Some things just go together – love and marriage; horse and carriage; pizza and beer. One needn’t try very hard to find wine suggestions for entrees on a restaurant menu. It seems most folks like pairings, and welcome suggestions for the same.
Fine art and music are sometimes described in similar ways. “Tone,” “color” and “line” are but a few words that characterize both music and art. Pairing the two, therefore, seems natural and appropriate. Both can evoke emotions and can take us on imaginary journeys, and the combination of complimentary pieces can be a delicious feast for the mind.
My own tastes are inclined toward deeper flavors – very deep. I’ve tried, but “subtle” simply isn’t in my repertoir. Neither is “delicate.” Maybe it’s a guy thing or a curmudgeon thing. Some might call them epic or rich or even indulgent, but most of the five pairings I’ve chosen for our consideration are bound to sink into your mind and not easily let go.
To make this work, you’ll have to manage a couple of windows – click on the highlighted song title for the sound, and click on the images to get a closer view. And please don’t rely on the forty-nine cent speakers installed in your computer that make everything sound like a McDonald’s drive-through. Make your experience memorable. Either don a pair of headphones or use fancy-schmancy speakers with surround sound. Then crank them up enough to make the windows rattle.
We begin with a couple of regal pieces – Salvadore Dali’s “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus,” 1959, (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Fla.), paired with “Storm” from the soundtrack of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” written by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman. One is, of course, based on the history of England and the other deals with the history of Spain and the New World, but these two opulant pieces play nicely together without sinking an Armada. Pay attention to the higher vocal parts and the deep undertones of the music and see if, like me, you start assigning sounds to different parts of the painting. Dali’s ‘Discovery’ reflects one facet of the surrealist’s work in which layer upon visual layer play with the mind. He borrows images from his other work, and indulges – as he frequently did – in making sure his beloved wife and muse, Gala, figures prominently in the painting. I love the themes of glorious victory and tragic defeat that are woven into the fiber of both pieces.
For a second pairing, I’ve taken two examples that share elements of romance and magic. Both pieces hint at a large story spilling beyond their respective frames, and in that sense they are narrative. William Waterhouse’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” 1893, (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, Germany), uses John Keats’ ultimately woeful ballad as the painting‘s subject. Waterhouse was among the Pre-Raphaelite group of artists who leaned heavily on romantic idealism drawn from myth and legend. The same legendary theme flows through Philip Glass’s “The Orange Tree” from the soundtrack of “The Illusionist.” A delicate celesta plays with a galloping tempo, suggesting a fleeting romantic moment on the edge of danger. Both pieces exude a deliciousness that is hard to ignore.
Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” was a shoe-in for the next pairing. The incredibly heart-breaking strain of Barber’s well-known piece translates well into my own piece, “Ecce Homo,” 2014, (the artist's collection). This pair is best left to be experienced and not described. If you don’t understand them, you either lack a brain or heart – or both.
We return to Dali’s portfolio for a fourth pairing. “Anthropomorphic Cabinet,” 1936, (K20, Dusseldorf, Germany), shows a far different facet of Dali’s work than our earlier ‘Discovery of America.’ This painting pulls from his nightmarish, Freudian side. Dali began life by being named after a brother that died in infancy, so we can‘t fault him too much if it appears he isn’t working with a full deck. Like James Horner’s “The Car Chase” from the soundtrack of “A Beautiful Mind,” the painting is a tad off-center. It is unnervingly beautiful, but we know that something is not right, and we are allowed to stumble in a quagmire of emotions askew. The surrealism of this Dali is more about haunting questions allowed to rot, rather than a resolution of any kind.
To cleanse our palate of the previous rich offerings, I thought I would end with a much lighter pairing. I’ve put the French standard, “J’Attendrai,” performed by Alison Burns and Martin Taylor, along side Vincent Van Gogh’s “Café Terrace at Night,” 1888, (Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands). Both have that French, lighter-than-air vision which encourages us to enjoy life and not dwell too much on the darker side.
With Van Gogh’s undertones, however, even a cheerful café can get dicey and begin playing its own tune. Sheesh, now all I can think about while listening to “J’Attendrai” is a girl riding a red bicycle. A baguette and bottle of wine are in the bicycle's wicker basket, the girl's hair is tied back and there's a smile on her face.
Sorry Vincent – a little French tune just passed you by.