The Connection of Music and Visual Arts

No art exists separately and independently on its own, but always in an interrelationship with the other arts. Literature serves as the basis for vocal compositions or music as the basis for dance. Such interrelationships were intensified with the introduction of program music.

Often artists also work in several artistic areas. There are painting musicians, but also composing painters. Due to its non-representational character, the music is particularly suitable for a synthesis with other arts.

The art is divided into four major sub-areas, depending on the material used in the representation :

  • Literature (language),
  • Music (sound),
  • Performing arts (e.g. dance, drama, film),
  • Visual arts (e.g. painting, sculpture, photography, architecture).

These can in turn be subdivided into individual categories and genres.

Music and visual arts

The term visual arts is a collective term for painting, graphics, handicrafts, architecture (architecture), plastic (sculpture, sculpture) and photography. Painting and music in particular have been in a competitive and reciprocal relationship since ancient times. In some cases, until the 19th century, the visual arts were considered subordinate to music. With the development of program music in the first half of the 19th century, the compositions were based not only on literary models but also on works of the visual arts. Visual arts and music were made productive in their context in different ways.

FRANZ LISZT was one of the first composers to refer directly to paintings and sculptures, for example. The symphonic poem No. 11 “Die Hunnenschlacht” (1857) is inspired by the monumental mural of the same name (1834–1837) by the painter WILHELM VON KAULBACH (1804–1874).

The Russian composer MODEST MUSSORGSKI (1839–1881) wrote one of the most famous compositions in this field in 1874, the piano cycle “Pictures at an Exhibition”. This work is based on paintings by his friend VICTOR HARTMANN (1834–1873). MUSSORGSKI tried to translate his impressions into music.

In the 20th century it was pictures by PAUL KLEE (1879–1940) that composers repeatedly used as inspiration. For example, the 1922 watercolor “Zwitschermaschine” served the composer GISELHER KLEBE (born 1925) as a template for his chamber music piece of the same name (1950).

But not only musicians absorbed ideas from the visual arts; conversely, musical material could also serve as a program for painters and sculptors . The first exhibition of Viennese Art Nouveau is a significant example of this. It was conceived as a total work of art and was dedicated to the composer LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827). The painter and sculptor MAX KLINGER (1857–1920) created his famous Beethoven monument, GUSTAV KLIMT (1862–1918) exhibited his monumental Beethoven frieze and GUSTAV MAHLER (1860–1911) conducted an arrangement of BEETHOVEN’s 9th Symphony.

There were also entire styles of painting that were interrelated with music. In Impressionism, for example, there are direct parallels between the pictures CLAUDE MONETS (1840–1926) and the sound world of CLAUDE DEBUSSYS (1862–1918). A mutual influence between the two arts was found between ARNOLD SCHÖNBERG (1874–1951) and WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866–1944). The composer’s music, which broke away more and more from traditional tonality, gave decisive impulses for KANDINSKY’s departure towards abstraction. SCHÖNBERG also painted his own pictures, which the painter friend was so impressed with that he invited the composer who painted to take part in the first exhibition of the artist group “Blauer Reiter” (1911).