We walked into the calm, dimly lit (to protect the watercolor) exhibit. I was immediately struck by a couple of things: 1) watercolor here refers to transparent watercolor (called simply watercolor) and also opaque watercolor, also called gouache (I thought they were different) and, 2) graphite (pencil), chalk and pastel were routinely used in conjunction with watercolor. The artists were not purists about using only transparent watercolor. Of course, they did not have to be purists. They were already using a medium that was not considered 'professional' or salon worthy. Watercolors were employed by women and hobbyists, along with school children. So the artists were freed from the typical bonds of academe and market. Some of the works in the exhibit were sketches and studies. But most were finished work. Many of the earlier pieces gave the same effect as oil paintings. The virtuosity was quite amazing (and it also explains the use of opaque watercolor and Chinese white.) But gradually, as we absorbed the teaching of the exhibit, one could feel the loosening liberation allowed by the medium.
Winslow Homer's is the first painting you see, drawing you in. His astonishingly fresh work appears throughout. This made me wonder: why does Homer's work look so fresh? Is it because painting was a natural activity for him? His mother painted with watercolor (her work is included in the exhibit). He also had thorough practice in observation, having made illustrations of action during the Civil War. This required fresh, accurate and fast perception. Watercolor works very well with this sort of composing. There is no reworking or continual tweaking of the composition.
At the end of the exhibit, there is a compare and contrast room of work by Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. Both artists' work are breathtakingly beautiful, of course. Sargent is simply virtuosic with complicated masses of people (or alligators). Every stroke is perfection. Homer's work is more rustic and immediate. You feel the bright sun or the cold water and heavy skies. Homer is intimately involved with nature. In the very last room, some of the artists' art materials are exhibited. Sargent's tubes of watercolors are on display and Homer's well worn box of pan watercolors with brushes that must have been transformed when laden with watercolor.
The exhibit left me refreshed and affirmed in my newfound use of economical but versatile materials.
Before each quartet was performed, the four musicians would make a brief presentation about Bartok, his influences, the quartet or the world at the time of the writing of the quartet. This exercise enhanced the experience of listening to the music even above the spectacular renderings by amazing musicians. A different quartet of musicians presented each of the six quartets. We learned that Bartok was an introverted personality, personally quiet in nature. He had a keen interest in folk music, a humble media that Bartok brought to his compositions. Bartok shared this interest in Hungarian and peasant folk music with compatriot composer Zoltan Kodaly. The upheavals referred to above were coming into play. We listened to Quartet Nos. 1 and 2 with this in mind. I am sure that you are not surprised that we were determined to stay for more when the intermission arrived--plus, there was pizza!
After a lovely luncheon repast, where we were able to mingle with the musicians, we settled in for Quartet Nos. 3 and 4. The recital was in the Gould Rehearsal Hall. The musicians were seated facing each other and the audience encircled the musicians. We were encouraged to change our seats and vantage point, which David and I did. This has helped me remember what I heard during which quartet because I could envision where I was sitting and only had to narrow it down to two quartets! These quartets are known for their dissonant qualities, though I think we have become more accustomed to dissonance. Bartok creates a lot of texture in his quartets. This particularly came through in this segment (at least, that is what I noticed from this vantage point--all the texture for pizzicato, ponticello, using the back of the bow to strike the string (col legno--I had to look that up!) snapping the string so hard that it hits the sound board. Bartok used all sorts of techniques in an experimental manner. Was he freed up by his use of folk music? In the Quartet No. 4, the harmony was such that it sounds like another instrument, such as an accordion is in the mix. It was an extraordinary effect.
You know by now that we stayed for the whole project. After a break with cake, we reseated for Quartets Nos. 5 and 6. It was a bit of serendipity that as we moved, the musicians changed their arrangement. The viola and cello were across from each other and the two violins likewise opposite each other. I was able to see the violist for every quartet. This pleased me immensely. Presentations around Quartet No. 5 centered on mathematics, nature and Bartok's love of symmetry. My ears perked when the discussion covered some of the same territory that I addressed when talking about my ideas about harmony, including the golden mean and the Fibonacci sequence (please see my blog, Harmony...naturally, 2-9-17) . Abigail Fayette, violin, passionately spoke of how Bartok's compositions were complex and yet simple; like nature. I felt this explanation most acutely during the two 'night music' movements, the second and fourth, when I could hear the night sounds; harmonious bullfrogs and gentle wind through the grasses. Quartet No. 6 was Bartok's last full piece composed in his homeland of Hungary. He knew he would be leaving. It is full of his sadness: Mesto, Mesto, Mesto, Mesto--all four movements.
|A cake for The Bartok Project, cut in golden mean proportions, third by third, in layers of 3 and 5?|