Modern Art and Music

Portrait of Ralph Burns, Edwin A. Finckel, George Handy, Neal Hefti, Johnny Richards, and Eddie Sauter, Museum of Modern Art, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

The Library of Congress just hosted the first of a new lecture series organized in conjunction with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the contemporary art arm of the Smithsonian Institution. Artist Maira Kalman spoke about, And the Pursuit of Happiness, an illustrated book that documents the author’s visit to Washington DC for the inauguration of President Obama. While in town, the author visited the Library of Congress, where she admired one of the Music Division’s harpsichords.

This casual intersection between art and music is just the tip of the iceberg.  The relation between music and the visual arts is one I think about all the time. In the most recent Flickr release of images from the William P. Gottlieb Collection, you can see an image of arranger Ralph Burns, composer Neal Hefti (most famous for composing the Batman theme) and others  posing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in front of a Picasso. Thus was modern art linked to modern jazz at the time.

Detail from "Concerto for Two Violins, Tenor and Bass," by Johann Christopher Pepusch.

But I have found more subtle reminders  in the Music Division’s collections  – and sometimes in the most unlikely places. The striking lines of this 18th century manuscript by German-born composer Johann Christopher Pepusch reminds me of the chalk drawings of Abstract expressionist Cy Twombly.

The Historic Sheet Music, 1800-1922 collection is full of impressive cover artwork that reflects the visual taste of the times, but the cover artwork for Richard L. Weaver’s 1909 song “Bungalow” (at right) seems cut of the same cloth that inspired the word-paintings of artist Ed Ruscha some fifty years later.  “Bungalow” was illustrated by an artist named Jenkins, who worked on other covers for the Jos. Morris music publishing company, such as “Cease, Sweetheart, Cease,” “Mister Music Master,” and “Oh You Blondy.” The last of these uses a bold shade of blue reminiscent of the color dubbed “International Klein Blue” by artist Yves Klein  – who, to bring us full circle, was the subject of a marvelous exhibit at the Hirshhorn earlier this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the Muse wishes you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving. Between mashed potatoes and halftime, the musically inclined among our readership may wish to celebrate the day in song with Geo. W. Morgan’s’ “National Thanksgiving Hymn,” dedicated to then President Rutherford B. Hayes. After dinner, take an invigorating constitutional to work off that second […]

This week on Flickr, and Macca on Film

Today we release another one hundred images from the William P. Gottlieb Collection to Flickr Commons. This week’s selection offers iconic photos of the trumpet legend Louis Armstrong, clarinet player Sidney Bechet, composer Leonard Bernstein, and vocalist June Christy. And, as is often the case, there is something unexpected in the mix. This week’s surprise is a series of […]

Music to Tickle a Savage Breast

“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” That famous line was uttered by a character in William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride. From the dance of the ancient Greeks, to the propulsive bass on the disco floor, to Dancing with the Stars, music goes hand in hand with the body. One of the […]

Happy Birthday, Copland!

Aaron Copland, eminent composer of 20th-century American music, was born 110 years ago yesterday, on November 14, 1900. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Aaron studied piano as a child and later studied with American composer and pianist Rubin Goldmark. In 1920, Copland traveled to Paris to study with renowned French composer, conductor and teacher Nadia […]

Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, take time to remember those who served our country with songs from Patriotic Melodies in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia, including “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” “The Marines’ Hymn” (Happy 235th birthday to the United States Marine Corps!), and ”The U.S. Air Force Song” (which you may know as “Off we go into the wild […]

Martha, Martha, Martha!

Selections from the Martha Graham Collection is a new web presentation now available in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia. Dancer, choreographer, and company director Martha Graham (1894-1991) is considered one of the pioneering founders of American modern dance.  In a career spanning over seven decades, Graham developed her own innovative technique and produced an impressive legacy […]

This week on Flickr

Every other Friday the Music Division releases a batch of photos from the William P. Gottlieb Collection to Flickr Commons. This week’s release includes portraits of musical legends like Frank Sinatra, Billy Strayhorn, Sarah Vaughan, and Billy Taylor, whose collection resides in the Music Division. You can also view a gathering of Smiths, including violinist Stuff, alto […]

From Romantic to Radiohead: Sybarite5

The Music Division’s renowned concert program has something for the seasoned concert goer and the young music aficionado alike – often on the same evening. Nowhere is this broad spectrum more apparent than with Sybarite5,  who as one critic notes is “not your grandfather’s string quartet.”  This eclectic group of string players juxtapose Classical, Romantic, and […]

Election Day

The Music Division encourages stateside readers to exercise their right to vote. Today’s political climate may appear contentious, but perhaps a look at the campaign songs of elections past will put things into perspective.  If past is prelude, come preview the next campaign season with a collection of Presidental Campaign Songs in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia. […]