The Art of the Fugue
Between 1908 and 1914 many of Georges Braque’s (1882-1972) cubist paintings, made references to Bach in their titles, such as ‘Hommage à Bach’; ‘Aria de Bach’, ‘Still-Life Bach’, etc… Braque was a classically trained violinist and parts of violins appear in many of his ‘musical’ works, in particular in his ‘collage’ paintings, where he uses fragmented cut-outs of wood-grain paper simulating the finish of real violins. The construct of the fugue was also of particular interest to him. In his paintings, the objects represented become a musical construct existing and interacting at different levels through shadings, drawings, color, volume, mass, line and weight, which the viewer has to integrate into a synthesis, just as the listener could attribute similar constructs in Bach.
Lyonel Feininger – I Fugue (1921)
Bach’s music was a constant part of Lyonel Feininger’s life. The son of concert musicians, he was considered a musical genius in his younger years. Later, between 1921 and 1927, he composed several fugues, some of which were performed. A title woodcut page for a planned portfolio folder for thirteen fugues composed between 1921/22 is still in existence. A member of the famous Bauhaus, Feininger, just like its other members, saw the arts as the ‘building blocks’ of the future. In his painting of the ‘Barfüsser Kirche’(Church) in Erfurt, Germany, he attempts to simplify his expressions which he considered coming close to Bach’s synthesis of the fugue, with strict control in order to achieve a clear, transparent prism of the painted space. Feininger’s painterly variations of the Barfüsser Church are like vibrating movements of sound achieving perfect stillness on the canvas.
Kandinsky’s treatise ‘Du Spirituel dans l’Art’ (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) published in 1912, emphasizes the concept of synesthesia, relating colors and sounds, as had the French poet Baudelaire in his poem, ‘Correspondances’. For Kandinsky the art of painting is tied to the repetition of tones of color within the painting — repetition which then creates a sense of motion.
Color and the motion of forms also play an important part in Paul Klee’s works. His painting, ‘Fugue in Red‘ found its origin in the movement of forms; the groups of figures in red are floating forms and color progressions in space. The rounded and angular forms are representations of a theme and counter-theme (the principal basis of Bach’s fugues); the repetition of the triangle-motif as inversion, the succession of ovals as reversed movement, eliminate the element of time (the before and after) and stress synchronism — again fundamental elements in Bach’s compositions.
The importance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was central for many composers and artists in ensuing years and will be explored in future articles.