Magazine article The Spectator

A Lone Voice Cries

Magazine article The Spectator

A Lone Voice Cries

Article excerpt

For some reason, with decent luck unconnected to the perpetual pre-millennial twilight zone we seem to have entered, the recent festivities have yielded a number of parties where musicians I know have had a chance to drink with painters. Maybe this is becoming a fixation with me, but the more I see myself and people like me trying to function in the larger world the more depressed I get.

The truth is that almost without fail the musicians at these gatherings had less to say about their experience of painting than the painters had to say about music. Quite apart from the several artists I met who grew up in musical families (John Craxton's father, for example, was one of the leading pianists of his time; and I had oboe lessons with his sister, Janet) it seems to be common for painters to work with music playing in the background. This may be providing them with little more than easy listening, though few were prepared to put it like that; and Jeffrey Camp gave me the impression that, although the influence of music does not find its way directly into his art, it is something of central importance to him. For a handful of painters, most topically represented by Norman Adams and Day Bowman, music has actually formed the starting-point for painting.

Compared with this, musicians give the impression of being a race apart. Either they come from musical families, presenting themselves as if they belong to some kind of dynasty; or they do not come from musical families, in which case their entry into the profession is hailed as being little short of a miraculous salvation leading to little but embarrassed reference to the benighted underworld they nearly got stuck in. Either way the chances of them having considered how their music might be conveyed in colour are very slight indeed. I heard one painter comment at a musicians' party that he had never before been so surrounded by `unseeing eyes'. It is true that one or two composers have shown themselves interested in visual inspiration especially film-music writers, amongst whom Michael Nyman has gone beyond the limits of film and turned to painting; Jonathan Harvey may be instanced - but even in something as visual as opera the music is the starting-point for everything that happens on the stage. …

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