Many artists have attempted to visualize the abstract, emotional language of music.
One who had a unique gift at conveying musical ideas was the Spanish artist José Segrelles (1885-1969), whose enigmatic and evocative watercolors were published on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1927, the Illustrated London News published his visualizations of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Here’s how he imagines the first movement’s familiar four-note theme, which Beethoven reportedly characterized in this way: “Thus Fate knocks at our door...” [now quoting Segrelles] "...to tell us of our sins and to announce the hour selected for our death."
The Roman numerals of a clockface, shimmer in the air behind the hooded figure of Destiny, whose right hand reaches for the iron loop in the shadows at the upper right.
Later in the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, Segrelles imagines a satyr clawing the air beside a glowing light in the shape of a butterfly. On the ground before him, weird organic forms grow upward toward a lone red flower.
Segrelles commented on the theme of this picture: “And so Destiny raises mortal men and women by its secret power, which urges us on, advancing without backward movement, despite our pleas, to the end of our days.”
And if that’s not enough, look what he does with Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung! Imagine how Fantasia would have turned out with him as concept artist.
Gallery of Segrelles samples by Jim Vadeboncoeur
Segrelles Museum official site.