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Bach's equivalent in painting
I was recently asked in an interview why I keep coming back to Bach in my programs and recordings. I explained that Bach is for me the greatest influence on all composers who wrote for piano after him, and understanding him is an open door to understanding the other composers whether they be from the classic, romantic, or modern period. Reading the comparisons here between painting and music inside the frame got me thinking, do you think there is such an equivalent figure in painting? Who would that be? (Leonardo da Vinci?)
Interesting question, Edna. The first painter who sprang to mind (and this was before I even looked at the thread you mention above) was Piero della Francesca - I think because, far more than an artist like Leonardo, he laid down 'rules' for all the artists who came after him to follow, to bend or to break.

Trying to draw comparisons between the visual arts and music can often be a dangerous, if tempting and fascinating, exercise. That said, I think your impulse to look for an equivalent to Bach in the Renaissance, rather than in his own time, is absolutely spot-on. I can't think of a single contemporary (17th-century) painter who is a seminal figure in the way that Bach and Piero are. But I'd be very interested to hear whether anyone disagrees with me.
Hi Edna and Misia,

I'm not knowledgeable enough neither in painting nor in music to give an answer but I wanted to raise some questions. It's a great topic.
Misia,you mention Pierro della Francesca. I must admit I am not familiar enough with him, though I'm aware of his importance with regards perspective. Perhaps the figure I would think of suggesting would be Albrecht Durer, both because of his paintings but also because of the place he demanded for the artist as the creator. Titian also comes to mind.
But this brings the following questions:

1. In art history one investigates the first painters to use perspective and their influence, but I'm pretty sure that for whatever Bach did there were precursors. Still, as Bach was the person to bring it to its height, he was the one who really influenced the ensuing composers. Was Pierro della Francesca really that influential for centuries to come?

2. You say Edna that Bach had a great influence on his ensuing composers. In which way? What can we say is Bach's influence. I'm aware it is a difficult question, and obviously you meant it in a general way which is very hard to pinpoint, but I still think that some examples would be helpful.

3. Nietzsche describes how modern music split with Monteverdi and Palestrina, following the way of Monteverdi. Wouldn't Pierro take the place of Monteverdi (or perhaps Palestrina), rather than Bach? Again, I'm aware this is a tricky question as we are talking very generally here, and I don't want to stop the discussion, or move it to be pedantic. I think it could help by raising some questions of what do we consider influence, what do we consider turning points and points of origin, and which are the ways we see influence. (I assume many here don't know neither Monteverdi, nor Palestrina, nor Pierro, but it doesn't matter for the discussion).
Would Titian and Raphael propose such a split in painting (between painting with color and with lines)? Obviously not as both were followed.

I also think that it wasn't merely the comparison of painting and music in painting and music inside the frame which brought about your question Edna. (Nor the interview question). The question of perspective, Bach, and the frame, seem to me inherently connected.
Hi Chris, it is a difficult question you are raising here about Bach which I will try to answer. Logically, his influence on later composers comes together with the great respect he inspires regarding the magnitude of his work and its quality. The rules of baroque writing are extremely strict and it is therefore natural that some composers of this period were more attentive to the rules rather than to inspiration. Bach was always alert to the revival of the austere form, and I suppose that the technical difficulty of writing was secondary to him and he always managed to give more importance and attention to inspiration and to the invention aspect (he calls many of his keyboard pieces “inventions”) in his work.  The baroque style is very much based on polyphony and the idea that each voice has its own independent course and life. Seemingly, each one of these voices wouldn’t need to rely on any other. It is like having several discourses simultaneously and to be able to hear them all separately and at the same time making sense as one whole discourse. This is what is so mysterious about this kind of music, how can several independent voices each say something different and of equal importance and still be in harmony with the other voices? It is possible if one applies to the composition a severe set of harmony and counterpoint rules that essentially deal with interval relations. Bach is master in the exhaustion of the compositional possibilities in a given form, and the word “invention” is a key word for his work.  Maybe this is also one of the reasons for his later great influence, every composer in the future will try to bring the form forward, to invent his language and new possibilities of expression, and for this one needs to know how to exhaust them in the first place.
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This topic has the following siblings:

Bach and Klee

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Latest Post: January 27, 2012 at 8:16 PM
Number of posts: 32
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