Friday 7 February 2020

Music for the eyes: a concert inspired by Telemann's music for Castel's ocular harpsichord

Improviso at St John's Smith Square
Improviso at St John's Smith Square
The idea of combining colour and music has long fascinated composers, Messiaen heard his music in colour, Scriabin experimented with a colour organ for his 1910 work Prometheus: The Poem of Fire. But this isn't simply a 20th century conception, in the 18th century the French mathematician and philosopher Louis Bertrand Castel (1688-1757) created an ocular harpsichord which projected different colours as the keys were played. In 1738, the composer Georg Philip Telemann went to Paris and visited Castel, who showed him some of his experiments with the optical harpsichord. The idea of music 'for the eyes' had an enormous effect on the composer and in 1739 he published a commentary on Castel’s treatise on colour and acoustics, Beschreibung der Augen-orgel. Telemann also composed several pieces for this instrument, apparently lost.

For its first concert as St John's Smith Square Young Artists, the young ensemble Improviso is returning to the idea of Telemann's music for the eyes. Improviso is teaming up with sound technician and composer David McFarlane to use new technology that transforms the notes they play into colours. Improviso will be performing some of Telemann's chamber music, including the Paris Quartet in E minor no.6, solo fantasias, the canonic sonatas and two trio sonatas, re-imagined with colour.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

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