Art & Design

O'Keeffe and Still

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, January 14, 2011
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Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven’t time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.

So I said to myself - I’ll paint what I see - what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

These thoughts appeared in a letter written by Georgia O’Keeffe, whose painted flowers overwhelm their canvases with her marvelous, signature style.

Born in Wisconsin in 1887, O’Keeffe studied in Chicago and New York. There was a time of discouragement, though -- a point when she realized that she was seeing in her art an unhealthy sense of obligation to please the public. She began creating abstract charcoal drawings. In 1916 the American photographer and art gallery director Alfred Stieglitz (whom she married in 1924) became interested in those drawings and exhibited them at his gallery in New York City; her work was shown annually in Stieglitz's galleries until his death in 1946. She moved to New Mexico in 1949, a place that attracted her deeply and felt like home.

The painting White Rose with Larkspur, No. 2 is a product of 1927 and hangs in the Art of the Americas wing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Delicate and powerful, I love its color and size. Its uncountable petals seem to crowd out the rest of the world. Busy Bostonians, like the New Yorkers O’Keeffe gently scolds, need to take time, too. I hope you can find some time for it.

Sometimes, taking a look at works of art composed in the same year can be illuminating, both for connections we find right in front of us and for opposing visions that reflect the rich textures of life. William Grant Still was an extraordinary man – the first African-American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony of his own performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. He’s known as "the dean" of African-American composers. Below is a clip from his ballet score La Guiablesse, a ballet commissioned by Chicago Allied Arts with a story based on a legend of Martinique and composed in the same year that O’Keeffe painted her White Rose.

Still: La Guiablesse - Final Scene (excerpt)

The second is a setting of the excerpts from the O’Keeffe letter above. Contralto Elizabeth Anker sent that excerpt to her friend, the composer Francine Trester asking her to turn it into a song. Elizabeth sang the result with pianist John McDonald, and here is a clip from that studio performance:



Trester:  Nobody Sees a Flower (excerpt)




(image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)


Louis Moreau Gottschalk & Fitz Henry Lane

By Cathy Fuller   |   Wednesday, January 12, 2011
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Pairing a piece of music with one of the pieces of art in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new Art of the Americas Wing, I’ve tried to find pairs that were created in the same year. Even when artists have vastly different sensibilities, there is inevitably a meaningful connection to be made.

The year is 1855, and the two artists come from very different circumstances. One of them was forced to stay in one place all his life; the other was famous for globetrotting.

The painter Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) lost the use of his legs before his second birthday. The paralysis was thought to have come from ingesting poisonous jimsonweed. He would never recover.

The musician Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) became America’s first traveling virtuoso – a pianist/composer who did an unbelievable amount of touring. He gave uncountable concerts in Europe, Central America, South America and Cuba. Sometimes called the “Chopin of the Creoles,” he worked into his music the syncopations of Louisiana and the Caribbean, creating pieces that anticipated jazz and ragtime. His music really had little to do with Chopin’s, but his spectacular control of the instrument was caricaturized by images of a wild pianist with hundreds of flying fingers.

Fitz Henry Lane was born in Gloucester. While he could have followed in his father’s footsteps as a sail maker, his artistic talents bloomed early. He went to Boston and apprenticed as a lithographer, and then came back to Gloucester, where he designed a house and lived at Duncan’s Point until his death. It’s easy to feel his deep connection to the water. The 1855 painting “New York Harbor” radiates a rich and emotional glow with noble ships and a warm sunrise. There is a kind of reverence in his vision that makes the busy place seem serene.

While Lane was sitting still, mastering his evocative, signature marine style, composer/pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk was taking the world by storm, giving concerts of his own music to adoring crowds. America’s first touring virtuoso became a sort of matinee idol, giving monster concerts, sometimes with up to 650 musicians! If you’re interested, the diaries of his travels are published and available. Notes of a Pianist: The Chronicles of a New Orleans Music Legend (Princeton University Press) tells his story masterfully. In one account he describes an unfortunate piano that he had to play in Panama: "The audience appears to be charmed, while I am playing on a cottage piano that I suspect was the product of an illicit union between a jew's-harp and a large kettle."

In 1855 Gottschalk wrote his famous piece “The Banjo”. Here are clips of Boston-based pianist Michael Lewin playing it, as well as the Mazurka “Souvenir de Lima”.

Gottschalk: The Banjo (excerpt)

Gottschalk: Souvenir de Lima (excerpt)

(image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts)


Homer and MacDowell

By Cathy Fuller   |   Friday, January 7, 2011
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When the Museum of Fine Arts opened its Art of the Americas Wing in November 2010, the vibrancy of that collection in its new space inspired thoughts about the music written at the same time as these incredible artworks were created. So I decided to experiment and look at specific pieces from the collection with music written around the same time.

This installment focuses on Winslow Homer, who was born here in Boston and spent his adolescence in Cambridge. His father disappeared to California to pan for gold, and when Homer was 19 when he began creating illustrations for sheet music covers at John H. Bufford’s lithography shop, one of which is at the bottom of this page.

At 21 he moved to New York and worked for Harper’s magazine as a “special artist” documenting the civil war.  By the end of his life, he was capturing the serenity and drama of the Maine Coast with oils.  His uncanny ability to convey the complex and stirring nature of the sea has made him one of the world’s most recognizable artists, and one of the most dramatic of those paintings is "The Fog Warning."

This painting puts you so close to the fisherman’s world, it feels as though you’re tipping the boat. The horizon threatens with fog and nightfall and the fisherman lifts his head to make the sensory calculations that a life at sea has taught him to make to get himself home.

"The Fog Warning" was finished in 1885, the same year that the American composer Edward MacDowell finished his Piano Concerto No. 1. It took two slightly desperate weeks to get it done. MacDowell’s teacher, Joachim Raff, had asked what music he’d written, and apparently, out of sheer intimidation, MacDowell blurted out that he had a piano concerto. (He hadn’t even thought about a concerto at that point!) Raff asked to see it the next Sunday. MacDowell finished only the first movement and managed to evade meeting his teacher. He put him off the next Sunday, too, and finally by the Tuesday after that, he had a piano concerto. Raff loved it, and sent MacDowell to Weimar to play it for Franz Liszt.

It’s not his finest – but it’s his first. And well worth hearing. Below is a clip from Seta Tanyel’s performance of MacDowell’s A minor Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony and conductor Martyn Brabbins.

MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. I, I: Maestoto - Allegro con Fuoco (excerpt)

(image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)



Cassatt and Chadwick

By Cathy Fuller   |   Monday, January 3, 2011
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One thing I love about Boston is that there are new sources of inspiration cropping up constantly. In November 2010, the Museum of Fine Arts added to those sources by opening its new Art of the Americas Wing, and it seems like a great opportunity to pair works that hang there with music that was written at the same time.

The extraordinary painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania and brought up in an environment that valued travel as a key part of education. She spent most of her adult life in France where she became a friend of Edgar Degas, and where she would later exhibit with the Impressionists.

She’s popularly known for her tender and warm portraits of women and was able to evoke the depth of the bond between mothers and children with a signature style. That style was apparent also in her visions of women in society, which you can see in "In the Loge" to the left.

I love this painting for its deep browns and the luminous pearl that sits on the woman’s ear. It’s one of many by Cassatt depicting women in theater boxes, seeing and being seen in Paris. The woman is perhaps peering at someone else in another loge, while a man at the upper left has his glasses trained directly on her.

This Cassatt comes from 1878, the year that George Whitefield Chadwick wrote his String Quartet No. 2. Like Cassatt, Chadwick was interested in a realistic vision of people’s lives. He comes from what has been called the New England School of American composers.

Born in Lowell in 1854, he studied at the New England Conservatory, where he would later become Director, establishing the school with many of the German conservatory features that he knew well. He also invited many of the Boston Symphony Orchestra members to join the faculty, establishing a relationship that thrives to this day.

Here is a part of that String Quartet No. 2, with the Portland String Quartet:

Chadwick:  String Quartet No. 2, IV. Finale - Allegro Molto Vivace (excerpt)


(Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts)


Paris: The Luminous Years

Monday, December 13, 2010
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Paris: The Luminous Years
Premieres Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 9pm | WGBH 2
>> more schedules

In the early decades of the 20th century, a storm of modernism swept through the art worlds of the West, uprooting centuries of tradition in the visual arts, music, literature, dance, theater and beyond. The epicenter of this storm was Paris, France. Paris: The Luminous Years tells the story of Paris from an unprecedented point of view, not as the familiar, glamorous backdrop for the revolutions that exploded there, but as active protagonist, catalyst and midwife to modernity. The film spotlights now-famous key figures in the art world’s first international avant-garde, including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Serge Diaghilev, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Aaron Copland, Josephine Baker, Marcel Duchamp, Langston Hughes, Sylvia Beach, Janet Flanner, and many more, as they recount their individual stories of why they came to Paris, whom they met, what they made there, and how being in Paris transformed them and their work.

Oct. 13: Prague and Art Nouveau

By Brian McCreath   |   Wednesday, October 13, 2010
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On today's program, we'll sample a new recording by the young, remarkable British vocal ensemble Stile Antico, who visit Boston this Friday for a concert presented by Boston Early Music Festival.

And I also have for you another in our series of concert performances from the Czech Philharmonic, recorded at the Rudolfinum in Prague (today featuring Josef Bohuslav Foerster's Violin Concerto No. 1 with soloist Ivan Zenaty).  I was there last spring with a WGBH Learning Tour (a terrific way to travel, especially if you love classical music;  and if you do, you might consider travelling next spring to Spain!).  And when our tour guide announced to us that, the night before visiting the Rudolfinum, we'd be hearing the Prague Symphony Orchestra at Prague Municipal Hall, the response from our group was ... underwhelming.  There we were in a former Communist state, going to a concert hall with the astoundingly pedestrian name of Municipal Hall.  We were in for a shock.  This has to be one of the most beautiful concert halls I've ever been in, and below are some pictures of it.  And further down, you'll find a work by one of the great Art Nouveau artists, Alphonse Mucha, who had a lot to do with the design and decor of Municipal Hall, and for whom there is a wonderful museum in Prague.  Enjoy, and be sure to follow the links to learn more!  And if you have memories of Prague to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Exterior of Prague Municipal House, courtesy of

Prague Municipal House interior, courtesy of Czech Tourism

Alphonse Mucha's Autumn, courtey Olga's Gallery

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