Sunday, October 20, 2013

Something I Learned about Writing Music from Mr. Matisse

Yesterday Michael and I went to a Matisse exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures exhibit came from the Baltimore Museum of Art's Cone Collection, which is the largest private collection of Matisse's work. It was but a sliver of his total output, but it was enough to get the gist of what made him "tick" as an artist.

Like Picasso, Matisse had an extraordinary amount of pure technique. He could do anything, and he did everything constantly, working from the purely representational through all kinds of abstraction in search of what he wanted to say for that particular piece. There are, of course, many ways of saying the same thing. One might not be more successful than the other, but that doesn't matter. Presenting an image from one perspective may not be better than presenting it from another. Today I prefer the first image of this scene, but tomorrow I may prefer the second (I did see the first in the "flesh" yesterday).

Maybe Matisse's attraction to sculpture had something to do with the inside-out nature of three-dimensional art: the sculpture is seen from many different angles, and the "composition" is supplied by the viewer.

Neither of these piano-oriented paintings were in yesterday's exhibit, but I learned a great deal about looking at them from having seen the Matisse works in the exhibit that used the same scenes or the same objects.

The Peters Haydn edition on the piano in the first image has special meaning for me, and so does the Pleyel Piano. I love the way these two paintings work together. One is lively and interactive, with a sense of everything belonging to everything else (including the otherwise-absorbed father of the child, and the person listening outside). In the second image the boy is left alone, and a metronome sits on the piano. The light is the same, and the art on the wall has changed somewhat. Matisse changed the painting-within-the-painting too, giving the the woman the illusion of a face that is turned towards the boy. The father has been replaced with a female sculpture (which seems to be more attentive than the father), and the boy has a different face. The violin has vanished. Both are complete paintings that "say" very different things.

Something I learned from Mr. Matisse about writing music (or what I am learning from Mr. Matisse about writing music) is that everything is about composition. What goes where. Something complete and lively can be just as satisfying as something with fewer elements in it. The way to get those elements to work best together comes from a mixture of technique, intuition, trial, error, and taking many risks.

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