Structural Analogies

3.1 Spatial Relationships between Forms and Planes

In similar manner to how, at the start of the twentieth century, the visual arts adopted music as a model for the depiction of movement and temporality, music in the latter half of the century looked to the visual arts for inspiration regarding the execution of spatial structures. The ways in which pictorial space was structured and the relationships between various forms or visual levels of a work were now to be applied to the organization of audio material. As radically different types of work and artists served as a reference in this regard, radically different concepts were put into practice.

The systematic composition of Paul Klee’s painting Monument an der Grenze des Fruchtlandes (Monument on the Border of the Fertile Country; 1929) so fascinated Pierre Boulez, for example, that it served as a guideline for Structure Ia (1951), Boulez’s first serial work, a piece for two pianos. While Klee designed a systematic series of square planes by gradually reducing from left to right their horizontal pitch line and thereby expanding the planes, Boulez, in determining all the musical parameters, created an extremely rational form of music to which one might well apply the terms accuracy, rigor, and visible ordering principle, with which Boulez had described Klee’s painting.[7] In his works for piano, Intermission 4 and Intermission 5 (1952), Morton Feldman adopted the all-over structure of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, which, as its name implies, was focused not on a central point but on the whole canvas, indeed, seemed even to extend beyond the latter’s edges. Accordingly, each note in Feldman’s compositions is of equal importance; the compositions have no center, no clear beginning, and no cadence.

Earle Brown, for his part, attempted in December 1952 to transpose to music the constantly shifting interrelationships of the individual elements of Alexander Calder’s mobiles. His score consists merely of a large number of horizontal and vertical black rectangles of varying height and width, spread out across a page. The basic structure of the score is unambiguous and unalterable, comparable to the individual components of a mobile. And yet, any one concrete performance of the piece is comparable to the incessant realignments of a mobile, for the various parts of the score can be interpreted freely.

The reference for Olga Neuwirth’s composition for ensemble with CD recording Hooloomooloo (1997) was the eponymous triptych from Frank Stella’s series Imaginary Places (1994). What inspired Neuwirth’s composition was the apparent three-dimensionality of the triptych’s three individual parts and the slight variations in their surface structure. She selected three variously composed ensembles, each located at a different point in a space. The alternation between the three gave rise to movement in space, analogous to the polarity of spatiality and surface in the painting. She also gave each ensemble its own harmonious potential by altering the scordatura tuning of the string instruments. In this way, analogies to the polarity of foreground and background in a picture emerged.[8]

Besides such transfers of principles, one also finds examples of precise visual transformations of individual musical works. Among these rank, for example, the works of Henrik Neugeboren (Bach-Monument; 1928/1968–1970), Robert Strübin (Musikbild J. S. Bach, Große Fuge g-Moll für Orgel; 1957), and Luigi Veronesi (Visualizzazione cromatica del Contrappunto n. 2 dell’Arte della Fuga di J. S. Bach; 1971), which transposed fugues to a visual medium. Such transfers are visual representations of descriptions of works as a preliminary stage of analysis. For Neugeboren it was not [a matter of] interpretations dependent on one’s personal mood but of scientifically executed transfers to another system. (Henrik Neugeboren, cited in Heinrich Poos, “Henrik Neugeborens Entwurf zu einem Bach-Monument (1928): Dokumentation und Kritik”, in Töne — Farben — Formen: Über Musik und die Bildenden Künste; Festschrift Elmar Budde, eds. Elisabeth Schmierer et al. (Laaber: Laaber, 1995), 45–57, esp. 48.) — Trans. J. D. I restricted myself to one note (flattened Eβ) on the well-broken-in ondes Martenot (as a semielectronic instrument, it had a completely different sound quality than that of the traditional ensemble), which slowly changes timbre and progressively moves through various registers — that is, through the sound space — before returning to the overtoneless Eβ. Around this ’ground plan’ that runs through the whole piece, three ensembles comprised of different instruments move around, playing with foreground and background, analogous to the Hooloomooloo triptych. These three ensembles constitute three coequal variations. Each one of them somehow has its own independent statement and the same value as the others in relation to the ’ground plan,’ but only in its entirety is the version complete. (Olga Neuwirth, “Notizen zu Hooloomooloo, 1996/97”, in Olga Neuwirth: Zwischen den Stühlen — a Twilight Song auf der Suche nach dem fernen Klang, ed. Stefan Drees (Salzburg: Anton Pustet, 2008), 65f. — Trans. J. D.