In celebration of the New European Paintings Galleries, 1250–1800, the Museum hosted two special evenings of concerts on September 17 and 18. Music and art came together to illuminate the time period represented by the galleries, creating a resonant cultural experience. The Grand Tour offered four distinct programs performed in the galleries by leading early music ensembles, with audiences seated right beside works of art. There were so many transcendent moments—and so many revelations. While enjoying the sights and sounds of sixteenth-century Venice or eighteenth-century France, audiences were also able to understand how this music was actually performed, appreciated, and observed in its time. Join us for future programs!
Details of the Program
Gallery 601—Baroque Painting in Italy
Performers: Quicksilver (violins, harpsichord, theorbo, guitar)
In this gallery, the painting Marcantonio Pasqualini (1614–1691) Crowned by Apollo by Andrea Sacchi celebrates a famed male soprano who performed in operas, in the Sistine Choir, and in private solo performances.
The painting depicts Pasqualini as he is championed by Apollo, the god of music. Pasqualini is seen playing the upright harpsichord (Clavicytherium), and the bagpipes appear beside Marsyas, a reference to the musical battle between Apollo and Marsyas—a story resulting in the hierarchy of instruments (string above wind).
In the seventeenth century, stile moderno (explored in this Grand Tour program) utilized specific instruments for their sound or for their ability to provide the continuo part. The continuo part is the bass line of the score, played by one or more instruments simultaneously. Continuo parts were played by bowed bass (baroque cello, violin), or bassoon, or by instruments that can play chords (harpsichord, organ, lute, theorbo, and harp). Sonatas composed for multiple instruments were performed by smaller chamber groups and during church services.
Gallery 634—Dutch Paintings in the Altman Collection
Performers: Dark Horse Consort (cornetto, sackbut)
While the program of music selected for this setting honored the early Netherlandish composers of the 1500s, the works on view date to nearly a century later, the age of Rembrandt and Hals. The piety of the Netherlands during the seventeenth century put certain limits on musical expression, and any music heard in the Calvinist Republic would have been within a religious setting. Having been previously forbidden, organ music was slowly reintroduced beginning in the mid-1600s and reintegrated into services, and churches became the cornerstone of "concerts." The cornetto (a wooden pipe covered by leather) and sackbut (much like a trumpet, but featuring a telescoping slide so as to vary and control length, and a narrower bell) regularly accompanied choral music. These church concerts were thought to keep people out of the inns and taverns and curb scuffles and dissention. Ah, the power of music!
In many paintings of this time period, the instrument acts as a barometer of social standing. The upper class is represented alongside a string instrument like the lute, viola da gamba and virginal, while the lower classes are seen with wind instruments such as bagpipes.
Gallery 607—Venetian Sixteenth-Century Painting
Performers: Tenet (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone voices; theorbo)
In the early sixteenth century, solo voices accompanied by instruments become fashionable. Madrigals were often performed by gentlemen, as music was an important and distinctive discipline among the upper class and especially the educated man. These performances were a highlight of private banquets and informal gatherings hosted by the elite. Musical concerts were also a regular accompaniment to more elaborate parties. These events could include a full day of festivities with hunting and full-length comedies containing musical interludes.
Entering the 1600s, the theorbo gained popularity, and it became more in style for a singer to be accompanied by the theorbo or guitar (rather than the lute). Instruments like the lute and theorbo often serve as a symbol of love, and it is no wonder—the instruments seem to instantly create a gentle intimacy—although, the theorbo does give off a deeper, bass volume.
This gallery has some of the most striking representations of love, art, and music. Here, the convergence of romance and attraction in art usually manifests itself in the form of the goddess Venus, a favorite subject of Titian. When truly observing his paintings we see a whole love story unfold, one in which there is a thread linking the beauty of music (sound) to physical beauty (sight). Many art historians have theorized that these paintings are a statement on perceiving beauty, while others consider that an overly philosophical analysis and say the paintings are purely decorative, even a bit suggestive. The answer may be a little of both. In Titian's paintings and depictions of Venus alone we see her as both a paragon of love, possessing a mature reserve, and in other instances a figure of sexuality and provocativeness.
Gallery 615—History, Portraits, and Genre in Eighteenth-Century France
Perfomer: Jory Vinikour (harpsichord)
A harpsichordist held a prominent place in the opulent French courts of the late seventeenth and eighteenth century. A court harpsichordist or music director composed music for the king's entertainment and daily church masses. During the reign of King Louis XIV (1643–1715), a work was often performed each morning in the Royal Chapel.
Outside of the court, and especially in the declining years of King Louis XIV, the theaters were bustling with wit. Lightheartedness prevailed on the stage. The courtiers ran off to urban Paris at night to delight in theater, opera, and ballet, slinking back to Versailles in the early morning hours. These public theaters were one of the only places where different social classes could mix and mingle, as ticket prices were the only barrier to entry and keeper of the social structure. Audiences developed an increasing taste for opera-ballets at theaters like the Royal Academy of Music in the 1700s. They craved slim plots, elegant scenery and costuming, and themes of absolute pleasure rather than staunch heroes.
Comedic theater found its way into seasonal fairs, and what began as a lower class form of diversion soon attracted the upper classes. Theater at these fairs traditionally sampled well-known opera tunes (think vaudevilles), but later became more sophisticated as it cultivated a courtier clientele. This is mainly due to a relaxation on the monopolies of the opera houses of the time. However, fairs remained the stomping grounds of comedic favorites such as Pierrot, Harlequin, and Puchinello.
After the death of King Louis XIV, public balls were inaugurated at the opera. At these extravagant events there was a sense of social leveling as guests were asked to arrive masked. The price of a ticket was the same for everyone and the costume mask became a great equalizer in the world of entertainment.
Katharine Baetjer, ed. Watteau, Music, and Theater (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009).
Andrea Bayer, ed. Art and Love in the Age of Renaissance Italy (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2008).
Edwin Buijsen, ed. The Hoogsteder Exhibition of: Music & Painting in the Golden Age (Hague: Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder; Zwolle: Waanders, 1994)
Keith Christiansen, A Caravaggio Rediscovered: The Lute Player (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990)