The highly individualistic artist, Paul Klee, was born in Switzerland to a German music teacher and a Swiss mother. He studied voice, piano, organ, and violin at the Stuttgart Conservatory, and, at the age of 11, he became a member of the violin section of the Bern Music Association. He clearly showed great promise for a career in music.

During his teenage years, though, there came a switch. Although Klee would go on to explore and experiment with modernism in his painting, he was not drawn to the contemporary works of musicians like Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern. He even disliked the late Romanticism of Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler. For him, modern music lacked meaning, and he found “the idea of going in for music creatively not particularly attractive in view of the decline in the history of musical achievement.” His musical preferences were, rather, for Bach and Mozart, and he believed that their genius could never be reproduced in the musical medium.

By the late 1890s, Klee was studying art in Munich. Even though he decided to focus on the visual arts for his vocation, though, he never forgot his intrinsic musicality. He believed that rhythm, in particular, was a strong connection between music and painting, “capable of illustrating temporal movements in both.”

“In the Style of Bach” hints at a musical score, and it’s as if the visual rhythm suggests the percussive rhythm of Bach’s fugues and counterpoint.

“Cooling in the Garden of the Torrid Zone” borrows the staves of a musical score, while the images can read like the notes on a musical bar.

Many titles of Klee’s paintings refer to music directly: “Harmony in Blue-Orange,” 1923; “Rhythms of a Planting,” 1925; “Variations (Progressive Motif),” 1927; “New Harmony,” 1934; and—pictured here—”The Entry for the French Horn,” 1939.

As familiar as I have been with Paul Klee the artist, Paul Klee the musician is a marvelous new discovery for me, thanks to an article by Ursula Rehn Wolfman in the November 13th, 2016 edition of Interlude: Paul Klee — Painting and Music. I am hugely grateful and indebted to her.

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