Thursday, September 10, 2009

When Seeing Is Listening: The Concert Champêtre

Fig. 1. Titian - Le Concert champêtre, c. 1510

Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of
me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know
my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my
mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to
the top of my compass: and there is much music,
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot
you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me.

Hamlet (Hamlet, Act II, Scene iii – William Shakespeare)

'Even if our only evidence were their surviving output, it would still be abundantly clear that artists of the sixteenth century were routinely acquainted with, and profoundly sensitive to, the fact that looking is something we do with all of our senses, not merely that of sight. Titian, the artist who is believed to have painted what is now officially referred to as Le Concert champêtre, c. 1510, not only knew this to be true, but also made it integral to the effect and meaning of his image that it should be heard as well as seen, that its visibility should be inextricably entwined with its audibility. Patricia Egan, Philipp Fehl, and Patricia Emison, in their (variously convincing) interpretations of this enigmatic work, all make reference to how its musical content serves to structure our reading of it. None, however, correctly identifies the implied sonic lacuna around which its iconography is constellated.'

Lucio Crispino (from When Seeing Is Listening: The Broken Music of Titian's Le Concert champêtre)