The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Seven

Outi Pieski, a Finnish artist living in the Sámi area of Finland, takes her inspiration from the nature, culture and art with which she grew up.

Pieski seeks to bring Sámi culture to life with her art, paying attention to the global climate change debate and to the indigenous peoples' nature, revitalization and security. Pieski makes paintings , sculptures and installations, combining traditional craft with contemporary techniques. The 2017 exhibition at The Southbank Centre, London, ‘Falling Shawls’demonstrated this on an extraordinary scale. Fjeld Unseen is part of the Mimicry exhibition, using acrylic on canvas and threads to create a collective memory of a landscape.

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Stacy Garropp describes her own music and processes so vividly that her own words are used here, both from her biography and from her programme notes on the String Quartet No. 4, Illuminations.

Stacy’s music is centered on dramatic and lyrical storytelling. She shares stories by taking audiences on sonic journeys - some simple and beautiful, while others are complicated and dark - depending on the needs and dramatic shape of the story. Stacy is a freelance composer living in the Chicago area.

The String Quartet No. 4: Illuminations was inspired by five illuminated pages from a medieval Book referred to as “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves.” Books of Hours, the most prolific book of the late Middle Ages, are prayer books for lay people that enable a person to participate privately in the daily round of prayers and devotions that were originally recited only by monks and priests. The main text of a Book of Hours contains a cycle of daily devotions consisting of psalms, lessons from scriptures, hymns, collects and other prayers. Because Books of Hours did not have page numbers or indexes, the illuminations (or illustrations) enabled the owner to quickly find the text needed for reciting the prayers. The quality and number of illuminations, often using silver and gold, depended upon the patron’s ability to pay.


In trying to craft the experience of reading Cleves’ Book of Hours, the composer approached the work similarly to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As in Mussorgsky’s work, the audience follows the reader as he or she opens the Book of Hours, studies and reflects upon five illuminations, and then closes the book at the end of prayer.

 

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Six

Eleanor Vere Boyle was a Scottish writer and artist who began a long career in illustration after the birth of her first child in the mod-nineteenth century. She illustrated fourteen children’s books, mostly fairytales and nursery rhyems. She was also responsible for a flourishing and well-known garden of roses and snowdrops at Huntercombe Manor in Buckinghamshire.

‘A Neglected Mirror’ is the first illustration for Sarah Austin’s ‘A Story Without End’. In this transltion from a German tale, ‘a child takes an idyllic journey of discovery through the natural world. Awakened by birdsong and the rays of the sun, the child listens to stories of the butterfly and the ocean's waves, dines on strawberries, gossips with fireflies, and sleeps on a couch of moss.’ Vere Boyle’s illustrative style captures the innocence and magic of the fairytake world perfectly; the image in the mirror offers both adventure and beauty in its exquisite detail.

There was once a Child who lived in a little hut, and in the hit there was nothing but a little bed and a looking-glass which hung in a dark corner. Now the Child cared nothing t all about the looking-glass; but as soon as the first sunbeam glided softly through the casement and kissed his sweet eyelids, and the finch and the linnet waked him merrily with his morning songs, he arose, and went out into the green meadow. 

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Fanny Hensel came from a family adept at creating imaginary worlds. As children, the four Mendelssohn children played together, creating illustrations, writings, and the music for which they have been known since. The Songs Without Words that both Fanny Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn wrote (Fanny appears to have been responsible for this title) seem to pay tribute to the notion of narrative, the offer to a listener of an open door through which they may see a world of their own making, out of the elements offered by the music itself. The Notturno in G Minor was written at the end of 1838, a year of song and piano music. It exhibits Hensel’s gift for melody, along with the unusual twists of harmony that are a characteristic of the Henselian style.

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Five

‘Talking about Music is like Dancing about Architecture.’

Today’s Advent offerings are from two artists who celebrate a joyous refusal to adhere to cultural hierarchies of form and genre. There is an explicit realisation here that sometimes, ‘dancing about architecture’ is the only way of saying what needs to be said, and that craft is as meaningful as the art it makes.

Faith Ringgold is ‘painter, writer, speaker, mixed media sculptor and performance artist’. Her personal and artistic lives intersect, with black and women’s rights ever more a focus in her works. There is an extraordinary versatility in her output, from paintings to masks, costumes, quilts. ‘Dancing at the Louvre’ is the first in The French Collection, a series telling the fictional story of Willa Marcie Simone, a black American woman in early twentieth-century Paris. Art forms stand together here; da Vinci’s oil painting behind the dancing figures, and Ringgold’s own use of quilting techniques, historically seen as inferior to the works carefully preserved in galleries such as the Louvre.

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Libby Larsen has written over 500 works, from solo to opera, chamber to symphonic has been commissioned by a wide variety of musicians and musical groups. Larsen is adept at writing for a wide range of levels ad styles, from the virtuosity of ‘Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII’ to the more muted ‘Lullay of the Nativity’. Yet never is the craft or musicianship compromised. Hambone is a piece for ‘Middle School Concert Band’, which also requires vocal and hand-percussion contribution from the performers. It combines hamboning, rock-and-roll and the cakewalk into a piece that speaks both conically and physically.

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Four

Josefa de Óbidos was one of the most prolific women artists of the Baroque. Unlike many of her female contemporaries, the Spanish-born Portuguese painter remained well-known for some time after her death, being mentioned in art books as late as 1796. She was known for engravings, paintings and altarpieces for churches and convents. She even took portrait commissions for private clients. One can see from this painting of Mary Magdalene the care that de Óbidos took over faces. This is a careworn Mary; she looks tired, and the simple yet necessary candle flame is a focus for her thoughts.

 

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Maddalena Laura Sirmen is a Classical era composer whose style remained firmly in the Baroque. This was possibly at least in part due to her education in the Ospedale de Mendicanti – her impoverished family meant that she was allowed the advantage offered by the musical training of that institution. Unusually for a woman of the age, she was a violinist, taking lessons with Tartini. She married another violinist, continuing her career afterwards, also unusual for women for centuries to come. Her violin concerti are clearly from the pen of someone who understands the instrument. Her second concerto in E flat major is joyous and memorable. It is easy to imagine the unconventional Sirmen as the soloist.

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Three

Marianne Stokes, b. Preindlsberger, was an Austrian artist who spent much of her life within the turn-of-the-century artistic communities of England after her marriage to Adrian Stokes. She experimented with a wide range of styles, producing Impressionist, neo-classicist, naturalist and pre-Raphaelite works. Several paintings were exhibited in the Paris Salon. Since her death, Stokes has been dismissed as a sentimentalist Victorian painter, all but disappearing from gallery displays.

The most striking aspect of her paintings is the narrative character – there often seems to be a hidden story. Candlemas Day is one of her more well-known paintings. In it, an apparently demure girl holds prayer book and beads for the religious festival; but an ornate necklace peeks from beneath the sedate cloak, and a certain set of the mouth suggests that her thoughts might not be entirely centred on what she reads.

 

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Cécile Chaminade, making her abode on the other side of the Channel, has siffered the same neglect since long before her death in 1944, falling victim to a view of classical music that left her apparent, out-dated sentimentalism behind. Coming from a musicalmiddle-class family that could not fathom women as professional musicians, Chaminade underwent a change of fortune when her father died, leaving her to support her family through her performing and composition. She became phenomenally successful throughout Europe and America, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of her piano music. Her music spoke to countless ordinary people in their everyday lives. But classical music moved on, and WWI tore up middle-class domesticity, leaving much of Chaminade’s music in the shadow of nostalgia. However, a performance that is willing to strip her language to its core, and to meet the considerable technical challenges posed in the music, as this one of her Étude Pathetique does, can find a reality that is still relevant today.

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Two

Rolinda Sharples came from a Georgina-era artistic family, who were active in both England and America. Both parents, and Rolinda herself, were mainly known as portrait painters. Rolinda also produced artistic documents of important historical events, including sketches from the midst of such turbulent times as the 1831 Bristol riots.

This religious painting, ‘The Woman at the Well’, seems to underline the everyday necessity of drawing water; neither figure stands out, it is the well itself that appears illuminated.

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Olivia Dussek seems equally concerned with the everyday, although in the more Proustian sense of a recognition of the worth of the sentimental. Along with her mother, she was abandoned by her composer-father, Jan Dussek, when he fled England in 1799 to avoid debtors’ prison. Here is another similarity between today’s women artists: both lost their fathers young, and both were artistically encouraged and educated by supremely talented mothers. Olivia became a harpist, writing most of her output for that instrument. Here are her variations on ‘I Dreamt I dwelt In Marble Halls’, an aria from the popular Balfe operetta, A Bohemian Girl. This song had stood as a cultural icon since its composition, and has been sung by such diverse musicians as Joan Sutherland and Enya.

The Salon Advent Calendar: Day One

Properzia de Rossi was a sculptor in sixteenth-century Bologna. Despite not being born into a family of artists (along with being a woman, this was a serious handicap), she was taken on as a student at the University of Bologna. In 1524, she earned the commission for the decorative programme on the high altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano. This panel depicting Joseph and Potiphar’s wife is part of that artwork. Potiphar’s wife’s determination to stay Joseph is clear on her face, as is Joseph’s horror at the realisation of what is happening.

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Chiara Margarita Cozzolani wrote her music from the cloisters of a seventeenth-century Benedictine abbey in Milan. Her first publication, Primavera di fiori musicali, appeared in 1640. It was the beginning of a prolific decade of composing; it appears that Cozzolani only ceased ahen she became Abbess of the Order of St Ragegonda. This is her first Magnificat. One hear the exultation and wonder in Mary’s words: Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Et exultavit spiritus meus: in Deo salutary meo.