BLOG #4: Comparison of Impressionistic and Romantic Art Styles

I find the Impressionist approach to art very appealing. In fact, every artist that this lesson has introduced produced at least a few works that I really like, and I feel more strongly about this art form than most of the earlier periods. Let me try to explain why.

The very name Impressionism indicates the goal of these artists: to make an impression upon the viewer about a scene, to evoke an emotional response rather than to directly imitate an external appearance. Personally, I think this philosophy represents the highest achievement of visual art – the communication of emotions. While all art seeks to inspire a reaction of some type, Impressionist art is intended to subtly suggest a specific feeling that the viewer ought to experience.

I also find it a bit of a paradox that this insistence on subduing realism to emotion was an early influence on abstract art. After all, abstract art is about sending messages that are open to interpretation, right? This is something I’d like to see answered as I continue studying this course.

So with that being said, here are a couple of examples of art in both Romantic and Impressionist styles that I really like. I use these examples to compare the styles.

Here is a painting by Pierre Renoir titled Girl Stretched out on the Grass. This work was painted in 1890 while Renoir was living in Paris. It is a fine example of the emphasis on light and color, with shapes deliberately blurred. It almost allows you to feel the shimmering heat rays that a meadow appears to emit under bright sunlight and gives you a hazy, relaxed feeling. There is little to actually look at in this picture, but there is much to experience.

Contrast this with a study along similar lines done by Eugene Delacroix, a famous Romantic painter. This painting was called Two Moroccans seated in the Countryside. The time and place of this painting’s creation are unknown, but it would have been between Delacroix’s first visit to Morocco in 1832 and his death in 1863, placing it at least 30 years prior to Girl, above.

This painting is a fine work of illustration. You get a sense of the starkness of the scene and the characters appear worn and busy, even as they rest. Colors are bold, forms are crisp. Delacroix’s message is not about what these characters may be feeling. Rather he wishes us to see what he saw in his travels, perhaps slightly dramatized.

The difference between these styles is clear. I personally like both. In comparing these two specifically, I cannot even say which I prefer. But I connect with Renoir’s painting. I feel what he felt, or at least that is how it seems to me.

Here is another set of contrasts, done by the same pair of artists, The first painting is Renoir’s Rocky Craigs at l’Estaque, done in 1882, probably in France soon after his visit to Italy which ended in that year. The second is Delocroix’s The Porte d’Amont, Etretat, painted in 1849, probably at Delacroix’s Paris studio.

Once again, these are comparable and very professional studies of rocky, craggy landscapes. But what a contrast! Again, light and color rule Renoir’s work, coupled with soft strokes that defy boundaries between his objects. Delacroix’s work is rather an organized, drawn-and-colored reproduction of a place that he found interesting and that he felt he could share.

Of course, I picked paintings with similar subject matter to demonstrate some major contrasts in styles for this blog. Other paintings, even by these two great artists, share more qualities than not. The differences aren’t always this stark. But they do exist.

Is one style better? I don’t think so. In fact, the Romantic style of art comes very close in my book to being as aesthetically pleasing as Impressionistic art. But I definitely have a soft spot for the way Impressionism can conjure up a mood. That, to me, is its unique quality.

http://www.renoirgallery.com/biography.asp

http://www.eugenedelacroix.org/biography.html

http://www.renoirgallery.com/gallery.asp?id=237

http://www.artilim.com/artist/delacroix-eugene/two-moroccans-seated-in-the-countryside/

http://www.renoirgallery.com/gallery.asp?id=130

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/eugene-delacroix/the-porte-d-amont-etretat-1849

BLOG #3: A Masterpiece by the “Father of the Symphony”

The Classical era produced a skillful and prolific composer in Austrian musician Franz Joseph Haydn. During his long life, he experienced almost every type of musical environment in existence and composed at least a little in every musical form as well. 

Born into a musical family in 1732, he was raised as an apprentice to a musician, which gave him both theoretical and practical musical knowledge. During his twenties, he struggled to maintain himself as an independent composer, occasionally working for the nobility; then at the age of 31 he became a court composer and his career began to flourish. 

After almost thirty years working as chief musician for the court of the Esterhazy family, Haydn found himself justly famous as a master in the developing symphonic form, as well as for his chamber music. With the blessing of his employers, he began composing works commissioned by foreigners, and travelling around Europe to conduct them. 

Between 1791 and 1795, at the behest of the impresario Johann Salomon, Haydn composed a set of 12 symphonies specifically for a musical audience in London, England. He also spent much time in England conducting these and other works by him, to the point that he was a fluent English speaker by the time he returned permanently to Vienna in 1796, where he lived for the remainder of his life. 

The London cycle of symphonies contains several symphonies for which Haydn is still known today. They are considered his best, for they are remarkably fine works that foreshadow many of the developments that later took place in the mid- to late-1800’s. Among these is his Symphony No. 94 in G Major, popularly known both then and now as the Surprise Symphony. 

While relatively straightforward as a whole, the symphony incorporates a fortissimo crash, for no apparent reason, near the beginning of the second movement, Andante. This unexpected bit of whimsy bemused and fascinated Haydn’s English audience, just as he no doubt intended. 

Here is a link to the entire second movement. The surprise is in the first minute of the recording. I would say the exact time, but then what would happen to the suspense? Listen at least once. It’s quite humorous. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uq78fAgTevs 

Of course, the work can stand on its own without the help of the surprise at all. For instance, this movement goes on to a C minor variation that sounds remarkably modern and incorporates a nice bit of brass orchestration. 

The context of this symphony is vital, for Haydn, by this time, found himself composing for the public at large. In the 1750’s he was barely able to scrape by, living off of occasional publications of his early works and a few noble commissions. Now, forty years later, an entire educated public was eager for him to travel from Vienna to London to conduct symphonies old and new for them. What better indication of the importance of the middle class to the development of music? What more could an aged composer achieve, in return for a lifetime of court composition, than sudden popularity among common people? Indeed, Haydn had the honor of conducting the London symphonies in one of the earliest public concert halls in Britain, the Hanover Square Rooms. No longer was he, or his music, the exclusive privilege of the counts and royal houses. Now, the masses were willing and eager to hear his work. 

Runciman, J.F. (2009). Haydn. (Reissue ed.). BiblioBazaar.

Hadden, J.C. (2010). Haydn. (Reissue ed.). London: Cambridge University Press.

Brendel, A. (2001). “Does classical music have to be entirely serious?”. In Margalit et. al. Isaiah Berlin: A Celebration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

BLOG #2: A Snippet of Baroque Music

The Baroque period saw the composition of musical works of the highest order, for some of the finest composers in history lived during this time. Among these was George Frederic Handel, a German by birth who travelled extensively throughout Europe and spent most of his adult life in England.

 

Handel’s music, like that of his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach, has endured for over 250 years since his death in 1759. He provided the Western culture with timeless ideas and melodies that are still found in music to this day. In particular, his “Hallelujah Chorus” from the oratorio Messiah is familiar to a vast majority of the Western population.

 

Another of his works for which he was famous in his day, and which continues to be among his most popular compositions, is the three-suite instrumental work Water Music (HMV 348-350) composed in 1717. Handel, by this time, had spent five years in London and was on his way to recasting himself as an icon of British music. Furthermore, the work was written specifically for a royal occasion – a performance on the River Thames to accompany a river trip by the court of King George I of England.

 

Because of the length of this work, I chose to analyze only the first part, Suite 1 in F major. This section of Water Music contains eleven movements and lasts around 26 – 28 minutes in performance. Here is a link to the entirety of Suite 1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABaYmjWQWSA&feature=related

 

(I should point out that the video at this link is adorned with an impressionistic painting of nudes. Some people find the art detracting, but some appreciate it. In any case, I used this link simply because it actually gives the entire work and not for any effect by the art on the music itself.)

 

To me, a lot of music of this period is serious and deep. I like this work because it maintains depth without being somber. Much of the suite is upbeat and quick, owing to the dance forms on which most of the movements are based. The music is very skillfully orchestrated and several sections place a lot of emphasis on the horn section. Because Handel was unable to incorporate a harpsichord or timpani into the work (limitations caused by performance on a boat) he had to make his string and wind sections work that much harder. I think he succeeded very nicely and I like his material a lot. It does not sound too dated.

 

This work has a direct and fascinating connection to royal influence. As stated above, the music was composed specifically for a royal occasion. However, there is no direct evidence that it was commissioned. Rather, it is thought to have been intended as a surprise demonstration to King George of Handel’s ability as a composer (and conductor, since he oversaw the river performance). Handel was interested in taking over the position of head of the Royal Academy of Music and he seems to have felt that this type of display of skill would tip the scales in his favor, as far as the royal benefactor was concerned.

 

An interesting (and probably apocryphal) twist in this story concerns the supposedly strained relationship between Handel and King George I. Handel’s German upbringing had made him a subject of the Duke of Hanover in Germany, and he is said to have settled in London in preference to service as a musician to the Duke’s court. Due to the passing of the British throne to the House of Hanover, the Duke was none other than the future King George I, and his arrival in London caused difficulty for Handel, or so the story goes. Whether or not there actually were any hard feelings, we may never know, but it is entertaining to imagine that Water Music may have also been something of an attempt to regain lost favor with an estranged benefactor.

 

In any case, the work served its purpose, and Handel went on to serve the British people as a royal composer for many years, before he turned to the composition of oratorios.

 

Whatever the intent behind its creation, Water Music is a fine example by a fine composer of the depth and genius of music in the Baroque period. It continues to be quoted in modern music and no doubt will be a much-played work for years to come.

 

Citations:

 

Water Music, HWV 348-350 (Handel, George Frederic). Retrieved 18 June 2012 from http://imslp.org/wiki/Water_Music,_HWV_348-350_(Handel,_George_Frideric

 

Hogwood, Christopher. (2006). Handel: Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Cambridge University Press.

 

Handel-Haus, Center for the Fostering of Handel Studies Worldwide. (online)

Retrieved 18 June 2012 from http://www.haendel.haendelhaus.de/en/Biography/Biographic_Details/england/

BLOG #1: Example of Visual Art from the Renaissance

Image

For an example of Renaissance visual art, I’m choosing an engraving done by my favorite artist of the period, Albrecht Durer.

While Durer’s work covered the whole spectrum of visual art forms – as might be expected of one of the greatest artists of the Northern Renaissance – he specialized in engravings. He used both wood and copper for his work in this medium. Among Durer’s most famous engravings are a series of 3 works, done in copper by his own hand, in the early 1500’s. I’d like to focus on the second of these, a work that I find particularly fascinating both in conception and execution.

Knight, Death, and the Devil first saw the light of day in 1513, in Nurnberg (modern Nuremberg), Germany. The work was completed at a time when Durer had just recently begun service as an artist to Maximilian I of Germany. However, no commission was responsible for the creation of the work. Durer crafted it purely from inspiration.

This engraving exemplifies perfectly Durer’s use of symbolism and unwritten themes in his art. Various devices – some obvious, some subtle – convey a number of messages that are open to interpretation by the viewer, but without question the overall tone is one of grimness, solemnity, and doom. It strikes me anew every time I view it and attempt in vain to grasp the message.

I believe this work also reflects the humanism thought of the time. After all, the subject and central character of the work is the knight, and the storyline that is captured in this scene revolves around the struggle and ultimate fate of the knight. And indeed, it has been suggested that the inspiration for the knight may have come from Durer’s familiarity with the work of the humanist scholar Erasmus, who in his 1504 book Instructions for the Christian Soldier penned a vivid passage of the ideal religious warrior.

Although many meanings have been teased out of this work, it is first and foremost a fascinating and grim allegorical depiction. I consider it to be among the finest examples of the visual arts that may be found from the entire Renaissance period. Durer’s skill in arranging the many symbols in this work and ability to work in fine detail keeps me coming back every so often to see what new things I myself can discover in it.

REFERENCES:

“Albrecht Dürer: Knight, Death, and the Devil (43.106.2)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Retrieved from  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/43.106.2 (October 2006)

Albrecht Durer. (2012). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/174214/Albrecht-Durer/1950/Second-journey-to-Italy (June 2012)