Archive for January, 2008

Can music be visual as well as aural? The Messiaen experience

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Nothing annoys me more than musical or artistic snobbery. Those who oppose the the artist’s right to freedom of expression; well, not actually oppose but denigrate the form which an artist uses to portray what he/she see’s, hear’s, and feel’s. It seems that too many people have a comfort zone and when presented with the alternative to their idea of the norm they are immediately insecure and defensive.

Many great artists have lived in the face of public criticism, had scorn poured over their work and even inspired riots by their very uniqueness. Think Stravinsky back in 1913 when premiered his Rites of Spring – this jagged and edgy masterpiece was revolutionary – the  and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual and caused the audience to grow more uneasy by the minute during the first performance. A riot eventually ensued with the police being called in; this was in Paris of all places, a city where, even in 1913, the unconventional was accepted and alternative lifestyles the norm.

Olivier Messiaen was a composer of extraordinary music and is the focus of a Festival in his honour in London very soon. Messiaen, like Mozart almost 200 years earlier, did not just hear music in his mind, it was a physical experience to him. Messiaen saw music in forms and colours not with his eyes but in his head. He drew his influence from geological formations, from wildlife; each shade of colour from the strongest to the weakest representing the highest to the lowest octaves. Through such sensory perception he gave us such masterpieces as La Transfiguration and the lush Turangalila. It takes a certain musician to interpret these works and bring them to life; pianists such as the iconic Messiaen-ist Australian  pianist Micheal Keiran Harvey; and Mark Rowan-Hull, abstract artist and pianist, who will perform Messiaen’s works at the Festival: both have the ability to tap into the visions that Messiaen experienced as he composed his works and bring them to life for us. Rowan-Hull particularly will link the visual art of Messiaen with his music…what a treat for the senses. You know what? I wonder what would have been the result of a collaboration between Messiaen and Vincent van Gogh – both masters of the visual art of colour and form…we will never know, but I always wonder.

Brave, fantastic, daring, confronting and brilliant. Who needs a comfort zone when you have all this?

Mark Rowan-Hull. Gives sight to Messiaen’s sounds.

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