The Sound of Yellow: Kandinsky’s yellow colour in von Hartmann’s and Schnittke’s music

Neda Kolić


The pioneer of abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky (Васи́лий Васи́льевич Канди́нский, 1866–1944), used musical terms as titles for his paintings with intention to release them from the themes, considering that music is “the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound”. Through his paintings Kandinsky rethought the principles of music. Not a painting, but an another artistic creation, through which we are given a chance to cognize Kandinsky’s comprehension of music, is The Yellow Sound (Der gelbe Klang, 1912), a “composition” for stage. It is the paradigm of Kandinsky’s “true stage-composition”, his totally new view of theatre that consists of three elements – musical movement, pictorial movement, and physical movement, but interwoven together in harmony that will trigger inner harmony in a spectator. Music for his scenario was provided by the composer Thomas von Hartmann (Фома́ Алекса́ндрович Га́ртман, 1886–1956), and another musical version was written by Alfred Schnittke (Альфре́д Га́рриевич Шни́тке, 1934–1998 / Der gelbe Klang, 1974). In Concerning the Spiritual in Art Kandinsky presented his theory of colour through which he explained his own (synesthetic) view of yellow colour / sound, particularly in comparison with blue colour, that was “musicalized” through The Yellow Sound. What kind of yellow and blue tone Kandinsky had in mind, and what nuances of these colours did von Hartmann / Schnittke see / hear? What musical instrument(s) can produce yellow, i.e. blue colour? Which music scale / tone / interval has yellow / blue tone(s)? Are we able to perceive all the shades of yellow / blue sound?

Słowa kluczowe: Wassily Kandinsky, Thomas von Hartmann, Alfred Schnittke, The Yellow Sound, Der gelbe Klang, sound and colour, synesthesia

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