Classical 91.5

Musical Mucha

Nov 8, 2019

"For me, the notions of painting, going to church, and music are so closely knit that often I cannot decide whether I like church for its music, or music for its place in the mystery which it accompanies." – Alphonse Mucha

“Mucha studied to be a musician, you know,” he said.

And I had to admit: I didn’t know that, nor a number a number of the other interesting things that my friend shared with me on our wanderings through the Memorial Art Gallery today.

A bit of a resemblance between museum patron and artist (Alphonse Mucha)

We met initially through correspondence over music he heard on the radio, and we have caught up occasionally in person at concerts: a difficult thing, since neither of us drives, and he lives in small town a ways away from the city.  He took the long bus ride in today so that we could spend time in the Mucha exhibit that is currently on display at the MAG (through January 19th).

For insights into Alphonse Mucha’s work and its display here in Rochester, check out Rebecca Rafferty’s exploration of the exhibit in City Newspaper

Salome by Mucha

I'm still stuck on the music.  Mucha was a singer through his teen years; he studied in school and sang in the choir at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Brno. Sources online say that he either gave up music because he of his voice changing/cracking, or just because he was more interested in pursuing visual art.  

Here are a few musical connections that caught our attention today at the exhibit, and a few that I have come across afterwards. 

Salome (1897)
The biblical bad girl Salome has been the subject of music (most notably the opera by Richard Strauss) as well as painting and poetry. Here, Mucha has her looking provocative - and holding a musical instrument, perhaps to accompany herself in the infamous dance of the seven veils? 

Ah, I thought – one of my favorite operas! But this poster is actually from a performance of the play on which the opera is based, promoting a performance before the opera was written. That doesn’t stop publishers from using it on the cover of musical scores for Tosca. There's just part of this verrrryyyy lonnnnggg poster up at the top of the post, and you can see it at its full height in the exhibit. 

Pageant on the Vltava

Neither the snapshots I took, nor the images available online (like the one above) do justice to this work. At the MAG, you can see both a full color version and a black and white sketch. 

And while Mucha wasn't probably thinking music here, I couldn't help but imagine the sounds of Bedrich Smetana's Vltava, better known to classical radio audiences as The Moldau: 

Mucha also depicted music as an abstract idea in his series on The Arts (The Arts: Music (1898)), created a poster for a young cellist friend: Zdeňka Černý (1903), and made a delightful poster for the Moravian Teachers Choir (1911), whose repertoire included music by Leos Janack, who was one of Mucha's fellow choirboys back in Brno. Those works can all be seen at the Mucha Museum in Prague. 

Musical connections seem to follow us, even outside of the Mucha exhibit. My friend drew my attention to a gauzy painting of a woman reading a book that is part of the permanent collection, a work by American artist Thomas Wilmer Dewing. He mentioned that in Dewing’s paintings, women are often depicted with musical instruments.

I was excited to show him the vivid stained glass work The Battle of Carnival and Lent by Judith Schaechter. Chamber ensemble fivebyfive (on whose board I serve) has commissioned four musical pieces inspired by this work.  Here are details on the concert where they will be premiered and the Meet the Composers events over the next few months. And then more of her work will be on display next year, in The Path to Paradise: Judith Schaechter’s Stained-Glass Art (at the MAG February 16-May 20). Looks like a good reason to plan another trip to the museum with a friend...

The Battle of Carnival and Lent (Judith Schaechter, Memorial Art Gallery)