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Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a widespread fascination, fad, even fashion in fin-de-siècle France around synesthesia, launched by the publication in 1883 of the sonnet written in 1871 by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891): Voyelles. Subsequently, people also associated it with the earlier sonnet by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), published in his Les Fleurs du Mal (1857): Correspondences (See my four-part piece about the five French pianist-composers of the Belle Époque era, and its Appendix E in Part 4 for texts of the poems.). Other writers were also participants in the hype or near hysteria for it. Novelist Joris-Karl (actually Charles-Marie-Georges) Huysmans (1848-1907) created a homosexual æsthete and synesthete main character, des Esseintes, in his novel À rebours (Against the grain or Against Nature, sometimes Wrong Way, 1884) that was revolutionary because of its style and became (in)famous because of its main character and its content. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was familiar with it and its author and it was introduced as an exhibit in his 1895 trial. The fascination grew out of the belief in the phenomenon of audition colorée (color hearing) which some individuals experienced legitimately. It also involved interest in and speculation on the connection with the mysterious, the mystical, the occult, and the otherworldly.
This interest was, however, very un-scientific, based on personal sensations and eventually imaginations and visions, not to say hallucinations, some induced by substances. The latter led to an association with decadence, degeneracy, and even dementia; were its believers and advocates seers and voyants, disturbed, or insane (Some thought it a nervous disorder.)? À rebours is often referred to as a "decadent" novel. Nevertheless, it became a veritable continent-wide "infatuation" (Kevin T. Dann, Bright Colors Falsely Seen; Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge, New Haven & London: Yale Univ. Press, 1998, p. 26), spreading like a virus throughout Europe. Only now, in the past two decades or so, is science taking it seriously, studying it systematically, and defining it precisely. It has now been pretty much determined to be genetic, but the specific gene has not yet been identified (Cytowic & Eagleman, p. 195). It appears not to be localized in a single sense-perception region of the brain, but rather come from "increased cross talk" between and/or among several of them (Cytowic & Eagleman, p. 199; Itals in original). Much research and study remain to be done.
Richard E. Cytowic is a neuropsychologist/neurophysiologist/neuro-opthamologist who has conducted numerous interviews, surveys, and some observations and tests/experiments with actual subjects, including David Hockney (Cytowic, pp. 274-281, and Cytowic & Eagleman, pp. 183-187), researched prior writings about or by others, and written several articles and books (The most accessible/least technical is Wednesday is indigo blue, written in collaboration with neuroscientist David M. Eagleman, who is director of the Center for Synesthesia Research at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.) about the various forms of synesthesia, and has thus, together with Eagleman, perhaps explored the phenomenon more thoroughly and more scientifically than anyone else either previously or contemporarily. For most synesthetes, the phenomenon is unidirectional, but for a few individuals, such as Messiaen (See above.), it is bidirectional. There is, however, an inherent conflict in any attempt to create a system of specific relationships between colors and sounds because even the creation of a color wheel itself is the imposition on the natural phenomenon of colors being separated by a prism or observed in a rainbow of a humanly devised Cartesian rational system; to extend that further into correspondences with aurally perceived tones is attempting to make something inherently nebulous and varied among individuals into something concrete. Some did nonetheless make the attempt.
Modern study of color and light seems to have had its roots with the German Jesuit Scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) who wrote about them in his Ars Magna Lucis et umbrae (1645-46) in which he wrote "that each musical sound has a necessary and objective correspondence to a certain color." (Cytowic, p. 273) Throughout the 19th century, various craftsmen, intellectuals, and scientists conducted experiments and research and published their results and thoughts on the phenomenon of color. Many artists throughout the 19th century kept abreast of these developments and incorporated them into their works to a greater or lesser degree. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) wrote, in 1810, his Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors), which includes a hazy color circle that is more like a donut, and which exerted widespread influence [Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) entitled an 1843 painting Light and color (Goethes Theory) - The Morning After the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, for example] together with Arthur Schopenhauer's 1816 Ãœber das Sehn und die Farben (On Vision and Colors) that refined Goethe's theory. Francis Galton systematized it in his Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (London: MacMillan, 1883). Others, including Wassily Kandinski (1866-1944), a member of the German Expressionist artists group Der Blaue Reiter, in his Über das geistige in der Kunst, inbesonders in der Malerei (Munich: R. Piper, 1912 [actually 1911]; trans. M.T.H. Sadler: The Art of Spiritual Harmony, London: Constable, 1914, now most often titled Concerning the Spiritual in Art), reflected and wrote on the subject over the years as well, but these are perhaps the most influential philosophico-scientific thinkers who published full-length works treating it. These concepts held sway until Ludwig Wittgenstein published his Tractatus Philosophico-Mathmaticus in 1918, and in 1950-51 refined his concepts in his Bemerkungen über den Farben (Remarks on Color), notes published posthumously, which dominated the 20th century's understanding of the phenomenon. Many of these acknowledged the concept of synesthesia, all without adopting, exploring, or seeking to nail it down.
An English scientist/chemist, George Field (1777?-1854), wrote about colors and suggested correspondences between them and notes of the musical scale. His first book, really a pamphlet, Chromatics, or an Essay on the Analogy and Harmony of Colours was published in 1817 (London: A. J. Valpy, Tookes Court, Chancery Lane, Pp. iv + 57, [§64 + Appendix of XI Notes with 10 suggested experiments.]). He writes of "the coincidences of Music and Chromatics" (p. iv) in which "Chromatics denotes the science of the relations of light, shade, and colours," which are "either inherent, as in pigments or transient, as in the sun-beam, rainbow, prismatic, spectrum, &c. the first arising from reflection, the latter from refraction, &c" (p. 1). His §26 says: "Upon the gradation of hues and shades depend the sweetest sounds of colour in nature analogous to the effect of succession or melody in musical sounds: they may therefore be termed the melodies of coulour." And §27: "The accordance of two colors in the foregoing examples, coincides with what the musicians call CONCORD, which is the agreement of two sounds either in consonance or succession: the opposite of which is DISCORD. Thus also harmony, both with the Musician and the Chromatist, signifies the accordance of three or more sounds or colours in consonance or opposition […]" (pp. 13-14). He continues by using terms of acoustics to describe correlations of colors. His illustrations are not color wheels, but rather sunburst-shaped patterns that enclose 6-pointed stars subdivided into multiple equilateral triangles with arrangements of colors, primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries, meeting and mixing. The primary colors are analogous to the primary musical triad: C, G, E, or G, E, C, or E, C, G. A triangular colored diagram illustrates the correspondences of the chromatic scale to the colors. Throughout he refers to the music of the Ancient Greeks. He pushes the theory of analogy to its extreme limits.
His later book, Chromatography, or A Treatise on Coulours and Pigments and of their Powers in Painting, (London: Charles Tilt, 1835, Pp. xx + 276) focuses on color theory in its first part, and then on pigments, collectively and individually, which makes up the majority of the text; Chapter XXII offers 10 Tables of pigments. Field was aware of Chevreul's work (See below) and refers to contrasts of colors. There are numerous quotes from literature throughout. Its title page refers to his 1817 Chromatics […], and he expands on it in his chapter 3 (pp. 20-33), in which he writes: "The palette is the instrument of the painter as the viol is of the musician, and the tone and tuning of the latter is analogous to the colours and setting of the former; each requires such adjustment according to the principles of its respective art. It is difficult to say where this analogy ceases, if it be true, as philosophers have argued and poets sung […]" (p. 31). It also offers some XXXI experiments, some of them on an instrument called the Metrochrome. This is about as detailed as an analogy can get. There were several revisions of the book by others throughout the 19th century: -----, rev. by Robert Mallet, The Rudiments of Colours and Coloring […] (London: Strahan & Co., 1870) offers a color-key correspondence in above-below linear fashion: red = c, orange = d. yellow = e, green = f, blue = g, indigo = a, violet = b, with the numbers 1 – 7 below the notes (p. 19) that is not present in either of the prior books.
This is, however, present in the American artist Thomas Cole's unpublished Journal – November 1834-February 1848: "Thoughts and Occurrences," in its 3rd entry (p. 4-7) dated "November 8th [1834; he is preparing to return to New York City from Catskill (Note that this is prior to Fields' publication of Chromatography […])]: "I made a small circular diagram of colours to-day. It reminded me of an experiment I have long wished to try, and have thought a good deal about. The idea was suggested by something I read, when a boy, I do not know where. It is what may be called the Music of Colours. I believe that colours are capable of affecting the mind, by combination, degree, and arrangement, like sound. […] It is evident that there is an analogy between colour and sound; and with study and experiment it might be traced through all its ramifications. I am not aiming to prove the analogy, but to show that there is plausibility in the theory that an instrument might be constructed by which colour could be played, and which would give to those, who had cultivated their taste in the art, a pleasure like that given by music. If I attempted to make an instrument, I should try the experiment with six colours and their semitints […] The instrument might be played by means of keys, like those of a piano, except that, instead of moving hammers to strike strings, they might lift, when struck, dark or black screens from before coloured compartments. Transparent compartments, with either sunlight or artificial light behind, would perhaps produce the most brilliant effect." (Quoted in Louis Legrand Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1856 [a rpt with a new title of the 1st ed. pub. by Cornish, Lamport and Co., 1853 & rpt by Sheldon, Lamport and Blakeman, 1854]; rpt, Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1964, Ed. Elliot S. Vesell, pp. 140-41; I have also seen an image of the original and have silently corrected Noble's transcription errors). This "instrument" that plays colors, is envisioned some 80 years before Scriabin's clavier à lumières or the 1915 "Chromola" (See above). Homer (See below) refers to this envisioned instrument as "the 'color-organ'." (p. 28)
Thomas Cole (1801-1848), was born in England and came to the USA in 1819, so he may have read Field's Chromatics […] when it was first published before he left England. At age 9, he had worked as an engraver of calicos in a print-works, thus gaining intimacy with colors (Noble, pp. 3-4), and was an avid reader all his life. He was the first artist of what we now call the Hudson River School of painting, the first American art movement, that romanticized the American wilderness landscape. His final home, Cedar Grove farm in Catskill, NY, is a National Historic Site; he may have had a copy of Field's Chromatography [...] in his library there, although none appears in his list of books drawn up in December 1839, now found in Box 6, Folder 2 of the Thomas Cole Papers in the collection of the NY State Library in Albany; he might also have seen or acquired it on his trip to Europe in 1841-42 which began and ended in England. He devised some color wheels based on the information in it. One endpaper of a sketchbook dating from 1839, but containing things drawn as late as 1844, now (acquired in 1940) in the Princeton Art Museum has a hand-drawn reproduction of the frontispiece of this Field book with text copied from its pp. 22-24 in Cole's handwriting (See William I. Homer, "Thomas Cole and Field's 'Chromatography'," Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 19, No. 1, Special Number in Honor of Ernest Theodore DeWald on the Occasion of His Retirement (1960), pp. 26-30.) Cole also associated colors with specific notes on the scale. In the aforementioned Journal entry, a drawing of rising quarter notes with downward tails on a stave (no clef symbol; we must assume treble, since the lowest note is in the space of 'A') has a column of upper case letters below it with the related color beside them, thus: A - Red, B - Orange, C - Yellow, D - Blue, E - Green, F - Indigo, G - Violet (p. 6). This is the vertical version of the horizontal one in the 1870 Mallet revision of Chromatography […] mentioned above. Cole, who played the flute (His sister Sarah played the harp; their instruments are in the home.) was also a poet; his journals contain many poems as do some of his letters; several are quoted in Noble.
Cole was a performer for music, not a composer. Some current performers are also synesthetes: pianist Joyce Yang is among them. She discussed it in an article by George Varga ahead of her performances with the San Diego Symphony in the 4 October 2108 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune. "Yang, 32, has synesthesia, an involuntary neurological condition in which the activation of one sense in a person triggers another one of their senses. In her case, hearing music triggers colors and shapes. When she came to NYC to study at Juilliard, at age 11, she already knew that she had synesthesia, but did not know what it was. 'I think it was when I started to learn the Haydn Piano Concerto in D major,' she said. 'At that time [in Korea, before coming to Juilliard], it was always in my head that the piece was yellow. Everything in D major was a little yellow to me! I didn't talk about it then, but I was terrible sight-reader.' […] 'What helped me is that I'd color some chords and draw shapes next to them to help me remember what the notes are. Because reading one note at time was so painful for me when I was young. So I'd go to my lessons with all these colors and squiggles I'd drawn on the pages of the scores.' […] 'The teacher said: 'What's going on here?' Yang recalled. 'I said: 'I know the music much better this way, by colors and shapes, than by reading a diminished 7th (chord) on the page.' People said my scores were 'unusual.' Little by little, I was astonished to learn other people didn't see colors. At Juilliard, I discovered other people who said they also see colors. I learned that everyone with (synesthesia) sees something different. But, the fact is, it's a driving force in our creativity and in remembering and interpreting music. Without it, I'd be very lost.'" This confirms that many more people experience it than talk about it; likely many can't 'put their finger in it,' or lack the scientific knowledge or vocabulary to describe it with any specificity. See my companion article about Scriabin's 5th Symphony for more about his synesthesia from this perspective; he was both a composer and a performer, though after his schooling he mostly played his own music.
[This paragraph was added on October 15, 2018.]
At about the same time as Cole was beginning his Journal, on the other side of the Atlantic, in France, a quartet of people who became closely interconnected were making their first acquaintances with each other: George Sand (nom de plume of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin [Dudevant], 1804-1876), Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Maurice Dudevant [later Sand] (1823-1889), and Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). They began connecting in Paris in 1834, when George broke up with poet Alfred de Musset; George met Delacroix first, in November when her publisher hired him to make a portrait of her, whose original is now lost. She met Fryderyk in 1836, after her divorce from François Dudevant was finalized in July, in November, either at the Hôtel de France where Liszt was residing, when she went to visit him and Chopin was also present (so he purportedly introduced Chopin to her), or at a party hosted by friends of hers: Charlotte Marliani and her husband, which is where, at a similar party, he met Delacroix that December; but both were present at a dinner that Franz Liszt gave on 28 May, so they might have met briefly then, and hence before Chopin met George.
Delacroix was a music lover from childhood, learned to play the violin at age 5, later the piano and harpsichord (he bought one), and later still the guitar, and bonded quickly and closely with Chopin; they shared many interests and preferences, often finding themselves together at salons of the aristocrats, such as the Rothschilds' (Charlotte Rothschild was one of Chopin's pupils), where Chopin occasionally played. Both never married; kept work and social activities separate; and, like most artists, cherished and needed the privacy and solitude of their studios to create and work. They became closer after Chopin and George broke up in July 1847, soon after and because of the marriage of George's daughter Solange (who was close to Chopin and he to her) to the sculptor Auguste Clésinger on 19 May, and remained close until Chopin's death, getting together frequently in Paris to attend operas and plays, or just to talk; they wrote to each other frequently, mostly short notes, but few of them survive in their respective Correspondence(s).
All 4 were together for only 2 weeks in June 1842 at George's country property in Nohant, on the Indre River, a tributary of the Loire, South of Paris near the geographic center of France. George and Fryderyk began going there for the summer in June 1839 following their disastrous trip to Mallorca the previous horrendous winter (weather- and health-wise, 8 November-13 February), where Maurice displayed yet more interest and talent in sketching and painting, inspiring George to engage Eugène to teach and mentor him after they returned to Paris, having Maurice go to Delacroix' studio for regular lessons. They were in Nohant every subsequent summer except 1840 through 1847, often lingering well into the fall, but Delacroix had commitments in Paris and Maurice often spent much of that time at his father's home further south in the Lot region, so they were rarely in Nohant, Delacroix returning only briefly in 1843 and 1846, in part to have time with Chopin: he never went there when Chopin was not present.
Although Delacroix saw Chopin frequently during his last months, at his apartment or his own, he was in Valmont (in Normandy; a painting of the ruins of an abbey, still in private hands, was done there) when Chopin died on 17 October 1849, and was very despondent for some time afterwards; his mention in his Journal (= diary, p. 472 in the 2009 2-volume, 2520-pp. edition and reconstruction by Michèle Hannoosh) for 2[0; '1' is written] October is brief, but touching. He returned to Paris for the funeral on 30 October (that featured the Mozart Requiem, at Chopin's request [They had heard it together at the Conservatoire's opening concert of its 1845 season on the evening of 21 March (Chopin Correspondence, vol. 3, p. 192).]; he was a pall-bearer, along with cellist Auguste Franchomme [dedicatee of the 'cello sonata, Op. 65, and performer with Chopin in its 1ère on 16 February 1848 in the Salle Pleyel during Chopin's last public concert in Paris], Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Camille Pleyel), then left on 2 November for his country house in Champrosay in the southern suburbs of Paris, which he had rented in 1844 and then acquired in 1858 (to avoid having to move; after Delacroix's death, it was occupied by writer Alphonse Daudet, who also rented it [1867-87] from Delacroix's heir, and then acquired it; most of his works were written there, and it is now the Maison d'Alphonse Daudet museum. Delacroix never had a studio there; those were all in Paris; his last one (1857-1863) at 6, rue de Place Fürstenberg is now the Musée national Eugène Delacroix.). He did not write in his Journal again until January 1850. His most touching tribute is in the entry for 7 January 1861, quoting his note replying to a letter received from one of Chopin's closest Polish friends, with whom Delacroix remained in contact for the rest of his life, Albert [Adalbert] Gryzmala (1793-1870; a diplomat who played the piano and bought some of Delacroix' paintings): "[…] I will see you again with the pleasure that I have always had and with the feelings that your nice letter revived in me. With whom [else] could I speak about the incomparable genius that heaven was so jealous of earth's holding and of whom I often dream, not able to see him [again] in this world or hear his divine chords. […; he ends by referring to Chopin as:] the seraphim that we have lost and who, at this hour, is charming the celestial spheres." (Journal, pp. 1382 & 2140, & Correspondence, Vol. IV, pp. 226-27; my translation)
In addition to shared sensitivities, they also shared respiratory tract problems: Delacroix had chronic laryngitis, likely originally contracted in his adolescence, but worsening steadily from 1842 on, that eventually took him, though not quite as young as TB took Chopin. Françoise Alexandre gave a paper at Nohant on the Chopin-Delacroix friendship in 2010, subsequently published in the Bulletin de la Société des Amis du Musée national Eugène Delacroix, vol. 11 (2013), pp. 18-27, « Delacroix et Chopin ; des têtes-à-têtes à perte de vue » ; the title refers, quoting Delacroix' words from a letter to a friend, to the June 1842 time in Nohant. He ends the comment by saying: "He [Chopin] is the truest artist I have ever met. He is among the small number of those that one can admire and esteem."(Correspondence, vol. 2, p. 112, my translation) He began painting a double portrait of George and Fryderyk, the former seated behind the latter, who was seated at the keyboard of a piano, in 1838, since cut into two, that of Chopin reduced to a bust portrait, and also did a pencil one of Chopin dressed as Dante at an undetermined date; all are now in the collection of the Louvre. Delacroix clearly accepted Chopin's lack of understanding of art without taking offense. Coincidentally and interestingly, the only paintings about which Chopin ever wrote in his letters home were portraits, and his primary concern was their resemblance to the person portrayed, not their artistic quality.
Delacroix' first biographer was poet and esteemed art critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867): L'Œuvre et la vie d'Eugène Delacroix, a series of 3 essays written September–November 1863 in l'Opinion nationale, collected and published as a book in 1928; most Americans are unfamiliar with his writings in this field. The go-to biography today, which I have read cover-to-cover, is Barthélémy Jobert's Delacroix, written in 1997 for the bicentennial of the artist's birth, and revised (only the introduction and conclusion) and expanded in 2018 for the exhibition this past summer at the Louvre in Paris and at the Met Museum in NYC in the fall, where I saw it. The first official Salon that Baudelaire covered was that of 1845, which featured Delacroix' The Sultan of Morocco, one of the many paintings that he made after his 6-month trip to that country, October 1831-March 1832, as a part of a diplomatic delegation, chosen because he was already a famous artist, during which he also visited Cadiz in Spain and Algiers in Algeria, and spent time in Marseille and Toulon (required quarantine) en route back to Paris; it was a trip that changed his perception and perspective enormously in terms of culture and people, light and color, for the rest of his life. Of the painting, Baudelaire wrote:
"Has anyone, at any time, ever used such a musical coquetry? Was Veronese ever more magical? Has anyone ever sung more capricious melodies on a canvas? made a more prodigious harmony of new, unknown, delicate, charming colors? We call on anyone who knows his old Louvre; ̶ show us a painting of a great colorist in which the color has as much spirit as in M. Delacroix's. We know that we will be understood by only a few, but that is enough. This painting is so harmonious, despite the splendor of its tones, that it becomes gray ̶ gray like the atmosphere of summer, when the sun stretches like a twilight of dust over every object. […] The composition is excellent ̶ it has something unexpected because it is true and natural." (quoted in Jobert, pp. 166-68)
Delacroix was referred to as a 'colorist' by nearly every reviewer. An earlier painting made in 1834, also resulting from the Morocco trip: Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (= harem), shown in the Salon of 1835, was reviewed by one critic: Gustave Planche (1808-1857), who wrote: "The color everywhere is brilliant and pure, but never crude and clashing […] This canvas is, in my opinion, the most brilliant triumph that M. Delacroix has ever reached." (quoted in Jobert, p. 155) Another, Théophile Thoré (1807-1869; later writing under the pseudonym of William Burger), wrote of it: "The general color is so harmonious that this brilliant and varied painting appears somber at first glance. It is the incomparable talent of M. Eugène Delacroix to be able to marry the richest and most diverse nuances, like musicians who run over the whole range of sound." (quoted in Jobert, p. 166) A third, Charles Blanc (1830-1882), in his obituary of Delacroix in 1864, referred to it thus: "[…] he has used all his means of coloration to achieve a maximum of splendor and intensity, bringing them into the most perfect and calm harmony by balancing all these strengths." (quoted in Jobert, p. 155). Delacroix was familiar with the work of Chevreul with colors (See below), but never met him, although he easily could have, since he spent a lot of time in the Jardin des Plantes, in the same area as Chevreul's laboratory, where he liked to observe the exotic animals in the zoo there, and where Chevreul, too, was fond of walking to examine the exotic plants in search of a potential new dye.
George was present for some of the conversations at Nohant, and also in Paris, where they met and dined together occasionally at George's apartment at 16 rue Pigalle, and recorded summaries with quotes of some the discussions in her Impressions et souvenirs (Paris: Lévy, 1873, rpt 1896; available online). Colors were sometimes a topic; in one instance, in January 1841 in Paris, (Chapt. V, p. 81), with Maurice present and Chopin listening, Delacroix placed a red cushion ('throw pillow') next to a blue rug, and said they will "steal from each other," and if you continue to look at them, you will perceive the colors blending, changing both on either side of the spot where they touch, and that spot will become purple (p. 81; my paraphrases and translations; this quote is often cited, but its context is generally not [correctly] given: the discussion of the topic is often mentioned with a few words in quotes, but without any source given). This was for Delacroix a pedagogical moment, an illustration of an earlier statement in the same paragraph: « Le maître établit une comparaison entre les tons de la peinture et les sons de la musique. L'harmonie en musique, dit-il, ne consiste pas seulement dans la constitution des accords, mais encore dans leurs relations, dans leur succession logique, dans leur enchaînement, dans ce que j'appellerais, au besoin, leur reflets auditifs. Eh bien, la peinture ne peut pas procéder autrement. » [The master established an analogy between the tones of colors and the sounds of music. Harmony in music, he said, does not consist solely in the constitution of the [notes into] chords, but also in their [inter-]relations, in their logical succession, in their linking in what I call their auditory reflections. Well, painting cannot proceed otherwise.] They did talk about music as well, and Chopin helped Delacroix understand some things about composition, on 7 April 1849: "During the day he spoke to me about music and that revived him. I asked him what establishes the logic in music. He made me feel/[understand] what harmony and counterpoint are; how a fugue is like pure logic in music, and that being knowledgeable in the fugue is to know the element of all reason and all consequence in music. […]" (Journal, pp. 438-39; my translations)
See Addendum 5 at the end for details about Delacroix' technique.
It is clear that Chopin was not interested in art in the way that Delacroix was in music, however; he said he "loved the man but hated the painter.": […] Sand wrote: "He is a musician, nothing but a musician. His thinking can only translate into music." (p. 80). He clearly didn't understand the analogy that Delacroix was making because he didn't know anything about dyes, hues, and tints. The conversation did not lead to anything close to the correspondences between notes/tones and colors like Cole's list; it was on a far more abstract plane dealing with internal similar/analogous compositional features and structures in both arts, and using the science of reflections [Maurice also became an entomologist.] as the point of departure, but that is surely inherent in synesthesia, and perhaps part of its source for those who experience it. Later in the conversation, Maurice raised the question of reflections of reflections, taking the discussion a step up in (or deeper into) science, but it never gets into the science of optics (See above) from earlier in the century, or the science of hearing that was less developed then, or the issue of the fact that all of this is the perception by the senses as communicated to the brain; it is not the hues in the fabrics that are blending, but the light rays bouncing off of them, and they are being perceived by the senses and interpreted by the brain, which is the way science today is attempting to approach the subject. Delcroix realized this and said so, according to one of the wall labels in the aforementioned Exhibition, but I have not been able to locate it in his copious writings which do not offer a subject index, and my e-mail inquiry remains unanswered.
Coincidentally, another composer, an almost exact contemporary of Chopin: Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), was also an artist, albeit not one who created and sold works, but they were certainly of professional quality, although mostly watercolors, sketches and drawings. To my knowledge, he never said a word about any correspondences between colors and musical tones, but while I have read the definitive biography of him by R. Larry Todd (his biography of Fanny as well), I have not read any of the primary sources. He may well have sensed rapports without ever talking or writing about them. They both shared some styles and techniques as well as having maladies that took their lives at such a young age, though Chopin's was a disease while Mendelssohn's was a congenital condition, the same one that took Fanny before him. They knew and liked each other, had met on more than one occasion, and also corresponded, and shared some preferences, styles, and playing techniques.
[The 10 preceding paragraphs were added on 25 January 2019.]
Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889 – yes, he did indeed live to 103 and worked right up to the end!) addressed the issue briefly. He worked for the Gobelins Tapestry Works, a royal, then national company, and had his laboratory, where he worked on formulating dyes, on its premises. He published De la loi du contraste simultané des couleurs in Paris in 1839; it was reissued by the French government in a lavish edition in 1889 for the centennial of the French Revolution and as a tribute to Chevreul; a statue of him is located in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It was translated into English by Charles Martel (pseudonym of Thomas Delf) as The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and their Application to the Arts, London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854; I have looked at the 3rd ed., 1859. The most accessible edition of the work is that under the same title by Faber Birren, which uses the 1854 text (West Chester, PA, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1987); it has additional detailed succinct introductory material to establish the context of the original, and reproduces the dozen photographs by Nadar of Chevreul in his laboratory along with a photo of the statue. Chevreul created the cercle chromatique, the first color wheel, using 6 primary colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet (He deemed indigo identical to violet), and created 5 different degrees of mixture/shading between the adjacent evenly mixed ones for a total of 72 tinctures. He was aware of the earlier attempts at creating an analogy between color and sound, but did not believe in it. He recognized the similarities between the senses of hearing and sight, and their differences from the other three senses because they lack a concrete physical or chemical contact with the object sensed: "(973.) Hearing is the sense which passes as having the greatest affinity with sight; for every one (sic.) knows the comparison that has been instituted between sounds and colours, not only when considered as sensation, but also when it has been sought to explain their propagation by the wave theory." (Birren ed., p. 153; paragraphs are numbered in the original) He also pointed out that mixtures of colored lights do not produce the same results as mixtures of colored pigments (See below.).
Following on Chevreul's work was Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894), whose Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik (Handbook of Physiological Optics or Treatise on Physiological Optics) translated into English for the Optical Society of America was widely known; he dealt with color vision, and also published in 1863 Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music) which became the basic study of acoustics and influenced musicologists, but he did not delve into any analogy between the two. Ogden Nicholas Rood (1831-1902, Chair of the Department of Physics at Columbia University from 1863 until his death) wrote his Modern Chromatics (London & NY: Appleton and Co.) in 1879, revised and re-issued under the title Students' Text-book of Colour; or Modern Chromatics with Applications to Art and Industry, and reprinted numerous times; I looked at the 1916 edition. Its new title gives a clearer indication of its content and purpose than the original one: it has an entirely scientific thrust, dealing with the diffusion of colors of light via a prism and other ways of producing them, however, like Chevreul, he believed in contrasting colors. Only its final chapter: "On the Use of Colour in Painting and Decoration," deals with art, fewer than 20 of its 329 pages, in spite of the fact that he was an amateur artist, working primarily in watercolors. Nonetheless, some artists were familiar with the theories and experiments that it documents and with the color wheel that is more nuanced and less strictly evenly subdivided than Chevreul's. There is no suggestion of an analogy of colors with sounds in his work either, however. The pointillists, like Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Signac (1863-1935) were heavily influenced by his and Chevreul's works.
A modern artist who dealt with the subject of color in a manner entirely different from color wheels and optics of light refraction was the German Josef Albers (1888-1976), who taught first at the Bauhaus in Dessau and then Berlin, and moved to the USA in 1933 when the Nazis closed the school because his wife Anni, a textile artist, was Jewish. He went directly to the then new Black Mountain College in NC where he taught until 1950, when he went to Yale University in New Haven, CT, where he lived until his death. He focused on the perception of color by the eye and brain. His magnum opus, Interaction of Color, a work of art in its own right because its separate plates in 80 folders were all individually produced by screen printing using over 800 individual inks, was published by the Yale University Press in 1963, at a huge cost in a slipcase edition limited to 2000 copies, that were sold out by 1968. The text of its companion "Commentary" volume was adapted by Albers and published with a selection of plates chosen by him in paperback in 1971, revised in 1975, revised again and expanded in 2006, and re-issued in a 50th anniversary edition this year.
This version is written as a series of observations or studies, exercises, and experiments using colored papers in 26 chapters (the 26th the equivalent of "Acknowledgements") that form a course, which can be taught or supervised – teacher/student, parent/child, or self- for a serious adult – that culminates (theory comes after practice) in Albers' own color system, an equilateral triangle made up of 9 identically sized smaller equilateral triangles, the 3 primary colors, red, blue, and yellow at its apexes, the 3 secondary ones, violet, green, and orange, completing the external sides, and 3 closest/least different tertiary ones, filling the empty internal spaces. He closes the color-contrast analysis circle by referring back to Chevreul, refining his findings based on subsequent knowledge (p. 54). Its Introduction begins: "The book Interaction of Color is a record of an experimental way of studying color and of teaching color. In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art." (p. 1) It is eminently affordable ($18) and worth owning for its insight and concision; you will look at color with greater understanding and deeper appreciation after reading it. An electronic version of the original has been available since 1994 from the Yale Univ. Press in collaboration with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, CT, and is now, this year, available in digital format as an App.
While Albers was not a synesthete and did not specifically address the concept, he does offer numerous analogies and correspondences between color and sound: "Colors and hues are defined, as are tones in music, by wave length." (p. 34 in 2103 paperback ed.), or: "We emphasize that color harmonies, usually the special interest of color systems, are not the only desirable relationship. As with tones in music, so with color–dissonance is as desirable as its opposite, consonance." (p. 67), or again: "A 'transformation of 4 reds to 4 blues of a slightly lower key seems comparable to a transformation of a tetrachord in music from 1 instrument to another. Therefore we are also in color concerned with 'intervals.' But such rearrangement is far more complicated with colors than with musical notes." (p. 131). The closest he comes to talking about synesthesia is: "Though we were taught, only a few years ago, that there is no connection whatever between visual and auditory perception, we know now that a color changes visually when a changing tone is heard simultaneously. This, of course, makes the relativity of color still more obvious…" (p. 71) [See also Addendum 2, below.]
Some composers were also artists, and were aware of the earlier color theories and the books. The most famous of these in modern times was Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), who exhibited with Der Blaue Reiter, the Munich-based German Expressionist group in his early years. He began painting in 1907 and was quite prolific, painting in many genres and continuing throughout his life, and his style changed quite a bit over the years. Some of his paintings were nearly as revolutionary and jarring as his twelve-tone music and other innovations such as the Sprechstimme in Pierrot lunaire. A couple bring Edvard Munch's (1863-1944) The Scream (1893) to mind: one of his self-portraits and Der rote Blick (The Red Gaze, 1919, reproduced in Maur, p. 36) are not too far removed from it, although more abstract and with more muted colors. Among his representational ones are a portrait of composer Alban Berg, and a portrayal of the funeral of Gustav Mahler (reproduced in Maur, p. 37). "Schoenberg and Cézanne share the pragmatic sense of color as a matter of contrast and interrelationships, although it is evident that Schoenberg would go further in systematically setting forth laws for their use." (Riley, p. 280) "Schoenberg's thinking on aural and visual color was influenced by two Russian masters, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Wassily Kandinsky. Rimsky-Korsakov's Principles of Orchestration (1891; trans. Edward Agate, New York: Dover, 1964) begins and ends with a valediction on 'tone coloring.' Its very first sentence (p. 1) reads: 'Our epoch, the post-Wagnerian age, is the age of brilliance and imaginative quality of orchestral tone coloring.'." (Riley, p. 283)
Schoenberg also wrote about both music and art. In Harmonielehre (Theory of Harmony), he discusses Klangfarbe (tone color), the second dimension of tone. (Riley, p. 280) His 1913 opera Die glückliche Hand (The Hand of Fate) conceives color "as an integral and even structural element of the intended multimedia event" (Harvard Dict., p. 180), not unlike Scriabin's concept in the same time period. But in spite of creating in both worlds Schoenberg did not formulate a system of exact correspondences between sounds and colors. Sociologist, philosopher, musicologist, and composer Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), in his tribute essay on Schoenberg in his Prismen; Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (1955; Prisms, trans. by Samuel and Shierry Weber, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981, pp. 149-171) writes: "Of all his accomplishments in integrating musical means, not the least was that he conclusively separated colour from the decorative sphere and elevated it to a compositional element in its own right. It changes into a means for the elucidation of musical interrelations (p. 169). According to Riley (p. 279), he described his music as "pantonal"; "atonal" is a misnomer.
Some artists contemporary with him were music lovers and occasionally portrayed musical subjects, painting portraits of composers or scenes of events or performances. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Russian born painter who lived and worked mostly in Germany (except during WW I when he returned to Russia) until the rise of the Nazis in 1933 when he moved to France, was a member of Der Blaue Reiter, taught at the Bauhaus, and was one of the first painters to move away from representation towards abstraction; he had studied piano in Moscow. He "explored harmonic relationships between sound and color and used musical terms to describe his paintings, calling them 'compositions' and 'improvisations'." (Cytowic, p. 270) In his book, Über das Geistege in der Kunst, he "claimed that each color had an intrinsic sound." (Cytowic & Eagleman, p. 101) He said he heard tones and chords as he painted and that yellow was at middle C; he may thus, like Messiaen, have been a bi-directional synesthete. One of his most famous paintings, made in 1911 and frequently reproduced, Impression III (Konzert), depicts abstractly listeners in a semi-circle around a stage with a few musicians on it next to a large black spot that suggests either emptiness or a massive orchestra, using contrasting colors to individualize the personages, their heads mostly merely white outlined in black. He also wrote a one-act opera. Der Gelbe Klang (The Yellow Sound, 1912), that involves a mixture of color, light, sound, and dance, like Scriabin's unfinished Mysterium; Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956) actually composed the music. He also said there was a correlation between the 12 colors of the standard wheel and Schoenberg's 12-tone system.
Another artist associated with Der Blaue Reiter and subsequently the Bauhaus was Swiss-born Paul Klee (1879-1940); he returned to Switzerland in 1933, where he remained for the rest of his life, his style changing dramatically in his last years. He, too, had a lifelong association with music: his German father was a music teacher; his Swiss mother a singer trained in Germany, and he was an accomplished violinist. He was also a member of Der Blaue Vier (The Blue Four), formed in 1923 with Kandinsky, Russian Alexei van Jawlensky, and American Lyonel Feininger (See below.); they exhibited together in the USA in 1925. Many of his paintings are abstract, some with representational elements, albeit in numerous different styles over his lifetime. But it is clear from his choice of titles, several of which use musical terms like Whistler's (See below.), such as "Harmony," like Harmony in Blue-Orange (1923), Ancient Harmony (1927), Harmony of Northern Flora (1927), "Composition," "Polyphony," including several painted in 1932: one, two, and three, that have overlapping transparent layers of paint, and "Variations," and from his choice of colors and their relationship to each other, that he felt some sort of relationship between sounds and colors, although he did not write much to reveal details. The most specific he got was comments like: "One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colours: the row of watercolours in my paintbox." (Hajo Düchting, Paul Klee; Painting and Music, Munich and New York: Prestel, 1997, p. 17; quoting from Felix Klee, ed., Paul Klee Tagebücher, 1898-1918, Cologne,: DuMont Schauberg, 1957; The Diaries of Paul Klee, trans, Penelope Crowe, Berkeley & LA: Univ. of California Press, 1974, entry 1124) About his polyphonies, he said: "Polyphonic painting is superior to music in so far as (sic.) the temporal element has more of a spatial quality. The sense of simultaneity emerges in an enriched form." (Ibid., p. 65, quoting Diaries, entry 1081)
Many European artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were seeking a way or ways to transform art from its traditional focus on realistic portrayals of people, places, and things (portraits, landscapes and genre/historical paintings, still lifes) to something more abstract. Several movements sprang from this, including Impressionism which sought to paint the effects of light on the subject, and actually had a basis in the science of light as its starting point. The German Expressionists were also part of this progression away from faithful representation. Other movements were more general, but the ulterior motive of many was a principle known as « l'art pour l'art » ("art for art's sake") that originated in mid-19th-century France (Writer Théophile Gauthier [1811-1872], author of the poems that Berlioz set in his Les Nuits d'été, was the first to adopt it as a slogan.) and spread elsewhere, juxtaposing it to art for celebration or representation, and whose further development became not unrelated to the invention of photography, a medium capable of doing what theretofore only talented and trained artists could do. In the 20th century, this led to "abstract art," when artists such as the Cubists moved even further away from reality, banning anything remotely resembling something specific.
Some artists were propelled in this direction by a desire to produce works that are more like music, which is absolutely abstract: you cannot represent a musical sound by anything concrete other than a note on a sheet of score paper. Rimington wrote, in 1911: "But though, in the case of sound, the great art of music has been created, no such art with colour for its main object has yet been built up. There is, however, no reason why this should continue to be so, or why a great colour art analogous to the art of music should not be developed." (p. 2) He attributes this situation to the previous technological difficulties of producing an instrument capable of producing colors, as opposed to the production of instruments that produce musical sounds, and offers his invention See above.) as the solution.
Conversely, throughout the 19th century, some composers had been frustrated by the entirely abstract nature of music, and sought to make it into something more concrete. One of the methods was to give it a narrative, make it tell a story, like a work of literature. This was particularly true in the Romantic period; think of Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Op, 14 (1830) and his Harold en Italie, Op. 16 (1834), which is really a concerto for viola and orchestra in form if not in name, but as a work is a long distance from a classical-era concerto. Another method was to attempt to evoke a place, especially an exotic one, with 'exotic' quite broadly defined: think of Emmanuel Chabrier's (1841-1894) exotic España (1883-84), but this practice dates at least from the Baroque era with works such as Rameau's Les Indes galantes (1735), and includes such things as the Turkish marches in some Mozart and Beethoven works. Orchestral and instrumental color focuses grew out of these efforts, as both movements developed throughout the 19th century. In the 19th and early 20th centuries as well, some pianist-composers sought to write works that evoked or even conjured up an image of specific places, structures, legends, events, etc.; think of Liszt's Jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este, and others of his pieces in his Années de pélerinage, or some of Claude Debussy's Estampes and Images, like Pagodes and Poissons d'or, or his Préludes, such as La Cathédrale engloutie or La Puerto del vino.
A listener's conjuring up an image in her/his mind, in the "mind's eye," imagining a field with cows in it while listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, the "Pastoral," for example, colored though it may be, does not constitute synesthesia, any more than do mere associations of sounds and colors. Although Messiaen composed his Chronochromie [Color of Time] (1959-60) and his Couleurs de la cité céleste (1963) synesthetically, selecting chords and modes based on the colors they represented for him, the works really fall into the categories of orchestral color and evocation of nature. The latter, based on the Bible's book of Revelations and inspired by specific lines quoted in the score that refer to the rainbow and to various colored gem stones (He said: "I don't think I've ever gone so far with the sound-color relationship; certain sound combinations really correspond to certain color combinations, and I've noted the names of these colors in the score in order to impress this vision upon the conductor, who will, in turn, transmit this vision to the players he directs. The brass should, if I dare say it, 'play red'; the woodwinds should 'play blue,' and so on." [Messiaen, p. 139]), uses actual bird songs in its score, and also imitates a cascading mountain stream, and the listener, unless s/he is the same sort of synesthete as Messiaen, will not perceive those colors upon hearing the music, sublimely harmonious though it is, even if s/he can conjure up the mental image of the waterfall.
One musical form actually grew out of composers' attempts, conscious or un-, to be portrait painters. This was a significant fad among the French Baroque clavecinistes, who sought to depict, using patterns of rhythms and sounds, the dominant characteristics of individuals of the aristocracy and evoke their personalities, generally entitling the works with the characteristic itself or the family name of the subject preceded by the feminine article, such as François Couperin's (1668-1733) La Princesse de Sens, or Antoine Forqueray's (c. 1671-1745) La Du Breüil, or of stereotypical figures such as Couperin's La Diane, and Rameau's La Villageoise and La Follette, or Forqueray's La Couperin (Couperin also wrote a La Forqueray!) and La Rameau that evoke his colleagues, for example. It had its antecedents in similar Renaissance pieces for lute (or guitar) found in nearly every national tradition across Europe. In the Romantic era, this evolved into the works for piano known as "character pieces" that most composers wrote, epitomized by Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Carnaval, Op. 9 (1834-35), in which he depicts Eusebius and Florestan, representations of the opposing aspects of his own bi-polar personality, along with characters from the Commœdia dell'Arte like Pierrot, Arlequin, Pantalon and Colombine, and friends and acquaintances including his then fiancée (not Clara). Many composers continue to create such works even today. Other composers over the centuries have written similar works for nearly every instrument in the plucked string family, including the harp, the bowed string (both violin and viol), woodwind, brass, and even percussion families. Some of Debussy's Préludes, like General Lavine – eccentric, derive from this tradition.
The painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was a firm and strong adherent of the l'art pour l'art principle and focused his efforts on making color the central focus of the work, perhaps the first artist to do so incessantly, systematically, and unapologetically. The titles for many of his works contain color words: what we commonly call "Whistler's Mother" is actually entitled: Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother (1871). Many others use in addition names of musical forms, such as 'nocturne,' for example: Nocturne: Blue and Gold; Old Battersea Bridge (1872) and Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket (1875), which depicts fireworks over the same bridge, a work that was part of Debussy's inspiration for his Prélude Feux d'artifice (Book II/12; 1915). There are some very hazy paintings of scenes in Venice that also use "nocturne" in their titles, for example Nocturne: Blue and Gold - St Mark's, Venice (1879-80).
Other musical terms appear as well, such as Symphony in White No. 1, The White Girl (1862) [There are two other interpretations of this portrait (1864, and 1865)] and Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Mrs. F.R. Leyland (1871-73)* [Her husband, Frederick R. Leyland, became a major patron of Whistler, and was, in fact, the person who suggested the term 'nocturne' to him in a letter in the early 1870s]; Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville (1865)*, Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander (1872-74) and The Zattere: Harmony in Blue and Brown (1879-80); Variations in Violet and Green (1871) and Variations in violet and grey – Market Place, Dieppe (1885); Caprice in Purple and Gold: The Golden Screen (1864); and The Giudecca: note in flesh coulour (1879-80) and Convalescent or Petit Déjeuner; note in opal (1883-84). 'Note' seems to be used in the musical, not the correspondence sense: to wit, the title of his second and last exhibition in NYC was: 'Notes'- 'Harmonies' – 'Nocturnes'; even 'arrangement' can be interpreted or understood in a musical sense, as in Arrangement in Blue and Silver – The Great Sea (c. 1885).
"Nocturne in Blue and Silver" is used for several scenes: Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea (1871), his first painting using "nocturne" in its title, and Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights (1874); most involve water, and began with numerous Thames River subjects. Such a scene, Nocturne (1870-77), hangs in the White House in Washington, DC (Whistler's home in Chelsea in London that he sold in 1879 when he went to Venice was also called 'The White House.'). The Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, now houses Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room (1876) that was created for the Leylands' home at 49 Princes Gate in London. Examples abound.
Whistler's titles led to a court case that resulted from a negative review of his Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket by the art critic (also draughtsman and watercolorist) John Ruskin (1819-1900) published on 2 July 1877, in which he wrote he "[…] never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." Whistler sued Ruskin for libel over this statement and won, although he was not awarded a large sum of money: just one farthing (= ¼ a pence). But the ultimate outcome of this ambiguous/ambivalent verdict and award was that it settled the artist's right to portray what he wished how he wished, without needing to conform to any established conventions or tradition, and the critic's right to express his opinion respectfully as he saw fit – the verdict was seen as being the result of a lack of that respect on the part of Ruskin, the award as the thought that such a case should never have gone to trial.
(For Part III of this article, click here.)