The Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is dedicating its fourth summer exhibition to a topic that is as entertaining as it is varied: the subject of music in drawings and prints. A selection of about 100 of the most beautiful musical works will be on display, among others by Andrea Mantegna, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Adolph von Menzel, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and Gerhard Altenbourg.
The recurring leitmotif evident in the exhibition is the special affinity between musical and pictorial expression. In musical notation, for instance, many of the basic elements of the graphic arts such as lines, initials, abbreviations, and dots capture the fleeting sound of a melody and make it visible on paper – music, in short, is drawn. And on the other hand, in the prints and drawings on display here, the dancing, flowing, or staccato strokes of the pen, pencil, or burin are strongly reminiscent of musical rhythms and harmonies. With the rise of modernism, visual artists even started creating tonal compositions of lines and colours rendered with pen and brush. These works impressively illustrate the creative back-and-forth between the visual arts and music.
Berlins’ Kupferstichkabinett is home to the most comprehensive and thematically diverse collection of European art in Germany, spanning 10 centuries. The exhibition presents a selection of the most beautiful musical images of the museum collection, including prints and drawings by Andrea Mantegna, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Adolph von Menzel, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Gerhard Altenbourg. Contemporary artists such as Jorinde Voigt and William Engelen also join the chorus of sounds on paper.
Added to the list of great artists featured here are the names of those great musicians and composers who are depicted in the various works, such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Niccolò Paganini, and Ludwig van Beethoven. And added to these yet again are a number of studies in ink or pencil of individual musical instruments which bring to life the magical beauty, for instance, of a bugle glistening in the sun or the sensual and elegantly curved contours of various string instruments. Similar to what the étude is to the composer, the study gives the artist an opportunity to ‘riff’ on a motif, run it through descending scales, and view it from different angles.
Throughout the history of humankind, the magic and the power of music have been recorded in myths and allegories, in biblical stories, classic works of literature, and in fairy tales. Prints and drawings illustrate these stories and render visible the magical effects of music on humans and animals, ranging from profound harmony to bacchanalian ecstasy. From these images we see that music-making happens everywhere: in Heaven and on Earth, in sacred contexts and in profane, in private, and in public. Soloist pieces are complemented by whole choirs and orchestras; the repertoire ranges from opera to the rock concert, via café music and jazz.
Even the kind of school music lesson familiar to us all has been depicted in art. But from here the exhibition departs from the familiar and strikes a more dissonant chord. For it is often the curious, somewhat transgressive aspects of music-making that artists have taken delight in representing, from the caterwauling to the melancholy mood that lingers when the last note has faded. The exhibition, however, ends on a cheerful note, the key goes from minor back to major, and we are presented with the quiet pleasure that descends on concert-goers and exhibition visitors alike after revelling in pictures and sounds.
With its summer exhibitions, the Kupferstichkabinett has introduced a new exhibition format to the German museum scene. The shows to date – The Art of Bathing (2014), Gone to the Dogs (2015) and We’re Off Then (2016) – were the subject of great interest among the public and media alike. The aim of the summer show is to present our visitors with particularly attractive and popular themes in art and cultural history during the summer months – the time of holidays, travelling and culture. Light-hearted elements also get a look in the exhibition.