In a comment on Thursday’s post my ether friend Walter at Inquietudes spoke of the Chagall murals that greet you as enter the Metropolitan Opera from the Josie Robertson Plaza. During the intermission on his visits to the MET he said “I’d stare at the colors and swirls and lose myself in them.” And he has not been alone in that – for over fifty years they have drawn people in from the Plaza and invited them to celebrate the Source and Triumph of Music.
Chagall painted the two allegories in his Paris studio and had them shipped to New York. Each canvas is 9.15 metres by 11 metres (30 by 36 feet) and is ripe with figures and symbols familiar from many of his previous works amidst those swirls of colours that captivate Walter and so many of the rest of us. Chagall was often criticized for overusing many of those fantastical floating figures and beasts. His defence was simple: A poet always uses the same vocabulary but he still writes new poems. And they are indeed poems to music, the arts and artists it has and continues to inspire; to the music of the city of New York and to the city itself. And Chagall wasn’t shy about including tributes to his good friend Rudolf Bing as well as portraits of himself and his beloved wife Vava.
Chagall had consulted with architect Wallace Harrison and the design committee and they had decided that yellow would be the dominant colour for the south panel and red for the north. The artist felt that “Source” should then lead to “Triumph” with eye travelling from left to right – the source of music would flow into the opera house and the triumph of music would go out into the world. When he arrived from Paris to oversee the installation he was astounded, and angered, to see that “Triumph” had already been mounted in the wrong location. The artist maintained that his screams could be heard all over Lincoln Center. However the ever persuasive Bing was use to handling all manner of prima donnas and resolved the issue by convincing Chagall that the new arrangement was an equally effective message. “Why,” he asked, “do you want the music to go out of the theatre and into the world? Perhaps destiny was behind the error, and the heralding angels should play for the people who have come to the opera house, because they do love music.” Chagall eventually agreed that Bing had a point and perhaps the error had indeed been serendipity.
Chagall was also concerned that there would never be a good vantage point to take in a complete mural – the view from the Plazas is broken up by the panes of the archway windows and the Grand Tier Promenade is too narrow to allow viewing from an adequate distance. And though seeing them as Chagall envisioned them is next to impossible it has been suggested that the two works are the most seen – if not the most observed – pieces of modern 20th century art in New York City. And they have become one of the enduring symbols of the Metropolitan Opera House along with the iconic starburst ceiling fixtures and the great gold curtain. When the Met celebrated its 125th anniversary on March 15, 2009 the Triumph of Music was prominently featured in a stunning piece of animation set to the music of Chagall’s favourite composer and opera – the Overture to Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.
Using many of Chagall’s initial sketches as well as the finish work the animators at 59 Productions reconstructed not only the mural but also the activity behind the scenes as sets from various productions are assembled (including a brief reference to the David Hockney Zauberflöte that replaced Chagall’s). Lincoln Center, Harrison’s opera house, those ascending starbursts, the great gold curtain and finally the iconic proscenium at the old Met form and reform. Surely much of the applause at the end is for Chagall’s great tribute to the magic of flutes, drums, sopranos, basses, composers, artists and everything under the sun that creates music.
Though I have embeded the video in this post I would suggest that for a closer look that you follow the link below for a larger version.
This animation was directed by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer
The lead animator was Peter Stenhouse
The Magic Flute – Chagall Animation from 59 Productions on Vimeo.
On this day in 1941: February strike: In occupied Amsterdam, a general strike is declared in response to increasing anti-Jewish measures instituted by the Nazis.