Some years ago I found myself thinking of the connections between painting and music. The proportions of objects, colors and textures of a painting are magnificently calibrated by the artist. What if you take these as a pattern to create a musical composition? Would it be as interesting and surprising as the painting?
These thoughts came to my mind when I lived in Barcelona and visited the famous Fundació Joan Miró. His artwork, the strength of his paintings, his unique language of symbols deeply impressed me.
Thinking about using a picture as a starting point for composing a piece of music, it was soon clear to me, that there was plenty of inspiration in the world of Joan Miró.
1 — The Gold of the Azure (1967) is maybe one of Miró’s most well known paintings. The song starts with the piano weaving a blue ball of wool. The bass crosses it with a fine and soft line. Out of that a strong melody rises, circling the blue object and leading back to it after passing some small and tricky obstacles. Back in the ball of wool, the baritone solo starts and tries to capture the colors of the blue sky and the yellow sun over the Mediterranean Sea.
2 — Bird, Insect, Constellation (1974). The heavy black ground is represented by the lowest note on the baritone saxophone, d flat. The scary insect and the exploding stars inspired me to write an evil piece, with an uncomfortable piano melody, outbursts of energy and an insecure and anxious feeling.
3 — Landscape on the Banks of the River Amur (1927) is also an angry piece of music. Miró produced the painting after reading the novel “Sur le fleuve Amour”, from Joseph Delteil. It tells the story of Ludmilla Androff, the young commander of a women’s regiment in the Tsar’s army during the Russian revolution. With harsh sounds and fast melodies I wanted to make audible the feelings of shock, rush and war.
4 — The first version of Self-Portrait (1937–38) is a very fine and detailed picture. There are a lot of different things going on, small events and figures,
layers on top of each other ... More than twenty years later, Joan Miró decided that it no longer suited his actual artistic vision. Over a copy of the original picture, he created with only a few brush strokes a new Self-Portrait (1960). In our musical adaption, the first part of the piece repre- sents the early version. It is recorded with a tape recorder and played back at the end of the piece, where the band paints the new Self-Portrait over the copy.
5 — In The Skiing Lesson (1966) I translated every detail of the picture into music. The theme, played three times, starts in the lower left corner and follows the black line. Every object is an event played by one or several musicians of the ensemble. Progressively the saxophone leads into a solo over chords chosen to fit the colors of the object in the center of the painting. The first part of the solo represents the rectangular part at the top. The main part of the solo is the big circle. It ends moving to the small circle to the right, half blue, half red. Now, the piano solo begins. The object to the bottom right – a grand piano – was the obvious shape I used to derive the harmonical structure of the solo. Short melodies conclude the piece, corresponding to the upper right corner of the painting.
6 — In the 1930s, Miró painted several series of pictures later called the “Wild Paintings”. They are full of monstrous creatures and expressive colors, foreseeing the shadows of the Spanish
Civil War that broke out in 1936. Portrait of a Young Girl (1935) falls into this period of time. At first sight it is a quiet and poetic picture, but there are also menacing and apprehensive elements present. My composition expresses those feelings.
7 — Landscape at Night (1966–74)
reminded me of the view from Begues, a small town in the Catalan hillside. Standing atop of the hill at night you see the lights of Barcelona city and its airport, which contrast with the darkness of the sea. Imagine you are sitting there in the middle of the night, quietly enjoying the view. Almost nothing happens, but the moment is so beautiful that you wish it would never pass.
8 — The first time I saw the painting Woman (1976), I had to smile. It looked very funny to me, like a comic-book character. It inspired me to write a kind of blues that is both humorous and struggling.
9 — To write music about a painting entitled Silence (1968) seems contradictory. However, looking at the picture, it contains various such contrasts. It appears very active for something called Silence. There are elements that could be eighth notes and
at the same time triplets, sharp black lines and objects against blurred colors, printed letters all over the painting. According to these contrasts our music expresses different shapes of density, dynam- ics and rhythm, until it finally fades out in silence.
All compositions by Matthias Tschopp
All paintings by Joan Miró © Successió Miró/2013, ProLitteris, Zurich