Objects once directly associated with composers, even if themselves devoid of musical import, may bring to life the composers’ domestic and working environments and shed light on the times in which they lived and their position in them. That is the case with examples of their own artistic endeavours. The proclivities of composers towards the visual arts, an unfamiliar topic, is one that museums are well fitted to serve. The Mendelssohn apartment in Leipzig has offered exhibitions of his watercolours, and the Schoenberg museum in Vienna possesses several of his oils. Ciurlionis was of course a distinguished artist; his work, much of it musically inspired, is fully represented at Kaunas and there are further examples at his family home in Druskininkai. The museums to Alfven, d’Indy, Egk, Elgar, Enescu, Glinka, Novak, Schmidt,
Schumann and Smetana hold examples of their subjects’ paintings or drawings; the visitor can also see Martinil’s and Donizetti’s witty caricatures, the detailed instrument drawings of Melngailis and the doodles of John Lennon.
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Handel’s interest in art, as a collector (he is said to have owned two Rembrandts), is hinted at in his London house. The collections of objects and fine art amassed by a few composers (notably Ravel, Golovanov, Lehar and Nottara) are as striking as the carefully preserved trivia of others or the apparent lack of feeling for such things evidenced by most. The presence of an original Picasso painting in Falla’s modest little house in Granada reminds us of their friendship and their collaboration on El sombrero de tres picos. Possessions can be uniquely revealing of acquired tastes and outward values as well as deeply held enthusiasms, although to some extent it is inevitable that the collections as we see them now simply represent what others have chosen, or have been able, to retain. Some personal effects may have passed through the hands of private collectors; others will have remained within the composer’s family before finding their way into museum collections.
It is for those charged with their display to rediscover their significance so that visitors to the collections may encounter or experience them much as the composer might have done. At their best, displays have the power to inform our appreciation of music. As visitors, we are free to take away any insights, mental images and associations and apply them to our future experience of a composer’s music. In a museum context even copies of relics (or even, where nothing survives or is known, others of the right period and provenance) can be highly educative; in terms of impact, they succeed or fail as much according to their relevance to the displays as by the quality of their reproduction.
While music manuscripts and correspondence are of obvious interest, visitors may be surprised by the power of quite mundane objects to bring the composer to life for them. The display of a composer’s clothes offers a particularly evocative illustration of their impact. As music lovers, we are accustomed to seeing the image of a composer as portrayed by a particular artist. The small size of a great man may often take us by surprise: we forget that people in the past were in general considerably smaller than today. When a composer’s clothes are shown on mannequins, preconceptions fade. Often an overcoat is hung in an entry hall, with hats, walking-sticks and umbrellas arranged nearby, as if he were at home, perhaps at work in his study. The well-worn slippers at the bedside – as in the museums to Brahms (at Murzzuschlag), Saar and Einem – remind us they are no longer needed.
We scrutinize his clothes for evidence of a composer’s feeling for style, his taste and his degree of prosperity and his vision of himself as well as to acquire a feeling for past events. Liszt’s rabbit-fur abbot’s hat, Brahms’s colourful bow ties and Mozart’s decorative buttons hint at sartorial vanity, while the academic robes, uniforms and court clothes of Donizetti, Ziehrer, Hubert Parry, Elgar, Dvorak and Enescu betoken professional achievement. Brand’s white laboratory coat and Coward’s leisure clothes – smoking jacket and cravat, silk dressing gown and monogrammed slippers – reflect their lifestyle. The macabre sartorial legacies of Donizetti and D-rzins are difficult to banish from memory. Visitors to Lucerne are invited to revise their impressions of Wagner through an enlarged copy of an 1866 photograph of him sitting in the Tribschen garden, placed apparently alongside the green velvet chair on which he was sitting and the clothes he was wearing. Together, they provide a sharp reminder that Wagner had actually lived here, just as the autograph manuscript of the Siegfried Idyll underlines its genesis in the house as a loving gift to Cosima.
While music and its literature are deposited in libraries, and images in a range of media normally reside in galleries, where – except in a dedicated memorial room or building – might one reasonably expect to find assemblages of personal artefacts and other evidence of private pleasures? Where -except in carefully researched biographies – might the tangents with time and place, and the implications for music, be explored? In the grounds at
Rights were not granted to include these illustrations in electronic media. Please refer to print publication Tribschen the visitor discovers the hexagonal stone enclosure built for Wagner’s peacocks Wotan and Fricka, and at Wahnfried realizes that Wagner loved his dog enough to be buried with him. Along with the thousands of letters Mascagni wrote to his beloved is the huge picnic basket that accompanied them on their al fresco trysts, a testament to their appetites. Even composers have earthly appetites: you can see at Eisenstadt Haydn’s recipe for punch, brought from England, Melngailis’s fish scaler at Vidrizsi, Tomassek’s nutmeg grater at Skutecs.
Travelling was undertaken more often for business than pleasure, but in its pursuit composers acquired an array of luggage; Mendelssohn had a painted trunk, the gift of his English admirers, and Liszt’s cases are decorated with his coat of arms, Tchaikovsky’s with his personal monogram. Beethoven’s secretaire, a travelling miniature desk, is in Vienna, Donizetti’s travelling toilet kit is at Bergamo, Paderewski’s portable travelling loo is displayed at K^^na Dolna and Verdi’s fleet of carriages is garaged at Sant’Agata (see p.41). More prosaic are Elgar’s cycling maps and Tinel’s cycle clips. Travelling virtuosos, including Liszt and even Mozart, took with them dummy practice keyboards, or Stummerli, and many had walking sticks, of which perhaps the most notable is the one presented to Liszt by the Pope. Both Mozart museums in Salzburg take due note of his youthful travels: one with a room demonstrating the rigours of the family journeys, the other with an interactive display of his routes. The Brahms memorial at Murzzuschlag focusses on the composer’s love of third-class rail travel and his apparent need to escape Vienna to seek inspiration in nature and to enjoy access to friends.
Evidence of keenness for certain sports and even personal fitness also finds places in composer museums. In the Tanzmeistersaal of the Mozart Wohnhaus in Salzburg there is a display of rude shooting targets of the sort the young Mozarts enjoyed aiming at. At Torre del Lago Puccini’s hunting gear and some of his taxidermal trophies are displayed. Mascagni, to judge by the photographs, was keen on tambourello, a ball game in which tambourines serve as the racquets. Elgar’s golf clubs can be seen in the birthplace. Peterson-Berger’s tennis court at the back of his house is still in good order. Taneyev appears to have lifted weights for his health, as too did Falla, whose hypochondriac tendencies are clear from the still amply fortified medicine chest on the wall of his bedroom. Alfven suspended rings in his study to prepare himself physically for conducting engagements.
The proclivity of composers for rural walks has led to another form of tribute, one that offers the opportunity to follow in a great man’s footsteps. Brahms was a keen walker, and there are several country walks marked ‘Brahms Weg’ near some of his favourite retreats – the Aussee, Meiningen,
Puccini’s hunting gear and trophies at Torre del Lago Murzzuschlag and by the Rhine at Rudesheim. There is a ‘Beethoven Weg’ near Modling and a ‘Gottfried von Einem Wanderweg’ close to his retirement cottage at Oberdurnbach, north-west of Vienna. There are similar country walks connected with Dvorak near Vysoka and Smetana at Jabkenice, where he spent his last years. In England, the ‘Elgar Route’ around Worcester and Malvern is longer and intended for driving (or cycling, his own preferred mode of transport) between Elgar-related sites rather than taking an Elgarian stroll.
Only in a specialist museum can one discover at first hand that Schoenberg invented an ingenious chess-like game for four players, that Goldenweiser regularly played chess with his friend Leo Tolstoy, or that Elgar loved crossword puzzles, owned a microscope and became interested in chemistry. Herschel is best known as an astronomer, but few will know that d’Indy had a telescope or that Slavenski, like Herschel, built them. The occult – in the form of tarot cards, astrology and other forms of mysticism – attracted Skryabin, Wolf and Taneyev, and Taneyev both spoke and set texts in Esperanto. Holst took a keen interest in astrology and also in Sanskrit. Many of those who eagerly tapped folk-music traditions in their compositions also collected decorative folk art, notably among them Jindrich (whose extensive collection of art and artefacts of his native Chodsko region is displayed at Domazlice), Bartok, Kodaly and Orff. Ravel and Puccini took a connoisseur’s approach to contemporary interior design.
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