Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Vermeer Bist Du Schön": Music and Vermeer in London

Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure sounds like a wonderful exhibition at London's National Art Gallery, combining art, artefacts, and music:

Featuring the Academy of Ancient Music as Resident Ensemble

Explore the musical pastimes of the 17th-century Netherlands through this exhibition combining the art of Vermeer and his contemporaries with rare musical instruments, songbooks and live music.

For the first time the National Gallery’s two paintings by Vermeer, A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal are brought together with Vermeer’s Guitar Player, which is currently on exceptional loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House.

Three days a week visitors can experience live performances in the exhibition space by the Academy of Ancient Music, bringing the paintings to life with music of the period.

Music was one of the most popular themes in Dutch painting, and carried many diverse associations. In portraits, a musical instrument or songbook might suggest the education or social position of the sitter; in scenes of everyday life, it might act as a metaphor for harmony, or a symbol of transience.

The exhibition displays 17th-century virginals (a type of harpsichord), guitars and lutes alongside the paintings to offer unique insights into the painters’ choice of instruments, and the difference between the real instruments and the way in which the painters chose to represent them.

The Guardian provides more background on the exhibition:

Music from instruments such as the harpsichord, viola da gamba and violin will echo around the rooms of the National Gallery's Sainsbury wing to add atmosphere to a new exhibition exploring the importance of music in 17th-century Dutch art and society.

Musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music will perform on the hour three days a week at a small but evocative show, opening on Wednesday, that will have at its heart five paintings by the Delft master Johannes Vermeer. . . .

The show features music-themed paintings from the Dutch golden age in the same rooms as instruments close to what are depicted, including a virginal, a lute and a lavishly decorated guitar, as well as songbooks that would have been carried around in the hope of finding the right moment.

It includes five of the 36 Vermeer paintings that are known to exist: the National Gallery's two Vermeers of women playing virginals, plus The Music Lesson, loaned by the Royal Collection, and The Guitar Player, which has been on loan to the gallery while its normal home, Kenwood House in north London, is closed for restoration. The fifth Vermeer is being loaned by a private collector from New York.

The show's curator, Betsy Wieseman, said music was far more important and pervasive across society in 17th-century Holland than other European countries. "It was a much more enjoyable musical culture in many respects, focusing on songs rather than grandiose compositions and orchestral pieces."

As well as paintings by artists including Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch and Gerard ter Borch, a final room shows the latest technical examination carried out on Vermeer's works, showing even hidden fingerprints.

And Richard Egarr, the director of the Academy of Ancient Music, describes music-making during Vermeer's time in Holland:

Making music together has always been a way for people to interact, but that's particularly true of the music from Vermeer's time. The first half of the 17th century saw the dense, complex contrapuntal works by 16th century composers such as Palestrina give way to an expressive and freer art form, music based on single clear lines with a highly emotional impact - it's this period too that saw the birth of opera. New ideas about simplicity took hold, and much of the new music being written was for just two players - a melody line that was usually accompanied by a chordal instrument, often a guitar, or a lute. This of course involved both a very intimate level of contact and also allowed room for much spontaneity.

It is this that Vermeer captures so wonderfully in his paintings - the sense of music created in the moment. Perhaps my favourite of his works - Girl Interrupted at Her Music, in New York's Frick Collection, beautifully conveys that singular moment when you're playing music with great partners and you find you're working off each other. Look at her expression, the look she's giving back over her shoulder to the camera, so to speak, which captures perfectly that moment of shared intimacy that's part of music making. And of course part of that intimacy is the flirtation that would have gone on. After all, one of the reasons why music was such an important part of European society at the time was that it was a chance to meet and flirt, especially in such an intimate setting as that of a student and teacher. I think her expression is one of being "caught in the act", something all musicians will recognise! Like with the best photographs, Vermeer's paintings invite thoughts of what's going to happen next, and what has just happened.

I remember when Christopher Hogwood was the director/conductor of the AAM, and we have a few cds with him as conductor.

No comments:

Post a Comment