I have just completed the third book of illustrations based on Schubert song cycles. Winterreise was the first Schubert book I created, followed recently by Schwanengesang. This third book reflect Schuberts first song cycle Die Schone Mullerin based on the poems by Wilhelm Muller.
Below are a few of my paintings, accompanied by excerpts of the text, translated by Celia Sgroi. You can also read more about my process in creating the paintings for all three books here.
Wandering is the miller’s joy, Wandering! A man isn’t much of a miller, If he doesn’t think of wandering, Wandering!
Did she send you to me? Or have you enchanted me? I’d like to know, Did she send you to me?
4. Gratitude to the Brook
Now shake off the veil of dreams And lift yourselves fresh and free In God’s bright morning! The lark circles in the sky And sings from the depths of its heart The sorrows and cares of love.
8. Morning Greeting
What is the hunter doing at the mill stream? Bold hunter, stay in your forest preserve! There’s no game here for you to hunt, There’s only a doe here, a tame one, for me, And if you want to see the dainty doe, Leave your rifle behind in the woods, And leave your barking dogs at home,
14. The Hunter
Oh green, you hateful color, you, Why do you keep staring, So mocking, so proud, so pleased by my pain, At me, a poor pale man?
17. The Hateful Colour
And when love frees Itself from pain, A little star, a new one, Twinkles in the sky; And three roses spring, Half red and half white, That never wither, From the thorny stem. And the angels cut off Their wings And every morning Go down to earth.
19. The Miller and The Brook
Die Schone Mullerin will be available soon and will join Winterreise and Schwanengesang on my online shop, where you can also purchase original paintings and prints.
If you are interested in a particular work, please contact me.
Below is a short excerpt of Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin, performed by Thomas Quasthoff at the Verbier Festival in 2009
This is how I am occupying myself during the lockdown. For information on my postponed exhibition see this post: Oxford Exhibition June 2020
Having just completed a second book of illustrations for Schubert song cycles, I have now embarked on a third, which in this case is a prequel. I began with Winterreise in 2016. Apart from loving this stuff, I identified strongly with the ‘hero’ of this cycle, possibly stemming from an introverted childhood and spending endless days day dreaming on how things ought to be. In other words, knowing this ‘yearning’ thing which Schubert realises so completely.
The book has been well received, and after the illustrations were featured on https://winterreise.online/ – an online encyclopedia of Winterreise information and rescources – I was spurred on to create a follow on book, Schwanengesang.
These illustrations are set to Schubert’s final song cycle, which was published posthumously and therefore there is considerable fluttering in the Schubert dovecotes regarding the validity of the term ‘song cycle’ in connection with the latter, in that it is more a collection of songs and put together by somebody else. Dr Iain Phillips, author of the websites dedicated to cataloguing the work of Schubert, however has firmly aligned himself with the song cycle having launched his third Schubert website https://schwanengesang.online/ As far as I am concerned, they are right up there, whatever the title, a point re-inforced by the splendid recording by Fassbaender and Riemann. DG 1992.
My third set of illustrations are therefore inspired by Schubert’s first song cycle, Die Schone Mullerin (the beautiful maid of the mill). This is a challenge that will certainly keep me busy in lockdown! But the inspiration provided by the music is as ever a guiding light.
The paintings start out, with a now well practiced technique that relies heavily on accident. Conceived totally in the abstract, the figurative elements come later.
So, armed with a single sized glazed window, a rickety table, loads of acrylic inks , brushes, rags,3 in 1 oil, detergent, 300 gsm Arches watercolour paper and buckets or water, I can produce multiple images by the simple process of mono-prints. The inks are splashed or poured on to the wet glass, oil, detergent can be thrown in for good measure. The paper is then thoroughly doused in water and pressed face down on to the glass. Peel it off, and there it is, or isn’t.
Certainly 2 things happen at once. The tyranny of white paper is strangled at birth and stunning pictorial elements appear which one would never, ever, have consciously thought of. Should the result look like a river flowing upside down, the paper can be hosed down and re-cycled. (This has been demonstrated to year 2 and 3 kids who loved watching this and having a go themselves).
The resulting images contain a huge range of colour/tone relationships and differing moods… some may profit by being turned upside down. Then, one hears the sound of wedding bells as protracted marriage ceremonies leads to pairing each painting with its counterpart in the verses. Most marriages are made in heaven but a few needed a bit of an academic shove here and there to be true to the text. The alchemy is to convey the spirit of the words and the music but preserve the equally huge disinterested power of abstraction… tricky. But conventional picture making would simply not cope with this exalted subject matter. It is also a good way of avoiding a couple of bete-noirs, technical skill and good taste.
A new collection of illustrations painted in response to Schubert’s Schwanengesang.
Schubert’s final collection of songs is not a continuous narrative, but there is a theme running through the poems and the music, which is of a deep yearning and melancholy. Yet there is a great beauty too, which can be of great comfort.
The poem Pigeon Post by Johann Gabriel Seidl is somewhat pertinent in these times of isolation and separation:
I send it many thousand times
daily away with messages,
past many dear places
until it reaches my sweetheart’s house.
In at the window there it furtively looks,
observes her face and her step,
cheerfully gives my greetings
and brings hers back.
And from Ludwig Rellstab’s Longing in Springtime a reflection of eerie melancholy in the midst of the hope of springtime.
Glancing gold of the sun that greets me,
you bring the bliss of hope.
How your greeting soothes me!
It smiles gently in the deep blue sky,
and fills my eyes with tears – but why?
The paintings have been compiled into a book, along with the poems, translated into English by William Mann, and is available to purchase from my SHOP.
The original paintings, and giclee reproductions are also available, contact me for prices and details.
You can view more of these illustrations, along with a compendium of information about Schwanengesang on this fantastic website: https://schwanengesang.online/
This painting is titled after Schoenberg’s entrancing chamber piece, composed for six strings, and inspired by the poem by Richard Dehmel.
This is a wonderfully atmospheric evocation in which a woman shares a dark secret with her new lover as they walk through a dark moonlit forest.
Could be mawkish, but isn’t.
The painting responds to the ambiguity and mystery of a moonlit landscape/ garden with the tonal and sliding colour modulations reflecting the rich chromatic language and the implied narrative in the music. A painting is a painting, music is music, but more often than not, I find it hard to separate the two. But, why should I?
In recent years the music has also inspired a dance piece choreographed by Rambert dance company.
See more of my paintings inspired by classical music in the Music Box category
Some 40 plus years later, Ronda and I had an all expenses paid trip, plus fee, to Sakhalin Island, a place described by Chekhov in a landmark series of articles (c.1890) as ‘hell’. It was a prison camp in Tsarist days.
It lies to the north of Japan, being the easternmost part of Russia and was divided into the northern Russian section with the southern belonging to Japan.
At the end of the Second World War, in a brutal conflict, the Russians conquered the whole island and lay claim to it to this day. A big part of the prize lies underground, the huge quantities of oil and gas being heavily exploited. This industry is multi national and the children of the employees, of course, need international schools. Thus it was, early one week Ronda and I were happily doing a school visit in a local village, within a few days we flew to Seoul in Korea and then north to Sakhalin to work with the international kids. A remarkable (and exhausting) experience. Good exercise was provided by a fine tennis court and a sprinkling of tolerable tennis players amongst the staff.
And so into Poland, the nagging premonition still hanging in the freezing air.
My knowledge of this country was basic to say the least. When I was a kid in Tasmania our elderly Polish neighbours had escaped from that country at the end of the war. From my point of view it was hard to see southern Tasmania as a kind of earthly paradise but, to them, it was even more than that. I was too young and ignorant to comprehend the full horror of their lives. Of course, think Poland, think the Chopin who everybody knows, or should. The Polonaises and Mazurkas are old friends but it was his third piano sonata that caught me out. It emerged from the car radio, a sort of son et lumiere as the trailing car headlights indicated I might speed up a bit. I pulled over and entered this sublime world that Ashkenazy picked out with consummate skill. How extraordinary that a series of notes played on a single instrument with no devices, augmentations or frills whatsoever can have such profound power.
The road to Warsaw would not be dignified by such a term. There were no frills here either. At times it was very much a communal thoroughfare, carts, pedestrians, bikes, and the odd cow or two added to this bucolic agrarian landscape. Darkness had descended and Esmeralda’s lights struggled with this farming melange. This was not quite the sophisticated Europe that I had imagined.
The door pillar took the full force of the blow. Down he went with a sickening thud. Rounding a hairpin bend this swaying figure appeared in the middle of the road, 20 metres away. Good reflexes swerved but he was side-swiped. Oh God, we still had those German plates which were seen at once. People materialised from everywhere. By indication and gesture and the Polish for GO! GO! GO! was yelled at us. No we didn’t. Getting out of the car we approached our supine friend and , as we surveyed the damage, we were re-assured. We got him to his feet and a bit of self propelled arm rubbing started to happen. This good sign was dwarfed by the cloud of pungent vodka that wafted round our best efforts. Our man was legless. He seemed OK, but we could not be sure. A lengthy spell in a Polish gaol could be on the cards if things were otherwise, so we followed the advice of our farming friends and got going.
Warsaw cheered things up. At least it’s modest display of neon lights and signs was a tad more welcoming than the Russian equivalent. This city and it’s Jewish community suffered terribly during the war. This pogrom has been well documented, and despite the rebellion in 1944, this again was crushed by the Nazis. In September 1945, the Russians captured Warsaw. By January of 1945 80-90% of the buildings had been destroyed. Re-building of a sort commenced under a Soviet puppet regime. ‘Stalinism’ lasted until 1956.
Esmeralda was performing well, no hint of the sulks, so we set off for the East German border. The journey included the attractive university city of Poznan, it’s architecture and general aura giving a real lift to proceedings. The same could not be said of our ‘in car’ catering, perhaps the food would be better in a Polish prison, one of us joked.
Ho Ho!.. The East German border resembled a military parade ground with a load of police thrown in. Everybody had to get out of their cars and thorough searches of the whole vehicle, inside and out, led to long queues forming. I was almost certain they were looking for something or perhaps some collateral damage, particularly with foreign cars. No more jokes about Polish prison food. We got to the head of this vice-like road block. Nerves jangled.
A rather jaded para military waved us through, he did not even want us to stop.
A winter – themed post on this frosty morning. Excerpts from my book of illustrations inspired by the Schubert song cycle.
In 2016 I was inspired to create these illustrations by the wonderful imagery contained in Winterreise. This timeless song cycle for voice and piano, composed by Franz Schubert, was published in 1828. It consists of a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Muller. I produced a set of illustrations which are presented alongside Muller’s words, translated into English by Celia Sgroi. The resulting book can be purchased direct from myself. The original illustrations and giclee prints are also available. Email me for further details.
The illustrations are now also available to view on https://winterreise.online/. The site is the work of the wonderful Iain C Phillips, and is an amazing resource for all things Winterreise, including discography, texts and papers, along with other illustrations and artworks.
Below are some of the illustrations from my book, along with excerpts from the poems.
I cannot choose the time
To begin my journey,
Must find my own way
In this darkness.
Frozen drops are falling
Down from my cheeks.
How could I not have noticed
That I have been weeping?
In a charcoal-burner’s tiny house
I have found shelter;
But my limbs won’t relax,
Their hurts burn so much.
You, too, my heart, in strife and storm
So wild and so bold,
Feel first in the silence your serpent
Stir with burning sting!
So I travelled my road
Onward with sluggish feet,
Through bright, happy life,
Lonely and unrecognised.
A light does a friendly dance before me,
I follow it here and there;
I like to follow it and watch
The way it lures the wanderer.
Ah, a man as wretched as I am
Is glad to fall for the merry trick
That, beyond ice and night and fear,
Shows him a bright, warm house.
And a loving soul within –
Only illusion lets me win!
My way has led me
to a graveyard;
Here I’ll stop,
I told myself.
You green and mourning garlands
must be the sign
That invites weary travellers
into the cool inn.
The book was first published in 2016 by LKL Publishing and is available direct from the author.
Die Schöne Müllerin is a song cycle of 20 songs composed by Franz Schubert. They move from heady optimism to tragedy. A young miller wanders happily through the countryside, soon following a brook which leads to the mill AND the beautiful miller’s daughter. Her response to his approaches is luke- warm and worse, is rapidly supplanted by a green clad hunter. The miller becomes obsessed with the colour green.
In the final song cycle, Des Baches Wiegenlied, our lovelorn suicidal hero gives himself up to the tender clutches of the brook as it meanders through the bleak countryside. The moonlight is reflected back from the flowing water.
It is the brook who sings the lullaby as it embraces the heartbroken miller.
Good night, good night until everything wakes sleep away your joy, sleep away your pain the full moon rises, the mist departs, and the sky above, how vast it is.
Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795: XX. Des Baches Wiegenlied · Christian Gerhaher · Franz Schubert · Gerold Huber Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin ℗ 2003 Bayerischer Rundfunk Producer: Wilhelm Meister Lyricist: Wilhelm Müller
David Armitage has also produced an illustrated book of ‘Winterreise’, Schubert’s other great song cycle. Follow the blog to see more posts on Winterreise, Music Box, paintings, memoirs and more!
The original play ‘Salome’ was written, in French, by Oscar Wilde. Richard Strauss saw the play and immediately set to work on producing a German operatic version. It was duly performed in 1905.
What with a heady mix of the biblical, the erotic, and the murderous all wrapped up in splendid music it was controversial to say the least, and banned in London until 1907.
Towards the end of the opera, after quite a bit of to-ing and fro-Ing, Salome, who must have been quite a girl, performs the then startling ‘dance of the seven veils’ before the besotted King Herod, finishing up lying naked at his feet.
Herod then promises to grant her most desired wish….. which, of course turns out to be the head of John the Baptist. Said head is duly delivered and is fervently kissed by Salome. Goodness. The climatic music is extraordinary, a much debated chord seems to echo the degradation of Salome. This lowly state does not last long, the lovely girl being crushed under the shields of the soldiers. Not too many jokes, but wonderful stuff.
This painting is currently available to purchase / for exhibition. Please contact me for more details.
This painting was prompted by the closing pages of Wagner’s great Ring cycle.
Brunnhilde orders a huge funeral pyre to be built by the river Rhine.
Eventually she lights the fire, mounts her horse and rides into the fire to be consumed by the flames. The opera concludes with the glorious music of the Rhine
overflowing its banks and extinguishing the blaze.
The first Wagner I heard was at primary school age. It was the introduction to Das Rheingold. I had never heard of Wagner, just loved the stuff.
The horns and lower strings transport the listener to a magical world, rather like watching the time lapse growth and metamorphosis of some fabulous plant. Ravishing.
The vexed question of ‘titles for paintings?’ is a very old friend. The works I produce are, by their very nature, ambiguous and non-specific. They can sit happily with double identities or no identity at all. After all, they are paintings, not pictures. Self-contained worlds in other words. To complicate matters, no matter what they are called, the subliminal undercurrent that pervades them all, is music.
‘Music Box’ is a collection of works where these links are quite obvious and I have provided a brief note of a more direct connection with particular bits of music. The proud owner of one of these huge works said: ‘forget all that tosh, I love the marks and the colour, sod the rest’. Never mind.
This is tricky territory; the Art Bollocks Cultural Police are always on the lookout for this sort of thing, and quite right too.
This ballet/ burlesque was composed by Stravinsky in 1910/11. It tells the story of three puppets who are brought to life. They are Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor.
Petrushka loves the Ballerina but she rejects him in favour of the Moor.
Petrushka challenges the Moor but dies in the attempt to vanquish him.
As night falls Petrushka’s ghost rises above the theatre before collapsing in a second death.
The ballet is a rich tapestry of wonderful music, dance and design. It’s popularity remains undimmed, as does the attraction of this tragic figure.