MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Snowblinded by Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin: Happy Holiday, 1999; acrylic and graphite on canvas

Agnes Martin: Happy Holiday, 1999; acrylic and graphite on canvas

What a joy to spend an afternoon at Tate Modern’s major retrospective of Agnes Martin. Of particular fascination are the parallels with yet stark deviations from Minimalism, the tension between form and medium and expressive yearning.

Martin’s approach to color reinforces her formal restraint, yet paradoxically opens up a vast new dimension of sensual intensity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cycle of twelve paintings, The Islands.

These variants on Martin’s signature grids, in white, create an unsurpassably beautiful experience. Their contemplative serenity left me almost snow blind, dizzy, visually drunk. Readjusting to the “normal” white of the walls, the everyday noises of shoes echoing, becomes a challenge. How to decompress?

Martin on her art:

My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form.

Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness,one cannot make works of art.

Filed under: aesthetics, art, painting

The Isle of the Dead

I was recently studying Rachmaninoff’s famous tone poem for a project. This interpretation by Evgeny Svetlanov and the BBC Symphony I rather enjoy — especially how they bring off the brooding opening.

Here’s one of the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin’s several color paintings of the famous image that inspired Rachmaninoff. (The composer said he preferred the black and white reproduction that gave him his first impression of the painting, claiming he may not have composed the tone poem had he seen the original first.)

Isola_dei_Morti_IV_(Bocklin)

Regarding extramusical inspirations, Rachmaninoff once remarked:

When composing, I find it is of great help to have in mind a book just recently read, or a beautiful picture, or a poem. Sometimes a definite story is kept in mind, which I try to convert into tones without disclosing the source of my inspiration.

As for The Isle of the Dead, which he composed while in Dresden in 1909 Rachmaninoff specifically stated: “When it came how it began — how can I say? It all came up within me, was entertained, written down.”

Filed under: aesthetics, painting, Rachmaninoff

Another View of Semele

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

For another angle on the Semele myth treated by Handel, here’s a painting by Giulio Pippi (called Giulio Romano) and Workshop (before 1499-1546), from the Getty Museum. The painting depicts the happy outcome of poor Semele’s demise. From the Getty’s description:

Originally part of a series of mythological love stories, this panel is a comment on passion’s perils. Semele, a mortal impregnated by Jupiter (Roman king of the gods), is consumed by fire after the god’s jealous wife, Juno (queen of the gods), tricks her into looking directly at him despite his warnings. Below is the newborn Bacchus (god of wine), Semele’s son by Jupiter. As the hapless father flees clutching his thunderbolts, Juno looks on apprehensively.

Filed under: Handel, painting, photography

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