THREE SHADES OF YELLOW
London, 2018, featured on www.phoszine.weebly.com
Synesthesia is defined by a condition in which one sense—in this case hearing—is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses, such as sight. Synesthes associate colours and shapes to sounds and in this extent, music. Famous synesthes includes Franz Liszt, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Jean Sibelius, György Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen, Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington, but also Vincent Van Gogh or David Hockney.
While I do not have synesthesia, I often associate music with colours, sensations and images. Following are three examples of music works that in my opinion relate to variations of the colour yellow.
For illustratory purposes, I have decided to precise my thoughts using the Pantone reference system. Before starting, it is worth explaining the sort of images and ideas I perceive from the colour yellow. Brightness and light, a sense of beginning or renewal, hope, tenderness, freshness or positivity are just a few keywords that spring to my mind.
Ambre by Nils Frahm—Pantone 1235 C.
Ambre is a piano piece that can be found on Frahm’s album Wintermusik, released in 2007 as a Christmas present for his family and friends.
The piece is particular since its title orients the listener towards a pre-set direction of interpretation. To me, Ambre sounds like an awakening piece, where light slowly emerges and becomes warmer and warmer. These vivid images of rays of light and gradual change are even more obvious in Daniel Hope’s interpretation—from his For Seasons album. Hope’s violin seems to add a sense of comfort and positivity to the piece.
It is well worth noticing that Ambre—and to this extent the whole of Wintermusik—was improvised. This demonstrates Frahm’s ability to instantly compose pieces that are very evocative and finite.
Symphony #41 in C Major, K. 551 by W.A. Mozart—Pantone Yellow UP
Mozart’s last symphony, also known as “Jupiter”, was finished in 1788. Considered by many as one of finest works, it is the longest and last symphony the composer wrote before he died three years later.
I have always found this symphony to bring clear images and colours to the mind. Particularly the first movement, which through the lack of introduction and tutti from the orchestra makes the energy and brightness of the music come as an evidence from the first bars. Through its development, the piece seems to be pulling the listener higher and higher each time, with tensions and releases, and energy rising up.
There is some sort of positivity emerging from this piece, which is surprising given the context of its writing—Mozart seemed to be in financial difficulties and suffering from depression resulting in a poor creative output.
The Köln Concert, Pt. II c by Keith Jarrett—Pantone Yellow 0131 UP
Pt. II c is the encore from the Köln Concert that was performed and recorded by Keith Jarrett in 1975. The Köln Concert is the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album.
The last part of Jarrett’s Köln Concert invariably creates expressive images in my mind. The clarity of the piano, its punchiness, the honky-tonk quality of it, paired with the joyful aspect of the piece has always brought a sense of beginning and development, and the scenery of rising images. The introductive melody sets the pace for a couple of minutes that seem to close the concert on a bright note.
Pt. II c has been performed by Jarrett as an encore many times, and is also known as Memories of Tomorrow. The context of the concert and the recording, as well as the conditions of the piano and Jarrett’s own performance are very important in the impressions that emerge from the listening of the piece.
While this article focuses on the shades of the colour yellow, I have decided to include an additional example in order to broaden my argumentation.
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35 by P.I. Tchaikovsky—Pantone 18-1664 TCX Fiery Red
Tchaikovsky’s Concerto was completed in 1878, and is one of his best-known works, also considered as one of the hardest concerto for violin to perform.
This piece has always brought clear images of bright red to my mind. Of course there is the association with Russia, and its strong historical connection to red; but I feel that on top of that, the concerto expresses all the feelings, passion, tenderness and strength of the Russian culture.
If I ever had to find a way to describe Russia sensorially, Tchaikovsky’s Concerto would be my number one choice.
Because of its nature—as the only art that is not visual—music is inclined to bring images to the mind. Whether these images are created by ourselves in the case of synesthesia, or connected to images that are already there. To me, it is actually what makes music so powerful and infinite.
The brief analysis of these pieces has shown how images, sensations or something as concrete as a colour shade can be brought to the mind effortlessly by music.
Olivier Messiaen used to talk about producing pictures via sound, and his synesthesia surely had an influence on the process of shaping his music, especially on the way it was evocative and visual—his birdsongs are a very good example of that.
For further development on synesthesia, it is worth mentioning the works of American artist Melissa McCracken who uses her condition to create stunning visualisation of music.