This is another in Naxos’s ongoing ‘Music and
Art’ compilation series. In these discs several works by contemporaries
of the chosen artist are set out chronologically. An important
facet of the exercise is that the accompanying booklet should
have essays on the artist, his life and his work. These also address
the music and should contain good, if obviously small reproductions
of the artist’s most significant pictures. The music comes from
previous Naxos releases and thus more effort can be put into the
general presentation than usual. This makes an attractive and
inexpensive introduction to Art and Music and is an excellent
idea both for home, or as a present or for use in schools and
college libraries. This is the plan followed here.
Turner was well ahead of his time; ‘avant-garde’
we might call him. When you look at his pictures you see an impressionist
wash of colour especially the one which is reproduced here: ‘The
Fighting Temeraire’. On viewing his work, for me at least, if
I hear music at all, I hear Debussy, not J.C. Bach. Thinking of
a British composer, I hear Frank Bridge, not John Field. Yet that
is the point. Music normally lags behind the visual arts and that
point is well made. How much more ‘modern’ Turner was than his
musical contemporaries. Only Berlioz stands shoulder to shoulder
with him. The Serenade from ‘Harold In Italy’ well illustrates
the painting on page 13 of ‘Child Harold’s Pilgrimage’.
When, last year I reviewed the Rubens volume
‘Music of his time’ (Naxos 8.558067) there was little disparity
between the art and the music. It is sobering to realize how much
the two art forms were beginning to move apart in Turner’s time.
This situation continued until the Picasso/Stravinsky period.
There is, perhaps unexpectedly, a musical connection
with Turner and his family. Although a somewhat curmudgeonly old
bachelor he had two children by Sarah Danby after her husband
John Danby had died. Danby had been a friend of Turner’s and was
a composer of light music and motets. He was also organist at
the Chapel in the Spanish Embassy. Not only that but Turner, according
to the excellent booklet essay by Hugh Griffiths, would "tootle
quietly on his flute to himself while he waited for the paint
to dry". In Turner’s sketchbooks can also be found tiny extracts
of music which he might possibly have played. To emphasize his
musical interests, on page 7 of the booklet, Naxos have reproduced
Turner’s 1835 picture ‘The Music Party – East Cowes Castle’ -
a real wash of colour and light.
It is interesting to realize that when, in 1775,
Turner was born in Covent Garden, J.C. Bach was producing his
weekday concerts with much success. As Turner reached puberty
Haydn was in London having his symphonies performed. By the time
we come to Turner’s great picture of 1843, ‘San Benedetto’, a
view of Fusina, (page 18) Chopin was shortly to make his last
and ill-fated visit to London. It was a particularly good idea
to add to the disc Chopin’s last three Studies - an addenda to
his two more famous sets.
Also illustrated is Turner’s extraordinary ‘Snowstorm
at sea’ (page 15) finished in 1842. Listen to Mendelssohn’s Storm
in the ‘Hebrides’ whilst contemplating it.
It is pointless to discuss comparative versions
of these extracts as obviously they are subsidiary to the overall
point of this series. We are not concerned with the performances
but with the music and the composers in their context. In fact
none of these performances are at all a problem, and some (the
Paganini and the Field) are especially good.
The booklet also contains a fascinating chronology
or time-chart. This has Turner and his life-events down one column
and important contemporary events down another from 1769 until
his death in 1851.