In this ambitious article Joana Avelar Quintas, an MA Landscape Architecture student at the University of Greenwich, explores the associations between music and landscape.
Ferenc Fricsay (9 August 1914 – 20 February 1963) was a Hungarian conductor who left us an important cultural heritage: Ferenc Fricsay. Rehearses and conducts Bedrich Smetana’s, Die Moldau. Film. Directed by Dieter Ertel. Recorded 1960. Südfunk Symphony orchestra. Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp-DrDxtbB4.
Ferenc Fricsay starts the rehearsal “with the first few bars” (3:40) of the flutes. This part of the peace presented a difficult technical performance between these two instrumentalists. The conductor tried to help them by saying: “One must not hear when does the 1st and 2nd flute come in. You have to balance the sound and the tone quality so that it is not audible where the players switch” (3:57). After the musicians have overcome the technical challenge, the conductor suggested that the melody should be “more balanced”. The orchestra was then added to the rehearsal to help the two flutes. He realized that the problem in their performance wasn´t technical but related to understanding the character of the music. He started to construct an abstract landscape to explain the dynamics and characteristics of Moldau, a River in the Czech Republic, saying: “The first moment when the Moldau begins to flow, this tiny, little ray, it frolics it´s very happy. It flows toward the sun for the first time. (…) Play it as a tone color and there you are responding to the harp” (6:03). He uses colors, feelings, senses and living beings to describe what is the beginning and the development of that river. He doesn´t do it in a synesthetic way — to explain specific notes — but as a general strategy to recreate what was a river landscape for each musician. He believed that only by imagining a River was it possible to play that music. In his opinion, music allows you to imagine abstract landscapes and then recreate it through Art.
This film make us realize “how important it is to be alive” and to internalize the subject of death. But how can this be related to landscapes?
Are abstract landscapes associated with a subject — death for instance — somehow similar between two people who listen to the same music?
I asked the Portuguese composer Gonçalo Gato what was the type of landscape he could imagine when listening to the “Pie Jesu” of the Gabriel Fauré´s Requiem. He and I imagined two different landscapes: one with sun, near the sea; the other, with fog, hills and flowers of warm colors. However in both landscapes peace was a common feeling.
In the music “Pavane pour une infante dèfunte” of Maurice Ravel we also imagined two different landscapes: one about the life in the Vienna´s river (Wien) and other about the autumn in pére lachaise cemetery, Paris. Abstract Landscapes in music can, thus, be products of individual memories: different for each person in response to the same music.
To understand the landscape association with music I also asked the composer Gonçalo Gato if he could think of any specific music about his individual landscapes associated with death, and the answer was: 3rd movement of Gustav Mahler´s Symphony No. 4; 3rd movement of Cello Sonata in G minor, opus 19, of Rachmaninov (played by Msistlav Ristropovich) and the 1st movement of the String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131 of Ludwing Van Beethoven. I realized that if for me the landscapes about death are associated with Impressionist music for him they are associated with the Romantic period. Stylistic Art periods may therefore be associated with abstract landscapes in face of a deep subject, but the landscape that music evokes is still an individual experience.
Foto: 2009, Père Lachaise Cemetery. Bologna, Italy