Visual Elements in Music

1 First Attempts to Translate Visual Elements

While the history of color-sound correspondences dates back to pre-Christianity, repeatedly occupying theorists and practitioners, scientists and artists, and while their studies experienced an early summit in the 18th century with the inventions and ideas of the Jesuit priest Louis-Bertrand Castel[1], it is only in the 19th century that composers started to relate music and image to each other and to use paintings as models for musical compositions. Although there had been much earlier attempts to represent visual impressions and events (such as flames, lightning, trembling) in a symbolic musical form (tone painting) or—inaudible to the listener—by blackening the notes accompanying words such as night or death in the score (eye music), it was only with the development of program music as a new form of instrumental music that artists turned to entire paintings as a subject for their musical works. The objective of these programmatic compositions was to stir specific imaginations and to consciously guide the listener’s fantasy through the chosen content.[2]