Red Dogs and Pink Skies
About this work:
When first considering the idea of composing music to celebrate Paul Gauguin in conjunction with an exhibition of the artist’s paintings, I had no idea that Gauguin himself was obsessed with, even jealous of, music and musicians. I began reading his Tahitian journal Noa Noa (Fragrance), his letters, diaries, and interviews, and soon came to feel that composing music about, for, and inspired by Gauguin was not only natural but also imperative.
Here was an artist, who dreamed of “violent harmonies”, who wrote about the “rhythm of gesture”, and for whom moonlight streaming through reeds suggested an ancient musical instrument.
Gauguin sensed that his approach to color – the pinks beside purple or yellows near orange – had nothing to do with Naturalism or Impressionism, but everything to do with music. He thought like a composer, and he knew it. When critics complained that Gauguin’s paintings lacked perspective, seemed flat, and that his colors were unnatural, the artist turned to music to defend himself. The journalist Eugene Tardieu asked Gaugin why he painted red dogs and pink skies, and Gauguin replied, “I do it purposefully! It’s like music. I take an idea from life and arrange lines and colors t get symphonies and harmonies. I do not paint mere representations of reality. My paintings should make you think the way music does – simply through the mysterious affinities, the connections, that exist between our minds and arrangement of colors and lines.”
Gauguin felt that if people would only allow artists the same freedom from realism that composers naturally enjoy, they would understand his work. He wrote in his journal, “Musicians live in a special world of sounds and harmonies. Painting should be special, too. The sister art to music, painting lives on forms and colors. Color, like music, is vibration.”
Wondering how best to begin composing this piece. I found the answer in this most musical painter’s own words, “Color is the language of the listening eye.” I had to listen to his paintings.
Year composed: 2002
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 6-9 players
Instrumentation: 1 Flute, 1 Clarinet, 1 Percussion (General), 1 Violin, 1 Cello, 1 Double bass