The Color of Sound – a Call to Adventure

April 19, 2009

For a printable version click The Color of Sound PDF

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Newton speculated harmonics in music were organized like the color spectrum in light. Manuscript of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) © The British Library. Prism photo © by Adam Hart-Davis

It’s next time again.

What are the characteristics of sound? Sounds can be soothing, shrieking, harmonious, sweet, thundering, the list goes on and on – but in talking with Joshua Smith, of the Cleveland Orchestra, he said that sound can sometimes be characterized by color. I’m curious about what he means? And so the investigation continues, and this quest becomes more fascinating with every unexpected turn.

Sound is incredibly revealing. We know this. A tone of voice becomes as communicative as the words themselves. Secrets are revealed in the intimate breath of a whisper. The ears are an early warning system, constantly on patrol, looking for spatial cues. Often, as I am editing an interview to tell a story in a program, I am equally concerned with the emotional tone of a comment as I am with its intellectual flow. But, I think musicians perceive much more than the rest of us when it comes to the more elusive qualities of sound – which must be part of what Josh means by color.

Turns out, Sir Isaic Newton, who was looking for unifying principles in the universe, not only broke light into the colors of the spectrum but also tried to apply color to the harmonic relationships in music. Newton’s spectrum of light remains – but his ideas about color and music never quite fit together, and were ultimately ignored.

To find out more, I wrote to David Breitman who directs the Historical Performance Program at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. David explains,

“Musicians operate with metaphors all the time — we use space a lot (music goes up, down, forwards, back, gets wider or narrower) — that’s so we can talk about motion, which I think is a feeling we get from the music’s rhythm. Color is a property of the sound itself: really, the composition of a tone as a result of the overtone series. Usually this is along one dimension: brightness/darkness, but the more elaborate sensations carry the visual metaphor further, i.e. a "silvery" tone. Color is used rather generically (strings have a "color" and winds have a "color") so an orchestration that takes advantage of these sounds and contrasts/combines them would be said to be "colorful" as opposed to using only one "color" (the actual color is rarely specified!) There is also a history of associating colors with individual keys (C major might be red, for example, in someone’s scheme. There was lots of this discussion in the 18th century — but people’s assignments rarely agreed.”

Color for Joshua Smith, however, has a personal and perhaps even more compelling meaning. Josh is the Principal Flutist of the Cleveland Orchestra and we hope to do a film project together. Josh started playing the flute when he was eight and by the time he was twelve he was proficient. He first spoke to me about the word color when he described one of his great teachers. When I do an interview, I have an ear which listens for glistening moments. I had the idea, as I listened to Josh’s tone of voice, that when his teacher brought up “the color of sound”, it was like a gate-keeper in a mythic story pointing out a secret door to an unfathomable new world.
Josh explains,

“I can remember my teacher saying, ‘OK, so this sounds beautiful but how can we go beyond just making it beautiful? What does this sound really mean?’ And then, he started talking about the idea of color in music; the idea that music can create different moods, or different atmospheres or different colors. When I think about it now, and when I try to teach my twenty year old students about this it can be challenging for them, and can sound completely arbitrary and whacko – even to fairly advanced musicians. When I was getting this first lecture, I think I was twelve.”

It is so fitting that this “call to adventure” (more about this later) happened for Josh with the flute. The flute is such a beguiling and powerfully-loaded mythic instrument. Pan, the Pied Piper, Krishna, all use their flute in spellbinding ways. Mozart’s famous opera, The Magic Flute also comes to mind. It is famous for many things, but one of the most outstanding is its magnificent opportunities for a role known in operatic circles as a colortura soprano.

Could finding out more about coloratura explain what Josh’s teacher really meant by color?

Looking this up in the dictionary I found that coloratura has several meanings. "The word derives from the Italian colorare (to colour; to heighten; to enliven) or colorazione (colouring, coloration). The term normally refers to a soprano who has the vocal ability to produce high notes (above high C). It is also applied to a voice-type, the coloratura soprano, most famously typified by the role of Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. This type of soprano has a high range and can execute with great facility the style of singing that includes elaborate ornamentation and embellishment, including running passages, staccati, and trills."

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There are many recordings of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, but this one, with Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night is amazing. Click the picture for a taste the publisher put on YouTube – then get the film on Blu Ray from Amazon or Netflix.

Those of you who know the opera are now humming the famous aria in your head. But, I don’t think, coloratura, used in this way, is what Josh’s teacher meant at all.

The project Josh and I are developing will explore the power of music including this idea of color. The potential film is the brainchild of Charles Michener. who (for a decade) was senior editor for cultural affairs at Newsweek and became a senior editor at The New Yorker, where he wrote a recent profile of the Cleveland Orchestra. Color is a mysterious metaphor when applied to music. Surely, Charles, can point the way out of the wilderness. He writes about all this very subtle and elusive stuff with astonishing clarity.

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Lorraine Hunt Lieberson epitomizes color in music. These recordings are need to be heard to be believed. Click the covers for an Amazon link.

Hear that magic flute now in Charles’ descriptions of the sublime vocalist, Lorraine Hunt Leiberson, from a profile of her written for the New Yorker:

“Hunt Lieberson told me that for her the staging and the singing were “inseparable,” and on the recording she seems almost visibly present. The opening aria of the first cantata is a kind of call-and-response for oboe d’amore and voice, and the reed instrument’s plaintive, slightly distant timbre is the perfect foil for the singer’s intimate, darkly gleaming mezzo, which has a vitality beyond the capacity of any wind player. With many singers of comparable virtuosity, one hears the words as something of an afterthought; musical ravishment comes before dramatic sense. With Hunt Lieberson, the two are joined, so that the sentiment of the words—by turns yearning, reflective, and joyous—gives the vocal line its urgency and its shape, each note a specific emotional character in the gentle undertow of Bach.”

Is that great or what!? I can see Josh and his teacher, in my mind, nodding their heads in agreement. This is what goes on in a musical performance drenched in color. I may not be using the term properly but, for me, it becomes a metaphor for the creative spirit which animates great art. Something more mystical. Sound as a container for an emotional, perhaps spiritual, essence? I think the role of sound in a good film should add this elusive but powerful property of color. The music and the pictures should blend together with the chemistry and color typified by Hunt Lieberson’s perfect union of music and lyric.

This is what is interesting about all the arts. The homework is done, the lines are learned, the craft part of the work is over and now you are reaching for something beyond your grasp. Hear the flute? Will the call to adventure (in the way Joseph Campbell would describe it) be acted upon or ignored? There is a moment of vertigo when you lose your balance and you can defy gravity for a moment or two – and if you are lucky you can catch hold of something truly surprising. I’m excited and inspired by this.

If you are willing to share, and there are some very impressive readers here who hopefully will take the time to write, I’d like to hear your thoughts about color in music or even about a moment in your more creative life, when you felt that you were reaching beyond the ordinary into something deeper, something more colorful, something more profound.

Until next time, with much love,
Tommaso

18 Comments

  • martina says:

    “…raise the hope of endless light” is from Handel’s Theodora. The title is “As with rosy steps”. I should have looked at the program notes before posting. Still, I am totally uplifted and held by that song, and want someone to play it at my funeral. Although I will not be there to hear it, I want the people who love me to be comforted by Hunt-Lieberson as I have been, in that song. I also very much love the “Um mitternacht” by Mahler. And the piece “Triraksha’s aria” from Peter Lieberson. Again, I thank you Tommaso, for this website, and this marvelous topic, and for drawing out Charles’ beautiful insightful posting, which gave me this music! Charles, please tell us more, of the jewels we need to hear!! Fondly, martina

  • martina says:

    To Joshua,

    I was thinking about the difference between James Galway’s playing the flute, and Jean Pierre Rimpal. (sp?) I have a Mozart piece by each of them, and Galway is more carried away with the lilts in the melody, and plays it like an Irish air, while Rimpal is so precise and jewel-like– he reminds me of a hummingbird hovering over a peony. His wings are perfect, and so fluid, we cannot see more than the sheen! When we are talking about color in the way a piece is played, (or tone), it seems to me that we can note sometimes a bit of whimsy, or nostalgia, or fun, in the way a particular artist plays the music he or she loves. And even if the notes are precisely played, there is a difference of emphasis, or phrasing. I have some different cellists playing the Bach cello concertos, and I thought I would love Pablo Casals’ the most. It turns out that his is more idiosyncratic, and I actually don’t prefer his. Still, it is hard to define one artist’s difference in tone from another’s. And perhaps one begins to love a voice because it is the one most heard, or first heard. My grandmother was a mezzo soprano, and she had a much less fantastic voice than Hunt-Lieberson, but the echoes of that grand and symphonic voice made me remember the joy of listening to my grandmother, who loved to sing, and whose voice did carry a lot of honey and rosewood, and delight. I read that Hunt-Lieberson sang on stage wearing a hospital gown and iv setup, holding onto an iv pole. That would be riveting. For modern audiences, it is hard to make the imaginative leap, to see and believe that Mimi is dying of tuberculosis, with that exquisite singing. But to show a woman getting chemotherapy as she sings, would be a great way to portray the true vulnerability and precarious life of the singer, and magnify the intensity of the song’s meaning.

  • martina says:

    I just wanted to acknowledge and thank Charles for the tip on Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s singing. What a marvelous voice! I got the Bach cantatas and also the album with Mahler songs. The song on the Mahler album which breaks my heart with its beauty is not by Mahler, but is “…gives the hope of endless light.” Maybe it is by her husband, Lieberson. It is a gorgeous, breathtaking piece of music. The other song I love is the one about the wife of Ashoka, wondering about her own life and the life of her son, in which she sings “time has given me no certainty”. It reminds me of the Marschallin’s great aria about time in the Rosenkavalier– and is a beautiful window into the mind of a middle-aged woman. You certainly have enriched my life with this music! Thanks again!

  • Steven Fong says:

    Tommaso’s blog about coloratura initially took me by surprise, but then on reflection seems particularly provocative. Arguably, music (and wine) criticism has unapologetically channeled connoisseurship whereas discussions about the visual arts and architecture have been more consistently aligned with critical discourse.

    However, sticking one’s finger in the air, the zeitgeist is changing. This note from the MIT Press’ 2009 catalogue describing a new book, “Beauty”, edited by Dave Beech:

    “Beauty has emerged as one of the most hotly contested subjects in current discussions in art and culture. After more than half a century of suspicion and interrogation, beauty’s resurgence in visual practice and discourse since the late 1980‘s has engaged some of the most influential artists and writers on art.”

    Of course, this little polarity (connoisseurship vs. critical discourse) is highly reductive. After all it is only two paragraphs long. But in any case, this new project of Telos seems timely and the interdisciplinary discussions are interesting.

    Steven Fong, Architect, Toronto

  • Paulette Faulkner says:

    As ever Tom makes us more aware of our senses and the concept of colour in sound is no exception. I have to admit that I have never thought about this before but now he has put me on the spot again and made me think about what I see in my mind’s eye when I hear a particular sound, I realise that I do see colours. The most wonderful colour for me is the one I have mentioned before, that is the colour I see when hearing the lone Chorister in one of our Cathedrals. But is ‘white’ a colour? I see a snowy landscape with brilliant white icicles breaking up into sharp, clean, pure sounds. Then when I hear the music of Sir Edward Elgar, I see the English countryside predominantly green, of course. Wagner conjures up dark blue and black. When I hear Vivaldi, I think of beloved Venezia and I see Silver Stars in the Canale Grande. As usual Tom, you have stirred up my senses. Thank you.

  • Jill Snyder says:

    Tom,

    I am so very out of my league when it comes to discussing music. Yet, I felt a reference to a visual artist was apropos. In his first treatise, Concerning The Spiritual in Art (1912), the great Russian father of abstraction, Vasily Kandinsky, who trained early in music, argued that color, like sound, evoked emotions. In this short text, he wrote: “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with the strings.” From another text, I quote: “Kandinsky used color in a highly theoretical way associating tone with timbre (the sound’s character), hue with pitch, and saturation with the volume of sound. He even claimed that when he saw color he heard music. The influence of music in his paintings cannot be overstated, down to the names of his paintings Improvisations, Impressions, and Compositions.” Kandinsky’s work was highly influenced by his study of Theosophy, a turn of the century spiritual practice whose tenents embraced a notion of synaesthesia. Many of the Russian avant garde artists experimented with this notion, even drawing upon “scientific research” supporting their largely improbable claims. But, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, artists continue to be drawn to the correspondence between the visual and aural realms.

    Jill Snyder is the Executive Director of MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art – Cleveland. – TB

  • Joshua Smith says:

    Alright. I guess I have to start all over again. The long paragraph I just thoughtfully composed was erased somehow….

    I love that all of you have taken up this subject, and I’m a bit afraid that after a week of waiting, what I have to say will be slightly redundant.

    But for me, the real cue about what I think about this subject is Tom’s first statement, “A tone of voice becomes as communicative as the words themselves.”

    I might be aware that descriptors like “yellow and purple,” (even more wonderful are Martina’s “rosewood and amber and honey”) can occur to listeners. And that this happens adds an extra layer onto the performance process that is endlessly fascinating. But, performing, I would never “play purple” with the express intention of having you “hear purple.” What I’m interested in playing with is the idea that tone expresses emotion. Each of us has a voice with its own particularities – Lorraine Hunt’s voice is Lorraine Hunt’s voice, a flute is a flute, an oboe sounds different from a bagpipe – and yet each of us constantly expresses infinite possible emotions purely through infinite shadings, often without even realizing that we are doing it. (Speaking, a range of emotion is often clear – there are words, intentions, a need to communicate all wound up in the process. Filtering this same process through an instrument is challenging, for you have not only the technical obstacles presented by the instrument, but also the prescribed “quality” of the instrument (itself already a perceived “color”) to work through.

    My process, then, has everything to do with transcending the notes on the page and the given nature of the instrument so that I can connect to the emotional responses I feel are inherent in the music, and then so that I can translate these outwards to whomever is listening. In essence, I’m trying to speak to you. And my voice, hopefully, registers a spectrum of tones, depending on what I’m feeling and saying.

    Joshua Smith is the Principal Flutist of The Cleveland Orchestra. Find out more about Josh (including his wonderful blog) at soloflute.com –TB

  • Cloudia Rebar says:

    Dear Tom,

    Great to get your Blog.

    They always send me on a magical journey I really enjoy. This one found me remembering the neuro linguistic programming training I was doing in the 80’s taught by a tall gawlky 18 year old kid no one had ever heard of (Anthony Robbins) teaching us in Aspen in his swim trunks for ten days and LONG fire walking nights since he’d he’d lost all his luggage and his $25,000 teaching fee check and was teaching us some relatively wild concepts between scaring us to death  getting ready to walk on the hot coals every night. In discussing the three ways humans perceive information, sound and what they see and hear and react to, intellectually and emotionally, clearly one-third of the population was auditorily plugged in to all they react to.  The visual  people, and the kinesthetic people would be less reactive to music and the concept of the color of music, while the auditory person would  bask in  the thought of it, and  indeed find rainbows within the musical tones. Without that third  of the population, I suspect there would be no great music in the world. Then comes the thought, would not the composer do well to include “feeling” and other kinesthetic triggers, and visual and perhaps descriptive lyrical passages to engage and invite the non-auditory segments of society to experience the  full spectrum of all that  exists in music?  The grand stage and opera productions of course fill that need, but to have that total experience with ones eyes closed, so attuned to the soul of the musical moment….with ALL the senses..that to me is the color of music.

    Great to hear from you. I start season 8 Monday morning. I really enjoy your Blogs.

    A presto,

    Cloudia

    Cloudia Rebar lives in Los Angeles and is a film set and production designer. Her latest work can be seen on the hit TV Show “24” – TB

  • What could I possibly add to such inspired words? After reading the above topic and eloquent comments, I feel like an infidel sneaking into the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. I don’t belong here and I shall soon be found out. During music class in 5th or 6th grade, a nun singled me out and slapped me “upside the head” and said I wasn’t to sing but to mouth the words and only pretend to sing. I never learned to read music. Music was a neighborhood I didn’t belong in. But while I may have given up on music, it didn’t give up on me.

    Like Prout’s madeleines, I can tell you that whenever I hear Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, I am once again in high school in my parent’s car feeling a girl’s breasts for the first time; when I hear the sandpaper and whiskey voice of Luke Kelley, I am in McDaid’s Pub in Dublin; whenever I encounter David Byrne or Annie Lennox, I am back in the 80’s cruising down Sunset Blvd. in a Mustang convertible. In other words, music is inextricably entwined with my life. These days, I am in love with a Welsh singer named Judith Owens who brings tears to my eyes every time I hear her sing “Conway Bay”. I can’t get enough of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Like Martina, Johnny Cash is on my iPod too. And on my long walks through Cuyahoga National Park, as I sing along to Ring of Fire with unchecked gusto, I think back to St. Rita’s and dare Sister Fredericka to try to keep me silent now. This is how my “end orphans” roll these days!

    Bob Clancey is a Creative Supervisor at Rosetta (an interactive marketing agency) and creates illustrated journals which look like Peter Beard’s – TB

  • TB says:

    What a joy to hear such ravishing comments about music and I am thrilled people are commenting about each others comments; it makes the topic so much better! I can only hope people take the not so subtle hint from Charles and listen to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. You will not be disappointed. I don’t know how many CDs you have in your collection, but Charles recently pared his down to the essentials and sold 6,000 CDs before he moved back to Cleveland. I would venture to say LLH is on his top ten list. Need I say more?

  • Charles Michener says:

    Wonderful observations by Martina Nicholson. To paraphrase what a great composer once said to me, “Bach is great bones. Chopin [who loved Bach] is also great bones [not a superfluous note] fired by romance.” I never tire of Chopin either – he also loved Italian opera (Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini) and what we’re hearing in his piano pieces are miniature operas – distilled. Speaking of distillation, I also prefer aged voices over young ones, because the aged voice is a distillation of all that has been learned before. I particularly love the late John McCormack voice; what it lacks in bell-like thrust it gains in pathos and refinement. Its quavering huskiness makes me weep. Similarly, listen to the last recordings of Vladimir Horowitz – all excess banished, the thunder quiescent, the irrepressible re-composer tamed. What What I hear in those late recordings is the sheer, shining joy he took in playing the composers he loved best (Scarlatti, Mozart, Scriabin). Martina Nicholson is also perceptive about Christa Ludwig. Listening to a voice like that or like that of Janet Baker or Hunt Lieberson (who loved Ludwig’s artistry), I also get aromas of wild plants and sweet-sour flavors. Music feeds ALL the senses.

  • martina says:

    I can’t wait to hear Hunt-Lieberson, after that so-tantalizing introduction! I agree about Fantasia. I have always loved it, how the art mirrors the sounds, in such interesting ways. When I was thinking about color and tone, I started thinking about pastels vs. stained-glass window intensity of primary colors. Debussy often has the sounds which are like pastels to me– lavender, cream, eggshell, apricot, daffodil, rose. Bach is more like the primary colors in a stained glass window– ruby, sapphire, emerald, gold. I am a devotee of Chopin. I never get tired of hearing the Piano sonatas, the nocturnes, etudes, preludes. I think some composers have a mind more like mine than others; and so far, I think Chopin most fits my emotional landscape. Bach is the most restful and soothing to me, but Chopin is like my internal weather. I feel like the topic puts us on the edge of what is “definable or sayable”. I really enjoyed the Queen of the Night excerpt. Another recent marvel was Gluck’s Orfeo and Eurydice, live from the Met. My God, what music, and all that yearning! Still, what I wanted to say about pastels and brilliant tones doesn’t easily let me generalize– for instance, I love Mahler, and there is everything, not just one tone, in his work. It is amazing to hear the same melody played by different instruments, to try to understand the color of tones. Think of the difference between an oboe and a bagpipe, or a violin and a viola. Or kettle drums vs. snare drums. Sometimes when I hear a guitar playing a piece written for piano, I get shivers. I love the mezzo soprano voice more than the coloratura soprano. I love the aging voice more than the young one. I loved Johnny Cash’s last album. I love the flaws and rough edges in what was such a powerful voice. Recently I have been bowled over by some Elvis Presley recordings. I could die on the 3rd act of the Rosenkavalier, with Krista Ludwig singing the Marschallin. There is rosewood and amber and honey in her voice. There are some voices which will always be haunting. I was listening to Chris Botti play his trumpet, and I love how he plays “My funny Valentine”. He understands my grief and nostalgia; he plays it, plays to it. Other things, which are supposed to be blue, don’t always sound so blue. I liked what John Ziegler said about going where the endorphins choose to go. I played with the idea of “end orphans”. The bad guy in Salman Rushdie’s book Haroun and The Sea of Stories is called “Hattam Shud”– the end. But the music which leaves us orphans is too sad– we need to come back with a feeling of being held and understood. “Collective genius and endorphins” are a good combination. Perhaps the most amazing thing I have thought about all this is that music is how it feels to be made love to– it carries all that inner world for me, so richly and wordlessly. I am more wholly alive, listening to music. In which case, all the colors fit, muted and brilliant, dark and light.

    Martina Nicholson an OB/Gyn who is also a poet. She lives in Santa Cruz – TB

  • steve ellis says:

    Perfect. Exhausted, zoned and staring happily and blankly at the weather channel. Don’t know that that’s a color but it’s a shared experience so if that became “green”, we’d all know what green means.

    Quite possibly, knowing Steve, he is being archly ironic, but perhaps he did not realize the “Weather Report” John Z. refers to above, is the legendary 1980s Fusion Jazz ensemble founded by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul who both learned their chops with Miles. Although the Weather Channel is also very nice – TB

  • John Ziegler says:

    An quick observation; or thought, really, while running out the door…so many of Tom’s topics involve multiple senses…and make me think of them as overlapping zones of a Venn diagram…one blends into the other, if not literally, then metaphorically. While I certainly enjoy the attempt to get behind the metaphors, there are also times when I feel that analyzing it destroys my enjoyment of the mystery…as in the euphoric feeling I get after vigorous exercise, lying on the floor, my legs on the sofa, with an abstract Weather Report tune playing. It is full of colors, and transports me to who-knows-where. I just give myself up to the ‘zone’ and let Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, et al transport me to wherever the combination of their collective genius and my endorphins choose to go.

    John Ziegler is the Construction Project Manager for the recently completed Whitman College Complex at Princeton University. – TB

  • steve says:

    No doubt Newton was on to something because there seems to be a true relationship, but one that’s challenging to access. I remember from a time long ago Timothy Leary and his followers invariably noting that “under the influence” music took on actual hue. It’s interesting to me how often commentators reference the “color” of music but as the contributors here have noted, almost never is a specific color mentioned. Good music is always richer than “beautiful” or ” melodic” or “exciting”. Problem is there seems to be no words for that perfect combination of tone, melody and emotion. It all creates a feeling in each of us that is, well, indescribable, so we struggle for analogy. Just as there are no words to describe pain (mostly described in terms of events that never occurred, e.g. ever actually had a “cold knife jammed in your back” or a “hot poker stabbed through your tooth?”), words aren’t up to the task of conveying the sense of rapture we experience with great music. Skilled poets may accomplish the task, but only because they come at the description indirectly.

    So, finally, in response to your inquiry that has again made me think harder than I like, yes , I have had those moments of reaching deeper and finding something more colorful and more profound. But I don’t have the words to express what I felt or how to get you to experience what I experienced- I can only report that it happened. Which is frustrating. Good complicated (yellowish) question. Thanks.

    Steve Ellis is a highly valued contributor here and a partner in the law firm of Tucker, Ellis and West. Despite his protestations he enjoys “thinking harder than he likes”– TB

  • Charles Michener says:

    Lovely, discerning essay, Tom, and thank you for quoting me on the immortal Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whose premature death left me – and so many others who heard her – with a void that will never be filled. When I think of Hunt Lieberson’s particular “color” it’s an in-between one befitting her earlier career as a violist, some shade of purple or variety of burnt orange. In any case, it’ a color indistinguishable from the character of her voice, which is essentially tragic. I find it curious that although opera feeds on tragedy, so few opera singers have possessed an innately tragic sensibility. Hunt Lieberson, in my experience, had the greatest tragic voice since Maria Callas (before Callas, I’ll give the honor to Kathleen Ferrier). As she once told me, “I am drawn to sorrow.” Yes, but it was sorrow without a trace of sentimentality or self-pity, sorrow ennobled by her uncanny identification with the characters she portrayed. What I’m trying to say is that for all great musical artists (and artists, period), color is character-the “sound” of a personality trait, a musing, an assertion or response to the human drama that any song, opera, symphony, concerto, piano or violin sonata embodies. Rather than trying to identify a specific “color” in a performance, I listen for what, in human terms, is being said and who exactly is saying it.

  • TB says:

    I’m hoping this month to have a lively discussion in the comments on the blog. I hope this will be fun for everyone. I so agree with Juan about Disney. His animators truly connect, in such a visceral way, almost every motion in the animation with a complimentary sound. His great musicians-and musicianship-shine through and give depth and meaning to the artful drawings. Bidu Sayao is magnificent, but I must confess the recordings I have heard of her sound charmingly old fashioned. I’m sure this is my lack of familiarity – she has an impeccable reputation.

  • Juan Bastos says:

    Dear Tommaso,

    Thank you once again for sparkling once again themes of interest. While reading your thoughts, I couldn’t avoid thinking of the movie FANTASIA, which as a child, opened my imagination to unite music and images that has affected me since. It would be interesting to visualize the movie blurring the screen, and getting masses of color instead, nevertheless, it’s recorded forever in my mind how Disney added color, form and a story to such famous classical music.

    My third piano teacher, I remember, had a method to teach children who were very young, to color the notes with an specific color…so, let’s say “do” was red, “re’ green and so on….The children, she thought, would enjoy this association and the John Thompson sheet music looked like a rainbow. I already knew how to read music, so it wasn’t necessary to learn it that way, but maybe she was getting into something there.

    Thank you for posting the samples of coloratura, nevertheless, I have to add the Brazilian singer’s performance of the Bachianas Brasileras No.5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Bidu Sayao. Don’t miss how she ends the piece…I have heard it by other singers, and I believe it’s hard to match her. One can hear her on youtube. Here’s the link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLZD0XplYrI&feature=related

    Thank you once again for posting such a remarkable article Tom.

    Juan

    Juan Bastos is a faithful contributor here. He is a hugely talented portrait painter and lives in Los Angeles. See his work at juanbastos.com –TB

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