan. They were toured extensively in the UK and across Europe, between 1993 and 1996, in conjunction with performances of the Chorales. This ended with a performance by Mark Brafield in Beauvais Cathedral in France in 1996. This is the cathedral that inspired Tournemire to write the Chorales, but they had never been performed there before.
Now read about L'Orgue Mystique - the music
Picture credits - Boecklin, The Isle of the Dead - Mezzo Mondo
L'Orgue Mystique, No. 28 – The Office for The Sacred Heart, No. 51 – The Office for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost "Te Deum laudamus", and No. 29 – The Office for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost - Tom Walker
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