Kandinsky and Music


The impression of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” was one of the emotional drives that turned the life of a 30-year-old lawyer around and channeled it into art. “Violins, deep basses and, above all, wind instruments embodied the full power of the twilight hour in my imagination, I saw all my colors in my mind, they were all before my eyes. Wild, almost delirious, lines were being drawn right in front of me. I just did not dare to tell myself that Wagner had composed “my hour” in music,” Kandinsky wrote in “Steps”.

That was the moment when Kandinsky realized the enormous impact of music which expressed itself via sound and time and gave the listener freedom that figurative painting lacked. Perception, interpretation and emotional response in music are based on the abstract aspect rather than the descriptive one and it uses this intrinsic abstract language to refer to the “inner” directly. But the crucial point was that Kandinsky felt that painting was able to acquire this power too.

Kandinsky states his specific conception of proximity between painting and music in some of his works: the article “On Stage Composition”, the play called “The Yellow Sound” and the “Sounds” series which comprises prose poems completed with graphics.

The artist also saw consistency with his ideas of painting in Scriabin’s musical research. He was particularly interested in the color music theory stating interaction between certain colors and sounds which was successfully implemented by the composer in his orchestral piece “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire” (1908). The theory was akin to Kandinsky’s striving to find correlation between colors and feelings.

Another Kandinsky’s contemporary was Arnold Schoenberg, the artist’s pen pal whose Theory of Harmony (1911) correlated with Kandinsky’s ideas set forth in his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (1910). Some Schoenberg’s innovations such as negating chromatism (semi-tone system) and renunciation of tonal and harmonic conventionalities opened the door to new musical research and were a major landmark in the compositional practice.

Starting from “The First String Quartet” in 1905 he introduced chromatic structures which he called “developing variations” meaning permanent development and transformation of a music piece and denying repetition of the theme. Thus, Schoenberg obtained richly structured and intense polyphonic sound with equal development of particular parts of a musical composition. These new compositional structures resulted in free chromatism where the inharmonicity of tones and “emancipated dissonance” were emphasized which is one of the main characteristics of atonal music. This led to creation of music with new psychological profundity and associative and emotional power.

The innovation and significance of this discovery in music can be compared with the fundamental transformation in Kandinsky’s painting – from figurativity to free abstraction, which is an illustrative example of intellectual and spiritual kinship of artists searching for new means of expression.

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