Musings on Art and Music


Exhibition view. Photos: Museum Wiesbaden / Bernd Fickert

The visual arts and music have been companion and rival art forms since Antiquity, and for a long time were perceived as so different as to be incompatible. The Ancients thought visual art was inferior to music, which they considered the “purest” of all the arts. Yet the connections between the two have always been there – as you will see. Check out our new Spotify playlists to get a whole new take on our collection!

Early links

Although art and music exhibited certain parallels, albeit still as “rivals”, explicit connections – in the form of close personal and creative ties between composers and artists, for example – were very rare. When the two art forms did meet, it was usually when they were concerned with the same subject matter. Although from a completely different era, the Walsdorf Crucifix, on display in the Old Masters gallery, is from the same religious context as Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The central figure in the artwork, which probably dates from the late 12th century, is Christ on the Cross, symbolizing the events of Good Friday as narrated in the Bible. The St. Matthew Passion, which had its first performance in 1727, tells the same story, and this is what connects it – indirectly – with the sculpture. The tragedy of the Passion is encapsulated in the opening chorus “Kommt ihr Töchter, helft mit klagen” (Come, daughters, help me lament!).

Art and music in the 19th century

By the 19th century the division between art and music was fading fast, even though music was still considered to be the origin of all the arts. This was when programme music came into its own, with musical settings not only of literary works but also of works of art.

You can find an example of this in our special exhibition Cows, Noble Ladies and Enchanted Landscapes … Or a Love Affair with Painting: New Arrivals from the 19th. It is the Brahms Fantasies by Max Klinger – the artist even sent a copy of the work to the composer Johannes Brahms directly after finishing it. Here Klinger depicts scenes from the Prometheus myth, interspersing them with excerpts from the scores of various song-settings by Brahms, including Alte Liebe (Old Love) and the Schicksalslied
(The Song of Destiny). But in his illustrations Klinger references not only Brahms’ compositions but also the Prometheus myth – the story that Brahms set to music, in other words. He thus created a work that might be classified as a Gesamtkunstwerk
– a term coined by Richard Wagner.

“Music, after all, is that which we call harmony [and repose] in all the arts. Thus there must be music through words in a beautiful poem, just as there must be music in a beautiful picture and in a beautiful building, or any kind of idea which is expressed through lines.”

— Philipp Otto Runge

And then?

As the 19th century progressed, colour increasingly took centre stage. Eugène Delacroix and Adolf Hölzel (both of whom feature in our exhibition New Arrivals from the 19th), for example, described it as “the musical part of painting”, and it was via colour that Wassily Kandinsky, Arnold Schönberg, and other modern artists later developed their theories about the interaction between art and music.

“I believe, just as music has its theory of counterpoint and harmony, so painting, too, must seek to arrive at a theory of artistic contrasts of whatever kind … In this way, the sovereignty over nature must be achieved that makes art something out of the ordinary.”

— Adolf Hölzel

For your next visit to the museum

Next time you come to Museum Wiesbaden, keep a look out for places where you can discover connections to music. Maybe you’ll soon be compiling your own personal playlist. We look forward to your visit!

Anika Einig

Translation: Lance Anderson

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