Online exhibition prepared in connection with the Smithsonian’s Piano 300 exhibition.
The musical and visual arts have always gone hand in hand, particularly in the way that each medium inspires the other. Chopin wrote nocturnes; Whistler painted them. Kandinsky created symphonies with color, and Debussy used notes to create two sets of tone pictures for the piano, appropriately titled Images. Both music and the visual arts have a dual nature: there are technical and theoretical aspects to both, but at the same time, they can be evocative and emotional.
It is no wonder then that visual artists take inspiration from music, or that they might try their hands at the musical arts—particularly the piano, which provides challenge and delight to both the novice and the professional.
As the 300th anniversary of its invention is celebrated, the piano still remains one of the most popular instruments today. This exhibition was prepared to compliment the Smithsonian Institution’ exhibition Piano 300: Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos, at the International Gallery of the S. Dillon Ripley Center
Known not only as an artist but as an avid jazz fan, Gertrude Abercrombie counted several prominent jazz musicians—most notably Dizzie Gillespie and Sonny Rollins—among her personal friends.
In addition to correspondence and postcards from musicians, her papers include many promotional photographs singed by jazz artists and personal snapshots as well.
This photograph features the great jazz pianist Eroll Garner.
Creator: Jim Saah
A 1935 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that artist and composer Eilshemius was discovered by Marcel Duchamp at the Independents' Salon of America in New York. Valentine Dudensing was a champion of his work, and several prominent critics praised his work in the 1930s. However, Eilshemius never felt that he received the recognition he deserved as a composer.
"Jack Yeats was right," he wrote to Elihu Root, "The mediocre are jealous of the superior. That is partly the case that my life has been a continuous struggle against irrecognition."
Creator: Louis M. (Louis Michel) Eilshemius
Letter from Louis M. Eilshemius to Hyman Kaitz, undated. Hyman Kaitz papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
In this letter Eilshemius laments to Hyman Kaitz, "As a composer I rank with the German galaxy, but not one publisher would bring out any of my 50 compositions."
An artist, poet, composer, self-proclaimed Mahatma and "Mightiest Mind and Wonder of the Worlds. Supreme Parnassian and Grand Transcendant Eagle of Art," Louis Eilshemius [sometimes spelled Elshemius] is one of the most unconventional persons represented in the collections of the Archives of American Art. Eilshemius."
Writing in his pamphlet Some New Discoveries! in SCIENCE and ART, Eilshemius claims that: "My compositions are utterly original in their new tempi, their incomparable exquisite and dramatic conceptions to move the soul-ecstasy any one sensitive to music's finder sounds and harmonies. This will suffice. Order my compositions! from me."
He includes a poem, Darkness in the Room, on the back cover. "From forth my fingers rare tunes come fast/ No mortal's melody recalls/ but all your feelings fill/ With heaven's dream and bring sweet joy to last."
According to William Schack's 1939 biography, And he sat among the ashes, the first set of pieces that Eilshemius composed for the piano was Six Musical Moods. Eilshemius felt that these pieces were some of his "best in print," noting that he had to publish them himself when some of the larger music publishing houses passed because they were "too classical for the market." Six Musical Moods could be purchased directly from the composer for $1.50.
Creator: Budd (Firm : New York N.Y.)
As the first cousin of George and Ira Gershwin, Henry Botkin had an insight and access into the musical world that few people did. Botkin reciprocated by giving them art lessons and advice on art collecting.
To celebrate the 65th anniversary of Gershwin's birth, the New York Philharmonic presented "Promenades." Concerts of Gershwin's music were performed, and his paintings were on display. Here Henry Botkin is pictured at the entrance of the exhibit.
Creator: Nickolas Muray
Another artist with ties to musical and literary figures is Charles Green Shaw. This photograph of George Gershwin, selected from Shaw's papers, was taken by Nikolas Murray for a 1925 article in Vanity Fair magazine.
Creator: Salle Chopin
Program from Concert d’Œuvres de Jeunes Compositeurs Américains, 1929, featuring the premiers of two new works and American composer Aaron Copland at the piano.
Prentiss Taylor papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Creator: Aaron Copland
In his professional and personal life, Prentiss Taylor encountered many eminent figures in the literary, visual and performing arts. Of special note was the American composer was Aaron Copland.
In 1929, Copland participated in a concert of works by young American composers. Two works received their premiers at this recital, including Vitebsk (Etude sur un thème juif) for violin, cello and piano, which featured Copeland at the piano, and Deux pièces written for string quartet.
This postcard, written several days before the recital, describes the trip and Copland’s activities in Paris (including a visit to see the great pianist Nadia Boulanger with whom Copland studied): "...been to the the Russian Ballet, tea at Boulangers, sat at the Dome etc. This is Paris."
Creator: Courtlandt Palmer
The writer and critic Mary Fanton Roberts had a great interest in all aspects of the arts. Her correspondence put her in contact with individuals from the literary world as well as from the visual and performing arts. Notable correspondents include the American artists George Bellows, Childe Hassam and Alfred Stieglitz, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the authors Theodore Dreiser and Havelock Ellis.
This letter, selected from Robert's literary and musical correspondence files, from the composer and pianist Courtlandt Palmer, describes his feelings after recording Beethoven's piano sonata, op. 111.
Henry Botkin and George Gershwin also spent time together at Folly Island. Botkin painted and sketched while George was at the piano composing his opera Porgy & Bess.
Creator: Eastman Lewis
This particular copy of Six Musical Moods was inscribed to Aline Fruhauf née Vollmer on her wedding day in 1934. Aline Fruhauf was an illustrator who created caricatures of luminaries such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Bela Bartok and Maurice Ravel for Musical America. She was also a pianist.
Six Musical Moods, piano score by Louis M. Eilshemius, from the Aline Fruhauf papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.