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December 2, 2009
Vol. IX, No. 17

"Yes We Kandinsky!"
On a recent weekend, I visited the Guggenheim to see the Kandinsky exhibit. It's always satisfying to experience Wright's building. From the outside, it's a striking visual to admire. But from the inside, it's an engaging experience. Seeing the movement of people through the various floors gives one the impression of being inside a living, breathing body:

Kandinsky was a Russian who was part of the German Expressionist movement (think abstract art). He had such a rich life and body of work that it was way too much information to consume in even one day let alone a two-hour visit, let alone cover in a Rampage. I pulled out my college textbook "Arts & Ideas" (Fleming) to help me sum up his importance as an artist:

"Kandinsky reached the frontiers of nonobjective art....Commenting on his completely abstract paintings, Kandinksy stated that their content is 'what the spectator lives or feels while under the effect of the form and color combinations of the picture' -- which may or may not coincide with what the artist had in mind when he painted it."

I don't usually accept the audio tour but it was free so I did and for many reasons I was glad I did. Listening to the recorded narrative forces you to slow down and take a little more time with the exhibits. In this case, it also allowed the museum to introduce music into the narrative. This turned out to be a necessity since music played such a big role in Kandinsky's thinking and ultimately his art.

He had an association with Schoenberg, who actually influenced some of his work. Particularly highlighted was Schoenberg's Second String Quartet in F# minor. Except the fourth movement, which isn't in a key, and is seen as the turning point in Schoenberg's work where he transcended tonality. Hearing that music while viewing the Kandinsky pieces it influenced, well, that was the first time in a long while that I had a sympathetic ear for Schoenberg.

In a previous Rampage, I mentioned an interview with a Bach author who discovered a 12-tone row in a Bach work and made a connection to Schoenberg:
Whatever the similarities, I think it's clear that Bach had something very different in mind than Schoenberg.

What they had in common, however, was that they were both trying to push the envelope in their composing. And while they may not have set out to do it, they changed the world with their art. This they had in common with Kandinsky, as he felt quite strongly that the world could be changed through art, and he did just that. The Guggenheim gift shop was selling a Kandinsky t-shirt with his quote “There is no must in art because art is free.” That quote really struck me. As the economic decline continues and we enter the next phase of losing our freedoms, art/music will certainly be our island of sanity. But perhaps it will be more than that, ready and waiting to lead us to freedom and a new way of life.

Are there problems in the world? Sure. Are there solutions? Certainly. Can we fix it? Yes we can! Oh dear, did we elect Bob the Builder? I suppose not since America is looking less like Bobsville and more like Pottersville everyday. If you're looking for change, you can't do any better than to keep your hope invested in music. But remember, art doesn't change the world, people do!

At last a brave volunteer has stepped forward with our next installment. Jim Miller of Miller Pipe Organ Company takes us along on a journey, as he builds a residence organ for one of his clients. I think you'll enjoy it:

Added is the website for composer Claire Rivero. Claire's fine arts composition, "Lord Make me an Instrument of Thy Peace", based on the prayer of St. Francis, has been performed by the Schola Cantorum of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in San Francisco and the First Lutheran Church of Honolulu. Visit her site to listen to a selection of her works.

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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