Not only poets may respond to a work of visual art with a creative act in their own medium, transposing the style and structure, the message and metaphors from the visual to the verbal. Composers, more and more frequently, are also exploring this interartistic mode of transfer. Although the musical medium is reputedly abstract, composers, just like poets, can respond in many different ways to a visual representation. They may transpose aspects of both structure and content; they may supplement, interpret, respond with associations, problematize, or play with some of the suggestive elements of the original image. This article begins with some methodological considerations regarding the musical equivalent of what literary scholars know as ekphrasis (see Spitzer 1962 (1955); Hagstrum 1958; Krieger 1967, 1992; Lund 1992 (1982); Clüver 1989, 1997; Scott 1991, 1994; Mitchell 1992, 1994; Heffernan 1993; Yacobi 1995, 1998). Central questions concern the definition of musical ekphrasis in relation to "program music" and music's ability to narrate or portray extramusical realities, that is, to relate to them by way of mimesis or reference. In a second section I attempt to position musical ekphrasis within the grid of interartistic interactions laid out by Hans Lund and address some central issues of terminology in research onmusical ekphrasis. Next I draw on three groups of symphonic compositions and two hybrid works (one pairing music with dance, the other pairing music with a biblical text), all composed in response to works of visual art, in order to attempt an assessment of the possible scope (and limitations) of the undertaking to reflect images in tones. To concretize the idea of correspondence between pictorial and musical configurations, I conclude with a comparative case study. My overall aim in this essay is thus threefold: to survey the range of artistic expression available for such transmedializations, to examine the degree to which the composers' creative responses draw on a body of shared cultural conventions, and to develop some first steps toward a methodology of "musical ekphrasis."
Poetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication – Duke University Press
Published: Sep 1, 2001