Sunday, June 23, 2024

Visual Arts That Inspire Music

We often say that art inspires, but are never too specific about it. It is interesting to think about how one field of art can inspire another and so it is with the visual arts and music. I am speaking of inspiration and not necessarily historical accuracy.

Coming across a list of contemporary art-inspired musicians and rappers brought to mind a song I remember from my youth, Dean Martin singing Mona Lisa. He was not the first person to sing it, but I know he was played on “The Make Believe Ball Room Time” with Martin Block in the 1950s when I listened to the show with my father. I doubt I have to explain the painting so here is the song.

Paul Simon drew on the surreal artist René Magritte for his song “René and Georgette Magritte with their Dog after the War.” Simon did not take his inspiration from a Magritte painting but rather from a photograph taken shortly before the artist died in 1967 which inspired his lyrics.

The images Simon references in the song suggest Magritte’s Post War return to Surrealism. Here is the lovely song.

For something a bit more contemporary in style, we have David Bowie’s song “Andy Warhol”. Sarah Gascone wrote of that song in 2016, “ ‘Andy Warhol, silver screen/Can’t tell them apart at all.’ The words reference Wahol’s wide range of creative achievements, from music to art to film, and capture just what an important figure he was for the evolution of art.” This in spite of the fact that they did not care for each other.

Funny, but I never have thought of the Statue of Liberty as a work of art but, of course, it is. As we know it was a gift from the people of France by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. It was dedicated in New York Harbor on Liberty Island in 1886. In this case, the song in its honor is quite literal. A group I have never heard of before, XTC, sang the song that starts out:

The first time I saw you standing in the water
You must have been all of a thousand feet tall
Nearly naked, unashamed like Herod's daughter
Your love was so big it made New York look small …

A lot of works of art have inspired classical music but the relationship is not always as obvious as a song with lyrics. Therefore, I have left this example for last because it is not short but if you are into classical music you might want to hear it all. Here there is a very direct correlation between the artist and his influence on music. Modest Mussorgsky composed “Pictures at an Exhibition” in memory of his friend, the Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, who died at age 39 in 1873. The composer visited a retrospective of Hartmann’s sketches, stage designs, and architectural studies and felt the need to translate the experience to a piano suite in 10 movements.

Here is the orchestrated version by Maurice Ravel with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Orchestra. 

If I have piqued your curiosity there are many more examples you can find and you probably have a few favorites of your own.

No comments:

Post a Comment