Thursday, October 24, 2013

Art and the Extreme

I just ran across a thought-provoking article about an Australian painter who won a fabulous prize for a portrait. He couldn't actually pick up the award as he is in jail for armed robbery!
THE nation's richest art prize has been awarded to a former Art Gallery of NSW security guard who is serving a six-year prison sentence for a drug-induced armed robbery.
Nigel Milsom took out the $150,000 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize for his dark portrait of his grandfather's friend, Uncle Paddy.
He couldn't collect the cheque funded by Moran Arts Foundation due to the strict terms of his detention in NSW's Cessnock Correctional Centre, so it was accepted on his behalf by his gallery representative Kerry Crowley and girlfriend Aimee Crouch.
Milsom completed the painting earlier this year while on bail awaiting sentencing for the crime committed in the weeks after he won the 2012 Sulman Prize from the Art Gallery of NSW.
This reminds me of some thoughts I had about Joseph Haydn recently. Though the case of Nigel Milsom seems extreme, there are quite a few other examples of artists who lived on the edge or outside of society. Art, since probably the French Revolution, has been the province of the individual, often tortured, genius. What is fascinating about Haydn is that, as much of his career came before the French Revolution, his kind of genius falls outside our usual narrative frame. Except for an unfortunate marriage, Haydn did not live a tortured life. Despite this, he was one of the most radical, creative and inventive composers in all music history.

What does this tell us about aesthetics and the history of art? Plainly we can separate the creation of brilliant artworks from any kind of political context. You can be a progressive artist while writing music for the nobility as Haydn did. As a matter of fact, the nobility were also the primary audience for Mozart and Beethoven as well.

Here is the first movement of a Piano Trio in C major by Joseph Haydn played by the Melbourne Piano Trio:


Rickard Dahl said...

Interesting story. It seems like a good work of art compared with alot of the modernist (and probably postmodernist too) crazy stuff. I'm not into the artworld anyways. Since we're on the topic of Haydn, here's something interesting:

Will go to that concert (!/3816/5073) tomorrow (hopefully none will interrupt the music then).

By the way, if you're interested, here's my first composition (actually done in the begginning of June but uploaded a week ago, haven't finished any others yet but many are in progress):

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, quite a good portrait.

I saw that clip of the Haydn concert interrupted by the cellphone and wondered if you were there!

That is an excellent first composition, Rickard! You might try doing some variations on it. Writing a theme and variations is a pretty good kind of compositional exercise. Keep the phrase and harmonic structure and see what melodic variations you can come up with. Or keep the melody and see what harmonic variations you can find.

Rickard Dahl said...

Thanks! It's a pretty good idea to try to expand it but I'm focusing on other compositions right now including a Theme and Variations piece in F Aeolian.
If you're interested I've just uploaded my second composition:

I'm aware of the parallel octaves if you wonder.

Bryan Townsend said...

Parallel octaves are quite common--usually in an ensemble context. Doubling a voice at the octave makes it weightier. Parallel fifths are the real problem and normally should be avoided.

I think this piece works quite well. You might want to rethink the B section as it seems to lack direction. Think about doing something that will lead to a climax. Ways of doing this include modulating to a distant harmony, thickening the texture, increasing the rhythmic activity, and increasing the harmonic rhythm (more different harmonies per measure).

Rickard Dahl said...

I think parallel fifths are suiting in certain contexts, such as in certain chord progressions.

But anyways, yes you're right, I didn't really think about the climax issue when I wrote the piece, I will keep it in mind for possible future revisions and for other pieces I write. There's alot to think about and while I manage to improvise interesting things (mainly melodic ideas/motives etc.) I get stuck when I need to develop & organize them and also find good accompaniment/counterpoint. I suppose it will become easier with practice.

Bryan Townsend said...

The rule against parallel fifths should be understood in the context of counterpoint. When you have independent voices, they should never move in parallel fifths because it takes away from their independence and makes for an ugly, bare sound. But, of course, they happen all the time in "chord progressions" because they occur naturally on such instruments as the guitar. But that is not a very contrapuntal context and there really aren't independent voices.

You can intuit shorter pieces, but as soon as a piece gets to be beyond a certain length the problem of structure arises. Then you actually have to work out the composition! I recommend Schoenberg's Fundamentals of Music Composition as being a pretty good guide as to how to do this.