It is now a century since the term “visual music” was coined, by the artist and critic Roger Fry, to describe paintings by Wassily Kandinsky that seemed to incorporate a temporal dimension, a sense of embedded timelines, in which viewers followed spiraling sequences to their cadential ends. Long before electronic composition and cinematography, artists of many stripes pursued the emancipation of noise—luminous as well as acoustic—in settings that downplayed linear narration.
Many paths radiated from here—the anti-music of Futurism, the sound poems of Dada, sound-color projection, gestural abstraction—but the Music Library is pausing to commemorate an early Expressionistic work when none of those paths was yet foreseen. Upon hearing the experimental scores of Arnold Schoenberg, Kandinsky initiated what turned out to be a lasting friendship with the composer, who in turn contributed articles to Kandinsky’s publication Der blaue Reiter, as well as participated, with paintings of his own, in exhibitions of works by members of Kandinsky’s circle. Our focus is Schoenberg’s monodrama Erwartung (Expectation), an exercise, as Schoenberg acknowledged, in visual music-making.
Excerpts of Erwartung performed by the De Nederlandse Opera in 2005.