Marja-Leena Rathje
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colours of music


Can music have colour? David Hockney thought so, as filmmaker Maryte Kavaliauskas shows in her profile for PBS's American Masters, David Hockney: The Colors of Music.

Hockney designed sets for perfomances of some of the world's great operas for more than 30 years, surreal backdrops of "purple forests, spacey blues, giant blocks and mad silhouettes." Kavaliauskas' film features excerpts from operas by Mozart, Stravinsky, Ravel and Puccini, and the result is a mesmerizing, occasionally dizzying scherzo of sound and colour.

Ironically, Hockney suffered from gradual but steadily deteriorating hearing loss late in life - a decline documented in the program. "I have always said how a hearing loss makes you aware of space, visually," Hockney says in the film. "I became aware of that...I am aware." And how. David Hockney: The Colors of Music is a feast for the eyes. (PBS - 10 p.m.)

            - Alex Strachan, The Vancouver Sun, Page C6 (print only), July 18, 2007. (Links added by me.)

A TV program on my favourite subjects, visual art and opera, and a famous artist as well!

I read the above in our paper this morning and was happy to note that the program is available on one of our basic cable channels (unlike another art program). I rarely watch TV because I don't often know when something really good is on. I detest skimming through pages of tiny uninformative print in the TV listings for over a hundred channels, most of which we don't receive. So, I'm pleased when I see something like this written up to alert me.

I'll be watching it this evening, and hopefully will update later on as to what I think of it. Some readers may have seen this film already as it is a couple of years old. If not, check your local PBS listings (Canada and US). Meanwhile, there are interesting links at David Hockney: The Colors of Music website for more information, such as about the people involved like Lithuanian born Maryte Kavaliauskas and the lovely photos of stage sets (above is the performance still from Die Frau Ohne Schatten.) This production reminds me a little of Visual Music.

UPDATE July 19th 10:00 am: I enjoyed the film very much and I'm glad I taped it to view again. It was very interesting to listen to Hockney talk about the challenges of working in a new area that is very 3D instead of his usual 2D and working with light, and how stage design is a collaboration with compromises. I loved the snippets of music and dress rehearsals, such as Erik Satie's Parade. Hockney says music is heightened poetry and heightened experience. His comments on slowly going deaf were enlightening; he doesn't like background music, only foreground music - when you just listen to it! Amazing how many times I nodded in agreement. Oh, there's more but you will just have to see it for yourself!

Marja-Leena | 18/07/2007 | 7 comments
themes: Films, Music, Other artists


Wow! What a set! St. Louis, Missouri has a couple of opera companies. I saw "The Magic Flute" two weeks ago and am contemplating Puccini this weekend. It's a two hour drive each way and we have guests this weekend, so it's probably out of the question but you are reminding me that I really wanted to go!

I'm just getting broke-in to opera. It is seeming that I am easily tamed.

ML, so nice to catch up!
This Hockney programme sounds really interesting, I wonder if we'll have a chance to see it?
Your 'fairies' post is lovely too, and after you wrote about compact cameras I took my sister out to buy one. She's pleased with it but I was made aware of how it takes time to familiarise with something new. They are clever though!

Hi Bill, glad to see you again! How exciting that you've discovered the joys of opera. I love the combination of the visual with the music, don't you? It's a long trip for you though! Did you see my post on The Magic Flute that we saw here in Vancouver, a very different interpretation.

Hi Lucy, I do hope you get to see this film, perhaps it will even come out as a DVD later. Glad you liked 'fairies'. And I know what you mean about learning a new camera. I'm a slow learner with tech stuff - it took me awhile with the SLR and now the compact has even more options. I still reach for the SLR first, as I prefer SEEING what I get, having the visual control and focusing.

Thank you so much for alerting me to this film. I just hope that we get to see it over here in the UK - or maybe it came and went. Anyway I watched the trailer which was a delightful glimpse in itself.
I am a great fan of David Hockney and have followed his work for many years. I love his sets, the medium suits him and his zest for life so much. I also very much enjoy hearing what he has to say because that too always seems to be thought-provoking. I return to all my books on him time and again and nearly always come away with something new to mull. This time it was his comment about one's initial ideas being complex and having to pare them down to simple solutions. Just like writing poetry. Thank you again. This was a delightful surprise - two Hockney inputs for me within five days!

I like the photo of the introduction of Papagena. That was definitely a highlight of the production we attended -- a spritely young woman was just the thing to gather the threads of the story together. Pamina was, I thought, a bit stuffy as a character, not to mention that difficult character her mother, the Queen of the Night. I loved that many characters were only similar to, but not really of the human species.

Bill, isn't opera wonderful a wonderful medium for "otherworldliness" or whatever you wish to call it, for myths and fairytales and human/or not drama? Music already allows for open interpretation and the visual builds on the magic, I think. Like Hockney said, you don't have to understand the words. Aah, I want to go again but we don't have it here in the summer - lucky you, and TWO groups! And i wish I could see a Hockney designed opera!