Seeing Sounds: Kandinsky + Schoenberg

Ibiayi Briggs
Aug 20, 2013 11:10PM

One of the highlights of MoMA's Inventing Abstraction for me was the story of Wassily Kandinsky's encounter with the work of composer Arnold Schoenberg.  The museum tells the story...

On January 2, 1911, the Russian artist, who was living in Munich, went to an Arnold Schoenberg concert with his partner Gabrielle Münther, Franz Marc, Aleksei Jawlensky, and Marianne Werefkin. They were dazzled by Schoenberg's music, which set aside existing rules of harmony in favor of a new atonal compositional method. Later, over drinks, the artists discussed the congruence between his theories and Kandinsky's attempts to break from traditional figurative modes of painting. Kandinsky also grasped the connection: within days of the concert he made sketches of the performance and then distilled the figures within until only traces of the original subject remained. In the coming months, he gradually evacuated all referential content from his work.

The orchestra performed the Second String Quartet which shocked audiences when it was performed in Vienna three years earlier. That night's performance was still met with mixed reviews, but Kandinsky was changed. He wrote to Schoenberg, "You have realized in your work that which I…have so long sought from music. The self-sufficient following of its own path, the independent life of individual voices in your compositions, is exactly what I seek to find in painterly form."

I'd always understood Kandinsky as a synesthetic pioneer in art history to but it was great to read about the performance that influenced to his work. As the founder of Der Blaue Reiter group he would create and champion works that revealed a spiritual connection between color and movement, and a transcendence beyond senses and mediums.  

You can listen to the Second String Quartet here and explore the connection between Kandinsky and Schoenberg further at MoMA's Inventing Abstraction site.  

Ibiayi Briggs