Monday, January 28, 2013

L'arte de la Nocturne

In the 1870s James McNeil Whistler, at the urging of a patron, began to draw the connection between his paintings and contemporary music.  The series which he originally titled 'moonlights' he renamed 'nocturnes.' Musical compositions with the title of nocturne are meant to remind the listener of the night, the subject of each of the paintings in Whistler's series.  For many years popular opinion held that poetry and painting were appropriately related, but Whistler drew the connection between musical and physical composition.

Frédéric Chopin was becoming popular at the same time that Whistler's career was reaching maturity and his music inspired the change in the painter's titles.  Today the relation between any of the visual arts and music is taken for granted and expected, but critiques were confused and angered by Whistler's new ideas.  Not only did Whistler create a scandal by ignoring propriety, he ventured into abstraction at a time when this style was considered talentless.  Nocturne in Black and Gold: Falling Rocket is Whistler's most abstract work, consisting of the sparks of a rocket in the night sky.  The gentle dotting of light in the black field reminiscent of the sprinkling of melody over the low, swelling base of Chopin's nocturnes was refused the status of art by many a critique.

Whistler was also taking part in creating from experience, painting as he saw the world.  This new artistic concept continued in both painting and music.  Nocturnes are an example of the composer's interpretation of a natural phenomena, night.  Béla Bartóck wrote nocturnes in the early 20th century which were his interpretation of the actual sounds of the night.  Theater was going through a similar transformation as plays increasingly became realistic and socially conscious.  Playwrights interpreted modern life and presented their visions to audiences without the crutch of mythology or romanticism.  A contemporary of Whistler, T.W. Robertson wrote the play Society which was a realistic portrayal of late 19th century London society.  This play is perhaps the best example of the new styles of acting and directing which drew directly from reality.

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