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"The Two Fridas" among the paintings that inspired Alejandro Fasanini's Synaesthetic Music

31 May 2024

From painting, colours and shapes comes the new album by Alejandro Fasanini, just released by Etnica Edizioni. The Argentinean composer is no stranger to the search for extra-musical inspiration: if in the past it was the great personalities from the world of cinema, music, art or who stood out for their social commitment, now music springs forth and materialises from pictorial suggestions.

"Suite for Art-Classical Solos" is the title of this disc that includes nine compositions for solo instrument and two for duo inspired by famous paintings, all seen live by the composer: Modigliani's series of nudes (violin), Hokusai's The Great Wave of Kanagawa (flute), Klimt's The Kiss (oboe), Vincent van Gogh's self-portraits (cello), Turner's Goethe's Theory (oboe d'amore), Kandinsky's Composition VIII (clarinet), Frida Kahlo's The Two Fridas (trumpet), Ligabue's Tiger's Head (bassoon), Chagall's The Walk (flugelhorn), Hopper's Hot Table, Pollock's Mural (piccolo and bass flute) and Picasso's Guernica (violin and cello).

The Italian review Il giornale della musica asked Fasanini about the origin of this way of composing, this ‘listening to the paintings’, as he call it and this was his reply:

"It was with my teacher Luis de Pablo that I learnt to compose colours. After all, several 20th-century composers used synesthetic perception to write music; I am thinking of Skrjabin, Messiaen, Debussy himself, who spoke of abolishing the boundaries between the arts. Kandinsky, on the other hand, took the opposite route, allowing himself to be inspired by sounds for his paintings. Synesthesia is not something innate to me, I acquired it at a mature age, studying with my teacher’".

Fasanini uses three criteria to compose: what he calls the ‘texture’ of sound, which is characteristic of the timbre of the individual instrument, such as the ‘round’ sound of the clarinet that inspires Kandinsky's Composition VIII where the dominant element is the circle, or of timbral mixtures (‘the tactile sensation of “velvet” is obtained with the viola in the middle register in unison with the bassoon in the upper middle register’, says Fasanini). Then there is weave, which characterises the density or rarefaction of sound in orchestral writing, and colour, which is given not only by instrumental timbres but also by intervals. 

The pieces, which do not have a precise tonal centre but neither do they move towards absolute atonality, as a sign of freedom with respect to determined compositional currents, are to be listened to with the painting they are inspired by in front of one's eyes, abandoning oneself to pure perception through the body, letting the different sensory experiences mingle and leaving any intellectualistic interpretation on standby.  Fragments of melody emerge from time to time; recurring notes that act as centres of melodic convergence are equally noticeable, most evident in the pieces dedicated to Van Gogh and Modigliani, the latter characterised by a poignant melody in its tonal completeness.

(taken from the article linked below)