Related Story: HEAR Modern Music 2 (Debussy)

Claude Debussy, from Deux Arabesques, No. 1, 1888/1891. Zoltan Kocsis. Phillips, 1990.


The most modern musicians like Debussy create a spiritual impression, often taken from nature, but embodied in purely musical form. For this reason Debussy is often classed with the Impressionist painters on the ground that he resembles these painters in using natural phenomena for the purposes of his art. . . . But it would be rash to say that this definition is an exhaustive statement of Debussy's significance. Despite his similarity with the Impressionists this musician is deeply concerned with spiritual harmony, for in his works one hears the suffering and tortured nerves of the present time. And further Debussy never uses the wholly material note so characteristic of programme music, but trusts mainly in the creation of a more abstract impression.

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Music played a tremendous role in Kandinsky's conception of art and its purpose, and he discussed music extensively in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. He held music to be the most pure art form because it was tied to nothing but itself. In his attempts to free painting from "merely" imitating nature, he repeatedly turned to music as example and analogy. In the same way that musical notes or keys could bring about certain emotions, so too could certain colors. Compositions could be riotous or calm, improvisations or studies.

From the Closer Look in the Art Institute of Chicago app, available for iOS devices through the iTunes Store.