Structural Analogies

4 Fundamental Problematic Aspects of Examining Structural Analogies

To conclude this account of potential structural analogies, mention must be made of several problematic aspects that arise when one examines this phenomenon. As unambiguous visual or acoustic evidence of structural analogies is only rarely available, and given the lack both in the musical sciences and the visual arts of sound or established methods with which such relationships might be systematically documented, analyzed, and then considered in relation to the respective genre-immanent techniques, such examinations tend to have to rely on composers’ and visual artists’ personal statements.

The fact that Franz Liszt’s Hunnenschlacht (Battle of the Huns; 1857) was based on the eponymous painting by Wilhelm von Kaulbach is not evident from its title alone. Similarly, had Modest Mussorgsky not commented on Victor Hartmann — a painter whose exhibition Mussorgsky visited and from among whose paintings he selected ten as inspiration for his piano cycle Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) — a reference to painting may have been presumed, yet one specific to this painter would have been impossible.

One might presume that to take the artists’ or musicians’ own title for a work would be an unambiguous indicator, yet on closer inspection this is revealed to be a relatively unreliable premise. Schoenberg’s Farben was at times called Der wechselnde Akkord (The Changing Chord). Probably nobody would have assumed the latter title had any connection to artists’ colors; and, had anyone done so, the interpretation would have been regarded as interesting, certainly, yet ultimately also as speculative. The title of a work may also be misleading. Alfred Schnittke’s Fünf Fragmente zu Bildern von Hieronymus Bosch nach Texten von Aischylos und Nicolaus Reusner (Five Fragments Based on Paintings by Hieronymus Bosch Inspired by Texts by Aeschylus and Nicolaus Reusner; 1994) was, despite its title, based not on paintings but on epigrams that Schnittke found in a volume of criticism of Bosch’s paintings and that reflect the painter’s intellectual and symbolic realms. Even though Schnittke was familiar with Bosch’s paintings, visual art was never a source of inspiration for his music. It is therefore often impossible to ascertain the extent to which different genres — music, visual art, or other disciplines — influence and overlap with one another.

Moreover, titles of artworks are often employed to metaphorical effect and may therefore lead to misinterpretations. A renowned example of this is František Kupka’s painting Amorfa - Dvoubarevná fuga (Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors; 1912), which has prompted both music and art historians to try and explain where exactly the structures of a musical fugue may be found in the painting. Kupka personally explained the original arbitrary pairing of painting and title in a letter from 1923: I regret to this day the crazy notion that led me to name the painting ’Fugue’ — at the time it was an expedient; it seemed to me — quite conventionally — that I had to provide a figurative title. However, the point was solely the concept of space and time, and the potential to evoke such space-time associations.[14]

In addition, a narrowing of the analytical perspective on the relationships between music and visual arts occurs whenever statements by the composer or visual artist in respect of this matter are available. In other words, an examination of structural analogies based on the titles of works or the statements of composers or visual artists lacks methodological credibility and the aforementioned examples are to be taken with reservation.