n o v e m b e r 20, 2011

Wassily Kandinsky meticulously prepared his stage composition The Yellow Sound for production in Murnau on the eve of the First World War, but was not destined to see it on stage. Nevertheless, the “synthesis of arts” idea, so to speak, was in the air. In 1924, another “Blue Rider” member, the Austrian composer  Arnold Schoenberg produced his Die Gluckliche Hand (The Happy Hand), a musical drama for choir and orchestra.

Kandinsky took another step towards translating the idea of “monumental art” into life when he staged Modest Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, with his own sets and light, color and geometrical shapes for characters.

When he returned to Germany after the end of the First World War, Kandinsky for several years taught at the Bauhaus Higher School of Construction and Design, known for its experiments in stage art with the participation of school students.

Kandinsky was invited to make a stage composition to music by Moussorgsky. It was the first and only time when he agreed to use a readymade score − an obvious evidence of his profound interest.

On April 4, 1928, the première at the Friedrich Theater, Dessau, was a tremendous success. The music was played on the piano. The production was rather cumbersome as the sets were supposed to move and the hall lighting was to change constantly in keeping with Kandinsky’s scrupulous instructions. According to one of them, “bottomless depths of black” against a black backdrop were to transform into violet, while dimmers (rheostats) were yet to be invented.

kandinsky Wassily Kandinsky. Synthesis of Arts. Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Moussorgsky

The Gnomes. Stage set for Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in Friedrich Theater, Dessau.

Unfortunately, the original stage sets have not survived, nor are there any photographs. All that has remained are the sixteen watercolors of Kandinsky now kept at the Pompidou Centre, yet they are so fragile that they are not even on show in the permanent display. Also there is the piano reduction, which belonged to Felix Klee (Paul Klee’s son) who assisted Kandinsky in that project. This absolutely unique document details nearly every bar with an instruction as to what was to go on stage.

kandinsky2 Wassily Kandinsky. Synthesis of Arts. Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Moussorgsky

The Great Gate of Kiev. Stage set for Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in Friedrich Theater, Dessau.

kandinsky3 Wassily Kandinsky. Synthesis of Arts. Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Moussorgsky

Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition repeatedly inspired artistes to create visual representations. In 1963, the choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov (http://www.answers.com/topic/fyodor-lopukhov) to Pictures at an Exhibition at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, Moscow.  Ingenious cartoons have been made to themes from Pictures at an Exhibition in the U.S.A., Japan, France and the Soviet Union.

Nowadays we can appreciate the “synthesis of arts” at recitals given by the French pianist Mikhail Rudy. In his well-known project “Modest Moussorgsky /Wassily Kandinsky. Pictures at an Exhibition  he combines the music by the Russian composer with abstract animated cartoons and videos based on Kandinsky’s watercolors and instructions.

 

 

The computer design potential has inspired artists to create 2D and 3D animated cartoons and videos.  I would recommend one of the most provocative experiments in making “movies” of Wassily Kandinsky’s pictures.

 

 

 

Sources:

Playbill of the 6th Musical Festival “Vladimir Spivakov Invites…”

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Wassily Kandinsky. Synthesis of Arts. The Yellow Sound