Colouring the Sound

Tommaso De Meo's Visual Interpretations of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies

The Sixth Symphony

Sixth Symphony, First Movement

In De Meo's work, one can find a rather novel approach to depicting Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, also known as the Pastoral Symphony, in which the composer deals with "memories of country life". The painter expresses Beethoven's bond with nature; to that end, he uses images whose topics are predictably derived from the movements' titles, made by the composer himself. However, there are also noticeable divergences in the Roman artist's interpretations.

The first painting opens the cycle in the manner of a stage production: like a rising curtain, the drooping branches of a weeping willow reveal an idyllic vision of nature. The picture is thus dominated by the lush green of the fertile fields, and framed by the gentle rolling hills on the horizon, as well as the colourful dots of flowers and wild grass in the foreground. One single tree juts proudly from the plain, its crown bathed in the light of the evening sun - within the harmony and chromatic placidity of this scene, which otherwise conforms rather thoroughly to Beethoven's description of the first movement as a wellspring of "cheerful feelings", the solitary tree in a nature devoid of humans is a reminder of the subject of isolation, so common in De Meo's work.

Sixth Symphony, Second Movement

Called "the scene by the brook" by Beethoven, it is that very current which takes centre stage in the artistic transposition of the symphony's second movement. Here, the first differences between the composer's titles and the painter's interpretations become apparent: though indeed beginning on the right margin as a diminutive rivulet, its waters, upon cascading into the valley, turn into a mighty river, a lake, even - so vast that on its opposite bank, the lines between land and water seem to blur and become one. The idyllic tranquillity of the first painting gives way to a harsh and energetic depiction of nature, one in which bare, skeletal trees rise to meet the swiftly gathering clouds of a coming storm.

Sixth Symphony, Third Movement

Both in its choice of subject matter and its abstract rendering, De Meo's painting of the third movement of the symphony differs from its predecessors within this cycle. Whereas Beethoven tried to represent the "happy gathering of country folk", De Meo's interpretation, with its images of colourful, but twisted and barren trees, seems like a bleak caricature of a joyous village dance. In the dance tune's stead, it may well be the swelling gusts of the gathering thunderstorm that drive the figures to and fro; instead of merry laughter, one might hear the mournful groaning of the trees in the wind. De Meo's picture fills the viewer with a sense of foreboding for that storm, which is the defining theme of the fourth movement.

Sixth Symphony, Fourth Movement

The fourth painting of the Sixth Symphony now shows the once implied storm in its full, violent power. As is often the case with De Meo, it is the trees which are most subjected to the forces of nature: their leafless boughs twisted by the wind, their fragile trunks almost uprooted, they seem to be unable to defy the storm much longer. A most striking aspect is that it is the similarity between this and the calm of the first painting - the grass no longer gently waving, but whipped by the gale, the hills on the horizon bathed in a menacing, reddish glow by the thunderheads - which elucidates the difference between the two tableaux. The harmonious, sedate greens of the first painting are here set against vigorous brush-strokes and the sharp contrast of the complementary colours red and green, all the better to enact the oscillating energy of the thunderstorm.

Sixth Symphony, Fifth Movement

Earthy tones of brown prevail in the final painting of the Sixth Symphony. In the foreground, colourful flowers line the bottom margin. A hill with bald trees is at the centre of the picture. Beyond, the sun rises, whose brilliant light dominates all. Around it, a sprawl of colours - the rainbow hues of the luminescent sky are reflected in the many-coloured flowers at the bottom. The brightly coloured scene is representative of a reawakening of life, of a renewed repose and life-giving harmony after the devastating violence of the preceding storm. Nature, resplendent once more, reaches for the sun. Again, De Meo refrains from depicting humans, even though the sea of flowers bears some likeness to a joyful throng: nature and the renewal of all things are the principal topics.