Four canvases illustrating the
Four last songs by Richard Strauss
The canvases were completed in the following order:
Going to sleep
The emotions evoked in the poems transcend into music and then from the music into paintings.
Each poem suggests to me that the beauty of a life is manifest in its conclusion and in this conclusion is where the serenity of a fruitful and completed life is found.
The music develops this concept of completeness by seeming to form a continuous line between beginnings and endings. I am entranced by the opening melodies and concluding chords that seem to be inextricably bound together to create a magical circle of sound.
The paintings follow references in the poems to the light in the landscape and the fading of the seasons. The overall concept of continuity is maintained by repeating a particular colour.
At dusk began with gold as the colour that would reflect the uplifting opening of the song. This colour and shape is repeated in the painting four times. This significant number relates to the number of songs in the cycle. When At dusk was completed each painting was given gold in varying forms. The rhythmic flow of line in each painting mirrors the line of the voice and the forward pulse in the music.
At Dusk (Im Abendrot ) Joseph von Eichendorff
The poet and his companion are contemplating their life’s journey that has passed through a landscape of light and dark. Four painted bands of gold point upwards and blend with the opening surge of music that celebrates the achievement of their beautiful life together. The voice then travels gently over the line of hills and valleys and the quite pulse of drums mirrors the dark circles that lie just above the fading light. Patches of light appear in the blue dusk and two lines in the painted landscape quiver in time with flutes that become two birds. The poet and his companion fly peacefully away into the evening haze.
Going to sleep
Going to sleep (Beim Schlafengehen) Hermann Hesse
The music begins with a gentle sway of sound evoking the longing for sleep and the painting begins with blue that becomes the night-time space where the poet can dream of entering into a magical world of light and hope. Then the line of the voice breaks into moments of anguish with thoughts of a concluding life. At this point I needed to introduce a flowing line of blue that would guide the poet through his past life and I wanted this line to weave over a geometric form that would echo the steady pulse of the music. I add ribbons of gold and bands of light as the song concludes. The poet hopes to enter into a world where he can live a life more intense than before.
Spring (Fruhling) Hermann Hesse
The poet enters into the realm of old age and he dreams of spring in rhythm with the eager line of the voice. This voice seems to search everywhere, as if time is running out, for the road that will take the poet back to his youth. Flowing bands of sunlight caress the green and the ribbons of gold (borrowed from Going to sleep) and burst upwards into a spray of light as spring is regained. The black lines and the shadows cast doubt on the poet’s happiness as he revels in the miraculous but fleeting return to spring and his youth.
September (September) Hermann Hesse
Four gold circles are slowly being obscured to mimic the fading summer light. A line that is the voice weaves down through the centre of the painting. There are gentle quivers of sound like falling leaves that travel with this voice as it contemplates the fading garden bloom. Four strands of rain soak into the ground and summer hesitates in the diminishing light before finally departing. The darkening form at the base of the painting is ready to accept him.