Musical Iconography and Sketches Home
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in the National Gallery:
Street Musicians by Lillian Freiman and
Orchestra Sketch by Pegi Nicol
by Francine Sarrasin
| 2 | 3
It remains to be determined whether this sketch
induces the viewer to imagine a specific type of music, whether the melody
and its accompaniment are those of a lied, folk song, or jazz. Into
what cultural reality do the elements of the picture lead us?
All indications lead to the conclusion that
the musicians are true violinists. They are eminently serious in their
attitude and primarily absorbed in their own music. Fiddlers hold their
instruments lower on the chest; moreover, the pizzicato, when used in folk
music, serves most often to emphasize the ends of phrases. Here it appears
to be part of the melody. The bow of the upper violinist is far from being
fully extended: technically, it is in the first third next to the heel.
The posture of the singer herself makes the
viewer immediately think of a recital. The open throat, apparently expanded ribcage, and angle of the head all suggest a note of medium register.
(6) A higher-pitched sound would perhaps have contracted certain facial
muscles and inclined the head slightly forward. The hands reflect the usual
mannerisms of concert singers. The clothing of this figure, although visible,
provides no sociological clues. The blue of her dress, however, has the
intensity of Impressionist pastels, and the coquetterie of the ribbon around
her neck is reminiscent of Degas's dancers. Yet in France, as here, the
clientele of a ballet studio has little to do with popular art.
The rectangle, which certainly appears to be a music stand, would argue
in favour of so-called "highbrow" music. It is not unreasonable to see
in a music stand an indication of music that is learned, deciphered, or
read. Here we must go solely by the fact that it is present, for the reality
of the music stand is accessible to us only visually: it is turned toward
the viewer rather than toward the musicians, and it contains no score.
This constitutes an inherent contradiction. While all the paraphernalia
for making "serious" music has been assembled and put in place, this unnecessary,
empty stand in effect represents a denial. If the presence of the black
musician makes one think of jazz, the music stand becomes totally useless:
jazz, by its very nature, is improvised and therefore not read. Nor does
the music stand point to the spontaneity of folk music. Instead, it directs
the viewer of the sketch toward the wider realm of music in general.
A final look at how the instruments are drawn
shows the violins to be, apparently, perfectly and accurately sketched.
Nevertheless, in addition to the absence of scrolls and peg-boxes, as
noted earlier, the positions of the sound hole and the C meld into one
in the lower instrument, and the bridge does not actually support the strings.
These inaccuracies confirm that "Music" (not specifically serious or
popular music) is the real subject of the picture. Even the informational
value of the title itself - Street Musicians - becomes quite relative.
Lillian Freiman does not invest much energy in the naming of her works;
this can give rise to some confusion, as when records show one and the
same work alternately being called Three Musicians and Street
Musicians. Such titles as Violinist and Harpist,
at the Window, and Street Song abound in her production. None
of these works has a setting or background; they simply show musicians
encircling a single inner reality: "Music." It would seem that the artist
is willing to accept any suggestion for a title that sounds at all plausible.
Just as the musician practises, playing and
replaying for technique the passages to be learned, alone with his instrument,
shut away from the outside world, so has Lillian Freiman chosen to work,
away from currents, peaceably in her own universe, which she explores and
transmits in her pictures. Viewing her work as a whole and the prominence
of music in it, one might reasonably wonder why she did not herself become
a musician instead of a painter. The iconograhic study of Street Musicians
reveals one last, fundamental reality of music: it is a reality more
ethereal than the instrument and the voice, and more intellectual than
the quality of sound, register, and intonations; it is a reality somehow
removed from social tension, a reality in itself. Seen in this light, music
is very well served by the painting of Lillian Freiman.
Furthermore, if a musical event holds such
decisive pictorial meaning for her, it is because there is a similarity
between the subject and the process by which it is represented. Lillian
Freiman probably sees music just as she sees the intense blue of some of
her surfaces and the fine lines of her bows. Through her sketches, music
approaches the threshold of the tangible: it is music that softens the
curves, sharpens the angles and enables us, for a moment, to see more
deeply and more fully.
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